Jamala’s Story

At 24, I was confronted with my fertility before I was even ready to seriously think about it. Silently and symptomlessly, endometriosis had raised havoc on my reproductive organs. In that moment, I knew that having children wasn’t going to be easy for me. 

I had suffered a major loss, but I kept being told that I was young and it would all work out. As it turned out, youth was not on my side: it took time to rebuild my sense of worth as a woman, as a potential wife and as a hopeful mother, and then to be lucky in love to meet a true partner with the grit to journey with me. By the time I was 35 and ready for children, I had had both Fallopian tubes and an ovary removed. I was surgically sterile, leaving IVF as the only path for me to get pregnant.

From the onset of fertility treatment, there is no time to stop and mourn the losses because time is so precious and you push forward at a rapid speed. And there are so many losses and affronts. 

For me, there was a loss of innocence in the way I experienced the good things in the life, simultaneously waiting for the next shoe to drop. That feeling didn’t go away when I heard the words I had been waiting 1,282 days to hear. After 6 IVF cycles and 3 failed embryo transfers, I was pregnant.

We decided to name our son Jasper, which means bringer of treasures, and he is one of our greatest treasures.

Jasper was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect (CHD) in our 20-week anatomy scan – double outlet right ventricle (DORV) with ventricular septum defect (VSD). When we finally started to get comfortable with the picture of his life as a heart warrior, Jasper developed bilateral pleural effusion at 27 weeks gestation (cause unknown). For the last 8 weeks in utero, our doctors monitored him closely to try to find the right balance of his growth/development and his lung health.

We planned to decorate Jasper’s nursery with elephants, because they symbolize strength, love, family, overcoming obstacles and all the things that represent our journey to being his parents. Elephants also embody all the things we could tell Jasper already was. He was such a brave little fighter. 

Our dearest Jasper was born at 34.5 weeks on February 5, 2020, at 9:41 am. He weighed 5 lbs 15 oz and measured 16.4 inches. After a battle with his breathing, on February 6, 2020, at 4:04 pm, he died my arms with his daddy holding his hand, and his grandmothers and wonderful care team close by. A chaplain said prayers that captured our whole heart for Jasper in life and death. A beautiful rainbow shone over Richmond the next morning, and was shared with us by several friends. We call it Jasper’s Rainbow, and we look for him in the colors of every rainbow we see. We believe that this was a sign that Jasper is at peace and play in heaven. 

There is so much sadness in thinking of all the moments we won’t get with him. We will miss him our whole lives.

At first after Jasper died, it was impossible to imagine someone else where he was supposed to be, even as some people were very quickly telling us to have more children (as if it hadn’t taken us 4 years to get to Jasper). Jasper is irreplaceable and any more children we have could not be recompense. 

Because of the severe complications of my pregnancy and the impact on my body of postpartum preeclampsia, my husband was adamant that he didn’t want me to be pregnant again. Emotionally, I don’t know that I could do it again, and I was relieved when the decision was made for me – 2 out of 3 of our doctors advised that I not carry another pregnancy. Yes, I had a lot of physical complications but pregnancy was so emotional complex and scary for me even before Jasper’s diagnosis. I am in absolute awe of the moms I’ve watched carry pregnancies after losses.

Once we decided we wanted more children, it was a year of paperwork and process, which felt very transactional and not at all like a baby. It was sobering to realize that after so much loss, and all the additional money we invested into adoption and surrogacy, we had only just secured a standby ticket for the train that maybe takes us to the parenthood station again… we might make it on the train, but it could very easily be derailed again. 

We were hopeful, though – I don’t think hope ever went away, although it was overshadowed for a while. Jasper has always made me hopeful even after he died. I know like I never have before that some thing good is coming, even if we have to wait until we are with him again – that gives me hope. Waiting sucks, uncertainty sucks… we had been waiting in uncertainty for a child for our entire marriage, but we felt called to be parents again. 

Jasper’s little brother, Declan, was born on June 8, 2022 at 7:33pm. With Declan’s birthday, our family grew by 5! This most special surrogacy journey, unique as the stripe pattern of a tiger, was forged for him in goodness. 

I had almost an hour alone while the medical team prepped our gestational carrier for a c-section before they brought me back to the room with her. I felt Jasper and he steaded me to welcome his little brother. He even sent a rainbow that night. 

Declan looks so much like his big brother and also very much like himself. I am acutely aware of how different being a mom for the second time is from my first time, and even as my heart is so present here, it is also there. This moment of great happiness is so closely paralleled to my greatest sadness. 

Jamala and her son sit on the rainbow skirt on the sand.  A brown teddy bear sits beside her son.  Jamala holds a framed photo of her other son.

Jamala wears the rainbow skirt that flows out behind her.  She is on the beach and holds her son up in the air.

Read more about double outlet right ventricle (DORV) here and with ventricular septum defect (VSD) here.

Photos taken by Tiffani Marie Photography.

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