threadTALK Blog Series 16: Thoughts of a Rainbow Mama with Joan Baldwin
Pregnancy is one of the toughest, yet most rewarding times for a mother. There’s no feeling like being able to hold your newborn in your arms and realizing the best years of your life to come. When Joan gave birth to her stillborn baby Maeve, she was left heartbroken. With so much love to give, Joan and her husband battled infertility until they came across a contest where they were gifted with an IVF treatment that later led to the birth of their living daughter Vera. Since then, Joan decided that the subject of stillbirth was something that she wanted to talk openly about. She has connected with and helped so many mothers and families struggling with loss and infertility. Read more about Joan’s incredible story and how she finds that it is possible for joy and grief to coexist.
Q Please tell us a little bit about yourself and your Instagram and YouTube page. What made you want to start creating content?
A I have had Instagram for nearly 6 years (I think) just posting about the normal day to day stuff and photographs I thought were interesting. My Instagram used to have about 100 followers at that time. And then after the death of my daughter Maeve, sadly I lost a lot of followers- friends and family who found it to be too sad to read about my grief and how I was coping with her death. At that point I used Instagram as a diary. I poured my heart out. I wrote love letters to my daughter. And I grieved openly- something that was still very taboo at the time.
My YouTube channel didn’t come until much later. My husband and I battled infertility after Maeve’s death. It was a daily struggle to keep trying treatment after treatment that didn’t work. We had spent nearly all of our savings on things that promised us a living child- but each time we were left heartbroken.
One morning a friend sent me a link to a contest. A Utah couple (Ellie and Jared Michum) wanted to gift a struggling couple IVF for Christmas that year and we thought ‘what do we have to lose?’ We took a two minute clip in our bathroom (the only room at my parent’s house with good lighting) and explained our story. Our beautiful red headed daughter Maeve Lucille was stillborn when I was 9 months pregnant and we had spent the last two years honoring her life AND trying to have a living child. We had so much love to give and no living baby to love.
When we won the contest SO many people wanted to follow our story. Making videos about our ivf treatments, coping with grief, miscarriage, and eventually the birth of our living daughter Vera.
I enjoy making the videos so much. It’s a way of making home movies and memories but also a way to connect with other people struggling with infertility and child loss. I have made SO many friends through the online loss community and I get messages every day from mothers and fathers new to their grief or infertility journey as well as friends and family members asking me how they can be a support to someone who is struggling with these issues.
I like to think that because of Maeve’s short but very significant life, the subject of stillbirth, grief, and how we choose to honor our children is less of an ‘unspoken’ subject. I choose to share her story openly and share how much I still love her. I have the honor of raising her little sister while keeping her memory alive. I know for a fact that because of Maeve I am a more kind and gentle mother. Things that may upset or cause impatience or frustration seem like a drop in the bucket.
There were THREE YEARS of sleepless nights up crying with empty arms and an aching heart. Since Vera’s arrival there have also been many sleepless nights (she only figured out how to sleep a full night through at 14 months) but as I’m holding her and rocking my living child to sleep I can’t help but have a wave of gratefulness wash over me.
I do my best to every day to raise Vera to be kind and I do my best everyday to honor her sister’s memory by being kind myself.
Q In your bio you mentioned celebrating life and honoring loss with hope, honesty, and love. Do you mind sharing with our readers about your journey and what that all means to you?
A After losing a child you really are put into a unique position. It is excruciating and so so painful. You start to realize (because you have to in order to survive) that that pain is a direct reflection of your love. Our Maeve was and IS so very loved. Grief exists where love did first. Plain and simple.
As the years have gone on the pain of grief isn’t as sharp (Maeve will be turning 5 this year) as it was and we are able to do things in her honor that make us happy. We honor her memory by doing fundraisers and donations to Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep photography (the free portrait service that captures a family’s last moments with their child.) Or donations of gifts to the Center for Grieving Children that would be suitable for a girl Maeve’s age each Christmas. We celebrate her birthday by releasing butterflies or throwing flower petals into the river.
When you lose a child and come out of that initial ‘grief fog’ there’s this overwhelming urge to live life to the fullest or find meaning in death. Life after child loss is very hard but it is also so very beautiful. We don’t take the little things for granted. No one has the ability to predict their own death. We must live every day with love because you just never know. Maeve may have been tiny but she was also very wise. She’s taught me more about love and gratitude than anyone on this earth.
I remember a moment when Vera was still a newborn and she pooped directly down my shirt! In that moment I laughed so hard and felt so much gratitude because the years of grief and infertility were so so rough. Moments that could be hard or filled with frustration become easier when I think of my beautiful firstborn Maeve. I do believe in my heart that Maeve hand selected her sister for us. Vera is SO loving and funny! She often demands a hug and a kiss and she makes us laugh every day. I feel very blessed to be the mother of two beautiful girls.
Q How did you find the immense amount of strength that you have to share your story and what keeps you motivated to keep trying after your loss?
A As some followers may know, we are in the middle of our second ivf- so a living sibling for Vera could be a possibility. I never imagined I would want THREE children but because Maeve was taken from us our desire for a living sibling is very strong. We still have so much more love to give and as much as we want this for ourselves, we want this for Vera even more.
I’ve chosen to keep sharing our life and our experiences through social media because when Maeve first died (6-10-15) there wasn’t a huge amount of resources out there. I desperately searched for other families that had lost a child and survived. I needed to know that it would be possible to smile again after her death.
My life’s purpose besides trying to be the best mom I can be, is to help other women know they aren’t alone. I receive multiple messages a day either asking for help or thanking me for putting to words what their heart has felt for so long.
Whether you’re struggling with infertility or you’ve lost a child there is a community here that knows how your heart feels and you won’t have to suffer alone. I love to use my voice to express the love and longing I feel for my daughter. She wasn’t just a pregnancy or a fetus. She was my fully formed much loved and very wanted daughter. She had a nursery and a baby shower. We had hopes and dreams for her like every parent. Her whole life now lives in our hearts.
I make a point (after Vera’s tucked in at night) to write back to each and every person who writes to me about their struggles. Just to be heard and validated in your feelings is so healing. If I could take away just a small amount of someone else’s suffering I would. I hope by sharing my story and sharing Maeve’s photos I’m normalizing what a family can look like after loss. Maeve is our child and we will always be her family. If given the choice to go back in time and never become pregnant with her- never see her face or hold her and spare us from all the pain of grief.... I would choose to be her mom every. single. time. She is just that special and she IS that loved.
Q We noticed that you made and sold mustard seed necklaces to help fund your IVF journey, do you mind talking more about that and the outcome?
A Last January I was able to raise the funds for our second IVF in hopes to give our rainbow Vera a living sibling. I have a small Etsy shop MaeveWithLoveDesigns (@Maeve.with.love.designs) and designed a necklace inspired by the Bible verse to have faith the size of a mustard seed. I sold all 400 necklaces in 4 days! Our single embryo is safely frozen still as our frozen embryo transfer was recently canceled due to fluid around my ovary. I had been on meds for half a month when it was canceled and have just recently been planning what the next steps are.
Q What advice would you give to a family member, friend, or anyone that knows a couple that had suffered with child loss?
A Everyone grieves in his or her own way! I can not stress this enough. Being in the public eye and sharing my story has connected me with so many lovely and supportive people but I have also been judged for the way I choose to grieve and honor my daughter. Being there to listen and love them without judgement is so important.
Q Lastly, we love that you were able to relate your story with our designs. If you were to give a title to your life story, what would it be and why?
A It is possible for joy and grief to coexist. The joy in my heart now that Vera is here is indescribable. And at the same time the loss of Maeve and the scars left behind from three years of fertility treatments and my current IVF struggles mean that grief is always part of me as well. Loss has made me appreciate the things I have so much more.
"Be an author of your own life story."
Thank you so much for reading this month's blog feature.
Every month we feature an individual we believe have something amazing to share. They're not celebrities or high profile individuals. But normal people who are living life in their own extraordinary way. ThreadTALK is a way for us to showcase how we're all authors of our own life story.