The Agony in the Garden
Fruit of the Mystery: Accepting God’s Will
“You Are Such a Strong Woman“
by Megan Madden
I still remember our long flight to Austria and walking off the airplane in Vienna.
We had spent the summer of a lifetime with friends who had slowly become family over the course of the five years of my husband’s graduate studies in theology. Unlike most of our friends, who were transitioning into traditional academic jobs, my husband and I felt called to continue on our graduate school journey and move our family to the International Theological Institute (ITI) in Austria. My husband earned a licentiate degree (with a focus in marriage and family studies) and gained some international teaching experience, while I tended to the children and took some graduate courses of my own. Before we made the big move at the end of the summer, we gave away everything we owned, packed seven suitcases filled to bursting with what remained of our belongings, and transitioned from Florida to Austria — swapping the everglades for the Alps — with three children four and under toddling along beside us.
When we arrived at the ITI, we felt grateful for its obvious community and bustling campus life. We lived alongside other Catholic families in a building dedicated to John Paul II, with single students residing in the two flanking campus buildings and various members of the school administration living in the building directly across the courtyard. Classes were held in a real castle — princess not included — and the children played in the gardens daily, picking apples and pears as well as roses for our dining room table.
Those first few weeks passed by like a fairytale, and we were enchanted by the whole experience. As the days ticked by, however, and as the jet lag ceased, I started to feel funny. I was weirdly bloated, slightly nauseated, and my period was late. It seemed early to be pregnant, since my baby was only nine months old, but I had my cycle back for a while at that point, so it wasn’t out of the question. Almost as quickly as we discovered we were pregnant, I started miscarrying the baby to whom I had only just been introduced.
I had never (to my knowledge) had a miscarriage before, and it was painful. My husband was up with me for hours in the middle of the night, rubbing my back while I sobbed in pain, simply waiting for everything to pass. I prayed so fervently a surrender of this child’s life and tried my best to process what was happening in my body. We had only been in Austria for a few weeks at this point; I had no friends yet, and the whole process felt too painful to discuss with near strangers. I found myself wrapped in silence, thinking I needed to be strong, and without the words to express the feeling of being a living tomb for my own child.
I was anxious, I was afraid, and despite my husband’s best effort to comfort me and mourn alongside me, I felt alone. So, I took it to Christ. On the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, we were privileged to have a relic of the True Cross visiting the ITI. I drifted into the chapel in something of a daze, realized to my relief that I found myself alone, moved as close as possible to the relic, dropped to my knees, and sobbed and sobbed: “Jesus, this child is yours. I give him to you. Take him into your arms. I surrender to you the most precious gift I have: the gift to bear children.” We named that little baby John Michael.
A few months later, I was eager to have another baby, and after one month of “not trying not to try,” I found myself pregnant again. We were thrilled. I found a wonderful doctor in Austria, prepared for my first visit, and started thinking about maternity clothes. After four pregnancies and being the owner of a rather petite frame, it was rather difficult to hide my bloated belly. The first trimester flew by, nausea and all, but when I showed up to my first appointment, my doctor looked concerned and scheduled an appointment for me to come in every week. Eventually, it became evident that the baby was no longer growing, and there was no heart beat to detect. At 12 weeks pregnant, the doctor sent me home to miscarry naturally. My heart and stomach dropped. My eyes welled with tears, and yet I felt a strength well up within me, a grace to keep moving forward in hope. I knew the Lord wouldn’t leave me to drown in sorrow and that He wanted me to surrender my own will to His perfect will.
So, I saw myself to the chapel again.
Again, I wept, and once again, I offered a second child to God. We named this child Faustina Thérèse. When I offered my surrender, I simultaneously offered up my miscarriage for the pro-life movement in Ireland, which I knew was soon to have a vote to legalize abortion. A few days later, on the day of the vote, after the 3:00 hour, in which I prayed the Divine Mercy Chaplet, I started to miscarry. This miscarriage was unlike the first; it brought on a serious hemorrhage. My husband was at the store and came home to find me huddled on the ground in the bathroom in a pool of my own blood, slipping in and out of consciousness. I was vaguely aware of the fact that I could die. In the back of my mind, some part of me replied that I might leave him alone with three children. Stained with my blood, he held me and called an ambulance, all the while holding my face and crying, “Megan, stay with me. Megan, stay with me.” His face seemed blurry, but his words were clear and gripped me well enough to keep me conscious and fighting. I just kept thinking of him and Jesus. I knew neither him nor Jesus would leave my side.
We arrived at the hospital, and I was rushed into an operating room. That surgery saved my life, and I am so grateful for the doctor who gifted us with the body of our child to bury. She came to me the day after the surgery, sat on my bed, and cried for me. In her thick Austrian accent, she said to me, “Your love and desire for your baby’s body to bury moved me so much. You are such a strong woman. You are such a strong woman …”
I knew that it was Christ who gave me strength. It was my surrender that allowed me to accept that in uniting my passion to His Great Passion, He was able to transform something ugly and horrid into something beautiful. He turned my aching mother’s heart, filled with anxiety, into a heart that was able to surrender my will to His. In that surrender, He gave me a deep and residing peace that I can only describe as directly from Heaven. It was only through Him and in Him that I could simultaneously mourn and rejoice in the lives that were given us.
In the end, we were able to bury those two sweet babies together, and we received the gift of a memorial by our campus chaplain. Now, our little ones rest beneath a simple wooden cross in a small rose garden behind the same Byzantine chapel where I had first mourned their deaths. On the other side of the stone wall where they rest sits the chapel’s Tabernacle. It is a great comfort to realize that those babies are not just mine; they are His, and they were loved into existence. Though their precious lives were cut terribly short, they still brought their mommy and daddy so much joy.
This Spring marks the two-year anniversary of burying those little ones, and I look back with a profound sense of gratitude for being given the gift of life.
“And he said, ‘Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return; the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord’” (Job 1:21).
About Megan: Megan is a stay-at-home mother who lives in Poland with her theologian husband and four children (+2). She loves homeschooling, homemaking, and exploring and expressing what it means to be a virtuous and feminine woman. For more from Megan follow her on Instagram.