“What do you think about going to Easter Vigil Mass at the Cathedral?”
I’m pretty sure I didn’t just laugh: I outright snorted in derision. It was in the very late 1990s, maybe very early 2000s. My husband, my “practicing agnostic physicist,” my skeptical partner was driving us around our old neighborhood in Philadelphia. I don’t even remember where we were going, but I’m pretty sure it was not a day we were not driving to one of our many doctor appointments.
“Oh,” he answered my snort. “I thought you might be into that kind of thing.”
“Look,” I said. “The Easter Vigil Mass is the longest Mass in a whole world of long Masses. The only way to get me to one of those things would be if you were converting and I were your sponsor. You convert and pick someone else to be your sponsor, that’s fine. I’ll still love you. But that is the only way you could get me to go to that Mass: if I absolutely had to.”
The subject dropped–for years, really. It’s not hard to imagine why, given my response to his question. Those were also the years of trying to find help for our infertility and getting nowhere with the traditional medical establishment. We came to marriage, two broken people from two broken homes. The odds were so against us. But from the moment I met the man who would become my husband, I saw in him a certain humility and tenacity that I’d never found before in another human soul. So while he might not have had any faith in any god besides science and provable truths, I knew I had faith in him.
But those years were hard and surely tested that humility and tenacity in ways we never could have expected. Empty arms are a heavy burden. We set our sights on adopting from China, a dream I’d had since the time I was in third grade, but I was not yet 30, the age China required of their adoptive parents. We waited.
During that wait, for our fifth wedding anniversary, we decided to take a road trip. We drove in our little red car up to Montreal. At a little hole in the wall Greek place, we had the best sangria and tzatziki we’ve ever tasted and watched the sun set. The next day we did some walking and checked out the Shrine of St. Anne de Beaupre. We didn’t do the traditional pilgrimage, but we picked up a holy card and we attended Mass together in French. He understood neither the Mass nor the French, but as with many other things that have happened in our shared life, I could follow along well enough to keep us both from embarrassing ourselves.
That was September. I prayed for an easy wait for our adoption, for enough money to make it happen, for patience. We could start the process as early as six months before my thirtieth birthday. That would be the following May. We waited.
The first weekend of May, 2003, I was taking half of Thursday and all of Friday weekend off, first to go to a dentist appointment and then to prepare for a writers conference that Saturday… or so I told my office mates. It wasn’t a lie, per se, because I did have a dentist appointment, and I was going to prepare for a conference, but I also was going to spend most of Friday putting in our orders for our birth certificates and setting up appointments with a social worker so we could get our application together and submitted exactly on my half birthday at the end of the month.
There was one problem, though, with the dentist appointment. My period was missing. I was certainly no stranger to long cycles (see above, re: infertility), and I’d been having my usual spotting and “warning cramps.” So in the wee hours of that Thursday, I woke up with a full bladder and took a pregnancy test, just so I could reassure my dentist that there was no chance I was pregnant and they could go to town on my X-rays.
Alas, that reassurance wouldn’t be happening.
I tiptoed back into our bedroom, test in hand, and gently shook my husband’s shoulder. He woke up.
“You’re either going to be really irritated that I woke you up,” I said, “or really happy.”
Shock mingled with joy. The next day on my lunch break, first I cancelled my dentist appointment then called my regular doctor. I said I had a positive home pregnancy test, but I was having some bleeding and cramping. They called me in for a blood test just to get a better idea of what was happening. The next day, when they called with my results, they said my HcG levels were 17,655, which was nice and high and indicative of a healthy pregnancy.
“So do I need to worry about the spotting and cramping?”
Pause. “Let me talk to your doctor. Can you hold?”
I did. The nurse came back. “Erin, you need to go the ER.”
Calmly, she explained, “With your medical history, it sounds like you may be having an ectopic pregnancy.”
Okay, I knew what that meant, but I still had a moment of stupidity. “Can’t I just wait until Monday and see if it goes away?”
The stunned nurse was silent in the face of my moment. “Um, no, you really can’t.”
I drove down to the hospital where my husband worked and he met me in the ER shortly after I was brought back. We waited. They wheeled us up for an ultrasound.
“Have you had your HcG level checked?” the technologist asked.
“Yeah. It’s 17,655.”
Pause. “17,655.” Pause. “Any incidence of twins in the family?”
“Yes,” my husband said. “On my side.”
“On your side!” I shouted. “Why am I just finding this out now?”
Everybody laughed, then I added that I had twins on both sides of my family as well. Nothing more was said about that. The exam began. Minutes later, the technologist marked one dark spot on the screen “1” and another right next to it “2.” I remember looking at the screen and (another moment of stupidity) thinking, “Wow, I didn’t know my ovaries were that close together.”
The exam ended. They wheeled me back down to the ER. We waited.
The wait was relatively short for an urban ER. The resident came back and said, “Well, you’re the fastest ‘bleeding and pregnant’ case I’ve ever had.”
“Um, okay?” I replied.
He took a deep breath. “Well, you’re definitely pregnant.”
I nodded, relieved, overjoyed. “Okay.”
“The pregnancy is definitely not ectopic.”
“You’re about five weeks along–”
“–and ultrasound found two egg sacs.”
I blinked at the resident. “Okay?”
He waited for me to get it. Apparently it was my third moment of stupidity for the day. When my face didn’t change, he finally said, “That means a twin pregnancy.”
It’s not like the hints hadn’t been dropped in abundance by this point, but I still just gawked at him. And guess what I said. I was too shocked to do anything but say, “Okay.”
The resident gave me–not my but our discharge papers. As I got dressed to leave, I heard my husband, my practicing agnostic physicist, my skeptical partner say, “Well, I guess God called my bluff.”
I turned slowly to face him. “Your–God–your what?”
“Around the time of our anniversary, I told God that if we got pregnant, I would go to RCIA.”
I just stared at him for what felt like a month before I sputtered out, “Does this mean you have to go twice now?”
We laughed. Then we went and got hoagies for dinner. I was, after all, eating for three.
St. Anne de Beaupre, whose shrine we had visited on our anniversary trip, is a title for the mother of Mary. The grandmother of Jesus herself experienced the long wait for a child, the heavy burden of empty arms. Through her intercession, barely requested, God brought not one soul but three into the Body of Christ.
Apparently Jesus loves to give His Grammy stuff, too.
I often think of this story and how God worked a miracle to open the heart of my husband to the truth and beauty of the Catholic faith. However, for the first time I’m appreciating how my own heart has been stretched as well. I am writing this in the minutes before we all go down for an afternoon nap so that we can attend Easter Vigil Mass: all five of us plus my long time BFF, another convert to Catholicism. It’s going to be the longest Mass in a whole world of long Masses. And we’re taking three kids, one of whom is a very wiggly, chatty five year-old. If we get through this, it’ll be a miracle.
That’s okay. It won’t be our first.
From our family to yours, a Blessed Easter.