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After the storm, a rainbow

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Local moms speak about pregnancy after loss

By Kacie Goode

The grief of losing a child is unfathomable for many, and for parents who lose their children in infancy or before ever meeting them, the struggle can be mentally grueling. It is not uncommon for parents who lose a child to seek another pregnancy, and in recent years, the term “rainbow baby” has been adopted to describe a child born after a miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death.

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The term comes from the idea that something beautiful, such as a rainbow, can follow a terrible storm. Rainbow babies are not about replacing a lost child, but rather balancing the grief of a loss with the blessing of parenthood.

Below, four local moms share their stories about their pregnancy struggles and the joy of welcoming a rainbow baby.

A family struggle of loss and faith

Jami and Ashley Crepps are moms who married into the same family, and while parenthood is a blessing, their journeys there were different and difficult. Ashley is a mother of three little girls. Jami will welcome her baby — whose gender will be a surprise — this month. Both are mothers of rainbow babies.

“I had heard the term before, but I don’t really know what made me embrace it the way I did,” Ashley said. “Some people think it’s over-the-top, but unless you’ve been through it, you don’t really know what it means to you.”

Ashley already had two girls  — Josie and Emmy Lou — when she found out she and husband Stephen were expecting their third child. The two kids were in tow when she visited the doctor.

“It was my first doctor’s appointment, and I was supposed to be a little over nine weeks,” she said. “They started the ultrasound, and as soon as I saw the baby up on the screen, I knew that something wasn’t right.”

There was no heartbeat, and the baby only measured at about six weeks.

“I had never even heard of a missed miscarriage. I thought everything was fine, because I felt good,” she said. But she didn’t realize her lack of symptoms early in the pregnancy could have been an indicator of an issue.

“We had a sad ride home trying to explain to our little girls what happened and why Mommy was crying so much,” she recalled. “It was rough. Really rough for a while.”

Ashley’s baby was not alive, but it was a few weeks before her body would naturally miscarry.

“It was super hard,” she said. “I remember thinking, ‘I can’t do this,’ and relying on God was the only way I got through it all.”

But Ashley coped with the loss by reaching out to others and sharing her experience on social media, so that moms in similar situations would know they were not alone.

“You don’t realize how common it is until it happens to you,” she said. “One out of three pregnancies are lost.”

About a year after Ashley and her family experienced the loss, though, she found out she was pregnant with Lucy, who is now 5 months old. The new pregnancy, she said, helped with the healing process.

“It didn’t take away the pain, but it softened the pain,” she said. “I had something to look forward to.”

Despite the previous miscarriage and worries about the new pregnancy, Ashley was eager to share the news, because she believes every baby deserves to be celebrated. The pregnancy was stressful, but it went well, and she welcomed another healthy daughter.

“I don’t know why things happened the way they did, but if they hadn’t happened, I wouldn’t have her,” she said.

For Jami, her journey to a rainbow baby began with a year of disappointment.

“We started trying in September of 2015,” for their first child, she said. “That whole year was hard, because every month was negative test after negative test.”

After trying unsuccessfully to conceive for a year, Jami and her husband, Chad, consulted a fertility specialist, but at one of the appointments, she was given a routine pregnancy test before a procedure and it came back positive.

“That was super exciting,” she said. But the excitement didn’t last. Jami’s HCG levels were not rising as they should. An ultrasound revealed nothing in her uterus, but the hormones still indicated a pregnancy. It was later confirmed that Jami had an ectopic pregnancy, which had formed inside one of her ovaries. Jami had to decide between surgery or methotrexate injections. Either way, she was losing her baby — the baby for which she had waited a year.

She chose the injections, because they presented the lowest risk of harming her fertility in the future. The next week was painful as the miscarriage of the ectopic began.

When she recovered, Jami and her husband began trying again right away, and discovered she was pregnant in January of this year. Her baby is due Sept. 30, almost a year to the day after the ectopic pregnancy was diagnosed.

“I saw my first rainbow in the sky Aug. 12, when we were doing our maternity pictures,” she said. “It was perfect.”

Like Ashley, she embraces the rainbow idea and has celebrated it throughout her pregnancy. Jami and Chad want the gender to be a surprise, and are concerned only with giving birth to a healthy, happy child.

A journey to motherhood

Courtney Anderson was just 17 when she lost her first pregnancy. She was on birth control, so the pregnancy came as a shock, but she was excited. Being an expectant mother filled a void — then the pain started.

“It made me buckle over, it was so bad,” she recalled. She returned to the doctor where she was told it was an ectopic pregnancy — a pregnancy that occurs outside of the uterus and cannot survive.

Later that year, Anderson became pregnant again. It was right after graduation and she was a nervous wreck as she waited for her first doctor’s appointment.

When the doctor showed her the ultrasound and let her listen to the heartbeat, it was the most precious sound she had heard.

“My world stood still,” she said. She was planning her future with her fiancé John, and picking out baby names. But as her second appointment approached, she was unaware her moment of elation would soon end.

“He started with the ultrasound. He searched for a good five minutes, but there was nothing there,” Anderson said. “The long walk to his office to tell me my baby was gone; the devastating call to my fiancé to tell him our baby was dead felt never-ending.”

Anderson was later informed she had a partial molar pregnancy in which an embryo doesn’t develop completely, and a cluster of cysts form in the uterus. But the issue did more than take away Anderson’s next chance at being a mom.

In a small number of partial molar pregnancy cases, molar tissue can remain in the uterus and develop into a type of cancer. Anderson fell into this small percentage and had to quickly undergo treatment.

“At this point I was numb,” she said. “I didn’t even have time to mourn my baby before I was expected to deal with this reality.”

2013 turned out to be a difficult year for Anderson. But at Christmastime a year later, she would receive a miracle when she found out she was pregnant with her son, Ethan Daniel, who is now 2.

“After finding out, I was extremely excited,” she said of the pregnancy, but she was still worried. “After a week of finding out, every time I went to the bathroom I expected to see blood. Every little ache and pain I had,” she thought something was wrong and would panic. “I didn’t calm down until my 14-week ultrasound.”

The pregnancy was stressful, and took a toll on her body, but the day she welcomed Ethan into the world countered that struggle.

“It was definitely one of the best days of my life,” she said.

Anderson also has a 7-year-old stepdaughter, Emily, and welcomed a second son, Eli, eight weeks ago.

‘Sent by a sister in Heaven’

Not a day goes by that Barbie Banks doesn’t think about her daughter, Hailey. The majority of her seven months of life were spent at the children’s hospital in Louisville fighting a battle that was eventually lost April 17, 2016. She had been born premature, and quickly diagnosed with a congenital heart defect. The new parents were hopeful, but Hailey’s body would eventually give up.

“It’s still hard to talk about,” Banks said of losing her daughter. The nursery room is still painted pink, with stacks of posters and items from the hospital inside the crib, and an album is full of pictures celebrating every moment she had with her sits on the counter.

A few months after losing Hailey, Banks found out she and husband Robert were expecting. Though still grieving her daughter, she was excited. She would always be a mom, even with Hailey gone, but she looked forward to holding a baby in her arms again.

But at seven weeks, she miscarried, and it was a difficult time for the couple.

In April of this year, a year after burying their first child, Banks learned of another pregnancy after trying again for months.

“It was a shock, and very exciting to find out we would be parents again,” she said. “We thank God for letting us have another chance at becoming parents.”

Understandably, Banks was worried about the pregnancy early on. Would this child also have an issue?

“We had ups and downs with the pregnancy in the beginning, but now, everything is looking great,” she said.

Banks learned what a rainbow baby was from some of the nurses while visiting the hospital with Hailey, but didn’t give it much thought at the time, because her daughter was still alive, she said. It’s an idea she now embraces.

The Bankses will welcome home a boy, Ethan, this winter, and plan to incorporate a rainbow theme into his baby shower.

“I’m getting a onesie made for him that says, ‘Handpicked for Earth by my sister in Heaven,’ and it’s all rainbow colors,” she said.

Learning about rainbow babies, she said, has made her realize she’s not alone in her experiences.

The loss of a baby is traumatic for many parents, and the decision to conceive again after loss brings with it a mix of grief, happiness and guilt. Each mother’s experience is unique and each finds comfort in her own way, whether it’s the toothless grin of a happy 6-month-old she never thought she would hold, or finding a way to memorialize the child she said goodbye to, so the child will always remain a part of the family.

Ashley says she often goes back to a quote she once came across — a woman talking to God.

“Dear Lord, I would have loved to have held my babies on my lap and tell them about you, but since I didn’t get the chance, would you please hold them on your lap and tell them about me?”

“It brings me so much comfort,” she said of the words. “I hope I can live up to all the things God has told my baby about me.”