I have always had an extremely irregular menstrual cycle, and a few years before I married, an endocrinologist at Massachusetts General Hospital had told me that I would never get pregnant on my own. So after my husband and I had been married for a year and a half, and we were starting to think about having a baby, I made an appointment with a fertility acupuncturist as the first step in what I imagined would be a long process: February 16, 2002.
But on Valentine’s Day, my husband’s father, John, was diagnosed with a rare and deadly disease, cardiac amyloidosis, which has a grim prognosis: it was likely he would be dead within a year or two. The next morning, still in shock from the news, I grudgingly did the pregnancy test for the fertility acupuncturist.
It turned out I never saw the acupuncturist because that morning I saw two lines instead. And that afternoon, we told my father-in-law that I was pregnant.
I had been against telling him (I was nervous and still in shock about the idea), but my husband, Matt, felt strongly that it would give him something positive to focus on as he grappled with his diagnosis.
And so our path to grace — to my baby Grace — began. We did not find out the gender of our unborn baby, so we never formally named her before her birth. I did have a strong sense that I was carrying a girl, though I was afraid to say it out loud for fear of jinxing myself because I had always, fiercely, wanted a daughter.“Grace,” I heard inside my head, clear as day. I opened my eyes and looked around the room, certain someone was playing a joke.
When I was 18 weeks pregnant, I went to a prenatal yoga class. In general, the prenatal yoga aggravated me: There was too much breathing and not enough asana. This class was no different, and by the time the teacher asked us to lie back and close our eyes and feel our babies inside us, I swear I had had it. I am certain I rolled my eyes behind my eyelids as I schemed ways I could leave early.
Still, afraid to offend the teacher, I lay on my back with my eyes closed, one palm on my just-beginning-to-dome belly and another on my chest, feeling my own breath rise and fall. “Grace,” I heard inside my head, clear as day. I opened my eyes and looked around the room, certain someone was playing a joke, but all I could see were other curved bellies in the quiet room. I shook my head and closed my eyes again but heard nothing more.
I went on with my day, my life, and my pregnancy: the baby began to move; Matt’s father continued to go downhill. Eventually, the family accepted that the only possible way for him to recover was with a heart transplant. As October began, he checked into Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) as an inpatient. Every time we visited, he told us that he was going to hang on to meet our baby. We were waiting — for a heart and for a baby.
We started to talk about names. I liked Eloise (a name I’ve always loved) for a girl, and I liked Whitman (a family name and my sister’s middle name) for a boy. We also talked about the name Grace. We both liked the name, it appeared several times in my family tree and we did feel as though there were something divine about the timing of our surprise pregnancy and John’s rapidly worsening illness.
During the late afternoon of October 24, I began to feel regular waves of discomfort. I suspected I was going into labor, but I still went with Matt to visit his Dad. John was yellow and thin, frailer by the day. We sat in his room, and I felt the surges of pain that heralded my child’s imminent arrival. We kissed him goodbye and went home.
Grace’s arrival took another day and a half, but she finally arrived in a torrential rainstorm the morning of October 26. She was born howling, with a full head of hair. I remember little about that afternoon other than holding her and staring down at her little red face and noticing that she had a cleft chin, just like mine. That was the moment I knew she was my baby.
Matt had told me she was a girl before the doctors whisked her away to weigh her. A few minutes later, when she was in my arms, wrapped in the hospital’s pink and blue flannel blanket, her name suddenly seemed clear.
The next day, John came to meet Grace, wobbly on his feet, and I’m still not sure how he convinced the MGH folks to let him out. We have photographs of him holding his newborn grandchild, whose arrival announced itself the same day his amyloidosis had the year before.
When John got back to MGH, he did not come out again until after his successful heart transplant, which occurred on November 26, Grace’s one-month birthday. After that, he began calling her “My Amazing Grace” in earnest. Their bond has been deep since the beginning, and the coincidences keep piling up. He had a kidney transplant the day after her birthday in 2011.
My Amazing Grace and her grandfather have had a special relationship for 13 years now, and we track his extraordinary good fortune as she grows every year. From the moment she was born, she could never have had any other name. She is both our Grace and our grace — all of ours. Her startling conception and my pregnancy have taken on the patina of something destined and driven by a force beyond my comprehension in my memory. It is by far the clearest manifestation of grace I’ve ever experienced.