When I was in my second year of teaching, I had a co-worker come up to me in the hallway and inform me that she had had a dream that I was pregnant, that she was “usually pretty good about knowing these things,” and that I should probably take a test. I laughed, and told her that I actually was on day 32 or something of my cycle, which was usually a solid 28 days. Her face lit up, and she asked what on earth I was waiting for. Laughing again, I said it honestly hadn’t occurred to me, having only been married and doing NFP for three months, coupled with a busy beginning of the school year. Of course, I stopped by Target that very day and picked up a pregnancy test, which, to my shock, was positive. Despite our charting and having a pretty good grasp on what we were doing (read: there are no “taking chances” with NFP!), my husband was even more shocked. It was as though we were surprised that it had really worked.
After the initial shock had worn off, we were of course delighted and eagerly looked forward to my 12-week appointment, when we would get to hear the baby’s heartbeat for the first time. My husband had just started a new job and wasn’t able to come with to that initial appointment. We weren’t overly concerned, knowing he’d be able to come to future ones and obviously, the 20-week ultrasound. So, on December 4th, I headed to the doctor’s office alone after school. After a few minutes of attempting to find the heartbeat, my doctor said they weren’t able to find it, and they were going to send me to the hospital by my house to have an ultrasound. In my naivety, I was delighted at the idea of getting an early sneak peek at our little baby.
My husband, who was home from work by this time, said he would meet me at the hospital. As the ultrasound tech ran the wand over my belly, we noticed a tiny little baby on the screen. She shut off the machine, told us our doctor would call us momentarily, and started to leave the room. For the first time, it occurred to me that something might be wrong. I asked her if there was indeed anything wrong with our sweet little baby, but she only repeated that she would be right back with our doctor on the line. Moments later, our doctor explained that the baby had stopped growing between eight and ten weeks and that there was no heartbeat. He went on to explain that I would likely miscarry naturally within the next week but to call the clinic if I didn’t. I can remember thinking he may as well have been speaking Russian- nothing he was saying made sense, and I was so dumbstruck I could hardly reply. As I hung up, the tech teared up and expressed how sorry she was for our loss. We made it as far as the hallway before the reality of what my doctor had said started to hit home. By the time we made it to our cars, I was inconsolable and near hysterical. We left one of our cars there for our friend to pick up later and headed home to grieve our sweet little one.
The week that followed was one of the longest of my life; telling people that we had lost the baby and worrying that we might not ever be able to have kids. My doctor assured us that it was not uncommon for a woman to lose her first baby, but we still wondered. I returned to school a few days later, which turned out to be incredibly therapeutic. Kids have a way of knowing just what to say or not to say, and my fifth graders were the most helpful during this time. I was also utterly amazed at the number of people who approached me or wrote cards with condolences, telling me that they too had lost a baby, often their first. Being one of the first in my circle of friends to start having kids, the very concept of miscarriage had honestly never even crossed my mind, let alone the idea that I myself might experience one. It was so reassuring to hear from so many people their own stories of loss. And equally as touching were the people who told us that they didn’t know what to say to express how sorry they were, but that they were praying for us.
Through prayer, we named our little one Aloysius John, and refer to him as Alex. We were able to bury him in a special area of our church’s cemetery for miscarried babies in a beautiful ceremony with our family priest, my parents, brother and future sister-in-law, and my grandmother, which was also a very healing experience.
Within two months, we were pregnant with our daughter, Mary, and today are days away from having our fourth child. However, it never ceases to amaze me how present Alex is in our family. Our kids all know about their brother, and we speak of him regularly, often bringing flowers to his gravesite. My husband and I have often commented that when we’re gathering up the kids or even just watching them play, we notice that someone is missing. His absence is tangible, and there isn’t a day that goes by without thinking of him.
Not coincidentally, the class I had that year was one of my favorites, and I know that their experiencing our loss with me added to the bond I had with them. It is always my hope that as they go through life, they’ll remember not only their fifth grade teacher, but also her sweet little boy, Alex. It is my hope that his life, which has impacted so many people despite its brevity, will remind them of just how precious life is.