Surrendering plans has always been the hardest thing for me. No matter what the plan is, and no matter how old I was, I've always needed a plan. I feel in control with a plan. Even fun is planned because I know what I can expect (because who would want too much fun, right?!). Maybe it’s a strategic plan of how to get things done, or a master plan of what my life will look like for the next 10 years. But today is my 31st birthday, and I can’t help but reflect on how life didn’t go as planned the past few years.
“Three before thirty.” That was my motto. Three kids before I turned thirty years old. I had my first and second, babies, and I was only twenty eight years old. My "plan" was going as planned until the summer of 2013.
I found out I was pregnant with number three. I was excited, nervous, but mostly proud. Here I was “sticking to the plan”. I imagined our family vacations, dreamed about what the next summer would bring with three kids, thought about how old Milo & Sawyer would be when this baby was born. I started thinking about baby names, nursery colors, and maternity leave. We even had a family photo session where we had a pregnancy announcement photo taken. So when I saw my doctor for my first ultrasound I wasn’t preared to hear her say that the baby’s heartbeat was a little too low. The following week I went in for another ultrasound. Everything was fine, I told myself, miscarriage isn't something that happens to me. And then it did. The baby's heart had stopped beating.
The next few days were a blur, and the day after my daughter's 2nd birthday I went in for a D&C. I couldn't think straight. I felt like my heart had been ripped out. But instead of grieving, I insisted that we try again right away. We had to stay on track. We had to follow the plan. Three before thirty was more of a mantra than ever. If I focused on that, I didn't have to deal with the pain. Of course, I thought I was dealing with it. And yet daily practices in my life started to change.
I stopped going to church. I felt like God had failed me. How could He let this happen to me? What had I done to deserve this? I asked all the hard questions, yet I didn't stick around to listen for any answers.
A few months later a pregnancy test showed me two lines again! I was ecstatic. New plan! Three by thirty and…a few months. ‘Okay. I can do this.’ I told myself. Except, we lost that baby too. A few months later, I lost another, baby number three. Instead of three kids before thirty, I had three miscarriages by thirty.
I had spent almost a year trying for a 3rd child, and I was no closer to holding that baby in my arms. It was time for me to surrender the plan.
In typical Neyssa fashion, I searched for answers everywhere. I read books, I talked to doctors, and I searched the internet. I was desperate to know what was happening. After my second loss I turned back to God. I jumped in head first, attending church, going to Bible studies, and journaling. I searched for Him and worked through the pain that felt like He had abandoned me. I thought He had let me down by not allowing me to follow my plan. I remember teaching a mini photography workshop, I remember one woman saying that she wanted more kids, but that it wasn't in her hands. At the time, I had thought ‘Okay, sure...we all have kids, you know how babies are made. How is it not in her hands?’ This memory repeated in my head over and over again that year. And then it hit me. It wasn't in my hands. It was in His hands. It was about God's plan. During the two years it took to bring home my 3rd child, I heard/read/thought about this phrase often “It’s all in God's timing". It was painful to hear, painful to think, but the truth was (and still is) I didn't have control. It really was and is in His hands.
Just a few weeks after my 3rd loss, I turned thirty years old. I did not have three kids, nor was I even close. I felt like a failure because I could not do the one thing my body was made to do. My obsession of trying to get pregnant had isolated me from friends and family. Two children should have been enough, and yet I yearned for another. As I watched my family playing together, I felt as if someone were missing.
I feared talking to Derek. What would I do if he wanted to stop trying because the heartache was too much? I had spent almost a year in a dark tunnel with my focus on having another baby. My days had been spent reading forums and talking online with other women who had suffered loss. While some offered hope, I felt resentment when they would get pregnant. Although I was praying more regularly, my conversations with God were one sided and full of demands. Most of the outside world had no idea of my pain. I had become an expert at putting on a smile for the world to see.
In the midst of all this, I felt the urge to write about turning thirty, including lessons I had learned. I sat down to reflect, and the words flowed from me. I wrote a list of 13 Reflections at 30. The first two things that came to mind were, “thirty isn’t old” and “life is nothing like I pictured as a kid, it’s better.” Then it hit me. I was thirty, not eighty. I still had plenty of time to have another child. Even more important was that my life had never gone according to plan, and yet, I was okay. It was at this point that I threw my hands into the air and fully surrendered the plan to Him. I never had control. My plans were fictitious not reality. Yet, I still had a desire deep in my heart for a third child. And I believe that desire was God given. As long as I had that desire, I would commit to seeking it out. But I knew that it would be in God's timing, not mine, and certainly not because “three before thirty” sounded good.
The following month I was pregnant again. Although I was excited, it felt different. I was different. I didn’t race out to tell friends and family of my exciting news. In fact, I even waited to tell Derek. I held onto my secret. I prayed, thanking Him for another opportunity to carry a child. I prayed that this was my take home baby, my promise baby, but that if it wasn’t, He would comfort me through the pain. I didn't chant “three before thirty” to myself anymore. I knew that no amount of worrying could prevent another miscarriage. While I worried often during the pregnancy, I worked at surrendering my worries to God. I was in constant conversation with Him, asking Him to take it from me, take control, take the worry. By surrendering Neyssa’s plan, a huge burden had been lifted.
Over the last year of trying to get pregnant, I started talking to friends about what I was going through. Little did I know how many women in my life had experienced their own miscarriages. I was feeling so wrapped up in my own grief, feeling ashamed of myself, like I had failed that I almost missed how so many others had experienced the same pain. My heart broke for friends and family who had experienced loss. I had known a few people who had miscarried years ago, and although I had expressed sympathy, I now know I had not dealt with the situation properly. My pain allowed me to apologize, connect, and express my deepest sorrow for their loss and struggle. I felt a barrier come down and deeper friendships form.
I’m thirty one years old. As I write this, my third baby is grasping my shirt as she nurses, her brother and sister playing with cars nearby. When I hold Hudson in my arms, I know what a true gift she is to our family. I see how accepting and ready my children were for another sibling. I see how the timing is perfect. The loss of my other three babies is always with me, but because I’ve surrendered the plan I’m able to see all that I’ve been given. And I am beyond grateful.
I know this isn’t the normal type of blog post a professional photographer writes. Why am I sharing my story of loss today? Because, I'm not just a photographer. I'm a Christian, wife, friend and a mom who has three babies in heaven and three babies on earth. The last year has been a painful and difficult journey, and yet I’ve grown more than I ever thought possible. But most of all, I learned I'm not alone. This has been the greatest gift to me. It’s a gift I want to extend to you. If you know the pain of loss, grief, miscarriages, I share my story with you in hopes that you know that you are not alone.