“I always have wanted a home full of littles. When I fell in love with Stephen, I never had to wonder what kind of father he would be because he was a package deal. When we got married, I didn’t just get one bonus kid but two. Drea had just turned 15 and Alex had just turned 13 when I became Mrs. Shasta Reeves at 28 years old.
I had wanted to be a mom from the time I was old enough to know what one was. My own mother was always there for my brother and I. From skinned knees and bee stings to the first time I trotted a barrel horse around a pattern to cross country pro-rodeo drives, my mom has always been there for me. I wanted to be a mom and I wanted to be there. I sobbed my way through a resignation at a job I adored as a pre-k teacher and chose to stay home and be there for Drea and Alex. I drove them to doctor’s appointments and packed school lunches with glee. I baked. I planned birthday parties. I sat at cross-country track meets. I was there.
Not long after Stephen and I got married in December of 2015, we decided to start trying for a baby. I was ecstatic when, just a few months later, I got a positive pregnancy test. I immediately went to Target and bought a soft, ivory lovey for our baby. I couldn’t wait until that night to tell Stephen. I excitedly whispered it in his ear outside the concession stand at Alex’s track meet. But then the worst happened. At ten weeks, the baby had no heart beat. I had a D&C and the first thing I said to the nurse when I woke up was, ‘Is my baby gone?’ It was. A month later, I had a chemical pregnancy. Two losses so close together were crushing.
The desire to adopt first took root in my heart when I was in the second grade. My class sponsored a child from Albania. I remember thinking, ‘I wish I could just go get him. I have so much to share.’ Stephen had been a foster parent before and after our miscarriages, we decided to move forward with our adoption plans. I’m a preparer by nature and it was time to start preparing. We specifically chose our agency, Lifetime Adoptions, based on the fact they offered lots of support for the birth moms, before, during, and after the adoption, which was very important to me considering the sacrifice they were making for their children. We signed the paperwork, put together our profile, paid our fees, went through the home study process, and became active.
And then we waited. We didn’t stop trying for a biological baby. I’d gotten pregnant easily twice before, but what followed was almost a year of nothing. Finally, I went to my OBGYN and started infertility testing. I wasn’t releasing eggs on my own. We started month one of fertility treatments. The very first month we tried the fertility treatments, they worked. I was so nervous the morning of our confirmation appointment my stomach hurt. I’d watch women walking back to the waiting room from an ultrasound. A hand propped on their swollen bellies. Absentmindedly holding the strip of black and white photos of their baby between their fingers. So casual. Meanwhile, I was about to throw up with what I can honestly only describe as terror. Scenario after scenario flew through my head. No baby. Not a viable pregnancy. No heartbeat. Again. I’ll never forget when the ultrasound tech oh-so-slowly typed in my information. Then came the ultrasound probe, and then the wavy screen showed a circle. And there was a little plop. With an unmistakeable blink. A heartbeat. We were elated. I was probably the happiest woman to ever have morning sickness.
Then on a Monday morning, when I was exactly 10 weeks pregnant, I woke up wet. I looked down and there was blood. So much blood. I reached over, calmly pushed on Stephen’s shoulder, and told him he had to wake up and take me to the hospital. I was miscarrying. There was no way the little blink was still there. It was just too much blood.
I walked into the emergency room totally calm. I told the registration agent I was ten weeks pregnant and bleeding badly. There wasn’t anyone in the waiting room by some miracle, so they took me right back. I stared at Stephen’s face the whole time. The ultrasound tech was silent as she quickly clicked around the screen. Stephen smiled and said, ‘There it is!’ I said, ‘Honey, the baby isn’t there.’ The ultrasound tech sharply looked at me and said, ‘Oh honey, yes. Your baby is here. Look.’ And there I saw it. The blink of HER heartbeat. Willow Josephine was there. I had a subchorionic hemorrhage that kept a threatened miscarriage. I stayed in bed for the next 10 weeks, sporadically bleeding, terrified. The Subchorionic Hemhorrage eventually resolved and we moved toward our baby girl’s due date.
The week of Thanksgiving, I began prodromal labor. I was admitted to the hospital for delivery the night of November 25 and after a day and a half of laboring at home, I was exhausted. The anesthesiologist came in and placed my epidural and I was blissfully out of pain. I slept, waking only when my nurse came in to help me flip over and to check me. At 8 centimeters, I fell asleep while the doctor was breaking my waters. The nurse flipped me again. It was 11:30 p.m. ‘I’ll come back and check on you in about 45 minutes, okay?’ I was already back asleep. She came back 15 minutes later and woke me, saying she just wanted to check me one more time anyway. I sleepily helped hold my knees with my hands with my eyes shut, starting to drift when she snapped, ‘Don’t move. You’re 10 and 3. I can feel her head.’ She snatched a phone out of her pocket and started making calls.
I remember the doctor on call tiredly walking in rubbing her eyes to check me herself before widening her eyes. A respiratory team stood by just in case she needed help breathing. Finally, it was time and with three rounds of pushing, Willow Josephine came screaming into the world, red-faced, arms and legs flailing. The strongest 5 pounds and 4 ounces this world has seen. She was tiny, she was early, but she was so perfect. We were thrilled, so in love with this tiny little girl we’d waited so long for.
Throughout my pregnancy, we’d stayed active with our adoption agency. We never heard a word. When Willow was about two months old, I remembered saying to the coordinator we had to be the most unattractive family to potential birth moms with two teenagers and a newborn. No one was going to choose us. And then one day in April, I was sitting at my desk when I got a call from Stephen. Breathless, he said, ‘Lifetime has been trying to call you. There’s a birth mom in the office right now that wants to talk to us. She has a 10-week old baby boy. He’s in foster care, but she wants to place him for adoption.’ We got on the phone and had the most stilted, awkward conversation of my life. And then we waited to see if this woman wanted to match with us, to see if she wanted us to parent her son. I remember thinking how absurd it was all this woman had to go off of was a 10-page booklet and a 15-minute conference call. An hour later, we got the call. She wanted to match with us.
Along with pages of redacted forms, I received a blurry hospital photo, a copy of the only photo the birth mom had. A little boy. ‘My little boy,’ I thought to myself. I had a three-month-old and I was about to have another baby, a baby that had been born on January 4th, same as my beloved great grandmother. He was only 39 days younger than Willow. Gunner John Anthony. We had to file an intervention to adopt Gunner privately out of foster care. Unfortunately, the judge that had been assigned to Gunner’s case decided to take a month-long vacation to Europe, so we were left to sit on our hands for almost two months. I’d lay in bed at night and glance over at my baby girl sleeping with her little hands clutched by her face and try not to think about this baby that was my son — and how I didn’t even know where he was. If his foster family was showing him love. If he too, was sleeping sweetly.
On the day of the intervention hearing, I nervously stood in the courtroom with sweaty hands and a pounding heart. The hearing itself was a blur but at the end of it, we had a date to start transferring care. We would drive back up to Tampa the following Wednesday for a two-hour supervised visit. The following day, we’d be allowed a four-hour visit with the baby as long as we stayed in the county. Then on Friday, we could bring him home. When we walked into the building to meet Gunner for the first time, it was surreal. I opened the glass door where a caseworker and a guardian sat with a baby boy with blue eyes and the chubbiest cheeks. I reached for him just like I’d reached for Willow when she was born. And I became a mama again. I was so absorbed with the cheeky five-month-old who would stare at me with the most cautious dark blue eyes and then smile at me with his whole body I hardly noticed the caseworker sizing Stephen and I up. Two hours felt like two minutes. Buckling Gunner up into the back of the caseworker’s jeep and stepping out felt like someone was stacking stones on my chest, but the next two days flew by. Before I knew it, we were on the interstate with Gunner in the back sleeping in his car seat.
When Willow and Gunner were a year old, we started trying for another baby. I was 31 and Stephen was 41. Yes, they’d all be close in age but we didn’t have a lot of time to waste, considering we already knew I don’t get pregnant and stay pregnant without medical intervention. We started fertility medication again. It did not work this time. We decided to move forward with IUI and had an appointment on the books for April. Then in April, I was sitting at my desk, when I noticed I had a Facebook message from Gunner’s birth mother’s mom. She and I often communicated every other week or so and exchange pictures and updates. The message simply read Gunner had an 8-week old baby brother in foster care. Did we want to adopt him?
Once more we jumped on the phone with our attorney. We headed back to Tampa to court to present ourselves. This time, as a non-relative placement with the intent to adopt a baby boy. A baby boy who, on the ride home from court, we decided to name Harrison Cody James. I told the caseworker I would love to have contact with Harrison’s foster family if they were open. Thankfully, they were and I developed a friendship with his foster mom, who was my sanity during the wait to bring Harrison home. She even allowed us to come to her home and meet him, where she held out this tiny blonde whisp she’d loved and mothered from the time he was only a few days old and said, ‘Meet your son.’ Six weeks later, we brought number three home and began to navigate the very different process of foster to adopt. It was an emotional roller coaster, from ever-changing caseworkers to disappearing paperwork to held-up home studies to delayed court dates.
In the middle of the storm of Harry’s adoption, I noticed I was having mood swings. I joked to my girlfriends on a group text I was probably pregnant, never for a minute believing that was the case. I took a test, I saw a line.
I was the girl who just would not get pregnant and stay pregnant without medical intervention. I was riddled with anxiety and PTSD and I was pregnant. I already had three children under 3. When I told Stephen, he laughed! ‘What’s one more?’ I adopted that attitude and my pregnancy sailed by. Aside from a raging case of morning sickness early on, it was a dream pregnancy. I was sure after a stressful pregnancy with Willow and having missed the first few months of my other two boy’s lives, I was getting to enjoy pregnancy. I’d fall asleep at night daydreaming about meeting my new son and soaking up his newborn days.
And then came COVID. I was about 8 months pregnant when I started hearing stories of babies separated from their mothers, of women laboring alone without a support person. My anxiety skyrocketed. I resigned myself to all of the changes. The stress still sent me into prodromal labor that was so intense I was admitted twice to the hospital so they could stop it. I was triaged alone, terrified I’d catch COVID in the hall on the way to ultrasound and exhausted from days of labor. And alone.
Late one Monday night, I went in to be checked. Stephen drove me to the hospital and insisted on coming up, even after being turned away the last two times I was triaged. I was 4.5 centimeters dilated and staying. After a debate over the baby’s actual gestational age due to two different dates in the records, they settled me in with an epidural, and Stephen and I both settled in to catch some sleep. At 6 a.m., it was time to push. I pushed for a round, burying my chin to my chest and putting all of my focus into feeling the urge when it hit me, knowing each time was bringing me closer to my baby. ‘Ah. He’s sunny side up.’ I heard the doctor mutter. I pushed with everything I had. They placed him on me and he bleated. The doctor sewed me up and they weighed him. ‘6 pounds 8 ounces. That’s one big 34 weeker.’ Maverick only broke his bleating little cry to nurse. After my golden hour and skin to skin, they took him.
He continued to cry, a little bleating noise. Never settling. Odd, I remember thinking. Willow was so sleepy after she was born. Our pediatrician came in assessed him. She explained to us Maverick was working harder than they’d like to breathe and the bleating sound was him trying to breathe. His pulse ox reading wasn’t as high as they’d like either. They’d called the neonatologist in. He was taken to the nursery for monitoring. Neonatology made the decision he needed to be transferred to the children’s hospital across town’s NICU. They let Stephen follow him over and see him settled and FaceTime me, alone except for the nurses to comfort me as I sobbed, hunched over, in pain, and realizing my worst fear of being separated from my baby had happened.
Due to COVID, only one parent could visit the patient per day, for two hours, by appointment only, and they must be screened before they could enter. A kind OB allowed me to discharge early so I could see Maverick the next day. For a week, I went in every day, was screened, carrying a small cooler with whatever meager amount of pumped colostrum I’d been able to collect. I’d gather my tiny newborn, covered in wires and tubes into my arms, sit and smell his sweet head while he nursed and slept. We’d FaceTime his daddy and wait for him to mark off all the boxes he needed to in order to be discharged. Then a nurse would come in after two hours and tell me it was time to go, and she’d escort me out while I sobbed.
When we were finally discharged, we loaded Maverick into the bag of the truck. I sat beside him, eating a wrap and smoothie Stephen had picked up while I was waiting for him to be discharged. We stepped through our front door with our youngest into a playroom full of babies. Exactly what I’d always dreamed of.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Shasta Reeves from Fort Myers, FL. You can follow their journey on Instagram, Facebook, and their blog. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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