As you may have noticed, I've added a new page to the website recently called "From Magdalena's Mom" which is dedicated to assisting ByziMoms who are undergoing the loss of a child through miscarriage. I was prompted by the Holy Spirit to reach out to these mothers after several of them had contacted me during their time of need wanting information, not about anything medical, but spiritual and ecclesiastical questions such as,
"Are there particular Byzantine services for miscarriage?"
"Are these services for the mother or for the child?"
"At what point do I contact my priest?"
"What about burial?" Yet most often these mothers asked me simply but profoundly,
"Will you please pray with me?"
As humbled as I was that these women would consider me a source of compassion and information, I had to admit that I was just as confused. In desperation I contacted a dear friend whom I know had undergone multiple losses in the past and she graciously offered to coach them, and me, through the process a few times. I realized this was taking an emotional toll on her that I just could not permit and so I reached out online to recruit some volunteers to help us with this new ministry. After trusted priest-friend responded with a much needed lesson about the Church's policies, a wonderful and generous group of ByziMoms came together to form a team dedicated to helping anyone, at any time, who might contact us looking for help in their time of need. I prayed a lot about this before I put out the call for help and I just know the Lord has put together this particular team of women for a reason. Almost all of the mothers who had come forward had suffered a miscarriage themselves, each with her own unique set of circumstances and her own ability to identify with a particular situation pertaining to miscarriage. It was then that I created the page and named it after my own little saint, my Magdalena.
I lost Magdalena, the chimeric twin of our oldest child. I understand this particular kind of loss to be a very unique circumstance, so I can identify and assist mothers who find themselves enduring this situation best. Selina has shared with me that although she hasn’t suffered a miscarriage herself, she feels called to assist us in this ministry and she is so very welcome to do so! Melanie told me that she had suffered an ectopic pregnancy and lost her baby, Ignatius John, as a result; She would be a special help to those moms who are undergoing that situation. Cassy has shared with me that she lost her baby, Mikael, at 7 weeks and took the time to grow deeper in her faith. Nicole has suffered the loss of four little ones and can identify with the particular pain of having lost more than one. She is also a certified loss doula, through Loss Doula International. This will be a tremendous asset to our team and I look forward to her assistance in training us and guiding the moms who come to us!
So as you can see, this group of mothers is really very special and I praise God Who is so good as to have orchestrated such a great ministry team!
My own story is a complicated one; it's one that I rarely speak of. Many of my family members to this day have no idea that we lost child who was conceived but never lived outside the womb and, although I know how strange it must sound, I didn't really know it myself until fairly recently. I feel uncomfortable counting myself among those mothers who have physically miscarried, suffered and delivered their lost child because I don't know what that must have been like at all. Yet she WAS conceived in my womb, she has a soul that will live on for eternity, and I, her mother, am painfully aware of her loss. I'm going to attempt to share our story here so that other mothers who have experienced such a strange loss as mine might identify, and that it might aid in their emotional healing. Allow me to explain.
Soon after my husband and I were married I had gone to work as usual and was about to end my shift as a hospital laboratory technologist by drawing some blood samples from a few outpatients who had come in late in the day. To the surprise of my patient, the poor fellow, and everyone else in the outpatient clinic, I had fainted as I was drawing a specimen! (Now, years later, I personally believe that it was at that moment that the soul of my little one flew from my womb to the next world...it was too much for my own soul to bear.) When I came to my senses one of my colleagues had asked me if I had eaten, did I want her to walk me to the emergency department down the hall, and if there was a possibility that I could be pregnant...pregnant? After having done hundreds of pregnancy tests for other people, I finally had the opportunity to do one for myself and to my shock and delight, I found that I was indeed with child. The result was strongly positive, even though I had not yet missed my cycle...this was the sign that I missed. I should have realized it meant that my hormone level was very high for such an early positive result..it was due to the fact that there were twins, but at the time and under those circumstances, I didn't realize that. Being my first pregnancy, I was too overjoyed to notice anything strange but went happily home to tell my husband and plan for our baby's arrival. Months later I delivered a beautiful baby girl, our Anastasia, and two years later went on to have another baby, our son, then two years later another son, and then a set of identical twin daughters four years later, giving us a total of five children in a space of seven years. We were a very busy and very happy family.
We began to homeschool the children when Anastasia entered high school. Her first year at home we studied biology and one of the chapters which dealt with genetics required her to construct a Punnet square, where she plotted my two X chromosomes with her father's X and Y chromosomes to see the possibility of our offspring having attached versus unattached earlobes. This would be rather interesting since my husband's ears are clearly attached while mine are not. The book assured us that the trait could not be ambiguous; dna would clearly express this trait one way or the other...yet our daughter had one ear with a clear expression of each trait. As a mom with a degree in medical technology I realized at once that this was a strange anomaly. Why had I not noticed her ears before? We began to do some research to understand how this could be and we quickly understood that there was no way this could happen unless her body was expressing two separate sets of dna.
As we began to research a bit more we came across stories of chimeric twins. These were cases where one twin was lost early in the pregnancy but instead of being expelled from the womb, the body of the deceased twin became encompassed by the developing body of the surviving one, blending with her cell structure so that the body of the surviving baby would develop with both sets of distinctly different dna. There were several identifying characteristics of chimeric persons mentioned, all of which my daughter exhibits. In particular she has a birthmark on her back, a patch of skin much lighter than her own with feathery edges, that I had always noticed since she was an infant, but didn't think too much about. It's a classic sign. We needed to begin to process exactly what this meant.
She and I were both astounded by this new finding. Knowing the child was conceived and lost, and having our faith to tell us that a soul is created upon every conception, we knew my Anastasia had a twin sister who would live in eternity. That was a lot to explain and discuss with our then 14 year old. Having been the surviving twin of my mom's own miscarriage (yes, every female in my home is a twin...strange but true!) I really wanted to prevent the case of survivor's guilt that had once plagued me, so we talked about naming her twin sister...she chose Magdalena, named after the first woman to see the resurrected Christ. This is especially poignant since Anastasia's name means "Resurrection" and her own birth story was one of a remarkable resurrection after an emergency delivery because of a failure to move in the womb. She wanted her sister to have a connection to her by giving her that name, especially since our Magdalena would be the first of our household to see, if not Christ Himself, at least the joy of eternal life. We discussed the baptism of desire and prayed to God on her behalf. We began to celebrate her name's day on July 22 of every year and talk about her in our family conversations to keep her memory eternal. It's the best we can do and my family, especially my Anastasia, knows that and is at peace.
So as you can see, it is very difficult for me to speak of her to others. They simply don't know what to say. I am her mother, yet I didn't even know she existed until a full 14 years after her passing into eternity. I can't blame people for being somewhat confused. I can not describe to you the guilt I had endured at the understanding that she existed in heaven, watching over our family through whom she came into existence, knowing us all, but also fully understanding for fourteen years that we did not even know that she ever was. Fifteen times a day when I say my prayers, at the end of each decade of salutations to the Theotokos, I ask Our Heavenly Mother to give my Magdalena a hug and a kiss from me, her earthly mother, and let her know that her mother loves her. Its all I can do. By His generous compassion, our loving God has allowed my little one to visit me in a dream and let me know that she understands and that she waits for me in eternity. I beg God daily for the grace to embrace her there,with Him, one day.