I've been talking about plans, and in doing so, I was reminded of this piece that I wrote several years ago for New Covenant magazine. This was after our fifth miscarriage, and before we had Ramona (the four-year old mentioned here is Betsy.) It's a piece about dashed plans and a broken dream. But, it is also about renewed hope and strengthened faith, and I offer it today to anyone who has ever lost a baby.
My Broken Rosary
It was November, just before Thanksgiving and I was at the doctor’s office. I was pregnant, and cautiously hoping I would carry this baby to term. Though we have two beautiful children, after multiple miscarriages I take nothing for granted. The image on the ultrasound screen was not what it should have been.
“I’m concerned it may be ectopic,” said my obstetrician, “but this early, an ultrasound can fool us.” He told me to come back in five days, as “a few days can make a huge difference in what we see.” He did his best to assure me that all would be well.
I left the office feeling frightened and terribly sad. I was seven weeks along. We should have seen a heartbeat. The possibility that "all was well" seemed remote. I prayed. I hoped. But I feared.
Five days later, the picture did look different. There was no sign of trouble in the fallopian tube, and the baby was indeed in the womb. Still, we could not detect a heartbeat. My doctor wanted to try one more ultrasound in a few more days -- couldn’t we have miscalculated the date of conception, he wondered? Not likely, I said, for a couple who knows the finer points of Natural Family Planning as well as we do. And, given my history, I feared the worst.
I reported the news to my closest friends with great sadness. “No heartbeat,” was all I could manage to say. My friends offered me prayers, comfort and shoulders to cry on.
But I had one friend who remained upbeat. “Hang on until the next ultrasound,” she urged. “We have no idea what God has in store for your little one. Pray to Our Lady of Guadalupe, the protector of the unborn.”
Of course! Our Lady of Guadalupe! And so began the rosaries, asking for her intercession. A few days later, out of the blue, I received a beautiful rosary in the mail -- it was a gift from a pro-life organization to which we had donated, and it bore the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. My heart jumped, and I dared to hope this was a sign of an impending miracle.
The next day, on our way out of the house to go to the doctor’s office, my four year old begged to hold the pretty rosary. I handed it to her, and we drove to the home of a friend who'd offered to watch the kids while I went to the doctor. When we arrived at my friend’s house, the rosary was in pieces. “I’m sorry, Mama,” my little girl said with sad eyes. “It broke.” Indeed, beads and links were scattered everywhere.
“It’s okay,” I told her. “Things break. You didn’t mean to.”
But inside, I feared that my “sign” had broken too. I had been hoping and trusting in my prayers to Our Lady of Guadalupe and now the rosary, that unexpected gift that prompted me to hope for a miracle, was in pieces.
Later, at the doctor’s office, the final news came. No growth... no heartbeat... no sign of life. Blood tests over the next week confirmed that my levels of pregnancy hormone had dropped; the baby had died.
In my grief, I forgot for a time about my broken rosary, but then a strange thing happened.
Though I mourned our lost child, circumstances surrounding the miscarriage led to amazing resolution regarding an old and painful emotional wound. In other words, had I not miscarried, I would not have been healed of this old wound. What an amazing grace, I thought, and I thanked God for what He had done for me through the short life and the death of my child.
It was then that I remembered the rosary. As I pieced it back together, I saw that I had nearly all of it. One decade was missing two beads, and my tinkering with the links left it looking a bit crooked here and there, but it was repaired.
Gazing at it, I was struck by the incongruity. This once-perfect thing was now bent, crooked and imperfect, yet still beautiful. It was like us -- like our lives. Though we were made in the perfect image of God, we are bent and crooked with original sin; even after baptism we are still crippled by its after-effects. We stumble through this life tarnishing the perfect image while our Lord repeatedly tinkers with us, repairs us, and heals us.
I remembered the sinking feeling I got when I saw that the rosary had been broken, how I felt all my hopes instantly dashed. I had imagined that the gift of the rosary meant that I would receive the gift of my baby. What I received instead -- the healing I received -- was a great gift that I could not have predicted.
I couldn’t have known how beautifully the Lord would use my child to heal me; I couldn’t have known how this unexpected rosary would become the symbol of God’s work in a broken part of my life. Now, when I pray with my broken rosary, I think of my baby and I know that my friend was right -- we had no idea what God had in store for my little one.
He is always, ineffably, and so unexpectedly, making crooked ways straight.
(This post also appears on the Catholic Exchange blog.)