*This story contains a mention of a suicidal attempt.*
On a bitterly cold morning in April 2020, my husband and I married in our ¾ acre backyard. This had not always been the plan. We had been planning our wedding for over a year; we were supposed to get married at Della Terra in Estes Park, Colorado but then, Covid reared its ugly head. After lots of tears, cancellations, and then the mandatory stay-at-home order, we decided to get married anyways. Our spring wedding turned out to be on one of the only days in April where it was a blizzard. We said our I-Do’s under a nature made arch of aspens and celebrated with just 5 family members/friends. Little did I know…I was already pregnant.
In early June, I started having lots of symptoms of what I thought was a UTI or a stomach bug. At the time, I was 21, and had not planned on starting a family for several years. I went into my primary care doctor to go over all the symptoms I was experiencing. Then she asked the question, “could you be pregnant?” As soon as she said that it hit me, and I knew I was pregnant before the test was even ran. It of course turned out to be positive! She did an HCG blood test that showed I was about 9 or 10 weeks pregnant. I was utterly terrified but incredibly excited at the same time. I had always wanted to be a mom since I was a little girl. I dreamed of the day I would get to carry a child and become a mother. I thought this was my time, but unfortunately, it was not.
My husband had driven me to the appointment but waited in the lobby for me. In the few moments I had by myself, I thought about all the ways to share the news with him. I am a photographer; I imagined all the ways I could surprise him with photographs or craft a special “Daddy” box or even do something cheesy. My heart was pounding through my chest and as soon as I saw him, he knew something was up. We walked outside and sat on a bench. I knew I couldn’t keep this from him, even to tell him a special way, so I showed him the pregnancy test blurting out the words, “I’M PREGNANT!” As expected, he was incredibly shocked, but held me in his arms and told me that although he was also surprised, he was thrilled and couldn’t wait to be a father.
He took me to the store to get my favorite snacks to celebrate, and of course I wanted to stop in the baby section. We bought two sweet gender-neutral onesies and some little booties. You see, I never expected to lose this baby. Miscarriage had not been a thought in my mind and being the planner that I am, within a few days, I had already started ordering things for a nursery and dreaming of our future with this baby. I imagined their birth, what they’d look like, thought about the life they would live and all the memories we would make together as a family.
At my next HCG check, everything looked fine. Even though it was early, we decided to announce our pregnancy. Our family was so excited for us, especially my mom. But at this point, even though it had only been a few days since we found out, I knew something was wrong. I began taking pregnancy test after pregnancy test and frantically calling OB’s to find somewhere that could get us in for an ultrasound sooner than the one we had planned. Eventually, I was able to find somewhere that could get me in the next day.
When it was time for our ultrasound, I was talking with all the nurses and doctors about how excited I was, and they kept saying I was already glowing. I was so naive at the time. The doctor came in and started the ultrasound. She kept looking and looking at her screen. I remember pointing to the baby saying, “Oh wow, there it is!” My husband squeezed my hand and smiled down at me. As soon as the doctor looked up, we knew. She said those words you never want to hear, “I am sorry, but there is no heartbeat.” We were devasted. I didn’t know what to do or say. My husband kept pleading with the doctor, “Isn’t there something you can do? So that’s it??”
A few days later, I was given medication to help my body miscarry as I wasn’t doing so naturally. The pain was unreal. To this day, I have never experienced such excruciating physical pain and sorrow. My mom came up to be with me as well as my husband. The pain lasted 24hrs. I sat in the bathtub, then the shower, then the bath, over and over. I couldn’t sleep, eat, or think. I bled but did not bleed enough or pass any clots that could’ve been our baby. The doctor had me repeat the medication the next day to see if that would help me fully pass the tissue that would’ve been our child. This also, did not work. On June 16th 2020, I went in for a D&C. I felt so many emotions. My mom had also come to the hospital with my husband and I, but the new Covid policy would not allow her in despite us being told I could have two support people. I don’t remember much from that day but I remember hysterically crying at the nurses begging them to let her in and just kept saying over and over, “I lost my baby.” No one let her in and I felt so alone as I was taken back into the operating room.
Sunflowers were a symbol that kept showing up throughout that pregnancy, therefore, we named the baby we lost, Sol. When you lose a pregnancy, you don’t just lose a baby. You lose all the memories that were never made, your innocence, joy, and hope for the future. Pregnancy loss is a beast that devours your soul, chews it up, and spits it out. How could you experience so much sorrow and pain come from losing a little person I never even got to hold?
After the pregnancy loss, my husband and I were never the same again. I painted the nursery with a beautiful mural to cope and honor that sweet baby. I cried, yelled, even threw things at the wall wondering why this happened to us. It was a time of immense grief not just of the baby we lost, but of the future I thought we’d have.
*After speaking with my husband, he wanted me to include all the following events that took place.*
My husband suffered a psychiatric breakdown, which made the situation that much harder to cope with. Growing up with narcissistic father, it was hard for him to understand his own emotions. I had convinced him to see a psychiatrist to get possible medication for the crippling depression he was feeling. Long story short, he attempted suicide by strangulation in July 2020. I walked into our bedroom and saw him attempting to kill himself and immediately entered fight or flight mode to try and stop him. I was terrified and honestly, angry with him as I didn’t understand how much our loss affected him. Seeing the person, you love so close to ending their life never leaves you. I can still hear his intense sobs, see the marks on his neck, smell the salty sweaty smell from the effort he was putting in, and feel the strain I put on myself physically forcing him to stop.
As soon as I tried to dial 911, he went into pure panic mode pulling out all the stops to get me not to call. He just kept saying he didn’t want to be locked up and couldn’t forgive me if I called. I knew if he attempted again, I couldn’t keep him safe so I called knowing that he might hate me for it later. He went into a full-blown manic state and jumped off our second story balcony barefoot with hardly any clothes on. He somehow stuck the landing and proceeded to climb up a 50ft tall pine tree in our mountain yard. I was angry and scared at the same time not knowing if he planned to jump or just wanted to avoid being “taken.” The police arrived, about a dozen male cops, triggering a trauma response in me from being sexually assaulted as a teenager. I began dissociating from the situation, something I can never remember happening before, aside from the assault. I brought myself back to reality not knowing exactly how, in time to start pleading with my husband to come down. The paramedics and fire men came down to our backyard next and couldn’t see any way to get a truck down to where he was or even an inflatable landing pad.
He spoke. He spoke after being silent the entire time he was in the tree and said, “I will come down if you don’t lock me up if you don’t take me away.” I told him I personally would not take him away, but I couldn’t speak for the professionals there with me.
He was taken to a psychiatric facility and was placed on a 72-hour hold. I was not allowed to visit due to Covid. While there, he was ignoring most of the calls I made to communicate with him and check-in. I thought that he blamed me for the loss. But, after months of couples therapy and trying to work through the pain we both felt, he was diagnosed with a disorder that had never been managed.
On a trip we took to my family’s property in Nebraska, he began drinking heavily to cope with the loss. After a misunderstanding, he tried to leave and go home by himself. I convinced him to stay and try to talk through things, but it seemed to only make things worse. On our way home the next morning, he told me he never wanted to have children after experiencing the loss. I was absolutely devasted as being a mother was a dream, I shared with him very early on in our relationship. We talked about our options, and he swore he’d never change his mind, little did I know this was just the grief talking. I didn’t know what to do and we tried coming up with “compromises,” but you can’t compromise on a child. He said the best thing would be for him to probably just leave and for us to go our separate ways…this was incredibly uncharacteristic of him. He was and still is the love of my life despite the rocky road we’ve been on so hearing those words shook me to my core.
He decided to stay, and we agreed it would be an ongoing discussion for quite some time while we navigated our grief. The next day, I had a panic attack about realizing I probably would never have a baby and lost my chance for a family with my soulmate. My heart started racing, I couldn’t breathe or think, and collapsed to the floor crying uncontrollably in a panic attack. I hit the wall not knowing what to do with all the emotions flooding to the surface. As soon as my husband saw, he left. He just left. Did not try to help me, did not ask if I was okay or what I needed. He left overnight due to seeing me in so much pain that he himself couldn’t handle, and once he decided to come back home, he began having daily panic attacks needing medical intervention. Not only did I lose a baby, but I almost lost my husband and lost the bond of trust we had when he left me in so much emotional pain. His mental health continued to suffer; we had to sell our home and move in with my family while he was getting his mental health regulated.
During this time, my physical health was declining rapidly. Eventually, my gynecologist opted to perform exploratory surgery and discovered that I had severe endometriosis. She explained that could’ve contributed to our pregnancy loss. She was able to remove most of the endo but said I would likely suffer from infertility and the chances of me conceiving again were slim without fertility treatment. If we decided we wanted to try again, she recommended I be seen a t a fertility clinic first to have myself and my husband evaluated. It was a very painful process and recovery that brought back the harsh memories of my D&C. I was on bedrest for 4 weeks to fully recuperate. My husband had to play nurse as he was unemployed at the time after his manic episode and suicide attempt. He hated this new temporary role to say the least and I felt like he slightly resented me for the little I could do for myself at the time.
We both received twice weekly therapy online to work on coping with our loss and trying to continue to mend our marriage. My husband was finally able to open up to me and admit he really did still want a baby but didn’t think he could cope with losing another little life. The grief he and I both felt crushed us down like a weighted blanket. But we both knew something beautiful could come out of this loss and maybe, just maybe, going through this intense grief would continue to bring us closer together as a couple. We booked an appointment at Conceptions Reproductive Center just for an evaluation, bloodwork, and semen analysis. At the end of all testing, we learned my egg count was already low due to the endometriosis. We needed to come back on day 1 of my next cycle for a more in-depth ultrasound of my uterus, ovaries, and fallopian tubes…day 1 never came. When I was on day 42 of my cycle, an abnormally long time for most people but not for someone with endometriosis, they wanted to check me out and performed an ultrasound. That ultrasound was on November 19th, my husband’s birthday, and it showed I was ovulating THAT DAY. Our rainbow baby was conceived within the next day or 2 and I found out I was pregnant at home on December 6th!!
I was absolutely terrified every step of the way. As soon as that second line showed up, I thought I would lose this baby too. We had not expected to conceive so soon after our loss and my husband and I were both heavily grieving. Every single day of my pregnancy I was scared. I did everything I could to keep myself calm – mediation, baby safe supplements, walks, affirmations, and looking at my ultrasound photos to reassure me she was safe now. Each kick I felt was a breath of relief. “She is here now. She is alive now. I am loving her now.” I would tell myself repeatedly. Pregnancy after loss is, honestly, pure hell. So much of your hope and the enjoyment pregnancy would’ve brought if there was no loss disappears. During my second trimester, my husband was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. It explained the manic episode and suicide attempt he had after losing Sol – but weighed heavy on my heart. He needed a 3-day psychiatric stay to transition on to a new medication and had a horrible reaction to weaning off the first. He entered a deep depression and did many things during that time he would later regret and things that rocked our marriage in the most brutal way possible. 4 weeks went by, and he had adjusted to the medication. I saw glimpses of my husband coming back but things were not quite the same (even after our daughter was born).
Despite the anxiety and stressors, I was dealing with, I had a very normal pregnancy. I was considered low risk and I decided on having a planned home birth. My midwives were getting things in order for me to have a natural water birth, I hired a doula/birth photographer, and all of my check-ups were completely normal…until I hit the 30-week mark. I had an urgent prenatal appointment when my blood pressure started rising. We talked about how to combat hypertension and I made even more lifestyle and diet changes. But hypertension turned into preeclampsia almost overnight. My midwives found protein in a urine sample and were having me collect urine for a 24-hour study to confirm the preeclampsia diagnosis. I got about halfway through the study when I began having intense pain. I thought I was in preterm labor and had to call my neighbor to drive me to the emergency room as my husband was at work. I was not in preterm labor, but my blood liver panel was extremely worrisome and that was what was causing the epigastric pain. I began having what they called a “seizure headache” and started seeing stars and having blurred vision. I was immediately put on a magnesium sulfate drip (worst medication EVER) to attempt to lower my blood pressure, so I did not become eclamptic.
The headache and vision changes did not go away, and my blood pressure continued to rise despite the mag drip. An ultrasound was performed on my daughter, and it was determined she has inner uterine growth restriction, and her placenta was failing due to the now severe preeclampsia. A high-risk OB doctor came in and told me to call my husband, she explained that I would be having a baby in the next couple days to save my life and ensure my daughter was not stillborn. What?! I was 30 weeks and 6 days pregnant and would be having a baby 9 weeks early. I could not believe how quickly a “normal” pregnancy became life threatening for both my baby and I. Worried did not even begin to describe how I felt. I had never seen a premature baby and was terrified my daughter would have lifelong health issues or may not make it. As soon as my husband arrived, I was given the first round of steroid shots to mature my daughter’s lungs – they knew they’d need to induce me soon. A doctor from the NICU came to speak with me and tell me what to expect for a 31 weeker. I heard how she’d need to be intubated, would have “events” where she’d likely stop breathing and/or drop her heart rate, she would need caffeine daily to remind her to keep breathing, she would not come home until her due date, she could not have any visitors except for my husband and myself, etc. The only question I asked is, “Will she survive?” I was greeted with a smile and a “Yes, her chances are incredibly high.”
I went to sleep in the hospital that night. The doctors were hoping to keep me pregnant at least 48 hours to give the steroids maximum time to work…that did not happen. At 9am, my new bloodwork was in, and I was diagnosed with HELLP syndrome. I was told my baby would be born that day. My husband called my doula (who was also planning to be my birth photographer) and my mom. Due to covid, only one of them was allowed to be there with me. I chose to have my doula present, and she left her house as soon as she got the call. In just over and hour, my health began declining rapidly and we had to move to an emergency c- section rather than an induction. The call was made at 10:20am and my daughter was born at 10:47am. I had less than a half hour to process between the time I was told I needed a c-section immediately to the time Sanibel Marie was born. Those 27 minutes felt like a lifetime; I was petrified and felt so alone. Not a single doctor took a moment to walk me through the procedure or ask my consent to start the surgery, it all just happened. My doula was not able to make it in time. I did not get any birth photos. I was not able to hold my baby after she born and only heard her cry once before she was intubated, and my husband went with her to the NICU. During my c-section, I was completely silent. In utter shell shock, nauseas, disoriented from the magnesium, and shocked. I remember the only time I spoke was when they took down the curtain so I could see my daughter. My eyes weld up with tears and I kept repeating, “She is so beautiful! I made that!!! Can you believe I made a human?” My doula arrived as Sanibel was being wheeled away and sat with me while I was stapled shut. The doctor who performed my c-section, held up my placenta and made a comment about how small it was and that my daughter would’ve never made it to term alive. Out of all the horrors that had occurred so far, this comment stuck with me and haunts me to this day. She never wouldn’t made it to term alive.
Fast forward to the recovery room, less than two hours after my c-section I demanded to see my daughter. Everyone was incredibly apprehensive as I had just had major surgery and was still on the mag drip…but I was determined to meet my baby. Two nurses helped me stand up for the first time after surgery. I was chatting with them thinking this isn’t too bad, but one minute later I looked them both in the eyes and told them I was nauseous, and they each immediately held up an emesis bag. I chose one, threw up, then threw up in the other, and STILL wanted to go see my baby. I was wheeled down to the NICU where I met my baby for the first time. She was no longer intubated and was on high flow oxygen. She was under a billi light and had on little sunglasses and a hat. She had lines for nutrition and medications in her umbilical cord stump. I couldn’t even see her face, but oh my, she was so beautiful. Her little hand grabbed mine, when I was given permission to touch my own child. Sanibel was already sucking on a pacifier and wiggling her little toes. I witnessed my daughter turn blue and stop breathing over a dozen times that day and for several more weeks.
I was able to hold Sanibel for the first time when she was 3 days old. She still had lines in her umbilical stump, so I could not do skin to skin, but one of our primary nurses, Jess, brought her to me on a pillow. It was such a bittersweet experience. I never wanted that to be the way I held my baby for the first time, but I was already so in love with my mini me. The next day, Sanibel was off oxygen, and I thought I saw the light at the end of the tunnel. I was able to do skin-to-skin with her for the first time. I cried and cried. Soaking it all in. When I put her back into her isolette I stood and watched her for a minute. I began seeing stars all over again and became incredibly disoriented. I don’t what happened for several hours after that but was told Jess had to call the rapid response team and it took me a while to come back around. My blood pressure had skyrocketed again, and I earned myself another few days in women’s care.
Those next few days were a scary blur. I was discharged and ugly cried in my daughter’s room not wanting to leave her at the hospital. It felt like a movie scene. I was determined not to cry and just give her a pat goodbye for the night. When I opened the door to her room, I fell to my knees sobbing and sobbing, asking a God I don’t believe in, why this is happening to me? The feeling of giving birth but not being able to bring your baby home is excruciating. I sunk into a deep depression and began seeing a therapist who worked in the NICU. Sanibel was put back on oxygen and a CPAP machine. She continued to have “events” about a dozen times a day. She stayed on oxygen for the next 5 weeks. She was able to try breastfeeding when she was 5 weeks old – I had been pumping on a grueling 8-10x a day schedule to produce all the food. Sanibel latched on her first try and I further bonded with my little. She tried bottles the next day and drank almost a full bottle her first time! We thought we would only be there for a couple more weeks and all the doctors thought she would be home before her original due date.
I wish that were our story. Sanibel developed an infection and started slowing more and more in her feeds setting her back weeks. She started having more apnea and bradycardia events. She had test after test and there was nothing conclusive. Even after the infection cleared up, Sanibel did not pick up in her feeds. We tried everything from me going dairy free to reflux medications to genetic testing. Nothing. Weeks passed. Her due date came and went. It was a devastating day knowing she was nowhere near close to coming home yet. The conversation about a possible g-tube came up many times. Some doctors thought she just needed more time while others were starting to make arrangement to transfer her to Children’s Hospital.
Sanibel worked so hard every single day. My sweet little warrior began increasing her feeds by mouth mere days before she would’ve needed to be transferred to Children’s. Although she was still “borderline” with her intake, Sanibel was able to come home after exactly 90 days in the NICU. I was readmitted twice during those 90 days for continuing preeclampsia.
I wasn’t scared to bring her home. I had seen her go through hell and back for months. I was trained in CPR and knew firsthand what to do if she were to have an apneic event or bradycardia. I knew her schedule, how much she needed to eat, and how to keep her safe to the best of my abilities. And so, my rainbow found her way home. It was by far the best day of my life.
Sanibel Marie, born at 3lbs 4.2oz is now over 14lbs and just turned 8 months old. I still struggle with the loss of Sol and my birth trauma every day, but it is getting easier to cope with as time goes on and therapy sessions are had. I “found” my rainbow and am soaking up the “Sol” with her every single day.
Photos taken by Kind Honey Photography.
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