Dear Hope Marie, Clare Marie, and sweet little Therese Marie,
This letter to you is so overdue. The truth is, my letter to all of you was prompted by your sister, Hannah Marie, who is now 14 in human years, and is so anxious to meet all of you one day. I can’t tell you how many times she used to ask about all of you when she was younger. I told her as much as I could, but I suppose in some ways, I have avoided thinking too deeply about all of you. Forgive me. Perhaps it’s been a little too painful, but that’s awfully short-sighted of me.
First, girls, er.. maybe guys, let me explain your names. Your middle name is in honor of the Blessed Mother. However, your Mom and I never actually knew your real gender. Each of you passed from this world into the next before technology could tell us your exact gender. So, I hope you don’t mind, but we have taken the liberty of naming you as girls, but we love each of you no matter whether we have guessed correctly or not!
I am sorry to say that when your Mother and I first got married, we were not ready for children. Our primary exposure to children at that time consisted of watching adults being cleverly manipulated by undisciplined toddlers at the dinner table of family restaurants. Tantrums, spoiled behavior, etc., did nothing to convince us that we wanted children. In addition, we had subscribed to the modern day notion that children were a burden, a cramping of one’s style. We had no responsibilities, we traveled frequently to exotic vacation destinations – why would we want to mess that up with a little bundle of joy? Like so many people these days, we took matters into our own hands, using the contraceptive pill to ensure that our lives would not be interrupted unexpectedly by the wailing and nashing of teeth we had seen.
Fortunately, our God is a patient God. Through our studies of the Catholic faith, God showed us that contraception was wrong, and that your Mom and I needed to change our ways. We quickly stopped using the pill, and never again used any form of birth control, and assumed it would be so easy to have children, now that we were “ready.”
It took about 2 years before the Lord blessed us with you, Hope.
I remember just how excited your Mom and I were when we received the wonderful news of you being conceived in the fall of 1994! We had so many dreams and aspirations for you. I remember how moving it was when we saw your heartbeat at 6 weeks! Since that moment, I have often thought that many women would reconsider their choice to abort if they could only see the heartbeat of their children. It makes everything so much more real.
Anyway, we were thrilled! But, soon after that doctor visit, your Mom began to have problems. We were worried, but we did not know what to make of it all. The doctor scheduled us to come back for an appointment at 10 weeks of pregnancy.
Our worst fears were confirmed at that appointment. On the sonogram, we could no longer see your heartbeat. Instead of that little blinking sign of life, we were met with only a black screen. We were shocked and in disbelief. Nothing prepared us for the pain that swept over us.
Your Mom was crushed. I can only imagine what she felt, since I am a man, and never had the privilege of carrying you within my body. God has truly blessed women with their role in bringing life into this world. I can only guess at the heart-wrenching emotions that ran through her inner being, as she had to let go of all her dreams for you.
Some in our world think that we fathers are not deeply affected by miscarriage. I can only speak for myself. When the doctor left the room, I broke down and wept like I had not wept since I was a little boy. Even now, seventeen years later, talking about it, a lump is in my throat, and tears in my eyes. I am not sure I can explain it other than to say the pain pierced my very being.
It all seems so long ago now.
In the late spring of 1996, you, Clare Marie, were conceived. Once again, we were so excited, but also so worried. We did not know what to make of what had happened with Hope. We could not understand why she had not lived, especially after all the heartache we went through to get pregnant. It was so difficult. But, we surrendered it to God, just trusting that there was a reason, and that one day it would be revealed.
Regrettably, it was deja vu all over again, as Yogi Berra would say (I will tell you all about him when I see you!). Once again, we were overjoyed at seeing your heartbeat at 6 weeks, and crushed when it was no longer present a few weeks later.
We began to wonder if we would ever be able to have a child here on earth. When these things happen, there are just no answers sometimes. We had to reach out in faith , continue being open to life, and continuing to trust that God had a plan. Perhaps these words from Mother Angelica capture the emotions best.
My Lord, the baby is dead!
Why, my Lord, dare I ask why? It will not hear the whisper of the wind or see the beauty of its parents’ face. it will not see the beauty of Your creation or the flame of a sunrise.
Why, my Lord?
“Why, My child, do you ask ‘why’?
Well, I will tell you why.
You see, the child lives. Instead of the wind he hears the sound of angels singing before My throne. Instead of the beauty that passes he sees everlasting Beauty, he sees My face. He was created and lived a short time so the image of his parents imprinted on his face may stand before Me as their personal intercessor. He knows secrets of heaven unknown to men on earth. He laughs with a special joy that only the innocent possess. My ways are not the ways of man. I create for My Kingdom and each creature fills a place in that Kingdom that could not be filled by another. He was created for My joy and his parents’ merits. He has never seen pain or sin. He has never felt hunger or pain. I breathed a soul into a seed, made it grow and called it forth.”
I am humbled before you, my Lord, for questioning Your wisdom, goodness, and love. I speak as a fool, forgive me. I acknowledge Your sovereign rights over life and death. I thank You for the life that began for so short a time to enjoy so long an Eternity.
Several months later, your Mom became pregnant with your sister, Hannah Marie.
Despite all the troubles we had had, somehow, I had the feeling that little Hannah was going to make it. I had no logical basis for this belief, given our previous experiences, but there was just a sense of peace.
Your Mom had a very difficult pregnancy. Early in the pregnancy, your Mom began to develop some of the same problems she experienced during her pregnancies with Hope and Clare. One night, she lay in bed, spotting. She stayed up all night, crying, and praying. She consecrated Hannah to the protection of Our Blessed Mother.
She spent the first four months of the pregnancy on the couch, laying in the dark. At 34 weeks, she developed pre-eclampsia. Your Mom’s blood pressure began to get dangerously high. The doctors advised us that the only way to fix the problem was to get the baby out of there. They advised us that we could abort the pregnancy or deliver the baby early. We told them we would never abort, so they induced labor.
My precious Hannah was born prematurely, at 3 pounds, 14 ounces. By today’s standards, she’s a giant among preemies, but back then, she was awfully little. I was afraid I would break her in two the first time I changed her diaper.
The pre-eclampsia took its toll on your mother. Shortly after delivering your sister, she could no longer see clearly. Fluid had built up behind her retina, and caused her vision to be blurred. For five months, she could not see clearly enough to drive a car. Yet, she would do it all again in a heartbeat to bring into life a new baby.
Despite all the problems, to say that we were overjoyed would be an understatement. All the tears and fears of our previous pregnancies were replaced with tears of happiness.
And so it was that fifteen months later, our youngest, Therese Marie, was conceived.
Therese, I hate to sound like a broken record, but we experienced the same heartbreak with you. Just like Hope and Clare, your tiny heartbeat disappeared at 10 weeks.
Girls, Hannah and I read a beautiful article this week, by Bonnie Engstrom, entitled Another Life to Remember. The article caused me to examine my conscience in how I have honored each of your lives.
The essence of her article is that a child who has been lost through miscarriage is every much a life as is a child who is lost to abortion. She offers beautiful tips for how someone who has suffered from miscarriage can recognize the dignity of that brief life. I highly recommend her post.
I certainly have always known that each of you is just as human as your sister, Hannah. But, I feel like I have fallen short in witnessing to your lives. Sometimes, when people ask me how many children I have, I will tell them four; one on earth, and three in heaven. However, many times, if I don’t think they will understand, I will simply reply one, losing my chance to be a witness to life.
One of my most basic regrets is that we have been unable to provide Hannah any siblings here on earth to accompany her. Like any father, I would do anything to ease the suffering of one of my children. For so many years, she could not understand why she had no brothers or sisters here on earth. I would explain to her that you would see her in Heaven.
I know this has been a cross for her. Yet, she rests on the hope that this life is but a brief moment compared to an eternity in Heaven. I smile as I think of the joyful reunion that awaits us all.
Hannah wanted to write in her own words what you mean to her.
Dear Hope, Clare, and Therese,
Sometimes I wonder why God allowed you to go to Heaven before coming into the world, and then I think about why I’m the only one of us who survived. It’s been difficult for me to grow up as an only child, and I miss you all the time. But I know that I have strong intercessors in you, and that you are praying for me and loving me from Heaven. I wish that I could see you now and know now what you look like. I am so thankful for the short time that you lived, because it gives me so much joy in knowing that I do have siblings and I really am not an only child. It always surprises me when I realize that I am a big sister and a little sister, even if it does not feel like it. I just wish you could visit for one day…. I would introduce you to all my friends because they would be your friends too if you were here. You would meet all our cousins and our grandparents and relatives. We would take lots of pictures so I could always remember what you looked like, and we would make so many memories. I can’t wait for the day when our whole family will be together for the first time, and I know that when I get to Heaven, you will be right there waiting for me with open arms. Until then, I love you so much and I will never forget you!!
Strong as death is love, relentless as the nether world is devotion; its flames are a blazing fire. Deep waters cannot quench love, nor floods sweep it away-Song of Songs 8: 6-7
Changing My Ways
Girls, it’s a bit sad to sit here and write this letter to you.
How little I have paid attention to you over the years. It’s not been a deliberate thing, but more of an allowing myself to be consumed with other concerns, perhaps subtly not wanting to revisit the painful memories.
I suppose it’s human nature – since I cannot see you, feel you, or hear you, it’s easy to overlook that you exist.
Yet, my Catholic faith assures me that you are just as alive as my daughter here on earth, and that one day we will be reunited.
Like the Prodigal Son, I have squandered the inheritance the Lord has given me. I have three beautiful little intercessors in Heaven, yet have I ever called on any of you?
As I sit here with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, I am filled with regret that I did not request your tiny bodies be turned over to us by the hospital. We were advised by the doctors to have D&C operations each time to remove the “products of conception,” to prevent your mother from getting an infection.
Such a sterile term, so typical of our culture.
I regret not being far enough along in my Catholic faith at the time, to challenge the conventional wisdom of the doctors. Instead, I let you, my children, be disposed of in some medical facility, lab specimens in plastic bags. What was I thinking?
I meant no harm.
Things Will Be Different
But, all of that is water under the bridge. I cannot change the errors of the past, but I can change my behavior going forward.
Starting today, I ask each of you to pray for us that struggle in this desert as we journey to the Promised Land.
Starting today, we will observe your projected due dates as your birthdays.
We will not fear the pain, nor will we regret the lives that could have been. Rather, we will celebrate that you DO LIVE. We know you are in Heaven watching over us, and we long to meet you when our earthly journey ends.
And now, it is only right to close with some words from your mother, who suffered so much for you all.
To my children in Heaven,
You were only with me for a short while, but how I miss you. For years I prayed for a little girl – I bought little girl outfits and filled a closet with them. God answered my prayer four times but three of you had to return to our Lord for reasons unknown to me. The loss of each one of you was a great one.
Your Dad and I would always be overjoyed to hear we were pregnant, only to go in a few weeks later and to have you gone already. The heart beat would be there at one hospital visit and the next time it was silent. You cannot imagine the emptiness that I felt each time. My precious babies gone.
I blamed myself – was I exercising too much – what was I doing wrong? But then, after you were gone, running is what I used as therapy as I could cry my soul out as I ran. My desire to hold you, to nurture you, was so great, but it did not come. Years went by and the Lord finally blessed us with your sister, but not without many difficulties. Only He knows why this was, but it only gives us an appreciation and a deep love for your sister. There are so many unknowns of why you are not here with us.
It pains us how your sister has often cried for siblings. She has taken consolation that you are praying for her. She remembers you and talks about what gender you are and what you look like. She will begin celebrating your birthdays now. We talked about how it was when Abuelo went to join you and that he was the first one to meet you. Hold him and kiss him for me because I miss him so much also. I do not know how it is up there but I long to meet you, hold you, and to see my precious Daddy again. Until we see each other, keep interceding for us with our Lord. Pray us all into Heaven. Love you all so very much.
We love you so much, and we thank God for the gifts of your lives.
Dad, Mom, and Hannah