The Nativity of Jesus
Fruit of the Mystery: Poverty of Spirit
A Light to Guide Us
by Jeannine Barthel
I was in the bathroom at a grocery store in Munising, Michigan, staring at two pink lines in unbelief. It’s not like I didn’t know HOW it happened, but how did it happen?! We were careful to avoid pregnancy during that time. Our youngest was 4, so diapers were history, and our oldest was 12, so we were able to sneak in more date nights than we ever had since having kids.
There was freedom. My body felt strong and back in shape. Jake, my husband, was happy. Having babies had always been harder on him emotionally than myself. Doctors said to watch me for postpartum depression, but it was Jake who struggled after every single one of our five babies. We had been through some tough times, especially after our youngest. At that time, I had been so worried about his well being and even feared for his life.
Which is why, as I stared at those pink lines, scary memories flashed back and I feared how he would react. Walking back to our vehicle, I was trying to hold back tears and he knew it the second I opened the door. He gave me that “What’s going on?” look without trying to alert the kids. I flashed him the pregnancy test and his face turned white; he said, “How?”
I honestly had no answers. I thought I had charted everything correctly and I didn’t even think we cut it close. God for the win. I mean that’s the whole point of natural family planning—to give it to God, and sometimes you can think you’re spot on with charting, but God has another plan. However, I think we both had lost sight of His plan for our family because even though we were “open to life,” we were clearly also very closed off to the possibility of adding more children to our family.
We drove in silence and I proceeded to sob for two hours straight while saying rosary after rosary. I had thoughts: what would my coworkers say? Why now? How is this going to work? We gave our baby clothes and gear away. Can my 37-year-old body do this another round? Can we handle the baby stage again? What will the kids say? As I was saying the rosary, my favorite bible verse came to mind: “I have the strength for everything through him who empowers me.” Philippians 4:13.
I heard God answering my questions in my heart. I could do this. Who cares what my coworkers think? The timing is perfect. I will find all that the baby will need. I surrendered my spirit, my body, and my thoughts to God. I felt peace.
The peace turned into joy and excitement and the thrill of having a tiny human growing inside. After a couple of days, Jake too smiled at the thought of another. Our family was ready for an addition. We happily shared with some close family and friends over the next few weeks that baby number six would be due in April 2019! And as fast as our newfound excitement engulfed us, sadness hit just as hard when, at week seven, on the feast of St. Maximilian Kolbe, we lost our little miracle baby.
There I was, once again sobbing, but this time in the way only a mother who loses her child sobs. I remembered how wretched and selfish I was when I first found out I was pregnant. “This was a perfect punishment for my early reaction,” I thought.
My heart ached for many months after our loss. God had shown us, but especially me, that He was calling us to be open to life. Even though we still very much were doing natural family planning, I wanted to give it to God, but Jake was not on board. He was devastated by the loss but not interested in trying for more. I prayed, cried, and hoped for his heart to be changed. Months went by and after a conversation with a good priest friend of ours, Jake had a change of heart when he asked Father whether or not he thought it was a good idea to have more children. Father responded, “What if you let God decide?”
Jake truly respects every word spoken from this amazing man, and he knew after their conversation that it was time to let God be in charge. God didn’t take long in making decisions. We found out we were expecting the next month, on what would have been the due date of our baby had it gone full term. It was an emotional day, and it felt so good to know we had put our family plans into God’s hands.
I vowed to never shed a tear over any pregnancy pain, postpartum difficulties, or parenting challenges ever again. I would surrender any suffering and enjoy every bit of my pregnancy. It wasn’t all roses, but I mostly enjoyed every stage.
Kolbe Carl was born on December 23, 2019, and we brought him home at midnight on Christmas Eve. When his siblings woke up in the morning, the best Christmas present awaited them: a new little brother. We had six healthy, beautiful children, and I couldn’t stop staring at our new little one, pondering the miracle of life and how God had blessed us after our loss. I loved my maternity leave with him.
All the kids were at school all day while I stayed home and snuggled the sweetest little bundle. I really wasn’t ready to go back to work in March 2020, and the world didn’t think I should go back either. I had been praying for a three-day snowstorm, but instead, we were put on a three-week lockdown due to Covid. Overnight, I went from having a nice quiet house during the day, to teaching physical education online and homeschooling our other five children for the remainder of the school year all while having a three-month-old. It was crazy. I honestly don’t remember too much from this time.
Because of the vow I made to God, I wasn’t going to shed a tear over any parenting challenges, I was just going to give it to Him and seek Him for strength. I know He gave me the grace to persevere in a spirit of joy, even when it was hard. Summer came. Three more months with Kolbe and our crew. It was glorious and special. Even while the world was in pandemic and political chaos, we were happy. God was leading us through the stormy seas with ease.
As the 2020 school year began and I went back to work, I saw lots of fear. Fear in coworkers, parents, and even my students. I felt the need to be a leader and a positive light. God had given me a grace of peace and calm even when I felt all of this fear around me and we were being belted with one punch after another from the world. That’s why, in October 2020, as I was shockingly staring at⸺yet again⸺another set of two wonderful pink lines, I praised God for trusting my husband and I with another child and vowed that His will be done in our lives.
I thought of Mary, her fiat: “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Luke 1:38 I surrendered to His will even though, at the time, my tank felt tattered and empty. I knew God would give me the grace I needed to persevere with all the duties of my vocation and He did. I’m not going to lie, it was a hard year. I did cry. I had to give up breastfeeding Kolbe because of low supply. Pregnancy was hard on my body being so close to my last birth. It wasn’t easy working and trying to support my middle schoolers who were home alone for distance learning. But the suffering and struggles were given to God to move His Kingdom.
Jake was and has been our strength. Dealing with postpartum depression was not as severe as it had been in the past, and with the intercession of St. Joseph, Jake has been able to lead our family in a strong, humble way even while I was struggling. We were so happy when baby girl, Stella Marie Anne⸺named after my two grandmothers⸺was born on June 21, 2021.
Her name means, Mary, Star of the Sea, the patron for helping those at sea find their way. When I look back at the ups and downs we’ve gone through our entire marriage, I can’t think of a better patron for our family. God, when we were unsure of our path as a family, placed a beacon in our lives, a light to guide us along any type of sea we may be sailing. Giving us hope that if we truly do let go of our will and accept His will, we will reach our final destination.
“Trust in the Lord with all your heart, on your own intelligence rely not; in all your ways be mindful of him, and he will make straight your paths.” Proverbs 3:5-6
About Jeannine: I was born and raised in a small German Catholic town in Minnesota amidst a parish which claims the motto “Blessed Heritage. Bold Future.” It was here that I met my husband, Jake, of 16 years. We located our family nearby, and have been blessed with seven children on earth and one who is with Jesus. I teach physical education at a local elementary school, and I am currently taking a maternity leave for this entire school year to be home with our almost two year old and four month old.
When I get free time, I love to hike, play cards, spend time with family, cook, exercise, and try out new breweries and restaurants with my husband. My favorite food group is bacon. And speaking of a Bold Future, God has put on my heart to have strong Christian values in our secular culture, and to help other mom’s gain confidence in themselves. Not only am I a fitness coach, teaching women how to fuel and strengthen their bodies, I also help organize our local Catholic MOM’s group which is a place for like minded moms to fuel their minds and souls and discover long lasting, Catholic friendships.