There are only three days left in 2016. I’ve spent this year counting down the days until it would be over. I’ve spent a lot of time angry, anxious, fearful, envious, worried, and exhausted. But its like a switch went off in me this week and I can see another side.
February 3rd we found out we were pregnant. My best friend had just given birth to her baby girl and they were still in the hospital when I called to tell her. We both cried on the phone with so much joy and excitement. Fast forward to almost 8 weeks pregnant when I just knew something wasn’t right. The sweetest on call doctor came in on a Saturday to give us our first ultrasound and ultimately tell us that our baby was not developing properly. I cried so hard on the drive home I was choking. We walked through the front door and I sat on the couch in silence. I will never forget falling asleep that night and waking up that morning thinking I was still healthfully pregnant. Sleeping was the worst… Mornings brought on a pain of remembering the loss over and over again. We found out our baby would not have a life outside of my womb at 7.5 weeks. I had decided I wanted to let go of it naturally – But when nature did not run it’s course I was forced to move forward with surgery. Those were the worst three weeks of my life. The waiting, the worry, the grieving. I would wake up with my hands on my belly and just weep. I did not recognize this depressed person I had become. I literally cannot express my thankfulness that I had no weddings in that month of emotional/physical pain because I don’t know how I would have done it.
Combine losing our baby with conquering one of my biggest fears – going under anesthesia. I’m definitely the girl who walked out of three wisdom teeth consultations and a scheduled surgery because I could not do it. For three weeks I waited for our baby to say goodbye and that day just did not come.
On March 16 I was scheduled for surgery. My anxiety leading up to it was crippling. I was so exhausted from grieving for weeks, barely eating, barely sleeping… But I read comforting books and set inspirational reminders on my apple watch to stay focused, don’t panic, & be strong. Although nothing about this surgery was uplifting (what surgery is I suppose!?) I remember waking up feeling relieved. I missed our baby, but I knew that this was the only way for me to get healthy and us to get closer to the family we’ve dreamt about.
Three weeks after our miscarriage Nick’s Step Mother was killed in a tragic motorcycle accident involving a drunk driver. Watching him, his siblings, and his family in that pain was unbearable. I will never forget the pain of that night, and the person that spent so much time raising my husband. I think of her daily and I feel pain in my heart for her kids that have had to work so hard to find their new normal. This senseless act by one person has forever changed my life and so many people around me that I love. I pray daily for peace for everyone that was touched by this tragedy. I will never be the same again. <3
Fast forward to 7 months of ups and downs in more ways than one. I remember thinking, oh the pain will go away quickly because we will just get pregnant again right away and we can move forward. I was wrong. Days where I felt good, only to hop on Facebook and see another pregnancy announcement, sent me right back to feelings of depression and inadequacy. I think my want to be pregnant so bad was keeping us from getting pregnant again. It was such a stressful time full of so much worry, anger, confusion, a lot of “why me’s” and scary thoughts. All while trying to stay focused on my business, serve my clients, and remain the bubbly and uplifting person I try to be. Exhausted was a huge understatement.
In late September we found out we were expecting again. I remember feeling like “this is it! This is our time!” I felt like I had paid my dues, I had struggled and I finally deserved this. When I started bleeding that morning in October I was so sick and so shocked. I had just assumed that I had my one fluke miscarriage and that this time we would have our baby. I was just so scared, is the baby gone? Am I fine? Is the baby fine? I didn’t even want to be standing upright, like laying down would stop this miscarriage in its tracks. On this specific day I had a wedding to shoot. I’ve photographed almost 175 weddings and I’ve been well for all of them (a couple fevers and head colds, but healthy for the most part) – Let’s conquer my next biggest fear – Not being well enough to serve my clients at my absolute 100% on their wedding day. I called on friends, called my sweet sweet bride, and had more support than I could have ever imagined on that day. I had backups, but chose to stay the full wedding day in an effort not to let anyone down. I could have never gotten through that extremely painful and draining day without some incredible people. I will never forget the kindness shown to me in that time of need.
Our first baby was due the first week in October – I knew that week would be hard for me, but losing our 2nd then just felt so unnecessarily cruel. If you know anything about October in a photographer’s world – I had a couple days to cry and it was back to the grind.
Some testing that was done later in October confirmed we had lost that baby – and that there may be some answers as to why this keeps happening. (I will touch on this in another post).
Moving forward – First week in November I get an infection in the wisdom teeth I’ve refused to have removed the past 12 years because of some extreme fears. My dentist tried to help clear up the infection but ultimately decided that an emergency removal was best. Consultation on November 3, pulled November 4th. (I had 12 sessions scheduled for November 5th, all of which I had to cancel/reschedule completely killing me to let down all of these incredible clients). Facing another fear of mine – and I survived. It was a great feeling to have it behind me. Survived a dry socket and was starting to feel myself again. And then like the freight train of doom that has been my life this year rolled in the night before a wedding – I woke up with the worst abdominal pain I have ever had. After 10 hours of pain and a ton of tears on my bathroom floor I finally decided to have Nick drive me to the hospital. I had a wedding starting in 2 hours and I could barely walk/function at all. Fortunately I had scheduled two amazing backups just in case I had any complications with my surgery… I was at the ER until 11:30 and my coverage started at 12. My backups were there and more than capable (omg this bride was literally in the best hands!) but I still spent most of my time in the ER crying about this wedding and what I was going to do. Again, more support and understanding shown to me than I ever thought possible from everyone involved that day. I was able to attend and shoot a portion of the wedding and left the rest to my talented photo friends. (Doctors attributed this pain to a reaction to the medication I was on from surgery, gave me a shot, and time got me back to normal).
Basically, you could say 2016 was full of a lot of SURVIVING. I feel like I have literally been praying and wishing and crying and facing fears every direction I turned. Its like the black cloud just WOULD NOT LEAVE.
I realized something this week. I’ve always thought life was a lot about perspective. And although this series of events absolutely merits tears and fears – there is always always always something to be thankful for.
I think I’ve been seeing this all wrong.
What really happened is we lost two precious babies – but gained hope. I made the decision early on that I was going to be open about our struggles in an effort to help even just one woman who felt alone. I cannot tell you what other women’s stories have done for me in this journey. I literally don’t know that I could have gotten through those dark days without hearing other struggles that families have gone through. I would never, ever want this pain to be wished on another human being, but the reality is – it has been. And as unfortunate as this is, I know we have each other to lean and cry on, support and cheer on down this long road.
Losing these babies has taught me SO much about life. I have been living in a frantic/busy/overwhelming world since I started college… This year happened and its like it all made sense. STOP. STOP Ashley. You can say no. You can put yourself, your babies, your marriage, your family FIRST. You don’t have to work 70 hour weeks and miss every single Summer for the rest of your life. You CAN take weekends off and refresh and relax with your husband. You CAN dream up a future when you are lucky enough to have your babies that actually involves you being home and raising them, working less and living more. These life experiences have hit me like a truck in all the best ways possible. Sometimes we need something huge and pivotal to happen in our lives to make us realize we’ve been doing it all wrong. Since I started my business, nothing has been more important to me than it. And it will always always always be one of the biggest priorities in my life. But when my health, my life, my babies lives depend on some down time, I CAN ask for help, I CAN call on a friend, I CAN for one day not be okay. This frantic perfect way of living has worn me out for years and its like I finally understand what I need. And, I’ve proven to myself I CAN do hard things. I can conquer fears big and small, I’m strong enough to be a Mother, I can take whatever comes my way. I went from refusing to ever go under, to two surgeries in 7 months. This may seem like a small battle to some, but for me it was a war. And I came and I conquered. If we don’t celebrate our small victories, what else is there? If you’re lucky enough to live your entire life with no hardships – GO YOU. It’s probably pretty nice! But that’s not real life. The bad shows us how GOOD the good can be. I’ve learned to be gentle on myself and others, you never know the battle someone is fighting. My goals and priorities for 2017 look so much different. And although the idea of less work and more life can scare me some (there’s that worrying about my business again) it also ignites me. If you are looking at 2016 and thinking you can’t run out of this year fast enough – I challenge you to take this next three days to see the good that has come out of it. I’m not where I want to be just yet, but the journey is making me a stronger and more capable person. Whatever 2017 is to bring, I will face it, I will conquer it, and I will learn to LOVE it. I am going to embrace all of my friends and family having babies of their own and know that our time will come. I am going to be happy for people that have things I might not. I am going to give back to those who might have less than. I am going to be present in every moment of life because I know that it is not guaranteed. Every day is a gift, and sometimes we just need reminded of that.
2016, you’ve been hard. But I appreciate you making me stronger and proving that I can do things I never thought I could.