Sunday, December 18, 2016

The Mother in Me [guest post]

Written by: Mindy Woerter

I remember the moment when my husband and I decided we were ready to have kids. We were finishing up a dinner we cooked together -- shrimp scampi or some kind of pasta, probably, since I always suggested that kind of thing -- and enjoying another glass of wine. We had been married a little over a year and settled into our own home. I had asked my husband a couple times before, “Do you think we’re ready?” and he’d answered pragmatically, as he generally does: Let’s wait until we buy a house. Let’s wait until we have more money saved.

But this time, when I asked him, he said, “Yeah, I think we are.” I’m pretty sure I cried and said I’d toss out my birth control pills the very next day. I don’t remember everything we said but I remember the feelings of anticipation and elation, like I was standing at the top of a mountain looking out over this beautiful vista, and I was finally ready to explore it.

When you’re newly married and talking excitedly over a bottle of wine about the babies you can’t wait to have, you never expect this -- the moment in the doctor’s office when you’re told that your baby has no chance of survival outside your body. You can’t imagine the ways in which everything you’ve dreamt about and planned for could all go wrong, even though you know it does happen -- people lose babies. It’s called optimism bias, that belief that the bad things that happen to other people won’t happen to you.

By the time we had arrived at this moment in the doctor’s office, though, we’d already faced our share of bad things. Though we had decided we were finally ready to have kids, nature had other ideas, and we struggled to conceive even though all our testing came back normal. “Infertility of unspecified origin,” they called it. After two and a half years, we were finally able to conceive our first daughter with the help of fertility treatments, and we got lucky that it worked the first time. 

Our daughter arrived on a cold day in January, three and a half years after that night of shrimp scampi and excited conversation. She was three weeks early but healthy, a tiny little thing with rosebud lips and a dainty nose. She’s so feminine looking, the nurses cooed. It didn’t matter anymore that it had taken her so long to get here -- the journey had brought us together and so it was just as it should have been. 

Eight months after she was born, I was shocked to find out we had conceived on our own without even trying. I marveled at how effortless it had been, and felt like I had gotten to experience what “normal” couples get to have. I went to buy my daughter a Big Sister shirt and the sales clerk laughed and said they didn’t make anything in her size. I bought a 2T that my petite eight-month-old wore as a dress and surprised my husband with it when he got home from work.  

I miscarried two weeks later, on a sunny September day. I felt so guilty -- for wishing for more time to spend with my daughter just us two, for taking such a long walk that day and not drinking enough water, for the glasses of wine I’d had before I realized I was pregnant. I felt foolish for thinking our infertility struggles somehow inoculated us against more heartache. But I also felt hope. We had gotten pregnant on our own.

Six months later, we conceived again with relative ease. After two ultrasounds showing a strong heartbeat and a growing baby, my fears of having another miscarriage slipped away, replaced instead with excitement. We talked about what kind of family car we’d need. I started cleaning out the baby’s room. I bought my daughter a book on being a big sister and cried while reading it to her.

But after our second ultrasound, my phone rang and my doctor’s voice was on the other end. I knew right away it wasn’t good news. She said it could be nothing, it’s so early, she didn’t want to worry me, it could probably be fixed with surgery -- but the tech saw the possibility of an abdominal wall defect called omphalocele. She said she’d send me to Maternal Fetal Medicine for a follow-up scan.

In those two agonizing weeks until the scan, I spent many late nights reading about omphalocele, finding as many happy stories as heartbreaking ones. I Googled ultrasound pictures and compared them to mine, trying to diagnose myself if the baby really had an issue. Maybe the tech was wrong. Maybe our baby would be fine. The universe had handed us enough pain already -- there couldn’t possibly be more.

By the time of our follow-up scan, I felt emptied of emotion. My body went through the motions of getting in the car, and driving, and checking in at Maternal Fetal Medicine and filling out the paperwork, but inside I felt hollow. The office was busy, the staff running behind, and as we waited I watched pregnant women come in and out, and with each one I felt my lungs constricting.

Finally, we were taken back to ultrasound, where a harried tech greeted us with an apology for the wait. As she prepared her equipment, I anxiously watched the screen where we’d see our baby again.

The ultrasound was excruciatingly brief and mostly silent. The tech pulled up our baby’s image and told us quietly what we could already see -- that our baby’s heart was beating outside of her body, that most of her other internal organs were outside her torso as well, that her brain was surrounded by fluid and her facial features unrecognizable. A few minutes later, a doctor came in to tell us our baby had Limb Body Wall Complex, a rare and severe defect that could not be corrected surgically. Her brain had not developed properly, and her heart likely hadn’t either. Whether I decided to continue the pregnancy or end it, he said, the outcome would ultimately be the same: our baby would not survive.

I felt frozen, like if I didn’t move or breathe then everything would somehow fade away like the nightmare it was. This couldn’t be happening to me. This baby inside of me -- how could it be that she would never take a breath, or open her eyes, or reach out with her little hand and grab my finger? 

Mothers will do anything for their children. They’ll step in front of runaway cars and speeding bullets. They’ll give them the food out of their mouths and the last ounce of energy they have left in them. I would have done it all if it meant making my baby healthy. But there was nothing I could do to make her better -- all I could do was spare her pain. Continuing the pregnancy also meant a higher risk of complications for me like infection and infertility. My living daughter needed a healthy mother to take care of her, and we desperately wanted to bring another healthy child into this world someday. 

So we decided to terminate the pregnancy, to spare our baby the suffering she would have endured and instead take it on ourselves, so that all she would know is being surrounded by love. We said goodbye to our second daughter, Sophie Grace, a few days later. That baby bump just starting to grow, really only noticeable to me, was gone. I went home instead with an impossibly small set of handprints and footprints and the elephant security blanket I had kept with me during the procedure -- the first and only thing I bought for her.

It’s all over now, I thought. I can go back to normal. I realize now how naive that was. I expected physical pain but felt very little except a crippling dizziness, remnants of the anesthesia and side effects of the antibiotics. But the emotional pain -- it was nothing I’d known before. I tried to sleep but I couldn’t turn off my brain. I lay on the bathroom floor in a fetal position, sobbing. I was a zombie for my living daughter, shrouded in a fog of grief so thick I felt like I couldn’t breathe. She clung to me, begging for my attention, and I wished I could fade away into the fog and be lost. I felt like the worst mother who’d ever lived. I hadn’t been able to heal my baby, and now I resented my first child and the way she needed my body and my spirit when I had nothing left to give. 

But the days went on, I felt able to reenter the world, little by little. I found an online support group for people who had ended wanted pregnancies, and I clung to their words like a lifeline. It was weird at first to find such solace in strangers, but I did. Reading what they had to say, I realized that it wasn’t about being “going back to normal.” I could never be that woman or that mother again. Having to make that decision had left an indelible mark on me, one that I would carry forever. I couldn’t go back -- I could only find a way to move forward.

I struggled in silence with my infertility. I never breathed a word of my miscarriage except to my closest friends. Five months after my abortion, I decided I couldn’t bury one more thing that has shaped my journey as a woman, especially after I watched our now president-elect and his legion of supporters paint women who have abortions as bad people who deserve to be punished. I decided to share everything on my Facebook page, even knowing I had friends and family who wouldn’t agree with my decision. I wanted my Facebook friends to know what I had endured, and I wanted to be able to grieve my lost daughter in the open.

And I wanted people to know what abortion really looks like: Me. Anti-choice groups have sadly succeeded in making abortion a black-and-white issue, which Ilyse Hogue, the president of NARAL Pro Choice America, highlighted in her speech at the Democratic National Convention. “It’s not as simple as bad girls get abortions and good girls have families," she said. "We’re the same women at different times in our lives each making decisions that are best for us.” 

It’s too easy for people to ignore the issue of abortion access when they believe it’s something that happens to other people, and not to women who know and care about (or even themselves). Well-meaning, loving people have said to me, “Well, yours wasn’t really the same,” or “It doesn’t really count as an abortion.” Maybe they thought they were being nice to reassure me that I wasn’t one of those “bad girls” who gets an abortion. That distinction only made me feel worse. If I wanted to continue to be seen as a good wife, a good mother, a good woman, I had to separate myself from my loss -- pretend that it didn’t happen, at least not in the way it happened. 

But for me to fully grieve my loss and heal, I have to embrace my decision and reclaim what abortion means for me. It's not wrong or bad or shameful. It's part of my story as a mother and a woman. It's a part of mothering just as being pregnant, giving birth, and experiencing infertility and miscarriage have been for me. I've been on all parts of this spectrum, and I could no sooner deny the part of me that dealt with infertility or the part that gave birth to a living child than deny the mother in me who had an abortion.

I don’t deserve punishment. I don’t deserve for my insurance to deny covering my abortion. I don’t deserve politicians telling me that my decision was immoral or should be illegal. I’m a good mother. I had an abortion. These things are not mutually exclusive. No matter the reason, a woman who has an abortion is making the decision that is best for her, and no outside party should be allowed to intervene.

My journey to motherhood has been messy. It’s been filled with anxiety, grief and, of course, joy -- boundless amounts of joy for the little girl I get to hold in my arms every day, and even for the babies I hold in my heart. They brought me joy, even though they were only with me for a short time.

My first daughter, my living daughter, made me a mother. She turned my world upside down in the scariest and most amazing ways. She changed me profoundly, in ways too numbered to list and too complex to describe. She’s the reason I try every day to be a good mother, in whatever ways I can. 

But my second daughter, the one who died, made me a stronger woman. She spent just 13 weeks growing inside of me but has left me with her memory for a lifetime. It’s because of her that I can finally embrace it all -- the wonderful and the heartbreaking. She deserves to be remembered. She existed. She is loved.

Saturday, December 3, 2016

rainbow pregnancy maternity pictures

A few months ago Jessi, my friend and photographer, reached out to tell me she was going to shoot our maternity pictures - no ifs ands or buts about it. She said we deserved them and understood it would take time, but to let her know whenever I was ready.

To be honest, at the time I had absolutely no interest in taking maternity pictures. I didn't want to *jinx* this pregnancy with permanent proof of its existence, and I certainly didn't want to deal with the emotional baggage they would bring. It's still difficult to look at Grace's maternity pictures because I don't even recognize myself in them. I look so relaxed and happy. I wish I could go back to that day. I wish I could scream at that person in those photos to cherish every single moment because all of it is about to come crashing down.

Well, I didn't tell her no, I just sat on it for a couple months. Then in October, I came across a viral photo of a woman who created a stunning rainbow with smoke bombs in remembrance of her 6 miscarriages. When I saw the photo for the first time, I just lost it. This woman lost 6 babies. 6 babies. And there she was, exuding hope for her unborn baby and strength for women everywhere. I immediately sent the picture to Jessi and told her I was ready.

Pebbles and Polka Dot Photography. Link to full article here.

I love the whole meaning behind a rainbow pregnancy - a beautiful rainbow after suffering through a dark storm - but I don't really love the obvious, in-your-face rainbow stuff. It's just not me. I like more subtle and meaningful ways to remember my babies...things that only I would ever know about. Of course my maternity photos were no exception.

I started looking on Pinterest for ideas and came across a photo that had little rainbow circles of light in the background, sort of like a flare. The photo wasn't even rainbow pregnancy related, but I loved how natural and subtle they looked. I sent the photo to Jessi and she told me they appear at random in pictures based on the lighting, but you can't guarantee when or how they show up.

I immediately fell in love with the symbolism of it all. Everything that has happened to me over the past 2 years has been completely at random and I've had to learn over and over again how to surrender to the lack of control. It seemed fitting that I wouldn't get control over something as simple as this, either. I told her to try to shoot for them but it was understandable if we couldn't get any.

We worked through logistics of time of day and location, and then she told me the only available date she had was 11/11 - Sprout's due date (our miscarriage). I smiled as I wrote it into my calendar. I don't believe in coincidences.

I cannot thank Jessi enough for capturing these photos of our family almost exactly 1 year after our shoot with Grace. We haven't reached our rainbow yet, but the clouds are finally starting to part. James and I look happy again. I look a little more hopeful. And, as hoped, my sweet little angels were there with us that day, with double rainbows and sun flares in many of the pictures.

Surrender to the lack of control. 

All photos by Ava Photography & Design.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

get involved

Yesterday I felt defeated, as I know many of you did. I think what shocked me the most about the results was learning that 53% of white women in America voted for Donald Trump (according to CNN exit polls). I just cannot wrap my head around that statistic. No matter your age, race or financial position, what could be a bigger priority to a woman than the rights to her own body? Seriously though, I would really like to know.

We have learned over the course of the election that Trump does not respect women or their bodies. Besides the infamous "Grab her by the pussy" conversation, Trump stated in the debates that he wants to overturn Roe vs Wade and have each state regulate their own abortion laws. I don't think people understand what impact that would really have on this country. Each state would go completely rogue. Abortion could be banned for any reason, including rape and incest, and in most Republican states, likely would. For the states that shut down abortion access and/or make it more difficult for a women to receive, there would then be an influx of women trying to get access in the few states that still performed them. In turn, the wait times would be so long that you wouldn't even be able to get the care you needed until weeks or months later. And at that point, it would be too late. The 20 week ban would certainly go into affect (as Republicans are already currently fighting it in numerous states), which would ban all abortions after 20 weeks. Women in my situation wouldn't stand a chance.

Trump promised to defund Planned Parenthood, which would in turn, cause them to shut down. Even if, EVEN IF Roe v Wade isn't overturned, where will women get abortion access along with their other healthcare needs? Where will they go to get their birth control so they don't end up with unwanted pregnancies in the first place? 2.5 million women and men in the United States annually visit Planned Parenthood for services and information. Where will all of those people go?

And if you're one of those women who believes they will never be in a situation of needing an abortion, I need you to hear me on this: neither did I. If your child bearing years are behind you, think about your daughters, sisters, nieces and grand daughters. Think about those women in your life being forced to carry a baby to term that's a product of rape. Think about those women in your life being put in a situation similar to mine, without abortion access. When 1 in 3 women in this country will have an abortion, you cannot hide in the idea that "it doesn't affect me."

So I have to ask the white women of this country again -- what is more important to a woman than women's rights?


Gah, I digress. I will never understand it, but I will have to accept it. Besides my complete frustration with the whole thing, there has been some inspiration and hope that has come out of this election. If we only looked at the millennial votes, Hillary would have trumped Trump. Significantly. This map shows the difference -- Hillary would have won in a landslide. That gives me hope. Hope for our future generations.

Another sliver of hope was Hillary's concession speech that she beautifully delivered yesterday. If you haven't watched it yet, I suggest you do.

"Please never stop believing that fighting for what's right is worth it. It is, it is worth it. And so we need - we need you to keep up these fights now and for the rest of your lives." - HRC

So to the younger and clearly more progressive generation, I ask you to start fighting for what you believe is worth it. If you've stood on the sidelines griping about politics, human rights and policies, now is the time to get involved. Follow your passion. Follow what feels right in your heart. Find advocacy groups for things you support in your area and take action. Your voice is important, now, more than ever.

If women's reproductive rights happen to be what's important to you, here are 2 easy ways to get started:
  •  Visit Planned Parenthood Action and hit "Act" at the top right corner of the site. Then enter your email address and zip code so you can begin receiving news alerts on ways to get involved in your community. You can also make a donation to help Planned Parenthood.
  • Visit NARAL Pro-Choice America and hit the "Get Involved" tab. They can direct you to different ways to support women's rights in your community. 
These are both national groups, so once you actively engage with either of these groups, the doors will open for other opportunities in your area.

Millennials: now is our time. "They tried to bury us. They didn't know we were seeds."

Friday, November 4, 2016

it's time

James and I had our 3rd trimester ultra sound early last week. At this point, I thought I had passed enough hurdles, felt enough hourly kicks, and was far enough along in this pregnancy to go into this ultra sound a little more relaxed and confident. But of course, that wasn't the case.

Ultra sounds are traumatic for me. I think once you've been told the worst news on two separate occasions -- "I'm sorry there is no heartbeat" and "I'm sorry, your baby won't survive" -- there is a level of PTSD wrapped up in the entire experience.

The anxiety usually starts about a week or so leading up to the ultra sound and peaks during the scan itself. It's probably embarrassing to admit, but I have cried through every single ultra sound of this pregnancy. I cried while the sweet nurse drew my blood for my NIPT chromosome tests. I cry every time I wait for the doctor to review the scans, and I've cried every time the doctor has told me that everything looks good. I've cried a lot. I know I've said it before but I will say it again -- you have to do whatever you have to do to survive a sub pregnancy.

This scan was no different, except this one was performed at my regular obgyn's office instead of the maternal fetal medicine office (MFM) for hi-risk patients. Since I have cleared so many milestones at this point, my doctor thought it was perfectly fine to have this check on regular ultrasound equipment.

James has been with me for every ultra sound which has been an unbelievable support. Typically he's just as worked up as me, but this time he seemed pretty calm as we waited to get called. I tried my best to feed off of his vibe, but the second I heard my name called, my stomach dropped.

I walked into the dark room and was very taken aback with how chatty the ultra sound technician was. I've become so accustomed to the technicians at MFM who are all very direct, informative and emotionless. It's usually very mechanical -- I am going to measure the brain now, I am going to move to the heart, here is the right kidney, here is the left kidney -- and when I'm emotional and scared, that's exactly what I need. They don't mess around because they have seen the worst.

The second I laid on the table, the ridiculously nosy technician looked at our paperwork and immediately attacked me with a million questions.

Technician: Why is this your first ultrasound in this office?
Me: Because I have been going to MFM this pregnancy.
Technician: Why? You are still young?
Me: Because I've had multiple losses.
Technician: Oh I'm so sorry... how many?
Me: Two.
Technician: Oh, I bet it was because you didn't have enough progesterone. Am I right? Was it your progesterone?
Me: Um, no. My losses were unrelated.
>Awkward pause<
Technician: Let's take a look at this baby! There she is! Oooo look at her little feet! How adorable!
>Cue the tears<
(For some reason the feet always get me...I can't help but picture the doctor placing Grace's tiny feet on that little piece of paper that I have in her memory box)
Technician: (Completely ignoring me) Oh look, she's grabbing her feet with her hands above her head! Isn't that cute?
Me: Is she measuring on track? Does her heart sound okay?

Most mothers want to "oo" and "ah" over their baby waving at them, sucking their thumb, or in my case, reaching for their toes. And that is so great if that is all you think happens in an ultrasound, but I'm not most mothers. I need facts: nuchal fold measurements, number of heart chambers, heart rate, brain size, organs check, number of weeks she's tracking. I literally cannot breathe or blink until I get confirmation that the baby looks healthy. Clearly this particular technician did not understand that. We finished the scan and she handed me some pictures of our daughter while babbling on about names. Of course she printed the feet picture.

I am proud to say that I made it through the entire experience without punching her in the face, so that's a win. And I'm also proud that I managed my first half-smile during a scan when she said she could see our daughter practicing her breathing. (Not because I thought that was cute, but because that's a very good sign that she is developing well.)

We had an appointment with our doctor immediately following the scan and she confirmed that everything looks right on track. Those words still feel surreal to me. Even now, at 28 weeks pregnant, I still ask her to repeat it.

Then my doctor looked at me and said, "Hadleigh, it's time." Confused, I asked, "For what?" She smiled and said, "It's time to get excited about bringing your daughter home in 12 weeks."

Baby girl's feet at 28 weeks.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

the debates aftermath

It's been a week since the 3rd Presidential Debate...which means it's been a week since I first heard Donald Trump's words, "In the 9th month, you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby."

This was the first debate that I didn't watch live. I had actually gone out that night with some girlfriends to a comedy show which turned out to be a really fun (and much needed) evening.

Well, the second I got back into my car after the show, I looked at my phone and my heart sank. I had a million notifications -- texts from friends asking if I was okay, news alerts, and Facebook notifications from my women's rights advocacy groups. It took a minute to put it all together, but I quickly realized that late-term abortion was a topic discussed during the debate. I turned off my phone and decided to table the inevitable until I was home.

After my own 2nd trimester abortion, the pro-choice/pro-life debate has become indescribably difficult to listen to and/or participate in. And I'm not talking about the typical "I'm right, you're wrong" kind of heated arguments that come with the territory of these controversial topics... I'm talking about a feeling that consumes my entire body. A feeling that nobody could ever understand unless they have lived through what I've lived through.

I hear the word abortion and my grief (the same grief that I've shoved in the back of my head just to survive each day) erupts back up from the depths of my body. I have to fight every urge not to crumble to the floor and cry and ask God all over again why this happened to us. Why we are now part of the statistic. Why our daughter's death is being discussed on a public platform.

My heart starts pounding, my hands start sweating, and my protective, inner momma-bear starts raging out of me. I just want to fight on behalf of my daughter. I want to make her proud. I want to scream that our choice was the best choice for us. I want them to really understand it all -- that being "pro-life with an exception" isn't really pro-life, it's pro-choice. That their Republican vote means my daughter would have had to suffer and I could have lost my own life. That while they claim to have socially liberal but fiscally conservative views, their Republican vote STILL MEANS that they are supporting Republican pro-life policies.

And then, my anger sinks in. Angry at the idiot arguing the other side. Angry that they are allowed to make ridiculous statements based off of inaccurate information. Angry that they think they have the right to an opinion without living through what I've lived through. Angry that my biggest heartbreak, the biggest life-changing moment of my life, is a just another topic callously discussed by politicians to win popular votes.

I take it very personally because it is extremely personal to me. It's just not fair. It's been 43 years since the Roe vs. Wade case, yet here we are, going backwards.

I sat in bed sweating and finally mustered up enough courage to press play. I actually considered not watching it at all, but I knew I wouldn't be able to escape it. I figured it was better to watch it alone in the privacy of my bedroom where I could safely feel all the feels. And honestly, I'm glad I did.

I went through the typical wave of abortion debate feelings. At first it took my breath away, like taking a blow to the stomach. I had to rewind it to really grasp what was coming out of his mouth. And then, I cried. Like really, really let it all go and sobbed for about an hour. All I could think about was how millions of uneducated Americans were going to start thinking that his words were true.

At about 11:30 pm I tried to erase it all from my mind and go to sleep. But instead, I started experiencing panic attacks. Since I'm pregnant, I wasn't able to have a glass of wine or take a large sleeping pill to shake I just laid there with those words circling in my mind: You can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb.

At about 3 am I decided to get out of bed for a change of scenery. I went downstairs and checked in with my private online support group, Ending a Wanted Pregnancy, and was surprised to see that nobody else was sleeping, either. The feed was filled with my fellow loss moms trying to wrap their heads around it all, too. They were grieving and angry right alongside me.

The next morning, late-term abortion made headlines. The media had a field day. I called in sick just to emotionally deal with it all and attempted to catch up on sleep. I received a few requests to share my story from some of the advocacy groups I belong to, but I felt too paralyzed to do anything.

It's been a week since the debate. 1 week to absorb and internalize everything that I've heard and read. At first, I was devastated that late-term abortion was even discussed, forcing me to keep reliving the loss of my daughter. But then, a few days after the debate, something really profound happened -- the women who have walked in my shoes started speaking up. Articles started flooding in from women who have actually had late-term abortions. Women in my support group, many whom have never even shared their stories with family, started sharing their abortion stories on social media. It's like we all banded together and the media started debunking Trump's words and pointing out the lies around his statements.

And just to clarify what lies I'm referring to, here are some facts about late-term abortion:

  • Partial-birth abortion does not exist. The procedure is called late-term abortion.
  • Late-term abortion only accounts for 1.3% of all abortions in America.
  • In order to receive a late-term abortion, you need to provide medical test results, amnio results, and/or ultra-sounds to proove that you or your baby are at risk. So no, you cannot just decide in the late months of pregnancy that you don't want to have your healthy baby and get an abortion.
  • There is only 1 doctor in the entire country who performs abortions in dire circumstances in the later weeks of pregnancy and he is in Colorado. There are NO doctors in this country that will perform a late-term abortion after 36 weeks, or as Trump claimed, "In the 9th month."
  • After 24 weeks, most late-term abortions are performed by administering a shot to stop the baby's heart, followed by the mother going through full labor and delivery to deliver her stillborn baby. There is no ripping from the womb in the 9th month. That is called a c-section.

It is pretty rare for politicians to specifically discuss late-term abortion. It's usually a broader conversation about abortion and the pro-life/pro-choice stance in general. And while Trump's words were hurtful, offensive, and completely inaccurate, he didn't say anything that the Republican party hasn't been voicing, standing by and voting bills against for years. He just said them in a public forum and reignited the conversation. And while it might sound crazy, I think I'm thankful now for his absurdity. The 1.3% of women who have actually experienced late-term abortions finally have a voice.

So all I can do at this point is continue to spread the truth by writing, speaking and supporting women's rights advocacy groups. And as for Hillary, while you have the right to love her or hate her, she defended me. She defended my daughter, Grace. She defended all of us grieving moms that have had to make the heartbreaking decision to end our wanted pregnancies. 

"The kinds of cases that fall at the end of pregnancy are often the most heart breaking, painful decisions for families to make. I have met with women who have, toward the end of their pregnancy, gotten the worst news one can get -- that their health is in jeopardy if they continue to carry to term, or that something terrible has happened or has just been discovered about the pregnancy. I do not think the United States government should be stepping in and making those most personal of decisions." 
- Hillary Clinton

Monday, October 10, 2016

it could always be worse

About 3 weeks ago, I woke up and was barely able to walk. I had been experiencing some pelvic pain for about a week prior to that, but tried to brush it off as ordinary pregnancy aches and pains. Well, that particular morning was excruciating -- I couldn't take a step without tears rolling down my face. I called in sick at work and immediately called my doctor. After describing my symptoms over the phone (painful bone grinding/clicking when I walk, inability to get in and out of my car and a severe tearing pain between my legs) she immediately referred me to a physiotherapist who specializes in pelvic pain.

After one session, I was told that I likely have Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD), which is a condition caused by too much relaxin in the body. Relaxin is a hormone that opens up the pelvis right before delivery, but some people produce too much too soon causing the pelvis bones to become too loose. Because of this, my doctor said my right hip was about a half inch higher than my left which is causing the tearing feeling. The good news, though, is that it doesn't affect the baby at all.

I had quite a bit of pelvic pain towards the end of pregnancy with Joe, and after delivery I remember my lower back being in severe pain for months and the bones in my feet hurt until I stopped nursing at about 9 months. I didn't put any of it together, but apparently if you have it your first pregnancy, it's significantly worse and starts earlier in subsequent pregnancies. SPD can get so severe that some women are put on bed rest from it.

My physiotherapist told me that adjustments, exercises and physical therapy can really help alleviate some of the pain, but I would have to commit and put in the time. (Ah yes, time. I have so much of that...) So for the past 3 weeks, I have been going to physiotherapy for 1 hr 3x a week. James has helped a lot by picking up the slack at home & rearranging his schedule so I can attend my therapy sessions. I've been doing all of my daily exercises, wearing a maternity belt and icing like a crazy person. Thankfully, it's working. The pain has been much more manageable and I'm having a lot more good days than bad. I'm praying the progress continues.

The funny thing is, the biggest struggle from all of this hasn't been the physical pain, it's been the guilt. I am trying really really hard to not complain or even mention the pain, because I'm just grateful that I am still pregnant. I've wanted this so badly that I feel like I've lost the right to complain that it's hard. Because the reality is, I'd much rather be 26 weeks pregnant and in pain than not pregnant at all. So the second I ask James for help or I tell him the pain is too bad to cook dinner or help put Joe to bed that night, I just feel defeated. I should be able to handle this. I've handled a lot worse.

And then, those 2 short sentences consume me once again:

Just be grateful. It could always be worse.

I know it could always be much, much worse. Even in my darkest hour, it could be worse. I know that it's probably ridiculous that I'm even sharing all of this in a blog post. But I thought that maybe someone else out there could relate...maybe someone who's also struggling with the weight and pressures that those two sentences carry (because they do carry a LOT of pressure).

Please, know you aren't alone. The struggle is real and your feelings are valid. You can complain and still feel grateful. You can want something so badly and be over it at the same time. You can struggle and feel defeated about something that is going well. Yes, it can always be worse, but this shit is still hard. (At least that's what I'm trying to tell myself).

James wanted to recreate this picture we took during Joe's pregnancy. 
Joe at 26 weeks on the left, little sister at 26 weeks on the right. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

ghostbusters halloween

With Halloween just a month away, I thought I'd get into the holiday spirit and do a little #tbt to Joe's first costume. James and I have always been really into dressing up, so we were so excited to finally partake in family-themed costumes.

Our first family costume was none other than the Ghostbusters because the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man was just too perfect for our chunky little man. And luckily, Mimi (my mom) is a master sewer and made his adorable costume by hand. I think it might be one of her best costumes yet!

I can't believe this was almost 3 years ago already. I just want to squeeze that sweet little baby face.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

fake it till you make it

After 2 losses, I've accepted the fact that I will never be a normal pregnant person again. I will never be naive and feel protected, I will never get my pregnancy innocence back and I will always carry my two angels in my heart.

But lately, something in me has shifted. I'm 22 weeks pregnant and I've been feeling a strong desire to try to be normal. I want more than anything to be able to enjoy this experience like I did with Joe. I feel this little girl kicking constantly now and I have a ton of good test results and hi-risk ultra sounds under my belt. (Technically I'm not even considered hi-risk, but my amazing doctor is treating me as such for my own peace of mind.) I can't keep trying to detach myself as a way to protect myself.

It almost feels like my head and my heart are constantly battling each other. My head is telling me to relax and enjoy, life is too short to hold on to the past. But my heart, well, it likes to remind me of how it feels to get the rug ripped out from under my feet.

I looked back through old pictures of my first pregnancy with Joe. By my halfway mark, I had already announced our pregnancy to Facebook and posted 2 bump pictures to Instagram. I had already announced at work and met with HR to map out my maternity leave. I had already created a "nursery ideas" board on Pinterest and had a ton of images pinned. And then it hit me... I haven't done any of that yet. And while it's probably to be expected after what I've gone through, it actually made me feel really sad.

So to combat this internal struggle, I started to do something that may sound silly to most but has actually helped me a lot: I started pretending to be a normal pregnant mom. I still have all the complicated emotions and the imaginary caution tape wrapped around my belly, but I've been trying to go about my day as if they aren't there. I like to ask myself, "What would a regular, naive, never-experienced-loss kind of mom be doing right now?" And then I try to do that.

I finally stopped hiding in oversized tent-dresses at work and started wearing cute maternity outfits that show off my belly. I hung 2 pictures from our 20 week ultra sound next to my other desk pictures and like to look at them throughout the day to remind myself how far I've come. I haven't made an official announcement or anything (and still don't want to or plan to), but I think it's obvious to my coworkers now that I'm pregnant. I feel like I'm finally coming out of hiding, both mentally and physically.

I decided to order some new maternity clothes for myself. I still find it hard to walk through the maternity section at the store, so I decided to order online instead. I found some really cute dresses on ASOS Maternity and despite my anxiety, I forced myself to hit "purchase." (Now to most people, buying maternity clothes would be the logical thing for a pregnant woman to do at a certain point of pregnancy, but most people haven't had to return those maternity clothes because their baby died before they had a chance to wear them.) It was a difficult milestone, but I conquered it.

Always acknowledge and celebrate the little victories.

Last week, though, I think I conquered the biggest emotional hurdle thus far -- I secured our daughter a spot on the wait list at our daycare. For some reason, that just felt really real. And even though I cried in my car afterward, I still powered through and did it because I'm just a normal mom preparing for the future.

They say to hope for the best and plan for the worst. But with sub-pregnancy, I think it should be the opposite. You have to force yourself to plan for the best and hope the worst doesn't happen. I'm going to keep preparing for this little girl's arrival and keep pretending that I'm just another normal pregnant mom, because I'm finding that the more I fake it, the more I'm starting to believe it.

Friday, September 2, 2016

kindred spirits

I saw a little girl with her mom at the grocery store the other day. She was wearing a cute little flowered dress and had short blonde hair with a bow in it. She seemed content playing with a box of uncooked pasta, listening to the noodles shake inside.

The little girl also had Down syndrome.

For awhile, seeing children with disabilities sent me down a deep dark tunnel of sadness, guilt and anger. It sometimes took days to recover from and days to remind myself that I did the best I could. But that particular day, I didn't feel any of those things. I felt connected to the little girl, connected to Grace, and especially connected to that sweet little girl's mother. 

For 2 weeks I had a daughter with Down syndrome and Down syndrome only. For 2 weeks, I carried the weight of a decision that I didn't know how to make. A decision I felt like I couldn't make. Those 2 weeks between initial diagnosis of Down syndrome and our final and fatal diagnosis of Down syndrome and Hydrops were by far the hardest 2 weeks of my entire life, and the hardest to recover from. I had so many dark thoughts...thoughts that still haunt me today and make it incredibly difficult to forgive myself for.

Sometimes I think God made Grace sicker to let me off the hook. Like He gave me a get-out-of-jail-free card to free  me from the whirlwind of confusion I was feeling. He knew I couldn't decide, so He helped guide me along. It probably sounds twisted to admit this, but I feel grateful and blessed that He did. 

Many women in my support group have terminated for Down syndrome alone. No other known issues. Nothing else to guide them except research, faith and trying to do what's best for themselves and their families. I hear it over and over again whenever I share my story: well, your daughter was going to die regardless. It's so easy for me to hide under the covers of that statement and forget those 2 weeks of complete turmoil ever happened. Society as a whole is *somewhat* more accepting of those circumstances, of that choice for those reasons. But what about the women that quietly suffer every day in a diagnosis that's not so socially accepting? A diagnosis, like mine, that left me completely lost for those 2 weeks? Those mothers that choose termination AND those mothers who choose to continue their pregnancies, both with very little support?

For those that think it's a clear and easy decision, let me tell you from someone who has actually lived it -- it is not. It's so easy for us to judge one another. Before all this happened, I thought I had all the answers, too. But a decision at a birds eye view is significantly easier than a decision that you yourself are living and will have to live with for the rest of you life.

One of the moderators in my support group likes to talk a lot about our crisis-self, and I think her idealogy is absolutely brilliant. She says that we make decisions during crisis mode that are the best we can do at the time. Later, when the crisis is over, it's easy for us to question those decisions. To feel guilt and regret about doing and not doing this or that. But a decision in crisis mode is always the best decision we can make. It's instinctual, fight or flight. It's the best we can do at that time under those circumstances. But here's the thing, crisis-self and non crisis-self do not always make the same decisions. 

I'm not sure if the mother at the grocery store learned about her daughter's diagnosis at 15 weeks like me or at 30 weeks or after delivery. But whatever the case, she's a kindred spirit. As are all of the women in my Ending a Wanted Pregnancy support group. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

mourning & dancing

I recently did a 2 week bible study with one of my friends called "Mourning & Dancing" and the underlying message resonated with me deeply --

We can both grieve the wrongs of this world and celebrate the sweetness of this life.


My husband and I said goodbye to our baby girl at 18 weeks and 3 days pregnant. Today, I am 18 weeks and 3 days pregnant with a baby girl.

I look down at my belly that's so full of memories and I just want to crumble to the floor and cry. I miss Grace so much, especially today. I remember every detail of this last day with her. Every thought I was trying to process, every last little flutter in my belly and every word of my heartbreaking goodbye. Today it feels like I'm losing her all over again.

But then, I look down at my belly that's so full of hope and I just want to squeeze it tight and never let go. I can't wait to meet my daughter. I can't wait to be a mother again and for our family of 3 to finally become a family of 4. I've been feeling her little flutters from deep inside which remind me she's still in there. She's still fighting and hanging on to hope for the both of us, and that makes me burst with excitement.

Mourning & dancing. 

A rainbow pregnancy is a whirlwind of emotions. There are beautiful moments of the highest highs followed by the lowest lows. It's been the toughest road I've ever had to navigate, and the only advice I can give to anyone entering into a sub-pregnancy is to do whatever you have to do to survive each day.

For me, I've kept this pregnancy to myself, so I apologize that most of our friends and family are finding out about it through this blog post. And the reason for that is because I've felt a lot of pressure to try to live up to the emotional expectations that everyone seems to have of me. I should be more excited. The good test results should put me at ease. The milestones I've passed should make me more hopeful. Pregnancy should be a happy time. Even the random lady at the grocery store who spotted my belly seemed disappointed when I didn't gush about my pregnancy as much as she did. 

I keep feeling like I'm letting everyone down, like I'm taking the joy and celebration out of it for everyone else. I may not be extra bubbly and talking about potential baby names yet, but I am still excited. I just have to carry that excitement with a whole lot of grief. It is possible for happiness and sadness to coexist... I live it everyday. 

I've gotten some unsolicited advice that if I could just try to mentally separate my pregnancies then maybe I could enjoy this one more. But for me, that's just not possible. I cannot separate my pregnancies because one simply couldn't exist without the other. Their lives are just too intertwined. Without the loss of Grace, this baby wouldn't have a chance to live. And because of that, every milestone and small victory comes with the sadness of knowing Grace wasn't as lucky. It's bittersweet, but I'm starting to learn that there is beauty in it, too. This little girl will always have her big sister in heaven as her guardian angel.

I have approached this pregnancy a very different person. I guess that's because I am a different person, and I think that is a good thing. For the first time maybe in my life, I've put myself and my needs first and I don't feel guilty about it. I've been leaning heavily on my fellow loss friends for support, I've tried my best to avoid emotional triggers, and I have only been focusing on one small milestone at a time. Every morning I wake up and tell myself "today I am pregnant with a healthy little girl," because until I learn otherwise, that statement is true.

Yes, I'm scared. I have been for 18 weeks and 3 days. I have been for over a year and a half now. But the fact is, there is nothing stopping me physically or genetically from having another healthy baby except fear, and I refuse to let fear defeat me.

I've had to learn the hard way how powerful fear really is. It can be debilitating and it can completely consume your entire life. But if I've learned anything from the past year and a half it's this: The more you resist fear the more suffocating and overwhelming it becomes. But the moment you accept that it's not going anywhere and you chose to walk alongside it, that's the moment it becomes a support rather than a clutch.

Fear has driven me to keep going. It's opened my eyes and made me appreciate all of the wonderful things I do have in my life. It has become consistent, a comfort, a friend. Fear isn't so bad once you stop being so afraid of it.

So today I am pregnant with a healthy baby girl, and besides praying and waiting, there's not much I can do to change the outcome. I will just keep mourning & dancing.

Monday, August 1, 2016

boy's vintage transportation bedroom

After months of dragging my feet, Joe's big boy bedroom is finally complete. The truth is, Joe's been ready to get out of his crib for quite awhile now. Me, on the other hand, not so much. 

Moving Joe into his big boy room was extremely emotional for me. For one, my baby boy is growing up and I want more than anything for time to just slow down. But what hit me even harder was the fact that Joe's move meant we'd now have to have an empty nursery -- another difficult reminder of the baby we lost.

Emotional feelings aside, the decorating kept my mind off things quite a bit. (My favorite distraction!) I wanted to make sure Joe's room felt like him. He loves all things that move -- planes, trains and automobiles. He's also the type of kid that comes inside with sweat down his face and dirt all over his clothes. He needed a room that was just as cool as him. Not too little kid-ish, but not a stuffy Pottery Barn catalog, either.

My inspiration came when my Grandma gave me an old picture of my Grandpa wearing his WWII Purple heart medal. It was such a cool picture of him and had so much meaning. My Grandpa passed away while I was pregnant with Joe, so he never got a chance to meet him. He was a big reason Joe was named Joseph as it was/is my Great Grandpa, Grandpa and Dad's name.

So with the picture of my Grandpa, my initial idea was to create a picture collage of all 4 generations of Joes. Sort of like a tribute to Joe's namesake. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that all of the men in our family have had a major influence on Joe. So I decided to create a collage of all Joe's heroes with vintage pictures of his Grandpas and Great Grandpas.

Once that was up, the rest of the room was easy to fill. We found a lot of things at old antique shops, the Nashville Flea Market and even in our parents' attic. So many details have so much meaning -- the little rocking chair is a family heirloom, the quilt was made by my Great Grandma and the baseball mitt was used by my husband and his Dad. I know nothing matches exactly but I think it all comes together pretty well.

I'm excited to finally share pictures with you all! Enjoy ~

Joe requested that we include pictures of Patrick and Norman in his bedroom 
(his Uncle & Aunts' pets). I couldn't say no to that! 

Airplane sheets available at Amazon.

The inspiration for the room - my Grandpa, Joseph Murnick.

You can find all the details on this bookshelf makeover here.

 The baseball glove that belonged to Joe's Dad and Grandpa. 
Both of their names are barely visible on the leather.