We are coming up to Holy Week again which is an especially poignant time for our family. 15 years ago we were expecting our second child. We had been invited to a wedding in Jerez de La Frontera, a beautiful town in Andalusia, Spain, famous for its wine and horses. It was Holy Week and we were enjoying the wonderful night-time processions full of drama, fire and music, Catholicism at its most visceral.
It coincided with a visceral experience of our own. I was in the 16th week of pregnancy and while in Spain realised something was wrong. Providentially a family member was a midwife at the local hospital and we were seen within minutes of being admitted, only to be told that the child I was carrying was no longer alive.
It was a shocking realisation! Until then everything had seemed so easy. We’d fallen pregnant with our first child on honeymoon and I’d sailed through the first pregnancy, our son was born two days off his due date and everything went like clockwork. Suddenly life seemed much more fragile and uncertain.
What could have been an empty, tragic moment for us as a family was filled with meaning as events unfolded in parallel with Holy Week. The shockingly realistic and gaudy statues that were carried in procession through the Spanish streets, showing the sufferings of Christ and his Blessed Mother covered in blood and tears, suddenly seemed less distant and spoke to us in that incarnated way that only Catholicism can manage. We felt surrounded by the Christian community as never before. We were staying with a priest friend in the Bishop’s residence and the first person who came to see us after we’d been told the bad news was the Bishop of Jerez who arrived with the biggest box of chocolates we’d ever seen, the family gathered around and my parents were there from Italy to meet us when we got back.
We arrived back in London on Good and went straight to hospital for an induced labour (the most painful one I have experienced even though the baby was only small) birth and a D&C operation. It was the first time we had ever missed any of the liturgies of the Paschal Triduum yet we felt closer to the events of Easter than we ever had. The hospital was great yet in a bizarre example of the relativism of our age, asked whether we wanted to treat the baby as a child or essentially as medical waste. Once we opted for the former the mortal remains of our little girl were treated with incredible dignity and buried some weeks later in a beautiful cemetery not far from her great grandmother.
It was a sobering experience for a young couple and since then every pregnancy has been lived with gratitude and in fear and trembling, conscious that the Lord giveth and He taketh away, Blessed be the name of the Lord.
We called the baby Anastasia which means resurrection in Greek and hope to meet her again when we pass from the Passion of this world to the resurrection of the next.