Rainbows After the Rain
Stories of families who found the hope to try again.
Julie Courchine began volunteering with Heartstrings in 2011. She has co-facilitated our Pregnancy and Infant Loss Support Groups and is a trained Connections Support Parent. She has also assisted Heartstrings in community events such as our Raising Hope with Heartstrings benefit in 2014. The following is a story in her own words.
Wait it isn’t time yet, that’s what I thought as my water broke at 18 ½ weeks pregnant. As I stood in my driveway soaking wet I realized that nothing that I thought I knew would ever be the same again. For the first time ever I didn’t know what was coming next and I was scared for what my future may hold.
That morning I was supposed to have a routine appointment with the doctor, they were not supposed to be telling me I would have to spend the next 20+ weeks in the hospital being monitored for infection and to chart the baby’s growth. I went home and packed my bags for my unexpected hospital stay and ventured off into the unknown. You would think that most people would want family and loved ones to gather around during a time like this…but not me. I am ashamed of my body and that I could not carry a child to term like “normal women do.” My body and I had always had a love/hate relationship but nothing like the distain I felt for it at that point. I wish I could tell you that it was the risk of infection or the large amount of blood that I seemed to be losing every day that made each day seem longer than the next but I would not be telling the truth. I wasn’t concerned for my medical health but rather my mental health, as each day it felt like a door to my sanity was being slammed shut.
On November 25, 2009 at 10:30am, just two weeks after being admitted, I gave birth to Joseph Russell Courchine. He was resting in peace with the Lord and I was sent home with a broken soul and a box of memories. The next few months I wrestled with depression, anger, the longing to be pregnant again just so I could feel something again, and the fear of ever walking that road again. For the first time in our marriage my husband couldn’t reach me, couldn’t fix me and I felt didn’t understand me. He was the one that could complete my sentences and spoke to feelings that he knew that I had that I never vocalized to anyone…but not during this time…during this dark time it was like I was all alone and he didn’t know me anymore. While I thought I was the same wife that he had always had, maybe just broken hearted, what he saw was the shell of a wife that he has always loved that seemed to have been ripped away from him at the same time that he lost his son. And my faith, well I wish that I could tell you that my faith helped me transition through grief easier but it didn’t; in many ways I think that it made it harder for me. I couldn’t reconcile what had just happened and how empty I felt with what I knew to be my foundation of faith. I mean who really wants to admit that they are mad at God anyway?
My doctor’s office gave me information about Heartstrings and although I was going to college to complete my degree in counseling, I was not your support group kind of girl. Vulnerability and sharing my brokenness was not a welcomed event for me. After some convincing I decided to participate in a support group meeting in Winston-Salem. I cried my way through the first session and made little eye contact with anyone. After the session where we share our stories I did not want to come back, it was all too raw for me but my husband encouraged me to try just one more session. Now that would be the advice that I give other moms who attend the groups, just give it a few more times and you will see that it hurts but that healing will follow. Heartstrings helped me to find a purpose to my pain and new ways to honor my Joey, while my doctor and nurse helped me to accept that my body was not defective and that it was not my fault that Joey left this earth long before I was ready. Now I am a volunteer who loves to help with support groups or correspond with other moms who have suffered loss. I also continue my son’s legacy through blogging and reaching out to others who have to face the daunting task of finding themselves again after losing a child they longed for. I feel as though the more transparent I am about how I struggled and the many emotions I dealt, and even continue to deal with, the more I feel I can help other women escape from the shame that comes from not feeling free to feel whatever comes your way.
The time came when I realized that becoming pregnant was a revived dream of mine and not just my reason for living. That is when I knew I was ready to try the journey again. It only took a few weeks and I was pregnant again. While I was excited for the days and months ahead, I quickly realized that I had been robbed of an innocence that most women do not even realize they are gifted with. I knew the uncertainty that comes from suffering a loss but I did not let this reality cripple me. I enjoyed each moment of my pregnancy. My doctor’s office was amazing with me. They saw me whenever I needed reassurance and talked me through the pregnancy. My husband handled our pregnancy in a way that I thought at times meant that he was not excited but then I realized that he was robbed of an innocence too. He was worried about me and this new baby…and did not breathe until we heard that sweet cry of our new baby.
The biggest difference between my two pregnancies was my perspective. With Joey I wanted to know what we were having and wanted the 3D ultrasound. Anything they could give me to catch a glimpse of that baby, I wanted it. I did not want to paint the nursery green, I wanted it pink or blue. I wanted clothes in the closet and everything had to be…well perfect. With Thomas, all I wanted was a full term healthy baby. I painted the nursery green and waited until the day he entered the world to know if he would be Thomas or Janetta. My loss helped me to redefine perfect.
On November 25, 2010 at 9:36am I gave birth to Thomas Russell Courchine. He’s not just my rainbow; he is the pot of gold at the end of that rainbow. When they said it was a boy I sobbed and knew that Joey had sent Thomas to me on that very special anniversary of his leaving this earth without me. There were moments after the birth that were very difficult for me, as I suffered with PTSD and had flashbacks of the day of my loss every time I saw blood but my doctor had educated the nurses before I entered labor and delivery so they were amazingly supportive during that time. There were the moments of uncertainty when I saw the doctors surround Thomas while they were cleaning him up and clearing the mucus out of his nose and mouth. I struggled with them taking him from my room, even though I knew I needed the rest, I feared that if they took him from me that I would never see him again.
The last four and a half years have had their ups and downs. I am sure that there are times that I fear something happening to Thomas, not just because I am a new Mom but because I have felt the sting of loss. Thomas knows about his brother and we talk about how he is an angel watching over us. He also knows that sometimes when Mommy cries it is because she misses Joey and she is overjoyed at the fact that she can be his Mommy because of Joey. At times I think of what Joey would look like now or if he would be proud of me and root me on as I try to help other women by sharing his story. But, my loss has given me strength that I never knew was possible and it has pushed me to be a better person. I am grateful for my Joey’s short life and the impact that he still makes on this world every day. Loss can mark the beginning and not just the end, if you let it.
Ashley Ortiz shares the story of losing Gavin, and the struggle to bring home his little sister Nora. She details how a supportive medical team helped curb the anxiety of her rainbow pregnancy. To this day, her medical team from the OB and NICU remain a strong part of her support network.
Tell me about Gavin:
Gavin Michael Ortiz was born on August 16, 2011 at 23 weeks, 6 days gestation as the result of an incompetent cervix. He weighed 1lb, 7.34oz and was 12.6 inches long. He survived for sixty and a half hours in the NICU but ultimately lost his battle with prematurity related complications on the evening of August 18, 2011.
How did you finally decide to get pregnant again?
My husband and I made a pact immediately after Gavin died that we would not even think about trying to have another baby for at least a year. This was in part because I needed time to heal physically from a traumatic pregnancy but mostly because we needed time to heal emotionally as individuals and as a couple. After Gavin’s first birthday & anniversary passed, we both realized that we weren’t ready yet. 6 months later, and many, many conversations later, we decided it was worth trying again. We had a lot of love to give and knew we were emotionally and physically in a much better place.
Were there things you did differently during your subsequent pregnancy?
Because Gavin was born as the result of an incompetent cervix, I had bi-weekly ultrasounds starting at week twelve of my pregnancy and weekly p17 shots starting at week sixteen. I had surgery at week thirteen and after twenty-eight, I saw my doctor and midwife weekly. Our lives revolved around appointments but in some way, the constant monitoring gave us peace of mind. We had a tangible way to know that everything was okay. We didn’t tell anyone outside of a few close friends and family members that I was pregnant until I passed the gestation Gavin was born (23 weeks, 6 days). We were also very hesitant to decorate the nursery and other big things until I was almost 30 weeks.
What was the most difficult part of a subsequent pregnancy?
I had a lot of anxiety before every appointment. The fear of not knowing if the baby I was carrying would suffer the same fate as Gavin was overwhelming at times. I constantly had to remind myself that this time was different, that we know what happened with Gavin and that we are doing everything we can to prevent a repeat.
Were there things your medical professional did to support you emotionally throughout your subsequent pregnancy?
I cannot say enough good things about my care providers. While I had weekly appointments out of medical necessity, they always allowed me to hear the baby’s heartbeat for an extra minute or two during appointments. Every scan, the technician gave me a new CD filled with lots of ultrasound pictures. But the best thing they did for me, they were patient. They sat with me and answered every question I had, literally held my hand while I cried and hugged us at every milestone. Every week, they asked how I was doing not just physically but emotionally. They encouraged us to prepare for the baby even though we were afraid.
Tell us about Nora's birth.
We knew from about 30 weeks that Nora was likely going to be delivered via C-section because she was breech. At week 35, I scheduled Nora’s C-section with the doctor who delivered Gavin. However, Nora was delivered via emergency C-section at week 37 because I had developed pre-eclampsia. I didn’t know anyone in the operating room, but all had been informed of my previous birth and all were very compassionate. They talked me through everything and were so supportive of my husband and I. The nurses took pictures for us and all cried when she was born. While it was not at all what I had planned, it was beautiful. While I was pregnant, I feared that when Nora was born I wouldn’t love her as much as I loved her brother. Of course, the minute I saw her, none of that was true. She was perfect.
What advice would you have for medical professionals working with mothers carrying subsequent pregnancies?
Be patient with parents as being pregnant after you have lost a child is unimaginably difficult. The anxiety and fear a mother has for herself and for child is extremely overwhelming. Answering all of their questions without condescension and genuinely listening to their fears is very important. Make sure to spend extra time with them, allow them to get extra ultrasound pictures or hear the heartbeat a little longer. Go the extra mile because it truly does make the difference between a good experience and a very bad one.
Lauren Martin is an avid supporter of Heartstrings, serving as Walk Chair in 2013 and co-chair in 2014. Her dedication was unmatched this year as she worked tirelessly--all the while in her third trimester with her rainbow baby. Lauren generously offered her time to answer a few questions about this delicate pregnancy after the loss of her beautiful daughter, Isabel.
HEARTSTRINGS: How far along are you in your subsequent pregnancy?
Lauren: 35 weeks
How would you sum up your emotional state so far?
I had a few issues early in my pregnancy that left me concerned about the viability of the pregnancy so already being a loss parent, I have been pretty on edge. Once things were confirmed that things seemed to be okay, I have been trying really hard to be positive and "enjoy" this pregnancy.
Can you tell me about your decision to not find out your baby's gender?
We so rarely in life get true surprises. As long as baby is healthy, we found this to be something we could look forward to finding out at birth.
What was most important to you when you decided to get pregnant again?
Making sure that I was healthy. I wanted to control as much as I could on my end to ensure a healthy pregnancy. The loss I experienced with my daughter was something that was out of my control but I wanted to know that on my end I had taken all the steps that I could.
What has been the most difficult aspect of this pregnancy?
Thinking I would lose the baby multiple times. I had bright red spotting at 12 weeks and then for 3 weeks during my second trimester I bled with no clear explanation and then it stopped. There was speculation it was a blood clot working it's way out but no for sure confirmation. While things seem to be on track now, my anxiety won't go away until I am able to hold this baby in my arms.
Have your doctors and nurses helped you on this journey? If so, how?
When I was having issues early in the pregnancy I did feel that my doctor and nurse were sensitive to my needs and quick to return my phone calls. They realized how concerned I was about the baby's health.
Is there anything you wish medical professionals knew about carrying a subsequent baby?
Just because this is a different pregnancy doesn't mean that loss parents are any more calm. I know doctors are super busy, but please read our charts before coming in to talk to us. That extra bit of sensitivity goes such a long way. Even if everything goes right throughout a subsequent pregnancy, parents will be on edge until they have that baby in their arms. Also, it is okay to talk about the loss. I appreciate it when medical professionals acknowledge it instead of trying to ignore it. If a patient doesn't want to talk about it, they will tell you.
A story in her own words by Nora Kowalcheck
It was very early, Easter Sunday, May 5th of 2013, and I was in full labor. I’d been waiting much longer than nine months for this sweet baby to come into our lives. It felt like two years and in reality, it had been. Only a few hours, I cautiously hoped, stood in-between me and happiness. A happiness I’d lost fourteen months earlier. One person in particular was there fourteen months ago and was there with me now. Her name is Anna and she is my hero.
Anna is my hero in many ways, but in one way in particular that I’d never expected to share with her. A few months before she delivered our first son Adam in 2009 her own daughter had died. Three years later in a busy delivery room, she sat by my side and did not move for an entire hour, as our son Jacob died unexpectedly after delivery.
I have had what I feel is a tremendous blessing - healthy pregnancies - which has allowed me to birth our children at home with caring and competent people. But because Jacob was footling breech when I went into labor, we chose to go to the hospital; and although I remember hearing his healthy heartbeat from the fetal monitors throughout my labor, the fact that he was missing a trachea would not allow him to breathe on his own after he was born. It is called Tracheal Atresia and it is very rare. We had no idea that day that we’d be leaving the hospital empty handed - infant car seat now useless on its side in the back of our minivan where my husband had hurriedly thrown it in just hours earlier.
Anna sat by my side as I lay down shaking with exhaustion and shock. Because of the rarity of a breech birth, many of the staff had gathered to witness Jacob’s arrival. But once I had successfully delivered him, and he was not breathing, the small crowd sprang into action doing all they could to help. Because Anna had joined us at the hospital she was able to sit with me so I would not be alone on that delivery table as I waited to hear the fate of our son. Calmly and gently she talked me through a time that is truly a parent’s worst nightmare. I was so broken after that night - lost in a world where bad things can happen and had happened to us. I was a stranger to myself and my heart was shattered.
Anna gave me my last hours with Jacob. Because of her confidence in me, having seen me birth my other two children and her own vast experience as a midwife, she helped us avoid not only an unnecessary c-section but the recovery from a c-section as well. Anna had faith in me that I could labor him, even in his breech position, and she was right, I did. Those few hours I labored were precious to me and I hope they were precious to Jacob. I don’t remember the pain of the labor, I remember hearing his heartbeat and I cherish that. I gave him all I had not knowing what was to come. Anna’s focus was on me and Jacob and because of her I was not stuck in the hospital for days recovering from major surgery, but able to return home the next day to be with my other children and my husband and family. That was one of many gifts Anna has given to me. Now she would walk me through this next chapter.
Five months later we jumped on what seemed like a speeding train and got pregnant again. I again saw Anna through my pregnancy and again planned to have our fourth child at home. She, just as calmly and reassuringly, walked me through those anxiety filled nine months just as she had the night that Jacob was born. She remembered, every time I saw her, what our experience had been, and she knew that I needed reassurance each time. Moreover, she was willing to take the time to be compassionate with me, and that is something that is unfortunately more rare than it should be.
So here I was laboring again in our kid’s bathroom, and on Easter Sunday none-the-less. What would happen? - Would she live? Would I live? What if she died? - all those questions faded to the background as Anna encouraged me through each contraction, to help our baby find her way down and out and into our arms. And wouldn’t you know, she did. Elena Isabel was born at 3:45AM with my husband by my side, in the same bathtub I’d filled up to labor in with Jacob but had never had the chance to. She let out one distinct cry and then settled into my arms. And as she did, the fear, the anxiety and the waiting all melted away for those perfect first moments with her. True happiness. I’d found it again, against all odds, and with Anna’s gentle and confident guidance. We’d done it! To this day, and I pray for many years to come, Elena brings a joy to my life I once thought I’d never find again. After the turbulent storm of unexpectedly losing a baby, I can honestly say she is our beautiful rainbow!
A story in her own words by Annie Vorys
Everyone in the hospital heard me. At least, that’s what I was told later. The anesthesiologist was haunted. There was no question my delivery room was not your standard, happy place. I’m sure no one wanted to be assigned to the tragedy behind that door--and I hadn’t even delivered yet.
When I found out my son was going to be born still in February 2012, I went from being a normal pregnant woman to some foreign creature that no one really understood. Except Jen.
Jen Mathay, a labor and delivery RN, walked in my room, sat down beside me, and hugged me. From that point on, she was by my side. We talked Seinfeld, and we cried. We watched a spelling bee, and we planned a cremation. We lived and died together in that room.
Jen knew what I needed in those horrible hours, even when I didn’t. While so many shied away from me, not knowing what to say, she sat steadfast by my side. It wasn’t until she was positive I was in good hands that she would leave the hospital at the end of her shift.
I left that hospital with empty arms, but after knowing Jen, I was sure I wasn't alone. We reconnected on the outside, as friends now, linked by the bond of knowing my little Carpenter.
My husband and I did wait the prescribed six months to try again, but not because the doctor told us to. We waited out of fear. But one day we decided the yearning barely outweighed that fear, and decided to hope again.
With a positive test in hand, I shakily called my OB office, wondering how they would support me through this frightening venture. They wouldn’t. Insensitive to my son’s death, they informed me that no one would treat me differently just because I had a stillborn.
My first thought and hope was to call Jen. She had carried me through the dark days. She would be the one to show me the light. And she did. Jen gave me the name of the best doctor at the hospital, assuring me he would take care of both me and this new baby. She even called ahead to ensure they would bring me in as soon as possible. And they did.Annie and her rainbow son, Matt
Over the following 30-some weeks, Jen was there to tell me the GDM diet is not so terrible. She was there to listen to me bemoan the countless blood draws to check my progesterone levels. She was there when I was scared of the MCA ultrasounds needed because of my RH disease. It was an insane, terrifying, uphill battle--but she was there.
At 36+ weeks, my MoM levels were too high to ignore, and my induction was ordered. I was marched back down the hallways that frightened me. I was shown into a room identical to the one that had welcomed our silent son. I was scared. But Jen was there.
At 3:15am on April 25, 2013, Jen woke up to a phone call and rushed back to the hospital. She was there to participate in the birth of our healthy second son. As she held his little body, she told me she always knew that she had to be there for his birth. She had to see me through to the happy ending of my story.
She had to be there. And I had to have her there. Because she is my hero.
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