Written by Jeanette Opheim, Guest Blogger
Stories of pregnancy loss, infertility, and the pursuit of parenthood are as complex and as diverse as snowflakes; no two are the same. My story is a simple one; it is not the most tragic or the most compelling, but it is my story and I am grateful for the opportunity to share it. There is a sisterhood in the struggle to conceive and pregnancy loss and each time we share our story we are strengthening the bonds and supporting one another through one of life’s most heartbreaking and discouraging experiences.
My husband Zach and I began our marriage with the mentality that we wanted biological children and adopted children…one day. We spent the first year and a half traveling, growing our careers, and being “the couple without kids.” It was a great time in our marriage and we thoroughly enjoyed it. I knew kids would come one day but for that first year and a half of our marriage the thought of giving up the “glamorous” aspects of our child-free life was something I absolutely dreaded. I lived for our multiple international trips a year. I was traveling all over the country planning and executing event sponsorships for the brand I worked for, attending festivals, concerts, and enjoying the company of celebrities and music industry moguls. I enjoyed a spontaneous social life where I could make plans at the drop of a hat and spend evenings out with friends without a care in the world. Zach lived a similar social lifestyle. For us, kids were a one-day element that we would add in when we were good and ready.
During this time I had an immense fear of pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood. Now that I had a husband, the reality of motherhood was imminent and we practiced Natural Family Planning to avoid getting pregnant. I tracked my cycles and took my temperature each morning religiously because the thought of becoming pregnant was an absolutely terrifying thought. I needed to know when I was ovulating so that we could avoid sex. The underlying calling to become a mother was still there, but the reality of what becoming a mother entailed scared me in a way that was new and real. The way a pregnancy would change my body, the pain that childbirth would cause, the sacrifices we’d have to make to our jobs and social lives with a little one around…all of it was overwhelming and the fear was always lurking.
Sunday, May 13th 2018 started just like any normal day for us. It was Mother’s Day. We started our day by attending church with plans to celebrate Mother’s Day with Zach’s family later on. I walked into church with all of those fears of motherhood prominent in my heart and in my soul. I had no idea that I would be walking out of church an hour later a completely changed woman. At some point during the service while I was kneeling and praying a literal wave of change washed over me. I was not asking for God to open my heart or mind to motherhood, I was not praying about anything related to parenthood, I was not preparing myself for change, but God had something in store for me.
During my time in prayer I began noticing the mothers around me. The young tired ones bouncing infants in their arms and the ones who were not only mothers but also grandmothers and even great-grandmothers. I saw the lives they had created sitting around them and all of a sudden the fears I had about motherhood washed away. They never came back. Like a gust of wind blowing leaves off of a tree God whisked away every element of fear I was using to guard myself from falling head over heels into the pursuit of parenthood. He redirected my focus and instilled a deep desire to be a mother into my heart in a matter of moments.
Zach and I left church and walked through the parking lot towards our car hand in hand. About halfway to the car I said “Zach, I am ready to become a mom. I am ready to start trying for a baby.” Zach smiled down at me and simply said “Me too.” I told him about the miraculous experience I had just had in church and we hugged tearfully, smiling and laughing. Just like that our hearts were changed and we had a new focus in life: becoming parents.
One day while we were on a walk in our neighborhood with our two dogs Zach and I had a very close-minded and silly disagreement. I call it silly because looking back on that moment from where I am now, it is quite amusing that we thought we had as much control over our family that we did. I brought up to Zach that I wanted our firstborn to be adopted; Zach was adamant that our firstborn be a biological child. We bickered and never really reached a compromise during that walk. A few weeks later I decided it was pointless to be stuck on which child came first and decided I’d be totally fine with our firstborn being biological as long as we could start the paperwork process of adoption shortly after our first was born. We agreed on this and set our sights on conceiving.
I was under the impression that conceiving was as easy as pie. I grew up around families with multiple biological children and I never heard conversations about difficulty conceiving. My religious upbringing gave me the impression that just looking at a boy the wrong way would get you pregnant (this is a joke, but I was raised under very strict rules about boys!). I knew that my mother had had a miscarriage in between myself and the birth of my sister but she rarely talked about it. The little I did know made it seem like it was a minor occurrence that was just a small blip in the growth of my family.
We started trying to conceive that May. My cycle came and went with a couple negative pregnancy tests and I chalked it up to starting mid-way through my cycle. June ended with negative pregnancy tests, too, and I began to wonder if we were missing our mark. After July’s negative pregnancy tests, the fears of infertility began creeping up in my mind. I still had an iron grip on the control of our family’s growth and was having a difficult time understanding why three months of trying to conceive were not generating any positive pregnancy tests. Although the thought of infertility crossed my mind it was not a major fear and in August I took a positive pregnancy test. Life was on track just how we planned it; we were pregnant!
I was pregnant for sixty four days. Those days were an exciting time for us! We told our family and close friends and began envisioning what life would look like as a family of three. We went to a seven week appointment and got to see our little one via an ultrasound. It was just a small dot but that small dot became our world. After our appointment we treated ourselves to a fancy dinner to celebrate the life we had created together and giggled like school children as we told our waiter we were pregnant and celebrating.
I went to the bathroom at work one morning and glanced at my toilet paper before I tossed it into the toilet; it was tinted pink. My heart and everything around me seemed to freeze. I tried to calmly reassure myself that spotting was normal during the first trimester and for some reason thought putting in a tampon would be the best course of action. I called my midwife and let her know that I was spotting; she reassured me that it was totally normal and to only call her back if the blood increased in volume and intensified in color. I sat back down at my desk and got back to work and eventually the pink tinted toilet paper took a back seat in my mind as I got wrapped up in phone calls and meetings. At some point I had to go back to the bathroom and remembered that I had a tampon in. I pulled it out and again my heart stopped and my world froze. The tampon was covered in bright red blood.
I called the midwife back. She again reassured me that it was normal; if the volume intensified, I began to cramp, and if I started discharging dark colored tissue, then I needed to call her back. I mentioned the tampon and she told me to avoid using those for the remainder of the day. I had to leave work to go purchase pads, and at that point I lost all concentration. I went to the bathroom dozens of times and the blood was still present and red. I eventually confided in my boss and she allowed me to head home.
I tried to keep my mind off of everything when I got home. At this point I had filled Zach in on what was going on and he came home early, too. We were still unsure of what was happening and held onto the hope that this was just spotting. We lounged around for the rest of the day until it was time for bed. By bedtime I had begun experiencing some cramping and that is when I knew deep down inside that I was miscarrying.
The night was restless and I spent most of my time in the bathtub. Zach sat vigilantly by my side as I tried to get through the slowly intensifying pain. At this point I was beginning to expel the dreaded “dark colored tissue” and began to shift my focus from being hopeful that it was spotting to being anxious to get to the midwife in the morning for her to confirm that it was indeed a miscarriage that we were experiencing. I knew the baby was not okay.
We were at the doors the moment the birthing center opened the next morning. A midwife took my blood and confirmed based on my signs and symptoms that we were indeed suffering a miscarriage and that she would sent over the hcg levels as soon as she got them back from the lab. I broke down and sobbed all the way home.
That day was the worst. Losing your child slowly and in pieces is something I do not wish upon anyone. Zach and I got through the day as best we could, and our “best” consisted of a lot of crying. There was a specific moment where the majority of the pregnancy came out and we stood over the toilet debating what to do. There was no manual for how to handle a miscarriage. Should we take the contents out of the toilet and hold an impromptu funeral in our backyard? Should we just flush? We stood in the bathroom and debated our course of action; I could not come to a decision. Eventually Zach took the reigns and flushed the toilet. We watched our baby disappear forever.
Miscarriages are traumatic, therefore there isn’t a textbook way to respond to them and to navigate the emotional aftermath. For me I mourned and I mourned hard. I spent moments to myself keeled over in the kind of grief that takes your breath away, the kind that hurts your throat and chest and leaves you feeling physically exhausted. It horrified me that miscarriages were as common as they were and treated so “hush hush.” It wasn’t until I had miscarried that I found out about dozens of friends and family members who had suffered the same thing, sometimes multiple times in a row. It was an unspoken truth that was not revealed to me until I became a member of the unfortunate club myself. Knowing that my story could potentially help others I decided to share our miscarriage story on my personal Facebook. Below is what I wrote:
A little over a month ago Zach and I experienced a loss that really threw us for a loop and knocked us down emotionally and mentally. Writing is therapeutic for me, so to cope with our loss I penned out three letters to three different people. Being this vulnerable on a platform like Facebook is terrifying, but I am ready to share our story and I think the best way of doing it is sharing the letters that I wrote.
First Letter – DEAR BABY,
These days I have constant thoughts swimming through my head, yet putting them into words feels next to impossible. You existed in this world for only 64 days but you never got to see the light of day. Your life began and ended inside my womb, and my heart is shattered knowing I will never get to know you.
I will never know if you were a little boy or a little girl. I will never know who you were going to resemble; your father or me. How tall you’d be will forever be a mystery to me, along with what your personality would be like or what color hair you’d have. I’ll never hear you cry, but I cry enough for the both of us knowing that I will never truly know you.
Your little life was passionately celebrated while we knew about you. When I saw those two pink lines on the pregnancy test I sunk down onto the bathroom floor and happy tears would not stop streaming down my face. I excitedly pulled out the “this guy is going to be a dad” t-shirt that I had bought and saved for your father for this exact moment and folded it on the bed, placing the positive pregnancy test on top of the shirt. When he came home and he saw the shirt he started crying tears of joy, too. We hugged each other and laughed and smiled and felt complete. We did it! We tried hard to get pregnant with you, and you were finally real.
Telling your grandparents, aunts, uncles, and our friends were some of the best memories I have so far. Everyone was just so happy. You would have been the first grandchild for both sides of the family, and you had many people praying their hearts out for you to come along for the past couple of years. Confirming that you were finally here and growing rapidly inside of me brought out so many smiles and happy tears. You and your life were celebrated so joyfully.
The day we saw you and your heartbeat on the ultrasound became the best day of my life. Getting visual confirmation that you were real, you were alive, and you were growing gave your father and me such a pure feeling of elation, and we walked out of the birthing center like giddy little children. Your heart was beating at 158 beats per minute, a strong and confident heartbeat, and it was all I needed to fall completely head over heels in love with you.
We never got to show anyone the ultrasound pictures of you or the sound waves of your heartbeat, because the day we got them back was the day we lost you. Something went wrong in the week that we saw your heart beating strongly on the monitor. Somewhere, something happened that snuffed out your little life and forced you out of my body, and it kills me knowing that I will never know what that “something” is. Everyone tells me that it’s a chromosomal malfunction, that you wouldn’t have been able to survive because of something that went wrong with your genetic composition. I hate hearing that generic reasoning. There is already so much I will never know about you, the least I deserve to know is the reason why I lost you.
I am so sorry, my sweet baby. I did everything I could to grow you and bring you into this world, but something about my body failed you. I know that I will never know you or hold you or hear you cry, and I feel completely lost with this knowledge. What do I do? Trying for another baby will not bring you back. Nothing I can do will bring you back. I miss you so much and I love you so much and I will do everything I can to keep your memory alive.
I find comfort knowing that you are in the glory of God’s presence now, and that you were celebrated while you were with us. All sixty four days of your life brought multiple people happiness and put joy in their hearts. I will celebrate you the rest of my life. Whether or not we get pregnant again, I will always make sure you have a place in our family. When we shared the news that we were pregnant with you, a friend gave me a bouquet of flowers. After we lost you, I pressed those flowers and framed them, and now I will always have a visual reminder of you through a gift that was given in celebration of your life.
I love you, sweet child. Thank you for the joy you gave me and the unwavering love that you put into my heart. Thank you for making me a mama. I love you forever.
Second Letter – TO ZACH
These past two weeks have been the most emotionally draining two weeks of our lives, I almost can’t believe we’re still functioning. I feel like we’re the last two warriors standing victorious after a long and draining battle.
We lost our baby. That is an undeniable and unchangeable fact that we will have to carry in our hearts for the rest of our lives. I know that you will carry that pain differently than I will, but I rest easy knowing that neither of us will ever forget our first child whom we never got to meet, and we will both do our best to keep its memory alive.
I know life throws married couples challenges, and I feel like one year and ten months into ours, we’ve had our first defining challenge. Sitting here two weeks after our miscarriage, I am confident in saying that I am proud of the way we handled this together as a united front. I may have been the one who had to take on the physical pain of the miscarriage, but you were by my side the entire time carrying on the emotional pain when I was just too exhausted to go on. There was never a time where I felt like I was bearing this burden alone, or that we were misunderstanding each other’s way of processing pain. You stood by my side and we were as equal as we could be during this time.
You were so protective and cognizant of me. Not only did you physically care for me, you were my first line of defense if anything outside of our home tried to penetrate our extremely private time of grief. You became our spokesperson and kept me sheltered. You handled it with such grace and strength, qualities that I knew you had but never truly appreciated until now. You stepped up and became everything we needed you to be. You were brave and I am forever grateful for your courage.
I learned a lot about you in these past two weeks, to a point where I feel like I’m getting to know you all over again. I am seeing the man that you are in an entirely new light and I am very much in love with that man. This miscarriage has brought a lot of pain, but there is also good that has come out of it. Our marital foundation is stronger than it’s ever been and we are learning how to exist as husband and wife during times of heartache and grief.
Life will continue to throw us challenges but I know now that we can take them on harmoniously. I know we might not always see eye to eye but we are always on the same page and will always be a team. Thank you for all that you are, I love you.
Third Letter – TO THE MAMA WHO MISCARRIED
I am so sorrowful for your loss. I mourn for you and with you. Maybe you’re like me, and this was your first pregnancy that you had been hoping and praying for for a long time. Maybe you’re already a mama of one or more children and this baby was going to be the perfect addition to your little tribe. Maybe you weren’t trying to get pregnant and didn’t want to be, and now you’re sitting here wondering what the heck just happened. Maybe this isn’t the first time you’ve lost a baby. Or maybe you’re none of those women and you’re journeying through a miscarriage in a completely different way. I don’t know who you are specifically, but you and I carry a pain that stems from the same source of loss, and therefore we are united in a terrible but special bond.
Everyone’s miscarriage story is different and unique, and if you’re like me you’re sitting here still in disbelief that it even happened to you in the first place. I don’t know what to tell you. I’m not going to say “one in four” because honestly, statistics mean nothing. You can research and study the likelihood of a miscarriage or stillbirth at any week of a pregnancy but no matter what, those statistics will not predict, include, or exclude you from what will end up happening to you and your child.
I am not going to write to you and tell you how to feel or what you should do to recover, but I will tell you this: stay true to yourself and how you want to deal with your miscarriage. You are entitled to handle it however you want to. If you do not want to see anyone and mourn privately, then keep your door locked and do not feel obligated to check your phone. If you need friends and family around, vocalize that to them. No matter what, understand that this time is all about you. You are not obligated or responsible for walking a family member through their grief of your loss. You’re not even responsible for your partner’s grief. Focus on you and do what you think is best for your body and mental health.
Strong mama, you are a part of a mighty sisterhood, one that is unfortunately still expected to keep quiet and “keep trying.” Don’t keep quiet! When you are ready, share your story in a manner you’re comfortable with. Your story will strengthen other miscarriage mamas and educate those who are unaware of the gravity of a miscarriage and the toll it can take on a woman and her body.
Sweet mama, heal how you need to heal. There isn’t a right or wrong way, and don’t be afraid of it. Healing doesn’t mean forgetting. Take your time, tap into yourself, and do what you need to do to get your body back on track and your mind feeling healthy. Try to love your body again. I haven’t forgiven mine yet, but I know that with time I’ll hopefully come to terms with what happened and give my body the grace it needs to fully heal. Hopefully.
Writing is therapeutic for me, which is why I am writing you this letter now. There’s no textbook way to mourn, so do what you need to do, mama. I’ll mourn my way, you’ll mourn in your way, and with time we will both heal.
I am struggling trying to find a way to end this letter, since ending on a hopeful note feels too cliché and ending on a sorrowful note is too depressing. I’ll end by saying this: miscarriages suck, and it’s scary to think that it could easily happen again. I don’t know what the future holds. Maybe I’ll get pregnant “right away” like people keep telling me, or maybe I’ll only ever have miscarriages, or maybe I’ll never get pregnant again. Right now, I have no idea what the future holds. For now I am tapping into the things that make me happy (nature, long hot bubble baths, writing, friends and family…) and trying my best not to let the overwhelming feeling of loss consume me at random moments of the day. For now, I’m just “hanging in there,” and I’m okay with that. From one miscarriage mama to another, I encourage you to do the same. When you’re up for it, tap into your happy, but also allow yourself to be sad or mad or any other emotion that you need to feel towards your loss. Do what you can to keep your body healthy, and above all, unapologetically do what you need to do to heal.
I was met with a flood of responses. People who had multiple miscarriages. An acquaintance from college who lost twins due to a recent miscarriage. People who had never experienced a miscarriage themselves but sympathized with my story. Every single person thanked me for sharing my story and it was very easy to recognize how healthy it was to knock down the doors of silence that surrounds a miscarriage.
After our miscarriage we wasted no time in trying again. Three more months went by and I grew extremely discouraged, thoughts of difficulty conceiving creeping back into my mind. I had been told by multiple people that I would get pregnant “right away again,” but that didn’t seem to be the case for us. I tried my best to be patient and wait for God’s timing, but I began to resent God’s timing. I wanted complete control over our family planning! What did God know that I didn’t? What was the reasoning behind all of our loss and discouragement, and why was it happening to us? What I didn’t know was that God had the perfect plan in store for us, a plan beyond my wildest dreams. All He was asking from me was to be patient, and I had the most difficult time tapping into that request. I felt like my patience tank was completely on “empty” and looking back at that time now, I am embarrassed of how impatient I actually was.
Around Christmas time Zach and I began talking about adoption again. We knew that an adoption doesn’t just happen in a blink of an eye, that it requires planning, fundraising, paperwork, and lots and lots of waiting. Understanding that conceiving a child was becoming quite the difficult task for us (literally and emotionally), we decided to take a step that we could control, a step towards becoming active in an adoption. The first thing we did was write our close family and friends letters letting them know the exciting news. We wanted them to know that our talk about adopting was becoming an action. Shortly after sending them out in the mail we began the paperwork process of adoption.
I could write an entire book about the adoption process alone, it’s very complex and extensive. Just like childbirth, it is different for everyone. Some families adopt internationally, some adopt domestically, some adopt via foster care and some adopt family members, step-children, and children in their community who need a stable home. For multiple reasons we decided to pursue the domestic infant adoption route. We began the paperwork process at the beginning of the year and on May 21, 2019 we got the news that we had been matched! This had happened much more quickly than we had anticipated. A mama had carefully chosen us to be the adoptive parents of her child. The joy I felt that day is incomparable to anything I had ever felt before, although it was tinged with sadness for a woman I did not yet know who had just made the heartbreaking decision to place her child up for adoption. I quickly learned that adoption is just that: joy and sadness and loss intertwined like a strand of DNA. A quote that perfectly summarizes the complexity of adoption is one from Jody Landers: “A child born to another woman calls me Mommy. The magnitude of that tragedy and the depth of that privilege are not lost on me.”
We knew we would fall in love with our child but we had no idea the depth of love we would feel for our birth mother. We met her the day before she was induced and hit it off in a way that left me feeling an abundance of gratitude that she was our birth mother. I had been nervous that we wouldn’t get along, that we’d be wary of one another, or that we just wouldn’t click. It couldn’t have been more opposite. I will forever thank God for the beautiful and incredible woman that our birth mother is and the strong bond that was created the night we met her.
Our perfect son Barron was born on June 24th, 2019 at 2:24pm. He was tiny and alert and stole our hearts the moment we met him. The first week of his life was miraculous, exhausting, joyful, heartbreaking, and overwhelming all at once. We are very careful and mindful of the details we share regarding those emotionally intimate days since the story is ultimately our son’s and we must protect it and respect it for his sake, but I will summarize by saying adoption is not natural, no matter how often it happens or how much it’s talked about. The harsh reality of what is happening cannot be ignored; a woman is walking away empty-handed and heartbroken while another woman walks away with the other woman’s child in her arms. We are very very blessed that we have such a strong bond with our son’s birth mother and that our son will get to know and love her through an open adoption.
Since July we have been home adjusting to life as a family of three and it has been the most joyful experience of our lives. Barron is the sweetest soul I have ever had the privilege of knowing and it is a miracle to watch him grow and thrive each day. At the time I am writing this he has just recently turned two months old and his personality is beginning to shine through. He is morphing from a newborn into an interactive and inquisitive baby and he is a constant reminder of God’s grace and complex grand design.
One day in March while we were wrapping up our adoption paperwork I took what had become a routine pregnancy test. I left it upstairs and got distracted with dinner, chores, and the dogs for the duration of the evening. While we were wrapping up dinner I remembered I had a test sitting on the bathroom counter upstairs and mentioned it to Zach. He sighed and reminded me not to get my hopes up. By this point I cried with frustration every time I took a negative pregnancy test and I could tell the negative tests were wearing on Zach, too. We agreed not to allow our emotions to get the best of us as we headed upstairs to check the test.
We got into the bathroom and glanced down at the test and saw two pink lines. They were faint, but they were there. Thinking back on that moment it’s a bit hazy, but I do know that there was a lot of hugging and happy tears. We were relieved to see that we were finally pregnant again, but I could tell we were still hesitant with releasing our full joy. We knew what happened the last time we were pregnant and we knew it could easily happen again.
There was no definitive moment that the fear of another miscarriage washed away, but eventually it did because, as I sit here writing this, my 3rd trimester baby bump is in my peripheral vision and I am feeling the baby kick me quite enthusiastically right now. It’s like the baby knows I’m writing about it! We are due in December 2019 and are allowing ourselves to be surprised by the sex of the baby when we give birth. We are humbled by God’s abundance in our lives and excited to meet our fourth family member. We feel extremely blessed that we will have “Irish twins” and that Barron will grow up with a very close sibling.
Our family bible verse and mantra, Ecclesiastes 3:11 (“and He will make everything beautiful in its time”), is a steadfast example of how God works: mysteriously, wisely, surprisingly, and always always always in His timing. At one point, after our miscarriage while we were struggling to re-conceive, I grew to resent that bible verse. It hangs on a canvas in our kitchen and I used to glare at it as I walked past, a few times very tempted to take it down. Something inside me told me to keep it up, and I think that’s a symbol of my faith in God, as feeble as it was at the time. He knew what He was doing and I weakly trusted Him.
The same week we miscarried was the same week Barron was conceived, and had we not miscarried he would never have become our son. Our miscarriage lost its senselessness the moment we realized Barron’s date of conception and I have felt restored in my faith in God ever since. I will forever mourn the loss of our miscarried baby but I know that I will meet it at the gates of Heaven one day, and that thought puts a God-given peace in my heart. Our life as a family is a mosaic that God has carefully and intricately designed. I do not know what it looks like in completion but I can feel it’s beauty and wholeness around me at all times.