Everyone knows the story of Joseph and Mary going to Bethlehem and being unable to find a place to stay. Everyone thinks they’d recognize the dire need of a husband with his wife, heavy with child. However, we need only look back to the poor mother who lost her two sons in the water of Hurricane Sandy to see, we are frightened creatures who often shut doors we should not. Yes, all of us are just as capable of saying, “there is no room at the inn.”
How do I know?
This past week, we lost a baby at what would have been 8 weeks. Honestly, I’d spent the first three weeks of knowing saying to God, “You’ve Got to be Kidding!” I’m 46! We have no room in the van. We have a large house but there’s no room in the house! I tried playing kid tetris, shuffling children in the bedrooms. I didn’t want to wrap around the idea that our lives would be reordered yet again, that at least three more years of diapers loomed. Taxes, college, carseats… it wasn’t my most generous moment as a woman of faith or a mother.
But I was very grateful for the gift of the wisdom and teachings of our Church. That let me march forward, take my vitamin, schedule the appointment with the doctor and go on with life. I’d come around I told myself. And every once in a while, there was a bounce in my step, a giggle under my words as I managed the brood and their needs. But also every once in a while, there was the feeling of the bite of the world. “I’m overwhelmed.” I told God. “I know we’re supposed to love in abundance and be lavish and generous and open to life like you….” but then my voice would crack in my head, “I’m not you!” and the world felt very dark indeed. I kept opening and shutting the door in my heart even as I held the child in my womb. I would have to wedge it open.
God was very humorous, “So Sherry, ten was fine but eleven too many?” “Okay.” (It was hard to argue). But it was still only duty, not a joyful one. I’d be fighting this for a while I could tell despite many resolutions in my head to not fight. And then I felt honestly, rather lost. This was not a happy place to be, to know that my will was fighting even as I obeyed. There was never a danger to this baby, she was always coming, but then Tuesday, I saw her.
Her heart was slow.
I was miscarrying. Suddenly every step, every heart beat forward was one step away from a healthy child, to a dying one. Suddenly, I was willing her to stay alive, begging her to stay. I’ve had two other miscarriages, but this one hit harder than the other two or maybe like labor pains, I’ve forgotten. It’s probably a mixture of both.
Like any mother who must walk to the end of a miscarriage, I felt all the crazy unfamiliar hard musings. We hadn’t even told anyone yet. How to explain a loss we hadn’t yet pronounced as a gift? Sadness…I held her but not as fully in my heart. We should have screamed about her to the world. We should have celebrated her while she was here! There was shame over the twinge of relief that the part of me that didn’t want more, didn’t have more…embarrassment at not wanting more of God’s heart in my life….and hurt at the real knowledge that when the knock came to my door. I didn’t answer, or at least not well. Guilt –could I have done something or not done something to keep this one here?
Wednesday I took my son to basketball practice and went to the adoration chapel to clear my head, to cry, to complain, to pray the baby would be okay, that somehow, this would all just be a blip, a hiccup in the pregnancy. I didn’t get to make that prayer. I fell asleep. Three times. (It’s warm, it’s quiet, it’s peaceful and as a dear priest told me, if you fall asleep in Adoration, you’re just like the apostles, and perhaps God knew you needed the rest). As I was preparing to leave to go back to the gym, I found a guide for adoration I’d never seen. Reading it, I felt like I’d somehow missed what I was supposed to do in Adoration…rather like how I missed what to do during this pregnancy.
Then Thursday, I went back to the doctors. The baby did not have a heart rate anymore. She was smaller than she’d been on Tuesday. I could see the difference. I remember seeing the screen with her heart rate on it, and knowing then, the heart rate was wrong before they’d said anything. The dramatic in me likes to think she died when I was sleeping in Adoration, that even broken and failing, I’d brought her to where she should be. And in doing so, she did the same for me.
I can’t promise my heart will remain a stable stable for the rest of my life, but for only 8 weeks, she was a masterful instructor in the purpose of Advent. I’ll remember her, and therefore her lessons. We are to be a people waiting in joyful hope. That is how life and being pregnant should be, a source of light and warmth in a thorny cold dark world of business and tasks and difficulty. We told our children. We told our parents. We named the baby, Kateri Joy, Katie Joy for short. It fits her, it fits the season we are about to celebrate and I think her name is musical. One of my daughters liked it so much, she said she’d name her daughter the same. She has never voiced the idea that she would have children before.
When we get to Heaven, we will be asked, “How many did you bring?” like the servants who were to invest the talents and multiply the Master’s fortunes. I now have another lobbyist in Heaven to get all of us there. She’s an expert at wedging open the doors of hearts.
Sherry Antonetti is a mother of ten children, published author of The Book of Helen and a freelance writer of humor and family life columns. You can read additional pieces from her blog, http://sherryantonettiwrites.blogspot.com.