This guest post is from Holly Justice. Holly is what I refer to as a real life superwoman. She has more children than anyone I know, yet she is calmer and more together than most people without children. Not only does she manage a large family, she is studying for her doctorate degree and still finds time to train for marathons and Ironmans. She is, quite simply, one of my heroes. When I invited her to share her story for this website, she blew me away with a story I didn’t even know about. Her humanity shines through this story, as it does in her every day life.
My husband Kyle and I both come from small families and we decided early on that we would like to have more children than our parents had. When we met I had a toddler from a previous marriage; soon we had a son. Within a couple of years we had another daughter, and I was active in my daughter’s school, staying home with our younger two children while attending college in the evenings. When our younger daughter was close to a year old, I became pregnant with our fourth child. As I always had been, I was excited and active as I planned for the new addition. We chose a name and told the kids about their future sibling.
At eleven weeks, my physician ordered a routine ultrasound. As we always had, we took the kids with us to the ultrasound – we all filed into the room giddy with anticipation. We waited for the exciting moment when we would see our new addition, but as the x-ray tech put the wand on my belly, I realized something was wrong. Without fully understanding what was unfolding, I told my husband to take the kids to the car and stared at the ultrasound tech. She looked ashen – she kept moving the wand around and looking intently at the screen. My world was changing – my whole life was changing, and it was all moving very slowly as I analyzed every movement of her face.
I remember feeling so sorry for her – I knew that this was the worst part of her job. I imagined her going home and discussing me over dinner with her family – sad, respectful, pitying. I wanted to ask questions but didn’t want to hear any answers. I was still as she got up. She left the room without saying anything and came back with a tall African-American female physician. The physician shook my hand and said, “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
I caught my breath, again thinking that this had to be the worst part of this woman’s day. I was calm- calmer than I would have expected. She gave me instructions for how to proceed and gave me a paper with a summary of the visit on it.
I walked back out through the waiting room that was brimming with pregnant women all waiting excitedly for their turn, some with families and camcorders, and some with toddlers in tow. I felt like I was in a vacuum and all the air was being sucked out of the room as I passed through it. I wasn’t carrying my ultrasound pictures like everyone else who left – I was carrying a piece of paper describing a D&C. I couldn’t breathe, but I willed myself to make it out of the building.
Make it back to Kyle.
I got outside to Kyle looking at me expectantly. I just shook my head and said, “No”. Somehow speaking was what made it real – I had miscarried. I fell into my husband’s chest and cried as hard as I could remember crying. I kept trying to be thankful for the three healthy children I had, but to be honest I was angry that I had lost the fourth one. I don’t know how long we stood there, but I was able to pull myself together after some time and get into the car. The kids had not seen me crying, but they did have questions.
I did my best to answer the questions – I don’t remember specifics, but I remember talking about genes and eggs and heartbeats. I rambled about God and chromosomes and percentages. I talked the whole way home, and then I sat down in bed. I don’t remember much of the next couple weeks outside of this experience – I slept, I woke up, and I went through the motions of living.
I cried a lot, and I was angry. We had to have a D&C, which was painless but painful and freeing but hard to accept. Amidst the nightmare that was a hospital visit without coming home with a baby, I fell into a sad place. I had, prior to this experience, never even considered that a miscarriage could occur. Our goal of having children had seemed so simple up to this point. I stopped going to school, stopped cleaning the house, stopped finding joy in a lot of things. I found some comfort in our children and their innocence – but spent many nights crying.
My immediate solution to the problem was to get pregnant, and I did right away. Two weeks later we lost that pregnancy as well. It was a crushing blow to my already fractured nerves. I would test daily, sometimes several times a day, hoping to see two lines that would mean I was normal again – that life was moving on. I was wildly out of control, focused only on getting pregnant. An ugly little secret about fertility is that it is fickle – there is such a thing as “secondary infertility” which occurs after you have had one or more children. After several months of negatives, and many tears shed on my part, we met with a fertility specialist –my second solution.
Being in a room full of women who had no children, who were so desperate to have even ONE child, was humbling. These women were undergoing thousands of dollars’ worth of treatments to perhaps one day, maybe, in the future, get a child. I had three. Three! I felt foolish sitting amongst them. I felt selfish. The doctor left the room after explaining procedures and I sat for a while alone.
I sat and listened to the sounds of hushed hope, quiet resilience, and panic. I realized I had found the correct solution to this event, and it was not a fertility specialist. It was acceptance. I quietly said goodbye to the baby we had lost months ago. I imagined it was a girl, though I had no evidence to back that up. I said goodbye to her, in a tiny reproductive specialist’s office, and found peace in the decision to let my body figure out what it was doing. I left there with a renewed respect for my own body, for what it had accomplished, and for what it could offer me. I would not push it to do more than it could just to prove I could have more children. If and when it was ready, I would be as well.
I had to see people who were more desperate than I was, who were less fortunate but more hopeful, who were at their own 5th flat tire, to realize I had a charmed life. In letting go of my single-mindedness I let myself be free to enjoy my family, my life, my kids, and all the things that were already right in front of me. I started listening again, starting being engaged in the world around me. I had a whole new understanding for those who could not conceive planted firmly in my belief system now. I judged people less, and thanked people more. I gave my body a break, and calmed the hell down.
If you know me, you know that we did have more children after these events – we have six now. Our “secondary infertility” was temporary. We were able to conceive again and our second son was born two and a half years after our daughter; eighteen months after that, a third son. We returned to the fertility specialist each time to chart the progress of the pregnancies, but no intervention was undertaken and we were transferred to a regular OB/GYN at twelve weeks each time. I had faith in my body, and while I did worry that we could lose another, I didn’t panic anymore.
We were surprised two years later to find ourselves expecting a third daughter – the last of our children and a sometimes-reminder of the girl we lost. I hear the name that we had chosen for that little one we lost every now and then (we did not use the name), and I am often surprised to feel happiness instead of sadness when I do hear it. That name represents a journey I never wanted to take. I am a stronger person because of the journey, though, and thankful for the lessons it imparted: patience, humility, empathy, resilience.