First of all, it’s scary, nerve wrecking and embarrassing to put my story on paper. To think that people can read this and judge me is terrifying. But, as a Christian, I know part of my job is to spread the word and the glory of God. While my story might be emotional for me to tell, I know that in the end it shows how good and faithful He is. He is all of the strength I need to share.
When my now husband, Brayden, asked me on our first date our sophomore year in college, he asked me what I wanted to do with my life and my college degree. I told him all I wanted was to be a mom. He could have run for the hills. Here I was this sorority girl, completely unmotivated by school, wasting her parent’s money on college tuition, because all she wanted to be was a mom. But he didn’t run, and eventually told me that was one of the things he loved most about me. How did I get so lucky?
Fast forward through the perfect proposal and the dream wedding, to March of 2015. Three months after our wedding, without actively trying, we found out we were pregnant. I don’t even have words to describe the feeling I felt when that second line showed up. I had never felt more blessed. I had always wrestled with the fear that I was not going to be able to get pregnant. But God had answered my prayers, and allowed me to get pregnant quickly and effortlessly.
We were so excited and I immediately started planning the big reveal for our families. We had already planned a trip down to Naples, Florida where my grandmother lived and my parents were meeting us there. I would be 7 weeks pregnant. With that carefree “nothing will go wrong” attitude of a first pregnancy, I came up with the cute idea of picking my parents up from the airport, holding a sign that said “Grandma and Grandpa Hansley”, as if I was their chauffer. I still look back on the video of that day, remembering that confused and excited “WAIT WHAT?!” that came out of my mothers mouth. Everyone was overjoyed.
Then ready to fully milk the first trimester exhaustion and morning sickness, I told my boss and coworkers at 8 weeks. All the research I had done had said more than likely if you make it to 8 weeks your chance of miscarriage goes way down, so I was feeling confident and excited.
When we went in for our 8-week sonogram, we saw a perfect little bean with a healthy flickering heartbeat. Hearing that sound is something I will never forget. It was pure magic. It was a quick in and out appointment, and I remember thinking “that’s it?” But all looked good and we took our sonogram printout home, put them front and center on our fridge, and anxiously awaited our next appointment at 12 weeks.
Waiting four weeks to see our little babe again felt like an eternity, and I was so tired, but loving every minute of being pregnant. Our appointment finally came and I still remember what I was wearing that day: A tight white maternity shirt to accentuate my tiny bump, and a stretchy pink maxi skirt to accommodate all the uncomfortable bloat. They took us back to the sonogram room and the baby had changed so much already. Instead of a little bean, it looked like an actual tiny human. Again, magical. The nurse told me she was having a hard time getting the measurements they needed, and gave me a sucker, hoping the sugar would get the baby moving into a more ideal position. Take two and she said the baby was still being stubborn and not in a good position for measuring. She told us we would probably just have to come back another day, so we headed to our room to wait to speak with the doctor. I thought nothing of it.
The doctor came in holding a printout of the baby’s sonogram and the look on his face said it all. Something was wrong. He told us the baby’s skull did not look like it had developed correctly and he wanted us to go have a level two ultrasound done. I lost it. Through the tears I managed to ask what he thought it was. He said he didn’t know for sure but it looked like anencephaly.
From there I just remember running hysterically to the car. I was crying and screaming, screaming and crying. Brayden somehow managed to keep it all together and safely drive us home. He was my rock and told me everything would be ok. For the next two days I cried and I prayed. I prayed more and harder than I ever had before. And we waited. I called into work, letting them know something had gone wrong at my earlier appointment and I wouldn’t be in for a few days. I would eventually end up resigning, unable to face all of my coworkers having to explain the situation. I was sad and embarrassed.
Google was cruel and upsetting. The pictures of anencephaly still haunt me. I prayed my baby, my perfect little miracle, wouldn’t have it. So when we got to the level two ultrasound and they confirmed it was anencephaly, I felt like God had failed me.
From there we were given our options. I was told it was most common to medically terminate but if I did choose to continue the pregnancy there would be a 70 percent chance of preterm stillbirth. Even if our baby did make it, babies born with anencephaly only live minutes to hours after being born.
At 24 years old I wasn’t strong enough. I told Brayden I couldn’t do it. But we took a few days to think and pray while we waited for one more high-level ultrasound. Maybe there was a chance the other one was wrong. We prayed that if we were not meant to medically terminate this pregnancy that the ultrasound would show a healthy baby. It didn’t. We scheduled the D and E.
We wrote our unborn baby letters, telling him or her how much we loved them, explaining, and even apologizing. We wanted our baby to know that we couldn’t wait to meet them in heaven one day, perfectly healed and healthy. Brayden and I exchanged and read each other’s letters. That was the first time I had seen my husband cry.
I had the D and E done at 13 weeks. It was painful, both physically and emotionally, and frankly I don’t know if I have the strength to relive those details on paper. But I will tell you the one moment I will never forget. I was prepped for surgery, waiting nervously for the doctors to come wheel me back. A group of nurses walked into the room and asked me to confirm some information before they could take me. After confirming my name and date of birth, the nurse asked me, “and what procedure are you having done today?” I immediately started crying, “I have to say it out loud?” I said. I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t physically bring myself to say I was there for a D and E, because I still don’t think I believed what was happening. I could feel the shame washing over me. I didn’t want the nurses to judge me, even though I knew they had already been fully prepped and informed for the procedure. They forced me to say it, and through the tears I somehow managed to whisper the words. That was the last thing I remember. I went to sleep pregnant and woke up not pregnant. I felt empty. I was empty.
Now, even today, I deal with feelings of guilt, shame, and sadness. Here I was a Christian who never believed in abortion and who, in my brokenness, judged others for those kinds of choices, and I felt like a total hypocrite. I was dealing with ten pounds of baby weight and no baby. And I struggled with trusting God again. I was mad at Him.
Four short months later, despite the doctor telling me it could take up to a year to fully heal and get pregnant that second line showed up once again. I felt joy again, when I never thought I would. This pregnancy felt different and it wasn’t as care free. I was scared at every moment something would be wrong. So I found myself praying again, trusting God again. It was all a part of His plan. And when the 12-week ultrasound showed a healthy baby with a fully developed skull and brain, I believed again that He was faithful.
Looking back and hearing stories of amazing women who will carry terminal pregnancies to term so that they can donate their baby’s organs, I feel like I was weak. Why couldn’t I do that? Am I a bad person because I didn’t? Am I a bad Christian? (Ps. Stories like these would flood my Facebook newsfeed for months, probably because of all the googling of anencephaly I had done. Cruel.) But now I look into the eyes of my son, Walker… and my daughter, Nora, and I find peace in knowing that I would not have either of them if it hadn’t happened exactly as it did. I still admire those that are stronger than I was but I praise God for my story just the way it is.
My husband always tells me, “life happens FOR you, not TO you.” He’s amazing like that. It took something like this happening in my life for me to truly believe it. I used to pray every so often, mostly when I was in need or it was convenient. My relationship with God was surface level. Now I have seen that there is power in prayer and knowing that He is good regardless of our circumstances. I believe in His plan and provision now more than ever, and am so grateful for how He used my hardships to strengthen my relationship with Christ.
So, why tell you my story, my testimony? Well, it has made me the mother I am and want to be. Stories like these are hiding behind every mom, full of fear of humiliation and judgment. But what if we just stopped judging? And instead accepted moms for who they are, and embraced their unique God given strengths? What if we lifted up that mom who believes she is failing and show her that she is the perfect mom for her kids? This thing called motherhood might feel a whole lot less like an uphill battle.