Because I got so much feedback from the post about miscarriage and limbo, I feel duty-bound in all my unmatched wisdom to continue the conversation.
That was a joke. Actually, I feel pretty helpless and clueless right now. But sometimes even the questions need to be clarified before answers can be found, which is why I have fewer and fewer answers as life passes by, and bigger and bigger questions.
See, I’m pregnant. I’m actually, right now, pregnant. It wasn’t a joyous event.
A little background: I get pregnant if my husband walks across the room. When my husband and I were first married, even though I was not yet Catholic, I decided to embrace being open to life, and to be a better mother to the two children I already had. Boom. Four girls in five years. I was literally nursing or pregnant that whole time, and it’s a very difficult way to start off a marriage, especially if the bride has past issues that are not yet dealt with, and said issues sometimes cause her head to spin in frightening ways (I’m not kidding, demons almost pushed me over the edge). We made it, but yeah, it was so hard. By the time the fourth daughter was on her way, I was in therapy because I was facing my sins (the worst of which was an abortion). I was even hospitalized for suicide, which was really more about a counselor pushing me to abort that child than an actual meltdown on my part. This was during my conversion, and I kept going because I sincerely wanted to lead a holy life.
After those four girls, I had two miscarriages and it scared me to death. Then I got pregnant again (because … husband walked into the room and all) and our healthy, beautiful son was born. Then I had two more miscarriages, and banned my husband from entering any room I was ever in, but alas!, the walls are thin around here — I am pregnant again. This is my thirteenth pregnancy. Thirteenth.
I can’t repeat what I said when I saw the pregnancy test. Suffice it to say, I went to confession afterwards. My priest, knowing I’m a facts kind of person, said, “Let’s look at the facts. Your husband thinks you’re the most beautiful woman in the world. You think he’s the most wonderful man in the world. (It’s true, even though I was angry about the thin walls, I do think that about him.) It can only be God’s will that this little baby was conceived in your womb. This child was conceived in love. This child has parents who love it. Even if the life is short, it’s a blessed life.”
I couldn’t disagree. Those facts are facts. And just in case that wasn’t enough, my priest added with loving enthusiasm, “Besides, this child is living in the year that Blessed Pope John Paul II will be declared a saint!” (It’s a Polish parish, but no, Trasancos is not Polish, it’s Spanish.)
So, there it is. Beautiful, huh?
The thing is, I’m mature enough now to handle this. I’ve been through miscarriage before. I’ve raised/am raising seven children. I have confidence that I can handle quite a bit of hard work and suffering.
This is the reason I write about it. When I was in my twenties, the situation would have been drastically different. Today, when someone tells me this kid’s going to hell if he/she dies, I don’t have a meltdown (and yes, that’s more or less what people have even said this week) because I know better than to listen to those people. That’s why limbo bothers me so much. People still believe that it is dogmatic truth and no one can hold any other opinion, and those people don’t think about what they are saying. They don’t realize that to a woman at risk for miscarriage, thinking your child will go to hell if you “miscarry” it, is like watching your infant crawl toward you, when suddenly the earth breaks open and the child, in need of baptism and just out of your reach, falls into the dark chasm never to be seen again. It is horrifying. I don’t think people realize how incredibly cruel such language is to a mother. (And then those people say, “Oh hey, you need to be open to life though and get pregnant as much as possible.”)
A young woman assents to Church teaching and is “open to life.” She has a child. Then she becomes pregnant a second time, with the sweetness of that first birth still before her. Miscarriage doesn’t really give you space to figure things out. It just happens. It isn’t an exaggeration to say that the first sighting of an indicated miscarriage leads a woman to want to stand on her head to reverse gravity’s affect on her body, to do anything keep that child safely in her womb. It does feel like “miss-carrying;” it feels like you are dropping something you were supposed to hang on to.
And in the end, there’s nothing you can do. All the mother has to hang onto is — that all important word — hope. She has the hope that the child lives on, and that she will someday be united again with the child that lived its whole earthly life united with her body. In a culture where women are often told that they don’t have to love their children from conception, when a woman decides that big, huge YES, that outpouring of love even for her tiniest of embryos, well, imagine some legalistic fellow Catholic introducing her to that tragic chasm when she is begging for answers.
“Where is my baby now? I didn’t baptize it. I couldn’t. What happens to him or her?”
“Well, Catholic theology (invoking all the Doctors and Saints and Popes) says that unbaptized children go to limbo.”
“Well it’s the edge of hell, but it’s not really hell because there’s no pain, the baby is just deprived of the Beatific Vision, you know, that salvation you are striving for in life by being so open to life and love.”
The mother stopped listening at one word — hell.
How does a mother imagine herself striving for the Beatific Vision, by striving to grow in virtue and love for Christ and her family, while leaving this child behind? It feels so selfish to think that the child is consigned to a painless hell, never to be united with you again, especially if you go to Heaven. Did you get that? The mother is in a very hard place. If she goes to Heaven, then she will not see her child again. That’s what limbo says to mothers.
You want to know what I thought at first? I sobbed and sobbed for (I don’t remember how many) days because for the first time since I converted, I actually thought that maybe I didn’t want to go to Heaven either. I couldn’t just sit my precious child on a raft and shove him out to sea, over the horizon to be forgotten forever. That’s no different than aborting that child, which is why the term “spiritual abortion” describes limbo well. And for what? For failing to give birth and pour water on his head. To hell with desire.
It didn’t make any sense.
It still doesn’t, but like I said, I’ve matured. It’s not the Church, it’s certain people who cling to a theological opinion as if it needs no further development. The doctrine of limbo needs more thought. If I’d been twenty-five when that happened, I’d have had a serious crisis of faith, and it would have been the fault of those legalistic, hopeless, know-it-alls. Since I was older and confident in my faith when the first miscarriage happened, I was able to think about it more rationally (not that twenty-five year olds can’t think rationally, I just know I wouldn’t have).
I read that International Theological Commission document about “hope” and I read the Catechism, and I decided to have hope.
Now “hope” is kind of a hard thing to get your head around, especially if you like to be in control of things. You have to let go, and have faith. When you have lost a child like this, it’s enough though, to have hope. It’s all you’ve got, and in a way, the growth and maturity that comes from realizing what hope is really all about, is a gift. No, it is a gift, no question about it. Learning to hope is a gift. Those babies I lost have taught me much about life.
I started to look at everything in my life through the lens of hope. I started to think about abortion differently too. In addition to speaking out against it, and living my life as a testimony against it, I also started to pray more. Instead of just mourning all the lost babies whose mothers didn’t want them (which I still do mourn), I also started praying for them. I started praying for them like they were friends of my lost children, little babies who just wanted to be loved and not forgotten. Isn’t that what hope is about? Not forgetting.
And my ability to hope grew and grew. I realize now that hope is really all the certainty we’ve got. “Jesus, I trust in You.”
I sometimes envision my five children who died before birth waiting for me on a beach, playing in the sunshine. I imagine myself standing there with them, hugging each of them and telling them how much I love them. Sometimes, after hugging them and closing my eyes to breath in their smell and the ocean air, I open my eyes to discover there are hundreds of children all around us, wanting to be hugged too. Sometimes I linger there and hug them all, and pray. And hope. Something tells me those children don’t want to be forgotten. They were aborted in this life. Why should we forget about them for eternity? Why can’t we still pray and hope for them? Maybe that beach is like limbo, but I don’t think it’s the edge of hell. I think it’s a place where children go and hope to be loved.
So, you see, if this little baby living in me now, living in the year of the canonization of Pope John Paul II, departs this earth sometime in the next few weeks or months before I hold him or her up to my cheek and nestle that soft skin, I guess this little Trasancos will go hang out with the other five little Trasancoses (my husband adopted the one from long ago, a story for another time) while Mommy and Daddy and all the other siblings finish our time on earth — loving, laughing, and hoping that we’re all happy in Heaven together when this life is done. Until then, we are in communion.
Hope. If you want to talk about theology, don’t leave out hope. Christ came to fulfill the law, not to change it. Maybe — just maybe — we don’t know everything yet.