by Sarah Shelley
Rainbow Baby: A baby born after a miscarriage, stillbirth, neonatal death or infant loss. The rainbow does not negate the effects of the storm, but offers a sign of hope at the end.
I had my first positive pregnancy test in April 2015.
I was 25-years-old and absolutely over the moon with the result. My husband Josiah was away when I took the test, so I immediately began planning how I would tell him when he returned at the end of the week. After several hours scouring Pinterest, I settled on something personal. We have a wire picture holder on the wall in our apartment. It’s designed to hold photographs with little clothes pegs, but we use it to hold cards with reminders of how God has been good to us along with answered prayer requests. Each card has a word on the front and a small description on the back. I made one that said “Adventures,” and on the back I wrote: “We are going to have an adventurous year — Christmas this year will include a baby… and I’m not talking about baby Abbott.” (My sister was expecting a baby in early May of that year.) I went in for blood work to confirm the test and waited for the end of the week when Josiah would return. I felt like I was walking on air for the rest of the week with a perfect secret only I knew about.
At the end of the week, I picked Josiah up from the airport, drove home, and showed him my new addition to our reminder board. He was thrilled — shocked, but thrilled. We went into full celebration mode as we talked and dreamed about our future. How and when would we tell our families? There were so many great things to plan — Pinterest to the rescue!
About a week later, I woke up in the morning with cramping and bleeding. Worried, I immediately went to see my doctor. Test results showed that I lost the baby. The rest of that week is a blur in my memory. Josiah and I both took time off work. We sat together, cried together, and napped a lot. Emotionally, we were exhausted. Physically, I was exhausted too. I didn’t know this before, but a miscarriage isn’t one momentary event – it lasts for days and sometimes even weeks as the body clears out all signs of the life it was growing. Add pregnancy hormones into the mix, and it’s a recipe for disaster.
In the middle of all of this, my sister was in the last few weeks of her pregnancy. Months prior, I had offered to host a baby shower for her. We hadn’t announced our pregnancy to our families yet and I wanted my sister to be able to truly celebrate her day without worrying about how her joy could hurt me, so I took the maximum dose of the pain killers I had and proceeded with the event as planned. My sister is very kind and she obviously would have understood if I had to change the shower plans, but my hormone overloaded brain could not process any alternate plans. The only real options I saw were to cancel the shower entirely or fake it for a few hours – I chose the latter.
It took a little while to heal, but after several months, we realized how much we (still) wanted to have a baby. We started trying again and I found out I was pregnant in early December — the same week I was supposed to deliver from the previous pregnancy. This time, I bought a little onesie from the store, Indigo, that read “I’m told I like hockey” and wrapped it up for Josiah.
With hesitation, we celebrated again.
My estimated due date was mid-August. I am a classical singer by profession and December is notoriously busy for concerts and events. At 7 weeks pregnant, I was waiting off stage for a Christmas concert performance when I felt a familiar cramping sensation in my lower abdomen. I couldn’t verbalize my fears without breaking down entirely, so I pushed my worries aside, walked out onto the stage, and sang a song about a baby in a manger, as I contemplated if I was losing my own baby at the same time. Many might argue that I should have just left and not performed, but those five minutes of singing gave me a beautiful escape. While I sang, I got lost in the song and actually felt happy and at peace. After the performance, I left the concert early and drove home with tears streaming down my face. The cramping quickly turned to bleeding and the next morning, my mother-in-law drove me to the hospital. Josiah doesn’t travel that often, but he happened to be in Tennessee for a few days — just terrible timing. At the hospital, the doctors ran ultrasounds and blood work. I was told I lost the baby — again.
Josiah returned the onesie. We mourned together a second time.
The second loss was not easier than the first. I felt like my first wounds had been ripped open again and I had to heal for two losses. Two miscarriages in the same year is hard to process, so I named the babies we never got to hold. I needed to acknowledge them in some way – remember their brief existence. I named my first Ella because it means “little girl” and she was only ever little. I named the second Oliver. The name popped into my head and it seemed to fit with Ella, so it stuck. I wish I had a better reason than that. Both babies were too small to know gender for sure, but just because they were small doesn’t mean they didn’t matter. This is also when I started to seek out other stories of mothers who had miscarried. I needed to know the pain was survivable — that others had walked the path I was on and made it out alive with their heart intact. I read blog posts (some helpful, some definitely not) and I read a book by Samantha Evans called “Love Letters to Miscarried Moms.” If you are going through a miscarriage or if you know someone who is, I highly recommend the book.
After the second miscarriage, Josiah and I went to One Fertility in Burlington. We became willing pin cushions, as the doctors performed multiple tests on both of us. At one appointment, I counted 17 different vials of blood taken from my arm. I didn’t care though because each test brought us closer to a reason. We wanted answers and we would give up any amount of blood to get them. The good news and the bad news is that everything came back mostly normal. I was put on a thyroid medication and given a hormone called progesterone, but the doctors could see no obvious reason for my two losses.
In early August 2016, I found out I was pregnant again for a third time. The test came back positive the same week I was supposed to deliver from the last pregnancy – again. This baby was due in April 2017 and now we had the fertility clinic on our side. At 5.5 weeks, I had my first ultrasound and everything looked normal. We booked an appointment for another ultrasound at 6.5 weeks. I felt good, maybe even happy, as we went in for the second ultrasound, fully expecting to see that little flicker of a heartbeat on the ultrasound monitor. The ultrasound technician was silent as she scanned me. She asked only one question: had I experienced any bleeding? No, the answer was no. I felt good — no cramping. No bleeding. But maybe that didn’t matter? The doctor informed us that the ultrasound did not look normal, but she wanted more tests to compare my results. At 7 weeks, we went for the third ultrasound.
They couldn’t find the baby.
I was told I miscarried again. This time, there were no warning signs like cramping or blood, but it didn’t matter. The cramping and bleeding started shortly after we left the appointment, just like the doctor said it would. Josiah spent hours holding me as my body cleared out the life inside me for a third time. We cocooned ourselves in our bed, exhausted from pain and sadness. As the cramping began to subside, my sister called and, without knowing our news, she announced that she was pregnant. Of all 365 days in the year, we were given the same due date. I hung up the phone and wept.
We named our baby John.
At a fertility clinic, the system post-miscarriage is a little more involved than a regular doctor’s office. The doctors watch you much more closely as your body attempts to return to normal. There are weeks of bloodwork and follow-up appointments. We met with the doctor and despite having three ultrasounds in the first trimester, they couldn’t find any reason for the miscarriage. We were told that we could keep trying or we could look in to IVF (in vitro fertilization).
After I recovered (physically and emotionally) we decided to keep trying as we looked into IVF. IVF is a whole other blog post in itself. There are a lot of hormones, needles, appointments, and other procedures — not to mention it is also very expensive. As my due date from the previous pregnancy approached, can you guess what happened? If you guessed “positive pregnancy test” — you’re right! My body, apparently, is like clockwork in the most frustrating way.
After three unexplained miscarriages, a positive pregnancy test is no longer a thing of joy — it’s a source of anxiety. There was no fanfare with this announcement. Thirty seconds after the two lines appeared on the pregnancy test, I walked over to Josiah and told him the news. I called the fertility clinic and started the testing process — again. At just over 5 weeks, some of the blood results were questionable, so Josiah and I decided to reach out to some family and friends for prayer. We had an ultrasound at 5.5 weeks where we saw a little flicker of a heartbeat. The tiny little pixels on the screen flickering was the most beautiful sight I’d seen in a while. We returned two weeks later and saw a bigger baby with a stronger heartbeat. The baby was measuring a little small, but we started to hope. Our baby’s due date was in December 2017.
In my 9th week, I woke up in the night with unfortunately familiar pain. Contraction-like cramps wreaked havoc on my abdomen. The heating pad became my lifeline as the pain intensified and the bleeding increased. Josiah sat with me again — unable to take the pain away, but refusing to leave my side. There are some questions you never even consider having to answer. What do you do with a 9-week old baby in the palm of your hand at 4 in the morning? At 9 weeks, a baby is the size of a grape, cherry, or a cocktail olive — depending on which week-by-week pregnancy site you’re following. All the organs are there — the heart is beating and there’s even a tongue with tiny taste buds! But in that moment. I knew it was over. I felt numb as I cleaned my hand and flushed the toilet. The ultrasound later that morning only confirmed what we already knew – the baby was gone.
We named our baby Hazel because it means “God sees.”
So what now?
We had our follow-up appointment recently. We’ve been encouraged to look into IVF again. I don’t know what we’ll do — we haven’t decided yet. Four losses in a row is a lot to process, but IVF is a big decision too.
There’s a story in the Bible in the book of Daniel about 3 brothers — Shadrach Meshach and Abednego. The brothers refuse to bow down and worship an idol the king has made. When the king confronts the brothers, he threatens to throw them into a furnace, but the brothers still refuse to bow. They state that they believe God can save them from the fire, but if not, they will still never bow to the idol.
But if not. Those are powerful words.
They’re saying that even if nothing goes according to plan, they will serve the Lord faithfully. I long for faith like that, but I find it hard to trust when there are so many unanswered questions. I know the ending of the story with the furnace, but I can’t see my own ending yet. The brothers were thrown into the fire — and the fire was made extra hot just because the king was ticked off. When the guards looked into the furnace though, they saw four men walking around. Only three brothers were thrown into the flames. The Lord met them in the fire. Stunned and amazed, the king let the brothers out of the furnace — unharmed. God saved brothers in the end — just not at all in the way the brothers had planned.
I had a very different plan in mind for my life. It certainly did not involve a miscarriage, let alone four. I don’t have a happy ending to share with you — there’s no plot twist at the end with a pregnancy announcement or some other epiphany that rectifies all the pain we’ve dealt with over the last two years, but I think my story is still worth sharing. Unfortunately, I’m not alone in my miscarriage experience. 15 to 20 percent of pregnancies end in miscarriage but no one talks about it. I’m making an attempt to change that. I’m sharing my story so you can feel comfortable sharing yours too.
You are not alone.
I know it’s hard to verbalize the conflicting emotions. The doubts. The questions. The all-encompassing sorrow that threatens to drown you. But find someone to talk to. Find a friend who will sit with you in your sorrow. Dear friends, don’t try to fix anything — you can’t fix this with any combination of words or actions, but you can be present. Feel the pain with us. Just sit. It’s uncomfortable, I know, but please avoid all placating comments like: “It’s for the best,” or “God has a plan,” or any sentence that begins with the words “At least…”
None of these words are helpful — I promise you.
The words “I’m so sorry for your loss” speak more than any speech on “God’s will” ever could. Keep it honest. Keep it simple.
There’s a story in a book called “The Hiding Place,” by Corrie Ten Boom. Corrie tells the story of a train trip with her father when she is a child. Corrie has a lot of questions and she becomes frustrated with her father when he refuses to give her answers. Now, Corrie’s questions and my questions are very different, but the father’s response is still applicable. Corrie’s father uses an analogy of a suitcase to answer her big questions. He asks if Corrie will carry their suitcase off the train. She replies that she cannot because the suitcase is too heavy for her. Her father says it’s the same way with our heavenly father. Some things — some questions and answers — are too big for us to carry. So we have to trust that He will carry it for us.
So I wait and trust. I’m forced to wait, really. I don’t know how our story will end, but trust in the God who does know. I pick up the same necklace every morning and put it around my neck as a reminder of the faith I strive for.
But if not.
I wear those words over my heart until finally — slowly — they start to sink in.