April 2016, Lourdes, France – I groaned loudly as my body hit the 54 degree water—so loudly that the attendant asked if I were okay. Under any other circumstances, I might have been a little embarrassed. For the rest of the day, my upper back was tense from the shock of that cold water. But I offered that bath, in the stream fed by the spring Our Lady showed to St. Bernadette, for good physical and spiritual health for my family and me, keeping in mind especially that we wanted a child.
One year, one month, and two days later, my wife Anna and I welcomed Gerard Thomas II into the world. He was the answer to our prayers–and those of so many others. Thomas is healthy, happy, and beautiful, and he’s here because of faith as well as modern medicine. Contrary to popular opinion, the two are not opposed. In our lived experience, they complement each other.
Anna and I married in November 2013. A few months later, we were expecting. We celebrated Easter 2014 anticipating that, in December, we would be celebrating the Nativity with a child of our own. Then, after noticing that she was spotting, Anna went to see Dr. Bruchalski at Tepeyac OB/GYN. Expecting everything to be fine, I was at work. I got the call that we had lost the baby at 15 weeks along. I rushed home, shocked. Neither of us had seen it coming, especially that late.
We cried, told our families, and prepared to go to the hospital. The next day, we delivered John Martin. We comforted and prayed with each other all day. We read in the Office of Readings that morning a letter from St. Cyprian on the Our Father, on “Thy will be done.” We came across ‘the Lord gives and the Lord takes away” from Job in Morning Prayer. With Dr. Bruchalski, nurses at Fair Oaks Hospital, family, and more prayer helping us through, we spent the night with John and reluctantly let him go the next morning. Through it all, God’s grace was clearly there. It was nearly palpable. I don’t know how to explain it. We buried our firstborn son in a nearby cemetery.
After healing, we tried again. We were due in August 2015. It was a bit nerve-wracking at times, but I tried to work on completely trusting God. Tepeyac’s doctors were doing everything they could to help Anna, and still we knew loss was a possibility. We just assumed that losing John was a fluke. We had known since we were dating that Anna had inherited a clotting disorder from her mother, but her mom had six kids. Initial test results gave no indication that Anna needed to be put on a blood thinner. But in February 2015, we learned at our 16-week checkup that we had lost Agnes Helene. This time I was more prepared for what was going to happen medically and, I suppose, spiritually too. Prayer certainly guided us through the day. We laid Agnes to rest a few yards from her older brother.
Meanwhile, the doctors at Tepeyac ran tests on Anna and found two other clotting issues. That explained things. Though testing on John and Agnes never confirmed a cause of death, it seemed safe to assume the clotting issues had something to do with it. Dr. Bruchalski crafted a plan to manage the medical issues better in the next pregnancy. So when we got pregnant in August 2015 (not long after Agnes would have been due), we were very optimistic. We had a plan. Medically, I don’t think we could have been more prepared to deal with the challenges. Then Anna started bleeding. Dr. Fisk confirmed we lost the pregnancy at about 5 weeks. On my hunch that it was a boy, we named him Michael Augustine.
I felt comfortable medically. Spiritually, God was asking me to trust Him more. He was preparing something for us.
At the last minute, we were able to join a parish pilgrimage to France, visiting important Catholic sites connected to saints like Catherine Laboure, Vincent de Paul, Louis, Zelie, and Therese Martin, Bernadette of Lourdes, John Vianney, and Margaret Mary. The trip culminated at Lourdes.
A few months later, we were expecting. It was an exercise in trust that Our Lady of Lourdes and these other saints would work through the doctors. We followed the medical plan of blood thinners and extra monitoring, and we kept praying for a healthy and safe pregnancy and a happy, healthy child. We had great doctors to help us along the way, and we also had hope, faith, and trust.
At times it was hard to abandon everything to God. I didn’t want to be open to loss, something that I’d learned was necessary to be truly open to life. Through many appointments, which I think overwhelmed Anna at times, she persevered. On the way to the doctor for her monthly ultrasound, to deal with nervousness, I would offer the Joyful Mysteries of the Rosary. We always envisioned a healthy, active baby. After each ultrasound during the first few months, I came away realizing that I still didn’t trust God enough. The ultrasounds were God’s way of telling me, “I’m taking care of you guys. Why don’t you trust me?” Still, I offered a prayer of thanksgiving each time I saw our boy.
Once past the point where we had lost John and Agnes, I breathed a little easier and was able to trust more. I felt more open to fully cooperating with the concept “Thy will be done,” despite not liking all the possibilities. But the graces had always been there when we needed them. Why would this pregnancy be any different?
On May 22, 2017, two and a half weeks early, Thomas showed up at a healthy 7 pounds, 4 ounces. Fatherhood with a living child is greater than I could have imagined. I have a new partner in crime who’s alert, curious, and generally happy. And he’s here through not just the doctors, but by God’s grace and His generosity.