It took a long time to work up to this, but over the past few weeks I’ve had the need to share my personal story. I don’t know who needs to hear it, but I hope it helps.
If you’ve read about me you know I don’t consider myself a “cradle Catholic,” but I’ve been a baptized Catholic for 29 of my 36 years on Earth. Growing up my mother, sisters and I attended Mass on a weekly basis, and my dad would join us on Christmas and Easter. For fun during the summers, I would attend morning Mass with my grandfather, and sometimes at night my cousin, sisters and I would say the Rosary with him.
My sisters and I received the sacraments of Reconciliation, Holy Eucharist and Confirmation at the appropriate ages. Well, I received Confirmation a year late. I didn’t understand that it was about accepting Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. But I did know it was what my mother wanted, so I did it. Now I’m glad I listened to her.
I met my husband six months after graduating high school. Four months later we got engaged. We spoke to our priest. We took the compatibility tests. We met with our assigned married couple. We waited the six months. After doing everything asked we were not allowed to get married in the Church because we lived together. That would have been good to know in the beginning. Needless to say we were not happy with the Church. But that didn’t stop us. We got hitched by a Justice of the Peace in my parent’s front yard anyway.
We stopped attending Mass. I was of the opinion that we didn’t need to attend a church in order to pray. God could hear me from my living room just fine, right? Organized religion was unnecessary.
Our first year of marriage was great. We enjoyed each other. Seldom disagreed or argued. We got pregnant with our first baby. Not exactly a surprise. We were ready. We were mature adults at ages 20 and 25. Mature enough to get married. So we were mature enough to start a family.
Everything went well for the first few months. I went for regular doctor appointments. Heard the heartbeat. Had my tiny belly measured. And one day saw that beautiful profile of our daughter. It was a girl! But it wasn’t all peaches and cream.
The day following the ultrasound, we received a phone call from my doctor’s office requesting we come in as quickly as possible. My husband is the nervous one. I try to keep him calm. Keep him grounded. Be an optimist. Help him to expect something better than the worst. Hope for the best but prepare for the worst, right? No, he expects and prepares for the worst. Well it turned out that the doctor had the worst news possible. Our baby girl had fluid in her head. Water on the brain. They called it Dandy-Walker Syndrome.
I should have realized the seriousness of the situation when my doctor told us we would have to go to somewhere else if we wanted to terminate the pregnancy. That was not an option. So he recommended that we see a specialist and gave us a few options for care.
After 39 weeks of doctor appointments being poked, and scanned, and measured, and weighed, our little Madison was born. A whopping 5 lbs, 11 oz. Head full of hair. Ten finger. Twelve toes. (Yes, 12 toes). It was then discovered she did not have Dandy-Walker Syndrome as diagnosed. Her brain was actually the size of a 12-week-old fetus’. Baptized in the NICU with our families present, she passed away. Only 47 hours old.
I knew what was going on, but at the same time, I had no idea. Even then I was very calm, accepting the hand dealt.
After losing our little Madison, my reason for believing in God was purely for my sanity. I refused to believe that my little one was just in a box in a hole in the ground for no particular reason. But we still didn’t return to church.
Life went on as normal pretty quick. Before we realized it a few years passed and we were pregnant again. A very similar pregnancy to my first. No illness. No pain. Little weight gain. And then it came time for the ultrasound. We were having another daughter. Same beautiful profile. One major difference. 7 lbs 14 oz of healthy baby. We had our Allison.
While pregnant we began the process of having our marriage blessed. My husband received Confirmation. Our daughter was born and baptized. And finally on our sixth wedding anniversary, our marriage blessed. Yet, we didn’t return to the Church.
When our Allison was two-years-old, my husband and I separated. No fighting. No adultery. No disrespect. No loss of love. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I would find out years later that I finally began to really grieve over the loss of our Madison. After seven and a half years of marriage and our first bad decision, we divorced. Or so we thought.
We did our best to remain cordial. Let’s face it. Even though we didn’t separate for the “normal” reasons, we were still both hurt by the situation. So, little arguments would spring up from nowhere on occasion, but they were always about our daughter. We would talk a little about our personal lives but not in great detail.
Years came and went. We both made some more bad decisions. Married other people. Still found ourselves miserable. But not for long. The best decision we made during this time was to change our custody agreement. Our previous arrangement was not healthy for our Allison. What happened next can only be described as divine intervention.
As I sat in my car outside my attorney’s office, I felt the need for prayer. I got out my Novena book and recited the Novena to the Sorrows of the Blessed Virgin Mary. I only said it once. Not the traditional nine times. But I said it with all my heart.
By the end of the meeting with my attorney I was still married to my first husband. Confused? I’d be surprised if you weren’t. My attorney discovered that our divorce decree was filed in a county that did not have jurisdiction making the divorce void as well as all subsequent marriages. Meaning after five and a half years of separation, we were still married. All of our problems, bad decisions, our Allison’s turmoil literally disappeared in the blink of an eye. I’ve often compared it to waking up from a nightmare.
Our family counselor explained to my husband and I that we were grieving all those years ago. The birth of our Allison helped us understand the loss of our Madison.
It took us about four months to work things out. It took even less time to decide I needed to get back to Church. And I did. I received absolution. Began receiving the Eucharist again. Teaching CCD. Volunteering at Vacation Bible School. Studying so I would understand my faith better.
Here we are almost three years later. Happy, healthy, and rebuilding. Our bad decisions became life lessons. Now we spend more time focusing on our family and faith and less time on everything else.