“Love without suffering is impossible; suffering without love is unbearable.”
My husband Tom has repeated the above quote to me often throughout our relationship. Having first heard these words from Dr. Scott Hahn (one of my husband’s idols) this quote has become a sort of mantra for his life and by default our marriage. Yet though I’ve always been struck by the wisdom and beauty behind these deceptively simple words, I began to understand them on a much deeper and personal level two weeks ago.
We found out we were expecting our third child the week after Thanksgiving. Over the months our hearts had grown increasingly desirous for another child. So when that home pregnancy test confirmed what we really already knew we were both elated. Because our move is still relatively recent, I do not have an established Ob/Gyn in the area. That combined with the general hustle and bustle of the holiday season and insurance changes meant that I wasn’t able to see a doctor for the first time until January 17, roughly twelve weeks into my pregnancy. Yet having already had two perfectly healthy pregnancies I felt confident that everything would be fine with this one too. I had all of the normal signs: nausea, a heightened sense of smell, that stretching feeling from a growing uterus, fatigue, etc. And though I knew subconsciously that early miscarriage is always a possibility, I truly never thought that would be the case with me.
But Friday, January 6 everything began to change. We took our children to LSU’s campus that evening for a gymnastics competition. It was good to get out of the house and do something different with our two little ones. Yet as we hiked to the dome where the competition was taking place I felt strangely winded and began having back pain much like what I’ve experienced before in labor. As the alarm bells went off, however, I cast them aside attributing it to the fact I was toting along my 19-month-old. But that night when we got home I began spotting for the first time and things just didn’t feel right. I tried not to panic, reminding myself that this didn’t necessarily mean that our baby was in danger, as I began praying fervently for my child’s safety.
My spotting continued throughout Saturday morning, turning from a dark brownish color to the feared bright scarlet, while my back pain increased. My baby was a day shy of 10 weeks; we were still two weeks away from my doctor’s appointment and something was horribly wrong. Fearing the worst, I called my uncle who is a nurse practitioner. He confirmed that miscarriage was likely but even if we went to a hospital, at such an early gestational age, they would be unable to save our child. So we decided to wait it out at home, carefully monitoring the signs each agonizing hour. As day turned into night, I began passing large blood clots and masses of tissue. It soon became clear that we were losing our child. The pain in my heart was excruciating. I kept hoping for a miracle; that somehow it would all stop and our baby would be okay. But it didn’t.
Ironically, in anticipation of our child’s birth, I had planned for this next blog post to be about Dr. Robert Bradley’s method of husband coached childbirth and why we love it so much. That particular entry will have to wait for another time, but as I delivered our unborn child all of those reasons for loving the Bradley method came to the forefront once again. Just as my husband and I were a perfect team during our two living children’s deliveries, now as our unborn child was born we were united once more. I’ve had women tell me that no one can understand what it’s like to miscarry a child, not even their husband. But I’m blessed to say that wasn’t the case for me. Tom was there every step of the way. We searched through the tissue and blood for our child’s body together; we sobbed together; prayed together; clung to one another. In a painful yet beautiful way, our marriage bond was strengthened as we carried this new cross together; shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart.
Both Tom and I had a sense throughout our pregnancy that we were having a daughter. And so we chose to name our child Lillian Marie. The lily is a traditional symbol for the Blessed Mother, representing purity, innocence, and beauty. It seemed a fitting name for our daughter, whose purity will remain unmarred and who will remain with her Heavenly Mother until, by God’s grace, I can join her. Similarly, Marie ties in with the Blessed Mother and is also my middle name. Another beautiful thing about Lillian’s name is that calla lilies have long been my favorite flower. Now, whenever they bloom in our yard or I’m surprised with a bouquet of them I will also be reminded of our precious daughter.
We were blessed to have a private Mass in Lillian’s honor on Saturday, January 14 at my parents’ home. There, we were able to mourn her loss but more importantly to celebrate the gift of Lillian’s life, however brief it was. Then we buried her tiny body in my parent’s own plot in a small casket we had lovingly prepared along with a family photo, letters written to her by both her daddy and me, a rosary, and other symbolic medals/relics.
Looking back on this experience and trying to make sense of it all, I’ve come to realize how privileged of a life I have lived thus far. My life has been filled with so many blessings and very little suffering. Losing Lillian has taught me so much. Though I’ve understood the power of redemptive suffering, in theory, I begin to personally know and embrace it. My heart aches for Lillian and always will. I still fantasize crazy scenarios where by some miracle I’m still pregnant; that it was all just a horrible dream. And though I know she is in a far better place, I long to feel her kicks in my womb; to hear her laughter; to hold her in my arms; to come to know the intricacies of her personality. I long to go back and change time somehow, but I strive to trust in God’s plan.
I’ve also seen already that there is much beauty and love amidst the pain. My love for my husband has deepened and grown in ways I never imagined it could. I’ve come to appreciate the fragile gift of life so much more, especially with my two healthy children. And I’ve become more compassionate toward those who have lost children, be it within or without the womb.
I’ve been concretely reminded that my children are not my own. Each of them was entrusted to me by God and I have a sacred duty to return them to Him by raising them in virtue and setting them on the path to holiness. Tom and I have asked Lillian to become our family’s powerful intercessor. We hope she will pray unceasingly for us, helping us obtain holiness so that we may one day be reunited as a family. Lillian will remain a part of our family always. She will always be my third child. Our living children will grow up knowing her name and calling upon her for aid during times of struggle. I envision her as our children’s guardian of purity, constantly asking God to strengthen and defend her brothers and sisters in their life’s journey.
Miscarriage is a very real loss. It’s not the loss of an “idea” or a “dream.” It’s the loss of a child. When we went to the doctor we were told that roughly one out of three women’s pregnancy will end in miscarriage. Medically speaking, that is a huge statistic but few of us are aware of it because it’s a topic not frequently spoken about. So many friends and family members have come forward, offering their condolences and sharing their own losses.
Fearing miscarriage, many women choose not to tell people about their pregnancy until they are in the “safer” second trimester. But I feel differently about it. I’m so thankful that we told our family and friends about Lillian because it means we were all celebrating her existence while she lived and grieving her loss together when she died. I can’t imagine going through this experience alone. And as time goes on I want my child to be remembered. Remembered because she lived. And I’m so thankful for that life, even though it was far too brief because without her conception she couldn’t be in Paradise now. She couldn’t be cheering me on, giving me extra motivation so that one day I can cross the heavenly finish line and embrace my sweet angel.
Lillian Marie, pray for us!