Late July / Early August 2017.
“A little boy. I can’t believe I’m having a little boy.”
This thought kept playing over and over in my mind. I was so excited, but I was also scared. I questioned my ability to be a father to a son. For so long, I had carried the wounds inflicted on my heart and soul by my own dad; I didn’t want those to transcend to my own son. As much as I was filled with joy at the prospect of raising a little boy, I also spent a lot of time in prayer.
I wanted to be intentional and honor every engagement I had with him.
Another concern on my mind was the overall health of the pregnancy. Often times, a sudden and tragic loss, like the one we had experienced with Elizabeth, causes a person to be hyper-vigilant. As a person begins to heal and adjust to their post-trauma, they may still wrestle with fear and anxiety of another bad thing happening. This was our struggle. We were barely recovering from walking a parent’s worst nightmare – we didn’t want to lose another child.
That constant state of alert is a typical symptom and side-effect of a catastrophic life event. It was one of the many reasons why we stayed active and engaged with our counseling and therapy. Not only was the treatment a considerable help, but we were blessed to have such a beautiful and loving church family. Because we were the newest and smallest of all the expansion church sites, there was a tight-knit bond. They really became an extension of our little family. Each one of these Brothers and Sisters knew what we had been navigating and the journey that God had us on. Even though Erica and I wrestled with concern and worry, we were able to lean on our church family for prayer and support.
Then, towards the end of the second trimester, something happened, which caused the fear and anxiety to rise and suddenly return. For women who are 35 and above, pregnancies are often considered to be at a higher risk for complications, so about once a week, we would go in for an ultrasound. One afternoon, a few days after one of the ultrasounds, Erica received a phone call from the doctor’s office. “Hello?”Erica said, answering the phone. A few moments went by, and Erica didn’t say anything, but I could tell something wasn’t right. “Uh huh…yeah…ok. Well, is that serious?”, she said as the look on her face changed from puzzled to concerned. “Ok then, I’ll be in first thing in the morning…thank you for calling…bye-bye”.
While Erica was talking, I could sense that she was concerned, and I was wondering if it was the doctor’s office calling regarding the baby. “What was that all about?” I nervously asked. “That was the doctor’s office calling about the results from the last ultrasound…they said it looked like there were some unusual fluctuations in the amniotic fluid.”, Erica replied.
At this point, I went from just being nervous, to actually feeling scared. I could feel my heart rate go up, and my thoughts raced to a bunch of worst-case scenarios.
“So, what does that mean? Is the baby ok?”I impatiently asked.
“Well, they said that it could affect the baby’s development, so they want me to come in for another ultrasound and then have regular testing. That’s all I know. We’ll find out more tomorrow.”
Erica’s answer only seemed to feed my anxiety, but regardless of what I was feeling, deep in my heart, I knew that God hadn’t brought us that far or carried us through so much, just to let us down. Confident defiance rose up in my heart against the anxiety. I wasn’t going to let myself be shaken by a list of ‘what-if’ scenarios fed by the PTSD and grief, which I had been growing through and healing from.
The following day we went back to the doctor and went over the results of the last ultrasound. I asked a lot of questions, and by the end of the visit, I felt much better. The doctor and his staff told us that overall everything was going well, they just wanted to keep an eye on the fluid levels around the baby. Part of their diagnosis and instructions was for Erica to not be on her feet as much and to ease up on the work she was doing around the house. That meant I’d have to step up the pace at home and take on more responsibility.
Late August / Early September 2017.
Erica continued her weekly ultrasounds, and I went to as many as I could. My leadership at work was supportive and allowed me the flexibility to take care of Erica so she could get as much rest as possible, per the doctor’s orders. The anticipation and excitement grew with every passing weekly ultrasound. Seeing that little boy wiggle and kick on the screen made my heart swell with pride. The grainy black and white image clearly showed his strong arms and legs flexing as if he was showing off for us. Other times he would have his hands balled up in little fists blocking his face, like a rugged boxer waiting to throw the first punch.
At one point we asked the nurse if the ultrasound machine was capable of creating a multi-dimensional image. With the flip of a switch, the monitors suddenly displayed a vivid picture of our little boy. It was so detailed, that we could see the creases in his lips, contorts of his eyes, and little wisps on his head gently waving back and forth whenever he moved. “See that?” the nurse said, pointing to the little wisps, “that’s his hair…your son is gonna have a full head of hair.”
Erica and I looked at each other and smiled. I was born with a full head of hair too. I wondered what color his hair was going to be.
We only had about a month or so before we’d finally meet our little boy. We already had his name picked out too – Marcus. I chose that name on purpose and for a particular reason.
My dad’s first name was Michael. Now no disrespect meant toward my dad, but there is a lot of emotional gravity associated with that name for me. His choice to end his own life had a massively devastating effect which cascaded into the lives of everyone connected to him – his parents, siblings, my mom; but most especially my little brother Benjamin (whom he never met) and me. I didn’t want my son to grow up feeling like he had to somehow make up for the mistakes of previous generations, just because he had their first name.
I also didn’t want to name him Matthew, after me. I didn’t want him feeling like he lived in my shadow or somehow influence him to think that he has to mimic me. Yes, there are things I’d like him to model, but I don’t want my son to subconsciously feel like he’s a facsimile of me or anyone else. No, I want him to grow stronger, fly higher, run faster, believe deeper, and know God even closer than I have. I don’t want my son to suffer the pain and hurt that I did, nor did I want him to struggle with the guilt or shame that I did, because of poor choices I had made in the past.
I want my son to know that he comes through me, not from me – that he really comes from God. Most of all, I want him to see that he was created for a purpose, that there is a Divine custom charted plan for his life, and that he is surrounded and immersed with an endless and boundless love by the God who created the entire universe.
While I wanted to give him a name which is uniquely his and captures his God-given individuality, I also wanted to weave in something which would be a common thread between multiple generations. At the same time, the name had to have a strong and positive meaning. I believe in the power of a name; it’s something that we will hear and identify with every single day of our lives. From the cradle to the grave, our name says who we are. It becomes our identity. When I named my son, I wanted it’s meaning to be imbued into his very character, heart, and soul.
He will become a warrior and leader who stands strong for what is right, and he is an example of God’s graciousness and favor.
So, with my task and purpose clear, I choose the name for my boy. His initials MJM would reflect the linkage between my name, Matthew James Mattera, and my dad, his grandfather, Michael John Mattera.
I named my son Marcus John Mattera. Marcus means Mighty Warrior and Leader; John means God has been gracious and shown favor.
Looking back now, I understand how traumatic events can affect and color our daily interactions with the rest of the world around us. A common symptom is being hyper-vigilant; basically, having a sense of impending doom and that something terrible is going to happen unexpectedly. All of these are some of the reasons why my family and I were so immersed in our counseling, therapy, and faith.
Whenever faced with those feelings, I reached back and drew upon everything I’d learned so far – a combination of prayer mixed with other healthy coping mechanisms.
With the news of having a boy becoming more and more real, maintaining a healthy emotional, mental, and spiritual climate in our home became my number one priority. I didn’t want my son to be born into an environment which was tainted with grief, sadness, or depression. I didn’t want the trauma which we had experienced to skew or blur the lenses with which he views the world.
None of the dysfunction or pain which I had to navigate will ever touch him. His life will be filled with happiness, joy, and love.
I am establishing a legacy of life, faith, and hope.