“There was no heartbeat.”
Words I never thought I’d hear once – let alone twice. But here we are.
Our first son, Jackson, was born in 2016. Aside from the hyperemesis gravidarum I get while pregnant (and all three pregnancies following), my first pregnancy was normal and resulted in a healthy 7lb 6oz baby born exactly on his due date.
In February 2019, we lost a baby boy at 5 months into my second pregnancy. It was a mind-blowing shock and the traumatizing delivery that followed will live with me forever. You can read that story here.
Six months later at the end of August 2019, I had a second loss 13 weeks into my third pregnancy. After the haunting experience of delivering a baby I already knew was gone, I opted for a D&C instead. I thought it would be the easier route mentally – it was just as hard. That story can be read here.
Today, three years later, I share with you the journey I took to heal and the experience of my fourth pregnancy. Thankfully, this time we had a happy ending.
I’m a pretty resilient person.
For the first half of my childhood, I grew up in an abusive home and developed a thick outer shell. In some way, I wonder if those experiences prepared me for what was to come. Prepared me to better withstand deep mental and emotional trauma.
But not by much.
After the first loss, I did what I normally do to avoid things – I worked. I shoved those horrible feelings and memories into a dark corner and went on with my day. I saw my therapist twice and thought I’d be fine – because I can keep on going with hard things like I had before.
I’ve always been exceptional at wearing a happy mask when everything inside was in shambles. This was no different. On the outside, I was the “regular” smiling, bubbly Katie with perfectly applied makeup and curled hair. On the inside, I was screaming.
The first social event I went to was a friend’s wedding. It was a massive wedding that included our entire friend group and all four of my husband’s siblings. I was so excited to go and get all dressed up – once again donning my happy mask and ignoring my emotions.
During the cocktail hour with wall-to-wall people and tables of food everywhere you looked, I started to have a panic attack. I couldn’t find my husband, Frank, in the sea of humans but locked eyes with one of my girlfriends who could see I was thread away from unravelling beside the platters of charcuterie. She grabbed my hand and we headed to a quieter spot.
The rest of the evening I couldn’t bring myself to leave my chair and watched as our family and friends laughed, danced and drank the night away. By 10 PM I couldn’t handle being around people and we left immediately.
That panic attack marked the start of many. Every time I found myself in a social setting, I’d have an attack in the car after leaving or when I’d get home on the kitchen floor or bottom of the shower. I kept the panic attacks to myself because it was easier to keep them secret and continue ignoring my feelings.
I figured getting pregnant again was the best solution because I could focus on that and forget everything else.
The universe apparently didn’t like that approach.
When I went for my 13-week ultrasound at the end of August, the nightmare started all over again. The baby had likely died within 24 hours beforehand.
“Okay – just stay busy. It’s fine. Everything will be fine. You’re going to therapy. It’s fine. Just work more.”
This is the story I told myself all day, every day.
And I filled my calendar with distractions.
In September, I went to Utah for a business conference. Then in October, Frank and I took a trip to Mexico for my birthday. And finally, in November, I tagged along on his work trip to Florida.
During our November trip, I was on day 19 of bleeding and couldn’t figure out why my “period” was so horrible. On the last day, the bleeding intensified to where I was going through a super pad and tampon every 20 minutes. I spent 3 hours curled up in the hotel shower, screaming in pain. I felt like I was in labour. In hindsight, I should have gone to the hospital but I was waiting until we’d be back in Canada the next day.
This pain came and went our entire travel day from the airport shuttle to going through checkpoints. I do not know how I made it on the plane. The next day, I was totally fine. Until the same pain returned 3 days later.
I ended up passing a clementine-sized rock-hard blood clot that had most likely been a result of my D&C. My body had been going through intense bleeding for weeks and “mini-labours” to try and force the clot out. It wasn’t caught prior because the OB-GYN I saw didn’t do any follow-up post-procedure. The internal ultrasound I insisted on afterwards, showed everything was now fine.
By December, my chronic back and nerve pain were also at an all-time high. I was having back spasms non-stop, my sciatica intensified and new nerve pain appeared.
And I also found myself in a very dark place, plagued with depression and not wanting to go on.
If I wasn’t working on my business, I was curled up under a blanket in the dark. Everything felt impossible.
Caring for myself. Caring for my son. Caring for anything.
Frank and my mom took over while I avoided and ignored life outside of my laptop. When I was “present,” I was most often short-tempered. Small things like dropping a mason jar or a shirt getting a hole would send me into a tailspin of anger, tears and emotions.
By the start of 2020, I was crumbling into pieces.
When I began the healing process, I felt guilty for feeling the way I felt. There were women who had worse experiences than I did — so who am I to allow myself to grieve and be angry. I kept comparing my pain to others.
I realized that I had a horrible human experience that impacted me, and whether it was easier or worse than someone else’s, how I felt was still valid. I needed to stop downplaying how I felt because it meant I was inadvertently downplaying other women in their own journey, too.
I wanted to feel better. I hated the shell of a person I had become. I started with small changes.
I began pulling myself out of the dark hole in the easiest way I knew how. I focused on feeding myself. Three meals a day. That’s it.
Being an RHN, I knew consistent, nutrient-dense food would help to stabilize my blood sugar levels. When you don’t eat, your blood sugar goes on a joy ride and can cause mood swings and increased feelings of anxiety. Meals with protein, fibre and fat were the focus.
I used natural supplements* alongside my nutrition to help support my body. I included a quality multivitamin to replenish deficiencies from not eating, fish oil with high-dose omega-3 fatty acids for cognitive support, a cortisol calming blend, and HAD homeopathic drops to support my adrenals.
*Always work with a qualified and knowledgable holistic practitioner (ND, RHN, FMP) that can make correct supplement recommendations. What’s right for me may not be what’s right for you.
Once the food was in place, I added in tapping aka the emotional freedom technique (or EFT). I used The Tapping Solution app and forced myself to set aside 10 minutes a day to do it. Based on the principles of Chinese acupressure and modern psychology, tapping helps decrease cortisol (your stress hormone).
My mental health was not stable and I knew I needed professional help as well. I made a commitment to see my EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing) therapist monthly. EMDR is a “psychotherapy treatment that was originally designed to alleviate the distress associated with traumatic memories.”
Next, I read. In the course of a two-week period, I was recommended the same book four times. I took that as a sign from the universe that my guides needed me to read this book. It was Journey of Souls by Michael Newton. This was a life-changing book for me and massively shifted my mindset.
Movement was another big one I included for both stress relief and rehabilitation for my chronic back/nerve pain. It also got me out of the house and seeing people outside of my family in a safe setting. I walked and went to physio-based Reformer Pilates at my local studio.
Finally, sleep. I stopped staying up late watching Netflix and set a bedtime of 10 PM. That allowed my body to rest and further reduce cortisol levels.
This wasn’t an overnight thing. It took months of consistency. And if I’m being completely transparent, it’s something I still work on to this day.
After my losses, I wanted answers. Both Frank and I went to a fertility clinic and had all the tests done that you can get. We did this over months. The results came back as “you’re both in perfect health and no reason as to why these losses occurred.”
They also said because the first loss had no issues and the second loss had birth defects – that they were most likely completely unrelated and two horrible random occurrences.
Even though my hormonal blood labs came back as “normal” I wanted a better picture and did a DUTCH test. It’s a comprehensive urine-based hormone test I use with my own clients. And because I thoroughly believe you can’t coach yourself, I worked with my Naturopathic Doctor to create a plan based on my results (which showed estrogen dominance and adrenals that were a mess). I re-tested my hormones about nine months later and my hormonal picture was looking much better.
This took up most of 2020. It gave me excuses to keep putting off trying again because I was straight-up terrified to get pregnant. The thought of this happening all over again was unbearable and gave me severe anxiety to think about.
In January 2021, I unexpectedly got pregnant. I took this as a sign from the universe that this was the right time – and clung to that thought.
I went for countless tests and an early anatomy ultrasound at Mount Sinai in Toronto. My anxiety leading up to this ultrasound at 14 weeks was excruciating. The last two times I had been for ultrasounds (with my previous pregnancies), I was had been told: “there’s no heartbeat.”
Frank took the day off work to drive me because, inside, I was a wreck. And if I was once again told the baby was gone, I wouldn’t have made it home.
Good news. After my 90-minute ultrasound, I walked out with pictures and peace of mind. The baby boy had all his limbs and ten fingers/toes. That calmed my anxiety but only just a hair.
For months, I tried not to focus on something going wrong. Easier said than done. I didn’t even like talking about being pregnant or having family members discuss future plans with the baby. Both our families walked on eggshells around me.
Once the baby started moving, my anxiety lessened even more. And move he did – all the time, all day long. I felt like he was trying to say, “It’s okay mom. I’m still here.”
By month 8, I was feeling confident he would arrive so I allowed myself to start getting excited. I began talking about him more to others, decorating the nursery and buying some cute little clothes.
Apparently, my anxiety didn’t love being put on the back burner, so I started worrying something horrible would happen during labour. I ended up being induced at eight days overdue.
At the hospital, I was pretty silent most of the day. I was terrified the worst would happen during delivery and I’d leave the hospital baby-less…again. They offered meds in the IV to help calm me but I told myself: “You can do this.”
At 7:05 PM on October 19th, 2021 (my mom’s birthday), our 8lb 11oz. baby boy arrived. His first cry was the most relieving sound I have ever heard in my entire life. I broke into a fit of tears myself because my three-year nightmare was finally over. They placed him on my chest and words cannot describe the weight that was lifted off my soul.
Our double rainbow baby was here.
Our second-born was a big deal for our families – especially my husband’s. In his family, the second-born had always been a boy and always named Frank (for three previous generations).
From the first time I had dinner at my would-be in-laws, his dad said “you know, if you marry my son – your second born will be a boy and his name will be Frank.” I remember thinking “Ya, you’re nuts.”
My father-in-law, Frank II, and I jokingly battled over this for the last 12 years. I was adamant about not naming my child Frank.
And during my latest pregnancy, nobody uttered a peep about the name (like I said – eggshells). I knew the name was important to my Frank (Frank III) as well – so together we decided we would carry on the tradition: Frank Timothy Stewart IV.
We kept it as a surprise and his parents didn’t know until they met him for the first time. Now, I couldn’t have imagined naming him anything else. Baby Frankie is home.