Shredded Mother, Whole

by Jessica Martin-Weber
Visiting with the residents of a nursing home in south east India. Photo credit: Ashley Tingley

Visiting with the residents of a nursing home in south east India. Photo credit: Ashley Tingley

I have never shared this publicly but as I reflect on last year I think I’m ready to share it now:

I had pregnancy loss this time last year.

March, 2014 we were headed to India with International Teams, Initiative 31.8 and a group of people who would go on to become some dear, dear friends. This trip would be filled with beauty, ugliness, joy, pain, learning, teaching, listening, speaking, and the beginning of the end of our relationship with ITeams. Fresh clean water would flow in communities that hadn’t had fresh clean water, our lips would burn with “mild” curries, we would hold hands and listen to stories with those many years our seniors in a language we couldn’t understand, and we would paint a wall with the words of that language with kids who smiled easier than we did. There was singing, dancing, laughter, conversation, and bonds forged sitting in dirt with women breastfeeding their babies.

The entire time I would be bleeding from a twin pregnancy loss and D&C 4 days before we left.

Taking a breastfeeding break inside a classroom in India. Photo Credit: Ashley Tingley

Taking a breastfeeding break inside a classroom in India. Photo Credit: Ashley Tingley

I was a conflict of emotion. Earlier in that new year, I was surprised and quite frankly, upset when I discovered I was pregnant. We had decided to wait on a permanent decision regarding having more children for another year but when our prevention method failed I was filled with fear. Fear that the timing wasn’t right, that our finances wouldn’t survive another pregnancy at that time, fear that hyperemises gravidarum would be too much to handle away from the support network we had previously had in Houston now that we were living in Portland, fear that I wouldn’t be able to handle my job and pregnancy without that support, and fear that the judgment many others have about a large family of 8 adding another person wouldn’t be held quietly inside by those around us and their critical words of hate would reach my amazing children’s ears. Almost immediately upon getting the positive test result I wished I was comfortable terminating the pregnancy.

We decided to tell nobody but my best friend while we tried to figure out how to prepare for the months ahead. Really though, we just avoided talking about it, avoided preparing. Every time we would discuss finding a care provider I would end up in tears. My friend was going through her own nightmare with a messy divorce with an abusive soon-to-be ex husband and was overwhelmed with the stress off that. When I started bleeding near the end of February, I was relieved and then immediately felt guilty. Prior to this pregnancy, I had experienced 4 losses and now I hoped this would be a loss too.

And I had a new fear, maybe I was really a shitty mother because I didn’t want my babies.

Sugarbaby and me in India, March, 2014. Photo Credit: Ashley Tingley

Sugarbaby and me in India, March, 2014. Photo Credit: Ashley Tingley

The ultrasound showed twins but things didn’t look good and the measurements were off by 3 weeks. There wasn’t even one heartbeat, let alone two. Maybe my dates were wrong but the bleeding didn’t stop.

We had a choice: stay home and not go to India and see what happened while Jeremy led the trip, go to India and take a risk of complications in another country, or have a D&C and go to India. This trip I had dreamed up, envisioned, advocated for, recruited for, and worked hard with an amazing team to plan for over a year called to me. And then, so did my babies. The next day my bleeding increased and I felt certain I was miscarrying. We made the difficult decision to have the DNC. And then I knew I wanted them, wanted them to stay, wanted them to survive even though I was still relieved they hadn’t. I was torn between loving them and being glad they weren’t going to be born and hating myself for feeling that way. It called into question everything I knew or thought of myself as a mother. How could I be any kind of good mother if I was relieved my babies weren’t going to be born?

It shredded me.

A day later I boarded a plane for Chicago where just 24 hours after having the inside of my uterus scraped, I spoke at MommyCon Chicago’s VIP Meet and Leak, a day after that I spoke in two seminar sessions, one while breastfeeding our one and a half year old as I spoke. At MommyCon I hugged hundreds of women, listened to their mothering journeys, cried with them, laughed with them, and was honored to receive the stories they chose to share with me. All the shredded parts of me received them, even as I was wrestling with my own worthiness as a mother.

Four days following the procedure we were on our way to India.

Tasting the water from the new borehole. Photo Credit: Ashley Tingley

Tasting the water from the new borehole as Sugarbaby slept on my back. Photo Credit: Ashley Tingley

I couldn’t tell my team at the time, not because of them, because of my inability to talk about it. One of our team members was dealing with infertility and the grief that goes along with that, another was figuring out their own family planning, and still another was facing joblessness when they returned. All of us were dealing with some kind of recent loss and unfolding on that trip was our own loss of our place within the organization. My own emotions were a conflicting mix of sadness, freedom, gratitude, and anger over both the pregnancy and the unavoidable reality that we would be parting ways with this organization and work we loved so much.The truth was it was time for us to move on, to focus on other work but we didn’t want it to end so painfully and what seemed to be so senselessly. But that wasn’t our reality and so I was frustrated and yet peacefully determined to not lose myself in the process. The truth is, if our financial situation and support network had been different, we would have been glad to be pregnant. But that wasn’t our reality and so I was at once heartbroken and relieved. When I returned home from the trip amidst drama between us and the organization, I was still bleeding and I was bleeding still when we were officially dismissed from ITeams for reasons that to this day I still don’t understand. Even still I can’t help but feel a connection between the pregnancy loss I don’t understand and the job loss I don’t understand all somehow connected to love, joy, beauty, grief, pain, loneliness, and India. And all the shredded parts of me. We went to India to learn, support, encourage, get clean water flowing, what I ended up finding was beauty and healing even as my heart and my uterus were bleeding.

Last week I spoke at MommyCon Chicago again and as I walked into the same room where I had spoken a year before, I remembered that shredded version of myself. She was stronger than I realized then and I honored her, the conflict and turmoil and grief to come.

Wholeness has come again, there is still grief and relief in my scars but I’m not so afraid that I’m a shitty mother, I believe I’m just a human one with human feelings. Sharing this, I know I will likely be judged for a good number of things, but that’s ok, my wholeness is not determined by the judgment of others and if it touches one other shredded and very human mother, it was worth it. I don’t regret the procedure and I still feel confident it was the right choice for me and my family but I do wonder how it all would have played out if we had waited or if the pregnancy had stuck. Today as I look back on the first anniversary of the loss of the babies I never knew, I still have that same mixture of emotions with the added inner wisdom that our family and our work is exactly right for us in this moment. In an odd way, though I don’t think the timing was right, I miss our babies though I never held them, never named them, and wasn’t ready for them. They have impacted me and helped me forgive myself to find wholeness, accepting what is and all the loss. The conflict within me hasn’t lessened much, it is only subdued by the rightness of my family right now.

Photo Credit: Ashley Tingley

Photo Credit: Ashley Tingley


  1. Six years ago, the same happened to me. I found out I was pregnant and it devastated me. I was a single mom at the time with barely enough to scrape by. I entered a deep depression and didn’t see a dr till towards the end (almost 3 months). First ultrasound I knew something was wrong, they wouldn’t let me look. I started bleeding 2 days later and was told in Er I had lost one twin and the other would be out by morning. I had appointment with the dr next day, but when she went to do a dnc herself she said I closed back up and sent me to hospital. No one ever told me what was wrong yet I had a crowd in ultrasound room.
    Strangest thing was I never fought, never asked why. I agreed to an abortion right there and was sent to OR 30 mins after. The guilt I feel that I never fought or questioned still haunts me. 2 days after, I was committed to a mental facility.
    Hard as it is sometimes, I do believe everything happens for a reason. I met my husband 2 weeks later and have 2 more children. But it never stops me from playing that “what if?”.

    • Gina, your story is profoundly beautiful and heartbreaking and hopeful all at the same time. I am so sorry for the experience you went through and the lack of answers you were give by those who should have been caring for you. The “what if” game can be hard, but sometimes, it helps us appreciate our reality more. Don’t linger in “what if” land too long, you have so much of “this is” to enjoy. Thank you for sharing your story, it is moving and you are incredibly strong. Thank you. ~Jessica

  2. Suzanna N. says

    Thank you for your never ending honesty, for being so transparent for the whole world to read and see. You are an inspiration. I was at your seminar sessions both last year and again this year, and you continue to encourage me in many ways. Thank you again and many blessings and prayers for you and your family on this one year anniversary.

  3. Thank you so much for sharing this. The emotions around pregnancy (or the loss of one) are never easy, are they?

    I have two beautiful children, and since our family is complete now, my husband had a vasectomy. Then a couple of weeks ago, my period was very late. Even though I knew it was practically impossible for me to be pregnant, I was seriously considering it and all the implications (room in the house, need a bigger car, AAARGH our finances, another baby to hold and cuddle, my daughter would love another sibling). So when my period finally came, I was both relieved and sad.

    • I have experienced the delayed start of a period and run through it all in my head very much like this and that can be incredibly intense. Our hearts can be so vulnerable sometimes. (((hugs))) ~Jessica

  4. Wow! I had a loss in 2011, it was a bad time for us too and I was not happy about the pregnancy. I too kept it a secret and found the baby had passed once I was ready to share. I never felt relieved, only guilty – Still guilty. I can completely relate to your feelings and situation, thanks for sharing, we are only human.

    • We are indeed only human, one of our greatest weaknesses and greatest strengths. That guilt, it’s a lie. I hope you can find a way to let it go some day. It is so freeing to let go of guilt when we’re ready. Not wanting a pregnancy does not cause a loss of the pregnancy, you didn’t make it happy. ~Jessica

  5. Oh, Jessica. I’m so sorry. These losses are so hard in so many ways. I know you know this, but please remember the hormonal shifts that come with early pregnancy and that no matter what your emotions were, they were valid and not wrong. Nothing about this makes you a shitty mother. Just a mother who will have even more experience to use in supporting her daughters who may go through something similar someday.

    Again, I’m sorry. Be gentle with yourself while you heal (still).

    • Thank you so much Wendy. I appreciate your sweet support. Honestly, I don’t think it was hormones. Prior to getting pregnant, I would have said all the same things. It was not a good time and I was not emotionally ready to not only face HG again but then in a new place without my friends and care provider support network. Realistically, the road ahead through a pregnancy at that point in time could have ruined us. From a completely pragmatic position, it wasn’t doable. For the children I already had, another pregnancy would have brought destruction. I don’t think my hormones had anything to do with my feelings, including worrying that I was a shitty mother for wanting my babies to just go away because I would have felt that even if I wasn’t pregnant.

      I’m in a good place now, which is why I can be open about it and it’s being gentle with myself that got me to where I am. The past year I told very few people and I never sat around and talked about it with anyone but Jeremy mostly because I was pretty sure I lacked what most people would consider “appropriate” emotion for having gone through a loss. I wasn’t shredded that I lost my babies, I was shredded that I was relieved I had. The moment of wanting that pregnancy was very brief and that was something I felt society wouldn’t understand. It has been neat to see that more do than is ever talked about. ~Jessica

  6. Unfortunately I know this guilt all too well. We were pregnant with #2 & our last. I looked pregnant already at only 8 weeks. I was jokingly told “you’re gonna have twins” I was quick to respond “No way ! I’ll die” and laughed it off. Thinking there’s no way we can afford twins, I’m just showing so soon because it’s our 2nd. Until I got that call in November informing me that bleeding that scared the crap out of me. But then was put at ease by the thumping of a little heart, that was my baby. I had been pregnant with twins, but lost one. To this day I can’t help but think it was me wishing it not to be so that did it. I never thought I could grieve so much for what I didn’t even want it in the 1st place. I’m so thankful for having had a healthy baby, but I always wonder about his sibling.

    • There is no thinking it or willing it in the world that can make us miscarry our babies, just like there is no thinking it or willing it to keep us from vomiting when we are ill. You did not cause that loss. The “what ifs” are a fabrication we must be careful about entertaining too long. Thank you for sharing your story, we are not alone! Much love to you. ~Jessica

  7. Thank you for your courage to share this intimate journey of grief and growth. I can completely understand. After multiple pregnancy losses, I found out about seven years ago that I was pregnant with twins. While ecstatic to have conceived, I was unbelievably nervous about having two babies at once and when I found out at 10 weeks that I only had one fetus (after a documented heartbeat in the twin at 7.5 weeks), I was ashamed at how very relieved I felt. When I found out that the surviving fetus was a second trimester fetal demise at 15 weeks, I was completely devastated. The guilt that I felt regarding not wanting a twin pregnancy made me feel as though I did not deserve any pregnancy at all.

    Seven years later and two healthy little boys (6 years and 4 years old), I take comfort in knowing that I would not have these two blessings in my life with the loss of our twins. And in hindsight, your feelings are what they are…yours and it is okay to have feelings, even if they are not “in line” with societal expectations.

    Peace and love to you.

    • Mindy, what a beautiful story. That ache, that guilt over feelings we couldn’t control, feelings that were valid and concerns based in reality, it’s unbelievably painful. But that guilt is also a lie.

      I’m so glad to hear that lie became clear, you do deserve pregnancy and your incredible sons are blessed to have you. So much love to you. ~Jessica

  8. When my daughter was 6 months old, I found out I was pregnant again. My daughter was surprise due to failed birth control methods and this baby was just as much a surprise. My relationship was already crumbling. I knew that single motherhood was in my near future. As much as I am pro-choice, I could not imagine having an abortion. I felt stuck, almost angry that birth controls methods failed me again. Don’t get me wrong, I love my daughter with all of my heart and I can’t imagine my life without her, but another baby was too much to think about; mostly because I felt the ed of my relationship was near. I would cry, alone, wishing this wasn’t my reality. 3 weeks later, I started cramping and bleeding and I knew I was having a miscarriage. I felt guilty, that I had wished this baby away. I felt like the worlds worst mother! One week after I miscarried, my partner announced that he was leaving us (my daughter and I) for another woman. I mourned the loss of a baby that really never was and the loss of a relationship that gave me my daughter. I went into a deep depression, that I was actually able to hide. I had no choice, I was now a single mom to a 7 month old and was left with nothing! Hardly a penny in my bank account, no furniture and fear of the future.

    My daughter is now 5.5 years old. Her and I have had to deal with many health scares and issues with her, a major speech delay. I have built us a life and I’ve even gone back to school. I am working hard to give us the future that we deserve. I thankful to have her each day, and I am also thankful to the baby I lost. I am thankful that in the end, he/she was not meant to be because life is already a struggle. I could not imagine where we would be if I had not had a miscarriage.

    Thank you for sharing this! It is always therapeutic to read that other women have had the same feelings toward a surprise and not a right time pregnancy. Those thoughts do not make us bad mothers, it makes us human. They are realistic to have when you know that your current situation is already as stretched as it can be. I still think about my baby that was not meant to be. I think about the firsts I could of experienced with them, knowing that he/she would be entering kindergarten in the fall while my daughter heads off to first grade. But I am thankful that something said this was not the right time. As I’ve said, I cannot imagine how much harder my journey would of been if the baby had grown to term.

    Be gentle with yourself!

    • Being gentle with myself is what has gotten me this far I think. I didn’t make myself share sooner because I just wasn’t ready but I’m glad I have now, the time was right. My humanity is my greatest weakness and my greatest strength. Just like the rest of us. Thank you for sharing your story, it is therapeutic to read the journeys of others. ~Jessica

  9. Thank you so much; this is actually exactly what I needed to read right now. I’ve recently gone through something very similar… I found out I was pregnant just before Thanksgiving. It was an unplanned pregnancy, but I knew I was pregnant before I even took the test. I have a son who is 2.5 yrs old, and we want another… we just didn’t want another right now. At 5 weeks, the day after I weaned my son (because I didn’t want to continue breastfeeding while pregnant) and right around the time I had wrapped my mind around the fact that I was pregnant and allowed myself to get a little excited about it, I had some light spotting. The doctor was not concerned, said my hcg levels were fine, and told me to come back at 10 weeks. When I went back at 10 weeks, he couldn’t find a heartbeat and couldn’t even find a baby! I went through a number of tests and ultrasounds, and it was determined that I had a molar pregnancy. The D&C was scheduled for the following Tuesday, when I would’ve been 11 weeks, 3 days. I didn’t know how to feel about any of it. From 5 weeks, I had prepared myself for the worst, so I was not shocked when all of this happened. However, I was still sad about the loss. I wound up having severe bleeding the evening prior to the D&C and was admitted to the hospital early, so it was obvious prior to the procedure that this wasn’t a viable pregnancy. It turned out it wasn’t molar, so I am actually relieved by the bleeding because it allowed me to have the D&C without any guilt or questions of “what if…” Now, a month and a half later, my body is still recovering, and I am starting to get anxious because we had originally planned on trying for #2 this Spring. I think we just have to remind ourselves that whatever will be, will be, and we deal with it as best we can.

    • That conflicting mix of emotions is exhausting and genuinely a difficult road to travel. When it’s time, I hope you have all the peace you need and everything goes smoothly. Whatever will be, will be. That’s not comforting in the moment though, just know you have everything you need to make that journey. Thank you for sharing your story with me, we are not alone. ~Jessica

  10. Jeanne Ogden says

    Thanks for sharing. Last year we met you at MommyCon in Winter Park CO. I was so excited right after we signed up to go as I had just found out I was pregnant and we would be going with one of my sisters who was expecting a few months before me as well as my best friend and another sister. In may though I had a miscarriage. So as joyful as Mommy Con was it was also hard being around all the expecting Mommy’s and baby’s though my little was just under 18 months at the time. Later after MommyCon my best friend found out that they were having a surprise number 4 and my sister found out they were expecting number 2. Emotionally it was hard to be happy for them because I felt our loss so much but partly because I hadn’t told anyone until I was loosing the baby that we were expecting so didn’t have much support that way. I am excited to say though that we are again expecting and I think the timing on this one is meant to be.

    • Oh Jeanne, that would be so difficult! I have many times had what felt like a sort of survivor guilt when pregnant and a friend was dealing with infertility or loss. Even worse when I didn’t want to be pregnant and I knew they really wanted to be. May your rainbow baby light up the sky and bring even more healing. ~Jessica

  11. Thank you for this… I am currently pregnant with our third child and this just speaks volumes to me… finances, how old my other two are, the small size of our house. Everyone else is happy and excited. I am about 18 but don’t really feel anything 🙁 I have an appointment today and see how things go.

    • Hi Rebecca,

      How are you doing today? How did your appointment go? I have carried a baby to term, overwhelmed and disappointed that I was pregnant. It was surprising to me how my lack of excitement didn’t go on forever like I was afraid it would and though it didn’t happen instantly, I did discover that excitement and happiness and now I couldn’t imagine it any other way. You are a wonderful mother, being concerned about the realities of parenting, that’s what parents do, we are concerned about meeting our children’s needs. You’ve got this. ~Jessica

  12. No judgement…just gratitude for your courage and willingness to share…and love for your continued healing…

    • Thank you for receiving my story without judgment and with gratitude. That is so encouraging that our stories have value and are important to take the risk to share. ~Jessica

  13. I rarely comment on articles or blogs I read, but I know how incredibly hard it must be to admit your feelings regarding the loss of your pregnancy. In 2006, I had a miscarriage, and even though I was sad I was also very relieved. I was young, financially not stable and I was with the wrong man. Now I have 21 month old with the right man and couldn’t be happier with our little family. So thank you for sharing and your honesty.

    • My first loss was when I was very young, I was with the right man but we weren’t ready nor were we financially stable. It was a strange sense of relief and grief. I didn’t expect to feel so similar so many years later. Thank you for sharing your journey with me, together we are removing the veil. So encouraging to hear how happy you are, we are too. Shredded but whole. ~Jessica

  14. Megan Ward says

    Your willingness to share your humanness and vulnerability leaves me with All. The. Feelings! (I cannot construct a better sentence at the moment)

  15. I watched you laboring live while I was recovering from my own D&C. It was strangely cathartic in a way I can’t really explain. Last year I was nursing my own baby while you struggled with your loss. We are still nursing today. Thank you for sharing the joys and struggles of your life with us.

  16. I love you, my friend.

  17. Heather D. Easton says

    Shredded, but whole. I desperately want to know what that feels like. I have had 2 losses since Henry. One in 2012, right after we moved to our first duty station. One in 2013, less than a year later, and shortly after Zach had deployed. I was ecstatic about being a mother of 5. It sounded perfect in my head. First US was positive, then next showed a loss of a heartbeat. Once again my body had failed me. Once again I was mourning a baby I would never get to hold. This was miscarriage #3 for me. I didn’t want a d&c this time. I felt in my heart I needed to experience the whole process, and all of the emotions that would come with it. And I did. Around 13 and a half weeks I walked into my house after a trip to the commissary – there were somewhere between 11 and 13 kids in my house ranging from 2-15 years old – when blood suddenly rushed down my leg. My husband was 7000 miles away from home, and my neighbors were all gone or busy. I spent the next hour and a half, hiding in my shower, losing my baby. Eventually I called a neighbor, and asked him to come sit with me. 6 weeks prior, he had lost his wife. He sat with me, and just talked, until I was ready to go to bed. I was shredded. Most days I still am. I still want to be a mom of 5. Between multiple losses, my own health issues, already having 4 of the coolest kids in the world – the youngest of whom is autistic, and being married to a soldier who deploys often, everyone we know thinks we should be done. None of that changes the way my heart feels.

    Thank you for sharing your story, Jessica. Your openness is one of the many things I treasure about you. I wish I could hug your neck, sweet friend.

  18. A facebook friend shared this post on my wall after I shared how I’ve been feeling today. I had a D&C (my 4th D&C, my 6th miscarriage) last Wednesday. I was 10 weeks along and have 4 living children (8, 6, 4, and almost 19 months). I suffered horrible hyperemsis with my last and went through a very emotional journey of advocating for that baby when she was born severely tongue and lip tied. Needless to say I was not ready to be pregnant again. I’m still breastfeeding my 4th and hadn’t had a period until she turned 16 months old. I had two menstrual cycles…and then a positive pregnancy test that I only took to rule pregnancy out. I remember standing there looking at the positive results with a mix of very odd emotions that I had never experienced before. Usually we are the couple trying to get pregnant. Two of our babies are “Clomid babies”. I’ve suffered miscarriages and a million big fat negative tests that sent me into a crying fit of sadness and rage. This time…the positive pregnancy test brought different emotions, ones that I still feel an extreme amount of guilt for. Especially now, as I sit with an empty womb, and still spotting from the D&C, and the twinges of sharp pain in my cervix from a minor tear that happened during the procedure.

    Your post resonated with me and makes me feel not so crappy. Not so much of a crappy mom, that ungrateful mom who apparently got pregnant so easily while others (including myself in the past) struggle to even ovulate. Thank you. Thank you for being brave and sharing this because I dare say, there may be more moms out there that are struggling with these same feelings…and struggling in silence for fear they will be given a Scarlet Letter to hang around their necks like a noose.

    I know my days of mourning, grieving, feeling guilty, and questioning “why”, are not too soon over. But, it does ease my pain a bit to know that I am not alone…and that my feelings aren’t strange.



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