Mother’s Day 2007 I saw two pink lines on a pregnancy test for the first time. It was a mixture of excitement, shock and fear - our attempts at starting a family had been met with quick results, and I had never quite felt the mixture of trepidation and bliss that flooded over me in waves of excitement and questions of “what did we just do??!!”. I sat in a church pew that day smiling and overcome with gratitude that I had a miraculous secret growing inside of me. When other women stood to be honored for Mother’s Day I wondered what it would be like the next year when I stood there with them. How would I announce it to friends and family? What would our baby look like - would it be a boy or a girl??
It’s amazing how quickly two lines births a whole new life of hopes and dreams. Within a day I had flowery visions of what my pregnancy and birth would look like, and what life as a mom would hold. We told no one and kept our secret to ourselves as my muscles stretched and I grew more nauseous by the day. And then it happened. A trip to the bathroom revealed every woman’s worst fear in pregnancy - bleeding.
Now it should be noted that some women just have weird bleeding in pregnancy. Even doctors can’t explain it, and that is the comfort they attempt to offer you when you call the nurse hotline in a frantic panic. They speak in soothing tones and assure you everything will be fine and they will just work you in to take a look at things and try not to worry. Try not to worry about the loss of something that is literally connected to you and a part of your body. Try not to worry about the life and the hopes and the dreams that may or may not happen. Try not to worry about death and loss and not being pregnant anymore.
I was squeezed into the ultrasound schedule and told that since I was only seven weeks I would have to have a higher tech ultrasound, which is basically like having a pelvic exam with a stranger who takes photos of your uterus. I vacillate between thankfulness for amazing technology and disdain that something so invasive was necessary. It took a minute to get things connected, and then I saw it. The little blinking, beating dot moving on the screen. My baby’s heartbeat. Relief washed over me and I was allowed to listen to all 157 beats per minute. It was beautiful and I cried tears of gratitude and thankfulness for the gift that was this baby.
We decided that we weren’t going to hide our excitement any longer so we drove for a long weekend to see family and announce our special news. They were thrilled and we celebrated by eating out and dreaming together about how life would look with a new baby added to the mix. However, the bleeding didn’t stop. And so one week later I was back in the ultrasound office, this time with a very different experience. Instead of a blinking dot there was just a swirly circle on the screen where the previous week there had been a bean that resembled a baby. Instead of beats per minute and helpful answers from the ultrasound technician all of my questions were met with “I’m sorry, I’m just the tech. You will have to talk with your doctor.”. I knew then. When he wouldn’t look me in the eye and tell me what was on that screen I KNEW that there was no more baby, no more hope for new life and no more pregnancy. It was all I could do to make it out of the office before sobs wracked my body. I cried the entire 45 minute drive home and through conversations telling our parents what was happening. We grieved and tried to busy ourselves, and I prayed that night time would come quickly so I could sleep and forget the events of the day.
About midnight my body was flooded with pain and I sat upright in bed. I was shaking, sweating, nauseous and had consistent and intense cramping. When the nurse tells you that you may miscarry at home they phrase this as “pass the baby naturally”. This means you will likely go through a labor like event in which your body will push out the baby that is no longer alive. It is painful, intense and awful, and feels the furthest thing from natural. In full term labor a woman can be inspired and comforted with the truth that the pain will be temporary and that the result will be bringing her baby into the world. This allows women to accomplish amazing feats marked with incredible endurance. When you are birthing a baby into the world that is dead it does not signify the nearing end of pain - but the beginning. The physical anguish with each wave of contraction and cramping is a reminder that this is NOT the way things were supposed to be. And at the end the suffering will only be proof of dreams that have died.
The days and weeks that followed seemed like a dream. My body was physically present but my mind was elsewhere. Friends who didn’t know about my pregnancy and loss called to tell me their own pregnancy news and it was all I could do to keep it together until the end of the phone call. I sat numb in church, at events with friends and spent most of my summer watching talk shows. I went through all the stages of grief - shock, anger, depression, bargaining and eventually acceptance. These stages aren’t in order, and your often hop back and forth between stages prompted by circumstance. The thing I recall most about this time was the burning rage I had at those who had the ability to carry a baby successfully. I obsessed about friends and family that were expecting, and was consumed by the news of an underage Disney star’s pregnancy news.
About nine months later two pink lines appeared again and my joy was instantaneously met with fear and anxiety. “What if this baby doesn’t make it? What if I can’t ever have children?”. The patient nurses at my doctor’s office surely thought I was borderline insane as I called about every twinge, side stitch and off feeling that I had. The twelve week mark arrived and I breathed a huge sigh of relief as this milestone suggested that I would have a healthy pregnancy to follow - as I did. Six months later a pink, sweet and spirited baby boy made his way into this world and my life changed forever in so many wonderful ways. I chalked the loss of that first pregnancy up to some kind of fluke - statistically I knew that one in four women lost babies early on, so I figured that was my loss. The one baby I would miscarry, and that I could expect to have more children with no problems in the future.
The next few years brought many changes for our family, one of which was a move for my husband’s job. In the months before and after our family’s relocation I had three early pregnancy losses. To say I was a mess would be a gross understatement. One night I was scrolling through Facebook and exclaimed that friends of ours were expecting - and my husband had replied that he had known for a while. “Why didn’t you tell me?” I asked in a seething tone. “Because I wasn’t sure how you would react. You aren’t really yourself these days.” he answered. That, my friends, was like a fire alarm going off to me. My husband is not perfect - but he is a good man and a great husband - and if he, the person who was so faithful to show me love and grace and kindness, could not expect me to react as the woman he knew, there was a serious problem.
I called a counselor that day. It literally felt like I had to move heaven and earth to make it to the appointments (given my husband’s schedule and a toddler), but I KNEW it was necessary if I wanted to survive. The fruit of my life had become bitter and sour - and I knew that wasn’t who I wanted to be, but I didn’t know how to move on from where I was. I didn’t know what to do with the pain and loss when it seemed like everyone around me was being given the one thing that I wanted more than anything. At one point I counted FIFTY friends of mine on Facebook that were expecting - and the ones who made it sound easy or like they hadn’t been trying were the worst (note: sometimes you should just take a break from social media). The process was slow but it saved my life. I am confident that if it weren’t for my counselor who lovingly showed me the hope and Truth and comfort of the Lord, I would be a very different person today. More in detail about this later.
As my therapy was wrapping up I had come to terms with the fact that my future and my family may not look as I desired. I wouldn’t say I was ok with that yet, but I was functioning well and feeling more like myself. At that time my doctor wouldn’t even consider genetic or fertility testing until I had suffered at least three consecutive losses. That is a staggering number when you change the verbiage from “losses” to “deaths of my babies”. I had some simple blood tests (which were normal) and had begun to investigate fertility clinics - all of which were not covered by my insurance. It was at this point that my dream of expanding my family seemed more impossible than ever. I should note that I was determined to make a baby happen no matter what it took (or cost, or what we had to sacrifice), but Nate wasn’t necessarily on the same page. We weren’t exactly fighting about it, but we didn’t agree that I HAD to have another baby via pregnancy. As I look back at this time so much of my strife and “trying” for a baby was about me - my timing, my preference, my plan. In retrospect it’s easy to see that I could have (and should have) taken some time to step back and allow healing to occur and focus on my family. Instead I lived for what could be as opposed to what was.
Are you tired of this yet? The sadness and loss? Can you relate? I remember being so tired - emotionally and physically - during this time of my life. So when I had a fourth positive pregnancy test (in the span of 14 months) I was surprised - and not the least bit hopeful that I would carry the pregnancy to full term. When I was about 5 weeks along I was out of town celebrating my best friend Meagan’s second baby, I started bleeding and cramping again. The heavy scary kind, that made me question the safety of staying in my room alone. I knew I could call her or another friend - but it was almost midnight, and the bleeding stopped after thirty minutes or so. I texted my husband and cried myself to sleep.
Somehow I made the drive home through sobs and a flood of tears. I drove straight to a lab where my blood was drawn to compare my hormone levels to those of the previous week. In (what I believed at the time to be) a cruel joke my levels had gone up. A blood test two days later revealed the same result, at which point I was sure my body had decided to just play tricks on me to make the loss even worse. An ultrasound however, revealed a tiny bean with a tiny blinking dot, and the doctors concluded that I had miscarried a twin. That pregnancy was filled with more ups and downs, more random bleeding, more heartache than I ever dreamt possible. Every two weeks or so (for the first 4 months) I would have unexpected bleeding and I would be given an ultrasound - and every single time, there was that little dot blinking strong and steady. My daughter was born in the Spring and I really don’t think it was until I was IN labor that I realized my dream of a second child was coming true. I sat in amazement during labor and realized this was one of those special miracles that you pray for but don’t ever really expect to happen. My sweet girl added to the laughter and joy of our home and I am so thankful for the gift that she is.
I’m not sure how it is for you, but the idea of being “done” with babies and childbearing is so hard for me to wrap my heart around. Don’t get me wrong - I don’t want to be pregnant as I head into my golden years. But the finality of saying “this is the LAST baby” - it just doesn’t sit well with me. What did sit well with me, though, was the knowledge that I couldn’t endure another four miscarriages to have another baby. So my husband and I agreed that my childbearing days were probably through, and if we felt like our family wasn’t complete we would explore other options. I prayed and “asked” (told) God that I wouldn’t get pregnant again unless it was going to be a healthy and full term pregnancy.
Then came Spring of 2015. The previous November I had lost my dad shortly after Thanksgiving when a sudden heart attack took his life. The months that followed were filled with grief, numbness, endless phone calls, legal responsibilities and a great deal of strife. Babies were the furthest thing from my mind - I was lucky to make it through each day. Then, in early March, I started needing a nap in the afternoon and an extra cup of coffee. I thought it was unlikely that I would be pregnant, but I bought a test, which quickly developed a second pink line.
Not one to be easily convinced, I took three more tests, two of which were digital - you know, just in case that first set I had taken were some kind of flukes. The word “Pregnant” flashed at me in the bathroom at my Hyvee grocery store (if it’s not clear by now, patience is not my virtue - waiting until I arrived home seemed impossible) and I tried to think of a creative way to tell Nate. When I told him I had a surprise for him from the store, he assumed it was the latest Royals baseball championship t-shirt - not a pregnancy test that had been freshly peed on.
Once our shock diminished I assured him that he needn’t worry - I wasn’t going to get all attached and excited about this baby yet. I knew my history and my chances were over seventy percent that this baby wasn’t going to make it. But the heart doesn’t work that way does it? No matter how small, how unseen, how unlikely to survive - my heart wasn’t designed to neglect the life growing inside of me.
I think it took all of three days and I told my husband I was all in. I remembered my prayers and thought maybe THIS was what the Lord would use to redeem my year of loss. New life to honor the old. I dreamed that the baby would be a boy and that I would name him after my dad - especially since my due date would fall right around the one year anniversary of his death. I had the perfect plan worked out in my head. I pinned baby nursery ideas on Pinterest and started to look towards a future with a third child in tow.
My husband had the honor of speaking at a conference in Atlanta that April and we both got to go - an extra bonus since friends of ours would be there and it was going to be fun to catch up. I remember the photo we took in the airport terminal - both so happy and relaxed to be going away for something we loved and that would be energizing. I had broken down and purchased new maternity pants, because by your seventh pregnancy, you need a little extra stretch early on. I rubbed my expanding tummy and rejoiced that I was almost eleven weeks. We had started to plan a photo shoot that would announce our surprise for the next week, and I had no indication that anything was about to go awry.
As we sat at dinner that night with other speakers for the conference and their wives, we shared our good news. Why not we thought? I was exhausted that night and slipped into bed looking forward to a long night's rest before my husband’s session the next day.
I got up at four A.M. to use the bathroom, which was pretty normal for me. What was not normal was the bleeding I saw. Ever so faint, I double checked to make sure I wasn’t just delirious from being asleep. But there it was. I spent the next few hours waiting - waiting for my husband to wake up, waiting for my friends to respond to my frantic texts for prayers, waiting to hear from my health insurance company what hospital would be the best option for my location. And I cried. I cried big wet tears of disappointment and heartbreak because things were NOT supposed to be this way. This wasn’t the plan. This wasn’t redemption. It was loss and pain and I was done with those things. I had paid my dues and done my time and I did not deserve this.
Since we had friends at the conference we didn’t get a rental car so we had to wait for someone to pick us up. My friend Katie was the epitome of grace and kindness at a difficult time - she was a part of our private moments of pain as she drove to a local hospital, held my coat and waited for me in the waiting room. By this point I had become fairly skilled at viewing early ultrasounds. I should have been 11 weeks or so - far enough along that the baby’s shape and heartbeat would be easily visible. And yet there was nothing. No beats per minute, no moving little limbs, no blinking dot. The tech was quiet and the look of sadness in my husbands eyes told me all I needed to know. I turned away from the screen and closed my eyes until the tech left. “No heartbeat” was the text I sent to family and friends who were waiting to hear what was happening. And then I sobbed so loudly I’m pretty sure I could be heard down the hall. I was discharged, given a prescription for pain and sent back to the hotel.
I hated this feeling. Not just the grief and sadness - but the in between. The in between of my body still holding what had been a baby but my mind knowing it no longer lived. The in between of going from plans and dreams that included another baby to the reality of there not being one. To comfort myself I grabbed two Cokes, a King sized Twix package and a copy of Shape magazine at the pharmacy. Nothing says delusional like eating 1,000 grams of sugar while looking at women who eat grapes all day. In reality, I chose that publication because I knew it was unlikely to have advertisements or articles about pregnancy and babies.
I had to wait about a week to be worked into the surgery schedule at a local hospital since my body “wasn’t releasing the baby naturally”. That week felt like an eternity as my body still held onto signs of pregnancy, but my mind knew it was over. The surgery was quick and without complication, and I was sent home to recover.
Despite all of my history, I think this loss was the hardest on me. The fresh grief of losing my dad meant that I was processing this death in a new way. While this was one of the darkest seasons of my life - where I my pain was almost palpable - I would be remiss if I didn’t mention my friends and family. They were literally the hands and feet of Jesus caring for my broken heart as they listened, prayed for and with me, and brought meals to my family and I. That season left me grateful for being part of a wonderful community that loves us well in both good and hard times.
I could just leave this here - but that’s really not my purpose in writing. I’ve come to terms and I am at peace with my story. I didn’t share for pity or sympathy - I shared for the woman who is searching late at night for hope. For someone else to have walked this road and be able to stand tall and proclaim that life is beautiful and full of hope despite in pain. More on that soon - stay tuned.