Kelsey Mallabar (25) Scarlett (Forever one day old), and Iris (3 months)
Kelsey shares -
“I became pregnant during the spring of my senior year of college. Scarlett was diagnosed with ARPKD (Autosomal Recessive Polycystic Kidney Disease) the following September. She died at one day old in November. I became a grieving mother at 22.
At 22 I learned that this person who I love and I will always have a 1:4 chance of having a terribly sick baby. It changed the way I thought about myself. I had barely graduated from college and I was faced with this truth that people three times my age never have to navigate. I had a newly postpartum body and no baby on my hip. I had dealt with my milk coming in, taking over my breasts with no way to relieve them but with cabbage leaves and time. My uterus went from holding a 5lb 10oz baby girl to empty. It wasn’t just the physical changes but the mental shift. My very DNA is what made my baby sick. We fell somewhere in between infertility and fertility. Not really fitting the mold of either but somehow relating to both. We were encouraged to try again. I searched for happy endings and they were bountiful.
It didn’t take us long to conceive again. We were so hopeful. We tested to see if this baby would also be affected with ARPKD. There is no feeling more crushing anxiety of waiting to find out if your baby is sick with the same disease that took your first child. It’s a crawl-out-of-your-skin, hyperventilate type of anxiety. The baby - a boy - tested positive for ARPKD. I never thought I would be someone who terminated a pregnancy but after losing Scarlett we couldn’t watch another child suffer like she did. I do not regret our decisions in any way but it still breaks my heart we said goodbye.
I’ve never come to terms that it happened a third time while we were waiting to start IVF with PGD (Preimplantation Genetic Diagnosis). A surprise but such a welcomed pregnancy. Third time had to be a charm, right? This was the universe giving me a break. But it wasn’t. We found ourselves terminating another wanted pregnancy. I have a hard time even talking to my husband about it to this day. I wanted to be a mom so badly and here I am able to conceive but yet somehow we can’t make healthy babies. It felt like the universe was mocking me. How could it be so cruel.
Through IVF with PGD we were beyond blessed with a healthy baby girl this past May. I love her so much it hurts. I look at her and I literally feel endorphins releasing. Pregnancy with her was scary. I expected the other shoe to drop at any time. After three pregnancies of loss I knew there was no “safe” point. Towards the end I obsessed over getting her here safely. I constantly thought she was going to die. I was induced partially because I wanted to be, partially due to high fluid. Her birth was difficult, much harder than Scarlett’s and ended assisted with the vacuum. She had a large hematoma on her head that made her cry constantly for the first week. We couldn’t put her down because she sounded like she was in pain each time we tried. Grief resurfaced hard in the first few weeks. Life with Iris reminded me of everything I missed with Scarlett.
Physically Iris was a larger baby than Scarlett and my body shows that. My hips are a little wider and the stretch marks her left on my body are more prominent. I look in the mirror and I don’t quite recognize my reflection. I love it and hate it all at once.
My identity as a mother has ebbed and flowed in its definition. For years I felt like a mother, biologically I was a mother, but to the world I wasn’t a mother. I had no baby to show for it. I sat on the sidelines of my dream and watched everyone else participate in the game. I became more isolated. I protected my heart inside the four walls of my home. Everywhere else was filled with pregnant women and babies. It made my heart bleed. I only found solace in the loss community on social media. Those mamas are some of the most badass mamas I’ve ever known.
Now I am just as much a mother but somehow more of one at the same time. I birthed a baby but she stayed with me this time. I don’t just carry her in my heart but I also carry her in my arms. I love her hard. I look at her in amazement every time I see her. I also know her mortality and I think that’s most difficult. Loving her is easy but knowing she can be taken away in an instant is a difficult reality to live with. I do wish I wasn’t so familiar with these dark truths. They’ve made me stronger, but sometimes I don’t want to be strong.
My journey to motherhood has been an uphill battle. So many times the universe said no but somehow we have come out the other side. My body has been through so much and now in my postpartum journey I am trying to learn to love it. I hope taking pictures with BOTH my babies helps this evolve.
I also think it’s important in today’s political climate to hear stories. Access to reproductive health is being jeopardized. If I did not have the ability to exercise my right to chose to carry out a pregnancy my life and mental health could be at a very different state. It’s not my place to tell people what to believe but it is to share my story and bring awareness. Life is not black and white.”