Tuesday, December 3: JoAnna Wahlund

Joy Comes in the Morning

No mother ever forgets the day she loses a child.

I’ve lost four children to miscarriage, and the memory of each loss has been burned indelibly in my brain. I have stared at more than one ultrasound screen in disbelief and horror, knowing instantly that there was something wrong, knowing the image of the child on the screen was far too still, and knowing the worst had happened even before hearing my care provider murmur, “I’m so sorry, I can’t find a heartbeat.” 

My last two losses in 2015 were especially difficult. They were consecutive, only five months apart, and both occurred only weeks after an initial ultrasound at eight weeks showed a growing baby with a steady heartbeat. After that point, my obstetrician told me, my chances of miscarriage were only one point six percent. It seemed unbelievable that I would be a part of that tiny percentage twice in the span of five months, but I was. 

My most recent loss occurred less than a week before my 35th birthday and roughly a month before the beginning of Advent. It sent me into a deep spiral of grief, sadness, anger, and despair. That year, Advent was a time of mourning, and it was very difficult to participate in the joy of Christmas. I went through the motions for the sake of my living children, but all the while my heart was crying for the babies I had lost. 

I couldn’t stop worrying that there was something wrong with me, or that I’d somehow caused my losses. Did I have low progesterone, or a blood clotting disorder, or was it due to advanced maternal age and declining egg quality?

I was also terrified of getting pregnant again. Miscarriage robs you of your pregnancy innocence, but multiple consecutive miscarriages, especially after what seems like positive signs, completely robs you of your joy. A positive pregnancy test seems like a harbinger of doom instead of a gift of new life.

Through it all, I struggled to remember that God had given, and God had taken away. My babies were with God, and they would never know pain, would never know sin, would never know heartbreak or loss. They were perhaps the most fortunate of all my children in that regard. But it hurt that I will not know them this side of heaven. 

In my darker moments, I also wondered if God thought I was such a terrible mother that I didn’t deserve to be blessed with another living child. 

This terrifying thought sent me on a journey of exploration. Ever since my conversion to Catholicism, after discovering the great communion of saints, I tended to turn to the saints whenever I was struggling. It helped me to know about the other holy men and women who shared my struggles, and yet persevered in holiness. 

I found that there were many saints who shared this particular struggle with me. My personal patroness, St. Gianna Beretta Molla, suffered two miscarriages between her third and fourth full-term pregnancies. St. Zelie Martin never suffered miscarriage that we know of, but she did lose three children in their infancy and another child at age five. 

St. Zelie wrote a letter to her sister-in-law, who had recently suffered a miscarriage, and talked about how while life was short and filled with crosses, the suffering we endure as mothers of deceased children is something we can offer up to God as a sacrifice, which in turn give us extraordinary grace. 

Reading about the experiences of these saints provided immense comfort to me. Surely God hadn’t taken away the children of St. Gianna and St. Zelie because He thought they were terrible mothers. Slowly, over the next several months, my despair abated, but the thought of another pregnancy, another child, was still terrifying to contemplate.

Ironically, it was during this time that my family planning method went haywire. We were using the Marquette Method to avoid pregnancy, and suddenly my trusty, reliable fertility monitor wasn’t reading my fertility signs correctly. It missed detecting ovulation once, then twice. 

My husband and I were both puzzled and frustrated. It was the first time in several years of use that the monitor had failed us. I had several discussions with my instructor as we headed into another cycle, but I was starting to wonder if this was a sign from God telling us that it was time to let Him decide the timing of our next pregnancy. 

It didn’t help that a good friend of mine had recently had a baby, and, when I brought over a meal for the family, I was able to hold that sweet baby for nearly an hour. That intoxicating newborn smell and small snuggly body further weakened my resistance to trying again. A few days later, faced with another seemingly never-ending cycle and more prolonged abstinence, my husband and I put the decision into God’s hands. 

Two weeks later, I faced a positive pregnancy test with abject terror. I didn’t allow myself to hope, not yet. I called my doctor’s office to get in for blood tests and posted in many secret groups on Facebook, begging for prayers. I had weekly ultrasounds during the first trimester, and figuratively held my breath until we passed the previously ill-fated twelve week mark — but this time, at my twelve-week appointment, instead of a still, silent image, I saw a wriggling, thriving baby. At my twenty-week appointment, the baby was still healthy, still wiggling, and still thriving. 

My Advent that year, in contrast to the one the year before, was full of joyful anticipation as the child within my womb continued to grow. Our happiness culminated with the birth of our double rainbow baby, Laura Rose, in January 2017. She is truly a testament to the verse from Psalms: “Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.”

JoAnna Wahlund was baptized, raised, and married in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. In May 2003, two weeks after graduating from the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities with a degree in English, she converted to Catholicism. She has six terrific kids here on earth, four saints in heaven praying for her, and a wonderful husband of eighteen years who supports her in all things. Her website is www.catholicworkingmom.com.

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