This blog is a bit different from my usual ponderings, as it gets a lot more personal. That can be a scary thing for me. It’s a story that’s been awhile in coming, I think, and I felt a deep urge recently to write about it.
So…here goes…deep breath…
Have you ever felt like life took you full-circle? Mine sure has. Just over ten years ago, in late 2012, Tom and I quit our jobs and took a few months off to travel. His plan was to go back to school to become a CPA (chartered professional accountant), and we’d have to move in order for him to do that. So, what better time to go for an adventure, than right before our big move?! We put our things in storage, gave up our apartment, and hopped on a plane to Cancun, Mexico.
During our few days in Mexico, we explored the beach-side ruins of Tulum. Then we had ten days in Belize, right on the beach, snorkelling with the tropical fish. We took a riverboat to Guatemala, and spent a month exploring: the incredible ruins of Tikal, breathtaking Semuc Champey—a hidden canyon with aqua-green water running through…
Then we had a week in Antigua, doing Spanish lessons each morning with Paulina and Hector, the instructors we’d previously had for a year of online lessons. Our afternoons were filled with walks amongst the ancient cathedrals and the colourful markets. We got to see the complex process of coffee production on an amazing coffee farm tour. Near the end of our week in Antigua, we discovered that we were expecting our first baby. We were ecstatic, knowing that being parents was a dream come true for both of us.
Finally, we spent a few days on beautiful Lake Atitlan, with its surrounding volcanoes and villages. On our last day near Lake Atitlan, we had some awful food poisoning after eating a chicken-pineapple pizza, followed by a late night of being sick. We took a bus the next day to Honduras. I spent the first day there feeling too weak to get up, and Tom and I did a bit of sight-seeing together on the second day.
Then we hopped in a little van with some other travelers to spend a few days in El Salvador. We arrived at our hostel in the surfing village of El Tunco in the dark. The next day, Tom found a surf instructor and went out to catch some waves with a few others. I sat on the rocky shore, taking a few pictures and guarding phones and wallets for the Americans who were with him. But I knew something was still not right in my body…and now I feared for our tiny baby’s life. I began having severe cramps, and tried to will away what was happening.
“No, God…NO! This can’t be happening!! Please—save my baby!!!”
Within a few hours, it was obvious that my worst fears were coming true. The rest of our time there, in that sweltering hostel room, was spent in grief and agony, knowing we’d lost our precious little one.
Despair and guilt gripped me—what if, like Tom, I had forced myself to throw up right away that night, after eating the toxic pizza…?! But we didn’t clue into what was going on until it was too late. It had taken me several more hours to get to the point where I was violently ill. And now it was too late. All was lost. It felt like my world was crumbling in on me, and the grief, pain, and guilt were too much to bear.
A housekeeper at the hostel heard me crying—wailing probably—and when Tom went out to get food, she asked him if I was ok. She graciously took us to see a very kind doctor, who recommended I get an ultrasound. We travelled to Nicaragua the next day as planned, and paid $20 for an ultrasound, to show us that our baby was indeed gone. My family and close friends sent me messages of love and empathy. My sister called, feeling my pain, and we cried together on the phone. I tried to be strong and carry on, even going out and doing all the “fun” things with Tom, but it was beyond hard. I was a mess.
I wrote a poem to our baby, reflecting on how much love I had for him or her, and the sadness I now felt. Tom and I also wrote letters to Baby which we read on the beach at sunset with many tears—of our love and the hopes and dreams we’d had for his or her life, which were now all lost.
I was pretty much an emotional wreck for those final two weeks of our trip. Normally I would have been excited to be exploring the sandy shores of Lake Nicaragua, hiking majestic volcanoes, zip lining in the jungle, and trying some volcano boarding. But I was done. I needed home and the support of my family and friends. We finally made it back home, just a few weeks before Christmas.
About a week before Christmas, I went for a cross-country ski with my parents’ dog one sunny day, the snow sparkling all around me.
God, please give us another baby. Please!
I was still raw and broken, feeling all the pain of our loss, and doubting that I’d ever be pregnant again…when a voice inside me said:
“You’re pregnant. You’re going to have a baby girl…and she’s going to be such a blessing to you and Tom.”
What..?! Haha. That can’t be God—probably just me and my wishful thinking!!
But I questioned it and the details, and didn’t tell anyone, for fear of sounding like a fool.
When my mom gave me a tiny, gold-trimmed stocking she’d made, with a beautiful triple-heart necklace inside—to represent Tom, me, and our baby—it meant so much to me…and also brought up all the feelings again. I had to get up and leave the room—I was sobbing. My family followed me and embraced me with so much love, and tears of their own sadness too.
A week later, I found out we were indeed expecting again. I told Tom about the message I’d received, and he was amazed. I was so happy for us, but I had mixed feelings. It was hard to feel excited and have faith, and not fear that the worst could happen again, especially while I was still grieving. Those first few months were an emotional roller coaster for me. But I was slowly healing.
Finally holding our precious little baby girl in my arms later that year made me realize how blessed and how grateful I was. Those first few months with our sweet little Eva were an incredible time of joy and healing for me.
Fast forward nine years. Tom and I have three amazing girls who fill our lives with so much love and happiness. And we live in El Salvador—of all places! I can talk about losing my first baby in detail without tears now. It is a part of the journey to where I am today. Part of my story—sorrow turned to joy.
The other day I was down on the beach in El Tunco with a friend, looking at my three beautiful girls laughing and playing in the waves. Sitting there on that same shore I’d sat on ten years ago, I reflected on how I’d felt—the helplessness…the pain…the bottomless grief.
But instead of feeling those things, my heart was bursting with gratitude and peace in that moment of reflection. And I realized, “I need to write about this. I’m healed now. What a journey it’s been!”
This place—this beach where I’d felt so much anguish all those years ago—has become a place of peace and healing. Is it a coincidence that we live right near this beach now? I don’t believe in coincidence, only purpose.
God had a plan, to bring beauty from ashes. He always does. He uses our pain, if we don’t become bitter, to make us more compassionate, more grateful, more malleable, more empathetic. And to remind us of what vulnerable and fragile creatures we are. We don’t have control. I often try to be in control, but that only leads to feeling anxious and exhausted.
I hadn’t planned to write about this part of my journey, but I felt like I needed to. Writing can help realize and solidify what is. I’ve realized more things by writing about this. And so has Tom, by reflecting on our story.
I journal everyday. Feelings. Prayers. Sadness. Joy. Longings. Blessings. Miracles. The hard things and the undeserved gifts in between.
Today, as I reflect in gratitude, is one of those—an undeserved gift. 💝
Beautiful Em! Your baby without a doubt pulled you guys back to El Salvador 💕 Loss and grieving is such a hard thing to pull yourself through but always worth the work it takes.
I'm so proud of you and your ability to plant your feet and heart, absorb and reflect, distill to the God-given essence, and then share. You're quite a remarkable family. Glad I knew you back when and now. Love you and your writing. Keep it up. Glad for this happy ending and many more good things ahead! I will catch Tom's podcast soon, too :)