Throughout her childhood, Leticia Riley had fleeting thoughts about becoming an obstetrician, a veterinarian, a biology teacher, or a writer – all careers that would allow her to help other human beings. Eventually, she decided to become a registered nurse.
Though Leticia’s career hopes changed over the years, one desire remained the same: to become a mother.
Leticia Riley grew up in a mixed family with five brothers. Longing for a sister as a young girl, she envisioned herself one day becoming the mother of four children, at least two of them girls.
When she was eighteen years old, that plan seemed at-stake when Leticia underwent genetic counseling for a bleeding disorder with which two of her brothers are afflicted.
“The counselor told me that if my tests showed that I was a carrier of the disorder, I shouldn’t have children. It was the first time I ever had to imagine a life without children.”
Fortunately, Leticia’s test was negative.
At nineteen years old, she met Jeremy Riley. Though Leticia was certain the two would spend their lives together, they dated for almost five years before marrying.
“Jeremy is a planner and a perfectionist. I’m scatter-brained and spontaneous. I couldn’t imagine what was taking him so long to propose marriage!”
The two married on an August day in 2007.
Leticia was in nursing school at Bay College at the time. She and Jeremy decided they would wait until her schooling was complete before starting their family.
Soon after graduation, the couple were happily expecting their first child.
“I bought two tiny pairs of baby shoes – one set pink, the other blue – to surprise Jeremy. We spent the coming weeks loving that baby inside my belly. We imagined snuggling and rocking him or her. We figured due dates and read What to Expect When You’re Expecting to one another.”
At their first OB appointment in Leticia’s eleventh week of pregnancy, Leticia and Jeremy were excited to hear their child’s heartbeat from within her womb. The doctor searched with the Doppler tool, but could not locate the heartbeat. He moved them to the ultrasound room down the hallway and began the visual examination.
“I couldn’t understand what we were seeing on the fuzzy screen,” Leticia said, “but the doctor broke the deafening silence by telling us that the first thing he noticed was that there were two gestational sacs. I was pregnant with twins. He then went on to explain that, according to the ultrasound picture, it appeared to be a six-week pregnancy, not an eleven-week pregnancy.”
Leticia and Jeremy left the office in a state of confusion.
“Were we pregnant with twins?! How would we prepare ourselves for twins? Twins were not in our plans! On the other hand, were we losing our babies? Why was I still so ill with pregnancy if I was going to be having a miscarriage? We never even got to meet our babies. Are they even living? Are my babies dying inside of me?”
Leticia and Jeremy spent a week waiting for a sign from her body that would help them to determine what was going on. A week later, they went back to the doctor for a follow-up appointment.
“The exam confirmed that we indeed had a ‘missed abortion’ — such a gruesome term and an equally ugly experience. Surgery was scheduled to have the ‘products of conception’ removed. We couldn’t wait any longer for my body to begin miscarrying on its own. It was as if I couldn’t let go of my twins. They had become such a great part of me and I couldn’t face the void that would come from removing them.”
After her surgery, Leticia’s doctor held her hand as she wept in the recovery room and Jeremy grieved in the hospital chapel.
“The next year was the loneliest year of my life. I had another miscarriage, and then went a year without any sign of pregnancy. The longing seemed insurmountable. Not only had I lost three precious babies, but now the possibility of another pregnancy was looking dim.”
Finally, Leticia and Jeremy found that Leticia was pregnant again. Cautiously optimistic, but scared about their future outcome, they waited several weeks before sharing the news with their family and friends.
During the eleventh week of her pregnancy, a confused patient at work kicked Leticia in the abdomen.
“My heart sank,” she said. “I immediately went to have an ultrasound and testing done to ensure the safety of our baby. There I witnessed the most beautiful vision my eyes have seen–our baby squirming around, looking like a little Teddy Graham with only buds for arms and legs. I was in love!”
Despite her anxiety, Leticia’s pregnancy progressed as expected.
“I may have been the most anxious pregnant woman on earth! I’m sure the nurses at my clinic grew tired of my apprehensive phone calls.”
On Labor Day of 2010, Leticia (33 weeks pregnant) went into labor. Because the baby was breech, Leticia underwent an emergency cesarean.
During the surgery, at the moment Helaina was born, Leticia noticed a few of the staff had tears in their eyes. She panicked, wondering what could possibly be making them cry. Then she learned that her husband, on the other side of the blue paper curtain, was jumping up and down, weeping with joy at the first sweet sight of his daughter.
Before being wheeled off to recovery, Leticia quickly met and kissed her 4 pound, 3 ounce baby girl, Helaina Morgan, who was then sent to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) for evaluation.
“After recovery, the nurses wheeled my hospital bed into the NICU and I finally got to hold Helaina. How could a mother put into words how it feels to hold your baby for the first time?
“After a few minutes of cuddling my daughter, I became sweaty and nauseous from the anesthesia, but I didn’t tell a soul. I just kept kissing and loving on my baby girl. I wasn’t about to let her go anytime soon. Finally, one of the nurses noticed me perspiring, so they wheeled me back to my room.”
A few days later, when Leticia was discharged from the hospital, Helaina remained in the NICU. Jeremy was back home (100 miles away) for work, and Leticia stayed in a nearby hospitality house.
“It was difficult being away from my daughter. I set my alarm for every three hours, around the clock, so I could get up, pump breast milk, go to the hospital for Helaina’s feeding, hold her, and then head back to the Harbor House for maybe an hour of sleep before doing it all again.”
Helaina was in the NICU for 25 days before she was sent home healthy and ready for the world.
Those first years home with their daughter were special and magical for Leticia and Jeremy. They focused on one another and delighted in watching Helaina grow and thrive.
After losing three babies before having a healthy child, it was hard for some people to understand why Leticia would want to go through the process, and possibly the pain, again. But Leticia had a longing in her mother-heart – a desire for another child to be a part of their family, a sibling for Helaina. In 2012, Leticia and Jeremy decided to try for another child. Once again, Leticia immediately became pregnant.
“On a Friday, I had a positive pregnancy test and my heart swelled. Thoughts of swaddling, rocking, and raising another little one came flooding back. The following Monday I began miscarrying. Those dreams were crushed again. My mom drove 400 miles to be with Helaina as I grieved. How could I love Helaina with my whole heart while I was aching for the other baby I was losing?”
Three years have passed since Leticia and Jeremy lost their fourth child — three whirlwind years of fertility clinics and testing — monthly roller coasters of promise and despair.
“I feel so much hope and excitement when I am pregnant – I just feel like me. It’s a beautiful thing to have created something from love. But then, suddenly, the hope and and excitement crumbles as you both feel it and watch it go away.”
“Finally, a medical breakthrough occurred last month. After a single cycle of a different medication, I was pregnant. I was confident that the pregnancy would last this time because I had convinced myself that God would not allow me to lose another child. Two weeks after my positive test, I began miscarrying. It didn’t seem possible. Was I the punchline in someone’s joke? I was angry and heartbroken again. How could God do this to me?
“I have been so angry with God, and so hurt. I remember begging Him for ‘just one baby’ before he blessed us with Helaina. Now I am begging for ‘just one more.’The hardest question I face is ‘Why?’ I find myself coming up with reasons God might not have thought I deserved another child. I have exercised, eaten right, used alternative medicine and conventional medicine. You name it, I have tried it.
“I know I’m a good mom to Helaina. I know I deserve another child as much as anyone else. I know that I am extremely thankful for what I have and that God has blessed me over and over in life.”
“Sometimes it seems that whenever we make a plan to determine our future, God comes along and says, ‘No, no, I’ve got something different for you.’ I know that His plan is better, but sometimes I can’t see that because I am still stuck on my plan. I’ve been taught to be patient over and over again, but a small part of me still wants to stomp my feet and scream, ‘It’s my turn!’ I know God has heard that phrase come through in my prayers more than a few times. I’m hoping he gets so tired of hearing it that He just gives in!”
Despite her pain and desperation, Leticia continues to hold God’s will above her own.
“Lately I have been focusing on Proverbs 3:5: Trust in The Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.
“I was recently told the story of a father and mother who had to say goodbye to their young son who was dying before their eyes. As the father let him go, he looked at his wife and said, ‘Remember, God is still good.’ Wow. This was such a strong reminder to me that if this man could have the strength and faith to believe in an ever-loving God, I can have faith that, despite my struggles, big or small, God is indeed good.”
Leticia notices that goodness in her daily life – in the people she interacts with at work, in a shared meal with her husband and daughter. She sees it in the beauty of the woods surrounding her home, and in watching her now school-age daughter grow in confidence each day.
“I believe that parents who have dealt with fertility issues have a unique appreciation for the miracle of life.”
But no matter how often she reminds herself to focus on the present and live with gratitude, there is a quiet undercurrent of sadness, a sting of grief that interrupts Leticia’s days.
In those painful hours, she finds solace in the support and encouragement of other women who identify with her difficult journey. It is her hope that women can band together to make pregnancy loss a subject that is no longer spoken of only in whispers.
“So many women have lost their babies much too soon, yet pregnancy loss isn’t talked about openly. This isn’t something a person should have to go through silently. To any woman who has had a miscarriage, this is not your fault and it’s beyond your control. This is nothing to be ashamed of, so talk about it. You’d be surprised at how many people are going through the same thing. Kindred souls have gotten me through plenty of rough patches.’
Leticia fervently hopes that all mamas who have lost a baby (or babies) feel validated in their grief.
“Your babies, though they are not with you, are real. You are a parent, no matter how long you carried your baby. Your feelings for that child are real. Your suffering through the loss was and is real. Don’t feel like any less of a parent because your baby is not here with you. I find comfort in thinking that God is whispering my words into the ears of my babes and that they know my arms, my voice, my comfort, even though I’m not with them.”
Today, six years and five babies in heaven later, Leticia and Jeremy continue to try for another pregnancy, another child to fill their home and lives with joy.
“I don’t know how soon we will be ready to put our hearts out there again,” Leticia says, “but I trust that it will happen, and I know I am stronger for the future because of my past.”
Thank you, Leticia, for your words of courage and truth. Our hearts are with you and your family. ❤
October is SIDS, Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month. If you or someone you know has been affected by this tragedy, First Candle is here to help you in your grief.
On October 15, at 7:00 pm in all time zones, families around the United States will light candles in memory all of the precious babies who have been lost during pregnancy or in infancy. We invite you to join in this special act of remembrance (read more at october15th.com).
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