• Elizabeth Leon

And Baby Makes 10

Updated: Aug 3, 2018

With 9 kids between us, we heard the comments all the time -- The Brady Bunch! Yours, Mine, and Ours? No "ours" -- yet. "Delight yourself in the Lord; And He will give you the desires of your heart." Psalm 37:4



Another first day of school – my 15th as a mom of school-age children. I was surprised by the tears this morning in the carline after dropping off Clare and Nathan. Seeing all those little kindergarteners made me think again of each of my precious little ones’ first days. Leah so shy and scared, her anxiety showing itself still small and cloaked even then. Her hand in her face, not able to look at anyone as she sat at her little table and we left. Maggie marching off, confident and proud, Veggie Tales bag bouncing along with her step. James too small in his backpack. Nathan -- a day clouded almost completely by the events of that night as I revealed to their dad that I knew about his adultery. Clare skipping on to the bus (a family first!) and now Ralph by my side -- her dad only a shadow in her life even then.


They all seemed so big as I drove off today, missing Maggie and remembering when I had 4 of them still safely in the nest at St. Theresa and Clare by my side. Those two years of 2010-2012 when we were so brave and bold and afraid and alone but surviving, learning to breathe in the terrible pain and destruction of Ray’s departure. I was so proud of us. So proud of me. I know now that couldn’t be the end of my story, that I couldn’t stay bound up and striving so hard to love my children and keep our family from sinking -- to preserve the life they knew in every way possible. But I was so proud of myself. Every day was a miracle of heroic survival. I’m sure the agony has dulled with time. But we did it. Those beautiful babies and I, with the Lord wrapped all around, never farther than a breath, holding us up in His grace.


I adore my life with Ralph. I am so grateful for the pain and healing and rebuilding of my heart that he has helped me walk through with Jesus. The gift of our love and marriage is an abundant and undeserved blessing. The family we are building is a gift to our children, although they may not see it that way. But there is still a special place in my heart for those two years. The pain was so deep and loud that those years of solo survival blaze brightly in my memory. A triumph of our spirit, these babies’ and mine. A testimony to the power of prayer and faith and family holding us up. I feel a nostalgia for the intensity of our bond -- clinging to each other for true survival in the maelstrom that our lives had become.

My mommy heart rejoices in seeing their beauty unfold day after day, weeps in their sadness and the wounds I cannot fix, can barely even soothe. I celebrate the miracle of their existence, the privilege of sharing my life with them. I ache at every step they take further along their own path when I can barely keep step with them, knowing it is their destiny to outrun me.

Maggie.

Leah.

James.

Nathan.

Clare.

These 5 names that are the way I live my heart out in the world. Etched on my soul more deeply than any tattoo. My dearest loves, little chickadees, nuggets, love bugs, niblets.

And the craziest miracle of there being one. more.


John Paul Raphael.


I adore my other children -- Meaghan and Alicia and Carrie and Andrew. They are children of my heart and I choose to love them along with their Dad with everything I can. I revel in them and cry for them and miss them and am excited for them and hope for them and pray for them...


I wish there was not a difference. That isn’t even the right word. I would give my everything for any one of the nine of them. But the presence, the NOISE of those 5 children who grew beneath my heart is just louder. More insistent. More responsibly mine. Maybe that is part of it -- knowing that whatever love I shower on my step-children is a bonus for them; they don’t long for it. It isn’t going to warp their psyche if they don’t get it. It is not the burden of my LIFE to make sure they know how precious and loved and adored they are. If I can do that, it is an extra for them. I can never make a dent in what they lost in their mom. The best I can hope for is more like a well-loved aunt-in-law. And that’s ok. I accept the limitations of my role in their lives -- it doesn’t change how I love them, but maybe just takes off the pressure.


But these children from my heart and my blood and my body... they are in my fabric and I in theirs. A connection that goes far beyond vocation or responsibility. It is richer, fuller -- destiny? Union? Legacy?


And this new child is part of that. Tears still form whenever I say or write his name. (He is so new -- like a butterfly that has landed on my nose. I am afraid to BREATHE lest he fly away).

John Paul Raphael. (The tears start in my throat and my eyes). My baby. Ralph’s and mine. After loving this man for 5 years with all my heart and soul, the power and intensity of our feelings for each other still overwhelms me. That our love has blossomed through God’s will and grace into a CHILD in my womb is still such an undeserved blessing. It is a deep longing I held in the recesses of my heart from the moment Ralph and I fell in love. Love is fullest when it is given away -- fullest when it explodes into new life. I longed for that with Ralph but held it so tight and close I wouldn’t even admit it to myself. “I’m fine. 9 kids is PLENTY. We are OLD. Our lives are CRAZY. We need time for US.”


And yet here we are. From early conversations where I pretended to have no interest in a baby and Ralph was CLEAR it was not in his plan. To our wedding where we proclaimed our openness to new life in God and were committed to that through NFP. My journey through shame and anxiety and Guadalupe and healing and surrender and trust. Ralph and I spending a year at adoration every Tuesday night together and months attending daily mass. Frequent confession. Prayers and support from his men’s group and my women’s group. These avenues of grace softened our hearts and increased our love and commitment to each other without us even seeing or understanding it. And God moved, using the opening of our hearts to impart his grace.


John Paul Raphael.


A gradual softening of our dates and rules with NFP; several moments where our desire to love each other and connect surpassed any concern we could remember about getting pregnant; a silly belief that an internet statistic for fertility in a 45 year old woman meant I probably wouldn’t conceive! This subtle sense of wonder as my period is a few days late. A nervous excitement as we considered the possibility. Shy and awkward and laughing as we go to the CVS in La Plata after the retreat to get a pregnancy test. Alone in a crappy bathroom after I pee on the stick -- I am not really even sure what my heart wants it to say. I think I am supposed to want it to be negative. But the truth is I long for a child. I long for God to break into our lives in this BOLD way and say, LOOK AT ME, Betsy and Ralph, I AM HERE IN THE MIDDLE OF YOUR MARRIAGE AND I LOVE YOU TWO AND THE THREE OF US ARE HAVING A BABY BECAUSE I LOVE YOU AND WANT TO SHARE THIS BLESSING WITH YOU AND THE WHOLE WORLD!!!! This is what I really want but can’t admit.


And there it is -- a little plus sign. Baby. Our baby. Ralph waits outside the door and I walk to him -- what does he see on my face? And then we are laughing and hugging. I am definitely in shock. I probably cried. We start the drive home after we get slurpees to celebrate and I spend 2 hours on my phone reading to him from websites about being 45 and pregnant. The miscarriage rate. The possibility for birth defects or chromosomal abnormalities. The statistics reminding us that when you are old, a baby is not a sure thing. I love that little peanut already. Sure she is a girl. Loving that she is a pin of light shining from the trinity of love between Ralph and the Lord and me. But, my love for my baby hovers in the space between protecting my heart and falling in love. I spend more time than I want to admit thinking: well, this is a BIG COMPLICATION to our lives! Am I really loving enough and unselfish enough and generous enough to start over with a little one NOW?????? Would a miscarriage just be better for us all? I am so sorry, little one, that I had so little trust and faith in those moments. Fear was loud. My selfish weakness was louder. No No NOOOOO. A miscarriage wouldn’t be better. You are our child.


We hold the news of you as a secret treasure between us, your daddy and me.

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