“You will know the tree by the fruit that it produces….”
I often wonder, in the end, what my family will look like. I thought by now I would know. But now instead of having my own plans, I do know that it is God who is in control and that His plan for my family is prefect. And now I know that the only thing that really matters is that my family bears everlasting fruit.
It took a lot of God’s grace to get me to this point and I want to share how it happened. This may initially appear to be a tragic part of our family’s story, but it is, in reality, a love story. A story of God’s infinite goodness and faithfulness. This is the story of my beautiful Mary Therese and her 38 weeks with us in my womb and her glorious 10 hours with us on the outside.
We named her before she was even conceived. After my fourth miscarriage, I asked for Our Mother’s intercession. I bargained with Our Lady and told her I would name my child in her honor in exchange for her intercession. The day I found out I was having a girl was the day my baby girl received a fatal diagnosis. I was 16 weeks pregnant.
Anencephaly, anencephaly, anencephaly. I woke up in the middle of the night and repeated this word over and over in my head. I wanted to remember it and get it right. But more than that, I wanted to go back to the previous day before I had ever heard this word. Before Mary had been given her death sentence. Before my heart was pierced.
My husband and I googled “miracles and anencephaly”. The only result we found was the miracle of a baby living 10 days. There has never been a reported case (that we could find) where an anencephalic baby survived more than days, weeks, and maybe months.
This is why the American Catholic Bishops chose to issue a document giving guidance to parents who have received this diagnosis for their child. Since there is no chance of survival, it is the most extreme form of birth defect and therefore should give guidance for all other adverse diagnoses. In their wisdom, they concluded that parents are obligated to carry these babies to full term. Their reasoning (as I understand it) is that God has destined this baby to die from anencephaly, not from complications due to premature birth and definitely, not from the hands of a doctor in the form of an abortion.
What wisdom our Church has. I was living in darkness those first few days and I thank God that He gave me guidance through our Church when I needed it most. When all I wanted was to be done with this pregnancy. To go to sleep and wake up on the other side. I think of all of the graces I would have thrown away, graces that will, in the end, help my family’s tree become a tree that bears everlasting fruit.
I am ashamed of all of the thoughts I had over those first days and weeks after her diagnosis. I hoped for a miscarriage. I hid at home, not wanting anyone to see and know that I was pregnant and ask all of the questions that would open the floodgate of tears. I cried and I mourned. I mourned the loss of my hope for a big family. This was my 6th pregnancy and I had only one child, Katie who was now 16 months old. I mourned for Katie’s loss of her sister and life-long best friend. But mostly, I mourned for my loss of Mary. For all of the lost hopes and dreams I had for this child. For the piano recitals and soccer games that I would never see. For the songs she would never sing and the books she would never read. For all of this life that I wanted to share with her and would never have the chance. I once heard someone say that when you lose a parent, you lose your past. When you lose a spouse, you lose your present. When you lose a child, you lose your future.
I believe it was the countless people’s prayers that made me wake up one day and know that I could not continue mourning while she was still with me. This was my daughter’s life. This was the only time she had on this earth. This was the only time I would have her with me. I had to call on the strength of God and I had to start finding joy in the time that God gave us together. I had to learn to rejoice that I was going to meet her face to face on this earth and be able to kiss her cheeks and hold her hands and hopefully see her smile. And by God’s grace learn to accept this time with my child as the gift that it was.
We took her to Lourdes and to Paris. We prayed for a miracle but I knew in my heart of hearts that the miracle would not be in the form of a physical healing for her. I knew that this was God’s will for her life and for our family. The miracle came in the fact that we found God’s peace and joy in the midst of all of the sorrow. That we were able to find such beauty and see God’s goodness in her short life. That countless others were touched by the hand of God through her little life.
She was born via c-section on June 8, 2008 at 6:45 a.m. There was no one present who was left untouched from the anesthesiologist who wiped my tears to the labor and delivery nurse who asked if she could stay for the Baptism. There was a peace in our crowded room as we took turns holding her not knowing how long we had. Later a friend commented that it was holy ground that could be felt immediately upon entering the hospital room.
At 5:00 p.m. her labored breathing was suddenly silent. I hadn’t realized how loud it was or how much it comforted me while at the same time bringing me pain knowing that not one of her breaths came without effort. I told her to run to Jesus. She had earned her crown.
Three different friends had visions of our Mary after her death. In one vision Jesus was holding her as an infant and he wanted this friend to call us and let us know that she was with Him. In another vision, an old family friend woke up in the middle of the night and saw my deceased father holding her as a toddler and beaming. It had always been a regret of mine that my father wouldn’t know any of my children and my children wouldn’t know him.
The third vision was of my Mary standing with Our Lady of Sorrows. My Mary was a young woman and was reported to look just like me. Our Lady said, “Whether you hold your child for only an hour or see your Child crucified to a cross, the depth of the sorrow is the same”. Then my Mary said to thank her parents for giving her eternal life. My child is a handmaiden to Our Lady! What more could a mother ask for?
God is faithful. As promised, he brings joy after the rain. We buried Mary next to my father in Louisiana and came home to a glorious summer in the mountains of Utah. I was able to find renewed joy in being Katie’s mom and in spending my days playing with her. And I saw Mary everywhere I went. She was the hawk that followed us when we were out for our daily hike. I watched her soar and fly effortlessly as she would dip down to check in on us and I was a proud mother.
And now she goes with me everywhere. She is the young woman in the vision and she is my friend and she intercedes for us and I know that she will continue to help me on the road to my salvation and that she will be looking out for her father and her sister as well as her brothers and sisters to come. She is a vessel of God’s grace for us all.
I am writing this almost ten months after her death and I want to share God’s goodness. “If you in your sinfulness know how to give your children good things, how much more does our Heavenly Father know how to give you good things?”. I am currently 29 weeks pregnant with a beautiful, healthy baby girl. This baby will be born within a couple of weeks of Mary’s birth. She will, in no way, be a replacement for Mary. No one could replace my beautiful daughter. This baby is a unique and beautiful gift from God just like Mary was.
So I will soon have a better picture of what my family is going to look like. I feel like a kid a Christmas. God is taking care of the details and I believe our Mary is sitting on His lap and smiling as His plan unfolds before our eyes.
God is good!
A Tribute to Mary
Thank you for being here today to celebrate the life of our child. A child who was created exactly the way our Creator designed and in His eyes was perfect. She was “knitted in my womb” and was “fearfully and wonderfully made”. And since meeting my beautiful daughter, I would not want any other child than the Mary that God gave to us. As a proud mother, I want to share just a few of the many powerful lessons that my child, who never spoke a word, has taught me.
First, Mary taught me a lesson in the value of life.
Many in our world say that our Mary’s life had no value or meaning and should have been ended earlier to spare us the heartache. We are here today because we know that is not true. There is nothing that she could have done to earn her value or to earn God’s love. Her value lay in the fact that she was a child of God who was fashioned in the image and likeness of Him. She is the daughter of the Most High King.
This fact made me think how this is true for each and every one of us. There is nothing we can do to earn our own value or to earn the love of God. He loves us because we are His. We can do things to make Him a proud or disappointed Father, but nothing we can do can make Him love us any more or any less.
How often we run around feeling pressure to do something to try to make a difference in this world, and somehow leave it a better place. Then there is Mary, whose life touched so many lives in ways that are beyond reason and understanding, and all because she was a child of God and was fulfilling His Will for her life. I can only hope that my relatively long life will have the impact that hers did. Second, Mary taught me a lesson in trust.
Mary has taught both me and Joe how to “walk by faith and not by sight”. We have learned to trust that God has a better plan for our family and for our lives, and the lives of our children; than we have for ourselves. Learning to trust that God is in control of every situation, even when our human hearts are pierced and broken. If we look with eyes of faith, we know that our suffering is fashioned to draw us closer to God and secure for us eternal life with Him. This trust has the power to banish all fear, and all feelings of self-pity, and turn our weeping into rejoicing.
The following scripture verse from Habakkuk was given to me by a friend, when Mary was first diagnosed. It is one I’ve prayed throughout this journey. First I prayed it through tears of sorrow, not understanding completely. But after a while I was able to pray it with conviction and it has brought me to a place of deeper trust:
“For though the fig tree blossom not, nor fruit be on the vines, Though the yield of the olive fail and the terraces produce no nourishment, Though the flocks disappear from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, Yet will I rejoice in the Lord and exult in my saving God. God, my Lord, is my strength; He makes my feet swift as those of hinds And enables me to go upon the heights.”
Third, Mary taught me a lesson in humility.
Someone said to me that this journey would be life-defining for me and Joe. What I’ve found is that I am not as strong as I once believed. Through this journey if I ever took my eyes off of God and His Will, I sunk to the depths and nothing made sense. God is my strength. Without His Grace, I am weak and have nothing to give. With His Grace, I am upheld in the darkest days.
One night I had an image of Joe and I standing at a crossroads. There were two paths. One was a straight path that looked easy to walk but immediately entered a place of darkness where frightening, unknowns lurked. The other path was a rocky hard climb up a mountain, which also led to the unknown, but there was light at the top. We could only see the first few steps of the climb, but knew that it didn’t get easier, and to reach to top would be a daunting task. Neither path looked inviting, and we were both afraid. But we knew that there was really no choice. We had to climb the mountain. God had backed us into a corner. And I thank Him for that because He knows us so well and loves us so much. He knew we would never attempt such an ascent if we had an easier choice.
So when people comment on how strong we are, I am humbled, because all we are doing is putting one foot in front of the other down a path that God has laid before us, often mumbling complaints along the way. I wish I could say we were running and skipping up the mountain and singing joyfully. But maybe this is preparing us for other mountains, and we will be in better shape to climb them.
Joe and I were also humbled by the countless number of people who reached out to us, and those who kept us in their constant prayers – sometimes total strangers. I learned that the saying “it is easier to give than to receive” is true. Joe and I were awed by the outpouring of help and support of so many wonderful people and humbly accepted the help in our ascent knowing we couldn’t make it on our own. These past five months we’ve experienced the mystical Body of Christ present and among us, and working today, and it is beautiful to behold.
Last, Mary taught me a lesson in life and death.
“Oh death where is your sting?” Mary’s life and death taught us that our own lives are but a “flash in the pan” and it has been a constant reminder that we are living this life to get to our eternal destination.
There is nothing more Joe or I can do for our child here on earth. In my humanness, I feel so inadequate because I could not do more for Mary. But our job as parents is to get our children to heaven. God, in His wisdom, has taken care of Mary for us. I know that she was greeted by my earthly father, and that she is whole now and is dancing and playing like a little girl should, and that she is united with her other siblings who we never got the privilege of meeting. And I know that she will be one of the first to greet me when I get there, and she will present me to Our Lord, and we will be forever reunited. Until that moment, I believe my heart will never cease to ache and I will be homesick for my eternal home.
I thank God for allowing me and trusting me to be the mother of Mary, for the lessons her life has taught me and her father, and for the lessons she has taught many others who were touched by her life. I call her “our” Mary because she is part of all of you that have walked this journey with us. Our lives are irrevocably changed because of the brief encounter with our beautiful child. And for that, I am a very proud mother.