A Parent´s Promise
A gynecologist and her husband make many secret promises to God about marriage and bearing children. They don´t think He hears them. But one day they discover that God has been listening all along.
by Catholic.net Staff Writer | Source: Catholic.net
At twenty-five years of age, I had just completed my medical internship and was moving to Chicago to begin a residency in rehabilitation medicine. I was not looking for a marriage partner - I had turned down two proposals for marriage during college - and I was certainly not interested in having children.
I was angry with God for making me female and having me suffer from severe dysmenorrhea from the age of twelve. I had sought a hysterectomy in college but was refused because of my youth and lack of children.
Then Keith came into my life. Keith was born in Greece, the youngest of eight children. He was orphaned at the age of five as the result of political unrest in the country. He lived as a street kid until, at the age of nine, he was brought to the USA by his uncle. This change for the better only lasted two years, after which his uncle also passed away.
Nevertheless, Keith always maintained a strong sense of family, and his greatest desire in life was a family of his own with lots of children. By the age of thirty, Keith was reaching the point of despair. He thought that he would never find the wife he had dreamed of, and so he got engaged to a woman he did not really love so that he could at least have children. But then he had second thoughts, and broke off the engagement before the wedding. At that point, he made a desperate plea to God: "Send me a wife I can love for a lifetime and I will forgo what I want most in life - children."
Two years later our lives crossed, and though I turned down Keith´s first proposal of marriage and moved to Chicago as I had planned, he did not give up hope. He told me that even if I wasn´t in love with him, he would love me forever and that God would provide. Six months later we were married.
We discussed children and he talked me into agreeing to at least two. Since I was 25 and he 32, we decided not to postpone pregnancy. After one year of trying to conceive without success, I used my medical knowledge and Couple to Couple League´s handbook The Art of Natural Family Planning to begin charting my cycles in the hopes of achieving a pregnancy. The charting revealed that my conditions were perfect. Keith´s medical report was also normal. After a second year, I underwent laparoscopy and a hysterosalpingogram which revealed bilateral clubbed tubes.
I wasn´t too unhappy about it, but Keith sure was. We gave up trying for pregnancy and stopped wasting time with my charts. Over the next four years Keith would sometimes express to family and friends his disappointment in not having children.
One evening, six years into our marriage, Keith shared with me a conversation he had with an acquaintance who suggested that he divorce me and marry someone who could give him children. He also shared with me for the first time his promise to forgo children if God would send him a good wife. "You know," he said, "I never thought that I would have to keep that promise, since we both come from large, healthy families. But God kept his part of the bargain and gave you to me, and I plan to keep you, so I guess I´ll have to accept my part and be reconciled to a childless marriage."
I was touched by this and asked for forgiveness from God and my husband for desiring barrenness. We prayed together and that month I became pregnant. In November of 1980, Thanksgiving week, our son was born. We named him John, after the Apostle that Jesus loved and after John the Baptist, whose conception was a miracle.
John was nursed on demand and my cycles resumed twelve months after delivery. Because of our prior infertility, we choose not to postpone any future pregnancy God might grant. Our daughter Elizabeth was born on Christmas Day in 1982. Again, I experienced a year of amenorrhea, followed by three years of regular but infertile cycles.
By this time children had worked a conversion in me. I wanted more and more of them. In my medical practice, I had stopped making referrals for abortion, had stopped putting in IUDs and even stopped prescribing birth control pills. This brought a lot of negative feedback from both patients and my hospital employer. I was told to leave my morals outside of the office; so I went back into private practice where I could be the boss. By now I was teaching natural family planning in my practice and promoting it in the local Catholic parishes.
About this time, Keith felt that God was calling him to keep another promise he had made while an orphan in Greece. He had promised God that, if he would look after him then, he would adopt a Greek orphan when he was married and financially able to handle the responsibility.
By now he was 43 and working as an attorney, married with two children. We owned our home and offices and Keith felt the time had come. Another indication that this might be what the Lord was asking of us was that our infertility was back.
We investigated the situation and the red tape necessary for adopting a child and bringing one into the country. Our four-and six-year-olds were excited about the prospect of a new sibling. We had in mind a girl from two to ten years of age since infants and little boys are generally harder to come by. We traveled to every orphanage in Greece.
There were dozens of little girls, but we always encountered obstacles to our adoption. Finally I said to Keith, "We could adopt a handicapped child, they´re always available." But he wouldn´t consider it. "I would never be able to love such a child properly," he said. "I would always feel sorry for it." We returned home empty-handed, but were soon blessed with a third child - a handicapped child! He was born six weeks premature with Down syndrome.
It had been a difficult pregnancy: I had gestational diabetes, chronic sinus infection and abnormal alpha fetal protein. Keith was devastated. He would not look at or touch the baby. He would not talk to me for two weeks except to say, "You´re a doctor, you knew the pregnancy was not normal. You could have done something."
Keith would not even help me choose a name for our child, so I named him Anthony, knowing that he would need a powerful intercessor in heaven.
St. Anthony came through for his little namesake and Tony gradually stole his daddy´s heart. They became inseparable buddies because, unlike physically normal children who can be reticent, Tony loved spontaneously and unconditionally. I now felt myself called to speak out against abortion and give personal testimony to the value of the handicapped.
Tony nursed for nine months, during which time I was again amenorrheic. The Lord must have known that we needed extra time with Tony because of his medical problems and daily therapy sessions; so he permitted an additional two years of unsought infertility before really putting us to a test.
By this time we had learned to trust that God knew what he was doing, that he wouldn´t give us more than we could handle. We had also learned to value children as the only thing of lasting worth in this life: in a way, the only thing you can take with you to heaven. In light of our past history of infertility we weren´t too optimistic about getting pregnant, knowing that fertility naturally declines with age.
So we were pleasantly surprised when at age forty-one I became pregnant for the fourth time. The prenatal testing indicated another Down syndrome child.
I dreaded breaking the news to Keith, but Tony had worked a spiritual conversion in his dad. Keith took me by the hand and said, "Whatever is wrong, with God´s help, we can handle it." The disapproval from society was strong. "A fourth child," "at your age," "You already have a retarded child," "You can terminate the pregnancy you know..." We prayed and continued to witness to the value of unborn life, however compromised.
Our fourth child was born on her due date, perfectly healthy in mind and body. She was named Mary, another precious miracle from God. Mary finished nursing at one year of age and my monthly cycles returned.
It has been seven years since Mary´s birth. As usual, we have left our fertility entirely in the Lord´s hands, since he knows better than we do what we can handle and when.
At age forty-eight, I can see by all the usual signs that I am peri-menopausal and that I no longer have the hormones to sustain a pregnancy. But then anything is possible with God if you allow him space in your life to work.
I think one of the major obstacles for couples is that they come to marriage, as I did, looking at children as a burden to be avoided instead of a gift to be welcomed. We are products of an anti-child culture. Once our hearts are converted to see children as a gift instead of a burden, pregnancy, even an abnormal pregnancy, ceases to be a problem.
1. Dysmenorrhea is a disorder which produces painful menstrual cycles.
2. Hysterectomy is the surgical removal of the womb.
3. Laparoscopy is the surgical procedure where a fiber-optic telescope is inserted to view the internal organs of reproduction and perform microsurgery where feasible.
4. Hysterosalpingogram is a procedure where during the laparoscopy, a colored dye is injected to check for the anatomy of the womb and fallopian tubes. If there is no blockage, the dye should be observable leaving the fallopian tubes.
5. Ammenorrhea means "without menstrual flow." In this case, it is due to breastfeeding the child after birth.
6. Alpha Fetal Protein is a blood test usually done to women over 40 years of age. Its abnormality indicates the possibility of an genetic defect or abnormal child.