(in the Roman Catholic Church) a form of worship consisting of special prayers or services on nine successive days.
In 1978, my 21-year-old mother participated in a novena with the intention of meeting a man. On the last night of her novena, she went to an orientation party for fellow volunteers of an upcoming March of Dimes haunted house. My mom was assigned the role of “The Screaming Girl” in Dracula’s room. She married Dracula the following year, and they welcomed me into the world seven years later.
While Chris and I did not meet in nearly a fortuitous fashion, we quickly fell into a blossoming, deep love. We were married in November 2012, and by April of the following year, we knew we wanted to try to start a family. Always the planner, I held back my natural tendencies to set expectations, and I hoped to just “let it happen.” After a couple of months, the overachiever in me took over, and I decided to track some of the typical fertility signs in order to boost our odds. Suffice it to say, I quickly found one of the first things I was not immediately successful at.
Please do not think I am boastful. Growing up, I loved school and participated in gifted academic programs. I played the violin and placed in the all-state orchestra. I graduated 10th out of 350 students in my high school class and got a sizable college scholarship. Immediately after undergrad, I was accepted to an Ivy League graduate nurse practitioner program and performed well, graduated, and passed dual board certifications. While academics have come easily to me, I have always been a tirelessly dedicated hard worker, with high expectations for myself.
After trying for two years without success, Chris and I decided to see a fertility specialist. The doctor was optimistic that we would be able to conceive, but that we just needed a little help. We started cycles of intrauterine insemination (IUI) with oral medications to help the quantity and quality of my ovulation.
In the meantime, I had connected with my aunt, who was very bravely recovering from breast cancer. She had re-discovered her faith during this time, and she told me the story about St. Therese, who is known as the “little flower.” Every night, she would pray St. Therese’s prayer, along with her specific intentions for healing.
While I had kept our difficulties with getting pregnant rather private, my aunt (always the intuitive one) identified that I was struggling emotionally. She bought me the St. Therese novena prayer card and offered to pray with me daily for nine days. In the meantime, my mom (who had gone to the Catholic gifts store with with my aunt) bought me the St. Anne novena prayer card. St. Anne (the mother of Mary) is often thought to be the patron saint of fertility, as she conceived Mary at an advanced age after years of being barren.
My Aunt and I agreed that we would start our novena the following week, which ended up being days after my third IUI procedure. While I grew up going to church with my family, for the past several years, I had not felt very connected with my faith. It was something I acknowledged as part of my history, but I no longer felt was apart of my sense of self. Wanting so badly to start a family had left me searching for conduits for my intentions.
The first two nights I knelt on the side of my bed (isn’t that where you’re supposed to pray?), and whispered the prayers. I felt strange. I had never prayed out loud by myself before. If the volume of my prayers had indicated the strength of my desires, I would have been yelling.
The next two nights, I lay in bed and recited my prayers next to my husband. I felt more comfortable with the words, and felt as though I was reading him a story. He did not recite the prayers with me, but his presence validated me.
The final three nights, I was working the night shift at the hospital. I took my break around 3AM each night, and took a brisk walk to the chapel. The chapel had many chairs that faced a stage with a piano. Behind the stage was a beautiful floor-to-ceiling mosaic of Psalm 23. I held a wishing stone in my hand, sat in a chair, and said my Novena prayers to both St. Anne & St. Therese. I may have been physically alone in the chapel on those nights, but I was surrounded by my intentions.
Each day, my aunt and I would send a text to one another after we said our prayers. Halfway through, I saw pink roses, which my aunt insisted was a sign that our prayers were being heard. Roses are St. Therese’s flower, and it’s said that those that say her prayer will be blessed with roses. We completed both novenas, which left me with a sense of accomplishment and newfound rediscovery of my faith.
While I felt closer to my somewhat abandoned faith by completing this novena, I felt much closer to my aunt, my husband, and my hypothetical future child. The nine days of prayer had caused me to be intentional about my wishes and desires to become a mother. Presenting my wishes with purposeful intention somehow felt more meaningful than my silent pleas I had been sending to the universe.
The following week, the day before I was meant to get my period, I took a pregnancy test after my husband left for work. I wish I could say it was because I felt different somehow, but honestly I was just eager to get the negative test out of my way. Except, for the first time ever, it was not negative. It was positive. And not the “close one eye and hold it into the light positive.” It was unmistakably, see it from several feet away, positive.
I quickly dressed and drove myself to the local lab, where I had a standing order for blood work. They drew my HCG levels and called me a few hours later, telling me that I was “really pregnant!” (What the heck did that even mean?) I ran to Target, bought a gender-neutral “I love Daddy” outfit, and prepared myself to tell my husband when he got home. He was as shocked as I was, and we basked in the newly pregnant bliss.
After waiting a grueling four weeks, we went in for an ultrasound at the fertility office. On the way, I threw one more (silent) prayer to my guardian saints Therese & Anne. I found out what “really pregnant” means when the doctor fanned the ultrasound probe and announced that I was pregnant with twins.
Later that year, my husband and I welcomed our two beautiful baby girls into the world. For the past year, they have been the absolute loves of our lives. Becoming a mother has redefined my sense of self in ways I could have never predicted. I bask in every smile, every laugh, and even every cry. I look forward to all the delight and challenges that will come with shaping them into young women.
Every night when I tuck my two angels into bed, after kissing them and telling them “I love you” for the hundredth time that day, I am reminded of the nights I spent praying to my guardian angels Anne and Therese. I still work the night shift, and I still take my breaks alone in the chapel, where I am surrounding by overwhelming gratitude.