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Saints: Gerard Majella and A Mother’s Worry

October 16, 2013


We could all use a little help, but Kerry Trotter is feeling like a lot of help is in order these days. She’s due with her second child any day now, and is exercising her maternal right to worry needlessly, needfully, excessively, etc. But St. Gerard Majella, the patron saint of unborn babies and expectant mothers, whose feast we celebrate today, is waiting in the wings.

I, in my addled last month of pregnancy, could use all the help I can get. 

Some recent requests: hoisting my toddler daughter into the car, giving her baths, feeding the dog (the smell of dog food — more repugnant now than ever), remembering appointments, picking up clumsily dropped items, getting out of chairs, etc., etc. 

I need help with all of it.

Luckily, I have an incredible husband who, not only intercedes on my behalf, does so enthusiastically. He’s crouching, bathing, hoisting, feeding and recalling for two these days, since his normally has-it-together wife can’t seem to get out of the bathroom long enough to tend to the needs of her kin.

Too much information?

Anyway, such is the ninth month, where the anticipation of baby grows even larger than the belly itself, and the discomfort of pregnancy has come to a climactic head (pun intended) that serves as robust incentive to get the show (again, pun intended) on the road. This is all by incredible design, as that second trimester “glow” and the delight of creating life needs to give in order for mom to really want that baby out. If it were all clear skin and the muffin top-stifling powers of maternity jeans, pregnancy could be a four-, or even five-trimester affair. But that feeling of a teeny tiny foot stomping your bladder like it was a barrel of grapes (mmmm, wine…) is fueling my eagerness for her arrival, and she, too, I imagine is eager. Quarters are getting a little cramped, and I’m sure the thought has occurred to her more than once: “I shoulda brought some reading material.

But I’ve had a great pregnancy, truly. More exhausting (I’m 35) and uncomfortable (remember all that toddler hoisting?) than the first, but blessedly uneventful. I still revert to torrents of pre-bed prayers imploring continued uneventfulness and for this trend to stay the course through childbirth and beyond, but as is typical for my prayerful life, those invocations are hurried, harried and unfocused: “Thank you, God, for this wonderful gift. Please don’t let me mess it up.”

So while I have my husband to help with the physical and emotional demands of pregnancy, it looks like I could use some assistance with the spiritual heavy lifting.

Paging St. Gerard.

I learned about St. Gerard by accident, while trolling Facebook and noticing that an old high school classmate asked for his intercession in a status update. I was curious who he was, looked him up, and then said a clumsy little prayer for the classmate that whatever it was she needed, she got. I don’t know about her, but it takes a lot for me to move beyond God or Mary to hear my prayers. Venturing into the communion of saints for help? She must have really needed it. And when I saw that he was the patron saint of expectant mothers and unborn children, a little chill ran up my spine.

I really hope she got what she needed.

St. Gerard Majella was an 18th century Italian lay brother and one of St. Alphonsus Liguori’s Redemptorists. In addition to performing numerous miracles, he is said to have been able to bilocate and read consciences — which, and I had to laugh when reading that, are very motherly skills.

But the event that yielded his patronage is said to have begun a few months before his death. He was staying with a family and dropped a handkerchief; when one of the young daughters tried to hand it to him, he told her to keep it. Fast-forward many years when that girl was enduring a terrible birth. The outlook didn’t look good for her or her infant. Out of desperation she asked for that handkerchief dropped by the Redemptorist visitor, and when it was presented to her, she was suddenly pain-free and the infant was born healthy and without additional incident. Word spread and he became an intercessor for children, unborn children in particular, childbirth, mothers and expectant mothers — among other things.

Since learning about the saint, I found out that my own baby is in the “breech presentation,” which if you haven’t given birth or are in need of a refresher is when baby has decided not to move into the optimal head-down position. My baby, appropriately enough, is leading with her butt. 

Generations ago, a breech baby was a dire scenario. The position may not have been discovered until birth itself, and even then, delivery would be almost entirely dependent upon the deft skills of doctor or midwife and the frenzied prayers of the parents. Baby would be in peril, mother in panic, and the outcome entirely uncertain.

Now, it’s more of a “Oh well, too bad. Let’s schedule a cesarean section” situation. When you’re expecting the birth to go one way, and you learn it has to go another, surgical way, there is an initial wave of disappointment. But that wave is calmed by good old perspective: provided she’s still very healthy and active, this is truly no big deal (and, as many veterans of scheduled c-sections have noted, bears some distinct advantages over baby coming out the old, um, point of exit).

But there’s still a twinge of worry, a back-of-the-mind voice saying, “Well, why hasn’t she flipped then? Is there something wrong?” But that voice cannot be indulged, lest the few hours of uninterrupted sleep I still have in these late partum nights vaporize entirely. I know this is a Catholic blog, but allow me to paraphrase Zen master Thich Naht Hanh, whom I’ve taken to quoting: If something can be done, there’s no need to worry; if nothing can be done, there’s no need to worry.

Fabulous idea. But … not worry? Ha, yeah right, says a chorus of expectant women.

St. Teresa of Avila, whose feast day we just celebrated yesterday, also had something to say about worry, which I think a lot of Zen Buddhists would heartily embrace:

Let nothing disturb you,

Let nothing frighten you,

All things are passing;

God only is changeless.

Patience gains all things.

Who has God wants nothing.

God alone suffices.

So here lies an advantage of being Catholic — there is always someone up there to absorb our worry, to take it on for us, to listen long enough for us to know that our concerns are valid. And that, often, is enough to take the worry away even if for a few minutes. This is a most fundamental reason why folks seek psychotherapy — the innate human desire for our problems to be legitimized by someone else.

There’s a whole Heaven-ful of saints who are at the ready to listen. From lost keys to lost spouses — upside-down mortgages to right-side-up babies. We have our advocates whose sole purpose in this world is to pray on our behalf. Sometimes prayers are answered, sometimes not. But much of the consolation comes in knowing they’ve at least been heard — we’re not simply screaming into a void.

Someone hears me. And “Patience gains all things…”

So, a breech baby is a grand-scheme-of-things blip on the worry radar, true.

But St. Gerard, God love him, has it on his list anyway.