The gift of children is always a blessing. Always. Regardless of whether or not we believe we are ready for children, our Lord gives life in His timing, not ours. We may believe we are not ready or in the perfect situation in life, or we may have trouble conceiving for any number of reasons, but whether early or late in life, God knows what He is about and gives us every grace for our situation.
My husband and I married when we were both in our mid to late 30’s. Prior to our wedding, I lived in a little house on my brother’s property, nestled between corn and bean fields, prairie grass, woods, creek, and the house he lived in with his family. It was a blessed time in which I grew in faith and bonded with his children; particularly his oldest daughter. Little did I know then the tapestry that the Lord was weaving in our lives. Looking back on the past 20 plus years that tapestry has become a beautiful image of life.
A First Time Mother at 34
Blessed with a pregnancy early on in our marriage, our son was born into the world when I was 34 years of age. My doctor, like so many now, warned of health problems of children born to someone as ‘old’ as I was. I refused early testing for problems. My husband and I welcomed the life growing within as a blessing, regardless of any ‘issues’ that might arise. Our son was born one month early without any difficulty other than weak lungs, needing just a few days extra in the hospital. He is now a fine, strong young man starting a new family of his own.
Our second child was born when I reached the old age of 37. Again we refused any early testing and again there were no issues with this child. He is now in college and pursuing an education in film.
After the birth of our second son, I was concerned with my own health and began a regime of walking, free-weights, and a healthier diet. Thinking I was in the best physical condition I had ever been in, we were all feeling pretty great all around. I had not yet had my conversion to the Catholic Church, nor had my husband returned after his 25-year departure. Due to this fact, we were not understanding of the Church’s teaching on the gift of children and openness to life, and at times practiced birth control. This in no way stopped the Lord from gifting us with another pregnancy. Sadly, we suffered a miscarriage of our child at nine weeks. Our sweet child passed at home, and I began to hemorrhage, needing an emergency procedure. Healing took its time, and we looked to God for answers which didn’t seem to come.
Some months later, I suspected we may be pregnant once again. A test proved in the negative, but if not pregnant, then something must be wrong; I had all the symptoms. A blood test revealed hypothyroidism. This is most likely why my earlier pregnancy had ended. After 3 weeks on medication, still feeling ‘off’, I took another pregnancy test, and this one was positive. Yet this child too did not survive. The thyroid medicine had not been in my system long enough to sustain a pregnancy.
Seeking healing for this difficult time in our lives, we sought out the Lord and prayed for His guidance. My brother and his family were very close to us and a source of consolation. They had also begun their journey to the fullness of the Catholic Church. In our long talks into the night, we learned of the Catholic meaning of suffering, and of every child, no matter how long they had lived, as a blessing, and we found healing for the loss of our children. Within two years we too had found our way to The Church and the fullness of faith.
Embracing life and being open to more children was a joy for us. Our faith grew as did our desire for another child we hoped we would be blessed with. I was now however in my late 40’s. Many times I’d find myself crying out to God for the child I sensed. By the time I was 45 I told Him that my time was running out, but if He wanted me to be old, like Elizabeth or Sarah, if that would bring Him more honor and glory I was more than happy to wait.
The day came when I was feeling quite my age, knowing something was wrong, and asking St. Elizabeth to please pray for me, for I was sure it was now too late to conceive. Before going to the doctor to diagnose the problem I thought I’d take a pregnancy test just to rule that out.
46 and Pregnant?
I have to admit the shock of the positive pregnancy test was not only met with joy, but with much fear. I was 46, with a malfunctioning thyroid, and two miscarriages. But now, as a Catholic, I had so much more in my arsenal. I went straight to our local Catholic supply and bought a St. Gerard medal (patron saint of pregnant women), and had it blessed by our priest. With this saint interceding, confidence in a healthy pregnancy began to build. But, the greatest consolation was yet to come.
My brother’s oldest daughter, now a grown, college-age woman, was in school in Austria. She was able to spend time travelling and had been in Rome just a couple of months before. There are many beautiful, amazing churches in Rome, but one, in particular, that has great meaning for the two of us. My niece found herself at St. Augustine’s where St. Monica is interred. There is also a beautiful marble statue carved by Jacopo Sansovino in 1521 of Our Lady and the Christ child. She is called Madonna del Parto; Our Lady of Childbirth.
My niece was there praying for friends, as many people make a pilgrimage there to pray for a healthy delivery or to conceive. Almost as an after-thought, she prayed for us to conceive as well. She never told us about her prayer…not until we announced our pregnancy. We had conceived within a month of her intercessions and those of the Blessed Mother. Not only was the pregnancy the healthiest of all of them, but we were blessed with a beautiful daughter to compliment the boys, AND my thyroid was healed, all at the ‘old age’ of 47. This, however, is not the end of the blessings of Madonna del Parto or St. Gerard.
My St. Gerard medal has become a travelling medal of sorts. I have loaned it to many others who have had ‘high-risk’ pregnancy whether due to age or some other medical reason. All of those women have delivered healthy babies. My niece has since been married and her first child was due on the same due date as our daughter. I just happened to be travelling to Rome during that time (I had always wanted to go back to St. Augustine’s and offer prayers of thanksgiving, but hadn’t flown for 15 years) and promised to return the favor to my niece by praying for her. As it turned out, she delivered early (a blessing as she is a Type 1 diabetic) and her father, an international airline pilot, was called into work for a non-scheduled flight to Rome, and he himself was there to pray. No coincidences, only God-incidents!
More recently, my dear niece suffered a miscarriage. I had just received my St. Gerard medal back from another successful pregnancy and delivery and offered the bracelet to a friend who just announced a pregnancy. She declined and told me to offer it to someone else in need. I really wanted to give it to my niece but was afraid the timing would be off. As we would both be at a wedding out of state an opportunity arose and I decided to give it to her mother who could offer her the saint medal at just the right time.
On the Friday night of the rehearsal- dinner I found my sister-in-law and niece standing together. Confident of my decision I approached them and surprised myself by making a bee-line for my niece to give her the medal, explaining that I wanted her to have it handy for whenever God would bless them again with a child. She gratefully accepted and tucked the medal away.
The Travelling St. Gerard.
Sunday, as we were all at breakfast before going our separate ways, my niece caught my attention, pulling up her sleeve to show me something. There, on her wrist, was the travelling St. Gerard. Seeing my surprise and confusion she said she had just that morning taken a pregnancy test. Yes, they are expecting!
Looking back over the past years I see God’s beautiful tapestry taking form. It is made of the sorrows of loss and the discovery of new life; of the prayers of the faithful, and the Communion of Saints. We give God the threads and cannot imagine what He can and will do with them if we trust and pray. Every child I have conceived has had an integral part in converting my soul, making me a better person, a better mother, a growing Christian. But it goes well beyond affecting just me; our connection with others is far more profound than we realize. All of our lives and the gift of our children’s lives are interwoven. Sometimes all we can see when we are on our knees is the underside of the tapestry, but when we give Him every bit of our suffering and trust in His tender care for us, we begin to see; to get a glimpse of the beauty of His timing, and how He uses each of us, prompts us, toward something much greater than ourselves.
The Communion of Saints and the Blessed Mother’s intercession for all that is good for our souls and the greater Bride of Christ is very real. Do we have the eyes to see our connectedness? Do we share the blessings bestowed on us with others? Do we give over our plans for the greater plans of the Father and see how the Holy Spirit urges us to prayer and charity for those around us?
In a world given more and more over to self and a denial of life and love…Madonna del Parto and St. Gerard, please pray for us!