She knew it.
It started off as any typical morning – in the 15 minutes of quiet between my arrival and that of my students, I checked my plans for the day, readied the materials, then sat down to check for the email that I knew would be there. Every morning my best friend Becky, who lives 1,000 miles away, sent the first of our daily exchange of emails. Though I was expecting the email, the message it contained was unexpected.
Becky recounted a horrible dream from the night before in which she went for her first prenatal visit and was told that a heartbeat couldn’t be found on the doppler. They did an ultrasound and confirmed that the pregnancy was not viable. Naturally, this would have scared the hell out of anyone. This dream was especially terrifying because on that morning, Becky really was going in for her first ultrasound.
My heat dropped. Becky has a truly uncanny knack for getting "feelings" of foreboding. If she starts to get "that feeling," it’s usually not long before something happens. I hurried and pecked out a response to her, trying to encourage her to stay calm. I knew that her appointment was first thing in the morning and I tried to get the email to her before she left. When she didn’t respond almost instantaneously as she usually does, I knew that I had missed her.
I spent the next two hours gripping my cell phone and compulsively refreshing my inbox. Finally an email titled "EMERGENCY" came through from Rob, Becky’s husband. When you think of someone’s dreams coming true, it usually does not give you cause to grieve.
Becky had a D&C the next morning, eight days after her birthday and on the day of mine.
Sarah had Type I Diabetes and was advised never to get pregnant. So when she and her husband unintentionally did just that, it was not as welcome a surprise as it should have been. The baby was very welcome, but they knew that pregnancy quite literally was a life or death situation for both Sarah and the baby. For the sake of her health, doctors suggested that Sarah terminate. She and Paul decided to give their baby every chance possible to live, went against medical advice, and carried the pregnancy.
Sarah had to spend most of the second trimester on strict bed rest. Despite careful monitoring and following her team of doctors’ orders to exact precision, she developed extreme preeclampsia at 27w4d and had to deliver to save both her life and her baby’s.
Babies born at 27 weeks or later have greater than a 90% chance of survival; the odds were in Elyse’s favor and she was doing well. Sarah and Paul rushed to finish the postponed nursery, marking the special occasion with pictures of Sarah peeking through the unassembled crib slats. No one expected what came next; Elyse had developed necrotizing enterocolitis and had taken a sudden turn for the worse. 21 days after her birth, Elyse passed away.
My first attempt at surrogacy lead Sarah and me to each other. She responded to my ad, and within a few email exchanges we knew that we had found lifelong friends in each other. Becky also got to know Sarah that first week, the three of us sending off rapid-fire three-way emails. There are no words to describe the intensity and depth of the instant connection the three of us felt. The histories of their losses were shared, and it seemed that something almost divine was at play. Could it be that their angels had drawn the three of us together so that Sarah and Becky could support each other in their continued healing and so I could help Sarah finally have another child? Perhaps. Perhaps not. No one can ever know for sure, but one thing I do know is that it comforted both Sarah and Becky to think of their babies up there playing together, not lonely and not afraid.
I have often wondered why bad things happen to good people and ultimately, I do not think that there is some unseen, cosmic formula for the cards that are dealt to us in life, at least not one that can be understood by mere mortal man. I believe in God and for a while, I did struggle with my spirituality. What I have come to believe is that though we may not ever understand the whys of what happens to us, there is some sort of bigger picture and ultimately, God has our best interests at heart. I no longer think that God makes us endure such hardships because we need to be taught some overarching life lesson, even though in the long run many of us do find that we have learned something from these experiences.
I think losses and hardships simply are, and I don’t think it is for us to understand or make sense of them. By the same token, I also believe that it is alright to be angry at God for being left in the dark without that understanding. One of the things I struggled with was feeling guilt for being angry at God for my inability to conceive. I do not attend church regularly, but sometime after the first two years of trying to conceive I almost begrudgingly found myself there on one particular occasion. I felt like the pastor was talking directly to me when he said, "It is okay to be angry at God; at least He knows you still believe in Him." That’s when it struck me that even though I might be angry, I still trusted in Him to fix it somehow — this is the root of faith.
Becky began to think of her lost baby as being a girl named Faith, a symbol of the lesson Becky felt she learned through the loss. Later that year she delivered my Godson, Christian. Sarah and I had a failed transfer, but later with the help of another surrogate, she went on to have her sweet daughter, Gabriella Faith. Exactly two months before Ella was born, I delivered Kaelyn, whose middle name is Imani – Swahili for faith. Three different paths, three different hardships, three different children, joined at the crossroads of faith.
To Becky and Sarah, who had the fortitude and the faith to keep trying. To Mia and Urs, who after a devastating loss at 24+ weeks and three first trimester losses have put their faith in me. I will have faith that they too will find their rainbow. This is dedicated to anyone who has experienced a loss – their lives, however brief, are remembered.