Trigger Warning: This story contains descriptions and images of child loss that may be triggering to some.
“My husband, Caleb, and I had decided we were ready to try for our third child after many prayers and conversations. We had two beautiful, healthy children already, Noah and Leah, who were 5 and 4 at the time. We were secretly hoping for another baby boy. We were serving as youth pastors at our church while I also worked as a nurse in labor and delivery. I would say life was going pretty well overall at this point.
It took a little longer to get pregnant with our third baby than the previous two, so when I saw the two pink lines after months of hoping and being disappointed, I was so excited! We were given a due date of January 6, 2020. We made a fun video announcing to our kids that they were going to be a big brother and big sister, and they were so happy! They talked about the ‘baby in mommy’s belly’ all the time, constantly asking when the baby would get to come out.
Because I worked in labor and delivery, I would peek on the ultrasound machine fairly often to check up on our little babe. I found out we were having a boy pretty early on at around 13 weeks. We decided to wait to announce his name and gender until my obstetrician confirmed he was 100% a boy at our 16-week ultrasound appointment. We chose ‘Joseph Travis,’ Joseph meaning ‘God will add,’ and Travis meaning ‘to cross,’ which was also in memory of my Uncle Travis. His initials were in memory of my Grandpa, who went by those same initials. We couldn’t wait to announce to the world his special name. But we had no idea what the next few days were about to bring.
On Saturday, July 20th, 2019, my 17-year-old little sister, Rachel, suffered a very severe single-vehicle accident while driving home on a Saturday afternoon. Her truck slipped off the edge of a backroad with no curb and collided with a tree. The day was humid with blazing sunshine and it will forever be etched into every crevice of my mind. She was med-flighted, in critical condition, to Arkansas Children’s Hospital where we all rushed to hear an update. We waited. Updates came with nothing good. But she was alive! We had hope, and we stayed by her side in rotation all weekend.
The following Monday morning, on July 22, 2019, 2 days after Rachel’s accident, my husband and I had our 16-week prenatal appointment with my obstetrician to ultrasound our baby boy. We considered moving the appointment but we were still excited despite the looming darkness of my sister’s current condition. This was the day we were finally going to announce to our friends and family that we were having a BOY! We thought now, more than ever, our family could use a touch of good news.
We arrived at our appointment in the early afternoon, and after waiting a short bit in the small waiting room, we were escorted by a nurse to the ultrasound room. I had sat in this room many times before at appointments with this pregnancy and my previous two. Nothing had changed. It was the same neutral walls, small decorative bird mobile hanging above the table. Same posters about birth control options. Same little toys for the toddlers accompanying mothers to appointments. But this day, everything suddenly felt very off.
An anxiousness came over me I couldn’t quite explain. I felt like I couldn’t get a full breath, the room was smaller this time. My palms were clammy and my legs felt shakier as they dangled off the edge of the exam table. I couldn’t put my finger on why I was so worried. I had seen our baby just 6 days prior, kicking and bouncing all around the ultrasound machine at work. I had no particular reason to be worried or nervous, but still, my heart raced. My husband noticed my demeanor had changed. I remember he asked, ‘What’s wrong? Are you alright?’ All I could tell him was, ‘I feel very anxious.’
The doctor came into our room and told us how sorry he was to hear of my sister’s accident and he was ready to give us some fun, happy news of the gender of our sweet baby as a ray of sunshine in these dark few days. My husband held my hand as we both looked, smiling, at the screen. As the doctor began the ultrasound, my heart dropped instantly. I know exactly what a beating heart looks like on an ultrasound… and this wasn’t it. I silently watched for several agonizing, empty moments just praying I was wrong, until my doctor stopped, moved his hand off the ultrasound probe, and looked into my eyes with absolute sadness. I could see in his eyes the truth I already knew. My mind begged, ‘Please! Don’t say it! Please let this be some kind of terrible joke! Don’t say it…’
Out of his mouth came the words, shattering our world. ‘I don’t see a heartbeat.’ In that very first moment, I actually almost laughed. An irrational, dismayed, laugh of disbelief that THIS could actually be happening. Not only was my sister lying in a hospital bed on ventilators and brain monitors with crushed bones and an unknown prognosis, but now I had lost my son too. It felt like a sick, cruel joke.
Air escaped my lungs. My stomach turned. The light feeling in the room cut to a ton of bricks on my chest. Tears sprang uncontrollably to my eyes. My husband grabbed me and we sobbed together. I was sobbing so hard and the doctor still had the ultrasound probe on my stomach to continue examining the baby, and because of my crying, the gel on the probe was making a loud muffling sound. He couldn’t find a single thing wrong or an explanation. Our baby was just gone. Our sweet Joseph Travis, ‘JT,’ was no longer with us but with Jesus. It was devastation I had witnessed mothers go through in my workplace, but had never imagined I would feel myself.
We delivered our baby boy the following afternoon, July 23, at the hospital unit where I worked, held up and surrounded by the prayers and love of all of our family, friends, church family, and coworkers. It was bittersweet to feel the love everyone poured over us during our hospital stay and the days that followed.
We had a beautiful graveside ceremony for Joseph on the Friday of that same week, at 10 a.m. The day was light and breezy, dragonflies buzzed by my shoulder several times as I noticed the gentle wind and felt the Spirit of my ultimate Comforter surround me at the gravesite. Our pastor spoke about Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus, who has no recorded words in the Bible but who God saw as so special, he entrusted His Son into Joseph’s care. He spoke of how our Joseph may have never spoken words, but was so very special and would have such an impact. Songs were played, and tears were shed. But it was still so perfectly beautiful, so full of peace. God was in the midst of us that day.
On Saturday, July 27, the day after Joseph’s funeral, my precious sister, Rachel, joined him in heaven. All the improvements in her condition over the course of that heavy week vanished in a rapid, downhill spiral of events over the course of 4 short hours that Saturday afternoon. 4 hours of chaos and waiting, seizures and coding, praying, and fighting. And just like that, she released her last breath and heaven gained the most beautiful soul. She never woke up after the accident. We never got to say goodbye. We were utterly broken. And to an extent, we always will be.
To say my world was spun into absolute chaos and brokenness in the matter of that one single week would be an understatement. If not for my faith in Jesus, I truly do not know if I would have survived. I had always had a very strong faith but in the days and weeks, and months following my losses, God showed Himself to be a faithful, Heavenly Father to me. I felt Him so very close. I just ran to Him with my grief and messy, angry thoughts and prayers. I began to write every feeling down. I allowed myself to feel whatever I felt in that moment. My husband, who was also grieving, was so patient and never once made me feel crazy when suddenly I just burst into tears. I would feel embarrassed when one thought or photo or well-meaning, ‘How are you doing?’ would throw me into a sob so strong my body ached afterward. I just poured it all out into a prayer of sorts. I found worship music and scriptures so comforting.
I felt numb and empty. Lost. In one particular journal entry, 3 weeks after we lost Joseph and Rachel, I wrote, ‘Where do I go from here? I felt allowed to grieve for the first week, but now it feels like grief is supposed to happen in secret. It’s like I feel too dramatic or attention-seeking if I’m not smiling. The world just kept turning but I feel like I’m still falling. It’s that feeling when the roller coaster drops and your stomach turns. I’ve been in the freefall for three weeks now. Does it ever stop? Will I ever not feel sick to my stomach? God, I am trying so hard. To have faith. To trust Your plan and Your Word. But I’m struggling. Part of me is clinging to every verse, every song, every sign You’ve shown me. And yet I’m equally feeling so alone and forgotten and unseen. Please don’t forget me! Don’t leave me here! I can’t stay here. I need there to be a purpose for all of this. This can’t have been just a test, just for nothing. Don’t leave it here. Where’s the beauty in these ashes?’
It was in those moments of writing I felt God healing my heart, one tiny broken sliver at a time. I began posting and sharing a lot of my thoughts and journaling entries. I was very open and raw about what I was feeling. It was healing for me to let others into my deep grief. And a few short weeks after I asked God those questions, an idea came to me. A memory box for parents when they lose their baby due to miscarriage. I had received such a beautiful box of memory items (footprints, teddy bear, photos, etc) when we delivered Joseph in the hospital and it is priceless to me. It’s everything I have of him.
As a nurse, I know most women who lose their babies early on in pregnancy never get the chance to have a memory box, never get to see their babies or even really say goodbye. I wanted every parent to have what I was able to have. Something to hold in my hands, something to remember my baby by. And for that reason, The Joseph Box was formed. I began to see the answer to my question. This was part of the beauty of ashes. Something good that could come from so much brokenness. A way to help others heal as I myself found healing and comfort in creating the boxes. I was able to sing again, of the goodness of God. He was still good even though my situation was not. I was not alone.
We waited for about 3 months and when we both felt we were ready, we began trying again to get pregnant. It was a very emotional time. I had feelings of intense jealousy and bitterness that tried to overtake me when I would see friends announcing their pregnancies or gender reveals or births on social media. Every single post seemed like a stinging slap in the face. A gut-punch reminder my baby was gone. But mixed in with those feelings, were feelings of hope, feelings of excitement at the possibility of becoming pregnant, a deep longing for the baby I had prepared for over the past year.
And then, one day… There they were again. The two pink lines. I didn’t know what to feel at all. I was so happy, so afraid, so anxious. I felt so guilty at first, for wanting this pregnancy so much. As if I were betraying Joseph by ‘forgetting’ him, even though that wouldn’t have been possible. Grief can really throw you around on a crazy roller coaster.
Every day, I would wake up and go to the bathroom and half expect to see blood. To be miscarrying or to have something happen and lose this pregnancy too. That safety net of naivety when I used to think, ‘It could never happen to me’ had vanished. I felt open and exposed to anything that could possibly go wrong. Anxiety tried to steal the joy of my first trimester. Then, on December 9, 2019, we had our first ultrasound… and there were TWO babies! We were having twins! It actually wasn’t a total surprise. My husband and I both had felt God would give us twins. It’s hard to explain. But there they were! Two little babies. So much more risk involved, but so much excitement! Getting to announce this rainbow miracle times two was the highlight of my year. We were given a due date for July of 2020. Exactly a year to the month after our terrible losses, God gave us new hope, new life… beauty from ashes.
My rainbow pregnancy flew by. It was not without some days of feeling overwhelming anxiety, but mostly God helped give me peace to allow myself to feel JOY. When we found out we were having identical twin girls, we began working on names. We named then Alyvia Jo and Presley Rae. Alyvia was my sister Rachel’s middle name, just spelled differently, and means ‘peace.’ Jo was short for baby Joseph, and meant ‘God will add.’ God will add peace. Presley means ‘priests meadow’ and Rae was short for Rachel, meaning ‘little lamb.’ A little lamb in a meadow. These are our girls. Our precious miracles from God.
The girls were born at 35 weeks, naturally with no cesarean section, and did not have to go to the NICU at all! It truly was a perfect delivery, so special and perfect. We were in the hospital for a total of 5 days and then we headed home to meet big brother and sister, who were SO excited to have babies they could see and hold.
We talk about baby Joseph often and go to ‘Joseph’s Place,’ the gravesite, to take him flowers and toys and to just say hi and we miss you to him. Our rainbow girls could never replace him. I will always wish so deeply that he could be here with us. To be able to watch him grow, to see his face and hear him laugh. But the very first things he saw when his tiny eyes opened, was the face of Jesus. And that is something beautiful to think about.
While the twins did not replace our loss, God did use them to help restore our hearts. I pray He uses our story to encourage your heart as well. There really can be beauty from ashes. Hope even in the deepest grief. And joy on the horizon of even the darkest night. Your heart will heal. Your rainbow will shine. You are not alone. You are loved. You will find the strength to sing again. But in the meantime, be gentle with yourself. It is your right to grieve those that you loved so deeply and miss so terribly. Let it wash over you gently on the better days, and on the days when waves are crashing and ripping you apart, you can run to the arms of Jesus. He will hold you steady every time.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Lindsey Ford of Cabot, Arkansas. You can find The Joseph Box on Facebook. 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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