I’ll just start this post by saying that my husband and I had a horrible Valentine’s day. No, it wasn’t because of a fight. It wasn’t because my husband forgot to get flowers or do the things that all wives want their husbands to do on Valentine’s day to make them feel special. It was much deeper than that. The pain that came that day was much worse than any of the normal “v-day probs” that we hear about over a glass of wine chatting with the girls when their husbands are in the dog house. No romantic gesture or gift in the world could have saved this day for us. This Valentine’s day, we lost a baby.
It’s funny how life has a way of smacking you on your ass right when you feel like you’re in a forward trajectory. I’m a photographer, not a blogger but funny enough I felt compelled to post a blog not long ago about my grief journey and how I was able to get back up when life pulled me down. Who would have thought that just days later I would be back under that dark cloud of despair I had just wrote about overcoming.
2019 started as a year of healing, and it also started with an amazing surprise. After years of family members and friends asking again and again, “When are you going to have a little one???”… I finally had a bun in the oven! I was with child. A mom. Maybe to a very tiny poppy seed baby, but I didn’t waste any time buying myself a cute “Momma Bear” sweater because in my mind, that’s what I was now. My friends and family had been ready for this moment years before I had been, this was going to be BIG news. My Husband and I were married in 2015, best friends for well over a decade, and of course we eventually wanted a family but we also wanted to be on our own timeline. Society pushes so hard on women to start their inevitable job as mother the minute we speak the words “I do”. Time to procreate! Your biological clock is ticking! Don’t you want to be a mom? You want to have kids rights? I’ll get off track for a second and say though I did want those things in life, not every woman does (Or can)– and that’s okay. It’s also okay to create your own timeline as opposed to feeling rushed by societal views of what a family should be or when it should happen. Marshall and I have had the last few years of our relationship to enjoy our marriage with no one else to worry about besides each other, and honestly I enjoyed our first years of marriage partly because of this. We had time to figure out what we wanted to create for our future while growing as a team and as individuals. We made memories and grew closer than ever in that time, and in my mind that is exactly what I wanted out of our marriage before adding another member to the mix.
Before I get to my point, let me clue you in on the mindset of a younger version of me. My sister and I are similar in so many ways but also polar opposites in certain aspects. Our thoughts and plans for motherhood was one thing we never really looked at the same way. We both grew up with the most amazing mother in the world. Chelsea grew up wanting to be just like her, and I think I grew up afraid that I never could. She left some pretty big shoes to fill, and in my mind there was no way I’d ever be able to give a child what she has given me. I’ve always said my sister was born to be a mother, and she knew that the minute she could carry a babydoll and especially after I came into the picture. As a big sister, she loved to “mother” me growing up, at least that’s what she’ll say. I would just say she was bossy. KIDDING. (Kind of. Okay, not really–that girl had sass growing up.) In my younger years I was more afraid of holding a small baby than having a run in with a spider. And I HATE spiders. You can kill spiders though, but babies… you have to handle those with care, and I was sure the minute anyone put their child in my arms I’d spontaneously trip over my own feet and somehow the baby would go flying and bam, Chalais is banned from children for life. This was not the case for Chelsea, caretaking always came naturally to her. I’m not sure I’ve ever told her this but I’ve always admired how easy she made it look when interacting with little ones throughout the years. I especially admire her now as a mother of three. Like I said, she grew up wanting to be a mother, and she didn’t waste any time on achieving that goal. She tried right after she was married, and she succeeded. Fast forward several years later, and she now has three beautiful children that I love with all of my heart. It’s because of my sister and her little ones that I started to shift my thinking on motherhood, and started to realize I could be good at this too. I mean, I am a pretty darn good aunt if I do say so myself. In all seriousness though, without them, I think I’d still be running from newborns rather than professionally photographing them as I do today.
Being a mother is hard, but let’s not forget about the part where we have to actually birth the child.
Did I also mention that I’m not good with pain? You see, the timeline mentioned earlier was great for me for all of the reasons mentioned but also because I’ve always questioned my maternal abilities. But more so because I literally thought for most of my life that I was the one woman on earth who wouldn’t be able to handle the pain of childbirth, so yeah… waiting was good. For several reasons.
I always thought I would want children one day, but I also always knew I didn’t want to have to birth them myself! God love all the women of the world, because delivering a baby looks ROUGH. When my mother was still alive one of her favorite stories about me was when I was in college. I minored in Child Development so I had a lot of classes on this topic and one day my professor decided we would spend the class watching birthing videos. We watched normal births, water births, at home births, c-sections, you name it. If you can imagine, this was my own personal hell. If I was afraid of having a baby before, this DEFINITELY didn’t help. I left that class as fast as I could and went straight to my dorm to write my mom an email. A thank you email. I informed her of what I watched and wanted her to know sincerely from the bottom of my heart how thankful I was that she went through that shit for ME. Because, WOW…those videos were hard to watch so I can’t imagine how it was for the women in them doing all of the work! This email amused her so much after she died I found it in her things. She had printed out the email I sent while in college about watching videos of babies being born and kept it. That was my mom. She loved us so hard she printed emails so she wouldn’t forget moments that made her smile, even if it’s a goofy email from her traumatized daughter.
I know this is getting long so I’ll get back to my story. It’s 2019, both myself and my husband knew we wanted to start a family soon as we all know “my biological clock is ticking”. Only two more years left until I would be having a “geriatric pregnancy”, and I’m 33. (That’s young, and this is not up fort debate.) We decided to start trying after a trip that we had planned in February but little did we know, I’m a little more fertile than I had once thought. Since I had been off of my birth control for some time, I had been sure to stock up on pregnancy tests, just in case I ever felt the need to double check. We weren’t trying, but we weren’t being careful either. One night, I got the urge to double check. I can’t really tell you why because I was only a day late for my period but I just decided to take the test. To my surprise, I looked down and saw the word YES looking back at me and I think my jaw fell to the ground. My heart simultaneously exploded out of both fear and excitement. We had family over at the time but I couldn’t wait one second to tell my husband. I nervously asked him to come upstairs to our room and showed him the 4 tests I had taken (All positive) and let him know, WE’RE PREGNANT. I can’t really describe it, but the look he gave me at that moment was everything I could have ever hoped for. I could see the happiness and excitement in his eyes. He was overjoyed. I was too, but I was also FREAKING OUT. I wasn’t expecting this, at least not TODAY. I was nervous for what was to come, and maybe in a small state of shock too. After taking a moment to let it sink in, what I realized more than anything… despite the fear of the unknown and what kind of mother I was going to be, for the first time, I felt READY. I hadn’t realized it until it happened, but I was finally in a place where I wanted this. I felt more confident in myself as a caretaker and finally felt like I could be a good mother, one that would hopefully mirror the kind of woman my mother was to me growing up. She was my safety, my caretaker, my teacher, my best friend. Luckily enough for my husband, his mother is just as amazing as mine was. I speak so much about my mom that I forget to give credit where credit is due. If any of you know Inga Randle, you know I’m one lucky girl to have her as a mother in law. I couldn’t have better mentors on how to be a fantastic mother if I could hand picked them myself. These two are superwomen, and that is not an exaggeration. What wonderful role models to have learned from as I begin my journey into motherhood.
I read somewhere that 1 in 4 women experience a loss of pregnancy. Many women experience it, few talk about it. Unfortunately, many women that I’m close to have had miscarriages and knowing this terrified me, but it didn’t stop us from telling a select few. One thing about my husband and I is that we are TERRIBLE at keeping secrets. My husband once gave me a christmas gift he bought at the mall on our drive home, days before Christmas because he JUST COULDN’T WAIT! We definitely weren’t going to be able to hold on to a secret like this until the “recommended” time. We are told to “wait until you’re in the clear” to announce the good news, because who wants to have to disappoint everyone if something goes wrong? I can say because I’ve gone through it, that part isn’t fun. On the other hand, I can’t imagine that experiencing it alone would be any better. Dealing with any kind of loss is such a blow to your soul. I couldn’t have gone through what I have in life so far without my loved ones supporting me during the dark times. Thinking about my support system not even being aware of such a huge loss, interacting with me like normal, totally oblivious of how deeply I’m hurting right now is just not something I want. So this is why I’m telling my story. Not because I want your sympathy or attention, but because I don’t want to do this alone & I want other women to know that they don’t have to either.
We had planned our first ultrasound to be on Valentine’s day. I thought this was a great idea! What a romantic and exciting thing to do on a day dedicated to love. Within 3 minutes of our appointment I knew something was wrong. The ultrasound technician said she was not finding a heartbeat. Almost too quickly, our ultrasound was done and we were shuffled into a room to talk to the nurse practitioner on duty. She discussed options, and planned another ultrasound in a week, just to be sure. There was a small chance that I was just too early on in my pregnancy to show a heartbeat. So, there was still a chance for us. A small chance maybe, but still there was hope. The next day I noticed the pregnancy symptoms I had before were no longer there. I started to lose hope.
When we first had found out I was pregnant I had googled the possible due date based on our conception date and guess what popped up? My mother’s birthday. At that time I thought for sure, this meant things would work out. I knew the chance of actually having my baby on her birthday was probably slim, but just seeing her birthday pop up gave me such peace. In my mind I thought this was all her doing. She had decided up in heaven that I had waited too long and she was done with it, so she moved things forward in a pace more suited for her, before Marshall & I could change our mind and wait any longer. A day or two after our first ultrasound that peace and hope I had before, was gone. I don’t know how to describe it but I just knew, that little heart wasn’t going to beat at our next appointment. I had just publicly declared through a blog how great I had been doing, how I’m finally back to me… and then SMACK, I felt just as broken as I had in my lowest moments from before. Once we were in it, I was finally ready. I actually couldn’t wait to be a mom and I think I was even more excited to see my husband become a father. He’s definitely going to be the favorite, I’ve already come to terms with it. A fun dad, for sure. Though I knew I wanted this, I don’t think I realize how much I wanted a child until it was taken away from us.
My intuitions were right, after our second ultrasound it was confirmed: we had no heartbeat and this would not be a viable pregnancy. We had three options: to have a pill inserted in me that would help start the process of miscarrying, we would wait for it to happen on it’s own, or we could have a D&C, which is a procedure to remove tissue from inside your uterus. Deciding which option I wanted to do was so hard. For some reason the thought of taking a pill to begin the process scared me. It scared me to take something that would force my body to do something it wasn’t ready for, though I know this is a safe and common option. Initially I wanted to do the D&C. I’d go in for surgery, I wouldn’t have to deal with passing anything on my own, and it would be the quickest way to move forward and be able to try again. After speaking with my insurance company and the doctors at the hospital I came to realize this procedure would end up costing me nearly $4000 out of pocket. To do something that no one wants to have done in the first place. I could not believe how expensive it is, especially knowing that some women have no choice but to get this procedure done if their body isn’t able to do it on it’s own. So, I decided to wait. I can barely choose what I want for lunch on a normal day, this decision was just too big for me to make without further thought. I needed to process it all before moving forward. My mind and body needed more time.
My thoughts on miscarriages were always that they were awful, my sister had one after her first child and it broke my heart. We all grieved for the baby that we were never able to meet. As much as I knew how horrible of an experience this was for my sister I still didn’t quite understand the process of it all. I had kind of thought that women who miscarried either did so in the hospital with a D&C procedure, or that it happened on it’s own, but my thought was that this was something that happened quickly, you find out it’s not a viable pregnancy, and then your body does what it’s supposed to do, and there you have it. I didn’t realize that this isn’t something that you find out about and is over in a day. For some women, it’s weeks of waiting for your body to recognize the loss and for others it can be weeks of unpleasant symptoms that only remind you of what’s going on inside your body. Yes, for some it’s quicker to happen than others, but either way this isn’t a one and done type job.
The day of my second ultrasound I felt my body preparing itself for what I thought was the beginning of my miscarriage. I was right. I started spotting that day I thought, okay it’s time. I told my husband I thought it would be happening within the next day. I was right in thinking that my body was prepping for what was to come but I was wrong in thinking it would happen that fast. My spotting turned to bleeding, and even as it got heavier, and the cramps became more uncomfortable, nothing was happening other than that. I was so confused. My body seemed to be failing me, in my mind at least. I would have a day without cramping at all, and then bam they were back. I didn’t know what was happening or how bad it was going to get. I think the worst part of this process isn’t necessarily the physical part, but the emotional part. I felt like the uncertainty of what was to come and when it would all happen was making me go crazy. My anxiety was at an all time high and I had imagined every horrific scenario in my head, just sure that would be what I’d be going through in due time.
The good thing (and horrible thing) about having so many women in my life experience a miscarriage themselves, is that I had a lot of people I could talk to about what I was going through. I had several women to go to for both support but also to answer the many, and I mean many questions I had. Everyone’s experience is different, and hearing each of them was both heartbreaking but also encouraging because these women that I surround myself with, my support system, my family, my friends—They are STRONG. They have endured the same pain I’m going through now and they find a way to heal, to keep their hope and to help a friend in need, despite the heartbreak. I can’t imagine that it was an easy thing to tell their stories but they did, and they did it to help make my experience less frightening, and less lonely, and they succeeded in that. I could not have done this without this support system that I’m so very lucky to have and I am forever thankful to the woman who guided me through this every step of the way. If you are reading this, you know who you are and I want you to know how grateful I am for your time and grace and friendship. I see you, I appreciate you, and you’ve helped me tremendously and are also the inspiration for part of this post. I’m so lucky to have this amazing group of people always willing to wrap their arms around me when things go south, but I know that not everyone is as lucky as I am. Not everyone has the luxury of someone to talk to when experiencing a miscarriage or any other tragedy for that matter. And because of that I felt compelled to tell my story in hopes that it can do the same for readers that my friends have done for me. To ease a bit of anxiety, to remind you of the strength that you have inside you is way more powerful than it may feel right now. To educate, even if just a small amount, as my experience is just one of many. So if you are going through the same thing, or have gone through it in the past… know that you aren’t alone, you CAN talk about it, and if you need a support system to pick you up when you are down, I’ve learned from the best and am willing to be that for you as so many have done for me.
In reality, my experience wasn’t as horrific as the situations I had imagined in my head and I because of that I feel lucky. , it wasn’t a scene from a horror movie, but it wasn’t pretty one either. Monday evening I started getting painful cramps, worse than I had experienced thus far, and then “it” happened. There is no way to put this in words that make it sound less dreadful than it was, but I had finally passed it.My body had discarded the fetus that for whatever reason, wasn’t meant to be. Once it happened, I knew that this was the hard part. Not the end, but possibly the most painful part of my experience. I sat there not knowing what to do. Ultimately I flushed the remnants of what could have been our first born down the toilet. And then I wept. I wept for the little life that didn’t make it, for myself and my husband and for all the women that had helped me along this process.
It is now Thursday February 28th, and I’m still not done with this dreaded journey of mine. Though I’ve been told the worst should be over now, my body continues to discard whatever else is left in there. Every day that I continue to bleed is a reminder of what I’ve lost. I go in for another ultrasound next week to make sure my body has done its job completely, not leaving anything in my womb that shouldn’t still be there. If so, I’ll have to get the D&C procedure to clear out whatever is left behind. I pray that this isn’t the case and do feel that my body has been working hard to keep me from having to go through surgery. Only time will tell, but either way I know I’ll get through it.
On February 10th I published a blog titled “When life gets blurry, adjust your focus.” Just four days later my life seemed to be spinning in a downward spiral, making everything in sight a blur. Today I’m going to take my own advice, and start small. I’ll focus on the family that I do have right now in this present moment and I will be thankful. We have learned from this experience, we will mend our wounds and in time, we will try again. Today I will try to let go of my anger and put that energy toward hope for our future, because I truly think good things are on their way. It just wasn’t our time, and that’s okay. God willing, our time will come soon enough and when it does we will know it. We will cherish that time like the blessing that it is, but we will also cherish the moments we have now, because they are precious too. Life doesn’t always give you what you want, so we are prepared for other outcomes. Our hope for the future is strong despite our loss. We will persist. We have so much love to give, and will be sure to not let that go to waste no matter what is ahead of us. Through the good times and the bad, we will be grateful for this family that we have, big or small— it will always be full of love.
Chalais is the sister of Chelsea Ohlemiller, the owner of Happiness, Hope & Harsh Realities.
A thirty-something wife, mother and educator who has Indiana roots and a passionate spirit. Chelsea is a sappy romantic, coffee junkie, book collector, and person who wears her heart on her sleeve. She’s sarcastic, full of jokes, full of tears, and enjoys writing most when life gets messy or complicated. In 2017, Chelsea's mother passed away. Through her grief journey, she decided to take her mother’s advice and share her writing with the world. One day she gained the courage to honor her mother's wishes and write. It turned out to be one of the best decisions she's ever made.