I recently prayed with two friends who helped me process through the grief over the death of our unborn baby, Benedict Andrew. Accepting Jesus’ healing touch through the experience and taking responsibility for my response to it has lifted such a heaviness off my heart. And it brought back to me an experience I had several years ago which also helped me deal with the loss of our first miscarried baby, Anna Cecelia.
In December of 2000, nearly two years after Anna’s brief life here on earth, I attended a healing Mass with a friend who was in a very difficult period of her life. I invited her to join me, thinking she may feel God’s peace there.
During the Mass, the priest reminded us that every life is precious, born and unborn. He said that as a priest, he met countless families who needed help mourning and healing the loss of children through abortion, miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death. I felt rather smug, thinking, “I’m sure that’s true, but at least I’ve already dealt with our loss.”
The priest invited anyone who had experienced the death of a baby to envision themselves standing outside heaven and Jesus bringing to them the baby or babies who had died but at the ages they would be today if they had survived.
I pictured Jesus approaching me with 15-month old Anna and with my older sister Mary, the stillborn baby my mother delivered nearly 30 years earlier. Anna had dark eyes and curly wisps of dark brown hair and Mary smiled at me, looking radiant and motherly with flowing brown hair.
The priest encouraged everyone to picture Jesus handing the baby or babies over to be held. I pictured taking Anna from Jesus’ arms and cuddling her. The tears flowed down my face when the priest asked us to let the emotions come out and to speak in our hearts to our baby whatever we were feeling and thinking.
Instantly my thoughts flew back to the night when I was sure Anna’s life began and guilt overwhelmed me.
A few months before that night, I had been diagnosed with depression and put on an antidepressant. I was feeling better and Nathan and I were discussing having another baby. While he was confident things were under control and a baby would be a great addition, fear held me back. Unfortunately, I never articulated this to Nathan and he thought we agreed.
Nathan and I both knew I was fertile and we had an excellent chance of conceiving a baby. I was too afraid to share my feelings and fears about getting pregnant quite yet with Nathan so I just tried the old “cold shoulder” technique, to no avail. In the end, I felt angry with myself for giving in, at Nathan for persisting, and at God because I just knew I was going to be pregnant.
I had a difficult time sleeping as I kept telling God over and over in my mind, “I had better not get pregnant, God. I am going to be SO MAD if I am pregnant!”
I continued this internal mantra daily, never telling anyone, allowing the anger to consume me but putting on a happy face. My anger and fear grew so strong I began to tell God, “If I am pregnant, it is your fault and I want you to take this baby away.”
Never in a million years would I intentionally kill or harm any of my children, but I did pray for a miscarriage.
In about two weeks, my fears were confirmed by two home pregnancy tests. I pretended to be happy because I thought everyone would think I was a monster if they knew how frightened and angry I really was inside.
But when I began to bleed, all I felt was panic. Could I really be losing this baby? Was God answering the embittered prayer of a confused mother? By the next morning the answer was clear, the baby had died and was leaving my body.
At the healing Mass where I was imagining Anna in my arms, given to me by Jesus, the memories of my rejection of her and the guilt I felt over her miscarriage poured out of my heart.
I told Anna and Jesus that I was so sorry for rejecting her. I told her I didn’t understand why she died, but that I missed her and longed to hold her in heaven some day. I asked her and Jesus to forgive me for my selfishness during the brief time she lived inside me.
All the while, Anna looked right into my eyes with tenderness, compassion, deep love and most importantly to me – forgiveness.
The priest asked everyone to imagine giving the baby back to Jesus and I did. All the while my sister Mary stood nearby, willing to help if needed, hovering like Anna’s foster mother and I felt relief that she could be with Anna while I could not.
Then the priest said to picture Jesus and the Blessed Mother, Mary, gathering all the children together to take them through the gates of heaven. I pictured throngs of children around Jesus, but still He held my Anna as He walked away. My last image was of Anna peaking back over Jesus’ shoulder as he took her into heaven. She waved as little toddlers do and said, “Bye-bye.”
I cried out loud as my friend comforted me. This time the tears were not angry, bitter, or colored with guilt. I felt so much love, forgiveness, and deep peace that I could not contain them.
Anna has taught me it’s never too late to say you’re sorry. She taught me I don’t have to be a perfect mother to merit the love of my family or of Christ. Jesus asks me to be faithful to my vocation and to reach out for forgiveness and His healing touch when I stumble. Peace came not from smugly telling myself I was “over that” but by facing my sin head on with all its ugliness and asking for forgiveness.
I had forgotten what deep peace felt like. That night, Jesus restored it using my little saint in heaven as his helper.