Curled up cozy in my bed, I’m lying awake staring at the ceiling and thinking about the stark contrast between tonight and this night one year ago.
At exactly this moment one year ago, after an uneventful three weeks of “hospital observation,” I begrudgingly waddled over to Labor and Delivery for what I thought would be just an hour or two of monitoring, after which I’d get to go back to my room to sleep.
That hour turned into three hours, which then turned into “get some rest, dear, you’ll be here all night” to all of a sudden: buzz buzz, “um, excuse me, can you send my nurse?! I think my water just broke.”
While the nurse went to get the doctor, I rolled my IV tree into the bathroom, and in a shaking, quiet voice I told God: “Lord have mercy. I really don’t think I can do this right now.”
It was midnight. I was so tired. Lee wasn’t ready to be born—I was supposed to give him two more months to grow. Nate was working a night shift an hour away. What if he didn’t make it in time? Was I really going to have to do this? What if I had to do this alone?”
Tears began to well up, but I choked them down and one word came to me: Steel.
I found myself thinking back to December 20th, just a few months prior — our wedding anniversary. Nate had to work a night shift so we had celebrated the day before.
It had been a difficult week for us. One of my doctors had wanted to run further tests because he thought he saw “significant defects” in my 20-week ultrasound.
And on that night of all nights, he called us to say that my blood work had come back and the results were troubling.
In his words, “we should consider our options” — we should decide whether to or not to continue my pregnancy. This was the third time this specific Maternal Fetal Medicine (MFM) doctor had brought up my options.
He never even looked at Nate when he talked about my options. I felt so pressured to make the “right choice,” to hit and refresh and try again for a “perfect” baby.
I knew I could not take someone else’s life and I would not be scared into making a devastating and painful choice that I know is wrong. But just because I had faith in my decision doesn’t mean I wasn’t terrified.
Nate and I were both in complete and total shock. I was drowning in a wave of chaos and uncertainty. As someone who plans everything, there were so many possibilities and so many scenarios of diagnoses that I couldn’t even start to plan or scheme how I was going to make this okay for our baby.
There we were, in our little pistachio green New York kitchen on our third wedding anniversary, hearing that our son might have very significant issues. But we had no time to really process this because Nate was due at the hospital for work in thirty minutes.
But just because I had faith in my decision doesn’t mean I wasn’t terrified.
He felt terrible leaving, but there was nothing we could do. Whether he stayed or went, his presence wouldn’t change what the doctor had said.
So I wept at my kitchen table, alone. And I called my dad to tell him what the doctor said and to ask him to continue to have Father remember us in Mass.He comforted me for over an hour, and then he told me a short, simple story about his mother.
You could have described her in so many words—she was smart, charming, beautiful, funny—she was just an extraordinary woman.
But when one of her dear friends was asked to describe her, she laughed and said, “Describe Jo in one word? Steel.”
My grandmother had just given birth to my uncle and quit her job at the women’s college, when my grandfather suddenly had a stroke. With two sons under the age of three, she lost her husband.
But life didn’t stop. She pulled herself up, ran my grandfather’s businesses at night, and worked at the women’s college during the day.
Purpose filled her life, because she decided to work for joy and for love.
“Now, you’re going to have to be steel, too,” my dad told me, and when I said I didn’t know if I could, he reassured me, “you will.”
It’s peculiar, the things that stick with you, and that you cling to when you’re trying to desperately to keep everything together. But this is what I had.
And by the grace of God, here I am, one year later, with a perfectly healthy, adorable little boy, an even stronger marriage, and an immensely grateful heart full of the peace and sincere joy that only comes from overcoming great difficulty.
And now, when I think back on that fateful day, it makes my teeth clench and my eyes tear up just thinking of my doctor, who didn’t believe I could do it.
There were a few things that helped me get through the uncertainty:
- I allowed myself time to process and pray. I attended daily Mass and said the Rosary both of which helped to bring me so much peace.
- “The Almighty has done great things for me and Holy is His name.” I clung to this passage. This was one of the reads at Mass just a day or two after I received this news and it was like the Blessed Mother intended it just for me. I wrote it on the chalkboard in my kitchen and I repeated it over and over again. God has done impossibility wonderful things for me and often when the night seems darkest and all reason points to inevitable disaster He does “great things for me.”
- I prayed for the grace of acceptance. Another little pearl of wisdom from my Dad. He told me that acceptance was a grace, and it doesn’t come without prayer, but if I could accept whatever God wanted then, and only then, would I find peace.
I knew deep down—however weak and in inadequate I felt—that I would grow to be strong enough. But I needed to be allowed time and grace to grow.
It makes my teeth clench and my eyes tear up just thinking of my doctor, who didn’t believe I could do it.
What I didn’t know is how much I needed my son, and how perfectly he would fit into our lives. I know this MFM doctor certainly wanted me to know my choices and as much information as he could. I think he wanted to make a really difficult situation better for me.
But he was wrong. His interpretation of my ultrasound was wrong. And it could have cost my sons life.
If you are an expectant mother reading this, and especially if you’ve received difficult news from a doctor: if it feels like the world is closing in around you, give yourself time to breath and grace to grow, and know that you are steel, too.
You’ll make it through this time unbent, but your heart will be forever stronger—and always fuller.