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  • Writer's pictureShelby Gambino

The Miracle of the Milk Grotto

I ducked out of the Middle Eastern sun and into the cool cave. The milky white walls were covered with images of Our Lady nursing the infant Christ. Somehow, a priest friend's invitation to join a group he was leading to the Holy Land led me to a trek across the globe, and I was currently standing inside the Milk Grotto in Bethlehem. I could hardly believe where I was and what a gift it was to be there.

The Milk Grotto of Our Lady is located near the Church of the Nativity in Palestine. Sacred tradition holds that when the Holy Family fled to Egypt, Mary stopped in the cave to feed Jesus. Moving in haste, a drop of her milk fell on the cave, turning it white. For hundreds of years, women from around the globe have journeyed to this cave to invoke Mary's intercession in their hopes of conceiving, specifically to drink water mixed with shavings from the cave wall. The Franciscans who oversee the site have walls covered with letters and photos from women who miraculously conceived after drinking the mixture. 

When I visited, I had been married for just over two months. My husband and I had yet to conceive, and while I was disappointed, I wasn't too worried, especially now that I was here. Getting to experience something so many women spend years saving and planning for when experiencing infertility so early in trying to conceive felt like winning the lottery. I texted my husband back at home. He, too, could hardly believe our good fortune. 

At dusk, I drank the powdery beverage to the dregs on a hotel balcony overlooking Bethlehem. As the sun set, I prayed to our Blessed Mother, pouring out the deepest desires of my heart for motherhood. I felt her presence more tangibly in that moment than I ever had. Her love and care for me felt so apparent. I was so grateful for the gift it all was and unshakably confident that we would soon have a baby.

You can imagine my shock when, upon returning home, I got my period. Again. And again. And enough times, my husband and I found ourselves in a sterile doctor's office, signing on to a treatment plan that included injections, frequent monitoring, and medications. I was crushed.

Had I prayed wrong? Was God angry with me? Was my faith weak? What had I done that rendered this miracle powder, which had brought blessings to so many, useless for me?

In the months that followed, I continued to wrestle with the Lord. Prayer seemed to alternate between crying and staring blankly at the tabernacle. Anger, sadness, anxiety and shame washed over me like waves, threatening at any point to pull me under until, at some point, I was numb. The months continued to drag on with no baby in sight, and I did my best to forget what happened in Bethlehem. Try as I might, I couldn't understand it, so I aimed to move on and pretend it never happened. On the darkest days, I wished it never did. And in this darkness, God came after me. He met me in the suffering. It was like I was getting to know Him for the very first time through the pain. I still had no answers but knew the Lord heard my cries. 

One evening, I found myself watching The Miracle Club, a movie about several friends who travel to Lourdes, when the priest accompanying their group reminded one of the women, "You don't come to Lourdes for a miracle; you come for the strength to go on when there is no miracle." His words hit me like a ton of bricks. I hadn't received the miracle I had hoped so desperately for at the Milk Grotto, but the strength that had gotten me through the past year of infertility was nothing short of miraculous. 

Slowly but surely, through time and prayer, the miracles of the last few months came into focus. The miracle of my husband, who made me laugh in the darkest moments of our journey. The miracle of my best friend who, as a nurse, was able to help with my injections. The miracle of a spiritual father in my spiritual director, who patiently walked alongside me. The miracle of friends and family members who had stepped up to shoulder the cross with us. 

I know I received a miracle from the Milk Grotto. While I continue to hold onto hope that one day, that miracle will take the form of a child, today that miracle looks like the strength to continue. And for that, I'm grateful.

In journeying with infertility, if you ever find yourself considering a pilgrimage and hoping for a healing miracle, take the trip. Be it Lourdes, the Milk Grotto, Fatima - whatever speaks to your heart. The nine days I spent in the Holy Land changed my life, and I wouldn't trade the ways I encountered the Lord and Our Lady there for the world. And while I can't promise you'll receive the miracle baby you're longing for, you might just receive an equally precious gift. 

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