Can a woman forget her nursing child, or show no compassion for the child of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. See, I have inscribed you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me. Isaiah 49: 15-16
Nearly sixteen years ago, I had the privilege to be with someone I will not see again until my life on this earth is finally ended. Until then, I am grateful for the time – albeit short – which we did have together.
An Unexpected Joy
My seventh pregnancy was initially indicated by a plus sign on a home pregnancy test and confirmed indubitably with a blood test at my family doctor’s clinic. Unlike with my previous six pregnancies, though, I didn’t feel anxious or worried about being pregnant this seventh time around. In fact, I felt a surprisingly deep and quiet sense of happiness. How blessed we were to be welcoming another baby into our family! I was looking forward to taking time off from the full-time job I had at that time when I gave birth to this baby.
My previous pregnancies had been uneventful and as “standard” as they come. Appointments for ultrasounds were exciting moments to get a peek at the baby-to-come! So when an ultrasound during the first trimester of my seventh pregnancy resulted in a finding of no heartbeat, I did not know how to react. It did not seem real. What did it mean that there was no heartbeat?
Afterward, I started to notice how the physical feeling of being pregnant seemed to slowly subside. Whatever was happening, I had no control over my body. My family doctor confirmed that the pregnancy had not progressed; hence the absence of the baby’s heartbeat. I was told I did not have to go for any procedure in the hospital. My body was going to “take care” of what was in my womb and naturally expel what was left over. I cannot remember much about those conversations now, other than this overwhelming feeling of numbness, which was oddly both painful and comforting. It was as if I was on an unfamiliar and ugly roller-coaster ride I had never been on, did not know anything about and did not want to be on. I wanted to get off, but the ride was not over by a long shot.
A Sudden Loss of my Baby
While at work on April 1st, and without warning, I rapidly started to experience spontaneous haemorrhaging. Since my pregnancy had been in its first few weeks, I had not revealed my condition to co-workers, save for a close friend who advised me to leave for home in a cab right away. What had been very quiet and hidden was now making itself felt and seen very quickly and plainly. My roller-coaster ride had taken a twist I did not expect, plunging me into a physical and emotional experience of loss I had never imagined I would ever face.
When all was said and done, my seventh pregnancy lasting into about nine weeks gestation resulted in a frantic rush to the hospital, twice fainting and losing very nearly a quarter of my blood in the whole process. Whereas I was happily pregnant a few weeks before, I suddenly found myself feeling quite weak and alone. I felt the violent absence of one who had been in my womb.
All of this after just nine weeks of having been pregnant? How was it possible? My doctor then had given me the impression that the whole process of losing what was left inside of me from the pregnancy was a natural process. I was told it would very probably feel like a heavier than usual monthly period. There was nothing to worry about. I could just stay at home. It made me think “it” would all pass very quietly and unnoticed. As painful as it was to go through the physical experience of a miscarriage, it helped me to understand and appreciate better what had been the presence of my unborn child.
“Someone Was Here!”
While we could not hear or find her heartbeat, my baby’s obvious presence could not be missed or ignored at all. She did not go “quietly into the night”. It was as if my body was shouting and crying out, “Someone was here! Someone was in this womb! It had been prepared for her and she was here!”
In the Catechism of the Catholic Church, it says: “Since it must be treated from conception as a person, the embryo must be defended in its integrity, cared for, and healed, as far as possible, like any other human being.” I had a human being in my womb for nine weeks or however long it was before her little heart stopped beating. Before we caught a glimpse on the ultrasound, it was gone. But – she had been there and my experience allowed me to appreciate her presence after she was gone.
My heart bears the indelible mark of that little one, and two other babies who did not live past their first trimester in utero. I cannot forget them even if I tried. I do not want to. Once after this, I woke up from an extremely vivid dream with the physical ache of having embraced and held someone tightly in my arms. I had been holding my precious unborn baby, only to be startled into the rude reality of my empty arms.
Through all of this, I have found great comfort and love when I have asked God to take me into the palm of His hand. He has taken mine into His, and as His daughter, I sought comfort in His hands as well. I continue to do so. I cannot do otherwise. In God, nothing is impossible.
Hope of Salvation
For a very long time, perhaps generations, many people believed the souls of babies who had died without being baptized ended up in limbo permanently, “excluded from the beatific vision”. This was one of my greatest sorrows. How could my little ones be lost just like that? It didn’t make sense.
However, in 2007, the International Theological Commission studied and issued, “The Hope of Salvation for Infants who Die Without Being Baptized”, because: “In the contemporary context of cultural relativism and religious pluralism the number of non-baptized infants has grown considerably, and therefore the reflection on the possibility of salvation for these infants has become urgent.” In this much welcome document, it is stated that although for various stated reasons, limbo continues to be a possible theological hypothesis, in fact, it is not mentioned in the Catechism of the Catholic Church. Instead:
“Rather, the Catechism teaches that infants who die without baptism are entrusted by the Church to the mercy of God, as is shown in the specific funeral rite for such children. The principle that God desires the salvation of all people gives rise to the hope that there is a path to salvation for infants who die without baptism (cf. CCC, 1261), and therefore also to the theological desire to find a coherent and logical connection between the diverse affirmations of the Catholic faith: the universal salvific will of God; the unicity of the mediation of Christ; the necessity of baptism for salvation; the universal action of grace in relation to the sacraments; the link between original sin and the deprivation of the beatific vision; the creation of man “in Christ”.”
Although I never despaired, the thought of my little ones lost forever caused me a lot of grief. Since this development and to this day, I am full of hope in the mercy of my heavenly Father. I cannot fathom any other possibility, which discounts His mercy and His goodness. My faith and my own experience tell me He will never forsake those who love Him. If only by virtue of baptism by desire (mine for my unborn and unbaptized children), I know as a mother that I can put my whole trust in God’s mercy.
When I think of our unborn little ones, I cannot help but be grateful for the time I had with them when they were in my womb. Unseen and unheard, they changed my life and made me turn to my God in gratitude and in faith. They brought so much joy to their father and siblings who never met them, yet still felt their loss. When we pray as a family and we go through the names of each member asking God to bless them, our children include “the three babies who died”.
They are as much a part of our family as each of us who live and breathe to this day. In so little time and with nothing material or physical to show for it, they fulfilled the innate mission each child of God has: to bring others around them closer to Him. They brought us hope and joy, which are possible only through God’s providence. For these, we will always be grateful and look forward to when we shall all be together again.