It was a happy weekend. I had a table at the Family Life Conference for the second time and it was fun to see how my newest pieces were being received. But even more exciting—most of my family and friends were there and I was delighted to tell them all that I was expecting our second baby!
Then everything changed early Sunday morning.
"God did not make death, nor does he rejoice in the destruction of the living."
— Wisdom 1:13 (the first reading that day)
I visited with my sister and my cousins until way past midnight on Saturday. We had been talking babies—I had told most everyone by that point. I complained more than once about how nauseous I was feeling already. Happily complained, mind you—when you've been trying for almost a year, even the most uncomfortable aspects of pregnancy are welcome.
The bleeding started before I even left that camper to head back to my own tent. I had read that spotting can be a normal part of early pregnancy, but I knew instantly that something was wrong. The walls of that little blue outhouse warped and blackened around me, and the dread that had been building in my heart the days before began crashing down like hammer blows, harder and harder until the awful reality that I might be losing my baby sucked the air from my lungs.
Shaking, I went back to my tent and sobbed into my husband's shoulder. He urged me to offer it up to God, that it was too soon to worry. I fell into an exhausted slumber with nothing to do but repeat over and over, Jesus, I trust in you.
I woke to the sound of maniacal seagulls and the walls of my tent thrashing in the wind. The night before felt like a bad dream, and for a little while I dared to hope that everything would be okay after all.
The bleeding began again around 9 am, and this time there was no mistaking the signs. I cried into my pillow for a long time before I dragged myself away from the tent and towards the chapel, head bowed, willing that no one would recognize me and ask what was wrong. I sat down before Jesus, exposed in the monstrance, desperate to lose myself in his Presence. No sooner had I sat down than the priest removed the Host to the tabernacle in preparation for mass, and the little old ladies began rustling about, vacuuming and straightening the pamphlets in the pews. I felt utterly abandoned.
My husband was still blissfully unconscious when I came back to our camp, so I texted the only person in the whole world that I wanted at that moment: my mom.
"I think I'm having a miscarriage," I barely managed to choke out. I sobbed uncontrollably as she held me, our womanly hearts bleeding into each other. My mother, like so many other women, has experienced this pain too. After the storm passed, she promised to take care of my table and to offer up mass for me, and I crawled back into my tent to sleep.
It was too late when I realized that I was missing Sunday mass. Afterwards, my dad offered to find someone to bring me the Eucharist which my heart so ached to receive that morning.
I have two memories which hold a special place in my heart. The first is the mass my spiritual director offered for me and my unborn daughter just a few days after I found out I was pregnant, back when I was newly married. The second is when a compassionate deacon brought the Eucharist to the entrance of my wind-battered tent where I knelt with tears streaming down my face so that I could receive Him into my broken heart.
A little while later, I found myself back in the chapel, the Host reinstated in the small gold monstrance. Never have I prayed so fervently, practically demanding the life of my baby. Yet everything in me cringed at how unworthy I felt... With the novel Lay Siege to Heaven fresh on my mind, I felt a strong urge to ask for the intercession of St. Catherine of Siena, who I knew was a bold and deeply devout saint. Perhaps if God would not listen to me, he would listen to one of his most faithful servants.
The gospel reading that day was, ironically, the story of the haemorrhaging woman (I actually asked God if that was supposed to be a joke). With the hands of my heart, I reached out and touched the altar cloth before me, begging him to stop the bleeding. Later on in the gospel, when Jesus said to the official's daughter, "Little girl, I say to you, arise!", I willed that my baby would live too.
But it was not to be... By the end of the day, my womb had poured out all its precious contents to lay barren and empty once more like it had for so many months before.
God and the Problem of Pain
To an unbeliever, it might seem as though God ignored my prayers, or wasn't there to listen in the first place—otherwise, wouldn't he have prevented this from happening? Perhaps I should have despaired as hope slipped away. But you see... in that quiet country chapel, my final prayer was not a demand or even a pleading request, but the same prayer as a young virgin who would later watch her baby die on the hill of Calvary: "Let it be done unto me according to Thy word."
Nothing in me wanted to say those words, as though the one thing that might save my baby was my own stubbornness. But when I finally allowed myself to breathe that prayer, I was flooded with an unshakeable peace. For the rest of the day, I was smothered (sometimes literally) with love and consolation. Everyone around me rallied together in prayer and support. Many beautiful souls reached out to me and wrapped me in their arms and did not let me go until I was absolutely certain that I was loved. I even discovered that the daily meditation in my prayer book—which spoke eloquently of Christ's blood and the strength he gives in adversity—was written by none other than St. Catherine of Siena. Later that evening, a friend informed me that she also happens to be the patron saint of miscarriages. Like whaaaaat?!
I feel with strange certainty that God works all things to the good for those who love him. This tragedy, which might seem senseless on the surface, I somehow consider a beautiful part of my story. I trust, with unearthly conviction, that God has a plan for my family that is far greater than what I can imagine. That somehow the natural end of this pregnancy, which He could have prevented but did not, will indeed bring about a greater good than we can see right now.
My heart grieves and will for a long time... but there is a sweetness in this suffering, as though Christ is bending down from the cross to draw me nearer to himself. If nothing else, I now share a bond formed by blood with every other woman who has experienced the loss of a child. I don't know how, but I treasure the inexplicable beauty of that.
If I sound at all heroic, be certain that I am anything but. I would have happily slipped into bitterness towards God and disillusionment about the power of prayer and the reality of miracles. In fact, I know I will struggle with impatience and even anger as I face months of uncertainty once again. Truly, all is grace. I am reminded that faith is not a force of my will but a gift... a gift that is found in total surrender.
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...
About this painting
Sitting together in my tent, my mom said, "I know what your next painting is going to be." She had guessed at the image that was already budding in my heart.
I dedicate this painting to little Catherine who I will meet someday in heaven, and to all babies lost to miscarriage or stillbirth.
I intentionally painted this baby to look full term yet small enough to fit in the palm of your hand because even though most babies are lost in the first 20 weeks of pregnancy (mine would not have even looked human yet), the moment I realized I was pregnant I could already smell that peach fuzz hair, feel those tiny fingers wrapped around mine... It doesn't matter how soon you miscarry—when you lose your baby, you are losing a future with someone you already love deeply.
To see the making of this painting, watch the time-lapse video below.
Watch the time-lapse video of "I Will Not Forget You"
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Thank you and God bless!