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Episode 23 - Expecting Loss and Valuing life with Labor of Hope


Join us for a conversation with Ryley Chestnut and Hayley Martinez from Labor of Hope. They are both certified bereavement doulas who have lost children due to a life-limiting condition in pregnancy.

Labor of Hope is an organization that exists to value every life and support couples who have been given a life-limiting diagnosis in pregnancy. Ryley and Hayley advocate for choosing life and making memories with your child. From their own heartbreaking experience, they share their grief and healing journey.

In this episode, we discussed:

  • Choosing life and carrying a baby with a life-limiting diagnosis

  • Cherishing moments in pregnancy even with a grim prognosis

  • Leaning on the local church and believers

  • Grief during the first year after loss

  • Why we experience fresh grief at the three-month mark

  • God's grace for each day

  • The role of bereavement doulas

  • Choices at the hospital and advocating for your decisions

  • Having a birth plan and informed consent at the hospital

  • How to create memories during pregnancy and at birth

  • All about Labor of Hope and what they do

  • Sharing our babies' stories and celebrating every life

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. Ryley and Hayley share their experiences in navigating a life-limiting diagnosis in pregnancy. They both chose life and to carry their babies. Have you experienced a similar diagnosis in the past or recently? Does this decision feel hard? It's a delicate dance of grief and joy. What about Ryley and Hayley's stories gave you hope?

  2. Ashley talked about how the three-month mark after loss is a big milestone in which grief can come back in fresh waves all over again. Did you experience this? Describe your journey in the first year. If you're still in the first year, describe what each month has looked like and defining moments in your grief journey (both the peaks and valleys).

  3. Both Ryley and Hayley mentioned how the support of their local church, family, and friends played an integral role in their healing journey. Hayley said that grief was an opportunity to see the beauty in other people. In your life, who has been an encouragement to you? List names of people who have made a difference in your journey and send them a text to thank them.

Graphics to share on social media or pin on Pinterest!



Ryley Chestnut and Hayley Martinez are bereaved mothers who serve with the nonprofit ministry based in Texas called Labor of Hope. Ryley is their Director of Outreach and Hayley is their Director of Development.

They are both certified bereavement doulas who lost children due to a life-limiting condition in pregnancy. Through their heartbreak and pain, they serve families who have walked the same journey they have.

Connect with Labor of Hope:

Facebook: /laborofhope

Instagram: @laborofhope




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Ashley Opliger is the Executive Director of Bridget's Cradles, a nonprofit organization based in Wichita, Kansas that donates cradles to over 1,250 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.

Connect with Ashley:

Facebook /ashleyopliger

Instagram @ashleyopliger

Pinterest /ashleyopliger

Follow Bridget’s Cradles:

Facebook /bridgetscradles

Instagram @bridgetscradles

Pinterest /bridgetscradles

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Episode 23: Expecting Loss and Valuing Life with Labor of Hope

Ashley Opliger: [00:00:00] You’re listening to the Cradled in Hope Podcast on the Edifi Podcast Network. I’m your host, Ashley Opliger. I’m a wife, mom, and follower of Christ who founded Bridget’s Cradles, a nonprofit ministry in memory of my daughter, Bridget, who was stillborn at 24 weeks.

Cradled in Hope is a Gospel-focused podcast for grieving moms to find comfort, hope, and healing after the loss of a baby. We want this to be a safe place for your broken heart to land.

Here, we are going to trust God’s promise to heal our hearts, restore our joy, and use our grief for good. With faith in Jesus and eyes fixed on Heaven, we do not have to grieve without hope. We believe that Jesus cradles us in hope while He cradles our babies in Heaven.

Welcome to the Cradled in Hope Podcast.

Ashley Opliger: [00:00:51] Today we are welcoming two ladies from the Labor of Hope team that join us and share their stories of walking through a life-limiting pregnancy and why their loss compels them to be part of the mission of Labor of Hope.

Labor of Hope is a nonprofit based in Texas that exists to celebrate and value every life. They accomplish this by supporting and equipping families who have received critical or life-limiting diagnoses during pregnancy.

Today we have Ryley Chestnut, their Director of Outreach, and Hayley Martinez, their Director of Development, joining us today. They are both certified bereavement doulas who have lost children due to a life-limiting condition in pregnancy. Ryley's daughter, Jaycee, was diagnosed with anencephaly, and Hayley was told her son Xander was incompatible with life at a routine scan at 20 weeks.

Through their heartbreak and pain, God wove both of their stories together with the founders of Labor of Hope, and now they serve families who have walked the same journey they have. Let's welcome Ryley and Hayley to Cradled in Hope.

Ashley Opliger: [00:01:53] Welcome Ryley and Hayley. We're so grateful to have you on the Cradled in Hope Podcast today.

Ryley Chestnut: [00:01:57] Thank you so much for having us.

Ashley Opliger: [00:02:00] Well, we just love everything that you do with Labor of Hope. And you're based out of Texas, we've sent our cradles to you quite a while ago and we've partnered with your organization, and we'll talk more about that later. But I would love to hear your stories, and how your loss led you to become a part of the organization, and how that's brought healing in your story as well. So would you mind sharing your stories with us?

Ryley Chestnut: [00:02:25] Yeah. Hayley, I'll go first, but my name is Ryley. My husband, Jesse, and I have been married for 16 years-ish. We got married when I was 17, and just the way that the Lord has worked through our story is incredible, but I won't get into all of that.

So we had two boys that were two and five in 2015, and we found out we were pregnant with our third child, found out it was a girl, had genetic testing, everything was normal. We were super excited. I remember my husband saying, “Oh, we have two boys and now we have a girl and we can be done.” He was raised mostly as an only child, and so three is a big deal for him.

And so her pregnancy was very different from the beginning. I just had this gut feeling that something was off. And I had a midwife and didn't really have any ultrasounds or anything early on. We had done heartbeat tests. We had done blood work. Everything was great.

At my 19-week appointment, we took our boys with us because they wanted to be there to see their sister, they were excited, and took them and my husband. And the sonographer’s doing the sonogram and he says, “Did you have genetic testing done?”

And I said, “Yes. Why? You're scaring me.”

He said, “Well, it's just her head is small.” And that's all he said.

And I said, “Okay.” And they just stopped the sonogram, and turned everything off.

My husband ended up leaving with our two boys at the time because I was like, “Well, it's bad.” Right? “Something's wrong and I don't know what, and I don't want the boys here for this.” And so he ended up driving them to a friend's house.

And they put me in a separate room, and the midwife comes in and she says, “Is he coming back?”

“Yes, he's coming back. He just had to take our boys somewhere else.”

And she said, “We can terminate.”

And I looked at her and I was like, “What? I don't understand. What's happening?”

And she said, “Well, her head is small.”

“Okay. What does that mean? Does she have a brain?”

And she said, “It's rudimentary.”

And I remember thinking, “I don't even know what that means. What does that even mean?”

So we went to a specialist and they did a more in-depth sonogram, kind of the same situation though. The doctor’s first words to me were, “You can terminate.”

And I even said, “I'm not terminating. It's not an option. Don't bring it up,” and that's the first thing he brought up. So we switched providers eventually but found out she had anencephaly.

Anencephaly is a birth defect where the skull is not formed, so they have a brain. That's the misconception with anencephaly is that there's no brain. It's just there's no skull. It's not survivable. And so you can see on a sonogram what it is. It's very clear. But she was alive and she was doing well, considering.

And so we were given two options: to terminate at 19 weeks or to carry as long as we could and just be monitored. So we chose to carry as long as we could. And it was a really hard season being pregnant, knowing that we weren't going to get to bring her home. All of our planning and everything just changed.

And so we leaned on our church and were surrounded by so much support that it was so hard to deny that the Lord had some amazing plan through it.

And so we switched providers and we were monitored until 33 weeks. One common issue with anencephalic babies is that they don't swallow, so you get high fluid. They don't have the part of the brain that tells them to swallow, so little things that we don't really think about when we're pregnant that need to happen in order for everything to be safe.

So we got to a point with our doctor that we loved and trusted, and our first appointment with him, he said, “This is your daughter. She's fearfully and wonderfully made. She might not live very long when you have her, but she's here now. And so I want to celebrate her with you.” And he did, and he was amazing.

And so at 33 weeks, he said, “Your fluid is way too high. If you want to meet her while she's still alive, now's your chance.”

And so that was on a Friday and my husband went into panic mode, like, “Okay, we have to have her today.”

And the doctor was like, “Wait a second. Let's wait over the weekend. You come in Sunday night.” So over the weekend, we had pictures done with my best friend, who now coordinates most of our pictures for our Labor of Hope moms. We had a date night, just all the things leading up to the day that she was born.

And prior to that, we had a doula lined up and knew that was important. And it was instrumental in how her birth went. We had this amazing team of people who knew what questions to ask, what we should and shouldn't do and how to guide us so that we got the most time with Jaycee that we could have.

And just the way that everything worked out, we were able to meet her for about 51 minutes and got to hold her and love on her and spend time with her.

Ashley Opliger: [00:08:10] I'm so sorry for your loss. And I'm so sorry that you had to walk through this journey initially with providers that did not value life, and that were pressuring you to make a decision that you didn't want to do.

And I'm so grateful that you did find a provider that understood that Jaycee was perfectly and wonderfully made by her Creator, and that the time that you did have with her in your womb should be celebrated. And so I'm really grateful that you've found that person.

Hayley, would you mind sharing your story of Xander’s life with us?

Hayley Martinez: [00:08:45] Yes. My husband and I found out we were pregnant with our first child in September of 2015. And we had been trying for several months to get pregnant, so we were really excited.

And in January we went in for our routine anatomy scan to find out what we were having. I thought it was a girl, my husband thought it was a boy, so we had a bet on who would get to choose dinner that night. We were going to go out and celebrate. And we were going to have our family over that weekend to tell them what we were having.

And the sonographer started, and she didn't say much. She was chatty at first and she got quiet. Xander very quickly showed us that he was a boy, there was no denying it. And Jay was elated. He, I think, just started picturing all the things he would get to do with his son.

And the sonographer got really quiet and I felt uneasy, but I didn't say anything. And she said, “Okay, the doctor will come in the room and talk about everything.” And that was it.

And the doctor came in a few minutes later. He said, “Okay, so I'm not seeing things that I should be seeing, and I don't like what I'm seeing.”

I said, “Well, what do you mean?”

”Well, that your baby doesn't have a nose. He's missing part of his brain. There are just a lot of things wrong, and we need to go to a specialist to see if we want to even continue with this pregnancy.

We’re just, “What?”