My son came home from school the other day in a bad mood. He was picking on his sisters, reluctant to begin his homework, and grumpy about any after school snack I offered. I’ve learned to give him some time before trying to figure out the reason behind his irritability. That night, when I tucked him into bed, I asked “Why such a long face?” He said that at school that day, his teacher had asked if anyone would like to offer up a special prayer intention, and he said, “I prayed for you and Dad and for the baby you lost.” Then he said, later that day at recess, one of his classmates told him he was always making up stories, so the boy didn’t believe we had lost a child. At that moment, my son began to cry, and my heart broke for him. At the same time, I was also taken aback by his prayer intention. My first pregnancy had ended in a miscarriage over 14 years ago, and my husband and I had only mentioned it a handful of times to our children.
A few days later, on our way to Sunday Mass, my son asked me, “Mom, so why did we forget?” In the rush to get our 5 children to Church and still trying to fix his sister’s hair, I responded in a hurried tone, “Forget about what?” He said, “The baby.” I didn’t really process his question until after communion when I was kneeling down to pray. Then it hit me then like a ton of bricks. Why had I forgotten? As I prayed, I imagined this child in heaven with the saints and the Holy Family, and overcome with emotion, I began to weep. For the next week, this image of the little one I had lost continued to resonate in my heart and on my mind, along with the inescapable question of why had I forgotten?
During the winter of 1999, my lifelong best friend and I both found out we were expecting our first child. The babies were due in October and we were delighted not only with our little baby bumps, but to be going through this life-changing experience together. At 14 weeks, however, my pregnancy took a terrible turn. My husband was out of the country, so my girlfriend left work to join me at the ultrasound where together we saw the absence of my baby’s heartbeat. It was unspeakable, but my friend was so incredibly supportive. I have always been so grateful to her for her selfless love, for enduring that experience with me and sharing the grief with the loss of my child. It must have been even more difficult for her as she was still expecting her own.
To someone who has miscarried, people’s genuine attempts of condolences sometimes feel more like thoughtless words: “Well it must have God’s plan,” or “The baby probably had health issues,” or “You will have others,” or “It was only 14 weeks, and it happens too many.” Unsure of how to really process this type of loss, I did what I imagine many women do: I put my grief behind me and went back to my daily routine.
The following year, I became pregnant again, and we went on to have 5 children in 7 years. Our children knew that Mom had lost 1, but there was no discussion beyond that. Being around many conservative moms over the years, and since I’ve entered the Catholic/Christian blogging world, I’ve often been struck when I’ve heard women say, “I have 6 children on this earth, and 2 in heaven.” It never occurred to me to mention the baby I lost. I could understand how women, who were further along in their pregnancy when they lost their child, would refer to their child, the loss, their grief and even the soul. I realized that in my mind and heart, I had convinced myself that our lost pregnancy didn’t carry much weight. I had pushed my feelings down, never allowing myself to love or know this child, not allowing this soul to be present.
I believe in God-incidences. Recently at a conference, I was introduced to a woman who shared with me (without prompting) her similar experience of suppressing her feelings following her miscarriages. She told me how she had been transformed, however, on a trip to Medjugorje, Bosnia (the location where 30 years ago the Blessed Mother appeared to 6 children, revealing messages for the world, visions that continue to this day). The woman had the opportunity to go to reconciliation while at Medjugorje, and the priest, without any prior knowledge of her situation, remarkably asked her about the babies she had lost 20 years ago. Like me, she hadn’t embraced the lives of the children she had miscarried, and told the priest she didn’t know their gender. He proceeded to guide her through a prayer of sorts, in which she imagined herself standing before the Blessed Mother and Jesus, who were holding the hands of the children; she saw one was a girl and the other, a boy. The priest told the woman that God plants information like that in our hearts, and to trust that feeling, to name the children, and to remember them. He reassured her that the children love her and are waiting until the day they are reunited with her. She described the great love she felt from the Blessed Mother and Jesus.
As this woman told her story, tears were rolling down my cheeks. She knowingly asked, “Did you lose a child?” “Yes,” I replied. She continued, “Did you name your child?” I said, “I never knew if it was a girl or boy, so no.” In my gut, however, I had always believed the baby was a boy, so on that day I named our son Riley Thomas O’Flaherty. The woman encouraged me to pick a day as his birthday, and suggested All Souls Day, pointing out that this was one day a year that I could hold that child in my heart, but also in the community of others in the celebration of the Mass.
Over the next few days, I spent time in prayer and began to imagine this child desiring a relationship with all of us, and in a way, guiding us in our faith and life. I drew comfort in picturing this angel boy riding on the bus with my other children, and as an angel might do, providing them encouragement, comfort or solace on any given day. My heart is warmed by the image of Riley talking with Jesus about how he wants blessings showered upon my husband, his earthly father, as he strives to launch a start-up business. How Riley may ask the Blessed Mother to provide me a gentle spirit with my children when I am exhausted at the end of a long day and am feeling so depleted.
This women had also shared with me that through prayer, she has come to feel that God wants all women to know His love—women who have lost a child through miscarriage at week 3, 12 or 40, as well as women who have lost a child through an abortion; that He loves us all, that the children’s souls are at rest, and that the child can be remembered in a special way, regardless of how they are lost.
One morning, weeks after my encounter with this woman, I realized that I, too, felt transformed. The sensation was almost as if our family had expanded by one overnight. What a gift I have been given, to now experience that additional love, both for Riley and from him (even if it’s on a spiritual level and not a physical one). I went back to my other son and thanked him for listening to his inner voice (the Holy Spirit) and for reminding us of this gift we have in heaven. .
We will celebrate Riley’s birthday on All Souls Day each November. Another tradition I’m planning, to help keep his memory alive is to buy an ornament for our Christmas tree with his name on it, which will join those we have for our other children. And just as I’ve come to feel Riley’s presence with us here on earth, I now ask him to be an intercessor in heaven for my prayers.
Are you, or someone you know, in need of healing transformation?
- Perhaps your parish priest can hold a private Memorial Service for families who have lost children in the womb, to facilitate healing and to honor the eternal lives of the children in heaven.
- Rachel's Vineyard is “a safe place to renew, rebuild and redeem hearts broken by abortion. Weekend retreats offer you a supportive, confidential and non-judgmental environment…to help you experience God's love and compassion on a profound level.”Retreats are held in both Catholic and nondenominational settings, in 48 states and 57 countries. www.rachelsvineyard.org
My hope is that you will share this blog with women or men who may benefit from hearing this story.