This is the story of Romeo Gerard, the reason for all these words. Full disclosure: this story is a little graphic.
As a matter of context, I will disclose that we have a beautiful baby girl who was 18 months old when Romeo Gerard, or RG, was conceived. Her name, on this blog, is A. She was planned by God for a specific time in our lives, I believe, partially, as a witness that women do not need abortions to achieve great things for themselves. I started graduate school when I was 6 months pregnant with her and she came into the world two weeks before finals were due. I graduated in May 2012 with distinction--in one arm, little A, and in the other arm, my diploma.
And in my womb was Romeo Gerard, just conceived. Romeo, named after his father, Gerard, after the patron saint of expecting mothers; he was not yet named because we didn't know he was there yet. We had been hoping and trying for him, thinking that this would be a wonderful--and first--opportunity for us to plan our family.
Let me be clear: my husband and I have never used contraception. I have never used it at all, and he had no reason to. We saved sex for marriage, having been--thanks be to God--very responsibly prepared for our marriage. We had hoped to plan our family using NFP, though my cycles are incredibly difficult and irregular. We have always been open to life, in the truest sense of the phrase.
I took a pregnancy test on June 4th, and my husband, Romeo, saw the result first. He gave me a big smooch and we both skipped happily off to work. I went to the doctor, had my betas drawn, and confirmed the pregnancy at between four and five weeks. That weekend we went to a wedding and shared the news with extended family and friends. We were so overjoyed, and our family was delighted. We had had absolutely no trouble in the pregnancy with little A, only a little brush with single umbilical artery, which turned into nothing.
The week after the wedding, on June 20th, I had an OB appointment to specifically date the pregnancy and confirm a due date. As I laid back on the exam table, I remember telling my doctor how I had been looking forward to this appointment for weeks; I was so excited to see that little peanut.
But the doctor was very quiet. After a little bit he said, "well, I'm not seeing a heartbeat." I said, "Well, are you not seeing a heartbeat because maybe he's just too small? Should you be seeing one?" He said, definitively, "I should be seeing one." He finally took the ultrasound probe out and sat me up, saying, "let's talk about what this means."
Reality hadn't hit me yet. There was some mistake. The doctor even remarked that I must be in shock because I wasn't crying yet.
Within two seconds he was telling me about how I would feel terrible cramps, but don't worry because he was going to give me some oxycodone for that. And you put the cytotec in every four hours, and try not to lose them before they dissolve or else it won't finish the job. Oh, and if you think of it, give me a call when you start doing it just so I know you might have to come into the ER.
Wait. What? What is happening? Am I even here? Is this real? I said, "So, there isn't any going back, is there?" He says, no. But I can try again after another full cycle.
I hear myself apologizing to the doctor, feeling badly for him because he must have to tell women this a lot. I learned later, from a miscarriage support group at the hospital, that he breached protocol by not having me in for a followup after the miscarriage took place, and that he also breached protocol by not adhering to the hospital policy that for each and every case of miscarriage, he is supposed to call the hospital chaplain to help the woman immediately.
Then, all of a sudden, we're out the door. The woman at the front desk hasn't been informed of what just happened. She asks if I have a due date. I look at her and pretty much crumble into rubble in front of her, saying, "I'm going to miscarry..." Oh, she says. My husband carries me out to the car.
I call my dear friend, H, whom I was supposed to meet for lunch (I was planning to share our news with her) and tell her I'm going to miscarry, and she bursts into tears on the phone. I remember thinking that was weird. Later I found out it was because she was also 6-8 weeks pregnant at the exact same time. Her baby will be born when mine would have been.
I remember that my husband got me a milkshake and put me to bed on the couch. He had to go back to work. I don't remember very much until about a week later. I think my brain was using the defense mechanism that it often does after a trauma--by purposely forgetting the experience.
I remember calling my mom and telling her over the phone. She is as shocked as I am. She says she is going to pray and ask the Blessed Mother to reveal whether the baby was a boy or a girl to me. She tells me to call Marybeth, a woman who runs a Catholic pregnancy resource center to get a second opinion. I call Marybeth, and she says to come in another week to give the baby some time to develop in case he actually is still alive.
That night, I have a very vivid dream that the baby is born, healthy and alive, and he is a boy. When I tell Romeo about the dream, he asks in a sad tone, if we can name the baby after him, to carry on the name that was his grandfather's. Of course. And then I suggest Gerard. Looking back, I don't know why I even suggested Gerard; it must have been inspired.
That weekend, I went to adoration. I did not care that there were other people in the church. I just cried and begged God, the God of all miracles, the God who could do all things, to please let there be a mistake. Please let my baby be alive. Please let Marybeth find a heartbeat. But Lord, if it is not your will that my baby is alive, please help me to get through this, please help me to "handle" it.
The next week I go to see Marybeth, who confirms that there is no heartbeat. She says RG was 8 weeks old. She stays with me while I cry, and she says, "Do you want a picture of your baby?" She is surprised that the other doctor hadn't given me the ultrasound picture. She prints it off and hands it to me, knowing I will want it later.
A week later, I still have no spotting or cramping. I ask Marybeth if she can take another look. This is the epitome of the "denial" stage of grief. So graciously, she invites me back to her office and looks again. This time the amniotic sac is separating and there is debris, indicating that my body is starting to understand what is going on. Marybeth tells me that since it is very clear that the baby is not alive, I can take the cytotec.
That weekend I took the cytotec. I had to force myself to put it in my body. It felt like I was holding a loaded gun to my own head, getting ready to pull the trigger--it was so much the opposite of anything I had ever thought to do. I cried putting it in my body. God had not answered my prayer; RG was dead. I felt so betrayed and angry.
But the Lord had spared me all of the physical pain that goes along with miscarriage. He had answered the last part of my prayers, the part that aligned with His Holy will. He helped me to "handle" it by withholding all of the excruciating pain of contractions and cramps felt by most women who miscarry. Praise God for His faithfulness. His Will be done.
I still smell the apricot antibacterial soap from the bathroom. I remember when RG's body passed into the bowl, I knew he was coming, and I called Romeo. My husband knelt down beside me and prayed to God while it happened. I remember vividly covering his teeny body with that blue blanket. I remember the nights, rocking little A to sleep--as I have every night since she was born--crying so hard, and trying not to let her see me.
We "caught" RG's remains in a bowl, so he wouldn't go into the toilet. I bought a box to put him in, and we covered him with a little blue receiving blanket. When we were sure it was all over, our priest, Father G, came out to my mother's house, and we buried him; Fr. G said the funeral rite, and we covered his grave, marking it with a stone cross.
In my sadness and despair in the immediate days and weeks after his "birth," only one person, Meg Stout, seemed to sympathize with my acute grief; she even brought my family a meal. And now I realize it's likely because she is involved with this community of Catholic women who blog about their faith, about miscarriage, about IF, about adoption, and about their families of all different shapes and sizes. To that community, of which I have been quickly learning through its bloggers, I owe a depth of gratitude for their strength, hope, and inspiration. It goes to show that you never know whom you have reached through your witness to Christ.
I pray that, through RG's death and the resurrection of Christ, I can be that source for another woman.