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I remember those first hours I knew I was pregnant like yesterday. I had just taken the pregnancy test early that morning and woke my husband to the news that we were pregnant! 

The next memory is kind of a funny thing to remember, not very eventful, but it made a profound impression on my life, even today. I was in my car and driving to the store when I had the overwhelming sense that for the first time in my life, I was by myself but not truly alone. My child traveled with me.

I pulled over to the side of the road so I would remember this moment for the rest of my life — the start of this journey of motherhood. I placed my hand on my stomach and talked to my child, telling him that I was so grateful he was growing inside me. I promised to do the best I could do to be a good mother and love him for the gift he was to me and my husband. 

It was the start of a beautiful journey in motherhood and parenting. Each pregnancy was as different as my children are unique. But with each child; the bond was formed from the beginning as they grew within my womb and wove their way into my heart. 

I was pregnant eight times and lost four babies in the first trimester. Those were difficult losses; the grief as real as their lives. Each Christmas, I remember those babies by hanging four ornaments with their names on our tree. It’s a few moments each year that helps keep their memories alive and increases my hope for a big family reunion someday in heaven. 

With each child, the Lord gave me a word of hope for their lives,  a sense of who they were even from the womb. And in each of my four children who live, I’ve seen those gifts operating in their lives. Could it be the impact of nature or nurture that the intuitive sense I had of my children’s gifts from the womb is displayed in their lives to this day? Possibly both; but I also believe God shed light on each child’s nature as they grew in the quiet darkness of my womb. 

I was acutely aware of the little person who grew inside me. 

We were one and yet two for every moment of nine months. 

Probably the revelation I received with the confirmation of Johanna’s conception was the most notable of all though no less profound than Jo’s three other siblings.

I took the pregnancy test on December 19 — my 32nd birthday. My husband and my kids were still sleeping as it was just hours before dawn. I brought the test stick with me into my prayer time and set it aside until 15 minutes had passed. When the lines quickly appeared, my heart leapt with joy as it confirmed our hopes for another child. 

This child was our 10th anniversary gift to each other, conceived on the anniversary of our engagement with hopes of a summer birth in time for the renewal of our wedding vows in the coming July.  Having experienced secondary infertility before, we were aware that all our plans were in the hands of God.

With the confirmation of pregnancy in my hands, I took those first moments alone with my baby before the world even knew she existed. I thanked her for being present and told her what a gift she was to our marriage and our family. 

Then I prayed over her, placing my hand on my stomach as I had done four times before, to let this baby know she was known and loved by us and by the God who created her for a purpose.

In my prayer time, I read the daily scriptures which are proclaimed at every Mass in Catholic churches around the world. I pray over and study the scriptures, writing down in my journal the ways in which these readings speak to my heart and daily life. I’ve been praying and journaling like this for 40 years now and I know this time has been a great source of wisdom and strength for my life. 

My birthday falls during Advent, the time we are preparing for the celebration of the birth of Christ on Christmas day. Most years, the readings that day focus on the conception of John the Baptist, the cousin of Jesus who became the prophet who announced the coming of Christ. The Gospel of Luke also tells the story that John the Baptist recognized the Lord within the womb of Mary by jumping in his mother’s womb. 

When I read the gospel, I heard the Lord speak to my heart and tell me that the child within my womb would be a prophet like John the Baptist who would draw many hearts to the Lord and to prayer. 

As I shared the news of this pregnancy with my husband and our kids, I also told them about this sense I had from the Lord about this baby. We all agreed that if it was a boy, the baby’s name would be John and if it was a girl we’d name her Johanna. 

Johanna was kicking in my womb as my husband and I renewed our vows on our 10th anniversary and was born just one month later. To this day, we tell her she is the greatest anniversary gift we ever gave to one another.

It was only 12 weeks after delivery that Johanna was diagnosed with a large tumor growing on her brainstem and headed into two emergency brain surgeries. Word spread quickly (even without social media) in our local church and civic community. Prayer services were organized in churches all over and people from all over the world were praying for our little one.

As words of prayers and encouragement flooded to us in the form of cards, messages, meals, and gifts, I was constantly reminded of the prophetic sense I had for our little girl when she was but weeks old growing inside me. 

Johanna’s life held a purpose from her conception as it still does today. So many people have been inspired by my daughter’s life and her story — even in the midst of the disabilities and living life with a rare neurological disease. 

It is precisely children like my daughter whose lives are most threatened by abortion. If I had known then that she would have over 100 surgeries in the first 25 years of her life and need a lifetime of care to survive, I would still make the choice to continue on in hope. 

Advances in genetics and DNA research have proven that human life begins at conception. The debates over abortion are not about whether we are pregnant with human life. The debate is about when we decide this human life is a person with rights protected under the law and whose rights —  the mother’s right to choose or the child’s right to life — takes precedence. 

We all have stories of hope to tell and now is the time to tell them. It’s time for women to tell the stories of hope and courage, of pain and sorrow, grief and joy so that each voice is heard. It is possible to disagree and listen, to advocate and love. 

Let us all tell our stories — those of the born and unborn — so that we may all move forward to a future full of hope. 

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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