Baby Thérèse: Our Prayer Warrior in Heaven
Editor’s note: Today, I am honored to share a guest post from blogger Catherine Boucher of Hallelujah is My Song. In this post, she shares her family’s recent experience with the loss of a precious little one. Please join me in praying for Catherine and her family! LMH
We started talking about having another baby over the summer as “Baby Walt” approached 14 months, and big sister, Janie, was about two-and-a-half. Soon after, we received the blessed news that we were pregnant with Baby #3 and that he or she would make an appearance around May 16th. Hooray!
“Morning” sickness has been more of an all-day sickness for me that gets progressively worse into the night, and it lasted until 22 weeks with my first two pregnancies. So, when I hit the 5-week mark with this pregnancy and the nausea started, I took this as a great indicator that everything was going well. Great job, hormones! Keep doing your thing!
We shared the news early with our family and started telling friends shortly thereafter. Our philosophy with sharing the news early is that we’re always going to want the prayers and support of family and friends. If, heaven forbid, something happens to the baby, we want our friends and family to already know about the baby so that they can grieve with us. Apparently my tummy muscles decided there was no hiding this pregnancy, so I seemed to start showing around 6 weeks. Nonetheless, we decided to wait to make it “Facebook official” for awhile.
At the 8-week appointment, things went great. I measured right on target, and my hormone levels looked good. Unfortunately, the ultrasound tech had to go home sick with strep throat, so we were disappointed not to get a sneak peek at the baby. Nonetheless, it was a great appointment, and we scheduled my next visit with an ultrasound for November 8th when Philip would be post-call and able to come with me to see Baby for the first time together. (We like to keep each baby’s sex a surprise until delivery, and we don’t like calling the baby “it” or picking a gender by saying “he” or “she,” so we always call the baby “Baby.”)
As I approached week 11, my energy started to return, and I noticed that I wasn’t watching the clock waiting to be able to take my next dose of Zofran or other anti-nausea medicine. I thought, “Wow! This is awesome! Either I’m getting way better at managing the nausea the third time around, or this baby is taking it easy on me.”
Having already announced our pregnancy to our family and several friends, we decided to go ahead and come up with a fun way to announce it on Facebook. I put iron-on letters on the kids’ shirts that said “Team Pink” and “Team Blue,” and I wore a black shirt with a question mark.
On Sunday, October 28th, we posted this picture of me and the kids:
We included the caption, “Team Pink or Team Blue? Baby Boucher #3 will make his or her appearance in May! We can’t wait to meet you, Baby!”
Almost immediately, the outpouring of support came in. Friends sent along their congratulations, prayers, and well wishes. It’s silly, but making it “Facebook official” by posting that picture felt great, and it helped the reality of a new baby joining our family to sink in a little more.
Being a planner, I’ve been thinking about how we’re going to play musical rooms when Baby arrives. Walt will move out of the nursery and share a room with Janie. I’ll finally learn how to sew and make them coordinating bedding. Baby will move into the already gender neutral nursery. Maybe we’ll splurge and buy Baby some new décor.
Baby became part of everyday conversation and our bedtime ritual. Janie regularly kissed my belly, suggested I “take some medicine to feel better” throughout the day, and practiced swaddling her Baby Stella doll. She’d stick her tummy out, pull up her shirt, and say, “Look! Baby is getting bigger!”
At bedtime, we’d sit on Janie’s floor in the dark and turn on Walt’s ladybug constellation nightlight.
The kids look up at the stars while we do our “Bedtime Sweet Talk” and prayers. We say the Guardian Angel prayer and then we say, “God bless Daddy, God bless Mommy, God bless Janie, God bless Walt, God bless Monty, and God bless all of our friends and family. Amen.” When we found out we were pregnant, we added “God bless the new baby” to the prayer.
These daily rituals and reminders added to our growing excitement to meet Baby.
Thursday night, as I was getting into bed, I felt some mild cramping and tried not to work myself into a panic when I saw that I was spotting. Philip was working an overnight shift at the hospital, so I called him to check in. Fortunately, he was able to answer, and I told him about the cramping and spotting. He suggested that I try my best not to worry, to call him if the cramping got worse or anything changed, and that we would call the doctor in the morning to see if I needed to come in.
The cramping and light bleeding continued the next day, so I called my doctor’s office and spoke with the nurse. I described my symptoms, and she told me she would speak with my doctor to see if I needed to come in. She called back to say that my doctor thought the bleeding I described sounded like the result of straining from constipation rather than something more serious, but that I should call back and come in if the bleeding or cramping intensified.
Within that hour, Philip came home from his 28-hour shift, and I relayed the doctor’s message. He gave me a big hug, said that everything was probably okay, but that we should go to the doctor if I was worried.
I hopped in the shower and the cramps seemed to get a little worse. As I shaved my legs, I let myself cry a little and said a prayer. “God, if it is Your will to take this baby, I will accept that. I know it’s going to hurt a lot, but I know that if it’s part of Your will that You are allowing it so that some greater good will come of this.”
Meanwhile, I obsessed over the continuing cramps and blood and, after talking to my sister, decided to call my doctor’s office again. “I know it all sounds like everything is probably okay, but since it’s a Friday, and I don’t want to be worrying over the weekend and until my next appointment on Thursday, can I please come in to check on things?”
Waiting until the afternoon appointment seemed like an eternity. I said a lot of prayers to the Blessed Mother and managed to take a nap with Philip and the kids. I drifted off to sleep visualizing Christ holding Baby in one arm, and me in the other, praying, “Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place my trust in You” over and over again.
After our nap, we headed to the doctor’s office. It was too short of notice to arrange for a sitter, and I didn’t want to go by myself in the event that we received bad news, so we decided to go as a family. Uncharacteristically, we arrived 15 minutes early, and we probably waited for half an hour before getting called back.
My sweet OB walked into the exam room and asked the kids about Halloween and Philip about his current residency rotation before getting down to business. We discussed my cramping and bleeding as he performed a pelvic exam.
“Your uterus is measuring a little big. Why don’t we take a listen?”
He pulled out the fetal doppler to find a heartbeat. This would be the first time we would hear the baby’s heartbeat. He squeezed the “goop” onto my belly, and I waited to hear the quick galloping sound that always made me giggle and cry with joy. Walt sat in the umbrella stroller, looking around, wondering where the sound was coming from. Janie sat on Philip’s lap, and she said, “We gonna hear the baby?” Despite moving the doppler up and down, left to right, we never heard the galloping sound.
My OB wiped off my belly, helped me to sit up, and said, “OK, I’ll go and get ________ (the ultrasound tech), and let’s take a peek to see what’s going on. I’ll be right back.”
I got dressed and we gathered up our things to go into the ultrasound room. As I laid down and got some more goop on my belly, the ultrasound tech asked me a few questions.
“So, you’re having some cramping and bleeding, huh?”
“Yes. It feels like mild menstrual cramps, and I see the light spotting when I wipe.”
“This is your third pregnancy?”
“Both carried to term? No complications?”
“Yes, no complications with either.”
“OK. Let’s see what’s going on in there.”
As she started moving the probe around my belly, I watched our baby appear on the monitor, and I knew. I was twelve weeks and a day along in my pregnancy, so Baby should have looked nearly fully formed but still very tiny. The baby that appeared on the monitor was very small, and Baby had very tiny limbs that only poked out a little. This sounds like a cold and crude comparison, but Baby kind of looked like a little gummy bear.
I watched as the ultrasound tech took some measurements. I couldn’t see a fluttering where Baby’s heart should have been. Philip and the kids had been sitting in chairs along a wall behind the exam table. I felt Philip’s hand on my shoulder as the ultrasound tech said, “The baby is measuring about 7 weeks, and there’s no heartbeat. I’m sorry.”
I heard the words, but my mind needed to take it in before I let my emotions catch up.
I heard my sweet Janie say in her little voice, “There’s no heart?”
The ultrasound tech told her, “Oh, I’m sorry, honey.” Then she told us, “Unfortunately, this happens sometimes in the first trimester, and there’s nothing you did wrong.”
Probably thirty seconds went by before my emotions caught up with me, and I burst into tears. It was the big, terrible, out of control, sobbing. The ultrasound tech wiped the goop on my belly, said, “I’ll give you guys some time,” and left the room.
Little Janie said, “What’s wrong, Mommy?” and Philip told her, “Baby had to go to heaven.” I sat up and he gave me a big hug. Janie insisted on sitting next to me on the exam table. Sweet little Walt kept smiling at me from the umbrella stroller. Through bleary eyes in the dark room I got dressed, and my OB came in after a few minutes.
He shook our hands and said, “I’m so sorry.” He reviewed the ultrasound images and repeated what the ultrasound tech said. ”The baby is measuring 7 weeks even though you are twelve weeks and a day today, and there is no heartbeat. You see how the sac is kind of oval-shaped? That indicates that the uterus is starting the process of evacuating the baby.”
The tears stopped flowing long enough for me to hear and ask about the ugly, cold, medical side of losing a baby. We talked about the logistics of what would happen as I miscarry at home–all of the ugly realities that I had never considered until facing miscarrying my own baby. My OB said it could happen that day, the next day, or even in a few weeks. If I wanted, I could take some medicine to expedite the process. We talked about how to collect the tissue and bring it in for testing. We talked about the pain, potential complications, what’s normal and what’s not, and the possibility of a D&C.
At the end of our conversation, my OB said, “Please call us if you need anything or if you’d like that medicine to move things along. This is a real loss, so take all the time you need to grieve your baby. I am so sorry. I’ll go and get _______ (his nurse) to bring you that container.”
After he left, I racked my brain, thinking of all of the things I didn’t want to forget about this moment or things to ask about or for before we left. I said to Philip, “Can you please ask them for the ultrasound pictures? I want to have them.” He said, “Of course,” and went to find the ultrasound tech. I started to pack up our things when my OB’s sweet nurse came in and gave me a big hug.
“I’m so glad we came in today,” I said.
“Me too,” she said, still hugging me.
She put the sterile container into my diaper bag and said that she was so sorry for our loss.
Philip came back with the ultrasound picture. As I zipped Walt into his jacket, Janie accidentally knocked some magazines off of a table. Instantly, the ultrasound tech and my OB’s nurse said, “Don’t worry about it! Go ahead!” as I bent over to pick them up. We thanked everyone, said goodbye, and walked out of the ultrasound room.
I was instructed to keep a full bladder for the ultrasound, so I told Philip I needed to stop at the restroom on our way out. He said he would wait for me with the kids in the waiting room. After I closed the door behind me, I cried for a minute and collected myself before walking out to the waiting room.
I walked past my OB’s nurse who was on the phone with another patient, and I walked past the ultrasound tech who was talking to the office receptionist. She didn’t see me walking by. I heard her say, “I performed an ultrasound on Catherine _________, Dr. __________’s patient, and the baby is deceased, so please cancel her appointment on November 8th.” That was that. No need to come back next week. My baby was deceased.
I went through the waiting room door to find my sweet children and teary husband waiting for me. The trip down the elevator, through the building lobby, and out to the car is pretty hazy. I remember buckling Janie into her car seat and her asking me, “What’s wrong, Mama? You sad?” I told her, “Yes, Mommy and Daddy are sad because we miss Baby. But Baby is a saint in heaven, so that makes us very happy.”
Since it was November 2, All Souls Day, Janie had gotten a lesson on All Saints Day and who saints are the day before. She said, “Baby’s in heaven? I want to be a saint.”
As Philip pulled the minivan out of the parking lot, I said, “I’m so glad you came because I don’t think I could have driven myself home,” and I burst back into those big, terrible, out of control tears. Philip cried and said, “I know. I’m glad, too.”
I cried off and on during the ride home. We talked about how glad we were that we didn’t wait to go in. We talked about it being a blessing that we knew that Baby had died before I miscarried at home. We talked about it being All Souls Day. I admitted to Philip that I thought something might have been wrong when I started feeling less nauseous and more energetic. I said I was scared to miscarry and wondered how painful it would be.
Finally, I said that I wanted to call my family members and start sharing the news while I could still talk, and I asked Philip if he was ready to share the news. He said to go ahead and start calling. I figured it would be harder to talk as time went on, and I wanted to tell my family members about losing Baby myself.
The hardest conversation was probably talking to my dad. I had called my mom on her way out of the office for the day, but I waited a few hours until after I knew Dad was home and Mom had already told him before I called. Ugh, it’s so hard to share sad news with your dad and hear him heartbroken for you. We cried, we talked about Baby being a saint that will pray and intercede for all of us, and I told him how I was doing. I said, “I know there’s not a right way or a wrong way to feel and that I’m still processing that we lost the baby, but I can’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of peace. My faith and Philip’s faith is in such a good place right now that we have to believe that God loves us even more than we love our own children and that He is allowing this because He knows that something good will come of it. I’m waiting for those graces to come, and I’m trusting in that plan, and I’m going to keep grieving, but the more powerful feeling is peace. I’ve been praying to the Blessed Mother all day because she knows what it’s like to lose a child. She’ll give me the strength I need.” Dad said all kinds of sweet and supportive things, but the thing that made me tear up the most was him saying, “I wish you were a little girl again and I could take you to the toystore to try and cheer you up and make it all better.” Now that I’m a parent, I understand that. You want to do everything you can to take away your baby’s hurt, and he knows he can’t.
When we put the kids to bed that night, we gathered on Janie’s bedroom floor and looked at the nightlight stars and moon on the ceiling like always. Philip recapped the day for our “Bedtime Sweet Talk” since I couldn’t, and he led us in our usual Guardian Angel Prayer followed with, “God bless Daddy, God bless Mommy, God bless Janie, God bless Walt, God bless Baby in heaven, God bless Monty, and God bless all of our friends and family.” I love him for remembering Baby in our prayer.
It doesn’t get easier each time I call someone to say that Baby died, but it does help to talk about the reality of our loss and sadness. We don’t regret sharing the news of our pregnancy a week ago only to have to share that Baby died shortly thereafter. We are glad that we shared the joy of celebrating in Baby’s life so that we can grieve with those same people who shared in our joy.
I haven’t gone through the physical ordeal of losing Baby yet, and I know that will be the hardest part of all. Anticipating that time, I’m sure I’ll be praying two prayers, and I ask you to please pray them for me as well. I will pray to the Blessed Mother to give me the strength she had to endure standing at the foot of the cross, watch her son die, and fulfill Simeon’s prophesy that her heart would be pierced with a sword. My second prayer will be that I have the faith to pray, “Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, I place my trust in You.” If I don’t have the strength to pray or do anything else but physically get through the moment, I hope I can find strength and peace as I gaze at my Sacred Heart high school class ring with the image of Jesus and Mary’s hearts intertwined.
Philip and I decided we wanted to name Baby so that when we pray to our saint in heaven or talk about Baby, we have a name. We weren’t far enough in the pregnancy to be able to know Baby’s sex. Since Philip and I had an inkling that Baby was a girl, we chose a girl’s name–Thérèse. Like St. Thérèse of Lisieux, our own “little flower” lived a short time and will spend the rest of her life in heaven, interceding as a prayer warrior for others.
Last night as we were trying to go to sleep, I thanked Philip for being so good about hearing all of the things I was thinking, but that I wanted to hear how he was feeling and what he was thinking. The thing that stood out the most was him saying through tears, “I think we’re really lucky, you know. We have a child that we know is a saint in heaven, and that’s what we want for our children. We’re lucky to have the extra motivation to get each other and our other children to heaven so that we can all be together as a family.”
Thank you for sharing in our joy, and thank you for sharing in our grief. Thank you in advance for your prayers, for allowing us to grieve, for listening, for just being there, and for all of the many other ways you are helping. Having faith that God allowed this tragedy as part of His plan doesn’t make our suffering easier, but it gives our suffering purpose and meaning. We are just beginning the grieving and healing, and we know we will somehow get through this time with our faith and the support, prayers, and love of our family and friends. Thérèse is and will forever be a beloved saint for our family.
Catherine Boucher went into “early retirement” from teaching high school Spanish to become a stay-at-home mom. She has two children on earth (Janie and Walt) and a saint in heaven (Thérèse). When she isn’t taking care of her children, she’s likely to be blogging, reading, cooking/baking, catching up with friends, or spending time with her husband, Philip. Catherine’s personal blog, Hallelujah is My Song, can be found at: http://hallelujahismysong.
Copyright 2012 Catherine Boucher