“My husband Andrew and I were high school sweethearts. We met at church when we were 16 years old in Kingston, Jamaica where we were both born and raised. When I moved to Connecticut to pursue my career, I wasn’t sure our relationship would survive but it did, and it has. Despite the ups and downs, choosing to love each other has been our constant.
After 4 years of dating, on a visit to see me, he proposed. It was in the middle of a huge disagreement and I remember thinking, ‘This is not how I dreamt of getting engaged.’ I imagined a romantic date with flowers and the perfect story I would share with my family, friends, and our future children. Instead, what he said was, ‘My promise isn’t to love you in the best of times, that’s easy. I am promising I will choose to love when it’s hard, to stay when it’s easier to walk away and to fight for you and for us even in an argument.’ We have been married for 17 years now, and while we never intended to walk the journey we did, I’ve realized the commitment Andrew made to me on that day is one he has renewed every day since then.
We had grand plans after we got married. We would pursue our careers while traveling for just a little bit before becoming parents. I’ve wanted to be a mother since I was a little girl. However, soon after getting married, I got very sick. I was always in pain, but after visiting multiple doctors, I went undiagnosed for many years. During this time, we were also trying to conceive, and after not getting pregnant for over a year we decided to start fertility treatments. It was then we received the diagnosis of Stage 4 Endometriosis. We were told our only option was IVF, and even then our chances of becoming parents were very slim. We were devastated. We would not have imagined the physical, emotional, financial, and spiritual pain we would endure. We never intended to fill so many buckets with tears. We struggled to have children for 9 years and went through multiple rounds of fertility treatments and surgeries. We exhausted all our finances, and each time the IVF failed, I crawled deeper and deeper into depression.
During this time, every area of our marriage was challenged, especially as the physical pain of Endometriosis got worse. I begged Andrew to just leave our marriage, I encouraged him to find another woman who would be able to be the wife he deserved and give him the children he desired…he refused. Even at my lowest moments, he would cry out to God on my behalf and beseech Him to heal my heart, my mind, my body, and my soul.
After 7 IVF cycles, we finally got pregnant, but unfortunately miscarried early in the pregnancy. It was so early we didn’t have a chance to celebrate; the pain from the miscarriage exists to this day. I was told, ‘You are still young, you have time’, ‘It was still very early, at least you never bonded with the child’, ‘It wasn’t really a baby yet.’ All examples of things you never say to a grieving mother. And yes, regardless of what anyone said, the day we became pregnant, I became a mother.
On our 8th IVF cycle, we were blessed to be pregnant with triplet boys. We were so excited to become parents! Then at 22 weeks, I went into preterm labor and they were born. We delivered, and unfortunately were only able to spend 27 mins, 23 mins and 7 mins with our sons Noah, Caleb, and Micah before they passed away. The loss was unbearable; I remember leaving the hospital with empty arms. The only thing we had was a blue box the nurses had prepared with memories of the short time we had with our sons. To be honest, we didn’t open the box for 5 years.
I remember asking God, ‘Why did you allow me to survive?’ I so badly wanted to be with my sons, I didn’t see any purpose remaining for me on earth. It was in the darkest of moments, but we were surrounded by family, friends, and held a faith in God which kept us going each day. There was one day when I had locked myself in the bathroom, and a friend who lived hours away left her job to come sit with me on the other side of the bathroom door. She stayed on the floor for hours as I cried. It was then I realized there are some friends who will suffer alongside you. Oftentimes, these are the ones who aren’t uncomfortable saying the names of the children you’ve lost. As a mother, I love to hear when people say their names.
After losing our sons, I remember telling Andrew I was done fighting, I just couldn’t endure another cycle of IVF, I couldn’t endure another round of despair. ‘One more time’ he said, ‘Just one last time.’ And on our final cycle, we successfully had our twin girls Eliana and Nia, who are now 7 years old! It was truly a miracle and a whirlwind of a pregnancy. Because of my previous loss, many doctors didn’t expect my pregnancy to make it to viability, so it was hard to celebrate until they were finally born. Pregnancy after loss is scary, and it’s hard. I was constantly battling grief and gratitude, the hard days mixed in with hope for the future, juggling the fears and joys all at the same time.
After having our daughters, I got even sicker and was ultimately bedridden. I was blessed to be able to continue working from home, while my husband Andrew became my caretaker and a stay-at-home dad for our girls as I battled the disease. Five years after having our girls, I was blessed to be able to find a specialist in Atlanta who was successfully able to remove my Endometriosis. Since then, my quality of life with my family has increased tremendously! In the winter of 2019, a few months after my surgery, I went outside to play in the snow with my kids for the very first time. My daughter Eliana said, ‘Mommy you can run and play, I’m so happy you’re healed!’ Before then, they had never known their mom to not be in pain.
All of a sudden, we began to rewrite the new normal, as I was now able to do all the things I was never able to do their entire lives. Even with all the obstacles we have faced in our journey, we still face new challenges every day. Our daughters were both diagnosed with autism at 18 months old. Eliana is very high functioning, and Nia needs much more help. We never saw this diagnosis coming, but we had been through so much as a family already. While we struggled initially with the diagnosis, we knew our love was stronger than any obstacles that came our way. Our love was so much bigger than fear of the unknown. Navigating the world as a special needs mom and advocating for my daughters in a world where autism is seen as different is a daily struggle. But we fought so hard to have these girls and will continue to fight for them every day!
In our family, Eliana and I are the loud ones. We sing at the top of our voices, we hug you whether you like it or not, and you’re not allowed to be sad around us. Andrew and Nia are quiet, they tell you like it is, and they are the epitome of grace. Nia in particular forgives and forgets easily – especially in a world where as an autistic child, people are not always very nice to her. When we go through difficult seasons we intentionally choose to love hard despite our feelings. In this way, we love without limits. I am very transparent because we felt so alone in our struggles, and I never want anyone else to feel alone or walk in shame. Our hope is as we infuse joy into the reality of good and bad days, our miraculous journey, faith, and celebration of God will encourage someone going through a tough season.
We want people to know that even in a dark place, the light will find you. Get counseling on the hard days, and celebrate the glimpses of beauty on the good ones. Be kind to yourself; living after loss is a process and it’s hard. It’s okay to hold space for the grief that may never end, while not feeling guilty for loving again. We want you to know it’s okay to distance yourself from the people who aren’t comfortable with your pain making them uncomfortable. There are some people who will come alongside you, and love you on the days you’re feeling unlovable. You are not alone.
Our love story was and still is a wild and crazy one. The process has not been easy, and to be honest, we still continue to fight different giants every day. But every day we choose to keep fighting them together. We have chosen to look for the beauty in each day, assume the best intentions of each other, and pray daily for the humility to always serve each other despite the challenges that have been thrown our way. It’s not always pretty, and almost always imperfect, but Andrew is my rock and I’m his peace.
We want people to know love is beautiful and hard. Sometimes it’s hardly beautiful and sometimes beautifully hard. For us, it usually looks like figuring out how to maneuver through some pretty hard stuff, but doing it hand in hand, even if we don’t always see eye to eye. We want our marriage to bear the type of fruit that makes it impossible for our girls to doubt the love of God. We strive to display it every day in how we love each other. We are truly living our crazy, imperfect, and beautifully hard version of our happily ever after!”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Claudia Campbell of Connecticut. You can follow her journey on Instagram and Facebook. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.
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