While I was first trying to get pregnant, I worked as a Campus Minister at a wonderful local Catholic college. As Campus Minister, I mainly focused on organizing service learning trips in the US and abroad for the students. I also occasionally did retreat work with the students. During one of my first weekend retreats I had an extraordinary experience that changed my perspective forever.
I did not feel like going on retreat that weekend. I just received news that my first IUI after my surgery to remove the endometriosis was a failure. Earlier that morning I had gone into my doctor’s office hoping for clearance to immediately start up my second IUI. As I was preparing the retreat house before the students’ arrival, I received a phone call from my doctor’s office saying I have huge cysts (thank you Chlomid) and my blood work was not great. Not only did the first IUI not work, I had to go on the pill for a month in order to relax my system to see if my cysts would go away so that I could try again the following month. That would mean no possible pregnancy for at least two months. What is two months to someone who has been already trying for two years to get pregnant? A lifetime.
Feeling mushy, but determined to be my best self, I welcomed graciously my small group of college students and the priest who had arrived with them to lead the retreat. The priest talked sternly about the “no cell phone or watches rule” to encourage the students not to be distracted by the outside world. As the students filed out to put their stuff away and claim their rooms, one student lingered behind.
This student, whom we will call Polly, was and still is an amazing, determined, giving, selfless young woman. She led a group on campus that organized local community service projects and was involved in many other things. She was a pleasure to be around, a girl with a good head on her shoulders. Unbeknownst to me, she was also terrified, isolated, stressed and overwhelmed. She was 10 weeks pregnant and a junior in college. After the other students and the priest left the room, Polly asked me if she could keep her phone because there was a crisis going on in her family. The social worker in me asked if everything was okay. I thought maybe her grandma was sick or something.
Polly told me she was pregnant. I honestly would have been better prepared for her to tell me she was waiting for a call from NASA to visit the moon. She told me her family and her long term boyfriend already knew and were supporting her in her decision to keep the baby. But her family and her boyfriend were a plane ride away. She wanted the phone for security. I told her of course she could keep the phone with her. I also managed to blurt out that if she needed ANYTHING she could count on me.
The retreat progressed and I kept staring at her belly in wonder, thinking about the little life in there. A lovely nun came in to talk to the students at one point about valuing themselves. She did something really unique in trying to teach my students that they were all special, God’s gifts; she read them, “On The Night You Were Born”, a children’s book about how all the animals on earth celebrated when we all came into existence. It is a beautiful book. There is a hidden line on one illustrated page that says, “You are a miracle.” Tears came rolling down my cheeks looking at this young woman Polly, carrying an even younger life inside of her.
Something really hit me that night as I went outside and looked up at the stars and had a chat with my Creator. My husband thought then and still thinks that these simply random circumstances were cruel and unusual. I kept repeating the same questions in my mind. Why was this happening to me? What is the purpose of this? Then it hit me that Polly was probably asking these same questions herself. We were both “terrified, isolated, stressed and overwhelmed.” Life was not working out like either one of us had hoped or planned. The circumstances we found ourselves in were forcing us to rethink our lives. We both felt alone, like no one could possibly understand. We couldn’t really share with anyone what was going on for fear of being judged. We both were putting on a brave face while inside we were in turmoil. We actually were both trying to make the best of things as best we could.
I suddenly felt overwhelming compassion for Polly. So when she asked me at the end of the retreat if I could accompany her to her first two ultrasounds because her family lived far away, I agreed. I prayed hard the night before her first ultrasound, not just for the baby’s health, but for the grace and the strength to get through it without breaking down. It was a great honor and privilege to be there with her during this special moment, yet it was so difficult with all that I was going through. I sat next to her, marveling her pregnant belly as we both listened to the little heartbeat on the monitor. I am sure Polly was thinking, “With all my boyfriend and I did to prevent this, what were the chances that we would get pregnant?” And at the same moment, I was thinking, “With all we are doing to try to make this happen, what are the chances my husband and I will get pregnant?”
“In complete darkness we are all the same”-Janet Jackson