My husband, Mervyn, and I were certain we want children.
Both of us were cradle Catholics. We had gotten married at the Church of Our Lady of Perpetual Succour and we had our plans all laid out.
In 2013, I got pregnant, but miscarried at six weeks and had to undergo a procedure to remove the foetus. It was utterly devastating for us, and I was quite traumatised by the whole ordeal.
At the same time, I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, and had to take pills to regulate my hormones and periods. The doctor told me that getting pregnant would be more difficult for me than other women. This was another emotional strain because after the miscarriage, I felt I had failed as a woman and as a mother before I could even begin.
Nonetheless, we continued to try again for another child, and I managed to get pregnant again in January 2013. I was in-and-out of the hospital as it was a difficult pregnancy. One day, towards the end of my first trimester, I started bleeding heavily while I was at work and had to be rushed to hospital.
I was certain that when I got there, I would be told that we had lost our baby. Waiting in the Emergency Room for my gynecologist to arrive seemed like a lifetime. All I remembered telling my husband as he held my hand was, “I cannot go through this again. I won’t be able to take it.”
Lo and behold, when the doctor arrived, she showed me an image of my baby and a strong heartbeat. I managed to carry our baby to term, and in September 2014, gave birth to a healthy baby girl – our daughter, Caitlyn Elizabeth.
All this while, at the back of our minds, we knew we had God to thank but we hardly acted upon that; neither did we practise our faith as diligently as we should. We found it hard to commit to attending Sunday masses – “too crowded, difficult to park, it’s alright God understands and our relationship with Him is between us anyway…” – those were our main excuses, and life went on.
Life as first-time parents
Around the time of Caitlyn’s birth, Mervyn was busy setting up his new business, and I struggled to settle into my role as a young mother. As the months went by, with Mervyn away most of the time working, I was often alone with the baby late into the night, struggling to keep myself sane with a fussy baby to care for, not knowing at that time that I was experiencing post-natal depression. None of my friends were married yet, let alone were mothers. I was fearful and unsure of so many things.
Mervyn was a heavy smoker at that time, so even when he was home, he spent most of his time at the balcony smoking and taking work calls or responding to emails. I felt lonely and isolated as a 26-year-old first-time mother, but I had no clue where to begin telling Mervyn how I felt, so I kept most of it pent up. We went about our days mainly focused on our own separate, busy lives. We were not an unhappy couple but simply went through our days without much connection as a married couple or family.
Should we keep trying?
Over the next few years, Mervyn and I continued trying for more children, but my body kept letting me down. I went through five more miscarriages.
Each pregnancy was difficult to achieve and easily terminated due to my fertility issues. Each miscarriage carved a bigger hole in my heart than the last. Nothing prepared me for this awful repetition of heartbreaks over five years.
I was hopeful yet devastated and each time, it took even longer for my body and mind to heal. It reached a point when I was quite certain I would not be able to bear any more children. Caitlyn was already 5 years old. We thought since we were comfortable, sort of happy, so maybe we did not need more children.
A part of me however, felt an ache whenever I heard of friends getting pregnant; some of whom would even get pregnant without even planning to. I felt I was lesser of a woman.
Our spiritual awakening only came about after our close friends urged us to attend the Conversion Experience Retreat (CER). I was initially reluctant to attend because I was fearful of leaving Caitlyn alone for 5 whole days, and certainly did not look forward to communal living in a camp setting with strangers.
Mervyn was more open to the idea, and it was only upon our fourth ballot for the September 2019 CER that we managed to get the slot. That was where our healing began.
Hope in the Healing
At our first session during CER, it felt as though His Grace, Archbishop Goh, was having a private conversation with both of us. One of the things he addressed the congregation about was giving up vices.
Mervyn felt so moved by the Holy Spirit, he told me about his prompting to quit smoking for the benefit of his health and our family life. I was dumbfounded upon hearing this. Mervyn used to tell me that I should never ask him to give up smoking as it was a form of stress release for him. He had even packed several packs of cigarettes to last him the duration of the retreat and was initially wondering how often he could go for smoke breaks.
But God’s grace is stronger than any addiction. Right there and then, in the middle of the song “God, You’re So Good” on the very first day of CER, Mervyn surrendered his addiction to tobacco and went cold turkey.
During another session, I lifted our children whom I had lost to God. I offered up the guilt, the unworthiness, the pain and the unhappiness I had held on to.
Out of the blue, God gave me a vision – He showed me my unborn children in heaven. Jesus was walking in front of me, and I followed him through a beautiful field. I waited as He beckoned to some children who were playing further out in the field. I saw them faintly, but knew they were my children as they came towards me.
“This is your mother”, Jesus told them.
Then my children enveloped me in a warm embrace, telling me that they loved me, and I should not beat myself up over all that had happened. I truly felt the Holy Spirit was with me through this spiritual healing, so much so that I was overwhelmed with emotions and sobbed uncontrollably.
My biggest regret till then was that I had not held my babies, let alone see or feel them. Yet, God showed me that they are being held in His hands and are happy in a beautiful place. It was cathartic as I witnessed God’s love for me and my children. God was telling me to let go of the hurts and grievances from these miscarriages, and that my children are safe with Him in heaven!
Going beyond our spiritual experience
Post-CER, Mervyn and I felt a deeper appreciation and longing for the eucharist. We made it a point to attend mass on weekdays during lunchtime, and looked forward to spending time with the Lord. We saw the beauty of God in everyday things and people around us.
We also found that our relationship as husband and wife had grown stronger, and we were looking at our marriage through a different lens. We became more life-giving, less self-serving and saw our family life grow. Our daughter seemed happier and more fulfilled when we made a shift in how we approached our parenting.
We also frequented the Cathedral for adoration, and it was there that Mervyn picked up a Saint Jude’s prayer card. Known as the patron saint of hopeless cases, our friend shared how her dad was healed of prostate cancer because of her daily devotion to him. In awe of such a miracle, we also decided to embark on the 9-day Novena to Saint Jude and asked for his intercession for us to be blessed with another child.
Miraculously, on the 7th day of the Novena to St Jude, I found out I was pregnant! To be honest, I was too scared to be happy because of my past failed pregnancies. As we continued to offer up our unborn child to God, a friend assured me saying, “You have claimed God’s promise, and this time, this child will be yours.” I was astounded at his certainty but also comforted by it as I placed my trust in God.
In the same fashion as all my other pregnancies, this one was not a breeze. When I was in my 7th week whilst heading to mass one Sunday, I started bleeding heavily. We went to the hospital and was warded for two nights, where I was injected with hormones to support the pregnancy. I was placed on bed rest for the next month.
As I entered my 10th week, I suddenly felt a gush of warmth down my legs when I was in bed watching a movie. Flipping the covers open, I saw that I was sitting in a huge pool of blood that had soaked through my sheets. I looked at Mervyn in despair as he rushed up to help me and I hobbled to the bathroom to clean up.
I thought ‘Not again! There was so much blood, my baby cannot survive this’. However, this time, instead of rushing to the hospital, we decided to turn to prayer. We knew from experience that the hospital could do very little if this was indeed another miscarriage. My medical appointment was also scheduled for the next day, so we stayed home and begged for God’s mercy.
The beauty of being in a community was that we could ask our Catholic friends, including those from CER, to pray for us, and we received many messages of assurance.
When we got to my medical check-up the next day, I was all ready to hear the worst. Mervyn, however, felt that God would not let anything happen to this child in my womb. As the gynecologist scanned me to look for a heartbeat, I held my breath. We managed to find my baby’s heart which was still beating strong. I could not believe that God is so good!
We welcomed our second baby girl, Caroline Therese, in July 2020 and she is now 7 months old. She is such a joyful and calm baby that we are reminded each time we look at her and her elder sister of God’s grace and mercy. We also thank St. Jude for his powerful intercession, and Mother Mary for guiding us and praying for us.
Through CER, God has transformed our hearts, our marriage and made us better for each other and our families. God has been with us through it all, even though we took Him for granted and did not put Him first. No matter who we are, God’s mercies never end. We are not capable of loving the way He loves us because of our human limitations. Yet, in choosing to repent, surrender and trust in Him, He gave us what we needed, at the right time.
My prayer for the Catholic Church’s 200th anniversary
Dear Lord, bless all our children, those whom we have been granted stewardship over on earth, and those whom You have taken into your Kingdom. Bless our marriages and may we always remember to place You at the centre. Teach us to truly love our spouses and children, and give us the grace to always choose to love, even when it is the most difficult. Help us grow in faith as we surrender all our cares to You. Amen.