I will never forget March 25, 2017. It was a Saturday, the day we lost our honeymoon baby at eight weeks. It was the middle of Lent, and losing him was the hardest Lenten sacrifice that I think I will ever be asked to make. For days, weeks, and months, we grieved the loss of our little baby. We named him Marion - a name we had thought about before knowing we'd have to name our baby 8 months earlier than we expected. His name means 'sea of sorrow' and 'the child that was wished for.'
We were still in the depths of grief when Easter Sunday came. We had planned on telling our extended family about the pregnancy at Easter, but instead we had told them about the miscarriage weeks earlier. I wanted to be joyful about the Resurrection of Christ, but the loss of Marion still overwhelmed everything. Still, we went to Easter morning Mass. It seemed like every pew was full of new babies and little toddlers, all dressed up for the holiday.
Every Easter Sunday, I love listening to the Gospel account of Christ's resurrection and finding someone in the story to identify with. Some years, I'm with the women at the tomb, wondering where Christ is at. Other years, I'm Mary Magdalene, not able to recognize Christ in my life until He calls me by name.
The Easter after we lost Marion, I thought for certain that I'd identify with Mary in the Easter story. We both had lost a son that Lent, after all. But at the end of the Gospel reading, I realized exactly who I was in the Easter story - I was the empty tomb. A resting place for someone, emptied out, feeling abandoned.
My body had become a grave - the death site of our child within my very self. My body, a place where I had hoped a new life would grow, became the place where loss and death took place. My womb was a grave for a baby we would never get to meet on this side of Heaven. Yet, in the midst of this sorrow, I grieved while rooted in hope. The tomb on Easter was empty not because all was abandoned and hope was lost. Instead, the tomb was empty because it pointed to something greater, something bigger than the tomb could hold. It pointed to hope of new life, and told the story of how Christ conquered the grave.
Even though Marion isn't here with us, in our arms, that doesn't mean he is gone forever. As Christians, we believe in a hope that tells us there is life after death. As Catholics, we profess this belief every Sunday when we stand together and pray the Nicene Creed. The time that we spend here on earth without Marion will feel like seconds compared to the eternity we hope to spend with him in Heaven, praising God.
That realization didn't heal everything, though. Counseling, time with Joseph to heal together as a couple, heart-to-hearts with friends who had also experienced miscarriages, and spiritual direction also helped heal the wounds.
As Advent approached this year, I dreamed of what it would be like if we were pregnant during December. How cute would it be to hang a little stocking between Joseph and I's stockings? I imagined what it would be like to share with friends and family gathered for Christmas about how we were expecting.
I prayed the Saint Andrew Christmas Novena, hoping for a positive pregnancy test. And as the month of December went by, my excitement grew. But then we took a pregnancy test and it was negative.
Initially, I was frustrated - mostly because God kept missing the memo about my life plan. But that frustration has been transformed during Advent.
We're not pregnant, but that doesn't mean the manger is empty.
Instead, this Christmas, the manger is overflowing with the joy for a baby who came in the manger years and years ago - but is still present in our lives today. This Advent has been a time where I've drawn close to God in prayer. Joseph and I have grown closer to each other through shared devotions. I've changed my Saint Andrew Christmas Novena intention. Now I pray for God's will in our future pregnancies, and for contentment with His plan.
Christmas day will mark exactly nine months since Marion left this earth. When we first took a pregnancy test and found we were pregnant with Marion, I imagined spending this Christmas with a two month old in our arms. Instead, we're parents to a saint who is celebrating Christmas in Heaven.
We celebrated Easter, rooted in the hope that an empty tomb brought. But we're celebrating Christmas with a full manger - a manger full of the promise of a baby who came to save us from our sins. And that's the best Christmas present I could ever receive.