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A Test of Faith

By Mary Payne, a parishioner at St. Mary in Huntley, IL. | Photo by Arianna Halt | November 2020

A Test of Faith

An art print that my parents had at the house I grew up in read, “No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.” While we may not see a full spring in this world, some spring will still come, and we hope for the eternal spring of heaven. In the meantime, we have to find a way to endure the suffering involved in both everyday life and the “winters” of our lives.

Last year, God gave my husband and me the grace to get through a winter in our lives: the journey our son, Jerome, took into the world. The pregnancy wasn’t easy. Each day, I am grateful I was able to get through it with His help so that our beautiful son has life. There were temptations along the way that hit me on the darkest days, including despair, giving up and abortion.

Yes, the thought of abortion did blaze through my mind for a few moments on some of the darkest days of the first few months as our family navigated through trauma and a nagging worry about how we would make it through. While I am pro-life, was raised Catholic and ultimately converted back to the faith following another challenging time in my life, truly believing and trusting in God at all times is still no easy task for me.

This pregnancy truly tested my faith, and by doing so, made it stronger. I managed to ultimately embrace that my life is not my own and to learn that joy is found in picking up one’s cross.

Acceptance of motherhood

My husband and I got married in April 2018, and we had planned to move across the country to Georgia in 2019. Aware that having a child shortly after getting married would be challenging, especially with all the change we were going through and had planned for the near future, we had attempted to avoid pregnancy.

God had other ideas.

I initially felt devastated and overwhelmed by this call toward the maturity that was required upon learning that I was pregnant. Yes, our son was born within a family of two married, present parents. Yes, we would obviously love him and cherish him.

But we absolutely had to humbly trust in God’s providence through the financial, health and relationship challenges that we knew would follow. We had planned to save more money before having children. I was trying to lose weight. I didn’t feel capable of becoming like the heroic, capable mothers I had come to know. I figured a dear friend of mine who has carried the cross of infertility would be a much better mother than I would be. My husband and I were adjusting to our new life together – and now, already, we were three.

I didn’t understand why God had decided that I should become a mother. I felt pummeled when a nurse asked me if I was “keeping it” after I called an obstetrician’s office to make the first appointment to see if the home pregnancy test I did was accurate. My friend encouraged me to seek support at a crisis pregnancy center.

There, I ended up hearing from a volunteer something that, while theologically dubious, did end up supporting me on some of my tough days that would follow: that, while all of us are meant to be here, the babies who most surprised their parents by coming into the world were the ones God especially wanted to be here.

Nevertheless, I still struggled to accept the cross of this pregnancy and to bond with my pre-born son, especially during the first trimester. About halfway through it, though, we all underwent our first scare. I started getting cramps while out shopping; things weren’t looking good when I went to the bathroom to see what was wrong. I panicked, sobbing as I believed only one thing could have caused my symptoms: miscarriage.

I was rushed to the hospital, where my husband and I waited in fear, solely comforted by the prayers that dozens of people told us they were saying for us. A diagnosis that was apparently common enough according to the medical world but that we had never heard of was the cause of the bleeding that would leave me on partial rest for two months.

Then, only a month later, an obstetrician I had been seeing couldn’t find Jerome’s heartbeat. Since the office’s sonographer wasn’t available, we had to again get care at the hospital. Thankfully, he was fine. I was starting to bond with Jerome as well, finally.

But the bills were adding up, and I was enduring heavy morning sickness. So heavy, in fact, that I wasn’t able to keep plain water down, even while taking medication. I realized that there was a chance it wasn’t just morning sickness.

Surgery and a sailboat

My new obstetrician determined I should see a gastroenterologist. Despite my following the gastroenterologist’s prescribed changes to my diet and routine, though, I was still sick. Via ultrasound, we discovered that my gallbladder was shutting down. While my obstetrician generally advised patients to wait until after pregnancy to get a cholecystectomy – a surgical procedure to remove the gallbladder – both to avoid any surgery complications and to see if the surgery would no longer be needed following the birth, she sent me straight to a surgeon for examination.

The surgeon advised us that, while the procedure wasn’t without risk, it was in our best interest to get it done, especially as I was in significant pain, daily. While he had heard of a couple instances of patients or babies not making it through the operation, he assured me that he had never lost a patient in the procedure, which he had done thousands of times.

And, yet, I worried. I faced a decision that may have seemed simple to an outsider (get the procedure done) but I was terrified that Jerome wouldn’t make it and that I would be responsible for his death. If there was any time for me to have faith, it was then.

My godfather rescued me this time, through God’s providence, as I was unable to even open the box of baby clothes that he had sent us for Jerome. I was so afraid that I would lose Jerome that I was unable to do anything related to preparing for his birth or babyhood.

“Why bond with him even more?” I despaired.

Learning this, my godfather urged me to have the courage to just take that one simple step of opening the box.

The first item I saw in that box of clothes left me speechless. When I was at a young adult Catholic event earlier in the week, I had had a sudden jolt of pain from my gallbladder, and I yelped. My friends and husband were there to hold me and comfort me through the pain, and I had visualized a sailboat out on a peaceful sea to soothe myself. Prominently featured on the first item I pulled out of the box of clothes was, again, a sailboat. I took it as a sign from God to hang on to hope.

The surgery ended up going well. In fact, the surgeon remarked he had been able to complete the surgery in record time. Again, many prayers, from many loved ones, were answered.

The birth

Going through the stress of preparing for the surgery and learning that we could get through it made the final months of pregnancy much easier than they could have been.

As my husband was working for the summer in South Dakota and Wyoming, it wasn’t a given that he would be home in time for the birth. And, then, I developed symptoms of possible preeclampsia, a condition during pregnancy where there is a sudden rise in blood pressure and swelling, mostly in the face, hands, and feet.

After the doctor found that my symptoms of preeclampsia weren’t lessening, she made the call Jerome should be delivered two weeks before his due date, which was a week prior to the scheduled C-section prescribed due to my medical history.

That decision meant Michael got three days to finalize work, pack up and drive home from western Wyoming. With the help of one his friends, he was able to complete the project of a lifetime that he was working on that week. Michael then managed to drive 18 hours straight, through hail, stopping only to avoid a tornado, to get home in time for Jerome’s birth. It was the end of our first adventure as a family of three.

The marriage vow of remaining faithful “in sickness and in health” is also part of the relationship we’re each called to have with God. Like all of us, I had to find a way to remain faithful to God, through all my worries and anxiety. I had to embrace my limited control over situations. By doing so, I was able to accept the wonderful gift of our son. While our short-sighted plans looked completely different, God’s plan for our family was infinitely better.

For those who are facing an unplanned pregnancy and need someone to talk to, contact Waterleaf Women’s Center (https://www.waterleafwc.org/) at 630-701-6270.