I was seven months pregnant with our second child and being rushed to the hospital by my husband. Little did I know that this trip would mark the beginning of a long spiritual journey to God.
At the hospital we were told that I had a broken rib in my back and acute double pneumonia. I’m asthmatic, and my breathing was so bad that I required steroid treatments every 10-15 minutes. The doctors informed us that had we waited only one more day, I would very likely be dead.
The hospital assigned me a specialist. During my stay, he insisted that this baby was killing me and should be taken prematurely, which would endanger the baby’s life. Unable to breathe or talk, I was terribly shaken. The stress of this news triggered more attacks.
Fortunately, my midwife came to my defense. Thank God she knew us well; and thank God we made out a birthing plan beforehand. She made it clear to everyone involved that the baby would come first. This was our overriding concern. Even still, I could hear the doctor arguing, “That baby is sucking the life from her! It must be taken! Her body cannot take much more. She is dying.” But my midwife stood firm and we continued on with the pregnancy. I remained on high doses of steroids, puffers, a breathing machine and antibiotics for the rest of the pregnancy.
The next two and a half months were in the hands of Our Lord. There were numerous emergency room visits, ambulances and doctor’s appointments. My moods were being driven by the steroids and ranged from hysterical crying to rage. I was told not to be left alone with my other child, Christina, age three.
Meanwhile, my husband Rick had not only been praying for my recovery, but also for my conversion. I was a tepid Sunday Catholic—Mass once a week, no confession, no scriptures, no rosary. My husband, on the other hand, did what I thought were all the “extras” that I didn’t need.
There were plenty of nights that we both knew I could very possibly die. During those long, sleepless nights, I had almost come to accept it. I remained very weak right up to the birth of our son, Richard, Jr.
The darkening horizon
Rick and I hoped that after the baby came my health would return to normal. However, it continued to worsen. In addition to my acute asthma, low immune system and the broken rib, I was now experiencing terrible pain in all my joints. It turned out to be rheumatoid arthritis. The pain was extreme. I would wake up in the morning with my hands, elbows, knees and sometimes even my ankles all blown up like balloons.
The doctors informed us that had we waited only one more day, I would very likely be dead.
We were told by many other doctors that we shouldn’t have any more children due to my extreme health issues. They said that we would only be endangering my life and the life of the child. Rick and I discussed this with many priests in our diocese. They were all in agreement that we could use artificial contraception because of our extreme circumstances. I was convinced; my husband was not. He insisted that we consult another priest, Father Albert Shamon. I didn’t know at the time that our family’s life was about to change.
As we entered the priest’s home, I was fully confident that he would agree with all the others. As a matter of fact, I had already made an appointment for my birth control. We began slowly, as I carefully explained our circumstances. He listened intently. So I posed the big question, “So we can use birth control, right?” He looked at me closely and said, “Absolutely… NOT! You need confession, child, and right now.” I couldn’t believe what I was hearing.
I said, “We can’t? What makes you right and the other priests wrong? I might die.” Father quoted Scripture and other Church documents, offering to help us look up the relevant passages. Again he insisted that he hear my confession, which he did. He told us we could use Natural Family Planning, but not artificial contraception.
Fruits of conversion
Soon I was pregnant again. Father Shamon, always supportive, insisted on weekly confession and family rosary, and he visited our home regularly to check up on the progress of the conversion he knew God was enacting in our lives.
Whenever I would doubt Our Lord, I would have Father on one side saying, “Glory be to God; you’re not going to die!” And on the other side, my new-found friend, a wonderful Catholic woman named Laurie, was saying, “Pray your family rosary. Everything will get easier.”
Slowly, all this positive reinforcement began to take effect. All this in spite of the fact that this pregnancy was not going well either. At one point, I ended up in a wheelchair. I prayed with all my heart that God would watch over this pregnancy. Almost as soon as the prayer left my lips, my daughter Anna jumped on my midsection and my water broke. I could walk again in a short time because this relieved all the pressure to the nerves causing the pain. Mary Ellen was born on April 11, 2000.
Through it all, the Lord has brought us closer to him, using both hardships and friendships to bring us together as one family in Christ.