Trigger warning: this post discusses pregnancy loss.
Man, I love the month of October. The transition from Summer to Fall, a packed football schedule, the emergence of crisp air, and so many brightly hued crunchy leaves – it’s just magical.
And yet, October is also painful. October is pregnancy and infant loss awareness month, and I identify as a parent who has experienced loss.
My husband and I got married in 2016, and enjoyed life so much as “just us,” but we also yearned for more. In the Fall of 2017, we were shocked to find that we were pregnant. How can you love a baby so much just by seeing two lines on a pregnancy test? If you’d asked us, we’d have been able to show you and tell you through the joy exuding from our mouths and hearts.
Though, what immense joy filled us, was quickly depleted.
When we had our ultrasound, it was just utter devastation to not see a heartbeat – just an empty gestational sac. All I’d ever known about pregnancy? It’s so “easy” to get pregnant, it’s so “sweet” to see the baby on the ultrasound, and “it’s going to be okay.”
It wasn’t okay.
We’d naively shared the exciting news with close family and a few friends, but then had to retract.
We were both shattered into a million pieces, and even more, I had to have a D&C to remove the remaining tissue so there was no further health risk for me, and for the hope we could try again to get pregnant.
After the D&C, I felt empty. Okay, yes, my uterus was officially empty, but I’m talking about my heart – my soul – empty.
I felt like a failure.
I recounted everything I did since finding out I was pregnant, and I questioned all of my actions. Did I sleep wrong? Did I take too long of a walk? Did I eat something I shouldn’t have?
No one prepared me to anticipate having an unsuccessful pregnancy, and no one prepared me for the guilt I would place upon myself.
Also, no one prepared me for how insensitive people would be: “you’ve been married for a year now, when you having kids?” If only they knew. And, even from some people who actually knew: “it’ll be okay,” or “you can try again.” Would it be? Could we?
We yearned to try again, but also feared for more failure, and more sadness.
In the Spring of 2018, we got two more lines on a pregnancy test. History got the best of me this time: my anxiety kicked in right away. I remember being hyper vigilant about what I ate, and any movements I made. I just knew this baby would stick.
And then, our precious Finley, the sweetest dog, jumped onto my belly one afternoon after work. I was so scared. He didn’t mean it, I know he didn’t, but I became so worried that it caused another miscarriage.
Guess what? His jumping didn’t cause it. The baby stopped forming before this happened. Looking back, I think Finley knew, and I really do think he was trying to let me know.
A second miscarriage. A second D&C. Heart? Shattered. Emotions? All over the floor. Tears? Enough to fill a bathtub and overflow it.
My uterus was now officially as scarred as my heart.
We took a trip to DC a few weeks later, and it was just the escape we needed. We walked nearly 40 miles that week, and my feet pounded the pavement just as hard as the yearning in my heart for a baby. It felt good for us to have a reset on things before trying to get back to “normal.”
And, then, we got pregnant again, receiving a positive test that June – ironically, the month our first baby would have been due.
Filled with anxiety and uncertainty, we went to our six-week appointment and got an early ultrasound, given our history of loss.
I remember laying there, turning to my left and seeing my husband looking down. He gripped my hand so tight, and we both just stared at each other so intently. We were so filled with fear, but still clung to hope.
Right there on that screen was a little, itty-bitty baby. As an added bonus? A heartbeat. I bawled so hard. It was as if my heart couldn’t grasp what my eyes actually saw on the screen.
I remember feeling so filled with joy, but also incredibly scared. It’s really difficult to enjoy such a joyful experience when you’ve been tainted by such loss.
As you may know, we welcomed a beautiful baby girl early the following year. I remember thinking, “I’d go through hell and back to have her in my arms,” and I did.
You may also know that I’m a firm believer in signs, and I will never shake the feeling of a painting we have in our house (figuratively) hitting me in the face when we got home from the hospital, babe in arms. We received this painting from family shortly after we were married. It’s a painting of three horses trotting in a beautiful green field. Two of the horses are gray, and the third, a brown horse, is just ahead of both the gray horses. In the background? A stormy looking sky with a rainbow that starts near the backs of the gray horses and fades away where the brown horse emerges from ahead of the pair of them. I feel like it was a sign all along. A sign that we’d have two babies in our hearts before welcoming one in our arms. A sign that we’d weather some storms, but that we’d emerge on the other side. A sign of our strength, despite the adversity.
We’ll always hold our babies in our hearts, even though we could never hold them in our arms. I’ll always appreciate our path to parenthood, messy as it was. And, I’ll always be grateful for the experiences through pregnancy, devastating and joyful, all at once, as they have been.
We are grateful to now hold two babies in our arms, and we don’t, and will never, take that for granted.
I’ll leave you with a poem that I wrote in 2019, shortly after our daughter was born. In those months following birth, processing all we’d gone through, and feeling grateful to have a baby in our arms, I did what I felt best to sort through it all: write.
I plan to share this poem with my children one day and to let them know how grateful we are for them, and for the babies who never got to join us. And, how grateful we are to be parents. It’s quite a juxtaposition, loss and life, the way they sometimes collide and coexist. Without loss, we wouldn’t have our babies in our arms. With new life (now two new lives), we, too, feel reborn after such devastating loss.
Here’s my poem from 2019, “The Adventure To You”:
Mommies and daddies have dreams, you see.
They dream that someday they might welcome a baby, maybe two, or maybe three.
One day, imagine their surprise when that dream becomes a reality.
The joy and gladness in their hearts explodes with the thought of their growing little sweet pea.
This journey should’ve lasted months, but sadly, it only ventured a few weeks.
What about the parents-to-be? Well, they felt very sad and lots of tears rolled down their cheeks.
Of course, the questions of why filled their heads, and it even kept them awake many nights while trying to slumber in bed.
Months went by and much to their surprise, a success: another baby would soon join their nest!
Holding out hope that this was the time, they were saddened again as the stars just did not align.
Why, oh, why? How could this be?
All they wanted was a baby…to turn “us” into “three.”
“The third time’s a charm,” they say this is a thing.
What do you know…a little one is due in the Spring!
Each week that passed was just as nerve-wracking as the last.
Pretty soon though, worries and fears turned into many happy tears.
All of our hopes and dreams came true, for you, our sweet baby, made your debut.
Yes, you guessed it, little one, this story is true. This is the story of our adventure to you.
We made it home and took a few moments to reflect.
We stared at you and just cried: how could we have gotten so lucky? You are just perfect.
Never forgotten are our angels in heaven or the struggles on this journey that made us stronger.
Now that you’re here though, we will not question why any longer.
Paths aren’t linear – sometimes not so straight.
For now we know: this journey was our fate.
To anyone who has experienced loss, I feel deeply for you. I hope you know that no matter what people say or do, well-intentioned or otherwise, you are allowed to grieve a loss as long as you need. You’re also allowed to celebrate what magic you felt, even if just for a few days, weeks, or months. What you went through mattered. You matter. The stigma around pregnancy and infant loss is changing. So many before us went it alone, and fought quietly, but the narrative is changing. Don’t feel ashamed to reach out for support, and don’t forget that you are loved, so very much.