Grief

Forget-Me-Nots on Mother’s Day

This post is for all the women who’s hearts are hurting today. It’s a long one, so pull up a chair. Whether you’re navigating the uncertainty of being single, the physical pain of endometriosis or other debilitating health conditions, the devastating reality of infertility, the unspeakable grief of loss at any stage of pregnancy, or anguish of any kind from an endless list of possible trials life has in store for women and mothers, this post is for you. You are not alone.

Mother’s Day can be an especially emotional holiday for many reasons. Sometimes getting out into Mother Nature is just what I need to get more grounded. Earlier this morning while I was wandering and watering our rose garden, a little white butterfly fluttered down the winding brick pathway, nearly brushing me on the shoulder. She came and went up and down the path a few times as if God had sent her to say, “I see you. I know you. I love you.” It was the twenty-first butterfly I’ve seen so far this spring. 21 happens to be my lucky number. It seemed to me a little tender mercy and a “God Wink” all in one.

My eyes caught sight of the pockets of bright blue forget-me-nots planted in the shady corners of the garden gate entry. I planted those to remember the two little angels sent to our family and taken home to heaven too soon. All of a sudden, up came the sadness and out came the tears that helped to water the garden.

And then the impression came clearly into my mind: it’s time. It’s time to share my story.

I have felt so alone and unsure of who to talk to about my experience. I’ve wanted to protect myself from experiencing more pain from judgment and invalidation and indifference from those whose eyes and ears my story falls upon. But that fear is holding me back from finding women who do care and who do understand and do want to connect. It’s time to open up and take that chance.

Aside from immediate family members, close friends, and members our home ward, it has taken me nearly two years to find the courage to share my story more openly. Healing from our pregnancy loss has taken much longer than I expected with layers I am still processing and working through. And I’m ok with that. I don’t know if I’ll ever be really “ready” but I know there’s got to be at least one other broken hearted mama who needs to know she’s not alone today.

I drove to a parking lot across the street from the Provo City Center Temple this afternoon and opened up the Google Doc with all the notes I had collected about the series of events. Rereading it was a step in my healing process today.

The beginning of my journey with infertility began when I was 14 years old. I was sitting in Earth Sciences class at Oak Canyon Junior High when all of a sudden I collapsed on my desk in the middle of the lecture. It felt as if someone had plunged a knife into my left side and I couldn’t breathe. After a trip to the ER for an MRI, the verdict was that I had a cyst the size of a grapefruit that had ruptured on my left ovary and a cyst the size of an orange was still attached to my right ovary. After failed attempts with birth control, a surgery revealed dozens of small cysts all along my mid-section that also had to be removed. I had this thing called endometriosis and there was no denying it.

I didn’t realize until I was much older how much the surgery, regular invasive pelvic exams, and hormonal imbalances of birth control had impacted me emotionally while trying to make sense of all the awkwardness of puberty. I was told by doctors early on that the surgical scar tissue combined with existing endometriosis could make getting pregnant someday difficult or impossible. I was on prescribed birth control for 14 years. Oh man, don’t even get me started on what a roller coaster that was! I had a lot of ups-and-downs trying many different brands over the years, trying to strike a balance and keep symptoms at bay. I decided to come off of it when I was 28 because I was convinced at that point that I wouldn’t marry and therefore wouldn’t have children. I wanted to find out how I would be emotionally off the pill because of how much it impacted my moods. I started experimenting with holistic remedies and vitamin supplements and making healthier changes in my overall diet and exercise. I came to terms with accepting that I was happy in my singlehood and finding my own path.

Then at age 29, Wally came into the picture and everything changed.

We were married on March 29th of 2018 and I thought it would be years down the road before I would ever stand over a pregnancy test, if ever, because of my existing health conditions. He was aware and ok if it took us some time. I was a 30 year-old newlywed, trying to figure out my new role as a wife, all while settling into our home in Springville. I will try to make it easier to follow the timeline of events by including dates as we go along.

Wednesday May 11th 2018

Wally and I drove to St. George on May 11th 2018 for a U2 concert (his favorite band!) and I was experiencing a lot of strange symptoms that had all the signs of a possible pregnancy. What I mean by symptoms is that basically I wanted to eat the house down and was radiating so much heat at night I could singlehandedly melt Alaska. Just ask Wally.

Tuesday May 15th 2018

When we returned home a few days later, I decided to take a test. Sure enough, on Tuesday May 15th those two little pink lines on the test stared up at us as if to say, “Yes! You’re a Mommy & Daddy!” We were beyond excited! At the same time, I was in shock because I didn’t think this was even a possibility, especially this soon. We cried. We hugged. We kissed. And according to my journal, “I smiled almost the whole rest of the day.” I started planning the nursery and reading all the articles and watching all the videos I could find about first time pregnancy and what to expect.

Wow. We were going to be parents. I never saw this coming.

I texted the following to Wally just a few days later:

“So I was just thinking… the best blessings in my life were the ones I didn’t plan — like falling in love with you and being sealed for time and eternity… And now Baby Dot (that’s what we called her) who wasn’t in our plan is going to be one of the greatest blessings in our lives! Maybe these are the big lessons in trust I was sent here to learn… I wouldn’t trade you or Baby Dot for anything! God gives the best gifts in His timing…”

I look back at that text with new awareness — 20/20 hindsight, you might say. Sometimes we think when we set out at the beginning of a new journey that everything is going to go according to plan. Smooth sailing. No problems. Easy peasy. All good and no worries, right? Wouldn’t it be lovely if that were always the case! God had His will and His timing all along… and it wasn’t what we expected.

Saturday May 19th 2018

The day after I sent that text, Wally and I were out doing yard work together when I experienced some deep and sharp cramps. I kept working but felt uneasy and a bit nauseous. That was the day I planted my first tree: a little weeping pussy willow at the end of the rose garden. It seems now a foreshadowing of impending grief that would sink deeper roots in ground I didn’t know I was ready to grow in.

Sunday May 20th 2018

I stayed behind from church due to more severe symptoms and spotting. I talked to the after-hours nurse at my OBGYN’s office and got on the schedule for the next day. I was scouring the internet for information about what could possibly be going wrong and if it was normal to bleed and have severe cramps in the first trimester. Wally and I decided that it was time to share the news with my parents so that if anything unexpected happened they would be aware. I thought it would be a happy visit but all the anxiety in the back of my mind made me more sad and worried than excited to share the news. Wally and my Dad gave me a Priesthood blessing and I received a distinct impression that everything would be ok and that all things would work out according to God’s will and timing.

Monday May 21st 2018

On Monday May 21st I had my first doctor’s appointment. We took the photo below while we were sitting in the waiting room. I remember having so much hope that everything would be ok, wanting to just experience the joy of being an expecting mother. The ultrasound tech thought she saw the baby right where she was supposed to be and that all was well. They had bloodwork done to test my HCG levels and would have results by the next day. Later that same day, a Facebook memory I had written on May 21st 2016 (two years ago exactly to the day) popped up on my timeline:

“You will never truly know yourself until you are tested by adversity. Will you let the punches that are thrown your way keep you down for the count in the ring of life? Or will you let the pain drive you to get up and fight? You may think that this is it — that you’ve reached the lowest point and couldn’t get any lower and that you’ll never rise again. But I’m here to say that no matter how many times you have fallen, when you have Jesus Christ in your corner you can look up, rise up, and never give up!”

It was like I was somehow giving myself some super timely advice in advance.

Tuesday May 22nd 2018

I received a phone call the next day with news that my HCG levels were around 5,000 and the nurse wanted me to come back in for more blood work. I was out doing more yard work that same afternoon and had more lower abdominal cramps. The pain was so intense I could barely get back to the house. I went downstairs to lay on the couch and could hardly breathe. I decided I needed to try to relax in a warm bath. I kept talking to Baby Dot the whole time, rubbing my tummy and trying to calm down. I told her everything was going to be ok, that life was still worth living even with painful experiences as part of it. I told her that no matter what happened I would take care of her.

Wednesday May 23rd 2018

I went back in to the doctor’s office the next day for more bloodwork. While I was sitting in the waiting room, I noticed one of the photos of the doctor’s on the wall was the dad of an Elder I was in the same district with at the Missionary Training Center in Sao Paulo, Brazil. I had attended his son’s mission homecoming and their home for an after-church celebration. Seemed ironic, but I had no idea how significant that doctor would be in my life just 24 hours later. I had my blood drawn at the office and would hear back the next day as to my current HCG levels.

That night, I had a dream that I was walking through our rose garden in my wedding dress wearing the same flower crown I wore on our wedding day. I was holding the hand of a beautiful little girl with long blond hair on the brick pathway. She was also in a beautiful white dress and wore a flower crown. As we walked together, she turned and looked up at me without saying anything and just smiled. She looked just like Wally and me in her face.

Thursday May 24th 2018

The doctor’s office called me the morning of the 24th with news that my HCG was only at 5,805 and should be at 8,000 by that point. They scheduled me to come in that afternoon for an ultrasound because they didn’t want to wait. I finished my morning routine and showed up at 3:40 PM. Wally had a work meeting scheduled at that time so I audio recorded the appointment to share with him later. I still have the recording. During the ultrasound, the same nurse tech who thought the baby was right where she was supposed to be in our last appointment just a few days prior suddenly could not find the baby.

It went quiet. She kept looking.

Then she found a heartbeat outside of the uterus on my lower right side. I went into denial when she told me I had an ectopic pregnancy. How could this be happening? She had misread the ultrasound from a few days ago. I was listening to Baby Dot’s heartbeat on the monitor knowing that she wasn’t going to live. I was six weeks along. Based on the size of the baby, they figured I had become pregnant about April 13th or 14th. I started to bawl. Hysterically. Uncontrollably. The little angel baby that came to me in my dream the night before was going home to heaven. All of the hope and joy from the last nine days since taking the pregnancy test came crashing down in an instant. The nurse told me she was going to have me see the doctor to determine what to do next.

I sat in an exam room waiting to be seen by the doctor, devastated and rattled. Angry. Heartbroken. All the feels. The doctor came in and told me I needed to go to the hospital immediately for emergency surgery. The situation was considered life-threatening. Baby Dot was in my right fallopian tube and if the tube burst, I could bleed to death. I was still in my workout clothes and felt totally unprepared. He said it didn’t matter — I needed to get to Utah Valley Hospital right away. I texted Wally in his work meeting and told him the news. He was in shock. I was in shock. It was all so surreal. I screamed and cried all the way to the hospital. Wally and I reached the hospital at the same time. We sat in my car and said a prayer. I talked to Baby Dot on our way to the front doors of the hospital. These were our last moments with Baby Dot.

We got checked in and placed in a patient room where I dressed in a hospital gown and got hooked up to an IV. While we were waiting my parents came to be with us. They had just been in the Temple and had just written our names on the prayer roll. They stayed there for hours with us — my Dad in his wheelchair, my Mom seated next to him. Wally and my Dad gave me another Priesthood blessing of peace and comfort for the surgery. We had another ultrasound to confirm that it was for sure an ectopic pregnancy. I was sent into a surgery prep area where I met the anesthesiologist and the doctor whose photo I had seen on the wall in the waiting room just the day before. I couldn’t believe it! I told him that I had attended his son’s mission homecoming talk and had been to his house and even remembered the playhouse in the backyard. His son had given me a healing Priesthood blessing when I was having health problems in the MTC and now his Dad would be the doctor to save my life that night.

I went under the knife for a laparoscopic procedure at 10 PM and came out about one hour later. About half way through the surgery, the doctor came to Wally and a few members of his family in the waiting room with photos and showed that there was likely a second ectopic pregnancy in my left fallopian tube and recommended we remove it as well. The endometriosis had damaged it so significantly that there was no way I would be able to get pregnant with it. He wanted to send it to the lab to determine if there was a second baby in the left tube and we wouldn’t know those results for another week.

We got to the recovery room just before midnight. I was receiving pain medicine and it was slowly wearing off. I remember being in a lot of pain and Wally slept in the chair next to me and fed me ice chips. Later on in the morning, I made my first attempt to get out of bed and start walking. I had to be able to walk laps around the nurses station before they would agree to let me go home. The doctor came to visit with us in the early afternoon. He told us the news of the unexpected double ectopic pregnancy and removal of both fallopian tubes. He still needed to confirm that there was a second baby in the left tube with a biopsy. After answering our questions and just before he left the room he said, “Heavenly Father has a plan for your family.” I remember feeling comforted and knew that was true. Wally worked from home the next couple of weeks as I healed from surgery. It was a tough time emotionally for him as well. His hopes of becoming a father were just as shattered as mine of becoming a mother. He was so patient with me as I healed and never complained.

Monday May 28th 2018

The shock of how quickly everything happened set in over the next few days. It was overwhelming. I needed to have some sense of closure because we were never going to see our babies. I had an idea to have a small burial in the rose garden where a patch of the forget-me-nots are now planted. We buried a white paper butterfly atop a grassy moss interior, sprinkled with gold glitter in loving memory. I am so glad we did this because it really helped us both wrap our minds around the reality of what we had lost. We held each other and wept. This was real. This was loss.

When I saw the white butterfly fluttering down the garden path this morning, I was reminded of this day and what it meant. I felt God’s love for me and His awareness. Of all the things He could send me today, he sent me a white butterfly on Mother’s Day morning.

Thursday June 1st 2018

In my one-week follow-up appointment after the surgery, the doctor peeled off the glue from the incision sites and removed the steri-strips. He said he found the tiniest bit of endometriosis but was able to remove it during the surgery and to continue whatever I was doing to keep it at bay. He said everything else looked healthy and I may have success with IVF treatments. He also said that the lab confirmed that there was a second baby in the left tube. I was six weeks pregnant with twins. The reality set in. All along I was actually talking to our Baby Dots. While there is no way to know for sure, I believe they were two girls.

All in one night, I lost our twins, my fertility, and hopes of ever becoming a mother on my own. The doctor called this “a traumatic pregnancy loss.” He had never seen a double tubal ectopic pregnancy in his career. He had only once seen a double ectopic of one baby in the uterus and the other in a tube but never two in both tubes simultaneously. The odds of that happening were one in a million. It was sobering news to say the least.

My body went through a lot of shock after the surgery. It took a few months before my body seemed to even catch up to what had happened. For six weeks, my body was growing two humans and suddenly they were gone. I gained a lot of weight, my appetite was thrown off, and nothing fit any more. I bled for about 2 weeks like a miscarriage when it finally caught up to my body what it had been through. It was as if my body needed to mourn the loss as much as my heart and mind did. In January of 2019 in the two week period when I would have delivered our twins, my nervous system shut down from the stored grief and I had a seizure. Wally called the paramedics and I was shipped off to the ER for nothing but an “atypical migraine” diagnosis. It was grief. It was in my body and it needed to be released. After seeing a neurologist he confirmed that it was the emotional buildup that lead to the nervous system break. We can’t separate our emotions from our bodies — they are connected and influence each other. Even though it has been almost two years, I am still healing in my body, mind, and heart. My body has changed. My shape has changed. I’m working on loving myself as I am exactly as I am right now. I am stronger and wiser now than I was then. God knew it was time to grow.

The reality of depression hit hard. Getting out of bed some days was just not going to happen. I kept trying to get myself to be productive, to exercise, to get back up on the horse, to get back into work, to do something. Nope. Nope. And more nope. I needed to grieve and my body wouldn’t allow me to function until I listened to and really grieved. Some days I just let myself cry buckets and buckets until I can’t cry any more. I’m working on creating space for all of my emotions, especially sadness. The more I work on practicing radical acceptance, the less I suffer. I walk myself through a step-by-step thought process of radical acceptance: (1) this shouldn’t have happened, (2) this did happen, (3) and there are complex reasons why this happened. Then I seek for spiritual understanding (pray, go to the Temple, write, talk to a therapist, etc).

I did some EMDR therapy to work on trauma processing around the pregnancy loss which proved to be very helpful. One of the books my therapist recommended called “Our Stories of Miscarriage: Healing with Words” held a clue to a piece of my healing. A woman shared her experience of how she took to her garden with all the energy and enthusiasm she had within her as if she were raising what would have been her children. Our garden has proved to be a place for healing and growth for both Wally and me. We find solace there. We raise plants like we would raise children. Wally put up a greenhouse in the backyard last year as an outlet for his grief. It continues to evolve as a project for us both to learn and grow. I’m also learning the healing power of writing. Just writing this blog post has helped me to turn a page in this chapter and season of life.

There was a time when I wanted to stop attending Church and Relief Society altogether. Sitting in the benches surrounded by couples with children was overwhelming at times. Attending Relief Society and hearing lessons and comments about having children was overwhelming at times. I told my therapist that I felt like I didn’t belong at Church anymore and that I felt that I had been kicked out of the club of womanhood. I felt like less of a woman because of infertility and pregnancy loss. She challenged my thinking and shared something that changed the way I decided to show up at Church, in Relief Society, and relationships with other women:

What if you saw yourself as belonging BECAUSE of this loss?

I invite anyone who is feeling on the outskirts to adopt this new perspective. It has made a big difference for me!

When I see white butterflies, I am reminded of our babies. I call them our Butterfly Babies. It’s as if they have come to visit for a moment, fluttering by on delicate angels wings on the other side of heaven. When I see forget-me-nots, I am reminded of our babies. I am reminded that I am a Mother. I am reminded that Wally is a Father. I am reminded of God’s love. Though to the naked eye we are childless, we have two angels who are as real to our family as any you could see. Our angel babies are not forgotten. You are not forgotten. The ones you have lost or haven’t met yet are not forgotten. All are known by God. There are many ways to be a mother and find fulfillment in that role. While we don’t know just yet what God’s plan or timing is for us and our family and how it will unfold, we know we have been lead to where we are now and we will continue to be lead. Wally and I are a team — Team A&W! We are in this together. We will put our trust in Him. There are happier days and blessings ahead that we have yet to see and hold!

From a heart that knows how hard this holiday can be to celebrate, I hope you know God loves you and has a plan just for you. Sometimes His timing isn’t ours and sometimes factors so far from our control hinder outcomes we wish and hope for. He will give you the best gifts in His timing. I don’t know why these things happen but I do know God loves us. You are not alone and you are known by Him. Give yourself time and space to heal. Talk about it when your ready in the way that works best for you. Reach out for help. Find a therapist to help you process. If you would like to share your story I would be happy to listen. I hope to connect with other women who are working towards acceptance in their loss. Feel free to email me at ashleybeecreates@gmail.com or leave a comment below. Wishing you peace, patience, and serenity in your healing journey at whatever stage of life you find yourself in. May we be gentle and may we find God’s grace to carry us along the path with hope for a bright future shaped by Him!

Love & Light,

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