For weeks previous to this day, I had been preparing for a time to be born, not my own labor and delivery but that of a sweet 17-year-old friend. Emily was to deliver her baby any minute and I had promised to be her labor coach. Now, I would fulfill that promise within hours of learning of my baby’s death. I asked the Blessed Mother for just one night, to gather myself together, before I was to support Emily.
That night was granted. The next morning Emily’s mom called me to go with them to the hospital. All the way there, I prayed for strength, I prayed for the grace to be truly supportive and loving for Emily. I prayed I wouldn’t cry. It was a perfect day. Emily was strong and brave and beautiful. She gave birth to a lovely, healthy baby girl. I will forever be grateful for the blessing of being there. I stayed long enough to tell Emily what a wonderful thing she had done and then I slipped out into the night. I climbed into our van, 12 hours after I had arrived, and sobbed all the way home.
I moved mechanically through the next few days, waiting for my body to acknowledge that my baby had died and to let go of being pregnant. It was only when I went to visit Emily that I was able to crawl outside my sadness and marvel anew at the wonder of life. Grace was tangible in those visits. I told Emily how on May 6, 1990, an oncologist told me I’d never have another baby. Then, two years later, on May 6, my second son was born. God made certain that I knew that He could bring great good out of a bad situation. Emily wondered aloud at the timing. She had been in early labor for weeks. Her baby, now named Mary Grace, was born May 6, 2004. God could have chosen any day. But He chose the day which will forever be a day of great good and renewed hope for both of us.
I struggled to make sense of my loss. The next week found me in a cold surgical suite, sobbing a final goodbye. I offered the day for Emily as she sat at home, agonizing over whether to keep her baby. The next few days were painful ones for both of us. Then, it was the weekend and I found myself in a pew at a little country church witnessing my daughter’s First Reconciliation. I cried my way through my own confession.
The next day dawned gray and gloomy. My dear little daughter dressed excitedly for her First Communion. My eyes were swollen. My head hurt. The only prayer left in me was “Just please don’t let me cry anymore.” As we walked to church, the sun broke through the clouds. Mary Beth shone with joy. During Mass, I sat with my toddler on my lap, my daughter on one side and my husband on the other. My entire family stretched down the pew.
The sense of being alone was overwhelming. “Where are you in all of this, God? I have surrendered a baby to heaven; I have helped to bring a baby into this world; I’ve brought this darling child to your altar to receive your Presence. Why can I not feel you here?” Like so many times before when I was in pain, I had the crushing fear of being abandoned by my Heavenly Father.
My eyes wandered around the church to all the friends who had walked this journey with Mary Beth, some of them since her baptism. They were the same people who had consoled me in the past week. I was desperate to find an answer to the growing panic that I was alone. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw Emily’s father. He smiled at me. In a flood of emotion, I remembered a conversation we had had a few days earlier, sitting in the hallway of the labor and delivery ward.
Emily’s father is a big, strong man. He was a Secret Service agent for the president. He’s one tough guy. He looked at me the morning of his granddaughter’s birth with tears in his eyes. “I want you to know I will do anything, anything for Emily and that baby. I love them both so much, I’d give my very life for them.” And he meant it. In the days of Emily’s agonizing decision, it was her father who took control. Firmly, compassionately, he crafted a family plan that protected the lives of the precious children he held so dear his daughter and his granddaughter. We all breathed a collective sigh of relief when he exerted his paternal authority with wisdom and gentleness.
Here it was, the answer to my own prayer. God showed me how a human father can protect and love all life unconditionally, how a human father can be big enough, strong enough, courageous enough, gentle enough, wise enough to bring great good out of a bad situation. I knew that there is just one Father who is all of these things all the time. God didn’t want this pain for me. He wants life. Even as Emily’s father wants nothing but good for her, the Author and Creator of life wants all that is good for me.
He is holding my baby in heaven. He is holding Emily’s baby here on earth. He is holding Emily. And He is holding me.
Elizabeth Foss is a freelance writer from Northern Virginia. Real Learning: Education in the Heart of the Home by Elizabeth Foss can be purchased at www.4reallearning.com.
(This article courtesy of the Arlington Catholic Herald.)
[Editor's Note: For discussion of Catholic teaching on the death of unborn children go here. ]