The calendar hanging on my kitchen wall has an excited notation for today: "Baby Due!" Yet there are no bags packed or meals laid in or neatly-folded crib sheets stacked in the closet, no tiny diapers in the house. The cradle sits in the corner, neglected by all but the cat. The baby whose coming was so eagerly noted for October 18 never kicked or had a heartbeat, but died in utero seven months ago and was miscarried over the three holiest days of the year: Good Friday, Holy Saturday, and Easter. While most Catholics participate in Christ's passion symbolically, our family had a much more profound experience of Christ's suffering this year.
On Good Friday, March 25, I was ten weeks pregnant. Our family was attending the Stations of the Cross at our parish when my almost-three-year-old whispered that she had to go potty. After she'd finished, I asked her to wait while I exercised my pregnant woman's prerogative of using the bathroom at every opportunity. She played quietly with the diaper bag while I stared numbly at my blood-soaked pantyliner.
What did Christ feel when he saw the soldiers approaching him in the Garden of Olives? Was he terrified? Did he try to explain it away? Perhaps they weren't coming for him; maybe they were just out in the neighborhood on patrol. Maybe they would realize that they'd been misinformed and would just leave quietly. “Father, let this cup pass,” he had prayed, and his prayer became my own.
Brendan and I left the girls with an understanding friend and rushed home to call the midwife, who counseled us to wait and rest until tomorrow morning when we could get a blood test to check the pregnancy hormone levels. After picking up the girls, we settled in for a long night's vigil.
The night passed slowly. I spent it in fitful prayers and fitful sleep, interspersed with frequent trips to the bathroom to see if anything had changed. I thought of Christ spending his own anxious night in his cell, wondering what exactly the morning would bring, knowing that all events were progressing inexorably toward his Passion. In the morning we dropped the girls off again with my friend so that they could dye Easter eggs, then headed off for my blood test. I drove, since Brendan had also passed a rough night and was slightly feverish.
I had expected a great ordeal, but it took all of ten minutes to sign in in the empty lobby, get my blood drawn, and be assured that my midwife would call me in several hours with the results. At home again, I laid right down and tried to ignore the cramps that were beginning to wash over me at regular intervals. Brendan was also deteriorating, and neither of us felt much like doing anything.
After a few hours, however, it became evident that he was going to have to go into the after-hours care clinic. His fever was skyrocketing, his throat was swollen, and he could barely stand. I wasn't doing so well myself, but at least I could drive. We staggered into the doctor's office, checked in, and spent a miserable hour both curled up in hard waiting room chairs, trying to ignore the incessant blare of Saturday afternoon TV. My cramps were worsening and it was often all I could do not to cry out, but I was in a cold, impersonal lobby surrounded by others wrapped up in their own sufferings. Brendan's presence was comforting, but like Mary on Calvary, all he could do was watch and pray.
At last we were shown into a small examination room, where I could finally weep into a tissue without being subjected to the stares of strangers. The midwife had said that the cramps often lasted for only three or four hours; it seemed to me that I had been laboring for days, but with no reward to look forward to at the end. After an interminable amount of time, a doctor appeared, examined Brendan, and offered an unfavorable diagnosis: double ear infection, raging fever, a touch of bronchitis. We would have to go to the pharmacy and pick up the prescriptions before I could collapse at home. The trip was agony. Once again I had to drive; Brendan was barely conscious. I willed my foot to stay flat on the pedal instead of curling under with each cramp. I poured every ounce of concentration into following the lines on the pavement and cursed each red light that broke my momentum. At the drive-through pharmacy window, I could barely communicate; I nearly cried at the news we'd have to wait fifteen minutes before the medicine would be ready. As we waited in the parking lot, I pried my hands off the steering wheel to answer the cell phone. It was the midwife calling to tell me the results of my blood test. The hormone levels indicated that the baby had died two weeks ago.
And then I realized that the cramps were subsiding.
The rest of the evening passed in a haze. I was almost giddy with relief at the cessation of pain. The girls stayed overnight with my friend, who dropped by to pick up their fancy Easter dresses and new shoes and promised to put together an Easter basket for them. I moved around just enough to make sure Brendan had his medicine and plenty of ginger ale. Christ may have been busy on Holy Saturday evening, harrowing hell, but I was stiff, weary, and desirous of death-like slumber.
The next morning we debated whether we should attend Mass. I haven't missed Sunday Mass since I was a youngster sick in bed, and Easter is the most important day of the liturgical year. Now, however, we were both ill and beaten down. I had had a miscarriage, he was still running a fever -- surely these were extenuating circumstances? Yet what could be more comforting to those who have suffered loss than receiving Christ who perfectly comprehends all suffering? We would go.
That afternoon I passed the sac with the baby inside. We opened it up and looked at the tiny body, no bigger than my little fingernail. As small as it was, we could see the tiny button nose and the beginnings of arms and legs, but the most striking feature was the large baby-blue eye. We hovered over the body for a time, fearful of touching it lest we crush it. Finally we wrapped up baby and buried it under a newly-planted rosebush. After a short prayer, we commended ourselves to our new saint and went up to sleep.
“Baby Due!” isn't the only item on the calendar for October 18. Next to the crossed-out 40 week mark is a penciled-in “21”. The newest member of our family is a healthy, wriggling baby girl, who has a strong heartbeat and a powerful kick. She doesn't replace the small baby who died with Christ, but it does ease the pain of the loss to know that next Easter I'll once again be looking down at a several week old baby, and this time the big blue eye will be looking right back at me.