In the midst of the pandemic, after giving up trying for a second child, I found out that I was pregnant with our daughter quite by surprise. I remember looking out the window of my bathroom out to my backyard as I waited for the test results. I could see my
Mother Mary statue in the corner where I keep it, and I felt remotely calm. I was grounded in the reality that at 44, my chances of being pregnant naturally were slim to none.
But then I looked down and saw two lines. My heart was beating, and my soul was filled with joy. I had always known in my heart that we would have two children. That I would have the honor of having a daughter. I knew this with all that I am.
I was thrilled.
My first ultrasound took place on a cold day in March right before St. Patrick’s Day. The doctor shared that she looked like a “gummy bear” and the appointment went well. As I write this, I can see the ultrasound image disguised in a water painting hung close to my office desk. It’s one of the few visual reminders proving that she was here.
As part of the process, I also had genetic counseling. During the meeting, the counselor went through every worst-case scenario for what could happen to my baby. She stressed that the chances of any of this happening were extremely low and though it gave me anxiety, I brushed it off and reassured myself that all was in fact well.
This was my miracle.
In the days after the genetic bloodwork, I completely put the results out of my mind, something that doesn’t come naturally to me especially when pregnant. One night before bed, I asked my husband if we should be more worried. After all, I was 44 with a history of preeclampsia and HELLP syndrome. My husband reminded me that only a small percentage of pregnancies result in a chromosomal disorder. He said that he liked our odds.
Spring break came, and April 1st seemed like a pretty regular day. It was around 3 pm when I got the email notification.
I quickly logged into the portal, opened up the test results, and scanned each result. Negative, negative, negative…then positive under Edward’s syndrome. My heart sank. My eyes glanced down, and I saw that she was a girl. Something I knew from the moment that I found out I was having her.
My mind began racing, I started to negotiate. Maybe this wasn’t so bad. I googled Edward’s syndrome and quickly learned or remembered from my genetic counseling session, that Edward’s syndrome was fatal. Babies rarely make it to birth and if they do often die a painful death within hours or a few days post-delivery.
I became hysterical. My son was playing loudly in his room. I called the genetic counselor while standing in our guest room which was to be the nursery. She confirmed the results and the severity of the condition. Our daughter had Trisomy 18. The pregnancy was deemed lethal, and it ended a short time after that day.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, “Edwards syndrome, also known as trisomy 18, is a very severe genetic condition that affects how your child’s body develops and grows…The condition occurs when a person has an extra copy of chromosome 18, which is random and unpredictable.”
At age 44, I had a 2% chance of getting pregnant naturally. The chances of the baby having Edwards’s Syndrome were 4%. I had hit some kind of horrific lottery.
To say that I was devastated is an understatement. The tears flowed, my heart was breaking, and I was in a mental fog, trying to put one foot in front of the other to get through my days and nights. I was hanging on by a thread.
Eventually I found a therapist who provided free grief counseling for perinatal loss. From the moment I heard her voice, I suspected that I was going to come out the other side of this though I was of course still extremely grief-stricken. Around that time I also joined a grief group. With these women, I didn’t need to explain or justify my feelings of hopelessness, jealousy, and magical thinking.
A few months after our loss, I fulfilled a professional goal and became a licensed professional counselor after a decade’s journey. Unfortunately, my grief superseded any pride or enthusiasm that would’ve been there prior. But something curious began to happen.
As I prepared to start seeing private practice clients, I went to Sedona and received training from Dr. Joanne Cacciatore and became a Compassionate Bereavement Counselor. A few weeks after that I would start the path to becoming a Certified Grief Educator with David Kessler.
Though specializing in grief was never on my radar, here I am working with people who have endured all sorts of loss. And though in pain, they are still living their lives, deeply impacted, forever longing, but also thriving. It is to quote Dr. Jo, a tragic privilege.
I continue to grieve and always will because, after all, grief is love. I show up to life one day at a time, for all of its beauty and tragedy. For sunsets and stars, cuddles from my son, love and support from my puppy, husband, and close friends, and sometimes deep pain and loss both mine and that of others.
I am present for the pain and know that no matter how strong, it will not envelop me. I do not believe in the concept that everything happens for a reason, though I once did. But I do believe in finding a purpose through the pain. And I have found mine because of
my dear, sweet, and precious Noe.
Read more from Colette on Open to Hope: Missed Miscarriage – Open to Hope