Michelle Valiukenas always had this vision of meeting a guy, falling in love, getting married, deciding to have kids and having kids. So, as she and Mark turned a good friendship into something more (check), fell in love (check), got married (check), she figured she was on the right path, the right journey. Kids would be next and would come along naturally in much the same way everything else did.
But, that last part didn’t happen easily. Instead, Michelle and Mark’s journey to kids was filled with repeated cycles of negative pregnancy tests, tears, frustration, anger, hormones, and miscarriage. Then, they got pregnant with their daughter. But, that pregnancy didn’t go as planned. Michelle was put on bedrest, then had an emergency c-section at 24 weeks and 5 days.
Colette Louise Tisdahl was born May 23, 2018. Before the delivery, the doctors and nurses told Michelle and Mark over and over that they would not hear her cry or make any noise. The doctors pulled her out and said, “It’s a girl,” and then they heard this tiny, but loud squeak and Michelle asked, “Is that her?” The same doctors and nurses said yes, but she shouldn’t be able to make that noise. Michelle said, “My badass daughter is proving you all wrong.”
They had nine days with Colette before losing her on May 31, 2018.
Michelle and Mark still wanted to build their family, but Michelle was terrified to get pregnant again.
After a failed round of IVF, they started to consider other options. Michelle so wanted another child at home, but whenever she thought about being pregnant she became frozen in fear.
At a PALS Meet-Up, Michelle listened to other mama’s stories. One loss mom talked about her decision to adopt and another talked about her decision to use an egg donor. She marveled at the strength of these women to say this is not working for me, I still want a child, and another path is the best way for me to reach that goal. It gave her the strength to say out loud that she wanted to consider other options.
And, so they started to consider a gestational carrier. They received such support around this decision and decided to move forward.
They found an amazing gestational carrier who became pregnant in late 2019. Michelle told us, “Having a gestational carrier is a unique experience, but also wonderful.” Michelle and Mark were able to attend all of the doctor’s appointments, and although she was not carrying herself, they felt very involved in the experience.
Then the pandemic hit, and they could no longer attend doctor’s appointments. They would still drive to the appointments and stay outside in the car with their gestational carrier keeping them on the phone. They saw ultrasounds via Facetime at the beginning. Then luckily, they got some reprieve where they could attend the ultrasounds in person but then had go back out to the car for the doctor’s appointments.
The pandemic added several layers of anxiety for Michelle and Mark, and they struggled for a long time because it was questionable whether the hospital would allow both of them to be in the delivery room with their surrogate. They cried over it, struggled with the idea that only one of them could do it, and tried to plan for all contingencies. They also had to have paperwork ready for a short-term guardianship in case either of them was infected with COVID-19 and unable to enter the hospital.
They were so grateful that they received permission to be in the delivery room, but they did not find out that decision until after 30 weeks.
During the whole pregnancy, they loved their surrogate and trusted her as much as you can trust anyone else carrying your child. Anxiety as loss parents obviously made them worry about what was going on with her at all times, if she was following all the rules, and if she was attuned to any potential changes or issues that might arise. When the pandemic hit, the anxiety got worse, partially because of all the uncertainty and disconnect regarding their role in the pregnancy, but also because it was yet another worry. They had to hope and trust that she was following the proper protocols regarding Covid as well as her health and the baby’s health.
Michelle found tremendous support through Pregnancy After Loss Support, telling us, “PALS was a godsend during the pregnancy.”
“When our in-person monthly meetings could not happen, we turned to virtual meetings weekly at first and then to every other week. It was so great to be in a meeting and share concerns and worries about whether we could be in the delivery room and have everyone get mad for you and hear you and understand. Like always, when I walk into a meeting or now log on, I feel an immediate relief, like I’m with my people and that everyone understands. It also felt like we had so many cheerleaders in our corner, but cheerleaders who did not assume we were happy all the time and understood the myriad of feelings that comes with pregnancy after loss.”
Elliott Miguel Tisdahl was born July 14, 2020 (read Elliott’s full birth story). Michelle told us, “He is absolutely amazing and such a joy. He is a happy baby, somehow seems to know when we need some extra snuggles from him, and is definitely a mover and a shaker. He has a fantastic smile, amazingly crazy hair, long arms and legs just like his sister, and the same nose as his mom and his sister.”
As the holidays approach and the pandemic continues, Michelle is thinking about her daughter, Colette.
Colette would be a little over two and half years old for Christmas this year. Michelle would love to know what kinds of things she was into at this point and would love to be preparing and celebrating a Christmas where she would really start to understand the concept of the holiday.
During the holidays, Michelle and Mark remember her in several different ways. They donate gifts pertinent to the age she would be to other organizations. They include her in their holiday cards, and use their Coco bear to remember her in pictures. They also light her special candle that stays with them during their celebrations.
Michelle wants you to know a few things about expecting during the pandemic.
Michelle wants to tell other mamas pregnant after loss during the pandemic, “Be kind to yourself and give yourself grace. Expecting a baby is tough and comes with a myriad of emotions, expecting during a pandemic is so difficult, constantly changing, and uncertain. Take it moment by moment, lean into the happy moments, and hold on tight during the not happy moments.”
And, she wants those who love someone who is pregnant after loss in a pandemic to know, “Being pregnant in a pandemic adds a huge layer of uncertainty and fear. It feels like the information and rates about COVID change almost daily and it’s hard to keep up. There is also so much misinformation and fear in the reporting and it can create a level of anxiety that is unimaginable.”
We asked Michelle, “Why do you give back to PALS?” She told us, “I give back to PALS because I could not imagine surviving this without everyone I have met from PALS. Being a loss parent is very tough and there is so much that you think about it, dwell on, and know that you just cannot say to another person, but you can with fellow loss parents.”
Thank you so much to Michelle for sharing her story with us as part of our #WhatWouldIGive Holiday Campaign. You can read more about Michelle’s pregnancy after loss via a gestational carrier through her bump day blog posts.
Help PALS continue to support mamas who are pregnant after loss during the pandemic by giving to our What Would I Give Holiday Fundraising Campaign. Set up a recurrent monthly donation of $9 (for the nine months of pregnancy after loss), or make a one-time donation of $40 (for the 40 weeks of pregnancy after loss). Donate now.
Are you pregnant after loss during the pandemic and need extra support or resources? Join one of our Facebook peer-to-peer support groups and see these articles:
- Coping Skills for Pregnancy After Loss during a Pandemic: Remember that we’re your PALS in a PANDEMIC
- Quarantined? 7 Tips for Pregnant after Loss Mamas to Manage Anxiety in Isolation
- Coping with Fear in the Face of COVID-19
- You Expected Pregnancy After Loss To Be Hard, But You Didn’t Expect This
- 5 Reminders for Pregnant after Loss Moms as the Pandemic Continues
Are you parenting after loss during the pandemic and need extra support or resources? Join our Parenting after Loss Facebook peer-to-peer support group and see these articles:
- Pandemic Parenting After Loss: Choosing Faith Over Fear
- Tips for Taking Your Own Stunning Newborn Photos During Quarantine
- Finding Joy in Raising Rainbows During a Pandemic
- It’s okay to grieve missed firsts with your rainbow baby during the pandemic
- Why Evaluating Risk is Different for Loss Parents
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