One quick note: I'm mostly offline this week. I so appreciate your comments and I've been praying for commenters on the last two posts. I promise I'm not ignoring you! I'll be back to reflect and to talk a bit in the comment box towards the end of the week.
Without further ado, here's a column from Summer 1993. My current editorializing is in pink:
With my husband's blessing, I would like to share our personal story of what embracing the Church's teaching on human life has meant in our lives. When Mike and I were married six years ago, we understood Humanae Vitae to mean an openness to the possiblity of life. That was what we wanted and we neither sought to prevent conception or pursue it. A year later, our first son was born. When I held Michael, I was awed by him as most mothers are by their newborns, but I didn't yet grasp how precious life is. It had all been too easy.
For the next eighteen months, we struggled in our roles as newlyweds and new parents. Then we discovered I had cancer. Suddenly, the child we had taken for granted took on a whole new dimension. He was joy on dark days and diversion on painful ones. Some days, he was my soul reason for living. I had nutured and comforted him for the first year of his life and he returned the comfort a hundredfold during the next. It became very apparent that God had had a plan when He blessed us with this child so early in our marriage and I was grateful we'd been open to his creation.
Since my disease had a good prognosis, it was not my life I feared [that actually came later as I learned what it is to live forever in the shadow of cancer], but my ablity to bear life. In horror and disbelief, a few days after diagnosis, Mike and I sat across from an oncologist who told us I would never again carry a baby to term because of chemotherapy. Then, we found another doctor. We chose someone who understood that I not only wanted to survive, but that I desperately wanted to have more babies. He was much more optimistic and considered my fertility when prescribing treatment.
After undergoing chemotherapy and radiation, it was imperative that I give my body sufficient time to recover before becoming pregnant again. I also needed to know that the cancer would not recur [realistically, we never have that guarantee]. The medical community encouraged us to use artificial birth control, but my husband and I were being called in another direction.
We talked with the Couple to Couple League in Cincinnati, Ohio and they referred us to an oncologist in Massachusetts who was on the CCL advisory board. Together, Mike and I learned how to properly practice NFP. Both my doctor and the oncologist from CCL warned that it could be some time before we saw any signs of fertility returning after treatment. The benefit of NFP was that I would know as my body returned to normal.
The next seven months were the most anxious of my entire life [in hindsight, 21 years later, I can safely say that period still ranks in the Top 5 Most Anxious Times]. I watched and waited for signs that the cancer had recurred. I watched and waited for signs of fertility. I prayed for life: mine and that of our future children. And I prayed for peace.
As soon as I knew it was possible to conceive, I asked my doctor if it were advisable. He gave me cautious approval, warning me that he thought it might take a while to conceive. Because of NFP, I knew the signs of fertility and I knew I could get pregnant. [This still makes me giggle. My oncologist was as close to the perfect doctor I've ever met. He was impeccably educated and utterly brilliant. But on that day, I was sure I knew better than he did.]
There was a lot I didn't know though. I didn't know if the cancer would recur. I didn't know if I could carry to term. And I didn't know what God wanted. I was terrified. I agonized over the wisdom of bringing another life into my world where there were so few guarantees. Ultimately, I trusted Mike with the decision. And his reasoning was simple: All God asks is that we are open to the possiblity. He cannot work if we don't let Him. Two weeks later, I called my doctor to let him know I was expecting a baby.
Despite the ease with which this baby was conceived, I was still not at peace. Everything we had learned about discernment said that if we were truly doing God's will, we would feel His peace. I suppose if I had been genuinely faith-filled, I would have simply been patient and trusted the Lord. But I asked for big signs. At one point, I begged God to send an angel to tell me everything was going to be okay.
Our second son, Matthew Christian, was born nearly three weeks after my due date (so much for not carrying to term). The hospital was unusually quiet that night and his birth was remarkably quick. Indescribable peace settled upon us. As I marvelled at his newborn sweetness, I found myself praying aloud. "He's beautiful, Lord. Not an angel but a real, live boy to live with us and remind us always of the infinite wisdom of Your plan in our lives. When I look at him I can't believe he's anything but Your perfect will for us. You didn't send an angel, but You did send a sign--a priceless gift--didn't You?"
And the baby smiled.
That was just the beginning. We learned well to trust. We learned that God's grace and strength had no bounds. He would offer a refresher course through the years. I shared a bit of the miracle of Patrick here. And Sarah's story--in addition to being a refresher course in grace for Mike and me--granted my older children a phenomenal view of how boundless God's good plan can be. There are more stories, not yet told here. I assure you, with every single baby, I was sure I couldn't do it. From the first (so soon and we were so young), to the last (they were so many and we were so old), each time I was sure I was not sufficient. And each time, I am certain, we could have made a good case for having a grave or serious reason not to have another. Each time, God knew better.