We’ve come together to celebrate our dear friend’s new baby, her very life and her entrance into the church. We’re all standing, singing a song of praise, as sunlight streams in through the stained glass windows. It’s a beautiful day, and being here, surrounded by friends, celebrating life, is like healing balm to my heart, my heart that within just a few short weeks has been made fuller by the promise of new life, and broken and chapped by the pain of miscarriage.
And then, I see her. A woman, around my age, steps forward as the Godmother. She’s beautiful, with white fabric flowing gracefully over her large belly, swollen with life. Her skin is glowing and her eyes bright, and she smiles contentedly. She is everything I want to be, everything, just days earlier, I thought I’d be in a few short months. I try my hardest to stand tall and strong, like the others, as we rise to pray for this new child’s life in Christ, but my legs feel weak and wobbly. I know the tears I’m straining to hold back are going to fall any second, and so I excuse myself, avoiding eye contact with my husband.
I find the bathroom quickly and fumble with the faucet, wanting, needing the feeling of cool water on my flushed, hot cheeks. It brings some relief, but I’m still shaking, still crying, still wondering, “Why?” I know I can’t go back into the church, not yet, not like this, so I wander into the next room, filled with white gowns for altar servers. I’m about to turn around and leave, feeling like I’m intruding on sacred ground somehow, when I spot rocks and plants in the back corner. As I move closer I realize it’s a makeshift grotto, complete with statues of Saint Bernadette and the Mother of God, candles, and a kneeler for prayer.
I fall to my knees, and let go of everything: the sadness, the anger, and the fear. And then, I pray.
Almost two years later, I’m at the park with a friend. We’re chatting as our young boys play. It’s a beautiful day, a beautiful friendship, and a beautiful moment. I feel alive and grateful. Without thinking, I ask my friend if she’s hoping for more children.
Instantly, she cries, “Yes!” She and her husband are open to God’s timing, she says, but they are more than ready for their son to have a brother or sister, as soon as possible. Though I’m thrilled for her joy, her hopefulness, and her calling to motherhood, my heart aches as I realize what is coming next.
“What about you guys?” she asks softly, compassionately aware that cancer may affect my answer.
I don’t bother to tell her how my heart aches for more children, how it’s been all I can think about lately, as it seems like glowing, pregnant woman are everywhere and as the world is bursting with new life. I don’t bother to tell her how as John Paul gets taller and his hair longer and his spirit more independent, I praise God for his growth and well-being, but I also yearn for a small baby to hold and nurture. I don’t bother to tell her how hard it has been to navigate the balance between trusting in my faith and God, all the while trying to respect the medical knowledge that strongly cautions me to refrain from getting pregnant at all costs, lest my fast growing tumor rage uncontrollably, making harsh treatment, not safe for pregnant women or unborn babies, necessary. And I don’t bother to mention one of my greatest fears, that the intense chemotherapy I had has made me infertile.
Instead, I simply say, “Yes,” later adding, “but we can’t right now.” I cringe, hating the darkness I’ve brought to our light afternoon, hating my circumstances, hating cancer. Mercifully, my thoughtful friend nods and says, “I’m sorry.”
A few days later I’m running late for band practice before mass. As I rush into the church, I pass the adoration chapel. It’s filled with nuns. Though I don’t glimpse any of their faces, something makes me turn around to look at them. And just as I do, a nun turns toward me. She’s beautiful, with white fabric flowing gracefully over her body and down to the floor. She meets my eyes and I can see her thinking, processing, remembering. Suddenly, her eyes light up, and she walks towards me.
“It’s me,” I say.
We smile at each other, recalling our last meeting over a year ago, in a tense hospital room. Though she had visited me every day since my admittance to Fairfax Hospital, and she visited John Paul every single day he was in the NICU (36 days in total), I never saw her again after the last time we prayed together, the night before John Paul was born by c-section.
“I just-I-thank you,” I stammer as I begin crying.
I can’t think of what else to say, and I can see her eyes filling with tears, so I lean in and hug her.
She holds me close and whispers in my ear,
“There is life.”
“There is life.”
“There is life.”
There is life:
to be loved,
to be appreciated,
to be hoped for.