Conversion Diary's Jennifer F. sent me over to a site where a non-religious (Jennifer likes to use the term "secular") woman is dealing with the grief of miscarriage. Reading her posts touched my heart. Please join me in offering some prayers for this grieving mother.
I wanted to say that I'm so, so profoundly grateful that I had become a full fledged Catholic before my miscarriage. That event made it so clear to me why it matters that I'm a now Catholic, instead of remaining a vaguely happy Christian following Jesus on my own.
The Catholic church has clear rules, and those rules act as safeguards when you are in trouble.
When I walked into that ultrasound room . . . when the nurse practitioner told me that my baby no longer had a heart beat, that same baby whose teeny finger tips I could now make out on the monitor . . . Boy, was I in trouble.
I need gentleness. I needed the support of a real, sacramental of marriage. I needed to be married to the baby's father. I needed to know in my bones that my husband missed being a father just as much as I missed being this lost baby's mother.
I needed the gracious support of my beloved Parish priest. The same celibate guy who sat in the confessional and helped me discern when to open myself up to conceive this baby, who forgave me when the stress of pregnancy caused me to yell at my older children, who included my littlest guy during the blessing of my children by making an extra sign of the cross over my non-bulging tummy.
This beloved Father helped me plan the baby's funeral. He hard my confession and absolved me of all my fears that I'd accidentally hurt my baby. (Should I have double checked with the pharmacist to insure the antibiotic I took for an earache really was safe to take while pregnant? and so forth). I knew in my head that no one was to blame for the miscarriage, of course. I still needed to hear the words out loud to soothe my heart.
I needed Catholic friends who treated this miscarriage as the loss of a real baby.
At the same time, I needed some strict discipline.
The Sunday after my miscarriage, I couldn't face going to church. We had to take the bus. My husband had done all the heavy lifting to get a 2 year old, a 1 year old and myself dressed in church clothes and waiting at our bus stop in time for 10 AM Mass. The bus was late.
I walked a few feet away from my family. I ignored my good church dress and laid down in the grass. "I can not bear to go to church right now!" I said.
"Are you feeling badly. I can take the kids alone to church, or go another time, if you don't feel well enough for Mass," my husband said with anxiety.
"No, I'm physically fine. It's a mental thing. I just can not bear to go to Mass. Last week we were all there together. I rubbed my tummy and felt so happy. We got chocolate milk shakes after church. I felt so excited to be buying three kid size milkshakes on Sundays in a few months." I spit out the words. I felt crummy.
"You can stay home. I'm sure it's alright," he said.
"No it's a sin. A big one. If I'm not really sick then I have to go to Mass." I pulled myself up, with so much disgust at the Catholic church. I really wished that I was Protestant again. I wished I got to skip church whenever I wanted to.
That gift of knowing "mortal sin" saved me. Because if I hadn't gone to church on that terrible Sunday after the miscarriage. That Sunday when I was so mad at God, so mad at all the pregnant mothers at the swimming pool who blithely commented about "life with this baby" without realizing that in a second this whole baby gift can suddenly disappear while a dead body still floats in your uterus, and so overwhelmed with the thought of returning to the church its happy stain-glass windows of Mary cradling the newborn Jesus, I don't know when I would have ever returned. It could have been a week. But it probably would have been much, much longer.
My mother was a Sunday School administrator once at our Protestant church. I remember her telling another teacher that it was such a lovely thing to sign up Sandra at last to teach 5th grade. My mom said "Sandra says she hasn't been to church for 2 years since her father died. Having her teach Sunday School will be such a beautiful way to get her back into the church. At least she'll be in the same building!"
As Catholics, we don't have the option of hanging out in the Sunday School classroom while we manage our grief. We don't get to take a break and arrange our face before we meet God.
Each Sunday, we are required to be in a pew at Mass. And that is not a pain-in-the-neck requirement. That is a grace.
Because it is when we are bleeding, it's when we are in pain and angry and lost, it's the times when we so don't want to be in a Church--those are the times that God has the most to say to us.
That Sunday that I didn't want to go to Church, I realized that it was because I couldn't bare for my life to go on as normal. I couldn't bare for my church to seem to forget my son. I didn't know yet that death is talked about each and every Sunday.
I walked into my church feeling so bitter and closed up. "I'm only here because you are making me!" I thought. Then I found this little King figure that Alex had left in our pew the week before. The doll had sat there undisturbed through a week's worth of Masses. The doll was about 4 inches long and had a crown on it's head. It was the same size as my dead son's body. I picked it up, and squeezed it in my hand all during Mass.
The stain-glass window that lay behind my regular pew turned out to be Our Blessed Mother holding her Jesus as he came off the cross. I scooted down to be in the blue shadow from that window. "Mary lost a son," I thought. "She knows how I feel."
I cried openly all through that Mass. I cried at the Holy Scripture reading. I cried when we had to shake hands with a family of three. "Oldest girl and 2 younger brothers. That's what we were supposed to have," I thought at the passing of the peace. I cried during communion.
I didn't get the sense while I was in church, squeezing my little King doll and wishing that I Francisco's body was back in my womb, that my burden was easier as a Catholic mom. Now I do.
Catholicism has hard rules. And when the way is blurred with tears ---the church makes sure that your grief doesn't harden your heart and lead to sin. The Church make sure that you are face to face with God on Sunday. The church insures that you don't short-cut your ethics in exchange for preventing the conception of another child and thus spare yourself ever feeling this intense pain again.
The church is our Mother. She can't prevent all of our pain from the Great Fall. She does care, however. She bandages our wounds and showers us with "feel better soon" kisses. I love our Blessed Mother. I love our Mother Church.
Let's pray that all those in mourning soon feel comfort. Let's also pray everyone makes it home to feel our Mother's love.