Preceding the events of that fall, in October, 1983, my mother was hospitalized with severe abdominal pain. The doctor decided it was caused by her gall bladder and scheduled her for surgery to have it removed. However, after he got her open the gall bladder was fine, but, he saw what he believed was cancer on the liver and pancreas. He took a biopsy on the liver and closed. He told us he believed it was pancreatic cancer that had spread and she probably only had a few months to live! We were stunned but spread the word and prayers from all of our family and friends began in earnest! An oncologist examined the biopsy results and told us it was breast cancer! My mother had had a mammogram the year before and a doctor’s manual exam 2 months before! The oncologist examined her and found a tiny tumor by her nipple and performed a lumpectomy. We already knew it had spread to her liver, but, now they ran a comprehensive scan. The great news, an answer to prayer, was that nothing was ever found on her pancreas, but, it had spread to her lungs & bones. However, the doctor told us she had a 90% of beating it. Chemotherapy began and in time successfully arrested it and she had been doing great! In May, 1984 my parents and my dad’s sister & her husband, my Aunt Daisy & Uncle Bill, took a wonderful vacation to Hawaii. At Christmas that year her hair had grown back and they had a special catered Christmas party.
Unfortunately, by the end of January, 1985 it had spread to her brain. However, radiation arrested the growth of that tumor. Sadly, her symptoms persisted and it was discovered it had spread to the meninges of her brain. This was the one area that didn’t respond to treatment. During the last 4 months of her life, she had been confused and increasingly agitated and her eyes looked so tortured. This was especially hard for me as when I looked in the mirror, I would see ‘her’ eyes. I had begun praying and speaking Philippians 4:7 to her that “the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard (her) heart and (her) mind in Christ Jesus.”
I was blessed that the last time I spent time with her, I could see she ‘was’ at peace because her eyes, ‘the windows of your soul’, were crystal clear and peaceful. She was sitting by the window of her hospital room looking out at a sunny day and Viney, the special nurse’s aide who cared for her for the last 6 months of her life, was feeding her ice cream. I took over feeding her and told her that her eyes looked so beautiful. Viney said she thought my eyes looked like hers and my mom nodded in agreement. That was an incredible comfort. The next day she went to sleep and continued sleeping for the next 3 days.
On Saturday morning, November 9, 1985, my dad called to tell me he had decided to take a break and ride down to Stockdale to see my Grandparents. My husband, Carl, left to do some programming for a friend’s office and I got a burst of energy to clean my house. Viney called and told me she was trying to reach my Dad. Although she didn’t work on Saturdays, she felt compelled to check on my Mom and from experience she knew her breathing indicated she did not have long to live and she knew my Dad would want to be there. I called my Grandparents and found out that my Dad had a sense he needed to get back to the hospital and had already headed back to town. About 20 minutes later, Daddy called to tell me that my Mom had passed away. My Dad told me he had stopped to help a family putting their elderly mother in the car to take her home. By the time he got upstairs and walked into her room, she was looking up as if she was seeing a bright light and then she passed away.
Friends and family gathered at my parent’s house. The special friends who come to comfort and care for you at such a time are worth their weight in gold and they mean everything to you. One cousin immediately asked me if I was mad at God for not answering my prayers and healing my mother. I said, “He did heal her! She’s not sick anymore!” I’m so thankful God gave me those words at that moment. What a comfort it was to be surrounded by the loving company of close friends. It felt so comfortable, as if my mom was just in another room visiting with friends. It was especially nice to be free of the worry and anguish we had endured when we were so constantly aware of her suffering.
Our son, John, was only 3 years old and I was 26 weeks pregnant at the time. Everyone kept commenting on how big I was and speculating that maybe I was going to have twins. Even a family friend, Julie Pfeiffer, who had given birth to twins told me people were always telling her they wondered if they were having twins. But, she said they really didn’t know how big you get with twins! However, she said I ‘was’ big for only 6½ months!
We decided to have the funeral Monday afternoon, on Veteran’s Day when people would likely be able to come. I was scheduled for my monthly OB visit that morning. I decided to keep the appointment since the funeral was not until 1:00 pm that afternoon, so I could touch base with the doctor. When the doctor examined me, he told me that I had grown 10 centimeters in a month instead of the usual 4 centimeters! He told me that he didn’t think I was having twins but that the baby had probably just had a growth spurt. However, he said we needed to do a sonogram to see what was going on. At that time sonograms were not routine and I had never had one before. He told me that we didn’t need to do it this week as he knew I had a lot going on. But, we were anxious to know what was going on, so an appointment was set up for Thursday.
We had a lovely service for my Mother that afternoon at St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church with Reverend John Platte. It was a blessing to have someone speaking who knew Mom. He had christened my son, John, and performed my brother’s wedding ceremony. He had visited our homes and had warmly welcomed her & Daddy in church when she asked him to bring her when she was able to come. He had also visited her so faithfully after she was hospitalized. We went through the rest of the week wondering if perhaps the Lord was going to ease our grief by blessing us with twins.
Three Days later, we had the sonogram in Dr. Paine’s office and the first thing we learned was that we were not having twins. However, the doctor told us that the baby had a growth on his/her tailbone and he wanted me to have a high-resolution sonogram with a specialist at the hospital to get more information. He said he was concerned about the baby’s ability to move his/her legs but emphasized this was not cancer.
An hour later we went to the hospital next door for this sonogram. It was uncomfortable because it was a lengthy process and the specialist pressed down firmly, all over my abdomen, in order to get the best views of the baby. The Specialist told us the baby was a girl and told us her brain and heart looked perfect and the organs in her abdomen appeared to be functioning well in utero. She didn’t give us much more information and told us Dr. Paine would be calling me after he received the report on the sonogram. As we were leaving the lab I made the comment, “She didn’t say anything about the baby’s lungs.”
My Dad was already back at work and anxiously waiting to hear from us, so, we drove over to his office to tell him what we had learned. We were dreading to tell him something was wrong, just days after we had buried my mother. In the office with all his salesmen, we just told them it wasn’t twins but a baby girl which he was thrilled to hear, since we already had a little son. Then we took him to lunch and after we ate we told him what the doctor had told us. We tried to stay positive, especially after all the family had been through, and stressed it was not cancer. We told him we would hear more from the doctor later that evening. I was feeling sick, from all the pressure on my uterus during the sonogram, and came home to rest and wait to hear from the doctor. My emotions and body were exhausted.
The doctor called me that evening and told me they were familiar with this type of large benign tumor that was almost as large as the baby. He said the tumor was a teratoma which has every type of tissue as a baby. He said it was attached at the tailbone and he had every reason to be optimistic that it could be safely removed after the baby was born. He said I also had excessive amniotic fluid and this combined with the tumor made me full term ‘size’ at 27 weeks and, as a result, I would have to be watched very closely for premature labor and would have to have a c-section delivery. All our other family and friends were anxiously waiting to hear if we were having twins. We didn’t want to talk about everything, at this point, as I still had 13 weeks to go, so we decided to just tell everyone that it was a baby girl. I knew I could not hold it together calling all these people and Carl kindly made all the calls, so I could rest. It was a hard day for both of us.
Saturday morning I got in the shower to get ready to go pick up the sympathy notes so I could begin thanking people for all the flowers, food and remembrances. However, when I was showering, the mucous plug came out! I panicked because when John was born, my water broke 45 minutes after this happened! I rushed to tell Carl and call the doctor. Dr. Paine was not on call but the ‘high-risk’ doctor in the practice was and he told me to come to the hospital immediately. Then the phone rang and it was my Dad and I didn’t want to worry him, at this point, so I told him we were ‘taking it easy’! We called my brother, John, and his wife, Tami, and asked them if they could meet us at the hospital so they could take care of 3 year old, John Warren.
When I arrived at the hospital, I was placed in labor & delivery and the doctor put me on terbutaline to stop my labor. I had not started dilating, but, I was having contractions. Late that night, I started having severe chest pains. Sunday this continued and it was determined I had gone into pneumonia. We decided to call my Dad and tell him what was happening. He came to the hospital and said the most memorable thing.
He said, “It’s as if your Mom is our guardian angel and when she got up to heaven she could see what was happening and she went straight to ‘the Head Man’ and said, “We’ve got to do something and we’ve got to do something now!!!”
On Monday morning, November 18, 1985, when Dr. Paine was back on duty, he told me my system couldn’t handle the terbutaline and he would have to take me off of it and check me at the end of the day. He said he was not ‘writing this baby off’, but sometimes ‘nature knows best’. A Neo-natal nurse came in and told me that a 27-week baby had a 90% chance of survival, so not to give up hope. At the end of the day, I was dilated 3 cm, so, Dr. Paine scheduled an emergency c-section.
I told Dr. Paine I wanted to be awake and he said an epidural was better anyway because of the pneumonia. He performed the c-section. A Neonatalogist was present. I could hear the Neo-natal doctor saying he couldn’t get the tube down. They told me they were taking the baby for an x-ray. The x-ray showed that the baby had no lungs. Her esophagus came down and ended which is why the doctor couldn’t get the tube down to ventilate her. There was nothing they could do for her.
They asked us if we wanted her to be baptized and in faith and a desire to validate her presence on the earth we said yes. We had always planned to name a girl, Ann Marie, so Carl asked me if I wanted to name her ‘Ann Marie.’ I said, “No, there was no way I could lose Mary Ann (my mother) and Ann Marie ten days apart! I told Carl that my mother told me once that she had wanted to name me Catherine, so, “Let’s name her Catherine.”
She ‘lived’ or at least her tiny heart kept beating for 2 hours due to the oxygenation of her blood from my placenta. They tried to take me to see her but I was still in the recovery room after the c-section. They tried to roll me over to see her but the gurney wouldn’t fit through the door to the Neo-natal nursery. I was only able to look at her from 15 feet across the room from her little NICU Isolette. But the sweet nurses dressed her in a little gown and took a Polaroid picture of her for me to cherish, along with her birth certificate with her tiny footprints.
The next day I slept all day and I have no memory of that day. Carl slept in a chair in my room and he woke up to see me sitting up and he ‘heard’ ‘my half’ of a conversation with my mother! It scared him, but, I believe the Lord allowed her to come and comfort me somewhere between time and eternity. I was very sick and I often wonder if I experienced a small taste of heaven during that time as I healed. Valium was one of the drugs they gave me to slow down labor and I’ve heard it can cause retrograde amnesia. Makes me wonder what happened that I just don’t remember.
Since I was recovering from surgery, pneumonia and the complications of the pregnancy we decided to have a memorial service for Baby Catherine in the Methodist Hospital chapel and Carl, his parents and my Dad had a small graveside service with a tiny white coffin at Mission Park South Cemetery where my mother and both of my uncles were buried. We placed an engraved Bronze heart as the grave marker in Babyland right next to the San Antonio River on the southside.
Ironically, this was just downstream from where I had lived as a child. Our property near San Jose Mission on Symphony Lane backed up to the river (really more of a creek than a river at that point) and we fished in it and rode horses on it when I was in 1st – 3rd grades. It was a happy time for me then and it has always given me great peace that she’s buried there next to that peaceful stream of my childhood, not far from my mother’s grave.
In another evidence of God’s ‘Amazing Grace’, after I got home from the hospital, I learned that my sweet neighbor and friend, Paula, who lived 4 doors away on my street, although, I knew she was a nurse, was in fact a Neo-Natal nurse who worked in the same Neo-natal Intensive Care Nursery with the nurses who cared for Catherine! She wasn’t on duty that night, but, was able to share information and reassurance directly from the same nurses. When I cried because I didn’t get to hold her, she told me that ‘(I) held Catherine in my womb closer than anyone could and she was perfectly healthy and safe while she was there.’ My Mother had ordered some things for Christmas before she passed and evidently she had an intuition that my baby was a girl as one gift that arrived after she passed, was a china baby doll! Apparently, She anticipated a granddaughter and now Catherine is in heaven with her!
I remember how unexplainedly joyful I felt in the first few weeks after I got home from the hospital. It was Paula, who took me to a Bible Study the day after I got home from the hospital and I was eager to testify how I felt the Lord had saved my life and how I had never felt more loved by Him! I knew it was the Joy of the Lord, but, I remember reading the poem ‘Footprints’ with new eyes and realizing immediately that was why I felt joyful! Jesus was carrying me ‘through’ this. It’s not that I didn’t grieve the losses of my Mother and my Baby, Catherine, intensely at times, but the Father is so faithful and in the hardest times I learned more about His Grace than any other time.
After I got home I read endlessly about prenatal development and I discovered that a baby’s lungs develop at 11 weeks. I read that if something interrupts the development at a certain point that it doesn’t go back and make up for it later. I remembered having the flu and a fever at that point in my pregnancy and was convinced that is what must have happened. When I went to the doctor for a follow-up I told Dr. Paine about this and he explained something to me. He told me that lungs need ‘space’ and ‘nutrition’ to develop and the tumor interfered in both ways. I remembered my comment that they had not said anything about the baby’s lungs after the sonogram. Was that something in my intuition that sensed there was something wrong with her lungs? I asked the doctor why they didn’t know from the sonogram. He told me that in utero the lungs are fluid filled so they are not visible.
I asked the doctor if my severe chest pains were caused by the pneumonia and he told me I was suffering from severe cardiac insufficiency caused by the stress of the pregnancy and with the terbutaline, my body was working overtime trying to stop the labor that really needed to proceed. Clearly, my life was threatened by what was taking place. Then he shared something with me that showed me just how much the Lord was protecting me and guiding the circumstances.
He told me that every obstetrician fears delivering ‘half’ a baby. He said, if we had not learned of the tumor and the necessity of the c-section, I would have gone into labor, as I did, and as labor progressed the baby would have gotten stuck in the birth canal. Unable to see what was wrong, they would have watched the baby die in the birth canal. The doctor would have been forced to cut the cervix in order to save my life ‘if’ he had even been able to save me! It made me realize that it was the Lord that prompted me to keep my appointment the morning of the funeral. It would have been all too easy to decide to re-schedule my appointment in the middle of the overwhelming grief of losing my Mom! Whatsmore, it was God’s perfect plan that I proceed with the sonogram only 2 days before I went into labor. The doctor had even suggested we could wait to do the sonogram till the next week! However, in God’s economy, it was necessary for it to happen exactly as it did. He made sure the doctors knew exactly what they needed to know exactly when they needed to know!
As time has passed I see God’s protection and plan even more clearly. If it hadn’t happened just that way, as sad as it was, I never would have been able to have more children if I had even survived at all! But 13 months later I gave birth to Christopher Damon and 4 years later I gave birth to Ann Marie.
Dr. Paine changed his practice too. When I was pregnant with my firstborn, John, I never had a sonogram as they weren’t common. However, after my situation he began routinely scheduling a sonogram for all his patients at 12 weeks of pregnancy. I’m grateful to God that Dr. Paine was present for all 4 of my deliveries!
I learned I can trust God even in the middle of tragedy and heartache because He can see further down the road and He truly does have our well-being and blessing in mind!