Many have seen glimpses into the journey that has led us to this place. Over 1,000 people watched the YouTube video we created announcing our pregnancy with Ezra and Leo. Others read the article Patrick shared with “Presbyterians Today,” the magazine he formerly served as editor, or the interview we gave the Presbyterian News Service. All shared pieces of our story, at different moments and in different emotional places, and if you are interested in looking back at them, I will provide links for you elsewhere on the blog. But for those who are just joining us or need a refresher, I thought it would be helpful to capture as much of our 2-year saga that has led us to this moment as I can in this place.
I thought, also, as we approach Mother’s Day that it would be a moving tribute to remember each of my babies. There are no funerals for early losses. No rituals to remember those babies that were never born. So as a healing exercise of sorts, in this post I will share the story of our first pregnancy – a baby we will never know whom we named Willow.
On July 6, 2014, Patrick and I were married. We had been together for just under three years. Only weeks before, I had graduated from seminary. Patrick, at the time, was serving as the editor of “Presbyterians Today.” We both felt at the cusp of a new adventure, which we were excited to embark on together. We meant our vows as we said them, committing ourselves to each before God and before our community. Little did we know in that moment, however, just how soon we would be tested.
I started that first year of marriage working as a part-time youth pastor and serving in an internship at the hospital, training as a hospital chaplain. The most challenging aspect of my work at the hospital was serving with women and couples who had lost their babies. It was my job to somehow provide comfort to families enduring an impossible pain. It is the part of the work that I struggled with most. I remember intense conversations debriefing with my supervisor about my fears about perinatal loss. Looking back, I wonder if I was being prepared for the journey ahead.
We had dreamed of starting a family for years, knowing that this was a shared dream and value long before we were married. Even while we were still dating, we picked names for these Dream Children, imagining that we would perhaps one day have a little boy and a little girl. These are still the names that we hold secretly in our hearts, hoping that these Dream Children are still out there. Somewhere. Someday. We just haven’t met them yet.
As the end of my internship approached, only months into our new marriage, we hoped that this was the time to start our family. Well, I hoped. Though we both agreed to it and I was beyond excited and overcome with the Baby Bug, Patrick, meanwhile, was still coping with the loss of his bachelorhood and coming to terms with the idea that he was old enough to become a father. That first time, we tried without really trying, and we were shocked two weeks later to learn that I was PREGNANT!
I announced the pregnancy to Patrick with two onesies I had bought. One read something like, “Daddy’s Darling.” The other read, “Mommy is my favorite.” In the gift bag holding the onesies, I also included a Willow Tree figurine of a couple who look eerily like us, though the woman is very pregnant. A similar Willow Tree couple, sans pregnant belly, danced atop our wedding cake. A perfect memento for the dream of our future.
We were thrilled, though we were surprised that it had all happened so quickly. So easily. We were naïve, and we had no idea about what was about to come.
Though we hadn’t yet been to the doctor’s, we announced our pregnancy to our families and to our friends. We were just too excited to keep our happiness to ourselves. We gave them each gifts breaking the big news. Our families shared in our excitement and in our happiness. It was a pregnancy free from fear – the only one I will ever experience.
At seven weeks, I started bleeding. We rushed to the doctor, terrified and confused. During the ultrasound, the tech’s face fell into a look of concern that we would come to know intimately. She questioned if we were sure that the pregnancy test had been positive. Of course, we were sure. She broke the news that the ultrasound did not reveal a healthy pregnancy. MISCARRIAGE.
The memory I have most of the moments afterward was when Patrick was shooed away while the nurses took my vitals and blood. I was left alone with a nurse in a tiny room, and as she took my blood pressure, she said, “Life is so hard, isn’t it? I mean, you have your thing. And my dad is being buried right as we speak.” She went on to describe in great detail how her dad had died in the wintertime, but the ground had been too hard to bury him so they had to wait until spring for the ground to thaw. Any other moment I would feel empathy for her pain. However, this was mere minutes after the doctor had confirmed that I had lost this baby of my dreams. So my responses likely were more curt than kind.
The rest of that day and the coming days are a fog. Less than a week later we left for Greece and for Rome, a transformative spiritual pilgrimage that I will likely describe more in a later post.
Together we grieved in the coming months. We named the baby Willow, uncertain if we had been expecting a boy or a girl. We wrote letters to this baby, which we later placed in a butterfly box with the onesies I had used to announce the pregnancy to Patrick. The box still lives in the nursery.
Our baby Willow was due December 19, 2015. However, we lost the pregnancy on May 1, 2015. This means that a few days ago – the day after we buried Ezra and Leo, in fact – we marked the two year anniversary of this loss and the true beginning of this journey.