There is nothing more beautiful than the birth of a child. And there is nothing more terrible than the loss of one. I know neither of these things from experience, but I have seen both tremendous joy and unspeakable grief through the lives of some of my dearest friends who have taken this incredible, and sometimes tortuous, journey called motherhood.
Hannah’s story is what made me want to do this “Inspired By” project. Over the last several years I have seen her walk through life with a kind of hope that is both so beautifully human, and somehow completely superhuman at the same time. I like to think that I am a happy person with a strong faith in what is good and kind. I believe we were created and that we were created for a purpose. I believe in love and compassion and grace. I believe in God. I also believe that really horrible things happen. Sometimes we can explain them, because it was somebody’s fault. Somebody made a really bad choice and these are the consequences. But sometimes, really bad things happen and I have no clue what’s going on. And sometimes that makes all the good look not so good anymore.
I drove up to Birmingham for Hannah’s baby shower a few weeks ago. Normally I wouldn’t make that drive, cause, well, I hate that drive. Five hours on a long boring interstate is just stupid. But this was a special trip. Hannah is having a baby. This needs to be remembered, which for me means it needs to be photographed.
When I get to her house, other friends are there too, friends I haven’t seen in far too long. We do our girly-jumpy-squealy thing and hug for an awkwardly long time. I touch Hannah’s precious baby bump (which is riddled with bruises for some reason...maybe pregnant ladies run into things a lot?) and I am filled with joy knowing that this precious baby will soon be making her debut into one of the most loving homes I have ever had the pleasure of visiting.
I have known Hannah for over ten years. We met at Auburn (War Eagle!) and she lived upstairs from me with two other close friends, Megan and Kelly. She is as beautiful and energetic and outgoing as they come. I was always a little jealous of her, to be perfectly honest. She was just so damn like-able, I couldn't be mad about it.
I was with her when she first met John. We were all at lunch, and she comes back to the table (donning her pink faux hawk) and points out the guy she would marry a year later. They were (are) so in love. Their wedding was beautiful, as were they. I remember the twinkle lights and Norah Jones and Hannah's Converse sneakers that said "I do."
I was so excited when I heard that Hannah was pregnant. I think they had been married for about 5 years. I remember thinking “About time!” like every other obnoxious single person who doesn’t understand anything about being married and starting a family. I didn’t know that Hannah had already been trying for over a year, and had already gone through a miscarriage. I also didn’t know the gamut of tests she had gone through to figure out what was going on. After more tests than I could ever remember the names of, Hannah found out that she doesn’t really ovulate on her own. So, per doctor’s orders, she started taking Follistim injections to help with the ovulation situation, and lo and behold it worked! She was prepared, she was ready. She was gonna be a mom.
I know I don’t know this from experience, but I can imagine that being an expectant mom, if even for a second, is one of the most exciting and hopeful times in a woman’s life. Hannah was a mom to her second baby for 3 and a half whole months. At 17 weeks pregnant, Hannah knew something wrong, and was admitted to the hospital only to find out that the baby did not make it. She had to have a D & C, which is possibly the most painful of operations on so many levels. To lose a child at any time is absolutely heartbreaking, and is a grief I hope to never know. If I am to feel this pain though, I hope I can go through it with as much grace as Hannah. I remember seeing a tweet soon after this happened that quoted one of my favorite songs, one that I’ve never really lived quite like Hannah: “You give and take away, but still my heart will say, Lord blessed be your name...”
Hannah did not give up on life after this happened. I know that she grieved and wept, but life was still to be lived. Because, as Hannah puts it, “Life cannot be lived hunkered down in the valleys.” Later that year, Hannah ran a half marathon LIKE A BOSS. She might not have been able to control what was going on with her body, but she could choose to keep running, keep making herself stronger, and that’s exactly what she did.
Fast forward a few months later. Another Follistim treatment, this time dosage upped, and Hannah and John found out they were pregnant again. This time though, the Follistim did real good. Hannah was pregnant with triplets! That’s three kids you guys. At one time. Hannah had also found out by this time that she had a blood condition that caused her blood to clot really easily, meaning that sometimes it clotted in her placenta, preventing the baby from getting the nutrients it needs. So her doctor also prescribed Heparin, a blood thinner. Now, Hannah, a girl who used to pass out at the sight of needles, has to inject herself in the stomach every twelve hours with this stuff. Again I say, LIKE A BOSS.
When I found out that Hannah was having triplets, I was beyond elated. It’s finally happening. She doesn’t know this, but I had been praying fervently for her for years. I want her to be a mom so bad. She was made for it. I mean she’s good at other things too - running, kayaking, pretty much every sport, crafting, crocheting, cross stitching, cooking, just everything. But being a mom? I can see her in that role more than any other.
Hannah and I also have a mutual friend, Kelly. Her birthday is the very last day of January, but my friends and I are procrastinators (did I mention I wanted to post this story by the 1st of July?). We made up for it though by throwing her an epic surprise party on the lake near Auburn. (Bonus: she would never suspect it because we did it at the end of February.) I was so excited to see her. We had everything set up and all the decorations ready, but she ended up being late getting there. Finally, when she arrived we all hid and waited for her to come. As she opened the door, we yelled “SURPRISE” just like you’re supposed to do. She smiled, she was certainly surprised, but there was a dimness in her eyes. Something was wrong. She had been crying.
She had just gotten off the phone with Megan, the third leg of the trio that lived above me all those years ago. Hannah and John had lost the triplets. And I lost it. I was livid. This is not how it was supposed to be. The nursery was almost ready. They had clothes and names and parents who loved them. It was not fair. And I know, this is not about me, not even close. But I could not imagine, if this is how I feel right now, how could Hannah possibly be feeling? Or John? I just couldn’t. I didn’t talk to God for weeks.
I think you don’t really know who someone is until they’ve been through the worst thing you can imagine. I found out later everything Hannah and John went through in the weeks leading to the triplets’ deaths: Hannah had gone into pre-term labor at 17 weeks. In order to delay labor, she was given medications and the nurses put her in “trendelenburg” position, which basically means her feet were above her head. She was in the hospital like this for eleven days, with her husband by her side sleeping on the “couch” in her room, which I imagine is more like a rock, watching endless Netflix and being afraid to use the bathroom because she didn’t want her babies to come out.
The doctors let her go home on bed rest after a couple of weeks because she seemed to be stabilized. Four days later, she was back in with contractions, and this time they couldn’t stop it. She gave birth to all three baby girls at just over 20 weeks, and they passed away moments after they came into the world. Hannah lost a lot of blood during this process too. She nearly lost her life. She recalls going in and out of it, John holding her hand, then the nurses telling her that she had to tell John goodbye, that she had to go into surgery...“I remember thinking, ‘They’re panicking, they’re telling me to say goodbye to John. This is it. I’m dying..’”
Hannah didn’t die though, thank you Lord. (Yes, we’re finally back on speaking terms.) And for the first time ever, albeit not the way she imagined or hoped for, Hannah got to hold babies that were her babies: “John actually talked me into seeing them and holding them. Cause he saw them the day of, but I was out of it. And I was like, ‘I don’t know if I want to see them. It’s gonna freak me out and make me sad. But He was like, ‘You’re gonna be sad forever if you don’t look at them. They’re really beautiful.’”
I think ultimately, the biggest thing Hannah has taught me through all of this is that no matter what I go through, I always have something to be grateful for. Life truly sucks sometimes, but it is still beautiful. While we’re in the car driving to Chick-Fil-A we start talking about all of the hard parts in life and how easy it is to just give up: “Cause you have that option...to be like, ok my life sucks, poor pitiful me, everything sucks and I’m gonna go get on drugs, or hate my husband, or never want to have babies again, or everything’s lost, God hates me...that’s a direction. And there were moments when I was like, ‘WHY DOES MY LIFE SUCK?!’ But then, the more, I dunno...maybe the braver path in some ways is to be like ‘Ok, but look at these sweet nurses that I am now friends with. And, I have my life, and my uterus, and a husband who didn’t shirk away from holding a bag while I threw up while his babies were dying...” Somehow, through everything, Hannah chooses to see the beauty.
One of my favorite stories that Hannah shared with me the weekend I visited her was the story of where they laid their daughters to rest. They had them cremated and decided to scatter their ashes at their favorite part of the creek where Hannah’s parents lived, where her family goes kayaking. It was right past the rocky part where everyone flips at, up on the rocky bank to the right. You have to make it through the hardest part to get there. Hannah told me about visiting that spot months later with her friend Taylor. And as she pulled her boat up on the bank, three identical butterflies landed on the shore, flapping their wings at her in unison.
I think most of us have moments in life when everything stops and you forget how to breathe. Moments when everything you thought to be good and true just aren't anymore. Something got taken away from you, or so it seems. And the world is ugly and hateful and wrong. And then there are the moments when the world turns back around and you see the sun again.
Hannah and John were not going to go back to the doctor for a while. They needed to take a break from it all...the stress, the wanting, the loss. They had already decided against doing In Vitro, and were contemplating adoption, but nature had a different idea. The thing they thought was impossible without the help of medicine was not impossible, and by a miracle Hannah got pregnant again in the fall of 2013, completely out of the blue.
Now considering everything she went through with her first three pregnancies, it's no wonder that finding out she was pregnant was both joyful and daunting. She had to call the doctor, she had to get back on Heparin, the list goes on. For most of us, finding out we're pregnant is a "OH MY GOSH WE'RE GONNA HAVE A BABY!!," or maybe it's a "Oops, I did it again," but either way, it's hard to imagine something so stereotypically wonderful as something so realistically hard. Nonetheless, I've never seen a couple so in love with each other and their baby.
And then there I was, eight months later, looking at a very pregnant Hannah and crying with her as I thought about the last five years and everything she had been through to get here. Had it been that long? Had all of this really happened? And was this about to happen?
Yes. It is. I sat with her the night after her baby shower, she's 33 weeks pregnant, and I watch her calmly inject herself with Heparin for the 400th-and-something time. Every. Twelve. Hours. Because that’s what moms do. And that is the real reason her precious belly was black and blue.
Infertility is not something that we like to talk about. Child loss is definitely not something that we like to talk about. It is hard and it is sad and I don't like it. But at the same time, it is happening all around us - maybe to you, or to your sister or to your friend. Maybe you don't want to talk about it, or maybe they don't want to talk about it, but maybe we should. Maybe then we wouldn't feel so alone. And like Hannah told me, "It’s not my fault or embarrassing that any of that happened, so why would I be like ‘I’m never going to talk about my triplets ever again’?” And it's true. Why would you want to forget them?
In Carry On, Warrior, Glennon Doyle Melton writes, “Grief is not something to be fixed. It’s something to be borne, together. And when the time is right, there is always something that is born from it.” When Hannah shared that passage with me it got me thinking about us humans and the way we react to grief. I, for one, completely shut down. And my boyfriend tries to make it better. But nothing really works. Nothing really makes it go away. What I'm beginning to see, through Hannah's example, is that maybe we aren't supposed to make it go away. Maybe we're supposed to make it into something better.
Of course, that's not to say that Hannah didn't go through a horrible ordeal, and I don't want to belittle what she went through. She even told me, "It’s not that I’m a superhuman who didn’t feel like I’d been through what Anne Shirley would call “the depths of despair”...just that once I crawled out of that, it seemed that the best way I could love my girls and their memory was to smile, see beauty all around me, and move forward with hope...” She may not want to be cast as a superhuman, and she'll be the first to tell you her strength really comes from a higher power, but she is no doubt an inspiration to everyone who knows her.
I've seen Hannah go through loss before. Like when her best friend, Ricky, died. I remember how it sucked, how she cried. I also know that she keeps his photo on her frig to this day. I know that when she thinks of him she does so with a smile on her face, telling stories of the fun they had growing up. Hannah chooses to remember the good, because it is good. Ricky is not a sad memory. He is a memory of some of the best times of her life. Her daughters are not a sad memory. That was the first time she got to hold babies that she made with her husband. And Naomi had feet that look just like Hannah's.
In loving memory of Petra, Harper and Naomi, whose memory will now, and always, bring a smile to my face.
To see more photos from my time with Hannah, John and Baby Adelaide, click here. If you'd like to share your thoughts, or maybe your story, feel free to comment below. You can also read more about Hannah's journey on her blog "Hannah Crafted."
Story and photos copyright Jessi Lambert of Casara Photo. For inquiries, please send Jessi an email.