The closest my husband got to giving away he was going to propose was at the Easter Vigil. We’d gone back to our college, to see an undergraduate friend received into the Church, and just before we’d gone in to the liturgy, we’d heard that two friends of ours had gotten engaged.
“It’s a little weird to get engaged on Holy Saturday, don’t you think?” I said. “I mean, Christ’s dead, as far as anyone knows. He’s not with us, He’s harrowing Hell.” Alexi started to speak, but I kept going: “Unless, Holy Saturday is the best day to get engaged? Because we spend our lives in Holy Saturday, hoping to be fully united with Christ, but tempted by the fear that He won’t be who He promised.”
“Well,” Alexi said, “Easter Sunday is probably a good day to get engaged, too.”
One day later, it was.
One year later, I was married. And I was still arguing about the liturgical appropriateness of what could happen on Easter, but now I was trying to negotiate with my child. I was six weeks pregnant, but I’d spent the last week and a half bleeding and going back into the doctor’s office for more ultrasounds and bloodwork.
Lazarus Saturday: “Lord who called Lazarus from the tomb, call to our child and help our baby live!”
Good Friday: “Lord, who trampled down death by death, keep our baby growing.”
I knew I shouldn’t be bargaining with God, but no one had said I couldn’t try it with the baby. My husband and I watched Ant-Man one scary night, to pass the hours before an emergency ultrasound in the morning after a bout of bleeding. As the credits rolled, I said, “You have to hang on, Baby. They didn’t let the Wasp put on her super-suit in this movie. You have to hang on to see her be a hero, too.”
The next morning, good news: The doctor could see the baby, but it was too early for a heartbeat. I thanked our baby for being alive and promised we’d see Ant-Man and the Wasp, all three of us, even if a seven-month-old wouldn’t follow the plot. One more day, one more call from the doctor: My bloodwork still looked worrying. Could we come back for more tests after the holiday weekend?
So, I wound up at the Vigil Mass, trying to explain to a baby that had eyespots, but no ears as of yet, that it would be really liturgically inappropriate to die at Easter.
On Sunday night, the bleeding got worse, and on Monday of the Octave of Easter—a day that was really still Easter, Easter lasting a whole week—I was lying on a table as the ultrasound technician hedged when I asked her whether she could see our baby. “I can see the uterine lining,” she said.
The doctor who followed did everything possible to avoid directly mentioning whom we’d lost. When the ob-gyn gave us the news, officially, she said, “It looks like what we thought might be happening, happened.” We asked more questions, and she said only, “The pregnancy has been completely expelled, no need for a follow-up.” Finally, “Maybe you want to stay here until you stop crying, so you won’t be upset on the street.”
(I didn’t have any immediate plans to stop crying.)
Instead of following the doctor’s recommendation, my husband and I walked to our parish church, to cry in the pew, in a room filled with flowers and alleluias. A parishioner named Michael saw our unseasonable grief and offered to get us a priest. He never pressed for details about what was wrong, not that day, nor over the subsequent weeks when he asked us how we were doing. He just saw that we were upset, and immediately offered what he could: bringing us into the rectory, closer to someone who might be able to take care of us.
We had told a few friends we were pregnant, in the first few days, when nothing had gone wrong, and I was marking anticipated trimesters on my calendar. We told more friends when the signs turned bad, so there would be people praying for all three of us—people who knew our son or daughter as a living child, not as a story about someone who was dead.
I reached out to friends who I knew had lost children, but, in several other cases, when I confided what was happening to us, my friend wept with me, and told me for the first time about her own loss (or even losses). Even when we went to arrange a memorial Mass, we found an unexpected fellow sufferer in the priest, who told us that his mother had lost three children.
One week after we lost our baby, the Gospel reading was the story of the apostle Thomas poking his finger into the wounds of Christ. I’d spent the whole week doing the same thing.
These other mothers were Christ to me. I spent the Easter Octave surrounded by images of the crucified and resurrected Christ—women bearing wounds it was hard to imagine they could carry, and yet walking, talking, eating, and loving me.
We lost our baby too early and too suddenly to have a body to bury. If I wanted to have a grave to tend, my only option was my own body, which had become the sepulcher for my child. And all around me, in the women who invited me into their grief, “The tombs also were opened, and many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised” (Matt 27:52). The mothers who offered me their grief for comfort were a sign of contradiction, living tombs. They put on Christ and answered my Anima Christi prayers: “Within thy wounds, hide me.”
And after that? Where should I ask God to lead me, after He has asked my friends to offer their wounds to me as doors, to show me the Resurrection everywhere but the place I asked to see Him triumphant?
I can’t know yet, I don’t know the shape of my own wound, or how it might appear transfigured. Do my friends know how limned with mercy their own griefs appeared to me, when they offered them to me as balm?
While still unpregnant with a child, I am pregnant with my loss, hoping that I, too, can bear the Easter promise Paul describes in his letter to the Romans:
We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved. (Romans 8:22–24)
Paul reminds his friends that “hope that is seen is not hope,” so I can’t root this prayer in hope. My friends gave me too clear a witness; they gave me the gift Thomas received in his weakness: to touch the wounds and then believe.