I was not raised Catholic. In fact, at 29 years old, I am only into my third year of being a confirmed Catholic. My journey into the Catholic faith was, in some ways, long and slow; throughout my childhood and adolescence I met some great Catholic people who seemed to have something that I did not, despite my fervent evangelical belief in Christ. Although deep down I believed that their faith was a skewed version of genuine Christianity, I always hoped that maybe they had “accepted Jesus” as Savior and would join me, and my evangelical friends, in Heaven one day. Many people know that my husband was raised Catholic and assume that I converted because I “had” to. But in fact, the opposite is true. You see, my husband was a poorly catechized, lapsed Catholic who knew and felt apathetically about his faith. In hindsight, this was a blessing, as I probably would not have married him (and he definitely would not have married me!) had he been outrageously passionate about Catholicism.
After our first “legal” wedding and a short stint at community college, we attended university together some 300 miles away from our parents. For three years, we worked, went to classes, studied, went to the beach, and otherwise had a jolly old time. We lived a typical college life, subsisting on cheap college food and regularly imbibing in the cheapest beer and wine available. Those were wonderful, carefree times! Spiritually we were in somewhat of a limbo; although our coursework was difficult, life was easy; we were both science majors and I, at least, had all but abandoned my Christian upbringing and was leaning toward Gnostic ideals. I don’t think my manly husband had given his own religion or spirituality much thought. During our senior year, however, we decided it was time to get pregnant. Not knowing whether, or where, my engineer-major of a husband would be employed, we took a chance and tried to conceive in the fall semester of our senior year, knowing that even if I got pregnant right away, the baby would be born right after his graduation. To our great joy, we conceived that first month! For the next several weeks, I had an uneventful and perfect pregnancy. There was some mild nausea and fatigue, but it was otherwise simple and joyful. Like many zealous first-time parents-to-be, we announced our news to the world without blinking or even considering the possibility of something going wrong. We were due on June 6, 2008.
My first prenatal appointment was scheduled at 10 weeks, a few days after my birthday. We were thrilled at the prospect of finally seeing an image of our child. What a lovely birthday present that would be!
At 10am on a Tuesday morning in November, our happy lives came to a screeching halt. Without any definable cause or warning, the ultrasound revealed that our baby’s heart had stopped beating. I was immediately scheduled for a D&C, and after a whirlwind and groggy-drug-infused 24 hours, I was no longer pregnant.
I can’t even describe the magnitude of grief that we felt. The following days and weeks were consumed with emptiness, tears, questions, and futile attempts of understanding why such an innocent life had to stop. Why did this happen to us? Why did this happen to our unblemished beautiful innocent baby? Our college friends were there and tried to comfort us, but they didn’t know; they had never experienced that kind of loss. Our families were hundreds of miles away; we were all alone; we only had each other. Even then, I wondered if my husband knew how it felt to be me, to have carried that precious baby for nearly three months, only to have it all ripped away so suddenly. Did his heart ache like mine did? Despite our very different genders and grief patterns, Andrew and I clung to each other, cried together, and watched useless 80s comedies to pass the time together.
I was lying in my bed one night, wondering, weeping, trying to sleep, when a source of comfort hit me like a ton of bricks. In a flash of clarity and peace, I thought of the one woman in history who had also lost her only innocent, spotless, child: the Blessed Virgin Mary.
What I experienced over the next few days and weeks would change my life forever. Whenever that raw, painful, uncontrollable sadness would well up within me, I was reminded of the suffering that SHE went through, two millennia ago. I thought of the fact that Christ, on the day of his crucifixion, was just as pure and innocent as He was at the moment of his conception. As if that were not enough, His lingering suffering was done voluntarily, for us. I thought of His mother, watching in agony as her undeserving Child was brutally scourged, forced to carry that tree, bloody and tortured, and then sacrificed not because of His own faults, but for the faults of all humankind. And still He was as innocent as a newborn babe. I realized that any kind of pain or grief that I might face in this life was also experienced by Jesus and his Holy Mother. Rather than asking those unanswerable questions of "Why?", I chose to dwell in that contemplative place of Christ's Passion; this brought an indescribable peace and comfort. While my own sadness over the loss of my child was still present, meditating on Christ and His holy Mother always brought with it the knowledge that my own pain, and the pain of my husband and family, was not in vain; and that WE are loved by a compassionate Creator, who chose to bring redemption into the world through Jesus' suffering.
If nothing else, I realized that we are not alone in our suffering. We are not alone in the universe. Even further, our suffering has the capacity (if we let it) to unite us more fully to Christ's heart. When it seems that nobody can possibly understand our grief, our physical pain, our despair over relationships or daily struggles, or our anxieties, we can remember that our human suffering brings with it a glimpse into the very heart of Jesus, into the very soul of His Mother, and into the mind of God our Father.