Note: I am happy to say this has been published in The Catholic Post, the newspaper for the Peoria Diocese. The link to the article can be found here.
Twenty-one years ago, I celebrated Mother’s Day for the first time as a mom myself. I was just two months into my pregnancy, but already wearing maternity clothes even though I really didn’t need them yet. I was simply so excited about my new identity as a MOM, and could not help but tell everyone about little Baby Padan.
Twenty years ago, I celebrated Mother’s Day for the first time as a grieving mom who lost her child.
What a difference a single year can make.
The full story of that single year is filled with some joy, but many tears. My husband and I wanted our baby; my pregnancy was intentional. We simply had no idea how many challenges we would face.
At the time I found out I was pregnant, I was working full-time as a music therapist at Danville’s United Samaritans Medical Center. At 14 weeks gestation, I had a routine ultrasound. Bruce was with me, and we watched the ultrasound monitor with great joy. The next day, I brought my glossy 5×7 photo to work, showing off my baby’s cute profile, with him sucking his thumb. The “Ooohs” and “Aaahs” were all that I had dreamed about.
But later that day, my dream began to change into a nightmare. Looking back, that term may be too harsh, but it is how I felt at the time. On the very day I was showing off my first baby picture, I received a phone call from the nurse. “Mrs. Padan, the doctor has found some anomalies on the ultrasound. He wants you to see a specialist.”
The following Monday, I had a more detailed, intensive ultrasound at Indiana University Medical Center. Because it was an emergency referral, I got the doctor on-call. After scanning me, he said I was experiencing “amniotic band syndrome.” It is rare, and there is no known cause, but because it happened during my first trimester, it was a very serious case. So much so that the doctor said “You need to consider your options.”
I never thought I would ever hear those words. While I was not yet steeped in Catholic devotions outside of Mass, I knew and agreed with the Church’s teachings on the sanctity of human life. In other words, there were no “options.” The rest of the day is a blur to me now. I remember stopping in Rockville Indiana before going home to see my mother-in-law and Bruce’s youngest brother Chris. I remember crying a lot while Chris tried to console me. I remember calling my mom on the phone later that day, but I can’t remember how I broke the news to her. I simply remember being shocked, saddened, confused, and worried. From that day forward, everything changed.
But one thing did not change: I was still a MOM.
After many doctor visits, tests, and prayers, Gabriel James Padan was stillborn on October 6, 1994. Born just after midnight, he weighed just 2 pounds, 3.8 ounces. His frail body was unable to survive the process of birth. Despite his tiny size, he made a big impact on our family. Along with his mommy and daddy, Gabriel was welcomed by two grandmas, two uncles, one aunt, and even church friends all at the hospital. We arranged for a hospital chaplain to baptize him, since we know not when the soul leaves the body…and because I really needed the beauty of baptism to commend my little one to God. Two days later (the day before our first wedding anniversary,) St. Paul Church in Danville was packed for the funeral mass of a boy who never took a breath. When people say to me “I’m sorry that your baby did not live,” I quickly correct them. Yes he did. My son was alive for 33 weeks in my womb.
There are many details of this journey that I won’t share in this article. The reason I am sharing this story is to say that I know many women in our churches struggle with Mother’s Day. Some studies indicate that as many as 25% of pregnancies end naturally in miscarriage. Many women carry to term, but experience a stillbirth as I did. Still others suffer the anguish of losing a child to SIDS. There are many women who have experienced pregnancy, but their children are not around to make breakfast in bed, or pick dandelions from the front yard. To these women I say, “I get it.” This holiday can be tough.
But you are still a MOM. Whether God has granted you the blessing of additional children or not, you are a MOM. As prolife Catholics, we understand that human life begins at conception, not at birth. Every child ever conceived matters in the eyes of God! Every child conceived is gifted with a soul…and these innocent ones are in union with God eternally! As mothers, we miss our kids. But as women of faith, we can find peace in knowing that they are being taken care of by our Lord and the great family of saints in heaven. What joy there is in knowing that!
Years before I was married, a friend said something that has deeply impacted me to this day. She said she had nine children. I was confused; I only knew about the three kids I saw with her at Mass each week. “Oh Kim, there are just three here now, but I had six miscarriages. Those kids are just waiting for us in heaven.” How beautiful is that? In the years since, I have spoken to many women who have lost babies, and I encourage them in this way…Count your children. All of them. Born alive, miscarried…whatever the outcome, count your children. If we are to proclaim the Gospel of Life, let us boldly tell the world about every baby we have ever had!
Now, I realize also that there are women reading this who lost their babies by the choice of abortion. You are also mothers! You and your children are also precious in the eyes of God. As bad as abortion is, please hear me when I say, Jesus loves you and wants to heal you with His Divine Mercy! The Church wants you to know how important you are to the Body of Christ. I encourage you to contact a priest in your area and seek God’s grace through the Sacrament of Reconciliation. If you have done this, but still struggle with sadness or guilt, please consider attending a Rachel’s Vineyard retreat.
As a young woman, I always wanted to be a wife and mother. I am both. Bruce is the wonderful man who made me his wife. Gabriel is the little boy who made me a Mommy. That is worth celebrating every Mother’s Day.