Companions on the Journey
by Maggie Viertlbeck
Annie's birth story would not be complete without sharing our friend's story too (with their blessing, I assure you)......
Matt and I met Catherine and Branko 5 years ago when the four of us served on the Core Team for our parish youth group, Lifeteen. During this time, Catherine and I had sons within 3 months of each other, (our Max, #4, and their second son, Niko), and their oldest son, Ben, had developed an adoring crush on our Emma. He even wanted to build her a castle! We've arranged the wedding for 2030. Haha
Flash forward to 2013. Catherine was one of the first people I told about my pregnancy. First and foremost because she is one of the most faith-filled and faithful people I know. When you ask her to pray for you, you can guarantee that she will pray for you. Period Anyway, before I even had the slightest indication that this pregnancy would present so many challenges, I told Catherine and asked for her prayers.
A few weeks later, in the school parking lot during dismissal, I could tell she was not herself. I asked her a few times what was wrong, and she ended up telling me that she had taken a pregnancy test that morning and it was positive. Positive wasn't always a "positive" for Catherine. Instead it left her anxious and uneasy. She had already suffered a miscarriage between Ben and Niko, and 2 more since Niko, and in her mind another "negative" was likely to follow.
And so I began to return the favor and pray for my friend (falling short, no doubt)
Time moved on, and her pregnancy progressed without major incident, although at one point we were both chatting about how our progesterone shots (and later suppositories) were going. Pregnant women have the best conversations! We would also share our cravings and try and guess who was having what. Her ideal menu consisted of what I liked to refer to as "meat with a side of meat," whereas the mere mention of burgers, steak or bacon turned my stomach. I prefered something more like pizza with a side of ice cream, with a pb&J in place of a salad and donuts for dessert. Whatever it was, we were having the opposite, I was sure! And right! We found out girl, and a few weeks later, Catherine and Branko learned they'd be welcoming their 3rd carnivore son, Vincent. We were due only 2 weeks apart. I kept telling Catherine I was sure these two were already friends in Heaven's waiting room.....
I won't reitterate what happened during the second half of my pregnancy with Annie, but I can't reitterate enough how kind, helpful, strong, loving and present our friends and family were. And there was Catherine, at the helm, always checking in on ME, even though she was still filled with her own worries and anxieties over her fragile pregnancy history.
On November 9, Annie's actual due date (she was born November 4), I was sitting with her in the NICU of the Toledo Hospital when I got a text from a mutual friend that Catherine was in labor at the same hospital. Yay! She was literally right down the hall from me! I couldn't wait to hear of Vincent's official arrival and go meet him! Catherine texted me much later that Vincent was indeed here...all 8 pounds, 2 ounces of him (it had to have been the meat!) I was getting ready to head home at the time, but I assured her I would visit them the next day.
That night, I texted her again, just to check in and see how Mama and baby were doing. She said Vincent was doing great...his vitals and blood sugars were all good (she had gestational diabetes), but he was scheduled for an echocardiogram the following day.
"Whaaaat?" I asked. "Why?"
"Vincent has Down Syndrome," she replied.
I've never had my knees go weak. Not when Matt proposed. Not when my sister called to tell me that Mom had died. Not even when they told me my own child likely had Down Syndrome. But my knees went weak and I nearly fell when I read that message. It still makes the hairs on my arm stand straight up with I think about it. They had no indication. Zero. What are the chances?
I went to 7 a.m. Mass the following day and sat with a Deacon of our parish, who happens to be a good friend of ours (and of Catherine and Branko). Although it probably wasn't my place, I couldn't help but share the news with Joe. I will forever love his response: "Wow! (equally as weak in the knees!) The Lord always gives us companions on our journey...He's just not usually this quick or this obvious!"
And he's so right. They are companions on a journey. A journey that not everyone else, try as they might, understands. A journey that neither of us signed up for, but one I'd never turn back from now that we've embarked. A journey that is sometimes scarey, often unknown, but always beautiful. It's a beautiful journey, and so much better with friends.
Annie and Vincent, you are going to change the world. You have already begun to change me......