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'The pieces God used' - A mother’s grief and the gift of conversion

Megan Haas, with Mark, Carly, and Bailey, at the Rite of Election in the Cathedral Basilica of the Immaculate Conception, Denver, Colorado, March 5, 2022. Courtesy photo.

When Megan Haas is baptized at the Easter Vigil this year, she knows that her children will be praying for her. Her daughters Bailey and Carly will be in a church pew with their dad, Megan’s husband Mark.

Bailey is almost four, and Carly is not quite one, so Megan expects they’ll squirm as much as pray.

But Megan’s other babies, she trusts, will be interceding for their mom from heaven. And Megan will be thanking God for them too.

Those three babies, lost to miscarriage, are a big part of Megan’s heart. And they’re a big part of the story that will bring her to the baptismal font on Saturday night, where she’ll receive new life in Christ, be confirmed, and become a Catholic.

“These babies are in heaven,” Megan told The Pillar. “That’s where they are, and I need to make sure that I can hold them one day.”

Megan said that as she’s baptized, she’ll also think about the way the Holy Spirit used unexpected parts of her life — and the sharp pain of loss — to show her the love of God, and the peace she’s discovered in the Catholic faith.

Megan, 35, grew up in Bakersfield, California. She stayed in Bakersfield for college, and then worked in town as a pharmaceutical rep. She moved to Colorado in 2014, when her then-boyfriend, Mark, got a Denver job as a TV sports anchor.

When they started dating back in Bakersfield, Mark sometimes practiced Catholicism, but faith wasn’t much a part of his life, or of Megan’s.

“I didn’t grow up with church as part of my life at all,” Megan told The Pillar.

“I’d never been baptized, we didn’t go to church at all. I had vague ideas of God and heaven — like that you could pray and ask for things that you want, but that was really it.”

“When I met Mark, I had started going to a kind of generic Christian church.”

“My brother and his wife were going sporadically, and it became something to do on Sunday morning to spend time together — we would go to church and then have lunch. I liked it — the pastor had good messaging, he made you reflect on your week, or think forward to the next week. It made you feel good, even though it wasn’t much in terms of biblical teaching or the Gospel.”

Megan met Mark in early 2014. He was working as sports director for a local TV station. Mark had been raised a practicing Catholic, but during his college years had mostly fallen away.

“Like a lot of people in college, I just chased the secular lifestyle. And then around 2011 I began kind of a slow journey back to the faith,” Mark told The Pillar.

Still, he went to Mass often enough that as things got serious with Megan, they started taking turns attending one another’s churches, until their move to Denver. There things got busy with Mark’s job, and their practice of the faith slowed down.

Mark and Megan married in 2016; they were married in a Catholic church because it was important to Mark. But faith was mostly in the background for the couple.

“Sundays were a working day in TV news,” Mark explained. “Especially during football season, I could almost never get to Mass. I was a little bit more committed when it wasn’t football season,” Mark remembered.

When they did go to Mass together, Megan saw it as a chance to support her husband.

“I thought about going to church, for a long time, as something that made Mark happy, and so in my mind it was like a sacrifice for my husband. Like “An hour a week, I can spend in a Catholic church and it supports and makes my husband happy. Like how hard is that, it’s an hour a week?”

‘What do you want me to do next?’

Things changed for Mark in 2018, when he lost his job in TV news — a notoriously volatile industry. Mark felt lost without his job. But amid that big change, Mark says, “I really reconnected with God.”

Mark started going to daily Mass while he was unemployed, “at first, even just to have some structure in the day,” he remembered.

Soon, Mark said, he began to wonder whether the Lord had plans for him.

“I was sincerely trying to ask, ‘God, what do you want me to do next?’”

At the parish where he worshiped, Christ the King in Denver, a priest recognized Mark from TV. That priest was welcoming, Megan said, when she came to Mass with Mark on Sundays.

“He made me feel like I belonged, even though I wasn’t Catholic. And I was pregnant, and he just made me feel so welcome. And that really opened the door to me considering becoming a Catholic. He would talk with us every Sunday after Mass. He would pray over my belly. And then he invited us to be a part of something special.”

The priest, Fr. Michael Pavlakovich, asked Mark and Megan to be a part of the parish foot-washing ceremony, during Mass on Holy Thursday, 2018.

“Even knowing I wasn’t Catholic, he invited us to be a part of that,” Megan remembered. “And I felt welcomed in the Catholic Church because of that, and part of a Catholic church.”

The welcome came at the right time.

One month after that foot-washing rite, Mark was hired as the media spokesman of the Archdiocese of Denver. And a few weeks after that, Mark and Megan’s daughter Bailey was born, and baptized a Catholic.

May 2018, two months before the Theodore McCarrick scandal became public, was an interesting time to begin working in the Catholic Church.

In his first months, Mark remembers, the archdiocese marked an important anniversary for a local canonization candidate, and the 25th anniversary of Denver’s World Youth Day.

“And I’m getting all this positive secular [media] coverage, and I’m thinking I’m pretty good at this job. And I always joke that I had a two-month window of fun, and then, well, McCarrick and the Pennsylvania grand jury report.”

Mark was soon facing local reporters asking questions about sexual abuse and misconduct across the entire Church. And while Mark said that his archdiocese had begun addressing abuse in a serious way decades ago, and that his own boss, Archbishop Samuel Aquila, “is committed to doing the right thing,” local media weren’t always convinced.

“The people around me, they’re not the ones who did [terrible things]...But my biggest frustration with that whole experience is that I thought we were going to be able to convince more people that we’d taken this seriously, and are legitimately trying to care for the people who were hurt.”

Still, Mark said, as he surveyed the crisis facing the Church across the country, he had questions. “There’s just stuff that makes you say ‘What in the world?’ and ‘Why didn’t somebody stop it?’”

The 2018 McCarrick scandal began a period in which priests and many lay Church employees say they have struggled with morale, or expressed pessimism about the state of the Church.

Mark told The Pillar he understands why. It was “hard, seeing the tough part of the Church, and having to go through the ugly history again,” Mark said.

But he had a mostly different experience, he insists. In fact, Mark thinks that God led him to a job that would deepen his faith, and invite his family to something new.

I loved my TV career,” Mark said, “and the way it ended didn’t feel fair. I didn’t do anything wrong, I just had it taken away, they wanted someone else in the role. And I harbored a lot of resentment and anger on that. And I think my ego kind of told me — when I ended up through this series of events working for the Church, and then when things got hard [amid scandal in 2018] — my ego was kind of telling that God needed me at the Church, because there was gonna be a tough time and he needed me there.”

“But lately, my mindset has shifted, in that I hope - whatever skills I’ve been able to bring - I hope I serve the Church well. Because now when I say that God had a plan, I know that plan was for my benefit. For my family’s benefit.”

“It was through losing that career, relying on Him, and then getting dropped in the middle of “Catholic central,” to be built up in faith by all the people around me — He used that to bring me much closer to the Church, and to help my family, and for what’s happened now with Megan.”

“I think working at the Church has connected us to the very best that the Church has to offer,” Mark said. “And I think He orchestrated what allowed me to be of service to the Church, and more important, to grow in faith, and for our family to become really plugged into the Church as well.”

When the family suffered a crisis in 2019, Mark and Megan say they discovered just how much that connection would mean to them.

Edith Margaret

In autumn 2019, Megan learned she was pregnant with the couple’s second child. The family had recently moved to a new home, Mark and Megan were both doing well in jobs they liked, and Megan was looking forward to a new baby.

But at her eight-week checkup, there was a problem. The baby didn’t have a heartbeat. The Haases were devastated. And within a few days, Megan started getting really sick.

“There were a lot of complications, and it took the doctors a long time to figure out what was causing all of it. I was having all these fevers and lethargic, and I ended up have a virus, and the virus caused the miscarriage,” Megan remembered.

“I was in the hospital for a week, and so the trauma of the loss, and then this ongoing health issue. It was just so much.”

After she miscarried, Megan learned she’d need a procedure to remove the baby’s body from her uterus. It was a lot for the family.

And as they grieved together, Mark remembered a program he’d heard about at work: that the local Catholic cemetery offered burials for children who died during pregnancy or at birth. A cemetery employee could retrieve their baby’s remains from the hospital, at no cost, and the family would be invited to a “Precious Lives” service, along with other parents who had lost a child to miscarriage or stillbirth.

As they drove to the hospital, Mark told Megan about the program. It sounded right to her. Mark knew that some parents named their children, and the couple chose a name: Edith Margaret.

In December 2019, Mark and Megan went to a prayer service at Mt. Olivet cemetery for Edith Margaret and other babies who would be buried alongside her.

“There were probably a dozen families there,” Megan remembered. “And, for me, being with those other women, that I’ll never see again, but we were all there in that moment. It was God working in that.”

“We were all just weeping and weeping together. And it was really special, because, [elsewhere] people kept saying they were sorry I was sick. Or that they hoped I would feel better. But very few people acknowledged that I had lost a baby. And so being in a place where we talked about my baby — and the deacon who did the service talked about these babies being called back by God, and that your baby is in heaven.”

For Megan, mourning with the Church, and finding hope in the Gospel, was exactly what she needed. God the Father was at Mt. Olivet, she found. And she’d been comforted by Him.

‘I didn’t have a lot of faith in praying’

Megan got pregnant again in May 2020, and she miscarried again. And then in September 2020, she was pregnant again.

After early tests, doctors were concerned that Megan’s September pregnancy was ectopic. They recommended a shot that would “flush it out,” Megan said.

But she was reluctant. She had a “slim hope,” she said, that the baby would be ok.

“And if I had agreed to that, then we wouldn't have been able to try to conceive for six months because you can't conceive with the drug in your body. For some reason I was really resistant to that.”

Mark said he remembers telling a doctor that Megan wouldn’t take the shot. They weren’t sure why, but both knew they needed to wait. A doctor urged them not to wait more than a weekend, saying the pregnancy could begin to harm Megan’s health.

And over the weekend they waited, Megan had a miscarriage.

“So we ended up in one year losing three babies,” Megan remembered. “The third loss just felt devastating.”

“After the first time, you think it won’t happen again. And after the second time, [you figure] there’s no way it can happen again. Because I got pregnant with Bailey so easily and with no complications.”

Megan underwent tests to find out why she was having miscarriages. But “there was nothing wrong they could find that could be fixed. There was nothing to fix to prevent it.”

“I just felt like this isn’t fair, I’ve already lost two babies. Why am I losing another one?”

After their third loss in a year, Megan decided she didn’t want to get pregnant again. She couldn’t emotionally or physically handle more loss, she thought, but they did want to grow their family.

The Haases considered adoption. In fact, they started the paperwork.

But a few days after Thanksgiving 2020, Megan discovered she was pregnant. Again. Mark and Megan were scared of what might come next.

Mark and Megan now see the Holy Spirit in what had happened — Megan got pregnant within the six-month window in which they couldn’t have conceived if she had taken that shot in September 2020.

But in November 2020, they were, Megan said “just waiting for the bottom to fall out.”

“Can’t be happy, can’t be excited, nope.”

“In my life,” Mark said, “I don't think I’ve begged God more than in that window between the home pregnancy test and the next test. Just begging Him. You know, my wife is the strongest person, but I was like, ‘Please, do not put her through that again.’”

Megan said she struggled to pray.

“You have your first loss, and you pray like you’ve never prayed before. And then you’re pregnant again, and you have another loss, and you pray like you've never prayed before and then you have another loss. So by then, I didn't have a lot of faith in praying.”

But that pregnancy changed Megan, she told The Pillar. While she was pregnant, she thought about the way God had worked in her life when she and Mark buried Edith Margaret.

Megan thought about a couple she’d met at the parish near her house, who had been to the same Precious Lives prayer service she and Mark had been to — a gift of God’s Providence. She thought about being welcomed in the Church, being loved. She thought about the witness of God working in Mark’s life as his faith deepened, and in the lives of his family members. And about the way the Church had comforted her in loss, affirmed the humanity of her miscarried children.

Megan also knew that she wanted to raise her children as Catholics — knowing the love of God the Father. I knew they “shouldn’t be 35, having a spiritual crisis, trying to figure out who Jesus is. I knew they should grow up with this.”

And as she thought about those things, Megan knew she had to become a Catholic.

“This was a long process. When we got married, I definitely never thought I would be Catholic. But the dominoes kept falling into place. And the miscarriages are a big part of my change of heart,” Megan said.

So was the birth of her daughter Carly, who came as a gift after painful losses, even as Megan struggled to trust.

“I had been thinking about being with those babies again. And then our little Carly miracle, who came even when I said I didn’t want to be pregnant. And then she’s just the sweetest gift,” Megan said.

A week before Carly’s birth, Megan signed up for RCIA.

Carly Haas was baptized in September 2021. Courtesy photo.

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‘The pieces God used’

When she thinks about being Catholic, Megan said she thinks about the life of St. Gianna Molla, her confirmation saint.

“The first thing I learned about her is that she was a working mom, like me, and so we had a bond. And then I read a biography about her and she’s just so amazing. Her sacrifice for her children, her devotion to the faith.”

“She had a career, a family, and her faith. And she was really relevant — she lived in our time. With a lot of saints, it feels hard to compare your life to them. I read about them and think ‘Oh, well, they were a monk, or a nun, and I can’t be a saint because I’m not.”

“But Gianna liked to ski and vacation, and she liked fashion. She was normal, personable, and just such a relatable woman to look up to.”

She also thinks about the love of God the Father, which has been healing for her, giving her a new outlook on fatherhood, and being a daughter, after a strained relationship with her own parents.

Megan said she’s already noticed — because of RCIA, because of the Haas’ family and couples groups at their parish, because of some Catholic mom friends she’s made, that she’s begun approaching things differently. In marriage, parenting, and day-to-day living, she said, she’s trusting that “in God’s plan, we’re taken care.”

Megan is thinking about the Easter Vigil like a catechumen, preparing for baptism, but also like a mom. She laughs, and says she knows it might be a “disaster” to take little girls to a long Mass late in the evening.

But she’ll have help from Mark’s family in the pews, and she wants her daughters to be there. Because, Megan said baptism into God’s family is a moment for her entire family — her babies in the pews, and the babies she trusts are praying for her in heaven.

“I feel like getting baptized brings all these things together. Explains the meaning of all of these things that have happened to our family, all the pieces God used to build toward this. The bad things, even, that happened and that led to good things. I think it will feel like it’s led to a kind of completion for our family.”

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