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Top Ten Reasons to Use NFP

I recently saw a tote bag with the saying, “The struggle is real, but so is grace.” I immediately thought of NFP (Natural Family Planning). And so in honor of NFP Awareness week (July 23-29th) here is my top ten reasons to use NFP:

10) Money in the Bank

Obviously, this isn’t the #1 reason, but a penny saved is a penny earned and using NFP costs close to nothing. The only real expense is the cost of the classes to learn properly. (The exception is the Marquette Method which involves buying a Clear Blue Easy Fertility Monitor to track your luteinizing hormone (LH).The other three major methods Sympto-thermal, Billings, and Creighton, however are basically free).

9) Living Green

I don’t think anyone feels good about ingesting chemicals. It seems ridiculous that a bag of baby carrots even has an ingredients list, but it is affirming to read INGREDIENTS: CARROTS. However, other labels may have you telling your kids, “Be sure to say a prayer before eating that mac n’ cheese.”  Hormonal Birth Control methods use high levels of estrogen to override the natural hormonal cycle and mimic the only time a fertile woman’s body naturally doesn’t ovulate, which is pregnancy. Thus it makes sense that some of the common side effects are similar to those seen in pregnancy: moodiness, weight gain, breast tenderness.etc. Here is a link to the FDAs website where you can read, “It is rare, but some women will have blood clots, heart attacks, or strokes.” And what it doesn’t say is that can and have resulted in death. Just ask the families of Americans Ashley Lewis, Stephanie Rosfeld, or Zakiya Kennedy all young healthy girls that died due to blood clots related to the patch (link 2).

8) Clear Conscience

Consult any embryology textbook and you will see that the moment a sperm and egg join a new organism is formed with its own unique DNA and ability to grow and do all the things that “living things” do. Life begins at conception; God gives us life and a soul. The use of hormonal birth control can allow fertilization, but prevent implantation thus resulting in the death of a child in that early embryonic stage of development. After all, embryo, fetus, toddler, adolescent they are all terms used to characterize a stage of development of a human being. When you kill a caterpillar you also end the life of a butterfly.

7) Bun in the Oven

Knowing when you ovulate can increase your chances of conceiving when you want! NFP teachers can also look at your charts and identify problems. The Creighton Method is used by doctors who specialize in NaPro Technology to treat infertility without having to use IVF.

6) Effective

You don’t have to be an NFP teacher to not get pregnant using NFP. Mother Teresa taught NFP in India and in a study of 19,843 poor women the pregnancy rate was approaching zero! There have been studies done in Germany (800 couples) and China (10,000 couples) and like many other methods with “proper use” it is 99% effective. However, just like the pill (or other contraceptives) efficacy data you read that number is for a year. So 1% risk every year for 10 years = 10% chance of unexpected pregnancy with proper use. And like other forms of pregnancy prevention “actual use” numbers drop in effectiveness, for example in the Germany study of NFP this drops to 92%, condoms for example drop to 80% (varies by studies). We all know people who have had whoopsie pregnancies. I know people who have been surprised using NFP, the pill, condoms, IUDs (dangerous for baby when removed), Implanteon, and even 12 years post vasectomy.

5) Grace

The struggle is real, but so are the graces. NFP, if being used to prevent pregnancy, does require at times a heroic amount of restraint. However, this exercise in the virtue of chastity carries with it a spiritual good. Similar to fasting or voluntary poverty, it is the willful sacrifice of a good for a cause. I would recommend offering it up for the intention of your marriage and in reparation for past sins.

4) Personal Invitation to Christ

You’ve maybe heard sex referred to as “the marital embrace” or as a “renewal of our wedding vows.” The following is an illustration from Christopher West that really clarified for me the difference between naturally spacing your children, artificially preventing pregnancy. Imagine you are sending out wedding invitations, but there is someone you don’t want to come. What do you do? You don’t send them a DIS-invitation saying we’re getting married, but you’re NOT invited. God made men fertile 24/7, but not women. God made women with a natural cycle of fertile and infertile times. So when you utilize your times of infertility you invite Jesus to your wedding, which He appreciates, but He won’t be able to bring a gift. If you are fertile He RSVPs ‘yes’, and may or may not bring a “gift.” If you are contracepting you are disinviting Jesus; we don’t want your gifts, don’t come. Barrier methods may be desirable from a chemical and abortifacient standpoint, but they may be putting a barrier between you and God.

3) Strengthens Your Marriage

NFP users enjoy some of the lowest divorce rates (1-2%) Why is this? Commitment, communication, self-control, and being mindful of the other person are all essential elements of a strong marriage and are all similarly necessary and honed using NFP.

2) Cherished not Used

According to ChastityProject.com women often complain that contraception lowers their sense of worth. It makes sense. Women are not made to be like convenience stores open for business 24/7. St. Pope John Paul II, said “The opposite of love is not hate, but use.” Sex is made to be more than the casual, shallow, pleasure-driven past-time contraception fosters. It can become a slippery slope between the mutual self-giving it is supposed to be and not using each other.

1) Faithfulness to God’s Design

God designed sex to be a powerful procreative and unitive bond between two lovers. Our children are literally an incarnation of our love as spouses. That is why they are so beautiful! NFP never separates the power from the pleasure, the power to co-author with the Author of Life, to cooperate in grace and be led up the sometimes arduous path that leads to heaven. Integral to NFP done right is a continuous conversation with God. The idea is to take your desires and concerns to the Lord in conjugal prayer every month and discover what His plan is for your family.  And we all should do this even if we aren’t using NFP. In using NFP, our fertility is put in God’s hands and that is where it belongs.For more information on the “number one reason to use NFP” and in honor of NFP week I challenge you to read Humanae Vitae. It is a fairly short and easy to read encyclical describing why contraception is against God’s natural law and therefore the Catholic Church does not even have the authority to change its teaching. God is the Master and the Magisterium is the ministers.

“He will provide the way and the means, such as you could never have imagined. Leave it all to Him, let go of yourself, lose yourself on the cross, and you will find yourself entirely.”                       St. Catherine of Siena

July 26th is the feast day of Sts. Joachim and Anne patrons of married couples. Sts Joachim and Anne pray for ALL of our marriages.

A special thanks to Erika and Jeff Cowman who are certified NFP teachers here in Idaho and were recently on our Catholic Idaho segment Passionately Prolife. They are an inspiration to me and I hope this inspires you to share this or another pro-NFP blog in honor of NFP Awareness Week. This year’s theme is “It’s Time.” It’s time to speak up about NFP! Looking for another idea for NFP awareness week? Jeff recommends renewing your wedding vows, just remember to invite Jesus, but not me! You can hear our segment with Erika and Jeff the next two Tuesdays during the 6pm hour on Salt & Light Catholic Radio 1140AM or 102.3FM (they are also available in the archives).

Mother’s Day at Chuck E. Cheese?

Mother’s Day is a day dedicated to Moms everywhere. Can you imagine if you ended up at Chuck E. Cheese eating cardboard pizza? This idea would be welcomed by young children (particularly mine), however for one day a year it is not about them. As Catholics we are so fortunate to have the Mass. It saddens me though when I hear people say that they don’t “get anything out of it.” The celebration of Mass isn’t about GETTING, it is about GIVING. And typically the more we give, the more we participate, the more we get.

The focus of Sunday Mass is to WORSHIP God, in the way HE WANTS. And we know this is the way He wants because JESUS SHOWED US HOW, ie the Last Supper, the institution of the Eucharist- the source and summit of our faith. As much as we’d like to be entertained and taught, catechesis is not the primary focus of the Mass. I believe God designed the Mass for intimacy with Him. And it is that same deep intimacy that Moms cherish with our children on Mother’s Day.

Intimacy [in-tuh-muh-see] noun

“a close, familiar, and usually affectionate or loving

personal relationship with another person or group.”

The Catholic Church is not the only church that has the presence of God through the Holy Spirit. But what we have that Protestant churches don’t is the physical presence of God as well. (If you don’t believe me read a book on Eucharistic Miracles- your mind will be blown). When we go to Mass we go to the house of the Lord to spend time with Jesus. We go to offer Him ourselves as a gift, but honestly the only gift that is worthy of God is God. So as He instructed us through the priest we actually unite the small sacrifices we bring to Christ’s sacrifice on the cross. The priest re-presents Christ’s body and blood in the Eucharist to God and invites us as Christ did to take and eat and drink. And as we consume Him, He consumes our hearts.

We worship on Sunday, the first day of the week, because we give praise and glory to God first. Just like we tithe based on our income before taxes, because we give to God first and then to the State. Sunday is the one day of the week it is not about us, it is about God and what He wants. He wants us. He wants us to come to His house and physically spend time with him and build a relationship AND build a community. He loves it when we bring sacrifices, He doesn’t need them, but like St. Therese of the Little Way demonstrated the small things we do for Him are like bringing Him flowers. And He is a God that will not be outdone in generosity. What do I mean by bringing sacrifices? Fasting before mass would be a prime example. One hour is a bare minimum, my husband and I typically fast all morning before 11 am mass (we are not a morning family). Sometimes just making it to Mass is a sacrifice. Living in Idaho, a state rich with natural beauty, summer Mass attendance tends to drop off. Is getting to Mass inconvenient? GREAT, the bigger the sacrifice to get there the bigger the gift you present to God. Do you find Mass boring? Is it painful, because you can’t understand the accent of the priest? SCORE a bigger sacrifice bears more spiritual fruit. And ideally this spiritual fruit will eventually reveal to you the beauty and power of the Mass so that you will no longer find it boring!

I was raised in the Catholic culture of never skipping Sunday mass. If we were out of town or out of state, not going was not an option. Can you imagine if God took a vacation from us?! One hour a week is a bare minimum. Do you think you could maintain an intimate relationship with your spouse if you only got to physically touch 1 hour a week? What if you missed two weeks or more? It would not take long before your relationship deteriorated and you would question if the intimacy you once had was even real.

Through the sacraments we are able to touch God and God is able to touch us. And although the purpose of the Mass isn’t to be entertained, inspired, or educated, many times that happens. I find that Mass fills me up, and without it I know I would be running on fumes. Don’t settle for the cardboard pizza when God has a standing reservation for you at the banquet.

Fr. Robert Barron in a reflection about the movie Arrival, said that the Bible is the words of God translated into the language of men. His implication is that words have their limits when it comes to communicating the divine (Word made Flesh).  I think it is like seeing things in only two-dimensions.

“However, with the help of the Church, grace through the sacraments and the Mass we can learn to see in 3D and things really start to pop UP.” ~Regular Joan

Experiencing God is 4D and so it takes all those things and the Holy Spirit to get beyond the point of only seeing in 2D. Sometimes, I know that I am only seeing things in 2D, I feel myself going through the motions in Mass or prayer and have to force my eyes to stay focused. And sometimes even then I don’t really see or feel God, but because I’ve seen Him before I know He’s there. The people who leave the Church leave because it always looked flat and felt flat. God reveals Himself, but we must seek; He laid down a banquet when He laid down His life, but we have to sit at the table and feed ourselves.

Wait a minute, if the purpose of Mass isn’t to be taught the faith, how do we gain the understanding to achieve “depth perception?” Don’t we all want to experience the Mass in its fullest glory? There is no one right answer, but this is my plug for Catholic Radio. You could read books- there are a lot of great books; The Bible and the Catechism are floating to the top of the list. The problem is you can’t drive and read, you can’t wash dishes, fold laundry, or exercise and read. Well, I can’t at least, Kathy Ineck might be able to, but you CAN do all those things and listen to Catholic Radio! Going to Mass is essential, but it is not enough. If you can make time to fit in all the spiritual reading you want you should. If you’ve had a copy of The Confessions of St. Augustine sitting on your bookshelf for 3 years and are juggling and struggling with a busy life- stop beating yourself up and tune in to [insert your local Catholic Radio Affiliate] Salt and Light Radio 102.3 FM or 1140 AM Boise. For me it has been a near effortless way to grow deeper in faith.

When life-or-death hard times hit our family a few years ago having a strong personal relationship with Jesus and his Church was a treasure beyond price. Christianity isn’t a nice philosophy or a set of morals it is a physical and spiritual bond between a living God and His children. Your mother knows you love her, but be sure at least one day of the year to show her. Adore her, tell her you’re sorry for “those times” growing up, and thank her in a way you know she would like. And may this outpouring of love for your mother illustrate how we must also offer to God our adoration, contrition, and thanksgiving in a way He appreciates by participating in the “greatest prayer” the celebration of the Mass.

PS. If you do feel Mass is a bit dry or 2D, here is a short article by Jeff Cavins that should wet your tongue and make it pop! http://rediscover.archspm.org/rediscover_news/greatest-prayer-church/

Handling Heartache-HLHS

This blog is dedicated to my 2 year-old son Ian who was diagnosed with HLHS in utero, and to the thousand parents that find out each year their child has HLHS (Hypoplastic Left Heart Syndrome). I put a FAQ section at the bottom with practical stuff.

When I found out our son had a broken heart, my heart broke too. Why did God allow life to put such a heavy cross on such a little boy? It’s not fair. But it is what it is, and we will do what we must. It is like running a marathon, but not knowing how many miles till the finish line having to push yourself to keep going. Currently, our son is doing awesome in every sense, and no one would guess what he’s been through.

This is me pregnant with Sebastian, our little heart hero, called Ian for short.

Did you just find out? Are you anxiously awaiting the arrival of your little heart warrior? I know how you’re feeling, I’ve been there. I want to offer you hope and encouragement. You are going to need to hunker down and muster up as much strength and courage as you can. Your heart warrior is going to be physically fighting for his/her life. You are going to be fighting an emotional/spiritual battle of your own. You will get overwhelmed and frustrated at times. It is going to be an intense roller coaster, kind of like one of those insane ones where it is pitch black and you don’t know when the drops or turns are coming! But you will be so proud of your little fighter! You will feel blessed to call him or her yours.

The good thing is, even though this is your first “ride” the medical team has been on this wild ride many times before and there aren’t many twists or turns they haven’t seen before. This is why it is important to go to a center where you have complete trust in their experience. When Scott (hubby) and I first found out, we spent weeks agonizing over the decisions regarding the how- Hybrid vs Norwood; and where- CHLA, Lucile Packard, Las Vegas, or Spokane (our cardiologist did not have any strong recommendations, but he did say if it was him, he would go to an elite program). We live in a state that does not have any pediatric cardiothoracic surgeons so we had to go out of state. I am an optometrist, so with my medical background I spent countless hours and evenings reading journal articles, taking notes about IQ, survival rates, ADHD, the Sano Shunt vs the BT shunt, etc. My husband read blogs and figured out how to get double coverage for the insurance and make sure we had access to Life Flight. We looked at the breakdown of the rankings and ratings of the US News & World Report for Pediatric Hospitals and Cardiac Surgery, http://health.usnews.com/best-hospitals/pediatric-rankings/cardiology-and-heart-surgery  and even called a few centers making inquiries about Interstage Programs (Interstage is the time between the Norwood and the Glenn- the first two stages of surgery, Interstage has the highest risk of death, in our program a nurse called weekly to check in and we monitored oxygen saturations 3x/day. This was a huge help as our local doctor was unsure why he had such saggy sats and he ended up on continuous oxygen, where the nurse from the big center suggested checking his hematocrit and if low to give him a blood transfusion. Turns out the blood transfusion worked wonders and he no longer required oxygen at home!)

Shortly after birth. Oh boy, what joy!

Every single heart warrior has a different journey. But I think unanimously every journey has some smooth places and some rough patches, REAL rough. When we first googled “HLHS” the first thing that popped up was an obituary of a 3 month-old girl from the town we lived in that had died a few months prior. In case we didn’t know it was serious. Ouch. I know nothing involving the particulars other than she went to the small center and was on the transplant list. What was helpful for us was not to focus on the all the negative “what ifs.” There are just too many of them. We avoided social media groups that sometimes tend to focus on all the struggles. We were able to get in touch with a few different families and talk to them. And received a care package from Sisters by Heart. We knew there was a chance he might not make it, but we didn’t see much merit in entertaining that line of thinking at this point.

The majority of kids make it. There are HLHSers that are in their mid 30s. Their IQ is typically in the normal range. I’ve seen a picture of an HLHSer that became a pediatric cardiac nurse, and a young man who got accepted into medical school. Everytime fear or panic would creep in we would try to remind ourselves to keep our eyes on the prize. Despite the rough patches we were getting one of God’s greatest gifts-a baby! And though these first few years would be so traumatic we’ll never forget them, luckily they are times he will never remember!

HLHS and loves life! 3mo

While we were in the hospital, I read an article about the keys to happiness. One point really resonated and that was to focus on what you have, and not to dwell on what you don’t have. Makes sense, I remember when learning my prayers as a child you first thank God for all the blessings in your life and then you ask Him for your petitions. We stayed at the Ronald McDonald House near the hospital. While there I met a dad whose son was born with 11 broken bones and would likely be a wheelchair-bound dwarf, it gave me a stronghold on perspective. There were also several families with children who had different sorts of deformities, some facial. And I think we all know people who struggle with infertility and how unimaginably hard that would be. My son is beautiful and whether God gives us days or decades we are going to count each day as a gift and learn to enjoy the moment! I strongly recommend “Welcome to Holland”http://www.our-kids.org/Archives/Holland.html a short essay that is so applicable. We didn’t pick this journey, but that doesn’t mean it won’t be full of beauty, joy, and laughter. We appreciate those things all the more because of the hardships we bore to get here. I heard a quote of Bear Wosniak today on the radio that said, “Life begins at the detour.” Seems fitting, since no one’s plans include something like HLHS. Like it or not you will never be the same and you will realize that you and you family are stronger and better because of it.

Yes, I am mostly like other kiddos and love to find mischief!

Sometimes it takes hitting rock bottom to really trust in the Rock. My husband and I have always been people of faith. But this experience brought us so much closer to God and each other, and I think that is why God allows such things. I have never been really afraid before our HLHS journey. Fear was just not a real thing to me, sure I worried plenty about tests and stressful work stuff, but I never knew anything that left me shaking with my stomach in such knots like this. Courage, of course isn’t that you are not afraid, but it is facing that fear. So I would try to punch it in the nose! I would scream-sing praise and worship songs if I felt like I was starting to despair. (Like this Lauren Daigle song) We put our trust 100% in God. We placed our whole family in God’s hands and had to walk by faith, not by sight. We had no idea how it would all work out, so many details. We have two older daughters we ended up being away from for almost a month with each of his two major surgeries. They stayed with my husband’s side for one stint and mine for the other. The girls handled it really well, they were 4 and 2, but once we were reunited you could tell emotions were running high. It was so hard for us to be away from them for so long! But when our son was hospitalized closer to home it was harder in many ways because it seemed like we were constantly having to tell them good-bye and tear ourselves away. It was easier for me to just stay with our son and for my husband to stay with our girls full-time and visit us, much less traumatic on everyone. It was really hard for me to be anywhere but the hospital when he was in the hospital, plus I was near constantly pumping. I even rented a hospital grade pump to keep my supply going as long as I could.

There are going to obstacles, but I hope that you are able to find like we did that when you give God your trust He gives you his peace. No one understands the pain of watching your son suffer like Mary, Jesus’ mother. So if you are in the practice of asking family and friends to pray for you, I would suggest that you also reach out to your Blessed Mother, she will offer her powerful prayers for you too! We have seen so many of God’s fingerprints throughout this journey. And although I wished we didn’t have quite so many twists and turns, God gave us a blessed assurance that He has a plan for our son’s life, not his death. I know all the prayers we received helped. We unashamedly asked friends and family members living and dead for prayers and for their whole church to pray too! One particularly rough time was when Ian came out of anesthesia not moving his left arm and barely his left leg and blind on the left side of his vision. It was scary not knowing if these stroke-like symptoms would resolve or not. But my husband kept his calm and could see so clearly that it did not matter. Our job is the same no matter what. If he comes home with an NG-tube, a g-tube, on continuous oxygen, or a hemiplegic our job is the same. Our job is to love that little boy 100% till death do us part. So we just poured our hearts out without reserve and always hoped for the best. I say it is okay to cry, tears are how our love manifests itself. If we didn’t care so much, the uncertainty wouldn’t tear at us so much.

Recent picture of Ian. His shirt says it all, these kids are AMAZING.

Lastly, a note on mental toughness. Sometimes when you don’t feel strong or brave, you act strong and brave, and without realizing it you actually become it. I brought make-up and jewelry and got dressed everyday in the hospital. Look good, feel good, right? I found this works with being nice too. I find that I like myself much more when I am nice to people, even though they may grate on my nerves eventually I find I do have genuine feelings of kindness without the effort it took in the beginning. Of course, there are so many well-meaning people that just plain say the wrong thing. And then there are the people that don’t know what to say, say nothing, and leave you wondering if they even care. Personally, there is no better place to be than in someone else’s prayers, so I think the best thing to say is that I’m praying for you all.

You can do it! You will persevere! Sometimes you get through one day or one hour at a time. You will cry tears of joy and tears of sorrow and worry. No one said it would be easy only that it would be worth it. But know that no matter what happens there is a God that loves you and your child more than anything, so lean on Him hard.  Lean on your family and friends. Lean on me! Leave your contact info in the comments and I will delete it before I approve the comment. By the way Ian did recover from his left-sided blindness and weakness a few days later! God is good.

Other blogs of mine you may enjoy: Sorting out Suffering, Praise God for the Sunshine

Frequently Asked Questions:

  1. Where did you deliver?
    1.  Although we initially assumed we would deliver down in LA (CHLA is where Ian had his surgeries) after discussing all the pros and cons with our cardiologist we decided to deliver in Boise and then life flight him to LA. From a medical standpoint it gave us the flexibility to change our minds about which hospital. For example, at Lucile Packard/Stanford they have surgeon renown for his work on preemies. Or if he had unforeseen complications with his lungs or something and we’d want to opt for the Hybrid instead we could go to Las Vegas or Spokane. Our cardiologist told us that the centers that are the best for the Norwood are not as well practiced for the Hybrid, and so if we wanted a Hybrid we’d want to go to a high volume Hybrid center. Practically,  delivering at home allowed us to stay local with our family (other children) and jobs for ~3 weeks on the front end, since we knew it would be about a month with surgery and recovery after birth. This also allowed big sisters to get to briefly meet him before we flew off. This was good for their little minds to understand why Mommy and Daddy had to go, and heaven forbid if we lost him they’d at least gotten to meet him. I was also able to keep my OB/GYN for my 3rd cesarean and he is so amazing (my recoveries have been cake compared to others). Ian’s birth was really special, I was able to have a few moments of “skin on skin” before he was whisked away to the NICU. Easily in my top 5 best moments of my life!
  2.  Where did you stay while he was in the hospital?
    1. One of the things we liked about CHLA was that they have an entire floor of heart kids with mostly private room accommodations. There is the CT-ICU (Cardio-thoracic Intensive Care Unit) and also the step down unit CV-Acute (cardio-vascular). The rooms have a bench that functions as a bed as well and a shared bathroom. The bench is really quite uncomfortable, and we really wanted to try to get good sleep to help ease our stress levels. So, initially we would stay with him till 11pm, but sleep at RMH then go back at between 7 and 8 am and he pretty much slept the whole time. Then as we were there longer we realized that the nurses are very attentive to his medical needs, but really are not disposed to do anything if he is crying unless it affects his vitals. We were kind of horrified that soothing a baby meant medication! So, we adjusted. We kept our room at the Ronald McDonald House ($25/night suggested donation if you don’t get financial assistance), and my husband and I alternated nights on the cot/bench and a real bed at RMH. That worked better, it kept us completely in the know at all times and able to soothe him.
  3.  How long was he in the hospital?
    1. We were told to expect a month long stay for the Norwood, but that it can widely vary. It is about 2 week recovery from the surgery and then another few weeks to establish feeding. Our little guy Ian, ended up needing a “shunt revision” where two weeks after his first surgery (Norwood) they did another surgery to replace his shunt with a bigger one. As a presumed side effect, his left vocal chord nerve was damaged, this put him at a high aspiration risk (inhaling milk into his lungs instead of stomach) so after swallow studies (a swallow study is where they have the baby drink a dye while taking a video with x-ray) he was restricted to only being tube fed. At 6 weeks old we discharged on an NG-tube and a little over a month later we had a g-tube put in. So sadly, our little guy was unable to nurse because of his aspiration risk. When he did get to drink by mouth (~4mo old) it was thickened with rice cereal. On a side note: We also had to cross a bridge where we had to decide whether we wanted a Nissan fundoplication, most of the local doctors were recommending it, but we did not feel like it was necessary, since he didn’t have any reflux issues and that would be another invasive surgery wrapping the top of his stomach around the bottom of his esophagus. He was too small for laproscopic and would have a scar from nape to navel. I did research again and we decided against it, but the team encouraged us to wait to be sure, so that is why we waited the month to get the g-tube -to be sure he didn’t have a reflux issue and really need the fundo. We are so happy the way things turned out. Every journey is different!
  4.   What did you wish you knew ahead of time that you didn’t?
    1. I had a young naïve nurse warn me about “delayed sternal closure.” I wish someone else had told me with more sensitivity to my feelings. Her timing and approach were terrible. It will be really hard to prepare yourself for what your little one will look like coming out of surgery. They look really rough, they have dozens of “lines” usually multiple IVs, drainage tubes (one for each lung and one for the sac around the heart). They will of course be intubated, generally through the nose, and then there are many many sensors. The oxygen numbers, “sats” for short, are some of the most important. But the most disturbing aspect is that in order to give the heart room to swell, because the swelling of injury to a muscle is delayed, it is standard procedure to leave the chest open post op. They will then sew together the sternum or breast bone and overlying skin several days later. They keep the babies very comfortable with some very strong pain meds, we rarely felt like Ian was in pain. Little by little the babies are weaned off of the support. We were finally able to hold him again after 5 or 6 days!
    2. I would recommend bringing things to decorate the room/bulletin board behind his/her bed. A lot of people had names in the window on little banners, etc. I didn’t have any good scrapbooking stuff, but made do! And although I thought I would spend downtime reading-it never really happened. It just took too much mentally to do that. So I found myself coloring pictures to send home to my 2 and 4 year old. Or buying colorful books and things off Amazon and shipping to RMH.
    3. Lastly, I never would have guessed how much I enjoyed having a CaringBridge page! One of the other HLHS families had used it to keep people informed. CaringBridge.org is a website that lets you enter journal entries and post pictures. This was critical to keep all our prayer warriors across the country informed. We had way more people than what I would have been friends with on Facebook or emailed easily. It was much less distracting than something like that, but could be easily share on social media too. People commented and followed along with his progress daily during the touchy times and even still I post updates and am humbled to hear how many still pray for him. No wonder he is doing so well! Search SebastIAN Naugle if you want to check out Ian’s page.

Feel free to comment anything! I know this got long, but I know when we were expecting, we really liked having as much information as possible.

Love and Prayers,

Emily Naugle

Lost Life, Lost Legacy

“Why do you think we haven’t had a woman as president yet?” First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton asked her guest over their lunch at the White House. The little woman sitting at table with Mrs. Clinton did not hesitate in her reply.“Because she has probably been aborted,” said Mother Teresa.(1)

Whether this story that was first brought to the public in 2009 is fact or fiction, the implications are still valid. I don’t think I was the only one who was pretty disappointed in our ultimate choices for president this past year. When you think about the millions of Americans that have been aborted (58 million) you have to wonder who or what are we missing? Presidents that would lead us, scientists that would cure us, innovators that would come up with that robot that will clean my whole house in one second (this is what my daughter thought I should ask Santa for! She saw no need to confine one’s wish list to things that currently exist, after all the elves can make anything, right!?)

Perhaps that is too dreamy. It is much more personal than that. In the book entitled, 40 Days for Life, authors Shawn Carney and David Bereit tell the true story of a man that kept vigil at his father’s deathbed. His father was overcome with emotion and gratitude for his eldest son’s presence.  The father went on to tell his son for the first time, the story of when his son was an unexpected pregnancy and how he took care of things- by convincing his mother to get an abortion. He dropped her off and that was that. But she had a change of heart and he did the honorable thing and married her not completely convinced this was the best decision. And there he lay at death’s door, none of his other children around, but his eldest. He was so sorry for his past weakness, but so thankful that his wife was so strong, and that she had been able to see what he couldn’t at the time.

That young man was a Knight of Columbus and spearheaded the “Knight Shift” of the very first “40 Days for Life” a 24-hours a day prayer vigil outside of Planned Parenthood in Bryan, Texas. After 7 years of peaceful vigils that location shut down and is one of 75 abortion centers that have closed in conjunction with 40 Days for Life prayer vigils over the past 10 years.

I have heard pro-choice advocates imply that a woman’s decision to kill her baby doesn’t affect anyone else. But to think that abortion only affects the child and mother simply can’t be true. Approximately every 30 seconds another American dies via abortion. That one was someone’s future husband, someone’s future teacher, someone’s future hospice nurse. As Pocahontas sang in the Colors of the Wind, “And we are all connected to each other, in a circle, in a hoop, that never ends. How high does the sycamore grow? If you cut it down, then you’ll never know.” Ah, I just watched the video on YouTube and it takes me back to childhood, fun fact did you know Mel Gibson is the voice of John Smith?

This year, I am once again honored to be able to participate in the Rose Procession at St. Mark’s Catholic Church. We try our best to find a person born in each year since the passage of Roe v Wade in 1973 to carry a rose single file to the front of the church as a tribute to the lives lost through abortion. The first year, I was struck by how personal it was.

“I felt like I was carrying that rose for a friend. A friend I never got to meet or know. She and I never got to meet for margaritas, we never got to train for a half marathon together, we never got to laugh over the long version of the story when Mommy tasted baby poop, or cry together in silence, but not the awkward kind.” ~Regular Joan

I honored her life by giving her a name (Sara Elaine) and I also honor her life annually ever since by simply walking with a rose for her on Sanctity of Life Sunday- January 22nd. But it isn’t just her that’s missing. It is her legacy. She would have likely had a husband and kids and someday grandkids; she would have made hundreds of ripples in the world, touching countless lives in ways unknown. This year I am helping to organize the procession, and a young mom asked if it is okay to have a toddler in arms. I of course said, “Yes.”  She represents the lives lost, and her child represents the millions of lost legacies.

Lives lost, that is a nice way to put it. Not entirely accurate though is it? In abortion the lives of the unborn are taken. Abortion is an evil act of murder if you don’t want to mince words. Of course this isn’t to imply that those who promote and participate in it are evil, they are just blinded by evil. They are the lost ones if you will, and the lost need our continued prayers and respectful dialogue.

Currently the Republicans (and a few pro-life democrats) in Congress are making moves to DEFUND Planned Parenthood, America’s largest abortion provider that receives $540 million dollars annually from taxpayers. It is stomach-turning to know that through my taxes I am forced to violate my conscience and support the intentional killing of our most innocent ones. When this legislature passes it will feel like the Cubs winning the World Series all over again. I may have to fly the ‘W’ flag to celebrate the win for religious freedom. The money is being reallocated to thousands of Federally Qualified Health Centers that will offer all the services that PP offers and more (except abortion). The American people won’t tolerate being forced to support abortion giants anymore. Especially, when those abortion giants give presidential candidates 30 million dollars. I think that is what was underestimated by the pundits in the Trump win- how many people care about the lives of the unborn, religious freedom and conscience rights.

I would like to close with a great little excerpt from Trent Horn’s book “Persuasive Pro-Life.”

“It’s fine to tolerate things that merely irritate us, such as a screaming baby on an airplane. Tolerance doesn’t mean approval, acceptance, or even indifference. To tolerate something means that we are willing to allow the thing that bothers us to exist. Tolerating a screaming baby on an airplane means that we won’t demand that the baby be moved to the cargo hold of the plane. While it’s okay to tolerate nuisances, it’s wrong to tolerate grave evils. We may tolerate a crying baby, but we should never tolerate a baby being molested by someone [or tortured].

If pro-lifers merely disliked abortion in the same way they dislike other nuisances, then it would make sense to tolerate abortion. This is the thinking behind the pro-choice slogan, ‘Don’t like abortion? Don’t have one!’ However, abortion is not a nuisance to be disliked but an act of evil that dismembers tiny human beings. It must be stopped. To pro-life advocates, this slogan is as silly as saying, ‘Don’t like slavery? Don’t have a slave! [But let me have mine]’.”

If you would like to organize a rose procession at your church or event let me know if I can help in any way. It really is a pretty simple, yet powerful tribute.

(1) http://www.crisismagazine.com/2016/marching-for-life-mother-teresa-and-mrs-clinton

I Vote for Life

Did you know that the Catholic vote has mirrored or predicted the winner of the general election in 5 of the last 6 presidential elections? For example, in 2012 President Obama carried Catholics 50 percent to 48 percent while he won the overall national vote 51 percent to 47 percent. Is that surprising? Like most churches, my Catholic church, the dioscese which it belongs to, and even the Catholic radio station is a non-profit organization. Non-profits are not allowed under law to endorse a candidate or political party (or their non-profit status could be revoked costing $$$) Maybe this is for the best. But it does make it hard for leadership of any church to give clear guidelines to voters. Instead it seems we receive more often vague unoffending statements that you can pretty much read whatever you want out of them. They always emphasize forming your conscience and the importance of upholding the dignity of life in all its forms, while conveniently leaving out the “how to” of forming your conscience.

lincoln-beardIt is important for people to know that under the Obama administration funding to Planned Parenthood (PP, largest US abortion provider) increased by 30% resulting in the United States government giving PP $542 million annually. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, nobody has the right to do something wrong. We don’t have a right to own slaves, we don’t have a right to kill unborn children. The unborn child is not property of the mother to be dealt with at her discretion. We are a nation built upon the foundation that all humans are CREATED equal, with rights bestowed on them by God, beginning with a right to life, and then a right to freedom, and so on. We cannot have an ordered society built on disordered personal desires. The rules that regulate our nation, should be for the good of ALL people, the common good. It is not right to force tax payers to fund abortion.

Is the abortion issue really that big of a human rights issue? I’ve always found this 2 min sound illustration comparing the loss of life thought-and-feeling-provoking.

“I may not trust Donald Trump to always do the right thing, but I completely trust that Hillary Clinton will do the wrong thing regarding the protection of the most vulnerable in our society.” ~Regular Joan

Our lawmakers matter. Our laws matter. If you ever saw the show, “The Apprentice,”  you know that Donald Trump is not known for his gentility or humility. (He completely lacks both among other things). I cannot say I completely trust him. But he has promised to nominate judges to the Supreme Court that uphold the Constitution and the God-given right to life. (God given, man taken). I do completely trust Hillary Clinton to make as many pro-abortion changes to our country and the world as she has in her power to do so. She has already said she has plans to overturn the Hyde Amendment so that the government can spend even more money funding abortion. She has also gone on record with plans to circumvent the 43-year-old law known as the Helms Amendment so the US can finance abortion around the world too. Note: specifically WITHOUT conscience protection. (1- link below)adoption Hillary Clinton believes abortion is a right, and it should be so accessible (even free) that no one should be burdened with putting their body through an inconvenient pregnancy. Pro-life news sources have reported there are over half a million parents wanting to adopt a baby in the US, and for every couple that gets to adopt a child there are 32 couples still waiting. There may be unwanted pregnancies but these are not unwanted babies.

Enough from me, I’m just a passionately pro-life blogger, struggling to reconcile the world we live in with what God wants for the human race. I strive to give Jesus my heart 100% and then to follow it. And that is all anyone can really ask, form and follow– your own conscience. This is a timeless 3-min video of Mother Angelica from 2000. (Hint click the previous sentence) The more I get to know her the more I appreciate her quirky personality and genuine love.

“No one has the right to call death unto someone God has called to life.” ~Mother Angelica

I’m with you, Sister! Or I guess I should say Mother! I vote for life. Forming one’s conscience isn’t a light task, and while some may shy away from the heavy lifting of prayer and research, I hope you won’t shy away from reading this great commentary from Archbishop Chaput.

“The Gospel of John reminds us that the truth, and only the truth, makes us free. We’re fully human and free only when we live under the authority of the truth. And in that light, no issue has made us more dishonest and less free as believers and as a nation than abortion. People uncomfortable with the abortion issue argue, quite properly, that Catholic teaching is bigger than just one issue. Other urgent issues also need our attention. Being pro-birth is not the same as being pro-life. And being truly ‘pro-life’ doesn’t end with defending thchapute unborn child. But it does, and it must, begin there. … In every abortion, an innocent life always dies. This is why no equivalence can ever exist between the intentional killing involved in abortion, infanticide and euthanasia, on the one hand, and issues like homelessness, the death penalty and anti-poverty policy on the other. Again, all of these issues are important. But trying to reason or imply them into having the same moral weight is a debasement of Christian thought.” — Archbishop Charles Chaput of Philadelphia (2)

To close, I want to offer encouragement about the upcoming elections.

“When we have God, we always have a dog in the fight.”  ~Regular Joan

That came to me while drawing sidewalk chalk with my kiddos! As any 1st grader will inform her 3 year old sister, GOD spelled backwards is DOG. I was pondering if we needed to ask St. Jude to intercede on our nation’s behalf (patron saint of lost causes). But really it is never a loss cause when we have God! So let’s amp up the prayers. I invite you to join in a pre-election novena (you’ve perhaps seen this making the rounds on social media. This one sends you daily prayers http://www.praymorenovenas.com/election-novena/ Here is another one that you can pray everyday with the 1.9 million Knights of Columbus, no need to sign up for anything https://www.romancatholicman.com/national-novena-oct-30-nov-7/). Come what may, there is always hope where there is God.

To end I would like to give you two links to two great homilies that have helped me form my conscience. The first needs to go viral, the second already has!

Homily comparing CYRUS and ANTIOCHAS (Trump and Clinton?)

Rev John Lankeit of the Diocese of Phoenix

(1) https://www.lifesitenews.com/news/wikileaks-clinton-will-fund-overseas-abortion-without-conscience-protection

(2)For more bishops’ statements see the link I pulled that great one of Chaput’s from: http://www.ncregister.com/daily-news/election-2016-u.s.-bishops-on-voting

Go for Gold, Mom & Dad!

Golden anniversary that is. Happy 40th Anniversary to my loving parents Steve and Cindy Seberger! Recently, in the Olympics we have seen the hard work of many Americans pay off. The United States brought home 121 medals, 46 of them gold, from Rio. Anything you want to succeed in takes work: preparation, practice, perspiration, perseverance, passion and sometimes even coaching. Whether an athlete or a business leader we can recognize there is a recipe for success. But do we apply the same logic to our marriages? Do we somehow try to side step the hard work, and see short falls as unpreventable or an unchangeable product of fate or luck? Olympians don’t get there because of luck.

“When it comes to marriage, are we settling for a green participation ribbon?” ~Regular Joan

Content, as long as no one’s yelling or crying? Or do we push ourselves to improve, to take that marriage that is a 7 or 8 and make it a 10?

A line from the toast I gave at my parents’ anniversary party was “At weddings we celebrate young love, at anniversaries we celebrate REAL LOVE.” Got a chuckle. Was it easy Mom and Dad? Knowing what I know from the 11 years of my own marriage my wager would be on “no” it wasn’t always easy, but “yes” it was worth it. Love isn’t that starry eyed floaty-feeling though it may start that way. Love is a choice; a conscious act to put the needs of another first, at times even above your own. In fairytale land, marriage is 50:50 and you meet in the middle. In reality it could be 60:40, 80:20, or even 100:0. But it is real love that sustains through thick and thin and reaps the joyful bounty of a life well-lived, built together brick by brick.

DSC06731You want the fairytale? Me too, after all who doesn’t want a happy ending. Okay, here you go. Like Cinderella and Prince Charming our newly married heroes ride off in a horse drawn carriage. But in a time before paved roads, rubber tires, and shocks it is a BUMPY ride! And as they hit the first pothole they are surprised. For although they knew they would encounter bumps, they didn’t see it coming so hard and fast. They wondered did other couples hit these same bumps? Some of the bumps brought them closer as they clung together through rough patches. Some of the bumps threw them apart, ‘who is driving this thing?’ Sometimes, they got stuck in a rut. But with faith, and using God as a guide the couple remains together (no one bails) and the journey continues. How will it end? Well, it wouldn’t be a fairytale without a kingdom, the Kingdom of God. The happily ever after is a marriage where spouses help each other get to heaven. Paradise! I heard a priest on Catholic Radio say, “No one gets to heaven alone.” (Probably quoting someone, but I don’t remember) We are companions on a journey, we need each other, we lift each other up, and we keep each other on the right road to heaven.

In shopping for a special anniversary card for my parents I was disgusted by the prevalent themes of “made for each other” and “meant to be.” It is a sense of pre-destination that makes is sound like love and going the distance is out of our control.

Selfie from the 70s!
Selfie from the 70s! Lucky to have these lovebirds as my parents.

This applies to falling in love and falling out of love. The notion of “soul mates” originated in Paganism. Zeus, split a soul into two so that instead of trying to take over Mt. Olympus, humans would spend their time looking for each other. Marriage is an institution from God. He created this vehicle to transport and transform us. And in answering the call to the vocation of marriage, the heroes change the world. With children it seems like their needs always come first. But really the best thing one can do for their children is to love their spouse. Thank you Mom and Dad for loving each other. Thank you for showing us to love through Christ Jesus, and for letting Jesus show us how to love through you.

Mom and Dad you have won a medal for the home team. Congratulations. You inspire me. You inspire all your children and grandchildren in ways you don’t know. You’ve taught us to be generous, kind, and conscientious, to work hard and admit our faults. You have taught us to love God and our family, to serve the community, and to respect life. And so many other things! There is more joy and beauty in this world because you loved each other. Your marriage truly is a gift to all. Cheers to 40 years! I’m rooting you on to gold, 50 years and beyond.

Sorting out the Purpose of Suffering

When my kindergartner went to Vacation Bible School last summer she learned several new songs. As my daughter was singing the lyrics “He’s [God] got the power to heal the broken hearts.” And my five-year-old said, “Wait that doesn’t makes sense! If God has the power to heal broken hearts how come He didn’t heal Ian’s?”

I thought that was a pretty good question. Father Jairo, our priest friend, had told us to pray hard and expect miracles. I think we conservatively had over 600 people praying for our little baby boy with half a heart in the womb. But Fr. Jairo also indicated to us that if we didn’t get our miracle that it would not be a fluke, it would be because God has a greater purpose to use this cross as part of a greater plan for our lives and the lives of others.

How many times have we asked God why this or that bad thing has happened? Let me take a crack at answering that. What day was the mostly heavily attended of religious services across all denominations? The weekend after 9/11 is the answer. Sadly, some- maybe even many- people only seek God in times of trouble. Much like a college kid who hasn’t been heard from in months calls home when she has car trouble. It takes a trial for some of us to turn to God, whether we seek consolation or meaning we find Him. Bad things in the world aren’t from God, but He allows them. He respects the free will he gave man enough not to interfere in some cases. In other cases, He can see the big picture and can see where the path of suffering may lead, such as to heaven. Perhaps, the spiritual benefits that will come if/when we turn to Him and succumb to Love Incarnate will outweigh a physical or emotional pain. Luckily, my husband and I have a strong foundation of faith so when we got the devastating diagnosis of our son’s major heart defect relying heavily on God was natural.

big_rock_at_sea
welder-stock.deviantart.com

Sometimes is takes suffering for us to surrender to God and His will for our lives. We have to hit rock bottom, before we fully trust the Rock. But when we do trust the rock, we find stability, security, and refuge in it. Which in stormy times that kind of strength and peace shouldn’t be possible, yet is is with our God. And all sorts of truths about God we’ve understood with our minds we now understand with our hearts and souls. For example,

“Those who carry Christ’s cross, find the cross carries them.”   Imitation of Christ

When surgeons operate on muscle tissue the swelling is delayed so in the case of infant open heart surgery they have to leave the chest wound open for several days to a week. This is called “delayed sternal closure.” Our son Ian had this with his first and third open heart surgeries. They look terrible post-operatively, as you can’t imagine, I’ll spare you the picture: giant drainage tubes for the lungs and heart, the gaping chest (they cover it with a translucent bandage), multitudes of sensors, IVs, etc.

307It is painful for them to move much, so there is no holding; even talking and singing is barely tolerated as it could agitate them. So you do what you can do pray, hold your husband’s hand, watch the numbers especially his oxygen, and look for any little sign of improvement, hope that you can cling to (oh and keep pumping milk around the clock!). And little by little by little that Little-Train-That- Could is able to be sewn up, get the drains out, get extubated, etc and finally after 5 long days of helpless waiting you can hold him again. And your heart explodes with joy. And you cherish every moment like it could be his last, because it could. Throughout so much of this HLHS journey we have not been able to see the path ahead. Walking by faith, not by sight is kind of scary. A game of trust with God!

I remember reading pro-life articles about parents of children that have chromosomal defects and they would say how difficult it is, but how they wouldn’t change it for the world. I always questioned the sincerity of that. I could understand coming to terms and finding joy in any situation, but to say you wouldn’t trade it for normalcy? I think that from the outside it is really pretty hard to understand, but inside what they fail to express is an inner transformation that shakes your core and leaves you with a new perspective you couldn’t have attained via normalcy.

What I know is this: I habitually ask in prayer for God to strengthen my marriage and increase my faith, to use me as He sees fit in whatever way. And although I wasn’t asking God to give my son a congenital heart defect, I’d have to be blind not to see the intangible gifts this hardship has brought with it. After 11 years of marriage I love my husband more than ever. Being able to share in the ferocious love for our little heart warrior through all the ups and downs, twists and turns has bonded us even tighter. baseballjesusAnd part of that was because we leaned on God together. When Ian was delirious from the pain meds and going through withdrawals during his most recent surgery we wondered if we’d ever get the little boy we knew back. Scott popped on ESPN and a feature started about a 10-year-old boy with HLHS (same rare heart condition) playing baseball in Little League and meeting his favorite MLB player. The timing can only be explained that God just wanted to give us a nudge and a wink, to let us know He’s still right beside us and our trust is NEVER misplaced when we put it in Him.

As we sort out the purpose of suffering we have to bear in mind suffering brings opportunity. An opportunity to offer up your suffering for a greater cause, an opportunity to let go and let God hold you close forever deepening your relationship with Him, and lastly an opportunity (and a privilege) to be a witness for the Faith. So would I change it if I could? Well, it seems childish to say ‘yes’ I want a heart-healthy kid, and reject God’s plan that continues to unfold.

“Suffering brings opportunity.” ~Regular Joan

Recently at church we sang the hymn “The Summons” and it was so touching, I hadn’t heard it in a long time. They lyrics really seemed to fit my reflections on suffering.

“Will you come and follow me if I but call your name?
Will you go where you don’t know and never be the same?
Will you let my love be shown? Will you let my name be known,
Will you let my life be grown in you and you in me?”

Beautiful. Other parts of the song really fit what we do in the pro-life movement. If you answer ‘yes’ to this “summons”, I dare say prepare yourself for some suffering, but what do I know?

I know Ian is one special kid, he was conceived on Father’s Day. My husband and I found out we were pregnant with him after running a half marathon. We stopped at the drug store before church to be sure I was safe to celebrate with alcohol and so I took the test in the church bathroom of Sts Peter and Paul in Grangeville, Idaho on the Feast of Sts. Peter and Paul! There is a plan and a purpose to this life. Ian was born in the beginning of Lent and he was healthy enough to be transferred to Boise from LA on Easter Monday. The night of my 33rd birthday, when he was only weeks old in the ICU he crashed and we experienced a deep agony. The medical team had to use paralyzing drugs to stabilize his oxygen by preventing him from moving and getting too agitated. It absolutely horrified me that that had to be done to keep our fragile little fighter alive. Christ died at 33, so did Sts Catherine of Siena and Faustina Kowalska, and as a person who ponders, I wondered if there would be some sort of turning point in my life at that age. I got my answer. I was given a cross. And through my suffering I didn’t so much change directions, but go deeper. Suffering can cause transformation. Perhaps that is why it seems at the end our lives we suffer so much as our bodies deteriorate; to prepare our immortal souls for eternity with Christ Jesus.

For those of you holding out wondering what I told my 5 year old about why God didn’t heal Ian’s heart, I told her, “I have the power to let you eat ice cream for dinner, but I don’t because I know that’s not what’s best for you.” Time to wrap this up with a bow and close with this quote I stumbled upon by St. Ignatius.

“If God gives you an abundant harvest of trials, it is a sign of great holiness which He desires you to attain. Do you want to become a great saint? Ask God to send you many sufferings. The flame of Divine Love never rises higher than when fed with the wood of the Cross, which the infinite charity of the Savior used to finish His sacrifice. All the pleasures of the world are nothing compared with the sweetness found in the gall and vinegar offered to Jesus Christ. That is, hard and painful things endured for Jesus Christ and with Jesus Christ.”
–Saint Ignatius of Loyola

More Miscarriage Meditations

It has been 2 months since we lost our lil’ Gus in miscarriage and it is still hard sometimes. One day you are literally full of life, and the next, you are left feeling… well, empty.

To the world a baby is born on his or her birthday. That is the first day of life. But a mother knows her baby came into being long before then.

“As soon as she realizes she is pregnant, her child is born in her heart. And as that little one grows in her womb it simultaneously grows in her heart. If the unexpected happens and the baby never sleeps in the nursery, he will always have a dwelling place in the home created in his mother’s heart.” -Regular Joan

Gus shouldn’t need a place in my heart though if he’s in the arms of Jesus.

I was surprised to learn that the Catholic Church doesn’t have a definite teaching on what happens to the souls of unbaptized babies. Ironically, (because Gus is named after St. Augustine) St. Augustine taught that the unbaptized go to hell!

armsofjesus
In the Arms of His Love,                 by Del Parson

That stain of Original Sin is nothing to mess around with. St. Thomas Aquinas taught that they go to the “Limbo of Children” a place that isn’t heaven, but is an outer ring of hell where there is no pain, just separation from God. This idea is still prevalent enough that when I called Catholic Answers Live during a recent show about grace, that is what the priest told me. I was taken aback, not knowing that this was up for discussion. Why would God give babies an immortal soul and not call them home? Even if Gus hasn’t been baptized becoming a child of God and brother of Jesus, I have! That makes him a grandchild of God and nephew of Jesus. The host (Patrick Coffin) referred me to a great article, Let the Children Come to Me  http://www.catholic.com/magazine/articles/let-the-children-come-to-me. I strongly encourage everyone to read it. It explains that in 2007 the pope gathered a group of moral theologians to discuss this exact issue. The general consensus, as supported by the Baptism of Desire in the Catechism (CCC 1260, 1261) is that we have every reason to hope that miscarried babies go to heaven.

For some reason I couldn’t get J. Frank Wilson & The Cavaliers song Last Kiss out of my head.

“Oh where, oh where, can my baby be? The Lord took her away from me. She’s gone to heaven so I’ve got to be good. So I can see my baby when I leave this world.”

There is truth to those lyrics because I find myself trying to be good : ) I got back in the habit of saying a daily rosary asking Mary to pray for me that God would give me the patience and wisdom I need to be a good mother. I have a stronger desire to do right by God so that I can one day meet my boy Gus. Our family is proud to have him as a small part of us, and I hope that he is smiling down on us and equally proud of his family. His sisters still draw him in their family pictures and include him in our prayers.

St. John of the Cross expressed the idea that the closer a pane of glass is to the light the more clearly you can see how dirty it is. As I draw closer to God through my trials, I can’t help but become more aware of my sins. Before Adam and Eve there was no lottery of life’s diseases or death; there was no miscarriage, no heart defects, no cancer. But they failed God and Eve put a knot in the plan of salvation. I can’t help but recognize that despite my best efforts, I falter into sin. And in a way it was my sinful humanity that led to the death of lil’ Gus. It was obvious what happened, the umbilical chord was wrapped around his neck three times. Like the three times Peter denied Christ. Have I been denying Christ? Have I put him second fiddle to busyness, pride, comfort? I feel closer to God, which is a great place to be, but there is pain in the pruning as I try to let God shape my life.

untierofknotsOver the last year I’ve connected with Mother Mary as the Undoer of Knots. It started when after 3 months at home we were preparing to head back to the Los Angeles hospital for Ian’s third open heart surgery. About a month ahead of time it hit me and I felt the weight of doing it all over again. My stomach went to knots thinking about the surgery, the separation, the swelling, the tubes, the uncertainty. In the mail the next day I received a letter. In that letter came a devotional card to Mary the Undoer of Knots. It was God’s way of reminding me that my mother Mary knows too well what I am going through, having to watch my son suffer yet trusting the Lord.  I sought Mary’s intercession to ease the knots out of my stomach.

Later, I realized the origin of the moniker (thank you Scott Hahn). Eve made the knot with her sinful disobedience; Mary untied it with her obedience. We all fell with Adam and Eve; we are human and we sin. But the New Adam is Jesus Christ and where Adam fell, Christ rose again. Through his cross and resurrection the gates of heaven are open for all of his children to follow: Gus, myself, you. St. Teresa of Avila said that the cross is a bridge to heaven. This used to confuse me, but I am beginning to understand how through suffering we are able to connect to God in a whole different way. God fills the void that Gus left with promise and peace. So I’ve got to be good, so I can see my baby when I leave this world.

Empty Womb-Sad: Empty Tomb-Glad!

012zoomhand
This is me holding Gus’ precious little hand.

Finding Meaning in Miscarriage. As many of you know by now our Project Peanut did not have the outcome we expected. After ~115 days of life in the womb our little Gus passed away the week before Easter. It was completely unexpected as 2nd trimester miscarriages are, being so rare (only 2-3% of pregnancies miscarry in the 2nd trimester compared to the 25% that miscarry in the first 13 weeks). Regardless of age or size he was loved, especially by his makers (God, Mommy and Daddy).

“Our hearts are restless until they rests in Thee, O Lord.” ~St. Augustine

I had picked out the name Augustine (a-GUS-tin) years before after the great saint, and hubby Scott liked Gus too being a Lonesome Dove fan. So as we discussed whether we felt called to have anymore children (because someone wanted to get rid of ALL the baby stuff) I implored Scott, “What about Gus?! Are sure you don’t want a little brother for Ian?” Well, I could tell he wasn’t hearing the call I was, so I decided I needed to recruit a special prayer warrior to help in our discernment. So I decided to look up the feast of St. Augustine and I just happened to google his feast day on his feast day!! August 28th if you’re wondering. So knowing how it can sometimes take a long time to get an answer to my prayers I started praying for Gus. And when we were scratching our heads in December when we realized we were unexpectedly expecting, I had to laugh!  I had a pretty good feeling, being that I was due in August, this was an early answer to my prayers. Augustine James Naugle was on the way… affectionately called Peanut especially by his sisters until we could confirm that peanut “had nuts” (on ultrasound).

Two days after my miscarriage I found myself praying and pondering in the adoration chapel with Jesus Holy Thursday. Searching for meaning perhaps, the verse came to me, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” We belong to God, our children belong to God. And so in our relationship with Christ, he gives us everything his love, his life, his father’s house. And in response we try to give him everythi007ng, and that includes our fertility and our children. Our children are a gift from God, but really they are His; entrusted to our care to teach them the way to get back home. Gus was sent from heaven, and he returned home to heaven. He just skipped over the desert wanderings of an earthly life. It was shocking to lose him, but of course he never was lost, his angel ushered him straight into the arms of Jesus. We are an Easter people; people of joy because of the resurrection. Death is not the end of his story. We just don’t get to be the ones to help write the early chapters in his book. And as much as we could have loved him it is only a shadow of God’s radiating love he now enjoys. So we cannot begrudge God for that!

As we were talking to the funeral home people and the deacon at church it seemed like a bigger production than what we thought. But when Father Reggie offered to do a mass for Gus, we figured if he’s offering we should take him up on it. And I am so glad that we did. It was so awesome to be able to honor his little life with a mass. It is great to be Catholic! I think part of our human weakness is that it is hard to love people we do not know. So although we loved him in a way proportionate to his size, it is more the dreams we had been building that crumbled than the heart shattering pain we would feel if one of our other children had passed. My regret is that I did not/could not love him more. I feel like if we asked God how much his life was worth he would say “A lot!” Perhaps even, “As much as yours.” Which is why I am so glad we did everything we could to honor him: naming him, sharing the news with family and friends, showing his sisters his body at home, having a memorial service and reception, and honoring his remains with the above angel urn and eventual burial.

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Gus’ sweet feet. He was a little bigger than the size of my hand. Beautiful in his own right.

If it seemed like too much for a miscarried baby even one 19 weeks old, it was because we undervalue the unborn not because God overvalues them. Having the memorial mass elevated him and the significance of his life. Did it make it a little harder in some ways to be vulnerable and grieve more publicly? Yes, but in more ways it made things right. When we honor the lives of these little precious ones we also honor God their creator. And we are at peace feeling like we honored Gus, we honored God, and all is well in the world when we follow the will of God. Sometimes it is a path of suffering that leads to contentment.

 

Thank you to all our family and friends and our parish of St. Mark’s Catholic Church in Boise for your love and support. Especially those that attended and helped with Gus’ service, the first picture above.

PS. If you have lost a child in miscarriage and perhaps have regrets about not doing more . … it is not too late! There are lots of things you can still do. Here are a few ideas, and I would invite anyone reading this to add more in the comments. If you haven’t already, name your child. Get something special to remember your child. This could be a garden statue or perhaps a Christmas ornament (you may even engrave it with their name). If you have or get mother’s jewelry, include your child’s birthstone with your other children’s. Lastly, I’d like to mention there are support groups and ministries out there specifically to meet the needs of those who have experienced the loss of a child in the womb; please check into them. Whether it is honoring your child, dealing with grief, or just connecting with others that are feeling the same they are there to help.