Words by Bettina Rae, Images by Bec Zacher
I had the opportunity to photograph Bettina and her two eldest boys in early 2016. Towards the end of the session she told me that she was three months pregnant with a new little treasure so we made some beautiful photos to celebrate. Since then I have followed Bettina’s journey and was so sad to hear that not long after our shoot she lost this precious bubba at 16 weeks, he was named Orion.
Since then it’s been a long and painful motherhood journey with two more miscarriages to follow. When I saw that Bettina was pregnant again in late 2017 I knew that when this little one arrived I wanted to do a Frames of Hope session celebrating this new life and the journey this family had all walked together these past few years.
You can read all about Bettina’s story below. I hope that her amazing words of strength and perseverance throughout the past few years inspire and give hope to others on the same journey.
Bec Zacher / Photographer
Bettina’s story ~
MY FERTILITY JOURNEY
My first two pregnancies were very straightforward and uncomplicated. I was blissfully unaware of how hard it could all be. I fell pregnant again when our second, Rory, was 1. We lost Orion at 16 weeks and because I was so far along I gave birth to him in the hospital. By some cruel joke they get you to do this in the maternity suite surrounded by all the new Mums and fresh babies. Holding my tiny 16 week old baby boy in the palm of my hand is something I will never forget. Unsurprisingly I was a mess after this. I suffered really bad anxiety (although I wouldn’t recognise that this is what it was until almost a year later) I also was doing a pretty poor job of looking after my physical body. I think in some ways I blamed my body for failing and so didn’t feel like I deserved to look after myself – or maybe I just didn’t care.
About 8 months later I fell pregnant again but we lost again at about 10 weeks. I remember coming out of that ultrasound so confused about how this could be happening again. The very next cycle we fell pregnant again and lost this baby too at around the 10 week mark. At this point we gave up. At the time I thought this might be forever. I needed to take ‘having a third child’ completely out of our plans so that I could focus on making myself happy again. I was pretty lost at this point. So much of my life, even my work, revolves around babies and pregnancy and mothers – there was no escaping all the reminders. At the time this was excruciating but in hindsight I think it was actually helpful. It meant I had to really face all my feelings about losing our babies and I couldn’t just dive into my work and hide from the grief.
I spent the next 9 months just focusing on making myself happy (I literally had a list) and trying to feel good in my body again. Eventually after a lot of work with my counsellor, my naturopath and acupuncturist, energy work and yoga I felt confident and ready to try again. We fell pregnant again on the first try. I would be lying if I said that all the work I’d done meant I wasn’t anxious at all. I was. But I also had tools this time to deal with the anxiety and I did a lot of work throughout the pregnancy to make sure that my anxiety didn’t spiral out of control. On the 29th June I delivered a healthy baby boy and I feel like our family is now complete. We’re finally all here.
THE HARDEST MOMENTS
Some of the hardest moments have been ultrasounds and waiting to hear results. Each time I knew before they told me there was something wrong and those (probably only seconds but they feel like lifetimes) before they say those words “I’m sorry but there is no heartbeat” are excruciating. In the third pregnancy that I lost I experienced some bleeding on and off from 6 weeks and had multiple ultrasounds in the time. Constantly worrying that you are losing your baby and there being nothing you can do about it is the most painful thing I’ve had to live through.
HOW THIS EXPERIENCE HAS BROUGHT US TOGETHER & CHANGED ME
At first my husband and I definitely grieved separately. Nothing prepares you for losing a baby and we really didn’t know how to support each other while we were both just trying to get through each day. There was a moment after our third loss where we both broke down and it was from that point that we could finally reach each other and start moving forward again together.
Losing our babies has changed me entirely. I’m painfully aware of exactly how precious every life is and I definitely don’t take my boys for granted. It sounds strange but I also feel like I FEEL more now. It’s like the pain of loss has opened up all the other emotions in me. Or perhaps the whole process has helped me to know myself better and I feel everything now? I’m not sure. Losing our babies has also put a whole lot about our lives in perspective for me. Things that I used to think were important now feel trivial and I think I’m much more conscious now about how I spend my time.
A WORD OF ENCOURAGEMENT
It’s so hard because when you’re in the depth of it, nothing anyone can say really helps and in the early days / weeks after a loss you can’t ‘hear’ the advice anyway. When I was in the darkest moments I wish I could have known that it does get better, that the unbearable pain of it does slowly fade (no matter how cliche that sounds). I wish that I would have known after my first loss how important it was to look after myself, even when I didn’t feel like it. I wish I’d known to get a counsellor earlier or how important it is to just connect with others who’ve been through a similar experience. Don’t let yourself give up hope.
WHAT THESE PHOTOS MEAN TO US
When I saw that first photo of the five of us I cried. I had this overwhelming sense of ‘we’re all finally here’. I feel really proud of all of us, especially of Andrew and I. We could have easily given up and decided it was all too hard, especially because we never had any definitive answers on why I couldn’t carry a healthy baby anymore. But we didn’t. I can’t even tell you how happy I am that we didn’t, although I’m not entirely sure where I found the strength to not. Watching Eamon and Rory with their baby brother literally makes my heart explode. These photos feel like a real celebration of how far we’ve come over the last two and half years, of how much we’ve grown and changed. And how on the other side of even in the shittiest of experiences there is always joy to be found, you just have to not give up hope.
If you would like to contact Bettina, you can do so via her blog where she shares openly and honestly about walking through these losses and she also runs an amazing yogo business for mummas so head over and say hi.
Frames of Hope is a project run by Photographer and Social Worker, Bec Zacher, it aims to provide professional photo sessions to families facing great struggles and those that have walked through them. These families are gifted a professional photo shoot and given the opportunity to share their story so that their voice is heard and their story has a platform to encourage and inspire others. You can read more about Frames of Hope here, support this project and nominate a family for a Frames of Hope session.
Please take a moment to share this story so that these little ones can live on in our hearts and their lives and the lives of their families can encourage others facing the same challenges. x