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We had just gotten in the car after an appointment with the fertility specialist. We spent a grueling hour and a half in his office discussing possible causes but only two words continued to repeat themselves in my mind. Secondary Infertility.
My regular OB-GYN had suggested I make an appointment with him because according to her records we’d been TTC (trying to conceive) for 12 or more months and since we weren’t pregnant yet that raised a flag. I explained to her that we technically weren’t trying, we were hoping to conceive soon since our first child was almost three but we weren’t exactly calculating conception periods either. I didn’t think it had really been 12 months either considering the fact that we fast for at least 142 days per year that already eliminates at least 5 months right off the bat. Can you tell I’d been over-thinking a bit?
I was completely frustrated; it was almost mid-September, which meant I only had 2 months to conceive before the Nativity Fast began. They wanted to follow protocol by running numerous tests that were not only very expensive and not covered by our insurance but painful as well. I also felt that some of these tests were inappropriate for an Orthodox Christian to participate in so I was completely overwhelmed by emotions. I told him I would take everything he said into consideration and get back to him.
I didn’t say a word the entire drive home and kept analyzing everything in my head. Deep down I knew there was nothing wrong. We already had a child, I had a very healthy pregnancy, albeit it took a few months longer than I expected to conceive, but I’d never had any other issues in that area. However, the logical side of me kept thinking; you’re not a doctor, maybe there is something wrong…all the antibiotics and hormones in the foods and milk we drink…who knows?
Once I got home I phoned my spiritual father to update him on the situation. He reminded me of something a very holy elder had told me when we discussed childbearing a few months prior to this. The elder told me to wear the skini–a piece of string wrapped and blessed around the tomb of a saint–in my case St. Nektarios (DH & I were married on his feastday), that I wore while pregnant with our first child. Now, disobedient as I am, I rationalized in my own mind that he didn’t necessarily mean the same exact skini, just a skini. This is a very common practice among Greek women who wear the strings as a blessing when trying to conceive or just praying for a healthy pregnancy. My spiritual father instructed me to do exactly what the elder told me to do. He said to give it until the Nativity Fast and if I wasn’t pregnant by then to go ahead with any testing that was appropriate. We went on to discuss my thyroid problem and he told me about another woman he knows suffering from hypothyroidism who prays to St. Panteleimon for healing.
It was one of those Duh! Why didn’t I think of that? moments. Pray for the intercessions of St. Panteleimon! I should mention here that when Ace was baptized, his godfather gave him a reliquary cross with the relics of St. Panteleimon and St. Dimitri inside. I have to be honest that while I revered and venerated these relics every day, I had never honestly prayed to the saints who had inhabited my unworthy home for the past 3 years. I ran to our prayer room and pulled out my book of Akathists hoping to find the Akathist to St. Panteleimon and I did. At that moment I promised that I would pray this service as often as possible in hopes of not having to deal with any testing or worse, secondary infertility issues. I promised this to myself, not St. Panteleimon in fear of not keeping my end of the deal.
That night as I layed in bed I held my prayer rope tightly in my hand and I prayed over and over again, Most Holy St. Panteleimon pray unto God for me. All through the night, even in my sleep, I heard myself repeating that prayer. I woke up the next morning with an overwhelming sense of calm. I knew at that moment St. Panteleimon was going to help me.
Later that night I lit the thin, beeswax candle on our prayer table, held the relics to my abdomen and prayed with all of my heart for God to answer my prayer through His Great Martyr and Healer St. Panteleimon.
A few weeks later I got my monthly cycle and was expecting to be upset but amazingly I wasn’t. I knew it wasn’t time. I continued to pray in the same manner every single evening following Compline. I didn’t plan on doing it every night it just felt so right. I felt like I was entering this spiritual realm that I had never, before or after, entered into.
The following month I discovered I was pregnant. It turned out that I conceived on the feast of St. Nektarios and was due on the feast of St. Panteleimon! I was so humbled and grateful that I just sat in the bathroom and cried. Glory to God for the intercessions of His saints!
Shortly after this I began having some complications but I was still so early in my pregnancy that there was nothing the doctors could do to rule out or confirm my fears. All I could do was pray. So I did. To St. Panteleimon. I held that cross over my belly and even slept with it on for 2 weeks. One day it got really bad and I laid on the couch afraid that if I even moved I would lose my baby. Before I knew, or even realized it, I heard myself saying, St. Panteleimon, if this child is a boy I will give him your name, if it is a girl I will have her baptized in a Church dedicated to your memory.
This might not seem strange or uncommon to you but let me tell you this was a big deal for many reasons. First and foremost the name of this child, if a boy, was to be after my father. Ace is named after my much-loved father-in-law, and our second son would be named after my father. Now, I have to tell you a little about my father. You will not find a more gentle, kind or loving man in this world, a man who deserves to have my son named after him and I couldn’t be prouder to do so. But I knew at that moment when those words crossed my lips what I just put myself up against; from everyone except my father. I knew he’d respect whatever decision I made and would never utter a complaint no matter how much it hurt him and that made my decision much more difficult. This was by far the most bittersweet thing I’ve ever experienced. It was such a painful decision yet I was the one making it. I can’t explain to you how complex this was. In my heart I knew this child was a boy and I knew his name was meant to be Panteleimon but that didn’t make the heartache any easier to bear. What would I tell my father? Or worse yet my mother when she told me how hurt my father would be and how unfair it was to him? Or how about my poor husband-shouldn’t he have a say in this? How about when everyone asked what people would call him in school? I continued to tell anyone who asked that if it was a boy I would name him Panteleimon and my father’s name would be his middle name-even though he deserved so very much more. But I made a promise in front of God and I intended to keep it.
Panteleimon was born on July 29—2 days after the feast of St. Panteleimon. He’s now nearly two years old and every now and then I still get grief for my decision and as much joy as I receive when I hear someone call him by his name the pain I feel equals; the bittersweetness. However, I will never regret my decision, I know in my heart it was the right thing to do; that this is what it means to put God before everyone in our lives-even before Daddy. I thank God for giving me such an amazing father, a loving and understanding and God-fearing man, because he’s the one who has saved me from perishing in my heartache. When I finally built up the courage to explain my decision to him it was his love, understanding and own faithfulness to God that confirmed in my heart what I already knew was meant to be.
A few months after Panteleimon was born I asked my priest to pray for a family member who was ill and he looked me straight in the eye and said, “Don’t worry everything will be fine, you have St. Panteleimon in your family now.” I smiled. Yes I do. And everything did turn out just fine.
Though his name is Panteleimon, his middle name is Albert–after my father and most of my family calls him Al. It’s not nearly as much as my father deserves but God is making up for it by allowing my little boy to grow up to be just like his Pop-Pop and that’s more than I can ever hope for.
Panteleimon–“Baby Al”, Pop-Pop and Angelo