‘6 months after Scott’s death, I woke up and decided it was time to take a pregnancy test.’: Widow births IVF baby after husband’s sudden death, ‘He’s the medicine my heart needed’

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“In August of 1999, I first met Scott. I was a freshman in college and had just arrived on campus at Southern Nazarene University, just outside of Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. Scott was a couple of years older and made quite an impression on me. He was tall, athletic (he played college basketball), very handsome, and incredibly funny. As I settled into friendships on campus, I was happy to have Scott become part of my circle. We didn’t know each other well, but we spent a lot of time with the same group of friends over the years. I have a lot of memories in college involving Scott. I can remember us playing horseshoes and croquet, fishing, and spending time out by a friend’s pond and at another friend’s horse ranch. He was always the life of the party and always so kind to everyone around him.

A young woman and her husband stand together outside
Courtesy of Sarah Shellenberger

The years passed, and I moved to Texas after graduation to start my teaching career while Scott joined the Marines. The next few years of my life involved moves to Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, and Nashville with some great experiences traveling in Africa and the Middle East sprinkled in. Scott wrapped up his time in the military (thanks to a knee injury requiring surgery), and decided to pursue his master’s at the University of Oklahoma while teaching Physical Sciences at both OU and Southern Nazarene University, and eventually, at Southwestern Christian University.

In 2017, while I was on my planning break in my kindergarten classroom in Nashville, I got a Facebook notification: Scott had messaged me. We hadn’t connected in years, and I was anxious to read his message and see what he had been up to for the past several years. The initial messages of small talk eventually turned into extremely long messages where we were getting to know one another on a different level. We talked about our past, our goals, our beliefs, our families, etc. After a few months of messaging and texting, we decided to meet for lunch when I was home for Christmas break. We met halfway in Tulsa, and what was supposed to be a quick lunch turned into a 10-hour date.

A woman and her husband together at a restaurant
Courtesy of Sarah Shellenberger

The minute I saw Scott again in Tulsa, I knew this was going to be something special. We were both very nervous and Scott later admitted to me the reason he excused himself 10 minutes into our lunch was so he could go splash water on his face to calm himself down. That always stuck with me and always made me feel so good. Everyone deserves to be in love with someone who is so taken by them. Scott and I had that effect on one another, and it was so special.

A husband and wife standing together near some plants
Courtesy of Sarah Shellenberger

Several months later, after many trips back and forth between Oklahoma City and Nashville, Scott proposed to me. We decided I would move back to Oklahoma after our wedding. We got married on September 1, 2018. We said our vows in the church Scott grew up in and had our reception on the farm we had just bought together. We spent the next year settling into marriage and life on the farm. We both taught during the day (college for Scott, and 1st grade for me). We grew our herd, as we affectionately called our little family of animals, and loved spending time with our dogs, cat, horse, donkey, and indoor pig. I started a little pie business, which kept us busy on the weekends at farmer’s markets, and we took up gardening and fixing up the farm.

A bride and groom stand together in a field
Courtesy of The Big and Bright
A bride and groom stand together outside their home
Courtesy of The Big and Bright

Our biggest dream as a couple was to start a family. We had hoped for a baby early on in our marriage, but after a year of trying, we were beginning to get discouraged and scared. We started visits with a series of doctors, and after months of medicated cycles, procedures, and tests, we were told IVF was our only real option to grow our biological family. We were devastated this was our reality, but we accepted it and quickly figured out what we needed to do to start the process.

A bride and groom stand together outside a barn
Courtesy of The Big and Bright

We settled on a clinic in Barbados and went for our first round of IVF in December of 2019. We opted for genetic testing and ended up with 1 normal embryo. We were over the moon and so thankful for a chance to become parents. We decided to go back to Barbados for a second round, to hopefully increase our chances of having a successful transfer/pregnancy. Scott was unable to take off work, so my mom accompanied me back to Barbados in February for the second round. After several days of doctor’s appointments, touring the island, and enjoying our time on the beach, I had my second retrieval.

A woman and her husband stand on a balcony in Barbados
Courtesy of Sarah Shellenberger

On February 18, 2020, my mom and I were set to leave Barbados and spend the night in Toronto before flying back to the US the next day. As we waited for our ride to the airport, I sat on the porch of the apartment we were staying at and texted with Scott. We were both anxiously awaiting the results of our second round of IVF but were especially excited for me to get home. I texted Scott when I was about to board the flight and promised I would call him when we landed in Toronto.

Around 10:00 p.m. Toronto time, our flight landed, and my mom and I made our way to baggage claim. Once I was able to connect to the wi-fi, my phone started going crazy. I had tons of texts and voicemails coming through. The first text that popped up on my phone was from a co-worker of Scott’s, letting me know he and the student body were gathered together and praying. I had no idea what he was referring to, so I tried calling Scott. It rang a few times and then went to voicemail. I never in my life would have imagined that call would be the last one I would ever make to Scott.

A woman and her husband wearing ballcaps and brown jackets
Courtesy of Sarah Shellenberger

After not being able to get in touch with Scott, I called his mom. Her voice was shaky and emotional, and I knew right away something was really wrong. She explained to me Scott had a seizure and heart attack while teaching and was in the ICU. An ambulance had arrived at campus and worked on him for several minutes before taking him to the nearest hospital. He was in the ER for quite some time, unresponsive, before being hooked up to life support and placed into a medically-induced coma.

My mom and I changed our flight and got to Scott as quickly as possible. On February 19, 2020, I received the worst news of my life. My healthy, perfect 41-year-old husband was not going to survive. I was beyond shocked. I fully expected him to come out of the coma OK and to bounce back to the strong, vibrant man he was. Instead of spending our first night back together celebrating a late Valentine’s Day, I was holding his hand, sobbing my way through my final goodbyes, signing organ donation forms, and trying to figure out how in the world I was going to find the strength to give the ‘OK’ to remove life support.

On February 21, 2020, at 12:25 p.m., I lost the love of my life.

A man and his wife stand on a beach with their foreheads touching
Courtesy of The Big and Bright

The next few months were a horrible whirl of having to plan a funeral, sell our farm, get a new job, find a new house, and figure out how to survive on my teacher salary, while trying to recover from the physical effects of IVF and grief—all during Covid. Somewhere along the way, I was ready to start thinking about our frozen embryos in Barbados and how I wanted to proceed. A week after the funeral, I got the news one embryo from our second round tested normal, giving us a total of two frozen embryos.

A woman sits with her husband outside, leaning her chin on his shoulder
Courtesy of Sarah Shellenberger

As I said my goodbyes to Scott, I promised him I would move forward with building our family. We had prayed for so long for a child, and now we had two chances just waiting for me in Barbados. After months of prep, and six months after Scott’s death, I flew to Barbados in August of 2020. On August 31, with an army of friends, family, and strangers praying for me and our embryo, I had my transfer. I flew home a few days later and anxiously awaited the results.

On September 7, 2020, I woke up and decided it was time to take a pregnancy test. I knelt by my bed and poured my heart out to God and Scott one more time, begging them both to help me be pregnant with our miracle baby. After a couple minutes of waiting, I turned the pregnancy test over and saw two strong pink lines. I couldn’t believe it. I ran out of my room, down the hall sobbing, into the kitchen where my mom was. I distinctly remember saying, ‘Mom—I’m pregnant!’ and both of us bawling and hugging. It had worked. After all Scott and I had gone through together, and after all I had gone through alone—I was finally pregnant.

A pregnant woman stands with a brown horse
Courtesy of The Big and Bright

On May 3, 2021, I gave birth to a healthy 8 lb 5 oz baby boy. Hayes Philip-Scott Shellenberger has quickly become the love of my life and the medicine my heart needed. Every day, as I look into his blue eyes (just like his dad’s) and admire his chubby cheeks and long arms and legs, I can’t believe how richly God has blessed me. I never in my wildest dreams would have imagined infertility struggles and becoming a widow in my 30s would be a part of my story, but as I continue to heal and figure out how to move forward, I am trying my hardest to keep faith that my story isn’t over yet.

A widow holds her newborn son in the hospital
Courtesy of Sarah Shellenberger
A baby boy swaddled in a white blanket in the hospital
Courtesy of Sarah Shellenberger

I have no clue what the future holds for me and Hayes, but I know God has a plan. I know the love of my friends and family will continue to give me strength, and I know sunnier days are ahead. I pray every night Hayes is healthy and happy and he grows up to know how much his mom and dad love him and wanted him. I pray for strength as a single mom, and I pray God brings people into my life who can model for Hayes how to be a good man and how to live a life full of joy and purpose. I pray I’m the best mom I can be and I remain healthy and strong for my son.

A baby boy wearing a white cap sleeping
Courtesy of Sarah Shellenberger
A baby boy wearing a shirt that says "Cowboy" holds a stuffed cow
Courtesy of Sarah Shellenberger

I plan to go back to Barbados in 2022 to transfer our second and final embryo, and I am praying Hayes will have a sibling to grow up with. I can’t see past today at this point in my journey, and that’s OK. I am grateful to feel joy and happiness alongside my pain and sorrow and am thankful for the friends I’ve met along the way in this grief/infertility journey. Finding purpose in my pain has become a priority for me, and I hope my evolving story will somehow help someone who might feel alone in a world of grief and despair. Community is so important, and I wouldn’t have gotten this far without the support of mine. To everyone who continues to support us through prayer and love and thoughtfulness, I am more thankful than you can imagine.”

A baby boy wears a shirt that says "Worth the Wait"
Courtesy of Sarah Shellenberger
A bride leans on the shoulder of her groom outdoors
Courtesy of The Big and Bright

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Sarah Shellenberger of Oklahoma. You can follow her journey on Instagram. Submit your own story hereand be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.

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