The Enemy of the Good

fir0002 | flagstaffotos.com.au [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
fir0002 | flagstaffotos.com.au [GFDL 1.2 (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/old-licenses/fdl-1.2.html)], via Wikimedia Commons
We just started homeschooling this year, as our oldest has started Kindergarten. So I have spent the summer reading various books on education philosophies. A great book that I just finished reading is Susan Schaeffer Macaulay’s For the Children’s Sake, which is basically a summary and modern-day application of Charlotte Mason’s philosophy of education and teaching principles. Mason believed that a child’s mind should be respected and filled with only the best source material; and she advocated, among other things, reading aloud “living books” filled with “story” and letting children discover and connect first-hand with nature. Macaulay makes a most compelling case for Mason’s ideals in education — at home or in a school. But at various points, Macaulay notes the skeptic’s response, and that some may find such an approach to education too idealistic or impractical in our current society. She doesn’t think it is unattainable for the average person to give children this kind of education, but she concedes that we are imperfect people in imperfect circumstances. Toward the end of the book, she gives beautifully true advice: “If you can’t give them everything, give them something.” Continue reading “The Enemy of the Good”

Our Easter Miracle (Updated)

It was February 10, 2015, and Mike and I were headed to our anatomical ultrasound for baby #3. On the way there, and for weeks before, the topic of conversation and curiosity was the gender – would it be a boy or girl? As it turned out, that ended up being the last thing on our minds when we left.

The ultrasound technician chatted with us while she completed all the measurements, and everything on the baby looked great. The baby had its legs closed though, and she couldn’t get a good look regarding gender. She said that the doctor may have more luck. As she left to go get the doctor she said, “I think your dates might be a little off though, because the baby is only measuring about 16 weeks old.” (I was 18 weeks and five days at that point.) We waited for the doctor to come in and take a look at things.

He came in and took a look as well, commenting that all the anatomy looked good and perfectly normal. He added that he was 90% sure that it was a girl! However, he questioned our dating as well, saying that the size discrimination was significant. After chatting about dates, checking my file, and confirming the accuracy of the 8-week ultrasound I had, he realized that we were not dealing with a dating discrepancy. We asked what that meant, and he said he couldn’t say for sure after only one ultrasound, but that the baby should not be measuring two weeks behind. He said that he wanted us to come back in 10 days to measure again so that we could have a growth pattern to analyze.

We were a little concerned, and Mike asked what the worst-case scenario would be. The doctor responded that the amniotic fluid level looked a little low, and he was suspicious that the placenta may not be functioning optimally to nourish the baby. But he didn’t know how serious of a problem it might be until we gave it more time and measured again. The worst-case would be to come back and see no growth at all. He hoped that the baby would just be able to keep up growth. He couldn’t really give us more information at that point, but he looked right at me and said that this was something completely out of my control. If there was a problem with the placenta, it had nothing to do with anything that I did or didn’t do, and there was nothing that could be done to make a placenta improve in function. I’m sure that he didn’t realize it, but I sensed the words were prophetic and divinely appointed.

As we prepared to leave the office, Mike and I exchanged concerned glances, knowing it would be a long 10 days to wait for more information. I told him I needed to stop in the bathroom and would meet him out front. I went in, locked the door, and stood facing the mirror. I heard the doctor’s words in my head – this is out of your control. Tears started, and immediately, I thought of the Blessed Mother and her “yes” to the Lord. I knew what I had to do at that very moment, before I even left that office. In the face of complete uncertainty for what lay ahead, I had to say “yes” to God’s will, to the perfect plan he had for my life and the life of the little baby inside of me. “Yes, Lord,” I said. “Whatever journey is about to start right now, I’m not going to fight your will; so please give me the grace that I will need.”

It was a long 10 days. There was really not much information to tell people, and there was not much they could say. We were just waiting for that next ultrasound to see if we could get a better picture of what might be going on. Of course people said they would be praying, and we prayed for Christ’s peace. He definitely gave it, and we were at peace as we waited until the next ultrasound on February 20th. It was the first Friday of Lent – a Lent that we will never forget.

It was a freezing cold morning at 7a.m. The room felt chilly as the technician squeezed some gel on my exposed belly and quickly took the measurements she needed for the doctor. She finished and said our doctor would be right in. He came in a few minutes later and greeted us kindly, but there was something underneath his expression. He started to look at the baby again and asked me some questions: “Have you been leaking fluid? Bleeding?” I said, “No.” Then he said I could get cleaned up, and he would meet us in his office to talk.

He came into his office and shut the door. “I’m very concerned,” he said. “The baby hasn’t grown at all, and there is now less amniotic fluid. I’m afraid that what I suspected is the case; you have a bad placenta that is just not functioning, and there is nothing we can do to fix that.” “What does that mean?” Mike asked. The doctor’s response was the worst news I had ever received: “The baby is probably not going to survive more than a couple more weeks. I am going to have to have you come back in one week to see if there is still a heartbeat, since you haven’t felt the baby move yet. Once the baby passes, you will have to go to the hospital, and they will induce you so that you can deliver it.”

I don’t think I could get any words out. Mike just asked the questions. I might have said “okay” and reached for the box of tissues he was offering. Our doctor was so kind, expressing his heartfelt sadness for such news. I realized that moments like this must be the worst part of his job. We left the office, but we had driven separate cars, so Mike could go to work. He asked me if I wanted to just leave my car, but I said I was okay to drive. On the way home I just cried. “Lord, I’m so sad, and I’m scared.” I knew there was no way I would get through the weeks to come on any amount of my own strength; I just prayed for His grace to cover me…one day at a time.

When I got home, I just hugged my two little boys so tightly. I was so grateful for them at that moment, and we spent much of the day just cuddling together while I made phone calls to friends and family to let them know the devastating news. One friend, who had lost a baby herself at 20 weeks, dropped everything to come by and hug me over a cup of tea. So many others called and reached out, letting me know that they would be praying for us. The first outpouring of Christ’s love and grace amidst this sorrow had begun – we never felt alone.

The weekend was an emotional rollercoaster. There were realities to face that Mike and I had never dreamed would challenge us. How do we talk to our almost 4-year-old about what is happening? How will I get through laboring and delivering a dead baby? Where will be bury the baby? Will the hospital let us leave with the baby? Mike spent the weekend calling our priests and funeral homes. For every concern that came up, the right person was divinely timed to be there for support. Our priests assured us that they would take care of everything regarding a burial service, and the baby could be buried in the church’s infant graveyard. They recommended funeral homes they had worked with in the past. A dear woman I had gotten to know at church called me as soon as she heard the news on Friday. She put us on the prayer list, and she got me in touch with an amazing local ministry called Isaiah’s Promise, which ministers to parents who have had such prenatal diagnoses.

That Sunday morning, the woman who founded Isaiah’s Promise, called me on the phone. She herself had lost a baby at 5 months and was just the person I needed to hear from that morning. She talked me through a lot of things, told me of some resources she would send, and assured me that while this was a terrible experience to have to walk through, I would make it out the other side. She encouraged us to name our baby soon, since this was the time that we had with her – however much time was left. She also asked if we had thought about what we would say to our oldest. I said that we hadn’t really thought that far yet, but once something definite happened we would find the words to tell him. I could sense that she was respectfully holding back wise advice; so I asked her to please share. She said, “You know your son and your family, but chances are that he has probably already picked up on what is going on. Children value trust, and they need to know that you are telling them the truth. It may be good to talk to him now, and when you do, be sure to use the real words for what is happening. Use the word ‘death,’ not ‘the baby is sick’ or ‘fell asleep.’ Reiterate to him how much you love him and that he is healthy and strong.”

It was a conversation that I could never have imagined having with my little boy, but the timing of her call was perfect. I kissed Ty goodbye as Mike and I were heading out to the noon mass a little while later, and he looked up at me and asked, “Are you going to check on the baby?” I said, “No, mommy and daddy are going to church by ourselves this morning while you stay with MeMe.” He persisted, “And then are you going to check on the baby?” Wow, I thought, he is picking up on what is going on. After mass, Mike and I went to lunch to talk about everything, and we decided that we should sit Ty down and have a short conversation with him that afternoon. We also agreed on the baby’s name – Tessa-Cate (short for Teresa Catherine).

When we got home, Walker, our youngest, was sleeping; so we cuddled up with Ty on the couch. What supernatural grace – the words just came right from God: “Sweetie, your little sister is having trouble growing inside mommy. We are going to keep checking on her, but if she can’t grow anymore then she will die and go to heaven to be with Jesus.”

“Will she come back?” He asked.

“No, she will stay in heaven.”

“Well, I’m not going to let her go. I’m going to shut the door so she can’t leave!” Mike and I could barely hold back tears at the determined love our little boy was expressing with his strong toddler will.

“It’s okay to be sad; mommy and daddy will be sad sometimes. But we love you very much,” I responded. He understood. “I don’t want to talk about this anymore,” he said gently. We told him that was fine and that if he ever did want to talk about it we could.

I can’t explain the peace we had throughout that weekend. We were experiencing the anticipation of an imminent tragedy and the trauma that would come with it; yet, each day had been indelibly marked with divine grace. Mike went to work on Monday, and by this time most of the people he worked with, his students, and our close friends had heard the news. People just kept contacting us to check on us and tell us they were praying. As I was resting during the kids’ naptime that afternoon, I felt like I was coming up to the surface for air. I was flipping through my notebook from a Catholic women’s group that I attend, and I found a pamphlet that was handed out the week before. It was the story of a Catholic woman’s miraculous healing. I read about the tumor on her heart valve that inexplicably disappeared as she lay on the operating table ready to be cut open, and tears started running down my face. I suddenly felt the grace to pray for my own miracle.

I called Mike and said, “Our little girl is not dead yet. She is still with us, and I am going to ask God for a miracle. I have already given this baby to Him and surrendered to His will for her life. But I can still ask for the miracle, if that is the will of God. I don’t know any other way for me to pray right now.”

“Honey,” he said. “I will definitely pray with you. But it is going to be hard for me to let myself hope for that. I was hoping for that on Friday.”

“Yes,” I said. “But on Friday it wouldn’t have been a miracle.”

I called dear friends, relatives, women who were prayer warriors at my parish, and I asked them to pray with me. People everywhere started praying, and they had their friends, churches and prayer groups start praying. People who didn’t know me from Adam were praying for my baby and me. One of my dear friends went to every convent website she could think of and listed our baby as a prayer request – basically launching hundreds of Catholic nuns into 24-hour prayer for our family. The women’s prayer shawl ministry at my church crocheted me a beautiful prayer shawl and dropped it off at my home. Never in my life have I experienced such a tangible, physical impact of having people pray for me – I literally felt everyone’s prayers. And day-by-day I received exactly the grace I needed for that day. The words of the Our Father took on new meaning: “Give us this day our daily bread.” And He did.

That Tuesday I started praying a Novena to St. Gerard, the patron saint of troubled pregnancies, asking him to intercede with us to the Lord for a miracle. That night, one of our priests, Fr. Patrick Lewis, came to our home and said a private mass for our family. He gave me a pregnancy blessing, joining with us in our prayer for God to do a miracle.

On Wednesday, the same friend who got me in contact with Isaiah’s Promise took me to a healing mass at Fr. Dan Leary’s parish in Silver Spring, MD. It was beautiful, and after the mass we got in line to be prayed for during Adoration. I knelt on one of the carpet squares near the altar, listening to the musicians and singers, and fixing my gaze on the Blessed Sacrament. When it was my turn, one of the priests came and laid hands on me, and I just basked in the blessing of such special prayer.

As I made my way back to the kneeler in my pew, I was overwhelmed with gratitude for the healing that Christ was doing in my heart and the grace I was being shown. I looked around that church, and I saw so many extremely sick people – people being helped to the front with stage 4 cancer, children with epilepsy and mental disorders, people with crosses to carry much heavier than mine. Tears just poured down my face as I realized that in the midst of my suffering I had been given every grace I had needed. I had never been as close to Christ as I had in that past week. I had been given peace. I had two beautiful boys and a wonderful husband at home. I left that mass healed – regardless of whether healing occurred inside my womb. I had the love of my Savior, and my life and the life of my little baby had eternal purpose according to His will.

On Friday, one week after the diagnosis, we were back in the ultrasound office to check for a heartbeat. I told Mike that I thought I had been feeling the baby move the last couple of days, but I wasn’t sure if I was imagining things. The doctor was surprised to find things stable – nothing had gotten worse. The fluid was the same. The heartbeat was good, but they wouldn’t be able to measure the baby for another week. We asked what this meant, and our doctor said, “Well, it’s not worse.” I got the feeling that he was at least expecting to see further deterioration, if not a dead baby. He said he would see us in one week, and for the rest of that week we just kept praying. But I started praying for two specific things – increased fluid (which isn’t supposed to replenish itself) and growth. Everyone joined me in those specific petitions

It was Friday, March 6, 2015, and Mike and I were driving into Annapolis for our 7a.m. ultrasound on perhaps the coldest morning of the year. We had a huge snow the day before. Most of the roads were still not cleared, and schools were closed due to the conditions and the freezing temperatures. As we drove cautiously to the office, I could feel the hope inside my heart try to hold on with all its might. But it had been a long, cold winter – physically and spiritually – and I could feel the doubt knocking on the door. I remembered what a friend told me the week before: “It’s always darkest right before the dawn.” And then all of a sudden we came over a hill on Route 50, and the sky that had been gray and hazy was replaced with the start of a beautiful sunrise breaking though the clouds. Inside my heart I heard: Spring is almost here – hang on!

The technician took us back and got started taking measurements. I tried not to pepper her with questions, because I knew she wouldn’t tell me anything definitive. But after a couple of minutes I did ask, “There’s a heartbeat, right?”

“Oh, yes,” she responded quickly. “I always check for that first.” She finished up as quickly as she could, and said the doctor would be right in. When our doctor walked in, he asked if I had experienced any new symptoms or felt the baby move that week. I said I thought I had felt movement, as he took a second look at things on the monitor. “The crazy thing is,” he said after a few seconds, “there is more amniotic fluid than last week…” My heart skipped a beat, and suddenly I knew what he was about to say next: “…and the baby has almost doubled in size!”

I had hoped so many times over the past two weeks to hear those very words, and here he was speaking them. It was the craziest out-of-body experience. I was speechless, stunned – we got our miracle, and it was happening inside my own body! I just smiled and look at Mike as tears started breaking through. Mike started pressing him with questions, and then he saw something on the screen that made him ask, “Are you still sure it is a girl?”

“Well, no we’re not,” he responded. “It’s hard for me to make out completely with the baby’s position, but it looks like it’s a boy.”

We were so surprised — we had been praying for little Tessa-Cate! Given the diagnosis, we had never thought about the doctor’s original 90 percent certainty of a girl being wrong. We sat down in our doctor’s office to talk about steps to monitor the baby going forward. He said he didn’t need to see us every week; we could just come in two weeks later to measure again, but he wanted to take my blood to do a definitive gender test to know for sure that it was a boy. He was very clear as he sat in his office with us – he had no medical explanation for the results we were seeing. There was clearly something wrong with my placenta from the pictures of it; it had even been bleeding a little into the amniotic fluid. “However,” he said, “that can’t be the whole problem; if it was, then things wouldn’t get better. Fluid doesn’t replace itself like this. I have no explanation for you. Sometimes in medicine we get surprised.”

“I don’t need an explanation,” I said. “We have had a lot of people praying for us and this baby.”

“Well,” he said, “can whoever has been praying for you pray for me too?!”

A week later the blood test came back – it definitely was a boy! We needed to think of a new name. At the next ultrasound our little boy measured 1 pound, and there was even more amniotic fluid. At this point I was feeling him move around a lot, and I was starting to get a lot bigger. I even had heartburn – praise God – I had never been so thankful for it! Things were going well, and though he was still small, we had just made it to the 24-week mark – the threshold of viability.

Then the next week I got a urinary track infection out of nowhere. I went immediately to the urgent care to get an antibiotic, but after two days my symptoms hadn’t gotten better. I started to experience some side pain, and called my doctor with concern. After going in to get checked, they sent me to the hospital labor and delivery triage to be evaluated for a possible kidney infection – not good when you are pregnant. While we were waiting on lab results, the monitoring of the baby’s heartbeat showed some very concerning dips occurring at regular intervals. All of a sudden, in walks our doctor from the ultrasound office – What are you doing here? I thought. My OB was so concerned about the tracing that he had called him in to see if they needed to do an emergency C-Section, and we had an impromptu ultrasound right there.

Everything from the ultrasound was reassuring – the baby was moving a lot, cord blood flow was strong, and the fluid was good. He seemed not to be in immediate danger, but the tracings were not good. After the two doctors conferred together, my OB came back in. He said they didn’t think it was necessary to do a C-Section at that moment, but the tracing needed to get better soon. They had me switch positions and gave me oxygen while he talked about concerns with doing a C-Section this early – for both the baby’s survival and potential future pregnancies. I just looked at him, and listened, thinking – there is no way this is happening after all that we have been through. I just had a peace that it wasn’t going to happen, and the baby would be fine.

I handed my phone to Mike after the doctor left, and I told him to call a friend to start praying and have others do the same. Within the next 30 minutes things started looking better, but after that they were going to keep me for at least one night. They started IV antibiotics, a steroid shot series to help speed up the baby’s lung development (should he be born premature in the next few weeks), and bed rest with constant monitoring of the baby’s heart rate. The rest of the night and the next day the baby’s heart rate looked fine, and I was feeling much better from the antibiotic. My OB discharged me the next evening with instructions to “take it easy” from here on out. And I have, thanking God for his protection of my little boy and me. During Holy Week I had another ultrasound. The baby had sustained a normal 2-week growth period (now measuring 1 lb. 7 ounces), and my fluid level was now completely normal! Our ultrasound doctor just calls him the “miracle baby.”

While we were in the hospital, Mike and I decided on his name – Samuel Gerard. When we found out the baby was actually a boy, Hannah’s words in I Samuel 1:20 came to mind: She conceived and, at the end of her pregnancy, bore a son whom she named Samuel. ‘Because I asked the Lord for him.’” We asked the Lord for our little Sam, and in His grace and mercy He did a miracle. When I was sitting in the hospital bed listening to Sam’s movement on the monitor, a different part of that verse jumped out at me: “…at the end of her pregnancy…” We are praying our little miracle to full term – this baby who was supposed to die, who at best was thought by my doctors to end up being premature – we are praying him all the way to his due date, July 9th. And Mike and I would be so grateful to those of you hearing our story for the first time to join us in that prayer. The story of this miracle isn’t over yet. Sam’s story is a complete testimony to the power of the prayers of Christians on earth and the saints in heaven.

Needless to say, what a beautiful Easter it has been for our family this year! Mike and I have experienced Christ’s sacrificial love for us in a way we never had before. Our Lenten sufferings united us with Christ’s suffering on the cross, and our Easter miracle birthed unspeakable gratitude for His love and grace. The words of St. Pope John Paul II in his book Crossing the Threshold of Hope are at the forefront of my mind this Easter season: “Do not abandon yourselves to despair. We are the Easter people and hallelujah is our song.” Thanks be to God!

three cross on Calvary hill


UPDATE (8/27/15):

Samuel Gerard Ptomey was born June 26, 2015 — full term! I went in for my ultrasound at 38 weeks, and the doctor saw that my amniotic fluid had diminished. We headed to the hospital for the induction, and Sam was born a little after midnight. I knew it would be incredible to finally meet him, and tears — for so many emotions — just gushed! He was finally here, in my arms.

He had a couple of stays in the NICU, but not really for reasons related to the pregnancy. He just had trouble keeping his temperature up initially, and he was treated for jaundice. At two weeks he randomly got a belly button infection and had to return to the NICU for IV antibiotics, but it cleared up fine with no complications. He was smaller than our others at birth – 5 pounds 9 ounces, barely on the growth charts. But at his 1-month check-up he had gained three pounds and had jumped to the 50th percentile for height and weight. He had his 2-month check-up today, and he is still in the 50th percentile at 11 pounds. He’s doing great, and he is such a joy to our family. My oldest, Tyler (age 4), refers to him as “my Sammykins.”

My husband continually says that the awareness of Sam’s miraculous existence never goes away for him; it is present every time he holds him. People ask us who he looks like a lot; some people think he looks more like one of us than the other. I automatically think of a line from a Laura Story song (God of Every Story) that recounts the blessing of her daughter’s birth after her husband’s miraculous healing: “…some say she looks like Dad, but she looks like grace to me — Your grace to me!” Yes, Sam is a picture of God’s grace too — His daily-sufficient, amazing grace!