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Learning to Breathe: How Faith Got Us Through the ‘Pregnancy of Death’

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Reading Time: 8 minutes


When I wouldn’t abort my high-risk pregnancy, friends left, doctors scolded me, and family braced themselves for my possible death. But little Henry? He had some breathing lessons to teach me.


by Becky Arganbright


My four-year-old son, Henry, has a little song that he likes to chant: “Me and Mommy, best buddies together! Me and Mommy, best buddies forever!” I can’t help but smile when I hear this cheerful little chant, thinking to myself how very true it is. My pregnancy with Henry was probably the hardest out of my five pregnancies. And though it was the best pregnancy physically, emotionally, it was the toughest.

CONFESSINGOn November 22nd 2009, I had my fourth child—a beautiful baby girl who we named Anna. We spent the first week with her in complete happiness. Anna was a good baby. She nursed and slept well, and was for the most part, content. I now had two boys and two girls. Christmas was coming, and Anna’s big sister, Lucy, was going to turn four years old soon. Life was good.

Then on December 1st of that same year, as I was nursing Anna, I had a coronary dissection, which resulted in a massive heart attack. My life ended that day and when I woke up a week later on a vent, a whole new one began.

Believing that the dissection was connected to pregnancy hormones,  I was warned over and over to never get pregnant again. The thought of “no more babies” tore at my heart; I was only 35 and knew that I still had childbearing years ahead of me. But for the sake of my family, for the sake of the children I already had, I agreed to not have any more children.

“When is my baby brother coming?”

And then one day, a year later, my eight-year-old son asked me, “Mom, when is my baby brother coming? I want to play with him!” When I asked him what “baby brother” he was referring to, he answered, “The one in your belly.”

I laughed and told him that I had no baby in my belly. What he said next sent a supernatural fear that ran right through me: “Yes you do. You have a baby in your belly right now.”

Over the month, he repeated this three more times. Out of the blue, he would suddenly sigh and complain, “When is my baby brother coming? It’s taking so long!”

A few days later, I took a test. I was pregnant.

A pregnancy of fear

Unfortunately, there was no joy in this pregnancy, only fear. This fear was accompanied with much humiliation, as so many had a difficult time understanding how we could “allow” this pregnancy to happen. Relationships with family was strained, while other relationships with friends completely broke off. “How could you let this happen??” someone asked me. “How could you be so irresponsible??”

Though I felt that this question was unfair and none of their business, I informed them that we had practiced NFP. And with NFP, God has the final say.

Knowing I was going to need a lot of support, I looked up a doctor who claimed he was prolife. Expecting to find reassurance and comfort, I was stunned when this doctor advised that the best thing I could do was to abort before the baby grew any bigger. “Wait any longer, and it will just be more painful for both of you.” he said. That was the day I learned not everyone believes that life begins at conception.

My cardiologist was not happy with me either.  This hurt the most. Being his “rock star patient” who beat the odds against death, my doctors and nurses were full of praise and compliments every time they saw me.  But now, I sensed deep disappointment. Our doctor-patient relationship was strained as my doctor rolled up his sleeves to help me with this mess that I had gotten myself into.

Me and Dennis learned to keep our mouths shut about the pregnancy, though my growing belly was an all around pro-life statement wherever I went. “So how’s ‘the pregnancy of death’?” someone joked to me one day. Snide comments and anxious questions followed us wherever we went.

As days and weeks ticked by, I watched my belly grow bigger and bigger. The closer we came to the due date, the less time I felt I had to live. I spent a lot of time in front of the Blessed Sacrament asking God for strength to continue on with the pregnancy. There were times I was so overwhelmed with fear, I felt the temptation to end it. But the morals of my Catholic faith saved me from making such a decision. Knowing it was a serious sin, remembering it was a baby who had a right to life, gave me the courage to go on. Still, there were days when my faith was the only thing left to cling to.

Though my family was supportive, they were also afraid for me, and so for this reason, I didn’t feel I could really open up about my own fears. My friends who had supported me during my heart attack, bringing my family food and playing with my children while I recovered in the hospital, became very angry with me, stating that they “couldn’t watch me kill myself.” I lost all contact with them during my entire pregnancy. Even between me and Dennis, there was little joy. I bought baby items almost in secret, afraid to show some of the glimmer of excitement that was in my mother-heart for the baby I wanted to welcome. Having thought that we were through with children after my heart attack, we had gotten rid of all our baby things, so I had to buy everything all over again. I was absolutely thrilled to find the same bassinet that we had sold to a second-hand store still sitting there, waiting for us to buy it. I felt God’s loving encouragement despite the darkness of my pregnancy. I brought the bassinet home and set it up in our bedroom, happy to know that Max’s baby brother would share his same bassinet.

Breathing in, breathing out

As we neared the final days of pregnancy, I think my last straw was when my doctor advised me to make a living will. Others also encouraged me to do this, stating it would be much easier for them to know my wishes if I should die. So with a heavy heart, I wrote out my wishes that the baby be taken first, and if possible, save me too. I handed the note to Dennis and asked him to hide it. I didn’t want to see it.

One night,  I laid down on my bed for a rest. As I put my hands on my belly as I normally did, I felt it rise and fall. Confused, I looked down and realized that this was not coming from me. It was coming from the baby. Through my own belly, I could watch my baby breathe.

All babies in the womb do “practice breathing” at some point, preparing their lungs for birth. However, many moms aren’t aware of it or completely miss it since babies practice whenever they feel like it. Fortunately for me, Henry practiced breathing all the time. So much, in fact, that it was even caught on ultrasound. (See above pic.)

I watched in amazement as my baby breathed in and out, in and out, practicing breathing, preparing his body for his entrance into the world.  He was oblivious of the turmoil we were all in, or how his unexpected presence had turned our lives upside down. In his tiny mind, all was well in his world. He was warm and secure,  He was breathing, practicing, and living his life. This was a healing moment for me, watching my baby breathe.

I couldn’t get enough out of this miracle I was witnessing. Every day, Henry and I would breathe together. Excitedly I showed Dennis, putting his hand on my belly, waiting for the baby to practice breathing. And always on cue, little Henry would play his little trick, breathing in and out. In and out….

But mostly, at the end of the day, it would be just me and him, and we would breathe together. After a stressful appointment, or negative comments, I would shut the door of my room and lay quietly on my bed, waiting for him to show me he was eager to see me as I was learning to be to see him.

And soon, my belly would start to breathe all on its own. I would place one hand on my belly, and one hand on my heart, and together we practiced living our life quietly and simply, breathing in the breath of life and breathing out the negativity that wanted to kill us.


This gift of God

The day came for Henry to enter into the world and take his first real breath. He arrived by C-section, with me connected to heart monitors as a precaution. As I held him for the first time in my arms. I watched my baby breathe in and out, in and out. His weeks of practice paid off: he let out such a gusty loud cry that doctors and nurses were startled; believing that something had pinched him.

And those doctors? Most of them said I was “lucky.” One doctor said she was happy for me but wouldn’t treat me if I should get pregnant again. But one of them was humble enough to say, “I was wrong.”

Mom and Henry
Mom and Henry

Now, four years later, with my heart healthy and sound, life with five children can be a lot to handle. Me and Henry have a special relationship together, and though he doesn’t know it, I still find solace in his company. Sometimes after a busy day, as I tuck him in and watch him sleep, I put my hand on his belly and close my eyes, and we breathe together. Breathing in life, breathing negativity out. Breathing in God’s healing. Remembering that rocky time together. But mostly, cherishing this gift . . . the gift of Henry, and the gift of grace that helped me trust in God, the author of life.


Follow Becky Arganbright:

Stay at home mom, clay artist on Etsy

I am a Catholic wife and stay-at-home mom with five children, trying hard to live as an example of our faith to my family while still being a work-in-process to God. Life is never boring being a Catholic! God always has something for you to do!

5 Responses

  1. Jane
    | Reply

    What a beautiful story. Full of bravery and courage facing the threat of fearfulness taking over and making the decisions. I’m touched by what you’ve gone through. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Maria ladeig
    | Reply

    Really nothing to say but, WOW! Our Mama Mary was praying along with a host of Saints and Jesus! You are a beautiful writer.

  3. Connie Rossini
    | Reply

    Beautiful story and beautifully written, Becky! God bless your family and your adorable little boy. He’s the same age as my youngest, who was also a gift given after we thought our baby days were over.

  4. Meredith
    | Reply

    Becky, this is such a beautiful, honest story. Thank you for sharing.

  5. Rita
    | Reply

    Beautifully written witness of your deep faith and trust in our all-loving God. You are an inspiration.

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