With my up-sized family, I am a magnet for comments of the reproductive nature. "So, are you done?" as though I relish the opportunity to discuss my fertility choices with random strangers, or the most popular: "You've got your hands full!"
I'm usually not bothered by the comments. Many are said with pure intentions. I remember asking a woman who had five children at the time if she wanted more. She seemed to hesitate at first, perhaps a little tired of the question, and responded that she was simply trying to be open to God's will - I assured her that someday I hoped to have twelve and she seemed to appreciate that my question arose from a place of excitement and admiration rather than judgement.
The crazy thing about the "hands full" comment, is that it now invokes a little sadness in me. After giving birth to three babies in three years, I was delighted to discover I was expecting yet again. At three months along, I had my first appointment with my midwives. They were unable to find a heartbeat. They assured me I needn't worry, as it was possible it was still a little early for the doppler to detect, but when I went home, I started to bleed.
An ultrasound at the ER confirmed my greatest fear. My little one was gone.
My world was shattered, every part of me saturated with grief. It took me a long time to feel like myself again.
I wasn't grieving the idea of someone, or the hope of a future life with a "potential someone". I knew that I had been carrying someone distinct and irreplaceable. I had already fallen in love with her and knew that even if we would be blessed with another child, a new baby would never replace the one I had just lost.
I remember accepting that my baby was made for heaven and I named her Judah Mary. Only two years later I lost another child, Francis Joseph. My heart was broken, but losing him helped me look into the possibility that there was something I could do to prevent future losses. From that pregnancy on, I was supported by progesterone supplementation.
In spite of that support there were pregnancies that couldn't be saved.
Each loss incited more pain than I can faithfully express. One child I held in the palm of my hand. I told her I loved her and said goodbye.
The pregnancies that followed my losses were very difficult emotionally. I worried more for their well being. I sometimes felt like my womb was a tomb and prayed with all my heart that I would be able to see life emerge. I had rainbow babies. Twins that would never have been if their sibling had survived. And I saw God's goodness prevail following periods of intense sorrow.
I can now boast that Heaven holds five of my babies. They were all offered the Baptism of Desire. They all have names. My other eleven children know the names of their saintly siblings and they know they will meet them someday.
I try to respond with a smile when I am informed that I have my hands full, but inside, all I can think is:
Not full enough. Not nearly.
This month we remember those who have suffered the cross of pregnancy and/or infant loss. Know that your precious little ones are a perfect reflection of the love of you and your spouse before the face of God. May you understand the power of their prayers on your behalf. May the angels hold your little ones until the day you are called home - when your children will run to greet you, throwing themselves into your arms. Then your hands will indeed be full.