It’s Wednesday, the day that the Urban Dictionary refers to as “hump day”–used in the context of climbing a proverbial hill to get through a tough week.
So let’s take a break from language tips. May I share with you my fourth post for my column Mothering Heights. My husband and I would like to share our story, which was published in a lovely anthology, Against All Odds: Coincidence or Miracle? Volume IV, produced by Flor Gozon Tarriela and Butch Jimenez. It was one of the hardest stories I had to write, not because I didn’t know how to tell it, but because the road we’d traveled, from there to here, had been pockmarked with hope and despair. It was hard to relive the journey, and much harder not to break down in tears for how God had blessed the broken road that led us straight to our Anna. (Thank you, Rascall Flatts, for letting me borrow your words.)
God is in the Details
In 2007, after a 13-year rollercoaster of fertility workups, a doctor issued death words to me and my husband, Jojo: we would never have children. A myoma the size of a five-month-old fetus had taken over my uterus. The doctor recommended hysterectomy.
Jo was taken aback, but only for a while. He told the doctor we would get a second opinion. He took over, doing all the paperwork and shepherding me from the clinic to billing to ultrasound. I kept bursting in tears—not just for the loss of a dream, but also for how I had failed my husband, for my inadequacy as a woman.
When all hospital work was done, Jo brought me with him to his basketball practice at St. Stephen. I was supposed to attend bible study, but he knew I was grieving far too much.
Jo had never been late for practice. Yet there he was, more than an hour late. The boys sensed something was wrong. Usually rambunctious, they were quiet as they huddled around him.
Jo was blinking back tears when he told them that I needed an operation, and he couldn’t leave me alone while I struggled with the news. Then he choked. He took a full minute to just breathe, in and out. He squared his shoulders and motioned for the boys to resume practice. “OK, boys, let’s move,” he said, but his voice was breaking.
After practice, the boys huddled around him. Jo held out his hand to me and asked me to join them. “Boys,” he said, “I want you to meet the most beautiful woman in the world. This is my wife, the love of my life.” He put his arm around me and introduced the kids one by one— Theodore, Pique, Malcolm, Patrick, so many names. They were so young, so hopeful, so beautiful. “This is my baby girl,” he said, pulling me closer.
I cried: I wasn’t diminished in his eyes. I was still beautiful to him.
Before we went to bed, Jo prayed for our via dolorosa to draw us closer. He told me that if the Lord didn’t will a child for us, then he would just have to love me more. The Lord Jesus was right: love is the distinctive among His people. My husband’s love lighted my path in the valley of the shadow of death.
That week it almost hurt to hope. The list of OB-GYNs recommended by family and friends stretched to 20—it was overwhelming. But Jojo said, “We are not looking for the best doctor. We are looking for the RIGHT doctor.” We needed the one whom God wanted for us.
Before praying for us, some friends asked us for our wish list. I wanted a doctor, preferably Christian, who believed in miracles and who could journey with us—no matter if God’s answer to us was no. Jo, if he had the money, would have brought me to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Maryland, Baltimore—the no. 1 hospital in obstetrics-gynecology.
Of the 20 OB-GYNs recommended to us, only one was male: Dr. Rafael Tomacruz. He was the last one I’d consider: I didn’t want a man probing and invading my body. Jo, of course, chose him.
Dr. Tomacruz, it turned out, specialized in tumors—and in assuaging my fears. His voice and hands were gentle as he examined me. True to form, Jo grilled him. “What school did you go to, Doc?” Jo asked. “In Baltimore,” Dr. Tomacruz said. Jojo could barely contain himself, “Which one in Baltimore?” And Dr. Tomacruz said, “Johns Hopkins Hospital.” Jo was overjoyed. Since Jo couldn’t bring me to Johns Hopkins, God brought Johns Hopkins to us.
Dr. Tomacruz also specialized in the near impossible: he would save my uterus and remove the myoma—a procedure more difficult than a hysterectomy and entailing considerable blood loss. But that feat, for me, wasn’t the good news. It was when Dr. Tomacruz said that though my childbearing chances might be slim, he would journey with us. “Who knows what the Lord will do?” he said. “I believe in miracles.” Those were the words I had asked God for.
Raising money for the surgery required a bigger mustard seed of faith. One day Jo called me from the hospital where he was making arrangements: “Honey, we need to raise P70,000.” I didn’t know what to say. We didn’t have that kind of money. “Jan,” he said. “As long as we’re together, we’re fine.” The next day, a friend e-mailed me. She had borrowed money from us several years back, and she was, miraculously, not only paying her debt, she also volunteered to add interest. The amount: P69,998. All we had to raise for my surgery was two pesos.
Such bounty is vintage God. A few years before, Jo had whispered to me in the middle of a dinner party, “We have only 245 pesos in the bank.” “That much?” I deadpanned. A few days later, our missionary friend, Benji, called us. He was getting married in a few months, and all he had was P6,000. Desperate, he had prayed, “Lord, what do I do?” God told him: Give a fifth of your money to Jojo and Janet. That is how personal God has been: He knows us by name.
A week before my surgery, Jo and I attended Healing Room, a prayer-healing forum. The ministers praying for us weren’t told what was ailing us; they would rely on the Holy Spirit to reveal what healing was required. I was there to ask God why He had denied us a child even before and after I grew a myoma and we suffered no other physical impediment. Perhaps my heart was the problem?
When it was my turn to be prayed for, a woman minister—a stranger to me and unknowing of my petition—gently touched my womb and said, “God wants me to tell you that you have a mother’s heart.” I wept, bearing the burden of the barren years. Then she said, “He says that this country has many children that need a mother.”
God’s answer: my child wouldn’t come from my body and wouldn’t inherit my crooked left ear. Adoption—I wasn’t prepared for this new twist, so Jo and I proceeded with my surgery. Yet even as I was wheeled into the operating room, God continued to affirm us. While I was lying on the gurney, frantically praying Psalm 23, a doctor leaned over me. “Hi,” he said. “I’m your anesthesiologist. My name is Christian Doctor.” I got my wish: a Christian doctor. God does have a sense of humor.
Three years after the surgery that successfully rehabilitated my uterus, Jo and I had somewhat given up on our having children. But God didn’t mind our lack of faith: He had been working on our baby project all along. In 2010, Working Mom editor Leah Nemil-San Jose asked me to edit an adoption special. I had to research on adoption, interview adoptive families and children, and talk to a therapist.
In the two months that I worked on the special, I finally understood how sanctified adoption is— a beautiful way of building a family much like birth is. Jesus had been more forthright when He took a little child and said, “Whoever welcomes this little child in my name welcomes Me.”
When Jo and I opened our hearts to adoption, our daughter was already living, breathing, somewhere. We prayed for her, and asked God to choose her for us.
We had a checklist (of course). Jo prayed that our daughter would be healthy, loved by her caregivers, given proper nutrition, and live in a clean and decent Christian home. His clincher: that she would look like me. I demurred. “No, God,” I interrupted Jojo’s prayer. “Please let her look like Jo.” And I asked God for birds: winged minstrels—unusual in our condo mired in the city’s pollution—to sing to our daughter every day.
We also prayed for a name. I campaigned for something original, something only she would have, something not Janet, something we cannot find in a souvenir keychain. But God had other plans. He directed us to the gospel of Luke, to the only three verses in the entire bible that referred to Anna, a prophet. Not so original a name, true, but what a woman this Anna was. Denied entry into the Inner Court, she fasted for the Messiah in the noisy temple grounds for several decades, never leaving, always praying among those haggling over doves and transgressions. When the infant Jesus finally arrived, she, at 84 years, recognized him immediately, and she gave thanks to the Lord. Our daughter was to be named after a woman whose heart had been sensitive to Jesus, patient and faithful—Anna the prophet had been the first witness.
Three months after we had filed the adoption papers, we received an SMS message: The DSWD social worker had matched us to a baby. Without having met the baby, Jo and I said yes. We had trusted God to choose His Best for us—this gift born from the heart, but also the flesh of our flesh, blood of our blood.
Our Anna was ten months old and perfect. She looked so much like Jo that the caregivers teased him for merely reclaiming her. It was when I met Anna that I experienced what John Donne had said in The Good Morrow: “If ever any beauty I did see,/ Which I desired, and got, ‘twas but a dream of thee.”
God had taken note of our checklist: Anna was healthy; lived with Christian caregivers in Ministries Without Borders, a beautiful home set up by Norwegian missionaries; and was entrusted by a Christian woman when Anna was only a week old. When we picked Anna up, her caregivers cried: she had been carved in their hearts, and they wrote her letters for her to read when she grew up. As we celebrated with the caregivers with cake and Coke, my sister-in-law, Gay, took Anna in her arms and sang, “Jesus loves me, this I know.” Our social worker, Myrna Pineda, joined her. Jojo and I chimed in, and one by one the caregivers and missionaries sang with us: a celestial chorus.
The name our daughter had been given at the orphanage was Grace. The name Anna comes from the Hebrew word hanan, which means grace. Our daughter’s name had been preordained.
In the first few months that Anna came home to us, two birds visited our tenth-floor home every day. They’d stay for hours, flying by, perching on our windowsill, singing. Today those birds—symbols of hope and God’s faithfulness—built a nest outside our living-room window, choosing to stay with us for the long haul.
God is in the details.