‘I had a miscarriage at age 18. Someone told me, ‘It must be because you’re not married.’’

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As October came around, I started seeing posts about it being pregnancy and infant loss awareness month that really touched my heart. I realized this topic isn’t talked about nearly enough. I wanted to show the raw, real emotion of how these women felt. These women being ‘1 in 4’ who have experienced pregnancy loss just broke my heart. I want this project to spread awareness, and for people to know that sometimes what you may think are words of encouragement, are actually very hurtful remarks to the ones experiencing pregnancy loss. Here are the stories of the 5 strong ladies I had the pleasure of meeting that day.

Woman stands outside holding hands with four other women who have experienced pregnancy loss
SydneyKohl Photography

Melissa Muse – Pioneer, Tennessee – Age 38

I started dating my husband when I was 13 years old. We got married when I was 19. I had my 1st miscarriage at 20 years old. It was very early in the pregnancy. I didn’t tell anyone. I went back to work the next day and was taking orders at a drive-in while someone was complaining about their kids. They said, ‘Melissa, you’re lucky you don’t have kids.’ I explained to them I had just miscarried and I WOULD gladly take their place. I would spend the next 18 years being tested and trying to get pregnant. I was diagnosed with PCOS and my body kills sperm (how my doctor described it). I was told I would NEVER create life without IVF, which is so expensive it’s not even a possibility. Fast forward to age 37. I was at an airport and missed my flight for my Granny’s 75th birthday party. I completely lost it at the ticket counter crying so hard I couldn’t even form words. All I could do was point and mumble. The ticket man got 4 other people and I just shook my head when asked where and when I needed to be. Later I was like, WHO was that person? It has happened before and I didn’t lose it. Once I got home I started craving salsa. I HATE salsa. We ate it every day for 3 weeks. I went to the doctor after 3 weeks of misery with a sinus infection. They did test after test after test. They all came back negative, except the pregnancy test. I called the doctor a liar and told her go check again.

The day I lost Adam started like any other. Lots of morning sickness. I had to take a glucose test that morning. I explained to the nurse I don’t feel right. I felt dizzy and more nauseous. She said go eat something and you will feel better. She couldn’t have been more wrong. I ate and then slept all day. When my husband got off we went to eat. I was still saying I don’t feel right. The nurse’s words were echoing, ‘This is your 1st real pregnancy, what you’re feeling is normal.’ Later, I told my husband I needed to pee. I went to pee but there was something in the way. I realized it was Adam’s embryo fluid. We went straight to the emergency room, where I was told I had peed myself. I knew better and refused to leave. I was admitted. At 3 a.m. a tech came to check the baby. That tech went and got 3 more techs and a doctor. Suddenly my room was full and no one was talking to me. The doctor stood and said, ‘I’m sorry, the baby’s heart has stopped.’ I looked at my nurse and she asked if there was anything she could do. I asked her if she could stop my heart. They wheeled me to delivery. Adam was delivered at 10:44 but the placenta was stuck. I continued to bleed and they tried different ways to help it along. At about 3 a.m. the next day, they took me to surgery to remove the placenta. My blood pressure was so low they kept me on light anesthesia. Too light, I woke up and have a pretty horrible memory from surgery.

The weeks that followed were horrible. I wouldn’t take my pain meds, which would make more pain but I didn’t care. I only left the bed because my poodle, Stitch, had to be walked. I lost 20 pounds because I refused food. I couldn’t look at my husband without crying for the failure I was. I couldn’t look in a mirror without cursing the woman in it or screaming at her for everything she did and didn’t do. It has been 3 years and sometimes I still find it hard to look at myself without telling that woman how much I hate her. 3 years of trying, tears, testing, fertility drugs, antidepressants, and cruelty. I wish I could say I have hope for a rainbow but I think my time has passed. I can’t afford IVF. So I will wait here until God calls me home, then I will greet Adam with all the love I’ve been saving for him.

Woman who lost her child holds sign that says, "God knew you would be a bad mom"
SydneyKohl Photography

Emmie Wilhelm- Alcoa, Tennessee – Age 26

I am Emmie. I have wanted nothing more in life than to be a mother to a large family. I knew from my teenage years it was going to be difficult. I had a miscarriage at 5 weeks at age 18. Someone told me, ‘It must be because you’re not married.’ I was diagnosed with PCOS at 22 and I knew my struggle was only beginning. I met my husband at the same time I found out about my PCOS. We had a wonderful courtship and I knew he was the one I wanted to have a family with! And he came with twin girls (from a previous marriage)! I love them as my own and they are fantastic human beings. However, they don’t take the want away from having more children, although I can’t tell you the times I’ve heard ‘at least you have them.’

I had my second miscarriage at 5 weeks at age 23 and someone said to me, ‘God must have thought you weren’t ready.’ Flash forward to now. I am 26 and have been going through infertility treatments for two years. I have had 3 surgeries, a discovery of stage 2 endometriosis on top of PCOS, a cancer scare, 11 months on oral medications that come with terrible side effects that have had a tremendous toll on my mind and body, major depression and anxiety, gained 50 pounds, and not only no baby, I haven’t even ovulated. My doctors believe my only chance at conceiving is IVF which involves multiple shots a day, surgery, and takes a huge toll on emotions, bodies, and finances costing $12,000-$15,000. Not being in the position to afford it right now, we’re having to put our hopes and plans of a baby on hold for a while. Which is a devastation only someone who has been here can understand. All the while I have endured friend after friend, family member after family member getting pregnant.

So many drug addicts and teenagers who have no desire to be parents have kid after kid. And having to say, ‘I’m fine,’ ‘I’m happy for you,’ ‘congratulations’ and attend baby showers and gender reveals is heart breaking every single time. It never ever gets any easier. As helpful as people are trying to be, hearing ‘It’ll happen in God’s time,’ ‘Just relax,’ ‘have you tried x, y or z?’ ‘Here, have one of mine,’ etc, is not even remotely helpful. We are waiting and praying for our rainbow and God does have a plan. If you know someone going through infertility, miscarriage or infant loss, don’t ignore it because it’s uncomfortable or you don’t know what to say. Ask how you can help, ask if they need anything, just give a hug or send a quick, ‘I’m thinking of you.’ You never know who’s in the middle of a breakdown and just needs to know they aren’t alone.

Woman who experienced child loss holds sign that says, "God must have not thought you were ready"
SydneyKohl Photography

Ashley Lowe- Knoxville, Tennessee – Age 32

I’m Ashley. I am married to the most amazing man and have 5 living boys and 1 boy who didn’t survive pregnancy. I had 4 boys, and my husband and I were done having kids but #5 surprised us around Christmas in 2016. I had never had a loss before and all of my pregnancies had been healthy and resulted in a live baby. We were DONE for sure after we found out about #5, so we scheduled my husband’s vasectomy because I was already pregnant – might as well get it done instead of chancing another pregnancy! In the beginning of February 2017 he went for the procedure and was told to check back in 3 months for the all clear. I was blissfully pregnant still and even though I had a bad feeling from the very beginning, once I got to the second trimester I thought I was in the clear. Every appointment was great and the baby was growing. I hit about 18 weeks and had a terrible nightmare that my baby had died. I didn’t feel him moving after that but convinced myself I had an anterior placenta and he was still early so it was ok to not feel movements yet. I hit 20 weeks and was even more relieved. I was halfway there! 5 days later I had a regular appointment with my midwife Rebekah and we couldn’t find baby’s heartbeat. I was 20+5 weeks.She scheduled an emergency ultrasound but I already knew what they would find. My husband went with me to the ultrasound where we learned our sweet baby had died. We didn’t know whether baby was a boy or a girl yet and we couldn’t get a good look on the ultrasound because of how baby was positioned. The doctor gave us 3 options. 1) wait and let nature take its course, 2) a D&C but I wouldn’t get to see the baby or 3) induce and deliver baby and get to spend time with them. We chose to induce because they told us he had been dead at least 2 weeks and it could be weeks more before my body realized that baby had died. I was in labor for 18 hours before we got to meet our tiny BOY Winston Bernard on April 7th (20+6 weeks). He looked terrible but I wouldn’t change a thing about our decision. We got to spend time with him and my friend came to take pictures. We had Winston cremated and have his urn with his tiny ashes in a box with things we got from the hospital. My husband and I still wanted another baby and I knew I didn’t want to wait. A month after Winston was born we got the ‘good news’ that my husband is sterile, so we asked a friend to be a sperm donor for us. He agreed and we inseminated twice and got pregnant the first round of trying! Our donor is black so our rainbow baby is a tiny amazing biracial boy who has healed me more than I could have ever dreamed. I still get sad about Winston and I hate getting blindsided with his name on signs or in movies.

Woman who suffered child loss holds sign that says, "At least you have 4 healthy kids..."
SydneyKohl Photography

Carrie Plemons – Knoxville, Tennessee – Age 36

I am Carrie. I’m a mom of 2 living boys, Dylan and Jackson, 8 and 5. My husband and I have been married for almost 14 years. When we started trying to get pregnant, we had a loss at 12 weeks where I had to have a D&C and I lost a lot of blood and ended up staying in the hospital overnight. It was awful and scary. I never knew anyone that had a loss, or at least no one that was as upset as I was about it.

A few months later we got pregnant again, and I lost the baby at 8 weeks. I was devastated again. I didn’t understand how it could happen twice. All I wanted was to be a mom. We had a third miscarriage a few months later. At this point I was depressed and had to get a bunch of tests done to no avail.

I got pregnant again in January 2009 with a boy. I carried Brendan full term with no complications. We were told he was healthy before he was born. But on October 18, he was born at 40 weeks and immediately couldn’t breathe and had to be taken to the NICU. We were told he had a heart defect, transposition of the great arteries, that would be fixed with surgery. But after surgery at 10 days, his breathing was still off and his head was smaller than average. We found out he had a midline defect that affected his brain, mouth, eyes, ears, gallbladder, lungs and heart. His brain was severely underdeveloped. He was struggling to breathe.

At 2 and a half months we put him on hospice and took him home to enjoy the rest of his life with us. He spent two weeks at home and died peacefully in my arms on January 23, 2010. The day we picked up Brendan’s ashes, we found out I was pregnant. Dylan was born 11 months after Brendan’s birthday, healthy and happy.

Two and a half years later we had Jackson, and he’s perfect too. We had a surprise pregnancy that we were thrilled about 4 years ago. We thought everything was normal for a few days, then found out I was having another miscarriage. I ended up having a misdiagnosed ectopic pregnancy. It ruptured and I didn’t know what was wrong, so I did nothing for 2 weeks. Then finally went to the doctor and had to have an emergency surgery to remove my left ovary and fallopian tube. I was devastated. We wanted more kids. But after all the pain we went through, we decided to stop at two.

We celebrate Brendan’s birthday every year. This month he would be 9. I’m a mom to 7 babies. But only 2 living. It still hurts daily. Brendan lived through the holidays, so every year the season is filled with memories and sadness. I’m not sure when it’ll get better.

Woman who experienced child loss holds sign that says, "God needed him more than you"
SydneyKohl Photography

Emerald Brown- Lenoir City, Tennessee – Age 29

The moment I knew my dream was coming true was the moment my precious rainbow baby was on her
way Earthside. I could feel my heartbeat pounding, the trembling of my body. Was it just nerves, excitement, or maybe even fear? I’m still in disbelief her day of birth is finally here.

I stand in the nest I’ve prepared, the glowing of the curtain of lights hanging near. My peaceful place where we have planned to bring new life into the world. I have written my words of encouragement and hung on my walls. While gazing at them I feel a sense of peace pulsating through my body, reminding myself to breathe and knowing my body was made for this. I can feel my breath being taken with each new wave, it’s time to call my team together to help welcome her here. I check the time, moaning for the help of my partner. Our bodies working hard alongside one another, he and I were made for this. He helps hold my hips and his strong hands massage my skin while moving with me as one. The progress my body is making , the words of power spoken from my village of support. I believe I can do this as I’m deeply inhaling the comforting aroma of lavender.

Powerful waves bring me closer and closer to meeting my sweet baby. I’m rocking back and forth, the dancing of labor has begun. I’m finding my way through this whirlwind of emotions. I’m searching for courage and strength while tears start flowing down my flustered cheeks as I recall heartbreak. The lump in my throat, going back to my most uncomfortable memories of what should be the most happy of times. The excitement of two pink lines on that test, to the time we said our goodbyes with blue and pink balloons. I held onto a piece of my heart and released it into the heavens, begging for some piece to fill this void. Somehow maybe this ritual could bring me some closure. Possibly provide hope in a new beginning of trying again. I must know how to reach deep into my soul and push through this heartache.

Mother who experienced child loss cries as she holds empty blanket as if there were a baby in it
SydneyKohl Photography

Here I am standing about to welcome this new chapter of life into this world. It seems as though I could have more understanding of this cycle. There is a beginning and end for everything in this little blink of time, but I can’t help feel some small part of my soul has taken a journey to a world away from here. If only I could have known my baby here on this earth. Death before life has even begun. Not even getting to take his first breath. Awake in the night I cry for something to make me whole again. My instincts to care for my child are of a substantial amount, as I lay with empty arms. I can practically smell sweet hair and skin, counting fingers and toes while kissing a small baby nose.

I trust in my capability as a woman to give birth, so why am I so troubled? Why do I question my abilities for this journey? Once you have experienced the unimaginable, I can only see how my emotions have taken me on such a ride. My body’s pain has intensified but my mind is sound. The all-consuming thought racing through my head, I’m going to be a mom again! Such a surreal moment, almost as if an out of body experience has occurred. I reach for my baby, pulling her to my chest. Still attached to me by her lifeline, my body is still breathing for her until she takes her first breath Earthside. Her lungs fill as her first cry sounds through the quiet night. I put her to the breast, I’m in disbelief that my arms are full. I am superwoman! I feel as though my heart is beating out of my chest. My tiny baby is beyond compare. I am overjoyed and peaceful in her arrival. This is the feeling my heart has been searching for. I kiss her head as I am counting her fingers and toes. Soaking in every delicate detail of this precious soul. How did I get so lucky to be her mom? My mom says, ‘You did it!’ I did it. I can’t stop speaking those words. I finally realize this is the moment I have planned for all this time. It happened so quickly, being able to process it is difficult. The village cheers me on with words of wisdom and momentous congratulations.

Little girl in rainbow dress stands smiling in grass whose mother lost younger sibling
SydneyKohl Photography

We soak in an herbal bath while gazing into each other’s eyes. When I look at her I can see heaven. She is so perfect in every way. I was gifted a piece of my heart back. My partner and I kiss and in awe of our tiny person. In that moment, I knew I was strong enough to be a mom after loss.

Woman who went through child loss holds sign that says, "It was just a ball of cells"
SydneyKohl Photography

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Sydney Durbin of SydneyKohl Photography in Maryville, Tennessee. Do you have a similar grief journey you’d like to share? We’d like to hear from you, for others to know they are not alone. Submit your story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

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