“Ever since I was a little girl, I wanted to be a mom. I loved anything to do with babies—and admittedly, probably played with baby dolls until I was ‘much too old’ to be playing with them. When ‘Cheaper by the Dozen’ came out in 2003, I laughed and smiled as I watched the highs and lows of a big family and dreamed of having many children myself one day.
In 2009, I met my husband in a fairytale romance kind of way. At a hot July wedding, in my childhood church, there stood the handsome groomsman with dark eyes and shaggy curls I would meet later that night. My cousin and friend, Brittany, was marrying her college sweetheart, Scott. And J.J., that handsome groomsman who caught my eye, happened to be Scott’s best friend and childhood neighbor.
J.J. and I spent every weekend together that summer, making the 5-hour round trip drive to see each other, as I was teaching in Erie, PA at the time and J.J. was running a business in Hartville, OH. It was a whirlwind romance and we fell in love immediately. We were head over heels. And by the following spring, J.J. left nothing undone with my surprise walk down a candlelit dock where he waited lakeside on bended knee, dressed in full tux, with red roses and one beautiful diamond awaiting my finger! A fairytale romance indeed. I, of course, said ‘yes,’ and we set a June 2011 wedding date.
A Sudden Surprise
The Lord gifted us with a beautiful, 83 degree, sunny June day to say ‘I do,’ and we danced and laughed the night away. We jetted off to honeymoon in Jamaica, and about 6 short weeks into marriage, we saw the two scariest, yet most beautiful, little pink lines. We were expecting!
That was so us though… young and in love at 100 miles per hour. We didn’t do anything slowly, and while we didn’t plan to get pregnant that quickly, my heart welcomed it wider than I could have ever dreamed.
I had a pretty textbook pregnancy. No morning sickness, no complications, no scares… and we welcomed our daughter into this world on her due date! She was perfect. 7 lbs. 12 oz. 22 inches. Healthy. Beautiful.
I had prayed for her. My heart desired a little girl. I’m not sure why, because I know I would have loved and welcomed a son. But even before we became pregnant, my heart was almost heavy for a little girl—with a headful of her daddy’s curls, of course. And God fulfilled that desire of my heart. Although Avery was bald for the first 2.5 years of her life, her curls did come! While we did not plan to start our family that quickly, life was good and we were happy living life for us. At that time in our lives, my husband and I professed to be Christians, but we weren’t living for Jesus or following Him with our lives. We were too busy making our own plans.
Now—looking back to that perfect, baby girl—it’s like God heard my prayers and gave me the exact desires of MY heart, even down to those beautiful curls, because quickly thereafter He would break my heart completely. Exposing my selfishness, my worldly desires, and MY need for control. He had other plans for my life—that I would later learn. He would empty my heart of everything ME… making room for HIM to fill it back up.
A Life-Saving Surgery
It was just four days after I had come home from the hospital with our daughter. My cousin had come over that day with camera in hand to take Avery’s newborn pictures, and my mom was gathering up her things to head back to PA. I remember telling them that day I was so sore ‘even my hair hurt.’ Avery was our first and only child, so every ache and pain I chalked up to the fact I had JUST had a baby. I had even called the doctor who reassured me of my postpartum pains. The next day would be my first full day home alone with Avery, and I was so excited for this I pushed through my pain… excited to get into my new routine of life with my daughter and husband. Our new little family of three!
But, that night was rough. Avery was very unsettled. Nothing I did comforted her. She was not sleeping. We were in our living room while I let J.J. sleep through it all. After all, he had to work the next day and I’d be home with her for weeks on maternity leave, I thought. My aches turned into excruciating pain. My chills turned into shaking. My pain crippled me. I sat in our recliner, rocking my baby girl, trying to breathe through the pains in my abdomen.
When my husband woke up that next morning and found me rocking in the chair, I broke down. ‘I can’t be alone today,’ I told him. I needed to sleep. I felt awful. I was in so much pain. He called his mom who came over to be with Avery while I caught up on some sleep. At this point, I was still in denial something was seriously wrong.
When I awoke that afternoon, it took most of my remaining strength to roll myself out of bed. I crept toward the door and called out to my mother-in-law. I told her I thought I needed to go to the hospital.
I was immediately admitted for what was ‘probably a bladder or uterine infection,’ and settled into a regular room on the women’s floor. In the middle of that first night, I awoke to the hustle and bustle of medical personnel moving me into a transport bed and rushing me out of my room into the critical care unit of ICU as my body’s organs began to shut down. I was in septic shock, with pneumonia, a bladder infection, kidney infections, and a plummeting blood pressure of 60/40, all from an unknown cause.
As I laid there quarantined, catheterized, with a PICC line in my arm, a bi-pap mask covering my face and forcing air down my throat, and no baby in my arms, I thought to myself, ‘This cannot be happening. Someone, please, just wake me up from this nightmare!’
But I wasn’t dreaming. This was my reality and that was just the start of it. It was determined somehow I had picked up Group A Strep and it was attacking my body. I was assigned my own infectious disease doctor who was prescribing some pretty strong meds that were doing battle with this ugly bacteria. And, it appeared the meds were winning for awhile. A week into my stay, the sepsis was cleared, but I was still spiking high fevers which was puzzling to the doctors. My infectious disease doctor requested a new CT scan, this time with contrast—as with my last scan, I was not stable enough to ingest it.
When the results were in, a team of about five doctors met outside my room to discuss the next step. Then, an oncologist came into my room and sat beside my bed and delicately explained what he thought needed to happen. ‘I’d like to do immediate surgery. We think the bacteria may be attacking your uterus. I will do all I can to save it, if possible, but I may have to remove it, to save you.’ His eyes pleaded for my consent. You see, an oncologist was called in, not because I had cancer, but because during my surgery, I was opened up, a liter and a half of infected fluid was emptied out and all of my abdominal organs were removed, washed clean, and reinserted, just like a cancer patient’s. During that surgery, my uterus was indeed removed, as necrotizing fasciitis had set in. Just two weeks after becoming a mother, I received a life-saving, emergency hysterectomy.
I awoke from surgery with 27 staples lining my belly. The doctor who delivered Avery gently broke the news. My reality set in and there I was… 26 years old, a newlywed, a first-time, brand new mom… barren forevermore.
Soul Searching And Emotional Healing
While my physical healing began that day, and I would leave the hospital for home just five short days later, my emotional health was headed in a different direction. Six months after my surgery, I was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. I began seeing a counselor and did so for the next 10 months. Through counseling, my mind began to heal, but my heart was still broken.
I had researched my illness more and more. I found how rare it is and also found how serious it is… with mortality rates as high as 73%. Why me? Why would God allow this to happen? Why was this necessary in my life? And what in the world am I supposed to do now?
I began to read case studies on Group A Strep coupled with postpartum sepsis. Each case study I read had the same ending: ‘…and the mother died,’ ‘…and the mother passed away,’ or ‘This patient did not survive.’ But, this mother, ME, did not die! I lived! As much as I questioned why I contracted the bacteria, I also had to question why I survived. I believed God healed me, but why? What did He want me to do with the life He nearly took, but gave back to me instead? This was something I wrestled with during that time.
Over the next two years, J.J. and I pursued one round of IVF with the help of a gestational surrogate. And through that process, we conceived and lost three babies in two different transfer attempts. So, there I was, 29 years old… I had more babies in heaven than I did on earth. And that was the first three years of our marriage—which was NOTHING like the fairytale I had envisioned for us.
‘Why, God? After everything I had already been through…What was the point of all of that? What in the world are you doing?’
The doubt. The fear. The questions began to flood my mind. And that’s when God really began to work on my heart. The more I dug into Him, the more He dug into me. The more I opened my Bible, the more I heard of His love for me. And I began to realize I was faced with a choice. Through my worldly suffering, through the non-ideal life plan unfolding before my eyes, I began to see I could choose to trust God—or I could choose to doubt Him.
I could choose to have faith, REAL FAITH—or I could choose to question His will. I could choose to believe the God of the universe, who holds ALL things together, was working all things for my good—or I could choose to turn my back on Him. And in a broken-hearted cry on my knees to the Lord, I chose to trust Him. I chose to have faith, REAL FAITH. No longer wanting to live for me, but for Jesus.
I remember praying a prayer on my drive to work one morning, after our first failed transfer attempt and before our second, ‘God… I am yours. Whatever you want. I want your will for my life. I surrender to it. I want more of you and less of me. I want this to work so badly, Lord… but if it is not your will, if it is not your plan… I know you are still good and I will faithfully praise you.’
Shortly after we found out our last transfer attempt did not work—shortly, as in four days after—the pastor of our home church spoke on the topic titled ‘Following the Savior – Are you willing to reconsider the mission and direction of your life?’ Through Ryan’s sermon, the Holy Spirit moved in me and planted the desire for GOD’S WILL for my life and my family’s life in my heart. A mission, a thought, a life path I would have never, EVER dreamed of considering or pursuing or living, wrapped itself in and around my heart. And that very next week, on our drive to PA for Thanksgiving, my husband and I began discussing the possibility of foster care.
A Beautiful Life With Foster Care
By the following year, we were officially licensed as foster parents. And since then—now seven years later—we have cared for and loved nine long-term placements, many other respite placements, adopted two sweet brothers, and are currently still fostering. We have built many ongoing biological family relationships and our definition of ‘family’ has expanded and grown into something we could have never believed or imagined over a decade ago when I labeled myself ‘barren.’ We have been stretched to love beyond what makes sense and we have grown to better understand genuine kindness and compassion.
My suffering and my upended life plans turned out to be a gift. We look at my scar with thanksgiving… I’m alive. We’re a family. We are being used for a greater purpose in this world. Not only did our suffering lead my husband and I closer to the Lord, but it led us to our sons, and it led us to living and loving like Jesus.
We currently have three forever kiddos (age 10, 5, and 3) and one foster placement (age 15 months), and we just said goodbye to a 3-month-old who went to live with a relative. We’ve had placements stay as short as five weeks and as long as forever. We’ve supported bio moms who have reunified, bio grandmas who have stepped up to care for their grandchild, and bio parents fighting to keep their baby out of foster care. J.J. and I have no idea how many more children God will give us to love and parent—temporarily or forever—or how many more biological families we will come to know, love, and support… but with faith-filled hearts, we simply welcome and love each child (and their biological family) He brings into our home and lives. And we continue to trust in God’s will as He turns the pages of the ‘fairytale’ only He could write.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Lisa Robertson of Hartville, OH. You can follow her family’s journey on Instagram and on their website. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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