Monday, February 17, 2014

The miracle of waiting for my first baby

After meandering through websites that discuss the arts and methods of conceiving naturally and successfully, I was inspired to blog as my form of sharing in this wide pool. Some of these sites involved interaction among women who were desperately trying to conceive and those who have succeeded in their goal. I noticed that most of the discussions revolved around physical and psychological methods only. Rarely have I read or listened to anyone who suggested drawing strength from the human spirit in achieving their goal. I feel sad because the reservoir of faith is the most innate and accessible power we can summon and strengthen, yet it is rarely brought to the fore even with holistic methods. I have personally known some real people who experienced the miracle of conceiving naturally even in impossible circumstances and  have nothing but pure faith in their hearts. In my own experience, faith always works. It is the hub that holds all the spokes of various human efforts towards their goals. 

I got married at 39, became pregnant at 40, and gave birth to a baby girl at 41. Yes, I crossed all these milestones along the wobbly edge of my reproductive years. Someone asked me if my husband and I had used any form of artificial intervention to ensure our genetic immortalization. The answer is no. My pregnancy happened naturally – from ovulation, fertilization, conception, gestation to birth. I believe that the grace of faith in God made this possible. 

Waiting for a child some months after our wedding had been quite a heartening-disheartening ride. I surrounded myself with supportive and inspiring family and friends, but a few of them, unmindful of my husband’s normal reproductive system and mine, had automatically suggested that I submit to IVF or some other forms of quick fertility treatment instead of waiting patiently as we persevere in the arts and methods of conceiving naturally and successfully. I understood that they meant well. They perceived that I did not have the time to wait on as I was racing against my biological clock.  I respectfully considered these suggestions but was steadfast against allowing the risk of conceiving through any artificially manipulated procedures. While I spent time trying to answer the moral question, “Up to what extent should we interfere with Nature?”, my non-didactic personal conscience convinced me that having a child is allowing the sacred and crucial beginnings of life to unfold in my womb, and the implications beyond this moment of creation are unfathomable. It is therefore unimaginable for me to let the doctors decide which egg or sperm to use in instigating life just because they have the technology in detecting and predicting the viable ones. There is more to the natural miracle of life than the ostensibly measurable factors seen through the medical eye. The creation of human life is a natural gift from God, whose logical and creative reasons are too complex, mysterious and divine to take into our own hands. To force it through some human manipulation is something I cannot dare choose even as a desperate measure. The creation of life is entirely God's sacred department.

In saying this, however, I am not undervaluing the wings of science in the field of assisted reproductive technology. As a matter of fact, I esteem science in ways where its dynamics demonstrate and point to the shared mysteries and greatness of God in prospering our human world. Science is God’s way of manifesting and sharing His power in providing marvelous solutions where aspects of physical and human nature need to be corrected, balanced, restored or healed. However, I believe that there is a space where the application of science must honor the sublime and sacred acts of God, such as the creation of life. Such space must be surrendered to God but can be touched by faith. This was my personal discernment, hence, my only recourse was to beseech the Creator to allow me to become a vessel of life. In a word, I simply chose faith. While many books and experts blatantly declare that being advanced in age makes natural conception challenging, I confidently believed that God can superimpose on these medical facts and statistics, and grant me the gift of a child in His time and when I am ready in every way. And God challenged this firm trust by making me wait a little while. 

How energizing but sometimes heartbreaking it had been— the journey of waiting for conception to happen naturally. Cycle after cycle, I wondered whether my elusive, playing-hard-to-get egg and its sticky entourage had been perfectly mature enough to meet my husband’s eager splooge. I hoped and prayed that despite the sperm’s journey through the acidic tracks of approximately six inches (equivalent of a human swimming over 100 lengths of an Olympic-sized swimming pool), the victorious one would emerge more than worthy and capable to withstand the further complexities of fertilization, division, replication and implantation. But when monthly crimson waves indicated that such difficult journey inside me had failed, I would muzzle up and sulk, if not whimper, until I picked myself up again to thank God for the wait and the opportunity to try more. Through it all, I was transfixed in the reality that the journey of human life is wrought with difficulties from the beginning. The grueling journey of the sperm to fertilize the egg and their joint journey from the tube down to the uterus demonstrate how life zealously asserts itself to reach a destination that extends to more demanding destinations. From womb to tomb, this must be the motion of life.

Through these cycles, however, I gained more than I had imagined. I burrowed myself into hundreds of articles, books and videos about the science of conception and some traditional  and natural ways of enhancing fertility. This expanded my knowledge of the human body in ways that I had not learned before. This gave me a deeper appreciation of the human body and its most intricate functions. From the expanded knowledge, I changed a bit of my lifestyle. (My husband did, too.) I exercised regularly and moderately, ate the right food in relation to my cycle, became more conscious and discriminating of my thoughts, and managed my emotions. But most of all, I persistently knocked at the door of God’s heart, sought assistance from my intercessors around Him (the Blessed Mother, the angels and my favorite saints), and unraveled more inspiring miracle stories. Believing in the power of praying for others, I also implored my family and friends to pray for me. Many of them, in fact, without being asked, lit candles, offered novenas and special masses for me. All these gains in the course of waiting transformed me unnoticeably. I became more serene, confident and grateful. In fact I cherished the process too much that I almost "forgot" about this fervent dream. I wasn’t conscious that my waiting was coming to an end until the last stick from my box of home pregnancy testers showed two stripes, nearly eight months after my first prayer on successful conception was uttered.

The experience of conceiving for the first time at an advanced age encouraged me not only to trust in God entirely but also empowered me to act "on my own" as though everything depended on me. In other words, for conception to have happened, I needed to believe in God’s power to grant me the miracle I asked for, but at the same time, as I was a vessel and co-creator of life, I had to charge naturally all that is within me for new life to begin. Blessing, I believe, often happens when preparation meets opportunity. By preparing food based on their nutritional value instead of their delectable value, exercising instead of snooping over some cyberspace rummage to kill time, taking refreshing walks instead of being a couch potato, reading more about fertility instead of playing Scrabble, and spending more time in prayer instead of watching thick movies to overthrow boredom, I prepared and reactivated my body, mind and spirit to become a possible vessel of God's new life. For something to have become possible within me, I needed to activate some other existing actualities, in order for the possibility to become actual. This was all I could do holistically, and the rest was up to God.

It’s not an easy journey though, faith. Just when I thought this was enough waiting strategy, God took me to a more advanced stage of waiting – a heartbreaking  miscarriage. On my ninth week of pregnancy, my doctor told me that the baby was not growing, with a heartbeat barely audible. The news, surprisingly, did not distress me. While my doctor ferried me and my husband through the options of miscarriage treatments, my heart was so relaxed, believing so optimistically that the baby inside me would grow and make it all the way to nine months. My husband sobbed and hugged me to no end after hearing the news, but I consoled him and summoned miracle stories to give him some convincing encouragement until the next ultrasound. But with each passing day before the next ultrasound appointment, I was bleeding progressively and then finally accepted that my first baby could not make it to this side of the world.

I grieved, needless to say, but had an amazing breakthrough in my spiritual life as I found myself thanking and praising God in this indescribable pain. Normally, in every heartbreaking misfortune in my life, my unprocessed reaction would be to question God. In a situation like this, I would have reminded Him that I waited too long  and did not need this further devastating disruption. But to my surprise, I wept my heart out without thinking and saying anything of this sort except thanking and exalting Him. I did not expect this miraculous grace. I believe that when I had profoundly been hanging on to faith, an aspect of my spirituality was transformed. I thought of the truest fact that God knew what He was doing, and that’s all that mattered. Well, admittedly, I tried to think what reasons could God have, but these were immaterial in the face of serenity, in believing that this was how God wanted it to happen. What a miracle it was for me to trust that God’s reason, no matter how unknown at the moment, was the best reason. I wish I could say it better in words, but there’s no way to describe the peace I had felt when I accepted this sorrow, even without really knowing the reason why.

Hence, faith inspires and moves, but it also hurts. Hope somehow dies when even the best and exhausted efforts are failing, and we feel powerless. Many times, it is in extreme moments of powerlessness that we make mistakes and aggravated mistakes heaping to unimaginable heights or depths. Waiting and being powerless hurt so much. Human nature is drawn to the easy and convenient, so when faith doesn't yield the expected result, we choose to accept the impossible at some stage and give up, and then end up not having or achieving what God must have planted in our hearts in the first place. When I think of it though, the waiting time in the practice of faith is very empowering, because, as we are doing our human part to make the answers to our prayers happen, we are in reality allowing God's power to work in us. The space that makes us feel powerless is the same space that God uses to perform His immense power in our lives. That's real awesome power taking over. 

Awesome power indeed, for on the third month after the miscarriage, on New Year’s Eve, I found out I was pregnant again. And the pregnancy progressed as it should, with three months of disturbing morning sickness being the most difficult part. I continued to practice what I had learned prior to my first failed pregnancy, but this time, I was more serene and confident that God had finally answered my prayer.

God is the creator of life and can therefore work with just any raw material in the human body, no matter how physically young or old it is. But as His co-creator, I needed the mindfulness and behavior like He is within me all the time. So when risky indicators like spotting and cramping worried me during the early stages of my pregnancy, I quickly reminded myself that God Himself, who is within me, is forming my child with all His amazing tools and is enjoying His act of creation in my womb. I often found myself telling Him, “Okay, enjoy your masterpiece-in-progress,” while continuing to live like nothing worried me at all. By doing this, I trustingly allowed Him to do His work. I relaxed in letting God be God. 

By simply letting God be God my entire pregnancy became less wearisome than I had anticipated. Yes, there were aches and pains, worrisome findings like fibroid and polyps at some stage. But when I calmly asked God to clear up the dangers where His masterpiece-in-progress was dwelling, I would discover during my next doctor’s visits that these potential dangers had already disappeared. With little miracles like this, I increased my faith and believed that the Life-Giver knows what He was doing and would not jeopardize His creation. This attitude must not have entirely come from me. I believe it was a grace received from the Miracle-Giver to the heart of a believer who chose faith. By choosing to trust and believe in God’s providence I received the grace of the choice that I needed to receive. 

Faith often makes daunting situations seem smooth and easy. In fact, on the day before I gave birth, I did not feel any of the warning signs that I learned from my pre-natal classes, even when my estimated date of delivery was due for the next week. It was a Sunday. After church time, my husband and my sister accompanied me for a walk in the park. A few hours later, I eased myself into the bed. Suddenly, barely two hours after midnight, I woke up to feel mild contractions, which I normally dismissed as the so–called Braxton Hicks contractions. However, the intensity of the contractions became stronger. I thought of waiting more lest it was a false alarm, but a voice inside me said it was time to move.  My husband and I calmly prepared ourselves to the hospital, as the baby inside me seemed to push herself down more strongly. As I was examined in the hospital, I was told that I was seven inches dilated. Yet, to my surprise, the labor pains were not that dreadfully searing at all. I did not need any pain-relieving medical interventions as I found myself simply following cues from the competent and gentle midwife who was assisting me, with my brave and supportive husband holding my hand. Swiftly and smoothly, labor happened within the next two hours (a total of four hours from the time I started feeling the contractions at home). And finally, when my baby escaped from my birth canal, I was even more surprised to realize that I had overrated the expected pain. While it was happening, it simply felt like a big clot during a strong monthly period. It was truly the most divine moment of my life. I watched my baby being placed on my chest, with her beautiful eyes staring straight into mine. I sobbed upon realizing that the life I nurtured inside me for nine months had now finally come out to be part of our world. Beneath my allayed breathing and flowing tears, I quietly thanked God for the whole process— the natural process of  being a conduit of a new life and delivering it safely into the world. Everything happened naturally and smoothly. Choosing faith made all this possible.

They say that as one grows older, faith in God is diminished through the tests and trials of life. When we were children, everything was possible with God, and faith was pure and simple. We were shielded from frustrating human experiences that contradict our expectations of the sublime values imbued in us. In adulthood, however, many of our sublime expectations are shaken, if not crushed, and faith is dismissed as the most uncertain and ultimate measure of human endurance. Understandably so— not in all difficult situations does the invisible effect of faith seem to work. We have been designed and trained to take control of life situations from our reservoir of skills, talents, and abilities developed from past experiences, while faith involves being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. When difficult situations come, faith sits faintly in the background, hoping to be pulled out after the dregs of our human reservoir have been depleted. 

My recent pregnancy, however, convinced me more that even if I were the richest person in the world, I still would not have chosen to allow the most brilliant doctor in the field of medical technology to manipulate the beginning of life – even at an age where science is glorified as the quintessential solution to all physical hurdles of life. I still would have chosen faith at the start of our “baby project”.  Had I instantly chosen the trickiest method of medical science, I would have missed the natural power of God to shine at such stage in my life or deprived God the opportunity of showing His greatness in my life. Had I put my primary faith in technology, I would have forestalled God’s desire of letting Himself be known to me in extraordinary ways. Had I not waited patiently, I would not have had the privilege of relaxing in God’s  intensifying power through the entire slow motion of waiting. I would have underestimated the value of hope and faith, not knowing more deeply The One who breathes life into my existence and forms me day by day. I would not have had the opportunity of proving that faith has the power to restore what was delayed, missed or lost; to turn the oldest cells into their freshest form for life to begin; to appreciate the value of our potentialities and transform them into actualities.

Looking back now, by letting God be God, the events during the period of waiting for life to begin in my womb seemed to have led me to the right books, right people, right decisions before I arrived at the place where I received the miracle. Staying close to the Giver of Life gave me the guidance I needed in a world where many choices are offered but where only what He wills must prevail. As I gaze at my baby in front of me now, my heart is filled with serene humility and gratitude. It’s such an indescribable delight to behold her, sharing our world – a world where her movements are no longer limited to her tiny apartment of nine months, but where boundless space, time, freedom, will and intellect can shape and reshape her destiny under God’s direction, mercy, compassion, generosity, providence, protection, greatness and love. I am humbled that God has entrusted me and my husband the opportunity of caring for this child to form part of  His greater scheme in the world. We embrace this blessing with profoundest faith, hope and love. The natural path I have chosen may have been impossible, but faith in God has definitely made this possible. By God’s infinite goodness, generosity, faithfulness, love and mercy, she is now an actuality who will always remind me of this faith journey.

All praise, gratitude and glory be to God, the Life-Giver.