All of us who have been touched by death have days of the year that are a reminder of who we lost. August 8th is one of those days for me. It is the Feast of St. Dominic. On it, two years ago, my husband and I found out that we had lost our fourth child in miscarriage. It came as even more of a shock than the other three. We had two ultrasounds showing a strong heartbeat and we thought this time would be different. Our daughter was preparing to finally be a big sister, at least on this side of eternity. Our daughter had already lost her twin sister in a miscarriage and two other siblings, a brother and a sister: Victoria, Caleb, and Marie-Therese.
After we got the ultrasound showing proper development and a strong heartbeat, we began to plan the same way we did when we had our daughter. We started purchasing baby items. We proudly and joyfully shared our ultrasound with friends and family. The risks of miscarriage goes down considerably–although it is still possible–once a heartbeat is detected. We even picked a name, which we didn’t do with the others until we learned of their deaths.
I remember it clearly. We were driving to Mass at our parish on a bright mid-summer morning. The golden rays of the sun illuminated downtown and our church standing on the hill. We both were throwing around names and then we saw our parish. My husband and I agreed that Andrew was a good choice for a first name. I then said that I wanted to name him for St. Thomas Aquinas, and we settled on Thomas for a middle name.
A week or two later, my hormones were still not showing signs of rising, even with the NaPro hormones my husband was injecting into me. Another ultrasound was done showing a strong heartbeat, but his development had slowed down. My doctor said it may be nothing and my dates may have been off. I knew my dates weren’t off, but I tried to be optimistic. Four days later the light bleeding started. Since it wasn’t like my other miscarriages, they told me to wait, but on the morning of August 8th, the Feast of St. Dominic, the bleeding started in earnest. I already knew, but the ER confirmed that Andrew had died.
My husband and I were heartbroken and my first thought was of having to tell our daughter that he had died. She has wanted a sibling since she could talk, and for reasons that are entirely mysterious to us, that hasn’t happened. In fact, it probably won’t. I’ve come to accept that fact. I’ve put my body through a lot over the last few years. I’ve experienced grief of previously unimaginable depths and endured great agony. I finally had to accept God’s will. I’ve done everything I could possibly do and I now live with even more difficult hormone issues than before I started NaPro years ago. For whatever reason, this is the path God has asked my family and me to walk together. Not someone else’s path. This is the path God has asked of me.
If there is one thing that I could say about all of the suffering and the profound agony that I have endured through four miscarriages, I would say that it has taught me to love more like Christ. I still have a long way to go, but it has taught me that in order to love, and to love deeply, we must be open to pain and suffering. Love is joy and sorrow, because no matter how much we love someone in this life, we will eventually be parted from them. Loss is a part of this life. And while we hope that separation is temporary, it is still difficult to endure.
Losing these babies has taught me more about fortitude and self-sacrifice. It has shown me that the Cross is truly redemptive and that when we open ourselves up to suffering and give it back to Him the world is transformed. Our Lord took my immense pain from losing Andrew and used it to save another baby boy from an abortion. Since I was willing to open myself up in love to someone else, even though it hurt in ways I never thought possible, great good came out of my suffering. It doesn’t take away my loss or grief. I still hurt, even two years later. I miss all of my babies, but I now see what love is supposed to look like and what is required of me. Through it, I’ve been able to move into greater depths and to learn to accept the mystery of God, a mystery we all must eventually stand before in awe and silence.
There’s no answer to the “why” that I have uttered in agony as I bled out my dead children, except the Cross. It didn’t seem like an answer in the moment when my husband was picking me up off of the bathroom floor because I was crying so hard that I couldn’t breathe or even stand without his support. God had to cut me all the way through and allow my heart to bleed inwardly in order for me to understand the Cross, in order to understand love.
That is what He did with each of my miscarriages. That is what he did as I stood with 400 family members who were grieving their dead loved ones who had been murdered in the attack on the Pentagon on 9/11. That’s what he did when I sat by my husband’s hospital bed, wondering if I would be planning his funeral Mass soon. It’s the same thing He does when my daughter cries in pain and grief over the suffering she endures in this life. It’s the same thing He did when he asked me to help a woman who was going to have a baby at the exact same time that I was supposed to have Andrew. He cut me open and through that agony He has taught me how to love.
I still fail at loving as He loves every single day. I am impatient, self-centered, short-tempered, and distracted. I fail to love the people around me as I am supposed to. I fail to see the people around me as Christ sees them. I don’t see Christ in people on the average day. I forget to look. I forget to see. Even so, I understand more now because I have loved and lost so much. I loved each one of my children from the moment I found out that I was pregnant.
If we are going to love as Christ loves and to see as Christ sees, we must be willing to suffer. The Cross is God’s complete act of self-emptying love. He pours out everything, every ounce of blood, for our salvation. The Cross is not only our salvation, it is an invitation. It is our call to enter into the Trinitarian communion, and the Cross is what the love between the Divine Persons looks like. We have to be willing to walk with others in their suffering and pour love out upon them. We have to be willing to love other people completely and that requires great vulnerability and self-forgetfulness. When we love someone, they have the ability to hurt us, but that’s the price we must pay.
There isn’t any other path worth walking. Even with all of the pain, suffering, and agony of loss, if we want to love, truly love, then we must be willing to embrace the Cross. The Cross and the Resurrection go together and we cannot have one without the other. We must be willing to bleed inwardly, to be wounded by God, in order to follow Him in love. We can’t love others if we aren’t willing to be undone. So yes, the agony has been worth it, because it has taught me to love as Christ loves, a little more each day.
Mass is being offered for Andrew Thomas at my parish on August 8th, Feast of St. Dominic. I will be praying for all families who know the great pain of losing a child, born and unborn.