A Tale of Three Ultrasounds

We showed you some highlights from our summer, but we left out the most eventful week, full of extreme highs and lows.

In fact, July 9, 2013 was one of the worst days of our lives.

The day started with a triple doctor's appointment.  It was a 3-year check-up for John Paul, a vaccination for Kolbe, and an OB appointment for Sarah and Baby #3.  Kolbe's appointment went fine - the other two did not.

First, the doctor discovered a large mass in John Paul's lower abdomen.  It obviously caused immediate alarm, as he quickly scheduled a radiology appointment for the next morning.  Doc was pretty certain it would have to be surgically removed asap.  No need to describe our instant spike in anxiety levels, you can imagine.

Next, the doctor could not find the baby's heartbeat with his doppler.  At 8 weeks, this was not unusual for this machine.  However, we decided to seek out an ultrasound to check in and make sure everything was ok.  Our doctor doesn't have a machine, and the doctor we've used in the past for ultrasounds has now retired, so we made a few phone calls to other places recommended by our doctor.  By Divine Providence, the only place that could get us in soon was a Catholic pregnancy center.  They could fit us in right away - ultrasound number 1.

This pro-life center is a beautiful place run by beautiful people, in the shadow of darkness.  Literally.  It is strategically built one block away from the Planned Parenthood killing center.  The nurse technician doing the ultrasound was a true blessing to us.  While looking at that light inside the womb, she obviously understood the magnitude of the bad news she had to share.  We had lost our baby, and she cried with us.

The rest of the day was a blur.  The grieving process was partially stalled, because we were so worried about John Paul.  When I put him to bed for his nap, I could still feel the large growth we had discovered that morning.  Some good friends came over and brought us dinner, which sure helped us get through the day.  Meanwhile, some family and friends, especially John Paul's Godparents, joined us in storming heaven on his behalf.  We specifically asked for the intercession of our family patron, the modern-day miracle worker, St. Padre Pio.  I had worried myself sick, literally.  But when I put John Paul to bed that night, I could no longer find the mass, and my aching head and stomach instantly felt perfectly fine.  I could hear Padre Pio's famous words, "Pray, hope, and don't worry."

The next morning was the radiology appointment at the hospital - ultrasound number two.  Just seeing his little shirtless body on the big table was disconcerting enough, let alone the prospect of what could be revealed on that screen.  The 20-minute ultrasound was agonizing, as the technician started high and worked her way down to the lower-right place of concern.  I paced the room, and Sarah sat with one hand holding John Paul's and the other holding her face.

The big moment finally arrived.  The technician asked, "Ok, Dad, where was it?"  I pointed, then began alternating my unblinking gaze from the monitor to the face of the technician, in order to gauge her reaction.  I couldn't read either.  Poker face.

Even though I knew she wasn't supposed to say, I asked anyway.  "See anything?"  After a long pause she said, "I'll just say that if I saw something concerning I'd ask you to sit here while I went to call a surgeon... but I'm telling you to go home."


The doctor confirmed later.  The large mass was completely gone!!!!  Either it was the world's strangest case of constipation or yet another miracle by St. Padre Pio.  We're going with the latter.

Now we could begin grieving the loss of baby #3...  or could we?  The doctor called with Sarah's blood test results.  Her HCG levels were not dropping as he would have expected with a miscarriage.  He wanted another ultrasound to be sure.  Pray, hope, and don't worry?  Prayers for another miracle began in earnest.

This time we went to a secular imaging center - ultrasound number 3.  We looked at that screen in hopes of seeing someone alive and well, with a heartbeat.  One day earlier, we looked with desperate hope that something, an intruder, was quite the opposite.  I couldn't help but think of the pro-abortion theory of "it's no different than removing a tumor."  So much for that.

A second miracle was not granted.  And this time, the warm loving sympathy that comforted us two days earlier was replaced by casual coldness.  What was our "little pumpkin" on Tuesday, was now a "non-viable fetus" on Thursday.  Before, we had been told, "I'm so sorry, it looks like your baby didn't make it."  Now it was, "I just don't see a normal pregnancy here."

I said a prayer for these women.  They have been swept up by the great lie of our day - relativism, which is the belief that there is no absolute truth; rather, truth varies from person to person and culture to culture.  In other words, "It is absolutely true that nothing is absolutely true."  Logic, anyone?

Does reality depend on one's feelings/beliefs, or is reality independent of what we think?  Do feelings somehow (magically?) transform what is revealed by an ultrasound screen?  Is it a "person" if he's wanted, but "just a clump of cells" if it's not wanted?  When does life begin?  Science is actually unanimous.  But sadly, many have convinced themselves that it depends on the feelings of the parents.  (See MSNBC's Melissa Harris-Perry for Exhibit A... and A is for Absurd.)

Our roller coaster week was now over.  Three days, three ultrasounds, three very different sets of emotions.  Now we rejoiced, mourned, and prayed.  We had many questions.  Should we name the baby?  Should we use a name from the top of our list, or save those for future children?  We decided on the former.

Vianney Marie

We stuck with our formula:  a Saint first name and family middle name.  The baby is named after St. John Vianney and his/her Aunt Erin Marie, as well as Great Grandmother Marie Miller.  (Incidentally, St. JV went by "Jean Marie".)

Our questions then turned toward the after-life?  We now have three children, so how do we best honor Vianney and give witness to the Gospel of Life?  When people ask, "How many kids do you have?", do we say "Two living, one in heaven"?  Or is that too presumptuous?  After all, Jesus was clear about the necessity of baptism (John 3:5).

I've studied this theology before, but I took it up again with new vigor.  The last thing we want to do is assume Vianney is in heaven and deprive him of prayers that he may need for salvation.  This common mistake is such a major disservice to the dead.  After much study, prayer, and consultation, we have great hope.  However, the bottom line is, we really don't know for sure.  Christ's Church has no definitive teaching on children who die before receiving Baptism.  (See paragraph #1261 of the Catechism.)  A vicarious Baptism of Desire?  Purgatory?  Limbo?  All these are possibilities, neither confirmed nor denied by the authoritative Church.

It is also possible that Vianney needs our prayers, and we ask you to join us.  We pray for him every day and ask for his prayers as well.  I have found great consolation in praying the Anima Christi, while substituting "him" (referring to Vianney) in place of "me".  I'm always hit particularly hard by the line, "Suffer [him] not to be separated from Thee." [A side note:  It's interesting that the first link I just found with the Anima Christi includes a quote from St. John Vianney. :)]

So how many kids do we have?  Three, of course, and perhaps our answer is "two with us, one in God's hands."  We have hope.  We trust in His infinite mercy.  We also want to be very careful not to deny or downplay the importance of the Sacrament of Baptism.

Sarah will have more on this, but we've learned many lessons and continue to receive countless graces through our Vianney.  We've learned that children are a gift, not a right.  We strongly desire more children - if we're honest, lots more children.  God is asking us to work on our patience and submit to His holy will.  He's also calling us to a deeper appreciation for the three children with whom He's already blessed us.

We know this deeply, but that doesn't make it easy.  Jesus, of course, promised the road to heaven wouldn't be.  This is our cross right now, and we have a choice:  curse its weight and let bitterness destroy us... or embrace it and let it sanctify us.

So we pray, "Let this cup [i.e., the wait for more children] pass from us," but we must also pray, "Thy will be done."

We ask you, Our Lady of Sorrows, St. Padre Pio, and St. John Vianney to join us in this prayer, on our behalf.  Thank you!


  1. Ryan and Sarah,
    My dear friends, I think you can really say, "We have two children here, and one in Heaven." Your faith would certainly enable your tiny one to have your baptism of desire for her. I am so happy John Paul is okay.
    My oldest daughter, Maria, lost one of her twins. He was stillborn. We always say she has two children here, Anthony and Lucia, and one, Alessio, in Heaven.
    I also think you can talk with your daughter, I talk with Alessio and ask him to help his parents and siblings here.
    God bless you both.
    Love always,

  2. +AMDG
    Thanks Paulette! Yes, we know we can pray through Vianney's intercession (because that can occur whether he/she's in heaven, purgatory, or limbo). And we also agree that there is great reason to believe Vianney is in heaven. My point was that we can't know this with 100% certainty, so we think it's very important to pray for him/her as well, just in case he/she needs it.