Anna took one last glance into the bloody toilet before flushing what should have been her fourth baby down the drain. Stumbling, she turned, leaned against the bathroom wall, slid to the floor, and sobbed. Why? Why couldn’t her body keep a baby? Why was she being forced to endure all this pain and heartache? Why wasn’t she being granted the one thing she desired more than anything else?
John found her still sitting there when he got home from work that evening. She could see in his eyes that he knew, just by looking at her, what had happened. Without a word, he came to her and took her in his arms. They stood there together for a long time, neither saying a word, just dwelling on their own heartache and disappointment.
This had been Anna’s fourth pregnancy. This had also been Anna’s fourth miscarriage. Ever since John and Anna had married nearly seven years previous, they had been praying for a child. It is all they ever wanted, all they felt they needed to make their family, and their lives, complete.
When Anna had discovered she was pregnant with her first baby, she and John had been ecstatic. After three years of praying and hoping and charting, she had finally conceived! Anna had spent days fixing up the spare room into the new nursery. With excitement and joy, she had painted the walls, sewn curtains to match the new bedding set, and begun purchasing baby clothes. She would wash everything as soon as she brought it home, and then fold and put them away in the new dressers, lovingly caressing each tiny outfit as it ran through her fingers. John joined her in her excitement by spending hours in the garage building a little cradle for their new little baby. In the evenings, Anna and John would lay awake in bed talking and laughing and dreaming about how their life was going to change in just a few short months.
And then their world fell apart.
Instead of delivering a healthy little baby, something had gone wrong. When Anna should have been expecting to start feeling the tiny flutters of a baby’s kicks, instead, she began feeling uncomfortable cramping. And then she started to bleed. The doctors told her it wasn’t her fault, that sometimes these things just happened and there was nothing anybody could do about it. But Anna was devastated. In one short week, her whole life had changed, and her dreams had shattered.
John had spent countless hours comforting her. Even though she knew the loss was hard on him too, he never ceased to offer her nothing but love and support. He convinced her they could try again. Miscarriages happened all the time, and one miscarriage didn’t mean their chances at children were lost. Anna clung to the hope John’s promise offered and agreed they would indeed be parents.
Then she had lost the second baby. And then the third. And finally, here she was, cleaning up what should have been their fourth child. With every subsequent loss, Anna and John each sunk deeper and deeper into their own forms of depression. Anna spent her days scrubbing mercilessly at the toilets and sinks around the house, and poured her heart into preparing delicious, well-rounded meals for John when he got home. She never complained, and she tried her hardest to be a good wife to John, but she couldn’t help but feel like something was missing.
John, on the other hand, buried himself in his work. With each additional loss, he spent more and more time at the office, and less and less time at home. While Anna knew he had to handle his grief in his own way, the days grew lonely and she was left alone with nothing but her heartache for company. Almost as badly as she ached for a baby, she longed to see John happy again. But, for whatever reason, that was something she couldn’t accomplish on her own.
Back to the present, Anna pulled back from John’s chest and looked up into his face. While her eyes were wet with tears, his eyes were dry, his face cold and hard. She knew he loved her, but these losses were as hard on him as they were on her. She understood his pain, but she didn’t know what to do about it. So instead, she followed his lead and avoided it.
“Can we order pizza tonight?” The last thing she wanted to worry about that night was cooking. A night off from preparing and cleaning up from dinner would do her some good. John only nodded and went to place the order. They finished out the evening in silence until Anna could no longer stand it and went to bed early, crying herself to sleep.
The following days were spent filled with some heavy, deep cleaning as Anna attempted to get her mind off of everything. Days turned into weeks as John, predictably, spent long hours at the office, often not coming home until Anna had already crawled into bed. She longed to talk to him, to tell him about the loneliness she felt and how she longed for his love and companionship, but she couldn’t bring herself to bring up a subject that was obviously still so painful for him. So instead, she spent her time trying to distract herself, and didn’t say anything at all.
One night, several months after the fourth loss, John came home early to find Anna crying. Even for all his pain and silence, his love for Anna had never faltered, and he rushed to her side, pulling her into his arms. Kissing her on the top of her head, he asked gently, “What’s wrong, my love?”
At first Anna attempted to pull away. She didn’t want to add yet another burden to his shoulders. But John lovingly guided her head to his shoulder and she gratefully gave into the pain. “Just the same old thing, I suppose.” She managed to say between sobs. “I got Mary’s baby announcement in the mail today.” John immediately understood her tears and held her tighter. Anna just clung to him and cried, knowing he understood.
When Anna had apparently calmed down enough to hold her head up and look into John’s eyes, he took her hands into his and gazed lovingly into her tear-streaked face. Stroking her cheek, he decided she needed a distraction. They both did.
Anna and John spent a fun filled night on the town. They went to dinner, caught a movie, and even had time to squeeze in some mini golfing. And they talked. At first, they talked about trivial things, but as the night wore on, the conversation turned to their feelings regarding their miscarriages, their dreams for a family, and what they would do with their lives if they were never blessed with children. Anna laughed for the first time in ages, and she and John walked in the door that night feeling better about their marriage and their relationship than they had in a long time. Lying in John’s arms that night, Anna felt truly loved.
When Anna skipped her period the next month, she was too busy to notice. She and John had set a goal to focus more time on their marriage, and most of their evenings were spent just being together and enjoying being married. Anna’s second skipped period didn’t attract her attention too much either, as she and John were busy enjoying some time on the coast. They were married, they were in love, and they were happy. What more could they ask for? While in the back of her mind, Anna still wished for a baby, she had resigned herself to living in the present and taking everything one day at a time. It wasn’t until Anna’s third skipped period that she realized something was different. Not daring to hope, she went to the doctor and her suspicions were confirmed. But she couldn’t bring herself to tell John. She knew she couldn’t bear seeing the pain in his eyes again, should something happen. And as of yet, she had no indication that something was not going to happen.
Anna was about half way through her fifth pregnancy when she felt that tiny little flutter for the first time. She and John were sitting on the couch together, he was reading a magazine, and she was working on some sewing. Anna gasped as her stomach flopped and instinctively placed a hand on her belly. John looked at her curiously but she just shook her head and went back to her sewing. When it happened again, she couldn’t hold back the excited laughter that came with it. John looked at her again, questioningly. When it happened a third time, Anna knew she couldn’t keep this a secret any longer.
“What is it Anna? Is everything all right?”
“I think so… ” she stammered. “I mean, I’m pretty sure everything is all right. More than all right, in fact. Maybe even a little bit wonderful.” John just stared at her blankly, obviously having no idea what she was talking about. So she blurted “I’m pregnant” and waited for his reaction.
At first he didn’t give any kind of reaction, just continued to stare at her. So she took his hand and placed it over her belly, over the spot that was currently fluttering so much it felt like she had butterflies under her shirt. When there was a flutter directly under John’s hand, his eyes widened and he slowly turned his eyes downward to look at his hand on her belly.
“I think that’s the baby” said Anna. “I know I should have told you sooner, but I couldn’t bear to! I didn’t want to get your hopes up and have everything fall apart again. So I kept it to myself. But now… now I can feel it! I can feel the baby, John!” John looked into her eyes as she went on. “Can you feel it too, John? Oh, I can’t believe it! I never thought I’d feel a baby move inside of me! It’s a miracle!” With that final uttering, she threw her arms around his neck and cried against his shoulder, repeating over and over “It’s a miracle, it’s a miracle.”
The following months dragged on painfully. John and Anna were torn between excitement at the prospect of finally being parents and the habitual fear that accompanies anyone who has had several miscarriages. But with weekly ultrasounds from their doctor, and with Anna’s being able to feel the baby kick within her several times a day, as time wore on, their worries grew smaller and their excitement grew larger. They opened the door to the nursery they had prepared for their first lost baby, the door that had been closed and locked for many long years. Anna started humming again, and she hummed to herself as she worked in the nursery, dusting and cleaning everything that had been locked away in isolation in an effort to forget the pain. John, who had not stayed at work late in months, began taking long lunch breaks at home, relishing in the time he spent with Anna in the nursery, dreaming about their expected arrival. While a part of them still held onto the possibility that this might end in disaster, just like all the other times, a bigger part of them was letting go of that fear and allowing the happiness to flow in.
Three weeks before Anna’s due date, the contractions she had been feeling for several weeks now started coming on harder and stronger. Anna tried to hide her worry from John, but she couldn’t help feeling frightened herself. It was too soon! And these contractions were getting harder and harder to ignore. Oblivious to John’s watchful eye, she went about her day as normally as possible. When John caught her doubled over the kitchen sink in pain for the third time in an hour, he knew he couldn’t watch and ignore this any longer.
“Anna, we need to get you to the hospital.”
“But it’s too soon!” She protested
“I know it’s too soon, but it’ll be too late if we don’t leave now.” Refusing to take no for an answer, he gently took her by the arm, picked up the bag he had packed that morning without her knowledge, and guided her to the car. He called her doctor on the way.
Upon arrival at the hospital, it was determined that Anna was, in deed, in labor, and there was nothing they could do about it. Anna was terrified at the prospect of losing another baby, but the nurses assured her that three weeks early was not such a bad thing, and chances are the baby would be just fine. When they were able to show her the baby kicking around with a steady heart beat on the ultrasound monitor, Anna finally relaxed and accepted that this baby was coming right then, whether she liked it or not, and she might as well be happy about it.
Anna spent the next several hours tossing and turning and moaning, trying to find a comfortable position. John was an angel during the entire thing, never leaving her side for anything other than to grab Anna a drink of water. When she entered transition, everything became one big, painful blur of doctors and nurses and bright hospital lights. But at the end of the blur came the most beautiful sound she had ever heard – the sound of her baby crying.
Because the baby was born a couple of weeks early, coupled with the fact that the cord had been wrapped around his neck upon his arrival, the nurses took a few moments to check him out. Anna and John waited anxiously for their turn to check out the baby, and it felt like that time couldn’t come soon enough. At long last, one of the nurses brought the baby to Anna and placed him gently on her chest, stating only, “He’s absolutely perfect,” before she left the room.
Anna and John were left alone to greet their new little miracle. John ran his fingers over the baby’s tiny toes with wonder and awe, while Anna could only stare into her son’s eyes, filled with a Mother’s first love. He was here, and he was perfect! All those years of heartache and loss seemed to melt away as they welcomed their little miracle to their family.
Looking back on her past pregnancies, Anna felt grateful for the pain they brought into her life, for along with the pain came growth. And along with the growth came a love and appreciation for her newborn son that she felt wouldn’t be comparable to the way she felt now had she not passed through those previous heartbreaks. As she rocked her son to sleep, safe and warm in her arms, she glanced over to the picture frame John had had made for her shortly after the baby’s arrival. It was a beautiful glass frame etched wrapped with the tiniest baby footprints and the saying ‘Footprints on my Heart’ scrolled elegantly along the top. She sighed and looked down at her now sleeping child. For he had indeed left footprints on her heart.