I remember the day I discovered I was pregnant with my first baby. My husband and I were elated. We were living in a retreat house, where I worked. After he left for work, I went to the chapel to pray.

The retreat house chapel had a view of the waterway which opened to the Great South Bay. I sat before the Blessed Sacrament, the place of repose for the Eucharist, which Catholics believe is the Real Presence of Jesus in the flesh.

Before me, rested the flesh and blood of Jesus in a tiny gold tabernacle. Within the tabernacle of my womb, rested my first child. At six weeks past conception, he had a beating heart.

I told the baby that I loved him and that I was blessed to be his mother. I was profoundly aware of the fact that I was no longer alone- even though I was by myself. There was another person with me who I would forever recall as “the baby who made me a mother”.

My husband and I heard the baby’s heartbeat at the prenatal visit. I was violently ill through the first and second trimester of pregnancy. But the pregnancy got better as I felt the first flutters and then kicks as we approached 20 weeks.

Feeling better coincided with our first ultrasound. Thirty-one years ago, ultrasounds didn’t have the details and definitions we enjoy today. At that time, it was a new phenomenon to be able to discern the sex of the unborn child with reasonable certainty.

We were open to learning the sex of the child and thought it would make our preparations for parenthood easier. But as we watched the screen, the technologist didn’t need to tell us. It was a perfect picture of a baby boy. We were amazed at the detail.

Shortly after the ultrasound, we gave our son a name. Though he was no less a person at conception than at that first ultrasound when we discovered his God-given gender, giving my son a name in my womb made this first-time experience of parenting all the more real to me. My husband became more connected to the baby, talking to my stomach and making plans with his son.

We saw a few doctors in the large practice of obstetricians. I remember meeting one of them towards the end of my pregnancy. He seemed a little aloof- definitely not the doctor I’d pick for bedside manner. But I knew he’d be the one to deliver my son.

The doctor had a shrine in his office dedicated to his son who had been killed in a car accident only months before. Baby pictures up to young adulthood- were all reminders of the vulnerability of parenthood. No parent should have to bury their child.

A few months later, when my water broke with no signs of labor, it was that very doctor who attended my son’s birth by cesarean section. My husband was at my head behind the screen. We smiled and cried tears of joy as the doctor gently pulled the baby from my womb. My son was transverse and wrapped in the cord. The c-section proved to be an intervention of divine grace.

I watched them clean and weigh him and then my husband brought our baby to my cheek. I remember feeling his soft, warm cheek against mine, as we witnessed his first newborn cries. He was no longer inside me but the bond that was formed in nine months was forever etched in my heart.

My husband kissed me goodbye as the nurses quickly ushered him and my son out of the delivery room and into another room. He rocked David in his arms as he heard one of the nurses say, “They better stop the bleeding or we are going to lose that mom.”

I can only imagine my husband’s emotions in those first moments of fatherhood as he held his newborn son – facing the possibility of losing his wife and parenting alone.

After emergency measures and blood transfusions, the doctor was able to stop the bleeding and I was allowed to see and hold my son the next day. Some of these memories are a blur. I learned the wisdom of my own dear mother’s words when commenting on the pain of labor and the safe delivery of her eight children- “The Lord lets you forget”. The pain and confusion of those days were eclipsed by the joy of holding my first-born son.

But those joys were later tinged with sorrow when my husband gave me the news that one of my older sisters was killed in a drunk driving accident the night before we brought my son home from the hospital.

The doctor with no bedside manner was the perfect grieving father to help my husband break the news — giving him counsel on caring for me and releasing me from the hospital early so I could grieve at home.

I remember nursing my son in the quiet hours just before dawn- as the tears rolled down my cheeks and landed on his soft head. Joy and pain mixed together in my tears. I heard the Lord speak gently to my heart- “I gave you David as this reminder- I bring new life in the midst of death.”

And so it began, this journey into motherhood that has spanned over 31 years of our almost 33 years of marriage. There have been many ups and downs and lessons learned through eight pregnancies and four miscarriages and the live births of four beautiful children- each one a treasure from God.

Their lives are held eternal in the Hand of the God who promises-

“Can a mother forget her baby or have no compassion for the child of her womb? Yet even if these forget you, I shall never forget you, says the Lord.” (Isaiah 49:15).

Truly, I have no words to describe the grief I feel over the “Reproductive Health Care Act” — allowing abortions up to delivery — that was signed into New York State Law last week. In 46 years since Roe v Wade, we’ve been a nation at war using words to justify the murder of our unborn children in the womb. Words always fall short when the hearts of women and children and men are torn apart over abortion.

But the celebrations of the controversial law’s passing with an order from Governor Cuomo by lighting the Freedom Tower — a memorial to the 3,000 men and women and at least 11 unborn babies who lost their lives on 9/11 – is beyond despicable.

It greatly dishonors the memory of those who lost husbands, wives, parents, and children, including the unborn lost in the womb. You can read about some of those grieving families here.

The lighting of the Freedom Tower was not a celebration to me but it was a sign reminding me –

“Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” (Ephesians 6:12).

It’s a battle that must also be fought in prayer.

Some are called to argue and defend each side’s position with words and demonstrations and advocacy in law. I respect them all- even as for me the choice is clear — to respect and protect human life from conception till natural death.

I will continue to fight for the rights of the unborn and born- especially in advocacy for respect of the disabled and by sharing my experiences of life in written and spoken words.

But first and foremost I will live my day-to-day life as a witness to the precious gift of human life in all stages- by caring for my disabled daughter and loving those who do not agree.

Every life is a gift to be cherished from conception to natural death.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. I found this gentle video, without moral commentary, showing the simple facts of fetal development in the womb from the moment of conception — another witness to life, indeed.

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Eileen Benthal
Eileen is a writer, speaker and wellness coach with a bachelor’s degree in theology from Franciscan University. She and her husband Steve live in Jamesport and have four young adult children. Email Eileen