October 15th. For most people, it's half way through October. Thinking about Halloween costumes, watching the leaves change colors, and maybe even anticipating the beginning of the crazy Holiday season including Christmas around the corner. But for others, October 15th is a day to remember. It's Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day today. And though it is a needed day set aside to honor those families who have a missing piece of their heart, we must also acknowledge that the void of the love that should have been here is gone every single day. So many mamas I have talked to share that there isn't a day that goes by they don't think about their baby that should have been. I have family members who have experienced loss and the dearest of friends who have gone through more than I could have imagined with losing a baby in pregnancy.
When clients contact me about pictures, I always ask them to share a bit about who they are and their story so I can get to know them. When Hannah and Rob got in touch with me about newborn pictures, I didn't expect to read what I did. My heart was filled with joy and sadness all at the same time for them. I was going to be photographing my first ever [known] rainbow baby, I knew I wanted to recognize that in a subtle, yet beautiful and classy way.
I'm so thankful Hannah took the time to write the words that come straight from her heart of her story of loss and hope. May you faith be strengthened after reading her story and may we be more tender and understanding that every one has a story. When we see someone with one baby or no babies or multiple babies, we don't really know what their story is, so let's come to each mama with grace and love.
When I was young, I wasn't really on the "baby train". I am an independent woman and wasn't sure if motherhood was a path that was right for me. As I got older, I started viewing motherhood from a different lens. It became less about me and more about... family. You see, I grew up in a large family. My maternal grandparents had 6 children and they, in turn, had 1-3 children of their own. I always had a great time with my family, but it wasn't until I was older that I started seeing how much more than "fun" this family really was. We supported each other through everything. There isn't anything we wouldn't do for one another. We love each other unconditionally and will drop everything to be there at a moment's notice. I realized one day how unbelievably special it is to have those kind of relationships. I view my mother and her siblings with a sense of awe and like lightening it hit me. I wanted a family--- and from zero to sixty, I went from wanting no children to wanting 3 or 4! I had never been much of a planner when it came to getting married and having kids, but now here I was mapping out the months of when I could get pregnant, how much time I needed between pregnancies, etc. etc. so I could reach my 3-4 child goal before I hit 35. Crazy, I know! But, as God sometimes does, He reminds us that He is the plan maker.
In December 2014, my husband and I found out that we were pregnant with our first child. Given my above statements, you'll be surprised to hear that we had not planned on this happening! All of our plans were halted and flipped and we began looking forward to a different life than we had originally imagined. God threw us a curveball, but we were excited and so happy to become parents. Unbeknownst to us, God had another curveball ready to throw and this one was not a happy surprise...
At our 20 week anatomy scan, we discovered that our little boy, Austin, was having developmental issues with his kidneys. We were told not to worry yet, but they made us an appointment for a level 2 ultrasound at St. Vincent Hospital to get a closer look. Little did we know that this would be the start of monthly, and then weekly, visits to St. Vincent. Despite all of these visits, the doctors couldn't determine what was going on with Austin. It wasn't until he was born that they discovered what was wrong. He was born with VACTERL Syndrome, which effects Vertebrae, Anus, Cardio, Tracheal-Esophagus, Renal, and Limb. Austin was born with a longer vertebrae, no anus, his trachea and esophagus weren't connected, his kidneys didn't fully develop, and he was missing the radius in his right arm. His kidneys were the most worrisome and he was put into surgery before he was even 4 days old to try and get them to work. Then, he had 2 more procedures to attach everything and provide a colostomy bag. Luckily, all of these procedures were very successful. Austin fought through them with flying colors and things were looking great! His kidneys were functioning, albeit minimally, but still functioning! He was taken off oxygen and put into a regular crib. They were going to let me start breastfeeding him. After so many tears and prayers, we were beginning to see the light. I was extraordinarily happy. I didn't even consider that Austin's kidneys would stop working again...
After 3 1/2 weeks of fighting the hardest battle with the strongest bravery I've ever seen, my little boy took his last breath in my arms. I was so angry and confused. I didn't even want children for the longest time and God planted the seed to change my mind. We had completely changed all of our life plans when we found out we were pregnant. Austin fought so hard and was doing so well. Why did that change? Why were we given so much hope only to have it taken away? How could God do this to me?? Even though the questions were screaming in my head, I knew I would never get answers to them. God works in His own way, and despite the pain, I had to trust Him.
As the months went by, small bits of healing began to occur and my husband and I started to look to the future once more. Almost exactly one year after we found out we were pregnant with Austin, we discovered we were expecting again. To say I was a nervous wreck is an understatement. Those first 20 weeks leading up to the ultrasound were horrible. I was excited about being a mom again, but so worried about the health of my baby. I cried almost daily. Not only was I dealing with hormonal changes, but I was deeply grieving the loss of Austin. It was a double sucker punch and all I could do was trust and pray--- which, trust me, are so beneficial. If we learned anything from our loss of Austin, it is the healing power of prayer. And praise be to God that He answered our prayer with a healthy pregnancy and a little girl on the way! Just 2 short weeks after her big brother's due date, Audrey Jane arrived in the world.
There is a wound that will never be fully healed with the loss of Austin. I think of him every day and cry for him all the time. It is a harsh realization that you should have two little ones running around and you don't. I hate that Audrey doesn't have her big brother here to watch out for her and protect her. I hate that I will never get to see them grow up together, supporting and loving one another. I know that Austin is in God's arms, surrounded by all of our loved ones who have gone before him, and that brings me comfort. Audrey has filled our hearts with tremendous amounts of joy and love. There are still days that I am fearful of losing her and I am in constant prayer for her safety and good health. When you've lost a child, you never really get to have that "naive" happy feeling of being pregnant or watching a child grow. You are always asking yourself if things will be ok- if you can really be this happy... if you can really have the family you've so longed and prayed for. All I can say is, keep going. Have faith. God will always see you through. One of my favorite lyrics now comes from the song "Thy Will be Done"- "I know you're good, but this don't feel good right now. I know you think of things I could never think about. It's hard to count it all joy, distracted by the noise. Just trying to make sense of all your promises. Sometimes I gotta stop, remember that you're God, and I am not." Faith. Prayer. They will never fail you. Don't ever forget that you have a God that loves you unconditionally and He will never, ever forsake you.
Audrey has been so prayed for since before she was even conceived. She is so wanted and so loved. Every single thing we experience with her is a blessing. Every cry, every poop explosion, every projectile spit up, ... every smile and kick and finger grab. Sometimes all I can do is stare at her and cry, I am so overwhelmed with love. I can't even begin to tell you how excited I am to watch her grow up and see what an amazing woman she becomes. I am speechless and honored and humbled that I get to be her mother. I am grateful to God for blessing me with her life and finding me worthy enough to be her mother. I thank Him every day.
Being able to experience all of the things with Audrey that we didn't get to do with Austin has been such a blessing. Part of that was getting to have Audrey's newborn pictures taken. I cherish the photos we have of Austin and know that these images of Audrey, and those that are yet to come, will also hold a close place in my heart. Time goes by so quickly and although we like to think we won't forget things, it is inevitable. Certain memories stay with us forever, but the shape of an ear or wrinkle of the face don't always stick with us. Pictures help us keep those memories alive. Right now we are looking at pictures and amazed at how much Audrey changes in just a few short days!
Thank you, Abra, for spending an evening with us and capturing my beautiful rainbow girl. I treasure these pictures with all my heart.
PS- October is Pregnancy and Infant Awareness Loss. If you have suffered a miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant loss, please know that you aren't alone. Not only did I seek comfort in prayer, but complete strangers who have also suffered loss. There will always be milestones and "anniversaries" that are hard to get through. You never have to go through them alone.
Blessings to you all,