‘You kids will be ok. I’ll be watching over you always.’ She promised to love our angel babies in heaven.’: After child loss, losing loved ones to cancer, woman gets rainbow baby only to be rushed into ‘emergency surgery’

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“‘It will be ok in the end, if it’s not ok, it’s not the end’ was the mantra I repeated to myself for years. No one warns you just how fast life can hit you with lows when you should be relishing in the highs.

[m] Brooks Photography

After marrying the love of my life on a beautiful autumn day in Wisconsin in October of 2011, our journey began. We knew our love and faith would always guide us through but we were not prepared for just how quickly that all would be tested.

Laura Jakel Photography

At our wedding, my Mother-in-Law, Penny, looked her beautiful self, but hid a painful secret. Her cancer was back, and this time it didn’t look good. Seven years prior she fought and beat cervical cancer with a complete hysterectomy. Now the cancer was back within her body cavity and quickly spreading. Her new diagnosis of endometrial cancer put into perspective she may not be around long enough to see her grandchildren born. Our hearts were breaking behind our smiles. She was so strong in her faith and reminded us to always stay positive even through the bad times.

Laura Jakel Photography

Once we got married we right away starting planning our family. We wanted as many babies as God would bless us with – naively assuming it would come easy. It didn’t. I immediately had my IUD removed after getting married but with unpredictable cycles we had no clue when to expect a pregnancy, so we just had fun. Enjoyed our life, traveling, working, we bought a home and had a nursery started before we even had a confirmed pregnancy! We just knew we wanted children to love whenever God brought them to us. We spent lots of time with family since we knew the moments were fleeting.

Courtesy of Lacey Ashwell

I was one of those obsessive ‘TTC-ers.’ Stalking Trying To Conceive message boards, using acroymyns like BFP, BD, TWW, & HCG like a second language. I was wishing so many others’ babydust while praying for my own miracle. It was happening to EVERYONE around me. When I say everyone, I mean everyone. ‘Stop trying so hard,’ ‘You can borrow my kids,’ ‘Relax, it will happen when it’s meant to be’ I heard so often, but it’s so hard to wait for something you want so bad – especially knowing what we knew about cancer waiting for no one’s timeline. It was breaking my heart every month I went without a positive to see my best friends, cousins, and stranger’s bellies grow. It hurt me so much inside, but I always put on a brave face and supported my friends 110% because I just knew I couldn’t let my bitterness jade our friendships. I would want their support when my day finally came so I only ever let my tears flow behind closed doors.

Amazing what pain a pretty smile can hide.

[m] Brooks Photography

Finally in April of 2012, over a year of trying, I saw a faint positive on a test. We were so very excited and cried such tears of joy when we found out! It was a faint line, but it was definitely there. By my tracking I was only 4.5-5 weeks. We told our parents the amazing news first and the excitement began. I had one relative tell me, ‘Isn’t it too early to tell?’ My heart broke. How is 5 weeks pregnant any less worthy of celebration than 12 weeks? If I had a miscarriage I would want the support of my loved ones so I had to tell. I always believed a miscarriage is not something to hide or go through alone.

Unfortunately, I learned why so many people wait. The first trimester is unpredictable. I started spotting at 6 weeks. I convinced myself it’s just spotting, it’s just implantation, but deep down I knew something was wrong. I never prepared myself to be sitting in the ER and have the doctor break the words ‘spontaneous abortion’ to us at 6 weeks. I started bawling into my husband’s arms. We wanted, prayed, and wished for this baby. This was our child created out of pure love. I was nauseous just hearing the word abortion in relation to this loss. I was so angry with my body for not sustaining this pregnancy. I’ll never forget the disappointment, shame, hurt, and loneliness I felt following that loss. Some women in my circle were so unsupportive, it really opened my eyes to why maybe it’s so taboo to talk about. I also will never forget the women that lifted my spirits with love, support, encouragement and prayers. Those are the same ladies still close to me today. They helped me not blame myself, focus on the positive and keep trying.

Courtesy of Lacey Ashwell

My husband was my mother-in-law Penny’s rainbow baby! She told me when we showed up at their house and I couldn’t hide the pain. I knelt by her and cried into her lap as she stroked my hair and told me if she gave up, she would’ve never had the son she did. She prayed for us and made me believe in the miracles God can create. I wouldn’t give up no matter what. Our baby was trying just as hard to reach our arms.

An entire year went by again. I was stuck between this weird place of wanting to be pregnant more than anything but also trying to convince myself it was no big deal and it would happen. I was still obsessive about trying to pinpoint my cycles and spent so much on pregnancy tests we probably could’ve just afforded IUI straight away. My husband joked we must’ve owned a stock in First Response by now. I was trying to remain positive but still desperately longing for the missing piece of our family’s puzzle.

Courtesy of Lacey Ashwell

April of 2013, like some cruel Deja vu, I tested and had a positive line! This had to be it! This was going to be our miracle baby! I waited until 6 weeks to announce this time but it was still not our time. I lost this pregnancy around 8 weeks. I felt so broken all over again. What is wrong with my body? Why can’t I do this? Now is the time I was getting very emotionally distant from everyone. I started believing I was being punished. I started doubting my faith in God’s plan. It was a very depressing place and I held so much in since no one could relate to my pain. No one in my circle was dealing with this. Pregnancy came easy to them all. I was the only one and I felt very alone. ‘It will be ok in the end,’ I reminded myself.

My Aunt May-May was diagnosed with Stage IV Breast Cancer and losing her battle quickly. One day I was home doing yard work and my Aunt stopped over to visit. She could see the hurt in my eyes talking about trying to have our baby. She promised me if anything happened to her, she would ‘pull some strings and make sure to have a baby sent my way.’ I cried at the thought of losing her, another strong family matriarch. I cried at the thought of actually getting pregnant again. Boy, looking back I cried A LOT from 2012-2014. It’s emotionally exhausting to go through and try to hide but to have loving women wrap their arms around you and just let you cry made the world of difference. It helped me through so many tough days. I swore to myself I would always be THAT women. That loves and supports others through the storms they face so they don’t face it alone.

The day before my 26th birthday, on January 31st, 2014, I watched the life fade out of my beautiful blue-eyed Auntie and cancer take over. I held her hand and felt her squeeze hard letting me know it will be ok in the end. She was surrounded by her family but didn’t let go until the moment we all left. My heart was broken. Why her? Why cancer? Why do you need to take the people we love so much? I cried myself to sleep that night praying for a better year ahead.

Courtesy of Lacey Ashwell

We decided no more trying and failing for another year, we wanted medical help and began to see the Infertility team at Mayo Clinic. The nurse said, ’We will get you pregnant one way or another, we just have to find which route works best for you.’ I strongly believed them and was overcome with emotion at many appointments. After extensive testing our labs came back normal except for one. I learned I had Leiden Factor V, a blood clotting disorder that was inherited from my maternal grandfather. This very well could have contributed to my early miscarriages. I felt a sense of relief that I wasn’t broken and I could do this with medical help. We had our plan in place. A round of Clomid to stimulate ovaries to produce, ultrasounds to track our timing perfectly, and a trigger shot to force ovulation at the right moment, and lots of hoping, wishing, and praying.

Courtesy of Lacey Ashwell

During that dreaded ‘Two Week Wait’ of our first treatment we planned a trip to Arizona with Penny. She was on hospice now, dropping morphine on her lips to combat the pain that spread throughout her frail body, but we were determined to make one last beautiful memory with her and accommodate her the best we could. Her Aunt and Uncle welcomed us with open arms and took us sightseeing. It was such a great time and a memory we will cherish forever.

Courtesy of Lacey Ashwell

The whole time I was wondering if we were pregnant. I couldn’t test until the day we got back which happened to be Valentines Day of 2014. We had two healthy eggs release so a huge chance for twins. I was on top of the world with hope. On our flight back I got my period. WTF! All that waiting, testing, money spent, and ‘relaxing’ to still see that stupid red blood. I was upset to say the least but almost expecting it. We are trying again. Right away. I don’t care. I’m not giving up. It’s happening this time FOR REAL! I decided I needed to talk. I needed my voice heard. I started speaking out about my miscarriages and how it affected me.

It turned some people away, even got me blocked on Facebook by people that didn’t care to hear it, but it was my story to share. Speaking out helped me release my pent up hurt and frustration to get the love and support I needed. I felt supported having other women confide in me they also suffered miscarriages. I started to not feel so alone and get my spark for trying again back.

Courtesy of Lacey Ashwell

I decided to create a private Facebook group that people could join at their own risk. It really helped me tackle the world of fertility treatments with true loved ones’ support. Of course, there was the common ‘just relax, don’t try so hard,’ blah blah blah comments but after 3 years of the ups and downs I learned to take it all with a grain of salt. I was in a different mindset this year. My Auntie was in heaven. She made me a promise and I knew she would keep it. I finally had faith back in myself too.

We went through another round of Clomid and had one perfectly developed egg to be released. I charted, tracked, and planned everything, dreaming of this one egg being the miracle we’ve waited for.

Courtesy of Lacey Ashwell

Finally, it happened! My HCG tests were positive. My beta numbers were doubling beautifully. I received the call from the doctor’s office. ‘Congratulations, you’re pregnant!’ and I just started bawling. Thank you God, thank you Mayo Clinic, and especially thank you to my dear Auntie May May for making this come true!

Courtesy of Lacey Ashwell
Courtesy of Lacey Ashwell

Sadly, we lost Penny to cancer the week before we found out baby was a boy. She fought such a long, hard battle wanting to stay alive to see her grandchild born. We finally sat down as a family and told her it was ok to let go. We couldn’t bear to see her suffering any longer than she was. She said she was most sad to miss seeing her grandbabies grow up. We will never accept her being gone, but will remain steadfast in our faith of God’s plan. She was such a beautiful soul that will forever be loved and missed.

Courtesy of Lacey Ashwell

The last thing she said to me after a long embrace was, ‘You kids will be ok, everything will work out for you. I will be watching over you always.’ She promised to love up the two angel babies we had in heaven for her. Her golden heart stopped beating on Fathers Day of 2014. The pain was numbing to not have her spirit here anymore. Five years later still feels just as fresh. Never, ever take for granted the loved ones in your life. I gave this necklace to Penny for Christmas in 2013. She passed away wearing it and was buried with it.

Courtesy of Lacey Ashwell

I’ll forever cherish and love her rainbow baby she brought into this world, my husband. She was a kind, wise and wonderful woman that taught me so much about family and faith. Penny had a green thumb like no other, so I try my best to make her proud and not kill every plant I own. We also collect any pennies we find she drops down from heaven for us. The little signs in life that remind us our loved ones are never gone from us forever. They live on within our hearts.

Courtesy of Lacey Ashwell

November 2014, opening weekend of deer hunting – a Wisconsin holiday – our miracle baby, Brody, was born. My wonderful husband, parents, and an amazing team of nurses truly helped me navigate through the unknowns of my first natural childbirth. By far, his birth was the greatest moment in my entire life. The amount of pride, joy, relief and love I felt the moment he was in my arms, nothing would ever compare.

Courtesy of Lacey Ashwell

I felt so complete once my baby was on this Earth and wrapped in my arms, but unexpected tragedy struck again. This time to me.

Designs by Denise Photography

A couple months after Brody’s birth I was experiencing extreme back and chest pain. I thought it was just pain from breastfeeding and kept dismissing it. Come to find out my gallbladder went haywire postpartum and was full of stones. I had to have surgery to remove my gallbladder, no big deal, right? Wrong. I had a serious complication when a tiny microscopic stone became lodged in my bilary duct and my liver began to shut down being backed up with bile. I was in excruciating pain and rushed into emergency surgery.

After multiple ERCPs, a liver drain, weeks in and out of the hospital away from my newborn, and countless tears cried, I was able to return home. My mom basically moved into our house to raise our miracle baby all while I was fighting for my life. The fear she must have felt breaks my heart. I’m her only child. Her world. I couldn’t believe this was happening. After all we’ve just been through.

I spent my baby’s 1st Christmas hospitalized. I could barely hold him when he was brought to visit me due to my lung pain from so many surgeries. I cried and cried out of frusturation that this is not how it was supposed to be. I needed to live to see my baby boy step on the school bus, go to prom, get his license, get married. It’s not my time to go, I wasn’t ready. It was by far the scariest moment in my life when my body was failing. I felt the mental anquish my angels must’ve felt having to miss out on so much. I’m so thankful for Mayo Clinic’s experienced medical team for saving my life. I had so much to live for and was beyond happy to finally have my liver functioning correctly. Getting home to my baby was my main concern. That scary experince taught me so much just how fragile life is, and how it can change in an instant.

Courtesy of Lacey Ashwell

Once I was back home raising my baby life was great. An entire year went by and we planned a date night out for New Year’s Eve. I took a pregnancy test before going out to drink and surprise!! We were pregnant again! We were beyond excited it happened naturally and welcomed our second beautiful son, Brock, in September 2016, just 22 months after Brody’s birth!

Courtesy of Lacey Ashwell
Courtesy of Lacey Ashwell
Designs by Denise Photography

During the summer I was pregnant with Brock we lost my husband’s Uncle Jeff, Penny’s only brother, to a heart attack. Three days after Brock’s birth, my Uncle Jack passed away of unknown causes. We’ve never really experienced life without heartbreak but at a young age, it’s taught us to appreciate every moment we have together. It puts into perspective the bigger plan and what Penny taught us so often – that God will make good out of the storms so always look for the silver lining.

Courtesy of Lacey Ashwell

Our family is no stranger to tragedy and in October of 2018, my Grandpa Elmer lost his battle with Lung Cancer within weeks of diagnosis. I’m still in dsibelief he is gone. He was a proud Grandpa and even prouder Great Grandpa. The hits don’t stop coming. Another beloved Uncle of mine passed in December unexpectedly. My Grandma now has the same Lung Cancer her husband died from and my Father-in-Law has a form of bone marrow cancer that is quickly taking it’s toll on his body. It’s so incredibly hard to see the people you love hurting. I’ve learned to always be thankful for every morning my eyes open. I’m thankful to breathe and see my children grow. I’m thankful for the wrinkles, frown and laugh lines that show I’m aging and celebrating birthdays. I’m still here.

I’m especially thankful for the surprise blessing currently growing within me. We are expecting our third little mister this November. We are blessed beyond belief to look back on where we were just five short years ago. The amount of heartache and pain endured does not compare to the joy these babies have brought our lives. I would go through it all again and again to get the precious blessing that call me Mom. Never give up on your dreams. The wounds on your heart will scar, but you will be so proud you perservered through the storm to get your rainbow!”

Courtesy of Lacey Ashwell
Courtesy of Lacey Ashwell

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Lacey Ashwell of Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here, and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories.

Read more powerful stories from women on their trying-to-conceive journey:

‘Jeremy had no intention of having more children or getting married again. We tied the knot, and started the process of reversing his vasectomy. My first thought was, ‘Here we go.’

‘Worth the wait’: Photographer captures her grueling infertility struggle to let others know ‘they are not alone’

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