After losing Bella on 1/31/17, our world went dark. Figuratively for me. Literally for Elly – when she looked up at the sky, she literally saw black on the sunniest and clearest days Maine had to offer that year.
It was as if storm clouds were always gathering above us no matter where we went.
We had moved out of our East End apartment in Portland and were living in Brunswick, a quintessential New England college town where we first met as undergrads 13 years prior. Senator Angus King and his amazing wife Mary Herman had heard about Bella and our need to move, and generously offered us their beautiful home for the summer. As they tell it, we did them a favor by house-sitting while they were traveling between Washington and their summer home farther up Maine’s rocky coast. The truth is that they saved us. They gave us a change of scenery and a second chance at happiness.
In Elly’s first OBGYN appointment after Bella’s stillbirth, she immediately asked the doctor if and when we could star trying to have another baby. “June”, the doctor replied. “June what?”, Elly asked wanting a more specific date to look forward to. I don’t recall the exact date, but I’m confident Elly does. She had circled it on a paper calendar and would refer to it regularly. It gave her hope amidst the darkness in those early days and weeks.
By the time June rolled around – four painful months later – we were living in our Senator’s home – you know, as one does – and were faced with the awkward realization of what would come next and whether or not that was appropriate. You get the point.
Any couple who has tried to get pregnant knows that it’s not always as easy as they make it seem in middle school Sex Ed. I went to an all boys Catholic school, so I never did the whole condom on a banana thing, but suffice it to say that the closest thing to Sex Ed. at my school was the concept of abstinence. We were led to believe that if we were even in the same room as a girl, she would immediately get pregnant. So the idea of trying to get pregnant was completely foreign to me. I had no idea women could track their menstrual cycles to determine the best opportunity to conceive. While Elly and I have been incredibly fortunate not to struggle with infertility, it took us a couple of tries to get pregnant after Bella. Three to be precise. And it was agonizing. Each month, the anticipation was palpable. We were ecstatic about the prospect of Elly getting pregnant again, and devastated each time a test came back negative. That summer was a rollercoaster of emotions.
We had been invited France that August for the wedding of very good friends from business school and initially thought we’d be going alone, leaving our 2-year-old and 6-month-old at home with grandparents. But that all changed after Bella’s passing. There was no way we were ever letting our only living child out of our sight ever again. The bride and groom were incredibly understanding and said we could of course bring Jack.
On our way to Bordeaux, we had a brief layover in Lisbon, Portugal where Elly decided she should take a pregnancy test. Having not brought one from the US, she purchased a Portuguese test at an airport pharmacy/convenience store. After peeing on the stick and attempting to decipher the Portuguese directions, it wasn’t immediately clear what the pink lines meant. So, we flagged down a random traveler who appeared to speak the local language, shoved the urine-soaked test in his general direction and asked him if it was good news.
“Depends,” he quickly retorted. “What are hoping for…?” Fair question. He smiled and told us the best news we had received in months. We were pregnant! We hugged each other. We hugged Jack. We hugged the random guy. We were elated!
Elly then quipped, “Well, I guess I won’t be having any wine in France!”
We were so happy and yet terrified. While we knew that Elly didn’t have any underlying health conditions that had caused Bella’s tragic death at 40.5 weeks, we still worried that it could happen again. I remember reading an article about stillbirth that quoted someone who had suffered two separate full-term losses. “No. That’s not possible. People can’t lose multiple babies,” I blurted out. Thankfully, Elly didn’t hear what I actually said. I spent the next 9 months reassuring her that, of course, we wouldn’t lose another baby. That doesn’t happen. The truth was that I no longer trusted my instincts and belief that positive things happen to positive people.
France was the perfect distraction from our anxiety, but it all came rushing back almost immediately upon passing through customs in Boston. Vacation was over and we needed to figure out a way to get through the next nine months.