There is something to be grateful for all the time. However, it is not human nature to feel thankful during difficult or painful situations. Therefore, how can a woman who has suffered a miscarriage or stillbirth find the will to be thankful while still grieving?
by Theresa Cavicchio, OFS
The feast of Saint Francis of Assisi (1182 – 1226 A.D.) is celebrated each year on October 4th, often with commemorations of his renowned devotion to all of God’s creation. Some of the faithful take beloved pets to receive a special blessing in his name. Others recall his care for the environment, a particularly timely topic dear to the heart of Pope Francis. Still others renew their attraction to his life of simplicity and poverty.
Mary, Mother of Our Lord Jesus Christ, has merited numerous titles down through the centuries, many very familiar. Sometimes, though, a new title comes our way – a hidden gem revealing to the faithful another jewel in the crown of devotion to Our Lady.
Here are some of the justifications that women provide for keeping their miscarriages or their infertility journey private.
As the summer weeks wind down, many of us delight in contemplating times spent by the sea – in reality, or only in our imaginations.
On August 11, 1253 A.D., Clare of Assisi, abbess of the Community of Poor Ladies of San Damiano, breathed her last on earth. Born to the noble Offreduccio family (1193/4 A.D.), she was moved by the persuasive preaching of Francis of Assisi, renouncing her birthright and worldly riches to follow him in poverty and adherence to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Thus began the Second Order of Franciscans, this one for women, later known as the Poor Clares.
Saint Anthony of Padua (1195 – 1231 A.D.) is one of the most beloved of saints. Widely renowned as the heavenly locator of lost articles – and even lost hope, lost faith, and lost souls – the circumstances of his holy life confirm the appropriateness of that designation.
During a consultation, a woman, whom I will refer to as Jane, told me that she was pursuing therapy because she was “desperate for a child”. Jane revealed that after being unable to become pregnant for years her doctor recommended IVF because it was the best way for her to have a baby. Jane was very excited at the prospect and sincerely believed that it was the answer to her problems. She was able to get pregnant, twice. Sadly, she miscarried both pregnancies. Jane was heartbroken, dejected, and baffled at the outcomes of the IVF procedures. She cried out to me: “What’s wrong with me? Why does this keep happening to me? I was so sure IVF would work. I would do anything to have a baby!”
May is the month of our Blessed Mother Mary and we honor her by having special devotions in her honor where we can ponder anew all that she has done for us through her intercession and maternal care. Fittingly, May is also the month when we celebrate Mother’s Day to acknowledge our earthly mothers and shower them with gifts and flowers as signs of gratitude for all the ways that they have loved and nurtured us.
However, for many women who have gone through pregnancy loss or living with infertility, Mother’s Day can be harrowing. It is a day that can be filled with sadness and anguish. In Proverbs 13:12, scripture tells us that “Hope deferred makes the heart sick”. The reason for feelings of sadness and grief on that day is that the celebration is a stark reminder that a woman is childless or has lost the love of her heart. She may sense, falsely or not, the accusatory look of others based on her motherhood status.
I remember feeling so isolated, ignored, and overlooked at Mass on Mother’s Day when I was struggling to become pregnant and years later again after my miscarriage. During many Masses throughout the US, priests will pay tribute to mothers by asking them to stand up and everyone will clap for them. Some parishes will even hand out a single rose to the mothers. I always thought it was a beautiful and thoughtful gesture until I was grappling with my own fertility. I felt so alienated like the child on the playground whom no one invited to take part in the game while all the others looked on.
I remember one Mother’s Day sending a silent prayer of supplication to the Lord during Sunday Mass: “I too desire to be a mother. Would you entrust to me the gift of motherhood?” And that feeling even intensified after my miscarriage. By that time, I knew what it was like to carry a baby in the womb and care for that tiny little being. However, by the time Mother’s Day had arrived, there was no living child around me as a visible sign to “prove” to everyone that I was a mother. At Mass that year, I hesitated to stand up when the priest invited all mothers to rise for a special blessing because I was in the throes of grief and unprepared to explain to strangers the complexity of my mothering status.
My husband encouraged me to stand up that year when I experienced my miscarriage and reminded me that, indeed, I was a mother.
So, how do you navigate all those feelings on Mother’s Day when you are longing for a child to call you mama?
For those who are journeying with infertility, feeling invisible or perhaps cast aside on Mother’s Day, I want you to know that you are never absent from the gaze of the One who created every molecule of your body. He knows how you are formed and sees the “thorn in your flesh” to quote Saint Paul. Let Him caress that tender spot; let Him love you in your pain. With the help of the Blessed Mother and her intercession, don’t be afraid to ask God to show you how he intends for you to live out your yearning to nurture and care for a child. But, perhaps, it may not be the way you expected.
For those who have shed tears over a baby they were unable to bring home after being pregnant, know that you are a mother. Mother’s Day is for you also, because you are a bereaved mother whether your baby lasted 6 weeks in utero or 6 months postpartum.
Consequently, I will encourage you to honor yourself that day by being intentional about that baby you never held in your arms. Perhaps you can offer a prayer, spend some time before the Blessed Sacrament, or journal your reflections about the hopes you had for that baby. No matter the feelings that tend to overwhelm you that day, know that God’s mercy and compassion cover you. He knows your heart; he understands your loss. Look to higher ground and raise your eyes to Jesus so that he will fill the wounds of your heart with his love and grace. Be certain that the gaze that he will return to you is the one that says “You are my beloved daughter, the apple of my eye”. Mary, too, invites you to rest in her maternal embrace.
You are not alone! Never will she cease watching over you!
Margalita Poletunow, LPCMH is a mother, beloved daughter of God, and Licensed Professional Counselor