“My name is Hayley, and I am 23-years-old. My life has changed tremendously over the past few years. I have a wonderful husband, Jake, and two daughters, Eleanor and Emerson. Eleanor was born sleeping in August 2016, and our rainbow baby, Emerson, was born prematurely in May 2017. Our life has been chaotic, but our journey is incredible.
Jake and I met in college in 2013 at a meeting for our honor society, Phi Theta Kappa. Something about him immediately captivated me, and I knew that I wanted to get to know him better. Over the next two years, we became inseparable. We went to Walt Disney World together for Phi Theta Kappa’s international convention, practiced our shared passion of photography, and even got our first tattoos together. We were best friends, and we told each other everything. He was there for me through all of my ups and downs. He planned an entire day for me on my birthday, because no one else was celebrating with me. He often brought me lunch at work and was always down to go on adventures.
In April of 2015, Jake told me he had enlisted in the Army and was leaving for basic training in a few weeks. We both cried, because we knew that our lives were about to change dramatically. Then, Jake did something I never expected: he told me he loved me. I had secretly been in love with him for a while, but I didn’t think he would ever feel the same. That moment was something I will never forget. It was as if my life finally made sense again. I had been in such a dark place, and in a relationship that took everything out of me. The moment I heard the words ‘I love you’ come out of Jake’s mouth, I knew that this was it. This was who I was meant to be with. I went home that night, packed my things, and left the relationship in which I had felt stuck for so long.
The next few weeks were wonderful and strange. Jake and I were adjusting to our new life as a couple. I kept looking at him and thinking, ‘this is Jake. This is my best friend, and now he’s my boyfriend.’ We also had to face the fact that he was leaving for basic in such a few short weeks. I wasn’t ready. I finally had what I’d always wanted, and he had to leave. Those weeks flew by, and suddenly we had to say goodbye. I had never felt more alone. I struggled immensely with Jake being gone. I had written him 13 letters by the time he was able to give me his address. We wrote letters every single day, and soon I was headed down to South Carolina to see him graduate basic training. After a wonderful weekend, we had to say goodbye once again for him to go to AIT. We video chatted every night and would fall asleep with our computers on just to ‘fall asleep together.’
In September 2015, Jake surprised me with a plane ticket to go visit him. We had been talking about getting married since that first week, so I knew what was coming. Since he didn’t have a stable mailing address in the barracks, he had to send my engagement ring to bring with me. I was at work when it was delivered, and since my roommates weren’t home no one was able to sign for the package. I was leaving for Oklahoma to visit Jake that evening, so I rushed frantically to the post office to try to pick up my ring. They didn’t have it, and the man told me to come back tomorrow. I started crying and explained what was happening. The man made some phone calls and was able to track down the truck my ring was on. I hurried to the truck’s next stop, a small candy store owned by the sweetest couple. They waited with me and told me the story of how they met. Soon I was on a plane to see my love, ring in hand. He proposed the next day, and I couldn’t have been more excited to say yes.
As soon as I got home, I started planning our wedding. There was a paper lantern festival happening in our town the same weekend Jake would be coming home. It was perfect. I got a dress, bought all of our wedding decorations, and sent out invitations. Then, three days before the wedding, we found out that Jake wasn’t going to be allowed to come home. We were absolutely devastated. Just when things were finally coming together, they had to fall apart again. Determined to finally marry the love of my life, I drove eight hours from Michigan to Tennessee, where Jake was now stationed. We eloped on a small farm in rural Kentucky, with Jake’s roommates as witnesses. It was a fitting wedding for how our relationship had gone- hectic and crazy, but so worth it.
Fast forward six months, and Jake and I were finally living together at Fort Campbell and loving being married. I was ready to have a baby, but Jake wanted to wait a few more years. To our surprise, a baby would be coming way sooner than we planned. I woke up one morning and felt off. I was two days late, so I took a pregnancy test. The minute I saw that double line, a million emotions flooded through my head. I was pregnant. What would Jake think? Could we afford a baby? What would our families say? I was so excited, and I couldn’t wait until Jake came home from work, so I could tell him. I put the positive pregnancy test in a pretty box with a card that said, ‘You’re being promoted! Open the box to receive your new rank.’ I hid a camera, so I could capture Jake’s reaction, and anxiously waited for him to come home.
As soon as he walked in the door, I led him to the couch to open his present. He was so confused. As soon as he opened the box, he gasped and started to cry. He was overjoyed. He scooped me up into a huge hug and just held me, staring at the pregnancy test in disbelief. We were going to be parents.
Over the next few weeks, we read parenting books, announced our pregnancy to our friends and family, and even set up the nursery since Jake was supposed to deploy in a few months. We were so excited to meet our little baby.
On August 9, we went in for my 12-week appointment. We were so excited to hear the baby’s heartbeat, but as minutes passed and the doctor tried and tried to find it, a terrible feeling washed over me. I knew something was wrong. Jake tried to keep me calm as they wheeled in an ultrasound machine. As the doctor said, ‘there is no heartbeat,’ the lullaby the hospital plays when a baby is born rang overhead. In that moment, I felt as if my life had ended. I walked out of the hospital, past moms with big, healthy pregnant bellies, and felt so much anger. Why did this have to happen to us?
I had a D&C (dilation and curettage) on August 12, as my body was not passing the remains of the pregnancy naturally. My mom and grandma dropped everything to come be there with us. I woke up from my surgery feeling so empty. I started sobbing uncontrollably, and the nurse held me as I cried. Through gasping sobs, I said, ‘I just want my husband.’ When he came into the recovery room, I could tell he had been crying. He helped me get dressed and into the car, and we left the hospital feeling emptier than ever. The ultrasound is the only picture we have of Eleanor, and was done the day of my D&C.
I had lost all hope, and just wanted to die. I felt that I had no purpose anymore. Genetic testing came back, and we learned that our baby was a girl. We named her Eleanor Rayne. Naming her made it more real, but also gave us peace. Although we never met her, Eleanor was our daughter. Her nursery sat untouched for months, and I couldn’t even walk into that room. It was too painful to bear.
Since we had announced our pregnancy on Facebook, we now had to announce that we had lost the baby. Posting we had lost Eleanor made the whole situation feel so much more real. Fortunately, we have a wonderful support system, and messages poured in from friends and family giving their love and support. Women who I had no idea were ever pregnant messaged me sharing their own miscarriage stories. I hadn’t realized it was so common, and it made me feel less alone.
I quickly realized that the only way I would ever be able to feel okay again was to have another baby. We started trying as soon as the doctor gave us the okay. I became obsessed with trying to get pregnant again, hoping that it would make me feel okay. This was my last hope, my only reason for living.
On June 16, 2016, I waited for Jake to leave for PT at 0630 and took a pregnancy test. To my surprise, a faint second line appeared. I collapsed to the floor and sobbed. I was pregnant again. We were getting a second chance. I set the test on the bathroom counter and waited for Jake to get home. Every morning, he came home at 0800, started the shower, and came back into the bedroom to give me a kiss good morning. My plan was that he would come home and see the test, and then run out excitedly once he saw that it was positive.
When I heard the front door open, I pulled the covers up and pretended to be asleep. I heard him turn on the shower and pick up the test. He set it down and used the restroom.
‘Okay,’ I thought, ‘maybe he just really needed to pee.’ I waited anxiously as he flushed the toilet and get into the shower, and then got out and shaved. At this point, I was so frustrated! Why wasn’t he excited? He came quietly into the bedroom and knelt down next to me.
‘I’m so sorry, baby,’ he said. I snapped my eyes open and said, ‘what?!’
‘I saw the negative test on the counter. I know how bad you wanted this.’
I laughed and replied, ‘go look at it again!’
He ran to the bathroom and held the test up to the light. ‘Oh my god!’ he yelled and ran back into the bedroom. ‘You’re pregnant!’
As it started to sink in, I became more and more afraid. I woke up every morning thinking, ‘today is the day I’m going to lose my baby again.’ I couldn’t bear another miscarriage, and knew that if I lost this baby, I would have to be hospitalized to prevent me from ending my life. I obsessively checked on the baby with a home doppler and made many trips to Labor and Delivery to make sure everything was okay. Luckily, my care team was amazingly understanding. At 16 weeks, we learned that we were having a little girl. Jake’s unit held him back from their deployment so that he could be there for me. It is a good thing they did, because things soon took a turn for the worst.
On May 5, 2017, at 32 weeks pregnant, I flew home to Ohio for my baby shower. My mom took one look at me and knew something was wrong. I had gained over 70 pounds already and was extremely swollen. By Monday, I was extremely uncomfortable and having severe headaches. I made it home for my doctor’s appointment on Tuesday, where my blood pressure read 160/100. I was sent home with a 24-hour urine test, which came back with extremely high levels of protein. I was officially diagnosed with preeclampsia, given steroid shots to develop baby’s lungs, and was sent home with instructions for strict bedrest. I had another appointment on Thursday, and my blood pressure was 210/130. I was immediately admitted to Labor and Delivery. Since our small military hospital didn’t have a NICU, I was transferred by ambulance to a larger hospital in Nashville.
I was so sick that I didn’t completely comprehend what was going on. I was strangely calm despite the circumstances. Once in Nashville, I was given magnesium through an IV and a catheter was inserted. The plan was to keep me on bedrest as long as possible to help the baby grow, but that night my lungs started filling with fluid. The next morning, my doctors decided we had no choice but to deliver.
I started Pitocin at 0800 on Friday, May 12, and Emerson Elizabeth was born at 5:21 pm. She was 5 pounds, 7 ounces, and 18 inches long. She didn’t cry, and I immediately started panicking. They whisked her away before I even saw her. Suddenly, I started losing consciousness and couldn’t breathe. I was already so out of it, and now I had to find the strength to fight. I looked in the direction of my baby as I struggled to breathe, knowing that I needed to be okay for her. I was finally stabilized, just in time to see my baby. I got to hold her for what felt like half of a second before she was whisked off to the NICU.
I didn’t get to see Emerson until the next day, when my doctors were sure that I was stable. I pumped breastmilk every three hours, and Jake would take the milk up to the NICU and send me pictures of our baby girl. Finally, I was strong enough to be wheeled up to the NICU. Dragging my oxygen tank behind me, I made my way to the isolette where my tiny, frail baby girl rested. I looked at the baby hooked up to wires and tubes and thought, that’s not my baby. It can’t be. My baby can’t be sick. After all we’d been through, I couldn’t fathom having to endure more.
Emerson spent 17 days in the NICU. She fought hard and did amazingly. Her only issue was keeping her temperature up. Her nurses tried unsuccessfully three times to move her to an open bed. Jake and I stayed in the Ronald McDonald House so that we could be closer to Emerson. We spent 16 hours a day in the NICU, most of which was spent doing kangaroo care (skin-to-skin) with our girl. Finally, she was able to stay warm on her own, and we were able to go home.
Things started to settle down, and we were able to finally be a family. I was still terrified that something was going to happen to Emerson, and honestly, I still am. I still check on her throughout the night to make sure she’s still breathing. I panic at every sniffle, every cough, every cry. After losing one baby and watching another be born too soon, my nerves are shot. I struggle with PTSD and Postpartum Depression, on top of my existing mental health issues. I still have nightmares about the NICU and losing Emerson. I cringe every time I hear that lullaby that played as I learned we lost our baby.
Despite all the trauma we’ve endured, Emerson has saved us in so many ways. Three of Jake’s fellow soldiers were killed on deployment, the same deployment Jake was pulled from because I had a high-risk pregnancy. Had he gone on that deployment, he would have been on that mission and not come home.
Emerson has given me purpose again. I was ready to give up on life until I had her. She has shown me a love I could have never imagined and has taught me to be thankful for each day we have together. She is my hero, and she saved my life.
I will always wonder what Eleanor would have looked like, what songs she would have liked to sing, what her favorite color would be. A piece of our family will always be missing, but we will always remember her and the impact she has made.
I am using our story as a platform to reach those who have experienced pregnancy and infant loss, prematurity, and postpartum depression. No one wants to talk about these things, but if you do you’ll find that you are not alone. I hope that by sharing my story, I can help others share theirs and find peace.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Hayley Pierce, 23 of Savannah, Georgia. You can follow their journey on Instagram here. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.
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