It was the proverbial second chance and I was determined to have no regrets. Two blue lines on a white stick. A new baby was on the way.
This would be my seventh pregnancy. I was already blessed with 5 beautiful children ranging in age from 14 down to 2. You notice the math doesn’t quite add up. That missing one, the baby we nicknamed in utero “Little Bit” and later named Catherine Gregory when we buried her, was miscarried about six months earlier at 13 weeks gestation.
Catherine Gregory was my first loss. How I spent the short time I had with her, almost paralyzed by anxiety instead of actively loving her, is one of the greatest regrets of my life. This pregnancy would be different.
But, the fears that consumed me during my pregnancy with Catherine Gregory, and the circumstances that fed those fears, were exactly the same as before.
If the Lord saw fit to allow this pregnancy to culminate in a healthy baby, I would still be the only mother nursing an infant on the high school soccer sidelines.
The Zika virus scare was at its height and the virus was active in my state.
Once the baby arrived we would no longer be able to fit the entire family in our vehicle.
I would still be facing an unresolved heart rhythm issue that was more and more regularly sending me to the emergency room; and this condition was exacerbated by pregnancy.
I would once again be nauseated for months and constantly and completely exhausted while needing to mother my five other children.
The list went on.
None of those circumstances changed with this new pregnancy. But this time I chose to refuse to give into the fear.
I refused to waste my life and my baby’s precious, precious life worrying instead of loving this child with every ounce of my will and strength. Never again would I have reason for the terrible guilt and regret that followed my previous pregnancy. So much opportunity to love wasted!
This time when I prayed, “Jesus, I trust in you,” I would mean it.
Being free, by the grace of God and colossal force of will, from that suffocating fear, my creativity was able to expand. I had long enjoyed photography as a hobby. Thanks to a wonderful online photography group of friends and mentors I had developed some skills: editing, understanding lighting and exposure, the techniques for self-portraits.
An idea blossomed to not just document this pregnancy with the typical bathroom mirror selfies I had done in the past, but to chronicle it in a more purposeful way using all of my skills and creativity.
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It began with an image I created to accompany the Facebook pregnancy announcement at 17 weeks. Then at 20 weeks, when all tests and ultrasounds showed a healthy, thriving baby, I felt I needed an appropriate image to celebrate. I was beginning to enjoy myself. Maybe I should keep this up!
But I didn’t want any unnecessary pressure on myself by adding yet one more thing to my to do list. Life was already very full caring for my five climbing, gesticulating, emoting, hungry children. So I determined I would continue with the self-portraits as each weekly milestone passed, but only as long as I was inspired with new ideas and was enjoying myself.
I didn’t miss another week.
Then, for the first time ever in my 7 pregnancies, I passed the 40-week mark with the baby we nicknamed Siete (Spanish for the number seven). Rather than bemoaning my overdue state, I was excited to have an excuse to complete one last, fun portrait.
And God was and is so good. He blessed us with a healthy baby girl. Teresa Azelie Jane entered the world as Hurricane Harvey made landfall a couple hundred miles away. We made it home from the hospital just before unprecedented flood waters started to obscure roadways and eventually drastically change the lives of so many of our neighbors. We were home and safe and as my husband and older children headed out to remove soaked sheetrock and waterlogged carpets and ruined furniture from other people’s homes, I gratefully snuggled my baby and created one last self-portrait with my 5-day-old infant.
In God’s goodness and mercy He can turn all things to good. All things. Everything. Even deep regret. Even self-condemnation, bitterness, and grief.
Instead of leaving me in the pain of the loss of my child, He transformed that pain into a fresh perspective on this life I have been given. He gave me the inspiration and energy to face the world anew: stronger, more full of hope, with a greater capacity to love, and bursting with creative energy. He taught me that the best way to forgive myself and to honor Catherine Gregory, the baby I lost, was to love the children I have even more.
I also discovered that fear and love cannot reside together. One will always push the other aside. One must leave for the other to enter. Only after I actively and fiercely refused to give into fear (through much prayer and choosing to trust and failing and choosing to trust again) could love, and all the creative energy that comes with it, enter in and expand and change our lives forever.
Colleen Rudolph is wife to Eric and stay-at-home mom and shuttle service for their six children. She is constantly on the search for the good, the true, and the beautiful whether she sites it through the lens of her camera, encounters it in great books, or savors it in a well made meal. You can see the rest of the images for her pregnancy self-portrait project (10 of the 21 images are included here) right here. You can find out more about her here.