Mary Walsh on the Child Who Was Never Lost
We’ve never had a December baby. The calendar is dotted with birthdays in January, March, May, June, October, and November. This year was going to be different. We would need another stocking this Christmas to hang on the chimney for old St. Nick. With eight children in the house, it would be another lively Christmas, only slightly more organized, as Mrs. Claus would shop early to avoid those Christmas lines late in pregnancy.
The betting began between the boys and the girls on the sex of the new sibling. The sides were equal at 4–4. Our baseball team would take shape by December with the arrival of our December baby. I set about doing postponed projects before morning sickness hit.
There is something just so magical and wonderful, indeed heavenly, about a baby at Christmastime. What should we call this December baby to be born in the month of the dear Lord’s birth? Sometimes a name seems to fall like a star from the sky, and other times it would take us what seemed like forever to settle upon one. Nicholas is a popular favorite, but it didn’t take us long to realize his name should be Joseph. It would be Joseph. I was sure it was a boy.
A Different Pregnancy
The morning sickness never came. Six weeks passed and I began to wonder. Though doctors will always tell expectant mothers, “each pregnancy is different,” you know your own body. Mine is always sick in the first trimester.
Having lived through rotten nausea eight previous times, I began to wonder where it was. My clothes still fit. The first visit to the doctor produced a “Please come back in two weeks to check for a viable pregnancy.” But I didn’t have to wait that long. Four days later, on our sixteenth wedding anniversary, I awoke in a pool of blood. Instantly, my heart sank. My heart knew, my mind knew, my body knew, I was losing this baby.
A trip to the doctor’s office revealed mixed results, which was not at all what I expected. It is so easy to think that doctors have all the answers, but of course they don’t. Doctors are human beings just like we are. He couldn’t determine whether an actual miscarriage had started. He suggested that my dates could be off. A sonogram showed an egg sac and a yolk sac but no fetal pole. “Maybe you’re just early,” he said hopefully. But in my heart, I knew otherwise.
A friend walked into the doctor’s office who also thought she was beginning to miscarry. Friends are such blessings in times of heartache. We prayed for each other. We spoke softly of things we did not want to discuss and drew strength from each other.
After I came home, the bleeding did not stop. Saturday, I tried to stay busy but I was teary. I was thankful to be at home and not in the cold, sterile environment of the hospital. The children’s hugs and smiles were the best medicine. During the afternoon, my young daughters helped sweep the kitchen saying, “We’re going to help you because you’re going to need lots of help with the new baby coming.” I wiped the tears away quickly and thanked them for their selfless offering.
Emotionally, it was far easier to be home with my husband and children. Saturday night, I had a dream of a happy-faced, curly dark-haired child smiling at me. When I told my husband about it in the morning, he said, “I had the same dream last night.”
By Sunday morning, the empty sac was like the empty tomb. The angel said, “He is risen; he is not here.” My baby’s life left my body and entered into the arms of Jesus. I baptized the baby as best I could. The three oldest children, ages 15, 14, and 11, knew on Friday morning that the danger of miscarriage existed. The younger ones still needed to be told. We knew it would not be easy.
Wanted in Heaven
On Sunday night, after the rosary, we told the little ones that our baby was wanted in heaven by Jesus. Our little Joseph is with him, where there is no pain but only perfect happiness, and one day we will all be together again, but not in December. We voted on a second name of Peter. Joseph Peter Walsh. Everyone was crying.
We’ve talked quite a bit about death this year with the children. Last January, our friends’ 17-year-old daughter died unexpectedly from a difficult illness. In March, Terri Schiavo died. In April, the pope died. In early May, my uncle died of a massive stroke on the Sunday morning of his fortieth wedding anniversary. And now our baby died. I don’t know how people grieve without faith.
Upstairs, the girls were still talking quietly. It was way past their bedtime. I walked in to give them a final goodnight hug. Five-year-old Katie explained to me, “It’s okay, Mommy. I understand now that our baby is not really dead, he is living with Jesus in heaven.” We talked about placing a guardian angel statue in the garden for him and planting flowers around it.
Joseph Peter, a real and true person, was entrusted to our care. He will never have a social security number or a birth certificate, but he will always have a place in our hearts as our Christmas baby. Personhood emanates from God’s gift of love and life. God’s grace sustains us through the prayers of others.
I have wondered, having gone through this experience, how much more those who have had abortions must suffer in excruciating pain and silence. Grief begins the healing process. The acknowledgement that a tiny person existed and was precious to us gives us comfort. The aborted mother is not allowed to grieve for the loss of her child; she is told he is nothing. To whom can she speak?
Miscarriage is a process similar to birth, only at the end of the womb’s labor the result is not joy but sorrow, and yet we cling to our confidence in God’s love and mercy that our tiny babe has been born unto him. Joseph Peter, we will see you one day in heaven. Pray for us. We love and miss you. Hugs and kisses, Mom and Dad.
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“December's Child” first appeared in the January/February 2006 issue of Touchstone. If you enjoyed this article, you'll find more of the same in every issue.
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