About six weeks ago, we found out we were expecting baby number five. We were a little shocked. Okay, we were a lot shocked. We practice the Marquette Method, abstaining on high and peak days, and we had talked about being open to the next one if God were to bring one into being. But, alas, still shocked. I’m in my mid-30s, and my body has brought four little humans into the world, though not without complications. A fifth birth posed serious risk.
Last weekend, at about 10 weeks pregnant, I started having stomach cramps. I was in bed by 8 p.m. that night and woke up bleeding around 3 a.m. I didn’t go back to sleep. I tossed and turned all night, crying, holding my womb. I was already convinced the baby had died. We texted our doctor and he responded the next morning. We went in for the ultrasound and confirmed no heartbeat.
We were then given options and chose to do the dilation and curettage surgery. We had less than twenty-four hours to prepare for that, and we still had to tell our own children about their sibling whom they never will get to meet on this earth. We also had to tell our friends and families, and with what minimal public lives we had, we felt the pull to publish something on social media. Everyone was so understanding and so caring with our broken hearts.
The next morning, we went to the hospital. We had to wait for an operating room and some of the conversations were abhorrent: “Are you still bleeding? I mean, if we check you, is there tissue hanging out of you?” “Is this a failed abortion or a miscarriage?”
The general disregard for a life lost was nearly palpable. I had expected it with a husband in the medical field, but we were still shocked.
When we were in holding, my husband asked for the remains of our child. They were persistent with “We don’t do that” and “There are protocols,” but he insisted and we were cleared. The staff seemed taken aback but compliant after my husband said, “I know we won’t recognize the baby’s remains but we don’t want the baby to be thrown into the trash.”
When the time came for the surgery, I was on the bed, being wheeled to the operating room, lights quickly passing over my eyes, and it hit me like a ton of bricks. There is a baby in my womb. In a few minutes, there will no longer be a baby in my womb. He will be gone, and I never got to hold him.
By the time we got to the operating room, I had already began to weep, near sobbing. The staff was so gracious: “Sweetheart, we are going to take good care of you,” the nurse anesthetist whispered to me. “God is here. Breathe. You’re going to go to sleep.”
The doctor was holding my hand as they placed me on the table. My arms were stretched out from me, and there I was, cruciform, sobbing, letting go of my son.
I whispered, “I’m laying like Jesus.” In that instant before I fell asleep, I thought of all the moms I know who have gone through this, especially the mothers who held their babies knowing there would only be days or mere moments with them. I breathed in the anesthesia, and I heard the nurse say, “We are all going to cry.” Then, I fell asleep.
As I write this, it has now been four days since the surgery. We have been overwhelmed with love and concern. Meals have been brought to us. Prayers have been said all over the world. And our four older children have loved including baby Karol Dietrich in our litany of family saints (Karol for John Paul II, and Dietrich for Dietrich Von Hildebrand).
But even through all of this, one thing is abundantly clear to me: life is precious and even the tiniest life is a life.
In the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith’s Declaration of Procured Abortion from 1974, they wrote, “Right from fertilization the adventure of a human life begins, and each of its capacities requires time—a rather lengthy time—to find its place and to be in a position to act.”
My Karol’s adventure was short, but it was. He existed. The difference between Karol’s existence and that of my sisters and brothers who have held their children before their death, is the gift of knowing that life, of knowing that person. This makes the loss even greater because the depth of knowing is greater.
When an infant dies in utero, it is up to us to capture his humanity, to celebrate his life, to allow this baby that I never held to make a mark on my world. So we named him. We are adding “Karol Dietrich” to all of our family lists in our home—artwork and biographies and litanies. He deserves a name because he is and was and will be forevermore in heaven.
The silence surrounding infant loss is deafening, even in Christian circles. I understand why. I have remained silent with friends who have lost their unborn children. Losing a child is so painful, but it seems losing their very memory is much worse. How should we proceed? How do we not forget them? If I believe that God infuses a soul into being at the moment of conception, then why do I face the loss of that soul with such horrible silence?
The immoral loss of life in our society has adopted the “say their name” mantra, which is beautiful and shocking to the silence. I think this same mantra applies to the loss of our loved ones here too.
After losing my mother two years ago, I made it a priority to think of her often, to visit her grave, to talk to her, to remind my children of her. And I plan to do the same for Karol. Our friends who have prayed for him have even sent me photos of the altars where they interceded and their actions help us keep Karol’s name and existence intact.
If you’ve lost a child, I mourn with you. It’s hard to believe that just a few short days ago, I had no idea how one could make it through losing a child. My loss is much different than anyone else’s but also in some ways the same. I’d love to pray for you and remember your child with you. Name them. Remember them. Pray with them.
My husband had a text from a friend offering condolences, and his response seems an appropriate end to this reflection: “We are altogether sad but at peace, for we know that Karol is a saint in heaven, and in that way, our work as his parents is done.”
Baby Karol Dietrich, pray for us.