Episode 16 - Courageously Expecting after Loss with Jenny Albers


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Join us for a conversation about pregnancy after loss with Jenny Albers, author of Courageously Expecting. After losing two precious babies, Jenny created Still Loved, an online space for grieving families to share their stories.


She is passionate about giving bereaved parents a voice in their grief as well as supporting women in their pregnancies after loss. Jenny shares about her new book, Courageously Expecting, which provides women with 30 days of encouragement for pregnancy after loss.


In this episode, we discussed:

  • The emotions and fears of pregnancy after loss

  • Professional remembrance photography, regrets and wishes

  • The physical aspect of grief and what it does to your body

  • Surrender as a daily practice

  • What surprised Jenny about her experience with loss

  • Entering back into the deep waves of grief, even years later

  • The beauty of online communities for bereaved parents

  • The power of writing down and sharing your baby’s story

  • All about her new book, Courageously Expecting

Full transcript below.


Each episode has a special Hope Guide that you can download by clicking the button below. It is packed with hope-filled resources and extra information from the episode!



Discussion / Application Questions (leave your answers below in the comments!)

  1. Jenny and Ashley discuss the physical aspect of grief and what it can do to your body. Have you experienced physical symptoms of grief and if so, which ones? Take some time to assess the impact grief has made on your body. Is there anything you can do to combat it (e.g., give yourself more time to rest)?

  2. In this episode, Jenny says that surrender must take place over and over again. It's not a one-time event. You have to surrender control or fears over and over, sometimes daily or hourly. Have you recognized that you need to surrender to God in your grief? If so, list what you need to surrender and give yourself grace knowing it will be a daily practice.

  3. We talked a lot about pregnancy after loss and the emotions and fears that come with this new experience. If you've had a pregnancy after loss (or are currently expecting after loss), which emotions have been the hardest for you? In what ways do you need to be supported during this season?

Graphics to share on social media or pin on Pinterest!

 

MEET OUR GUEST

Jenny Albers is a wife, mother, and writer who has discovered her need for God in each of the roles she's been given. She has two babies in Heaven and has been amazed at how God used this part of her story to bring her closer to Him.


She is the author of Courageously Expecting and the founder of the Still Loved Baby Loss Community.


Connect with Jenny:

Facebook: /jennyalbersauthor /stilllovedbabies

Instagram: @jennyalbersauthor /stilllovedbabies

Web: www.jennyalbers.com

www.stillloved.net

 

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MEET OUR HOST


Ashley Opliger is the Executive Director of Bridget's Cradles, a nonprofit organization based in Wichita, Kansas that donates cradles to over 1,090 hospitals in all 50 states and comforts over 26,000 bereaved families a year.


Ashley is married to Matt and they have three children: Bridget (in Heaven), and two sons. She is a follower of Christ who desires to share the hope of Heaven with families grieving the loss of a baby.


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EPISODE TRANSCRIPT


Episode 16: Courageously Expecting after Loss with Jenny Albers


Ashley Opliger: [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Cradled in Hope Podcast where we believe that the hope of Heaven, through faith in Jesus Christ, has the power to heal our hearts after the loss of a baby. It’s a pain no mother should have to endure and we want this podcast to be a safe place for your broken heart to land. Here, we are going to trust God’s promise to restore our joy, use our grief for good, and allow us to spend eternity with our babies in Heaven.


I’m your host, Ashley Opliger. I’m a wife, mom, and follower of Christ clinging to the hope of Heaven. My daughter, Bridget, was stillborn at 24 weeks in my first pregnancy in 2014. In her memory, my husband and I started a nonprofit ministry called Bridget’s Cradles, and God has given us purpose in our pain and we’ve seen beauty come from ashes.


Although we wish you didn’t have a need to be listening to this podcast, we believe God has a reason for you to be here today. We pray this time would be a source of healing for you as we remember that Jesus cradles us in hope while He cradles our babies in Heaven. Though we may grieve, we do not grieve without hope. Welcome to the Cradled in Hope Podcast.


Ashley Opliger: [00:01:26] Hello friends. We have a very special guest today on Cradled in Hope who just released her first book into the world a couple of days ago called Courageously Expecting. I'm excited to introduce you to Jenny Albers. She is a wife, mother, and writer who quickly discovered her need for God in each of the roles that she has been given.


After losing two babies, she began writing in order to process her own story, connect with other loss parents and raise awareness around the topics of pregnancy loss and life after. She has been amazed by how God has used this part of her story to bring her closer to Him while connecting with other hurting hearts.


Because of her personal experience with loss, Jenny recognized the need for a designated space for other loss parents to share their own stories, which led her to create the Still Loved baby loss community.


She is also the author of Courageously Expecting 30 Days of Encouragement for Pregnancy After Loss which focuses on empathizing with and empowering women to face pregnancy after loss with faith and courage, despite feelings of grief and fear. I can't wait for you to meet her and learn more about Still Loved and Courageously Expecting.


Ashley Opliger: [00:02:40] Welcome, Jenny. We're so glad to have you here today.


Jenny Albers: [00:02:44] Hi, thank you so much for having me.


Ashley Opliger: [00:02:46] Well, I would love for you to introduce yourself to our audience of moms and share about your motherhood journey and your experience with loss.


Jenny Albers: [00:02:56] My name is Jenny Albers and I have had four pregnancies. Two of them ended in loss. My first pregnancy was textbook; that was my pregnancy with my daughter and she's 10 now, so it's been a while.


And then my next pregnancy ended at about five and a half or six weeks along. That was an ectopic pregnancy and that was in 2014. And then in 2015, it was about a year later, exactly a year later, both of my losses happened in January, I had a stillbirth at 20 weeks, three days. And that was our baby Micah, and that was due to PPROM.


For those who don't know it, that’s preterm premature rupture of membranes. So my water broke and that was at 17 weeks, six days pregnant. So I had some bleeding and some migraines and some different things that felt off. And so I'd gone to the hospital and seen the doctor a couple of days in a row.


And then after those two appointments, my water broke in the middle of the night at home. And so then I went back to the doctor, who sent me to a specialist, who confirmed that there was no fluid and that my water had indeed broken.


So they gave me, my options were to terminate, which I said no to. My baby still had a really strong heartbeat and was growing as expected, so there was nothing wrong there. It was just that my body didn’t function as it was supposed to.


So the other option was just to wait, wait it out and see what happened. We didn't think that things were going to turn out well, but I felt very strongly about carrying my baby for as long as I could and for as long as there was life there.


So from the time my water broke to the time that I delivered Micah was about three weeks, which it felt like a lot longer, just all the doctors’ appointments and the bleeding and taking my temperature because temperature signified a possible infection. And so that was really important in order to keep me healthy. And so it felt like we were doing all these things just to get through the day.


So anyway, it was a long three weeks, and at one point I did have a fever. And then a few minutes after I talked to the doctor, I went into labor. And so I could tell, “Okay, I'm in labor now. Time to go in.” And when I went in, they could feel Micah’s head, and definitely, I was going to be delivering.


So that was at 20 weeks, three days and it was a very painful, dark experience. So then, so that was January of 2015. And then by November 2015, I had become pregnant again with my son, Axel, who is five now so that's also been several years. And it was just a really hard pregnancy, not knowing what was going to happen.


And having lost two babies prior to him, it felt very, not only uncertain, but just almost impossible, which I think is hard to comprehend just because babies are born all the time and people get pregnant all the time, so it's not something that's out of the ordinary. But after you've lost babies, you just know what can happen and how things can go wrong.


Ashley Opliger: [00:06:09] It's so different, your mind and your heart are in a different place than you would have been. I feel like the innocence of pregnancy–where being a first-time mom before I started having complications, I wasn't thinking about all the things that could go wrong or that my baby would die. It's not something that you think about.


Jenny Albers: [00:06:26] Right.


Ashley Opliger: [00:06:27] So would you mind sharing more about Micah's birth and your experience at the hospital, if you received a cradle or anything to hold him or any mementos that they allowed you to take home with you?


Jenny Albers: [00:06:40] Yeah. So the birth was obviously heartbreaking, but I did feel very cared for. Thank God for nurses. I have a really great nurse who had shared a little bit of her own loss story.


She was on, I'm not sure what the committee was called, but the hospital had a committee specifically for pregnancy loss and stillbirth and things like that.


Ashley Opliger: [00:07:00] Bereavement.


Jenny Albers: [00:07:01] Yeah, so she was on that committee and was just so kind. So I'm always grateful. I'm still grateful that I had her there and that I really felt like I was cared for.


They did send me home with a care package that had a small blanket that had been handmade, a small teddy bear, a prayer shawl, some books, and a couple of other small mementos. There wasn't any sort of cradle or anything like that. They did put a bonnet on Micah and wrapped him in the standard baby blanket that hospitals have.


So overall I was grateful that they had those things on hand and that there was that awareness. My nurses did call Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep for photos, but we were turned down because I wasn't at 25 weeks yet and that was the requirement, for whatever reason. And so my nurses took photos and so I have those, and I'm really grateful for that. I would have loved to have professional photos done, but I am grateful for what I do have.


Ashley Opliger: [00:08:07] Yeah, that just breaks my heart. I do wish that they would be willing to change that requirement because there are so many families that do have babies earlier than 25 weeks that still want professional photographs.


A 20 weeks little baby, they're perfectly made. They're so fearfully and wonderfully made and they could be photographed. And I think it really should be up to the parents to decide if they want those photographs or not.


And so maybe that's something that the organization would be willing to change or photographers in local areas would be willing to come up to the hospital and do that for families. That would be a beautiful thing because I do know so many families that have an extra layer of grief when they leave the hospital and they don't have the professional photos.


Of course, you can do pictures on your phone, but I know for me personally, having Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep pictures and phone pictures, it's very rare that I show anyone my phone pictures of Bridget because she just looks so different in her coloring. And having images that have been edited, that are in black and white, those are the ones that I generally share with people. And it really breaks my heart to know that mommas don't have that and feel like they can't share pictures of their baby.


So I really hope that’s something that can change overall and that moms can advocate for that. And it's a hard thing to be advocating for when you're in the hospital and that your world has just been turned upside down and you're in shock and you don't even know what you're supposed to be doing or who you're supposed to be calling.


Jenny Albers: [00:09:41] And it's hard to know really what to ask for or you don't realize necessarily what you're going to want in the future. In that moment, you don't quite understand where you're going to be in a few weeks or a few months, and what you're going to be looking back on and saying, “I wish I would have done this.”


I know that Now I Lay Me Down to Sleep does some retouching too, which might be an option for some families. But I think having a professional photographer too, they can guide that experience, whereas a nurse maybe wouldn't know what exactly to take pictures of.


I don't have pictures of me holding Micah, and that's another regret. And that's not something that I asked for, but it's also, I wasn't quite sure what to ask for, or your head is just all over the place and you're exhausted.


And for me, it had been several weeks of mental exhaustion. I'm waiting for this horrible moment to take place. And so it would be nice to have a guided photography experience in some capacity, if that makes sense.


Ashley Opliger: [00:10:43] Yes. I feel like I was in a similar situation as you, being on bed rest for several weeks. And I was obviously praying for the best and hoping that the outcome was not going to be what the doctors expected it to be, but then at the same time, we were preparing for the worst.


But even though we were preparing, I feel like I wasn't even fully prepared because just like you, I have regrets. This is something that I didn't think about, but I have no videos of Bridget or of me with Bridget or my husband or our families.


But I didn't think to take video of her, especially because she had passed away. It didn't seem like something I should do. But in the years since then, I've seen other bereaved moms have video of their babies. And I keep thinking I would have really loved to have a video of me kissing her and holding her. And I had my phone right there. I just didn't think to do it. And you don't think about those things when you're in incredible shock and grief.


And so having someone that's outside of your heartbreak be able to guide you and say, “What if we did this? We can take these pictures. We can take these videos and you don't have to look at them if you don't want to, but at least you have them in case you want them years down the road, because that might be really meaningful to you.”


Jenny Albers: [00:1:57] Yes.


Ashley Opliger: [00:11:58] I love that you shared that. I would love to talk now about after you went home from the hospital after losing Micah. What did grieving look like for you? And what did it look like to grieve with hope, even though you were in so much pain and heartbreak?


Jenny Albers: [00:12:14] Yeah, for me, it looked very dark. I felt very alone.

I stepped back a lot from life, which I think is okay and I think that's normal. I feel like people can either go two ways, just diving into life to stay busy and to not have to think about it, or stepping back and holing up at home, which is what I did.


And it was hard because I had a daughter, which I was very aware of how lucky I was to have her, but it's very hard to parent when you're in really deep grief and to really be present. So that was hard, and I don't feel like I was the parent that my daughter needed during that time.


My mom was supportive, but I think a lot of people didn't quite understand and I don't think that we had a super strong support system. People did what they could and I'm grateful for that, but it just felt very lonely.


As far as the hope part goes, for me, there's a couple of different pieces to that. I felt very strongly that God was going to use this for something. I didn't know what at the time, but I did cling to that idea that some kind of good was going to come out of this.


And the other big piece was just knowing that this horrible part of my life wasn't going to last forever, whether that looked like, “Someday I'm going to be in Heaven to meet my baby,” or just the hope of a new season in life, went between those two things.


But just the idea of this isn't going to last forever, and eventually, the pain comes to an end, but it was a very hard and painful experience. And that entire year felt like ages. And I think I aged 10 years in that year. It just felt like it lasted forever.


Ashley Opliger: [00:14:02] Yeah, I feel like grief does a number on not only your heart and your mind, but on your body too. It's an exhausting-


Jenny Albers: [00:14:09] It is.


Ashley Opliger: [00:14:09] … emotional and physical experience to be going through grief. And I think a lot of people don't really talk about the physical side of grief and what it does your body as you're going through it.


And it can feel like time is going slower, and the world is spinning and your life has stopped, and time feels really slow, especially when you feel more isolated from the world or you feel like you have to step back from the normal activities and the normal social gatherings that you would normally do.


So as you were coming through this year and God had given you this seed of hope that right now you're struggling, you've suffering but there's going to be good that comes from this, and you had this seed planted from God in that moment but you're still going through that, as you came through that year, what would you say the turning point or something that God did to get you past those hard days and get you into a new season, was it a slow, gradual process? Or did you feel something shift at a certain point? What did that look like for you?


Jenny Albers: [00:15:12] I think it was a slow, gradual process, but for me, where we were at, we knew that we wanted to try to have another baby.


And so late summer of that year, I started seeing some specialists and talking, having that conversation about what's next. Or is there a next? Or are we just going to have one child and be happy with that?


And so I think that process, and talking to doctors and having that hope that there's no reason not to try again in my case, that definitely helped. But I think really, by the time we got to that point, this peace would come and go.


I'm not going to say I just felt this peace and I was just happy. But I did have some sort of Come to Jesus moments where it was a surrender of, “I can't do this anymore. I can't be constantly in my head trying to figure out where are we going from here and what's going to happen. And are we having another baby? And when and the timing.


The timing had already not worked out for me, and so at some point, I remember being in a steam room and just crying. Thank God I was in there alone, and just crying and like, “Okay, God, I'm surrendering this to You. I can't do it anymore,” because that was six or seven months after my loss by that time. And it was just I was so tired of crying and being sad and wondering.


So that wasn't necessarily a turning point, but I did get to the point where it was like, “Okay, I'm going to try to stop controlling everything and really trust in whatever plan God has.”


I think you have to surrender over and over so that wasn't just like, “Okay, I'm surrendered and everything's great.” But several months down the road, I did have that moment where I was like, “I don't want to do this anymore and I can’t.”


Ashley Opliger: [00:16:59] Absolutely. I love that you said that surrender is a daily practice because it is, because as soon as you surrender it, it feels like the next day you're like, “Wait a second.”


Jenny Albers: [00:17:00] Yeah.


Ashley Opliger: [00:17:08] As a human we're like, “No, God, I actually want to control it. And actually, God, I want to plan out my life the way I want it. And I want the timing to be my timing and I want everything to go this way.” That's our human nature.


And so when you do surrender, it's almost as if you do have to surrender it over and over again, daily, or maybe even hourly. And it's not going to look perfect every day.


Like you said, you had peace that came and went. And I think as Christians, a lot of times we expect to have the supernatural peace that surpasses all understanding at all times and if we don't have that, then we must not be connected to the Holy Spirit or something. But that's not the case.


As human beings, we're going to struggle with normal human emotions of grief, of questioning, of doubt, of sadness, and God is going to try to break through and give us those moments of peace.


And He of course wants us to surrender, but that's going to be an internal struggle for us. And the most important thing is that we are bringing it to Him and we are surrendering our lives to Him and our plan for our life, that He ultimately has the best plan for us. He promises to give us a hope and a future, and that's what He's going to do.


Ashley Opliger: [00:18:15] We hope you are enjoying this episode so far. We wanted to take a quick break to tell you about some other hope-filled resources our ministry provides to grieving families.


On our website, bridgetscradles.com, you can find many resources on grieving and healing including memorial ideas, quotes & Scripture, blog articles, featured stories, recommended books, and other support organizations. We share ideas on how to navigate difficult days such as due dates, Heaven Days, and holidays. We also have a page with ideas on how to care for a friend or family member who has experienced pregnancy loss.


In addition, every month I lead free Christ-centered support groups for bereaved moms called Hope Gatherings, both in-person and online. You can find a list of upcoming dates and sign up for our next support group on our website. You can also join our private Cradled in Hope Facebook group for grieving moms to find friendship and support. We would be honored to hear your baby’s story and be praying for you by name.


Lastly, our Pinterest page has beautiful graphics of quotes & Scripture from this episode, along with many other resources that you can pin and save. We would also love for you to connect with us on Facebook and Instagram. You can find us on these three pages: @bridgetscradles, @cradledinhope, and my personal page @ashleyopliger. We’d love for you to follow along and spread the word about the Cradled in Hope Podcast. Now let’s get back to our episode.


Ashley Opliger: [00:19:52] Jenny, would you mind sharing some things that surprised you about your loss journey as you walked through this grieving journey of losing two precious babies?


Jenny Albers: [00:20:02] Yeah, I think the number one thing is how common it is. I was so unfamiliar with anything loss-related at that time. I was aware of miscarriages and the old, the information of, “Oh, get past 12 weeks and everything's great.” That's all I knew.


So I knew miscarriages happened and that's it. I hadn't known anyone close to me that I knew of, I suppose. I think there are people who just haven't shared about it, but I didn't know specifically anyone who had gone through it. I didn't have close friends who had lost a baby, so I was grateful to have online communities.


I think that's one of the really good things about the internet, to be able to connect in these groups and about these things that are so often not talked about just in regular life. So I was grateful for that, but yeah, just how common it is, but also how supportive the loss community is.


I know it's cliché to say, “No one wants to be a part of this, the community no one wants to be a part of,” and no one is grateful to be, but I am grateful for so many of the people I've met, and so many of the experiences I've had, and being able to see people really come together and support each other.


And in the baby loss community specifically, it seems like we are able to support one another across other barriers that would maybe keep people apart, so that's a neat thing to see.


And then just as life has gone on and we've moved forward, looking back at where I was after we lost Micah, I didn't think life would ever be better. I didn't think I'd ever be happy again. And life has gotten better and I have experienced happiness again, and I am able to be happy for pregnant women, which for a long time I wasn't.


So those are some surprising things that, after I experienced loss, I never thought I would get there, but I have gotten there. And so I just hope that hearing from moms who have been there and who are a little bit further out on their journey, I hope that gives hope to other women who are really in the dark place right now and think that it's never going to get better. It does.


It's a long journey. It's not overnight. Triggers still happen, but it gets easier. And thank God for that.


Ashley Opliger: [00:22:13] We like to say time on its own doesn't necessarily heal, but time coupled with community, with God, will heal your heart and you will be able to find joy again. But it takes all of those things and time.


And it doesn't mean, like you said, that you're not going to have triggers that come up or that you go back into the deep waves of grief. I'm seven years out now and I, last year, had some life circumstances that put me back into my original grief. And I was really surprised by that.


I thought my heart really had gone through so much healing over the years. And how can I all of a sudden be back to pulling out all of my baby girl clothes and bawling in the closet? Like, how did I get back to this? But it came back to me and that's okay.

And it's okay to let those waves of grief come back and experience them and feel them, but not to think that the healing work didn't actually happen. It did happen, but it's just going to come back in waves at times.


I love that you talked about community that surrounded you and especially the online community. And I love what you started, the Still Loved community. And I would love for you to share more about this community that you've built online, your website, and the social channels.


Do you mind sharing more about how moms can become involved and what all resources you have available?


Jenny Albers: [00:23:34] Yeah. I started a community called Still Loved. There is a website, stillloved.net, and then also on Instagram and Facebook, which is @stilllovedbabies. I started that because I know how important it can be to have a place to talk about your story and your baby and to share that with people who understand.


I think that people do want to share their stories; not all the time, everyone handles it differently. But I think a lot of times people don't really feel like they have a place to, because maybe many of the people who surround them aren't supportive and maybe not intentionally unsupportive, but they just don't know. Or people get tired of hearing about it. Or they just expect you to be recovered. Or they don't want to talk about baby loss because it's a hard thing to talk about and it is depressing.


So I really wanted to give parents a space to share that as a way to honor both their story and their babies, but also to connect with other loss parents and to have a safe space. And so it's for moms and dads, though the dads aren't super active. However, I do hear from dads a lot, like, “What about the dads?”


And I'm like, “I know. I would love for you to talk about this more.” So I do have space on my website and also on my Instagram page for dads, if they would like to use their voices to speak. So I wanted to put that out there just because I feel like there's not a lot of support for dads and maybe they don't always know how to ask for it. And they think they probably also often handle things differently than moms do, but I did also want to include them because I think a lot of times they're forgotten.


So it is a submission site and there really aren't any requirements to submit. It really is for anyone to submit their stories and pictures of their baby, just to have their story out there and to give parents a voice that maybe they don't feel like they would otherwise have. So stories can be submitted at stillloved.net. And if people have questions, they can find me on Instagram too @stilllovedbabies.


Ashley Opliger: [00:25:38] Oh, I love that. And I think that there's so much healing that comes from sharing your baby's life story with the world, not only the process of sending the story out into the world, but also writing your baby's story.


So many moms have told me that when they've written a story for our blog or our social media, that just sitting down, starting from when they found out they were pregnant or even before they were pregnant, the years that they spent praying for this baby and preparing for this baby, and then finding out that they were expecting, and the gender reveal party, and the nursery colors they had picked out, and writing about their pregnancy and these memories that they had.


And then also the hard parts of the story, talking about the doctor's appointment when they found out there was no heartbeat, and what their birth looked like, and the 24 hours that they had to hold their baby, and the funeral they planned, and all of this, it's obviously very hard to put yourself back into those moments, but I do think there's a lot of healing that happens when you sit down and write your baby's story out.


And maybe you're not ready yet to submit it or share it out onto social media. But I just want to encourage moms right now, just start by writing your baby’s story down, whether it's in a journal or typing it up into a Word document, getting it ready so that you have that healing process of having all written down.


And then if and when they would find healing, go to stillloved.net and submit your baby's story and share their life with the world. There's so much healing that comes in sharing about your baby and your life experience.


And then that will allow other moms to read your story. And maybe they find something in your story, the experience that you went through, that relates to their story. Or maybe something that you write about in the way that you've been grieving with God and you write a sentence that speaks to that mom. “Oh wow. I can really relate to that.” Or, “Wow. I didn't see things that way.”


And there's so much power in sharing our stories, so I love that you've created this space for women and men to be able to connect to each other, have this beautiful online space to share their stories with each other.


Jenny Albers: [00:27:52] Yeah. And it really is neat to see the interaction between people and the support, too. So there's different facets of why I started it, but it is really neat to see people be able to support each other there.


Ashley Opliger: [00:28:07] I love it. Well, you are now a published author, and your book Courageously Expecting, which is a book about encouraging moms in their journey of pregnancy after loss.


Right now you can pre-order her book and it will be released on January 11th, which we're really excited to get our copies of Courageously Expecting.

I would love for you to share about your process of writing the book and what the book is about.


Jenny Albers: [00:28:32] After we lost Micah, the idea of becoming pregnant again was terrifying, but it was one of the first things that I thought of after that experience. What's next? I wanted a baby and I knew immediately that if we decided to try again that it was going to be really hard, just the experience of pregnancy if we did get pregnant again, that it was going to be really stressful.