I met Beth several years ago when I was attending Vet Tech school in the Southwest suburbs of Chicago. We were in different cohorts so we never got much of a chance to get to know each other during that time but over the years we got to know each other via Facebook posts, as well as anyone can anyway. Over the years I watched from the sidelines as she graduated from the school we met at, got married to Mike, and then seeing two people turn to three. Little did I know from my limited view just how much pain and grief went into that growth. How well can you really know a person through Facebook anyway?
So when I met Beth, Mike, and their beautiful and happy baby girl, June, for our photoshoot one brightly lit and fresh Sunday morning and heard their story, I knew it was something that needed to be shared, if they were ok with it. Just being around June was calming. I looked at her and could see how much love and hope lives within her. And maybe I appreciated that fact even more because of what I was told.
In honor of Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month, I introduce to you Beth’s story.
We agreed to add a content warning for Pregnancy and Infant Loss. I urge whoever is reading this to please check in with themselves before proceeding so that you can take a moment to decide whether you are in the right headspace to keep reading about something that may have affected you. Beth and I are 100% aware of the fact that not everyone has a happy-ending and we want to be sensitive to that. Please proceed with caution.
I am lucky. Every time I look at my daughter I know this. In order to understand the joy I have now, you must understand the pain. I believe everything in life is in proportion to each other. If you do not know cold, how can you know warmth? If you have not felt hungry, how can you know what it feels like to be full? I believe the same to hold true for love and hate, sorrow and joy.
I could tell I was pregnant almost immediately with each of my pregnancies. My husband, Mike, and I were surprised at how easily I became pregnant at first. I went into something called “short labor” with my first loss, which consisted of an hour and a half of contractions. My second loss, I would not stop bleeding and needed medication to help “complete” the process. The third was a confirmed ectopic (tubular) pregnancy. The baby was implanted over an artery and needed emergency surgery which resulted in the loss of my left fallopian tube. That was the first time I saw my baby’s heartbeat. I called my husband from the doctor and we went to the hospital. I had three pregnancies and losses with in a 9 month period prior to doing IVF. I never made it past 6 weeks pregnant and knew from the first loss that nothing in my life would be right, until I had a baby in my arms. I changed and pieces of me died with each miscarriage.
There are no words in any language to describe the feeling. Empty. Alone and deeply angry. Angry at the doctors. Angry at the world. Angry at myself. I felt like a terrible wife. I had no purpose in life and I should be dead on top of that. My own body betrayed me. Mornings were the worst. I would put my hand on my stomach in the mornings forgetting I had a miscarriage. Reality is a tough pill to swallow first thing in the morning. There were good days and bad days but the anger, pain and emptiness never fully went away. I felt like I was the only one. Alone. Looking on social media everyone had their happy families. I’ve always wanted children. Why was this happening? It seemed everyone was able to have a baby like it was nothing. My miscarriage started to dictate where I went, just to avoid seeing children because it was so unbelievably painful.
My husband had to watch from the side lines. The losses did not just happen to me, they happened to my husband as well but he had to watch as I fall apart. They were his children too and had no control over the situation either. He lost the old me along with children. No one tells you “through thick and thin, sickness and health” could happen so soon in a marriage. Mike held my hand, took care of me, held me, comforted me and carried me through much of the journey. This wasn’t just my journey but our journey.
For those of us who have suffered a loss or losses, the description of life after loss, may be familiar. I have read articles and participated in forums about infant loss and talked to many women who have had miscarriages. Many of us have similar stories about how we feel. Waiting for our periods. Holding our breath while waiting for that second line to appear, begging and praying it comes up positive. This is a heavy cross to bear alone. I found comfort in knowing I was not alone and surprised to find that miscarriage is more common than I knew and everything I was feeling and experiencing was completely normal!
Doctors had confirmed my remaining fallopian tube was blocked, our only option was IFV, Invitro Fertilization. I closed my eyes and jumped at the decision to do IVF. If I took time to stop and think about everything it entitled, I wouldn’t have done it. My husband and I started to look into private adoption while beginning the IFV process in case it didn’t work out. IVF involved a lot of shots. Little did I know by the time we were done I would end up taking more than 200 injections in my stomach and “back side”. I was scared but I imagined laying on my death bed thinking about life regrets. I didn’t want “not trying” to be one of them. I don’t know if I could forgive myself for not trying. So we did.
My husband and I went through several blood tests and exams to get to the point where we could start the injections in effort to collect eggs. The best I can describe this is the goal of each “round” of IVF is to collect as many mature, healthy eggs in attempt to produce a good quality embryo. We did two rounds of IVF. We gave the abdominal injections together. I couldn’t do it on my own. We both held the syringe, counted to three and just went for it. I cried after my first injection and all I could think is “how did we get here? Will this be worth it?”. I felt exposed and vulnerable with the injections in my stomach. We both began acupuncture to help with stress.
I was lucky to have had an excellent support system in addition to my husband. It consisted of other women with similar experiences, friends, family and coworkers. These individuals, whether they knew it or not, helped me get through the most difficult time in my life and they were needed because our first round of IVF, unfortunately, was unsuccessful. My husband and I needed to begin again. My body hurt and we felt more defeated than ever.
The second round produced enough embryos to do a “transfer”. It’s only called a transfer because that’s pretty much all they are doing. Pregnancy is not a guarantee. And I did not become pregnant with the first embryo transfer. We were devastated again. It was a double edge sword too. The more stressed or depressed you’d become, the less likely you are to become pregnant.
There is a deep strength inside every person. Most people don’t know about this strength and some people don’t always need it. I think in very bad or difficult times we have a choice to use this strength, though we may not be aware of it in the moment. When I say “choice” I mean making a conscience decision to something as simple as putting your feet on the ground every morning. Some days, that is how my strength manifested itself. One foot in front of the other. Other days, it was in the form of boxing, or reaching out to a friend to talk or doing something to take better care of myself. Acupuncture, the gym, and finding unity with others who have lost children were amazing outlets for me.
I would work out on the elliptical for an hour sometimes and think to myself “I can’t give up. When I have a baby and am in labor, I won’t be able to say I am too tired for this.”. As horrible as things felt sometimes, I was still able to channel all my anger and pain into something positive. The important thing was to keep going. I believe if you want something bad enough, TRULY BAD ENOUGH, you can get it. It may not be easy and it may not happen fast, but if you want something bad enough you WILL find a way to make it happen. One way or another, we were going to have a child!
On March 16, our daughter, June, was born on her exact predicted due date. I pushed only for eighteen minutes. I was finished waiting! At last, it was over! We held each other and cried tears of joy. When my daughter heard my husband’s voice for the first time, she stopped crying. We were drunk with love and completely in awe that we had finally become parents! There are times when I hold her and look at her and think “I can’t believe I’m a mommy!”. I dreamt of this child before she was a thought in our minds. She is everything to me. She is my hope, my tears, my sorrow and my joy.
I have often described my daughter as “Mike in a skirt” but it is funny that even at seven months old, I see so much of me in her. The strength and the fight, she has it. She is standing on her own, without holding on and when she gets an idea in her head, she doesn’t give up easily, if she gives up at all. Humm…sounds like someone I know!
There is a deep, deep appreciation and a love that can only be described as some kind of soul connection. There are no words for the joy and love I feel for my daughter. We would go through everything all over again if the end result is our daughter. I have never seen my husband happier. The way he looks at June and the way she looks at him melts my heart. Mike doesn’t even have to be doing anything and when June looks at him she smiles. I feel June knows how much we wanted her and how hard we fought to have her and at the same time she doesn’t actually know what we went through to have her. I have not forgotten my losses but am at peace with them.
For anyone currently struggling I cannot tell you whether to give up or keep going. I cannot give advice on decisions for your life because every situation and every person is different. What I can tell you is that there is hope and you are not alone. Find your inner strength and keep moving forward if it is only to heal a little.
Mike and I are grateful for every moment, every cry, every poopie diaper, sleepless night and every challenge we have not yet encountered. We hold these things close because we know every day with her is a gift. I don’t know if it’s the way we hug her or hold her or just the way we look at her but I think she feels our gratefulness every day too.
It is true you do not come out of a storm the same way you went in but in our story the journey was worth the destination.