By Jess Pedersen, HHC (www.bemamabewell.com)
As I reflect back on my forty-plus years, I’ve experienced numerous losses that I would consider intense and life-altering, including the loss of my grandmother when I was five, my grandfather at 16, and my father at 25. As a young child and teenager, I took the passing of grandparents very personally. I would often compare myself to my peers, who typically still had both sets living (sometimes more due to the new divorce trend in the 1970’s and 80’s) and available for Sunday dinners. But not me. You see, we all die young in my family. At least that was the gloomy lens that I was looking through in those days.
That lens became even muddier when my father died from a sudden heart attack in 1996 at the age of 58. But the passing of my father became less about me, about what I didn’t have or what my friends did have. No. It was more about my Mother. What she lost. And what I needed to become to help her through the tragic loss of her lifelong love, personal comedian, and always willing dance partner. This was much bigger than me.
My father’s death, my mother’s grief, and my struggle to make sense of it all were challenging, to say the least. I left my first husband a few weeks after my father’s passing and moved back in to my childhood home to be with Mom. The one thing that I learned immediately from his death was that I was much too young to be miserable and if life is going to be that short, I better make a change. At the time I would not have been able to see the loss of my father as giving me anything but heartache. But years later I can look back and see that, even in death, my father was looking out for me. He empowered me to leave a loveless marriage, step up as a grown woman by helping my mother, and forge a relationship with her that is the deepest, most spiritual friendship that I have today. We pulled each other out of the depths together and I am so thankful for our bond – a bond that, years later, would require my mother to be the rock and I would be the one in the darkest places that death bestows.
In 2003 I married a wonderful man. Jorgen and I had a lot in common. We knew early in our relationship that we had met our mutual match. We both loved the outdoors, music, and good food. We loved swing dancing in the kitchen and hated the taste of celery. We were both successful in our careers and were looking forward to the next stage of life: parenthood. Jorgen was an only child – the only male child in a long line of only male children on his father’s side dating back to the early twentieth century. So, when my husband and I got pregnant after many years of struggling with infertility, everyone was overjoyed to learn that we too were going to have a boy. All was right in the world.
We knew that getting pregnant was not going to be easy. I was diagnosed with Polycystic Ovary Disease (PCOS) when I was in my early twenties. The PCOS caused my cycles to be extremely irregular and unpredictable. I saw numerous specialists, injected drug cocktails into my abdomen, and felt my hopes get crushed each month that the protocol did not work.
In 2005 I started seeing a naturopathic doctor. She put me on an elimination diet in order to remove any food sensitivities, encouraged me to practice yoga regularly, and taught me how to track my basal temperature. Within five weeks I was pregnant for the first time. Sadly, that pregnancy ended toward the end of the first trimester. But that loss, although unexpected, provided a sense of peace and possibilities. My body could work. It did work. Now I just needed it to work a little longer.
We gave ourselves a few months to grieve the loss of our pregnancy and what could have been. Then we began trying to conceive again. The second time took longer – a matter of months, not weeks. But when we did conceive in May of 2006, we were hopeful. This pregnancy felt different. It felt right. We had pictures and video of our dancing baby boy to prove it. After seeing him on the ultrasound images, we felt confident that we were finally going to be parents.
A few days before hitting the 26 week mark we took a trip to a local pumpkin patch with some friends and their three month old daughter. We posed for photos in front of gorgeous autumn colored trees, in apple orchards, belly in full regalia among the pumpkins. We thought about what it would be like the following year when our little guy would be toddling around the patch, tripping over vines, and running from a shutter-happy Mama trying to capture that perfect Fall photos.
We only had a couple of weeks to go before we hit the all-important 28 week mark – the point where the baby’s lungs would be developed enough to survive a preterm birth. 14 days to go. But the day after the visit to the pumpkin patch, I woke up early to get ready for work and my water broke – suddenly and completely – all over the bathroom floor. I was in a complete state of shock as my husband drove me to the local women’s hospital.
I was admitted to the maternity floor within a few hours of checking in to the emergency room. I was told that I had experienced Preterm Premature Rupture of the Membranes (PPROM). According to American Family Physician journal, “Preterm premature rupture of membranes is the rupture of membranes during pregnancy before 37 weeks’ gestation. It occurs in 3 percent of pregnancies and is the cause of approximately one third of preterm deliveries. It can lead to significant perinatal morbidity, including respiratory distress syndrome, neonatal sepsis, umbilical cord prolapse, placental abruption, and fetal death.” The doctor said that the baby would most likely be in some level of distress, but that they were going to do everything possible to keep him safe inside of me for as long as they could. I believed them.
I prepared for a very long haul in the hospital. My mother came to stay with my while Jorgen drove home to retrieve clothes, toiletries, games, books…everything we would need for an extended stay. Unfortunately, less than a week later, Dane Pedersen was born via emergency c-section. He lived for fewer than five hours in the NICU as interns took turns bagging air into his failing lungs. But during that time I was able to hold him, talk to him, watch his father hold him and cry over what almost was. My mother and sister were there with us in the NICU – sharing an experience full of pain and grief – taking turns holding their grandson and nephew – and passing him to me for his final moments.
When the doctors told us his prognosis and that he probably wouldn’t survive, I looked up at my husband and in between sobs I said, “We will try again, we have to try again!” But we never did. After losing Dane, I learned that I have a uterine abnormality that makes carrying a baby to term almost impossible. We weren’t prepared to face the loss of another child.
I was extremely depressed. My c-section healed slowly and my heart took even longer. I spent months on the couch waiting for something to inspire me to get up and get back to the land of the living. A few very good friends visited or called to lift my spirits. But most did nothing. I spent many days feeling so down that I couldn’t imagine crawling out of the darkness.
My husband went back to work almost immediately. His way of dealing with Dane’s death was to throw himself back into his business and work harder than he ever had before. He worked and I cried. I cried as soon as I woke up every morning. I cried each time I took my clothes off to shower. My c-section scar was a daily reminder of our loss and my body’s failure. I cried and I also hid. I hid from friends – turning down offers for lunch dates so I could avoid breakdowns in public. I hid from neighbors who didn’t know what happened. I remember trying to duck into my house before the family across the street spotted me. But I wasn’t fast enough and the little girl hollered over, “Miss Jess, when are you having your baby?”
I decided to follow Jorgen’s suit by going back to work. I joined Jorgen’s company not long after we were married. After our loss, work became a safe place for me to hide while doing my best to be productive. In the evenings after work Jorgen and I would explore our options for parenthood, including surrogacy, domestic adoption, international trans-racial adoption, and foster-parenting. Just the act of researching these alternatives gave me hope and helped me to heal.
Finally, in October of 2007, exactly one year after Dane’s passing, we started our paperwork to adopt an infant from Ethiopia. We experienced several serendipitous events during our wait to become a family. Most notably, on February 3, 2009 we were matched with a beautiful bright-eyed five month old boy. The timing was ironic because Dane’s due date was February 3, 2007. On a day that had been incredibly depressing the year before, we now had a reason to celebrate. We saw our son’s face for the first time and we knew that there was a brilliant light at the end of our long dark tunnel.
Isaac joined our family in May of 2009. We left the U.S. as childless parents on Mother’s Day – my first Mother’s Day filled with joy – and returned on May 22nd as a family of three. Today our son, Isaac, is a healthy, vivacious, intelligent, and very talkative three year old preschooler with an affinity for math, dancing, singing, and anything with wheels. We see so much of ourselves in him. He has such an amazing sense of humor for a little guy that I can’t help but think my father had something to do with his personality and his arrival in our family. We are in the process of adopting a second child from Ethiopia and we anticipate his arrival sometime in 2014. Until then, we will appreciate every moment of parenting Isaac – a child that was truly meant to be a part of our family – a child that I couldn’t imagine my life without.
At the time of Dane’s loss I despised the saying “everything happens for a reason.” I couldn’t think of a single good reason why he had to pass. Five years later, I look at Isaac and I see the reason standing in front of me.
Jess Pedersen is a health coach who helps women with unexplained infertility, PCOS, and hormone imbalances discover a natural holistic approach to improving their fertility and ability to conceive. Through her personal struggles with infertility and pregnancy loss, Jess has discovered her life’s purpose and is compassionate toward women who face the same uncertainty regarding their ability to have a family. Jess can be found online at www.BeMamaBeWell.com and is also a contributing writer for the blog, www.WithoutChild.com.