If you could summarise Patrick in one word, it is joy. If you could bottle Patrick’s joy and sell it, we’d be multi-billionaires. You can get all these books and things on how to find happiness, but nope! All you need is a drop of Patrick! The older kids just adore him. When they come home from school, he just kicks up a gear and lights up. There is just constant interactions of giggling and fights over who gets to sit next to Paddy in the car. Everywhere little Patrick goes, he’s the centre of attention, whether it’s the mums at school, family friends or whoever, he just takes it in his stride and puts smiles on everyone’s faces.
Building a positive network
The last thing you need when you’re in the midst of these kinds of emotions is a negative and unsupportive social network. Be intentional about who you interact with, and as much as possible, make it positive. You don’t have to totally cut people out of your life, but be intentional about keeping company that is positive and genuinely supportive to counterbalance any negativity.
The most negative reaction I got was from various acquaintances when, after telling them, the look of absolute horror on their faces that said, “Oh my God, I am so glad it’s you and not me! I couldn’t cope with another child. You must be mad!” I’d see that look, and that’s when I’d know it was so okay. Whilst I worried over the details, I never felt that sense of total horror and disbelief that was on their faces.
On the other hand I also got really positive reactions too. I got a bear hug from one of the school Mums who also has four kids and she was so excited when I told her. Every time I turn up to school with Paddy, she grabs him and cuddles and kisses him, which is wonderful to see.
The most important social network… is the one you live with.
Sometimes husbands or partners cannot be the solid support an expectant mum needs. Sometimes they themselves are overwhelmed and cannot be that support.
Grief is a very personal process. Most husbands and wives will react and process the news of an unexpected baby differently. It’s easy to misinterpret the other’s behaviour because they are dealing with the ‘surprise’ in a way that may seem foreign or heartless.
Don’t let this situation create unnecessary tension between you. Take some time to share with each other your emotions and ask for what you need by way of support. If one or the other can’t give you the support you need at that time, that’s where supportive friends or a counsellor is vital. Tragically, sometimes an unplanned baby can be the undoing of a shaky relationship, adding to the grief and making it even more difficult to find the joy in the situation.
You’re not alone
God is the author of life and this is not the first time that he’s dropped surprises on unsuspecting women. So many significant figures in the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament are surprise babies. From Moses and Samuel, John the Baptist, to Mary herself and, of course, Jesus! A surprise baby is an invitation to draw closer to him and to trust in him. So lean on Mary; her pregnancy was the ultimate surprise baby!
Discovering God’s hand anew
People have said to me that they knew when they were done having kids. But I had not had that feeling at all. Mentally we had said, “No, it’s too late, it’s too hard, we won’t do it.” But I never had that sense that I was done. Now, after Patrick, if it worked out that I didn’t have any more kids, I’d be at peace with that. I’m not closed off to another baby, but if life worked out that way, I would be okay. I was not in that space before Patrick.
Anything is possible with a little faith and trust! I am so blessed with a supportive workplace and family. Even without the support, would I still not want Paddy? Of course, I do! It makes me sad that I was ready to listen to my head over the heart. But, it can be done! The joy he has given Mark and I is nothing compared to the joy he has given the kids and will continue to give.
Supernatural Social Network
As Catholics, our support network is not just limited to people here with us on earth. There are all the saints in heaven too who can pray for you and who can inspire you. Here are some of our favourites to get you started:
- Mary… duh!
- St Joseph. Don’t forget he freaked out after hearing about Mary’s surprise baby.
- Sts Elizabeth and Zechariah were elderly when they conceived John the Baptist.
- St Gianna Beretta Molla. A mother of four who died after delaying cancer treatment to give birth to her youngest daughter.
- St Gerard Majella, a young Redemptorist who’s prayers saved a mother and her baby in difficult labour. He is the patron saint of pregnant women.
- Sts Anne & Joachim, the parents of Mary, are wonderful inspiration for grandparents
Nativity Reality Check
The visual representations of the Nativity convey tranquillity – braying cows, angels singing, Mary with immaculate presentation gracefully reclining on hay that miraculously forms a comfortable lounge.
Yet this portrayal is far from the likely reality.
As a pregnant teenager, not yet married, Mary’s position is tenuous. Not only is she at risk of social ostracism, when Joseph decides to end their betrothal, it seems likely that she and her child will live in abject poverty.
The intervention of angel to Joseph prevents this disaster unfolding but does not remove all challenge. A long and difficult journey to Bethlehem in her ninth month is surely inadvisable but unavoidable. A first time labour without the comfort of family women or the assistance of a midwife – something even ancient women rarely encountered.
It must have been a terrifying ordeal. And yet, Mary trusted God with sublime joy. She not only surrendered her fate into the hands of Providence, she praised God in the process – “My Soul magnifies the Lord!” [Luke 1:46]
In our modern sanitisation of the Nativity story we often overlook the extraordinary courage and grit that Mary mustered. Talk about grace under pressure! When family life seems out of control and we feel like we are drowning… Mary invites us to draw inspiration from her example and to take comfort in her motherly embrace – she truly does know how hard it can be.
Francine Pirola is the founder of CathFamily and regular contributor and editor. She has been married to husband Byron for over 25 years and has five children. The are the co-directors the Marriage Resource centre and coauthors of the SmartLoving series. She is also the author of the My School Diary Series that is used by 100,000 Catholic school students around Australia.