Colette Waters' Story
Do you want to go to prom with me?” That was the question Michael, my now husband, asked me when he was a junior and I was a sophomore at a tiny Missouri high school. We knew each other before then but this was the start of something new. We started talking more. We ate at Applebee’s and went to the movie theater on our first date. Soon we were boyfriend and girlfriend, and even though we went to different colleges, we stayed together and got married after my graduation. After spending many years together as “just us,” we decided it was time to think about having a child. We did not stress about it but thought, when it was time, it would happen. I figured within a year or so we would have a baby.
Five months later, after a Friday morning doctor’s appointment because I was feeling weird, I made my way to work. I decided to grab an early lunch while I was already out. I was almost to Panera Bread when I got a got a call from my doctor’s office. "It sounds like you're driving," my doctor told me. "Let me know when you've pulled over or parked so I can go on and tell you about the results of your blood work." With my heart thumping, I quickly parked and told her to go on. She tenderly told me that my blood test showed I was pregnant but might be having a miscarriage because my hormone levels were low. Since it was Friday I would need to wait and get my blood taken again on Monday to see if my hormones had increased or decreased, and thus show if I was still pregnant or not. I quietly thanked her for getting my blood work evaluated quickly, and then I hung up.
As I sat in silence in my car, it felt like the wind had been knocked out of me. Then the tears came. The big sloppy tears that run down your face and onto your shirt while you try to catch your breath. I felt like I was living in a movie. This could not be my life. Shaking, I called Michael and could barely get the words out. "I'm probably having a miscarriage," I finally managed to spit out through sobs. "I have to wait until Monday to find out for sure." Shocked, Michael comforted me and asked if he needed to leave work and come pick me up. Trying my best to stay strong and positive, I said no. After a few more “I love you’s” we hung up and I sat, dumbfounded. I didn’t know how to react so I just went through my day which was a blur. I remember my head throbbing, my eyes stinging and my heart pounding. At 5 o’clock I headed to my hometown for my nephew’s birthday party. I cried and prayed during the hour drive, taking comfort in knowing that no matter what, God was in control.
What unfolded was the longest weekend of my life. That Sunday was technically my first Mother's Day. As I celebrated my wonderful mom, mother-in-law, sisters, grandma and aunt, I wasn't sure what was going on in my body or the life of our first child. At church, when the pastor asked all of the mothers to stand up, I was stuck in my seat, feeling like I was betraying my first child as I continued sitting in the pew. For the hour they spoke about and honored motherhood, I tried my best to discreetly wipe away my hot tears which were smudging my vision and rolling down my cheeks.
After I got my blood taken on Monday, we got a call confirming our worst fear. My hormones had unfortunately decreased; and just like that, we were broken. I couldn’t stop sobbing into Michael’s arms. We had a child for a little while but now they were gone. I felt grief that I didn’t know I could feel.
Later that year in November, the same thing happened and we lost a child very early on through miscarriage. I was very numb to this loss and it took me awhile to comprehend it or talk about it at all.
As a photographer I wanted a way to convey my feelings of grief and my hope for the future. I also wanted something tangible here on earth to represent my babies in Heaven. I was reminded what a stranger said to me in May 2017, a few weeks after my first miscarriage. He said God had told him I was in a dark place—a season of winter—but that he saw me walking in fields of flowers. God saw me and my pain, and spring was coming. This inspired me to symbolize the end of winter and start of spring through photography. I took self-portraits which was therapeutic, and then I started doing “Seasons of Hope” photo shoots for other women too. These photos honor babies in Heaven and the women who have experienced loss and heartbreak whether from the loss of a child or the emptiness caused by infertility.
The next year we found out we were pregnant again. We were overjoyed when we passed the 12 week mark and were told we were having a baby boy. We had a small gender reveal party with our family and were able to rejoice in our blessing.
In mid September 2018, Michael and I went to our monthly doctor’s appointment and then went to the movies. I felt Bennett move for the first time and we talked more about names. We decided we were both pretty smitten with the name Bennett, which means “blessed.”
Michael and I were excited and anxious for our October doctors’ appointment— the 20 week ultrasound. Michael took off work early to meet me at the hospital. We had plans to go to our hometown afterward with new ultrasound photos in hand to proudly show our family. I was so excited to see how Bennett had grown since our last ultrasound. While lying down with warm gel on my belly, we quickly saw Bennett’s perfect head and spine on the screen. I felt a wave of relief. After a few seconds though the nurse excused herself out of the room. I felt like I was going to be sick as we prayed out to God that Bennett was ok.
But he wasn’t.
Our world came crashing down as our doctor confirmed his little heart was no longer beating. Our baby was gone. I just kept thinking, “This can’t be happening. This can’t be happening. Please God no.” Lying on the hospital bed and crying with Michael is one of the most painful and surreal moments of my life.
The next morning we left our house and headed to the hospital to induce labor. I remember thinking before I walked out of our door that it was the last time Bennett was going to be in our home. We had been praying for a miracle so when we arrived we asked our doctor to do another ultrasound to confirm that Bennett was really gone. We thought, “This can’t be our story. 2017 was our year of loss and 2018 is supposed to be our year of happiness.” We held our breath as our doctor took her time checking over Bennett’s body but she sadly confirmed his soul was no longer with us.
In the early morning hours of October 19th, I gave birth to our Bennett. Worship music played while Michael held my hand, gave me kisses and whispered over and over, “I love you” and “I’m so proud of you.” We spent the day holding Bennett—marveling at him and honoring him. Our nurses and doctor were so thoughtful and caring, making us precious keepsakes we will treasure for the rest of our lives. We are so thankful for them and our families for not leaving our sides. As evening came upon us, we were ready to be home but we did not want to leave our Bennett. Leaving our hospital room was one of the hardest things we’ve ever done.
On November 2nd we celebrated Bennett with an intimate graveside service. My sister said that morning she woke up upset. She had dreamt I was in the hospital having heart surgery. She had to tell everyone that my heart had broken in two and the doctors were trying to mend it back together. And that is exactly what happened to me. My heart broke when we lost Bennett.
As Bennett’s short service started, rain began to fall. When the last song played, the rain stopped. We felt God crying with us as our tears mixed with the rain. Oh how Bennett is loved. As I touched Bennett’s tiny casket one more time before leaving him to be buried, I quietly thanked God for the short time we had with Bennett and that we are his parents. I find comfort knowing I literally carried him for his entire life. Our baby went from being safe and warm inside of me and hearing our voices, to opening his eyes for the first time and seeing our Lord God and meeting his older siblings. He never felt pain or did anything wrong. After Bennett’s service and the rain had cleared, a rainbow shone brightly in the sky. God sees us and he is good.
Fast forward to August 2019. Michael and I were going on a weekend trip to New York to celebrate my 30th birthday. We didn’t know it at the time, but there were three of us on our trip. Well, actually, Michael was convinced I was pregnant. I didn’t think so because I had taken a test right before we left for New York and it was negative.
Yes, it was negative but Michael was still convinced I was expecting. The day after we got back home, I took another pregnancy test to confirm what the last test had said, that I was not pregnant. I wanted to be able to drink a large coffee the next morning without any guilt. As I took the test in our master bathroom, I was shocked when it came out POSITIVE. I had to laugh that Michael was right. I went downstairs and showed him and he replied with a big smile that he knew it.
There was a very special package waiting for me in my mailbox that same evening. As I opened the parcel, I was greeted with our BENNETT bracelets from Comfort and Heart! Comfort and Heart sells jewelry to benefit the Comfort and Heart Foundation, which helps bring comfort to families who have lost a child. A week prior, Comfort and Heart had completely surprised me and announced they were releasing their first gender neutral piece and naming it the Bennett Bracelet in honor of our son Bennett. When I saw the announcement on my phone, I lost my breath and began to cry. It felt so good to see Bennett’s name, and to see his life making an impact on others.
So the same day we found out we were expecting, we received our Bennett bracelets and our family and friends received their orders too. My phone was blowing up with texts and Instagram tags with photos of people wearing their new Bennett bracelets. I was in awe of the timing and knew it was God. As Michael and I started to dream about the child that was growing within me, we honored our son who we miss and love so much, and received so much love from our family and friends at the same time.
We were very excited to find out if Bennett was going to have a little sister or brother. Michael and I found out on a sunny October morning that we were having a daughter. A week later we had a small gender reveal party with our family. It rained all day of the reveal. I thought for a moment it would be amazing if there was a rainbow but I let the thought flitter out of my mind because I didn't want to get my hopes up. Then my mom told me she was praying the rain would stop and that there'd be a rainbow.
And do you know what?
That’s exactly what happened.
As the weeks went by we had laughter and tears and anxious thoughts. God always reminded us though that he was with us. My sister ordered our baby shower invitations, and after she opened the invitations she noticed the box they came in and sent me a photo.
The box said BENNETT Packaging on it. What are the chances of that? Tears came to my eyes as I saw the symbolism of Bennett taking care of his little sister and paving the way for her. I received a moment of peace knowing that my son is safe and happy in Heaven.
I was also reminded of just how close God is to us and how he is always intertwined in our lives. I am forever grateful for these notes from Heaven when I feel God telling me: I see you. I love you. I’m here for you.
I really needed those reminders as we waited for our daughter to be born. For awhile I had placenta previa and I realized I could need a c-section. I mulled the idea around in my head and came to terms with it pretty quickly. Honestly, I was a little relieved. I was induced with Bennett and I did not want to relive the same sensations and pains while birthing Pepper. I wanted a different experience. I knew it was ultimately out of my control and tried my best to put it in God’s hands.
My amniotic fluid was also low and had to be checked weekly. We even had to stay overnight after one appointment because it was so low. Luckily though, the placenta previa went away, and my low fluid never got so low that it was an emergency. However, baby girl was breach and never flipped around, so we penciled in my c-section date for when we would be 39 weeks—April 2nd, 2020.
When our daughter was being born, my doctor talked us through what was happening and said when she could see her feet, legs and body. Soon the blue sheet between my chest and torso dropped and we saw our beautiful chubby baby girl staring at us! It was amazing and it brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it. She reached out her little hand and I reached mine out too as we held hands through the clear sheet. She didn’t cry at first and I remember asking a few times if she was ok but then I heard her make some noise. Very quickly they brought her over to us and put her on my chest. She immediately started sucking on my skin and the nurse closest to me said she was trying to breastfeed. I was in complete awe. Before I knew it I was being wheeled into a recovery room as Michael pushed Charlotte Pepper in her bassinet behind me. They had daddy/daughter skin-to-skin time and then she came to me and nursed for the first time. I was so grateful and again, awestruck at our beautiful baby girl.
I thank God for his timing and for reminding us that he sees us. Thank you God for never leaving us, for gifting us with treasured signs of your presence, and for all of the blessings in our lives. The grief of losing a child never leaves you but the future always holds hope, and that is a beautiful thing.