77: We Are All Connected
Stories in this episode: Julie, Whitney, & Brooke each have a story to tell about the struggle and surprises of a life lived in pursuit of discipleship, but they can't tell their story without one another and they can't tell their story without the extraordinary life of Jonah, the little boy who brought them all together.
Quote from Neal A. Maxwell:
"The same God that placed that star in a precise orbit millennia before it appeared over Bethlehem in celebration of the birth of the Babe has given at least equal attention to placement of each of us in precise human orbits so that we may, if we will, illuminate the landscape of our individual lives, so that our light may not only lead others but warm them as well" (Neal A. Maxwell, That My Family Should Partake).
Julie's blog, where she felt prompted to share her experiences with Jonah: inthequietheartishidden.blogspot.com
Julie and Brooke holding Simon and Clara, Julie's children that she was able to have because of Brooke's egg donation. Julie is on the right and Brooke on the left:
Julie's son, Jonah, was born with Treacher Collins syndrome and passed away when he was only 14 months old:
Whitney with her son who Zach, who was also born with Treacher Collins syndrome. She heard Julie's story while at a Carl Bloch exhibit at the BYU Museum of Art:
Zach is now 7 years old:
Welcome to "This Is the Gospel," an LDS Living podcast where we feature real stories from real people who are practicing and living their faith every day. I'm your host, KaRyn Lay.
I kind of feel like today's theme doesn't need much of an introduction at all. So I'm going to keep this short and sweet. Because if there is one principle of the gospel that we all understand just a little bit better after a full year of social and physical distance, it's the power and purpose of human connection and just how inextricable that connection is, to our spiritual practice. And have we got a story about connection for you.
Actually, it's one big story with two little stories in the middle. And it's kind of hard to explain, but I think it's going to become clear soon enough. First, we'll start with our storyteller Julie, then you're going to hear from Whitney, and then Julie again, and then Brooke, and then back to Julie, and then Brooke and then Julie.
And just a quick note for sensitive listeners that this story does involve some trauma related to loss. Here's Julie:
Our first son Jonah came into the world 10 days late. It was my first baby and I had all these ideals about what his birth would be like, and my whole pregnancy had been so good, and I had felt so healthy and strong. And all of our ultrasounds that we had were fine. We never had any indication that there would be any problem or any challenges for our baby.
It was just this beautiful experience to be pregnant and to feel him move inside me. I was sure that I was just gonna let him come on his own terms. And 10 days after his due date, my doctor said, "No, we need to induce you."
That day was so exciting. The birth was good, but when he was finally born, the doctor put him up on my belly. And when I first looked at him, I could tell right away that something wasn't quite right. And I didn't get very much time with them because they whisked him off my belly. And all of a sudden there was this flurry of activity around us and the respiratory therapists came in and they took Jonah and kind of moved him away from me. And I remember my mom coming over and comforting me and I just didn't even know what was happening.
I just said remembered seeing his little ears. They looked almost like little flower petals that hadn't quite opened all the way. My husband Jordan was over by the nurses and he was kind of watching what was going on, and he came over to me and I remember him saying, "Julie, he has the most beautiful lips." And I think he was in this moment of trying to process, you know, what we were experiencing. But it turned out that he had a lot of problems with his facial structures. He had a cleft palate, his jaw was underdeveloped, his cheekbones were underdeveloped, and his ears were not fully open, like they had just started to develop and stopped midway through that development.
We didn't know what caused it or whether he'd be able to see or whether he'd be able to hear. We didn't know if he would have any kind of mental delays, but we loved him so instantly. And it wasn't until the next morning after a night of changing diapers and trying to figure out how to feed him that our doctor came in and told us what his diagnosis was. He told us about Treacher Collins syndrome, which is a syndrome that affects the facial structures and development of the face. And the other thing the doctor told me is, "I'm almost 100% sure that you are the carrier of this genetic disorder."
It was good to know what he had because we knew that he would be able to see and he wouldn't be able to hear with the help of a hearing aid, we knew that he wouldn't have any kind of developmental challenges. But I had this place in my heart that just hurt so bad because I knew that I had carried this, you know, thing that was inside me that had . . . that wasn't my fault. But I felt the strange responsibility for being the carrier of that gene. And almost the immediate realization too, that any children that we tried to have in the future would have a 50% chance of having the same experience that our sweet Jonah was having.
We knew that he was going to face a lifetime of surgeries to correct some of those things that he had to deal with, and it was all so overwhelming. And I tried to put on a brave face and I tried to be really present and to be optimistic. But as soon as I could get up and I got into the shower–that's where I just fell apart. I just prayed that Heavenly Father would help me to know how to move forward. And the distinct impression that I received was that Jonah deserved to have a joyful mom. And that there was a lot that we didn't know, and there was a lot that I couldn't control. But I could control how I approach the experience of being this mom. And so that's what I tried to do.
After a while, we just didn't think about his syndrome very much. We were just normal parents, and just raising this little boy and that was beautiful. People just were attracted to him and they wanted to know about him. And my husband and I are, well, especially my husband, we're kind of private, you know, we're not the kind that really reach out, but with Jonah, people just came to us. And it was a heart opening experience to watch how people just loved him right away.
But there was also a realization that people could be cruel. As he got older, we had more experiences of people stopping and staring or children saying things that were hard, and he was young enough, that didn't really affect him, but you know, we wondered how that would affect him as he got older. That was a challenge.
When Jonah was 14 months old, my friend had invited us over, she wanted to can spaghetti sauce, and our kids would play together while we made the spaghetti sauce. That morning, I had felt this hesitation that I couldn't put my finger on, but for some reason, I just didn't really want to go. And she was my dear friend and I love spending time with her and I couldn't understand why I wouldn't want to get out of the house and go there.
But we went, and Jonah played with her kids and we made our spaghetti sauce. After a couple hours, she needed to go and pick up her oldest daughter. And I said, "Okay, that's fine. I'll watch the kids." And we were in the backyard playing. And almost immediately after she walked out the door, the kids had been eating snacks and Jonah ate a fruit snack.
I could tell right away that something was wrong. I could see it in his eyes that he couldn't get any air. And I knew that he was choking. And I was holding my friend's new baby and I have these children around me and I looked around and there was a blanket on the ground. So I put the baby down and I scooped Jonah up and I tried to do the Heimlich maneuver and tried to you know, pound this fruit snack out. It wasn't working and I could feel his body just go limp in my arms.
You know, I started to panic. And I grabbed my phone and I grabbed him and I knew I just went to the front of the house because I thought if I can get out there someone can help me. And I left all these kids in this baby in the backyard and ran to the front of the house and laid him out on the driveway and called 911.
They did their best to help me and I was doing everything I knew how to do to help him. You know, I don't think it was very long before the ambulance got there. But just as I looked at him, I had the strongest confirmation I think I've ever had in my life, and the confirmation was that he was not he was not going to make it.
My friend came around, you know, the corner to see these ambulances and fire truck at her house and she ran out and she didn't know who was in trouble, you know. And when she saw that it was Jonah. She said, you know, "This is the time to have faith and this is the time to be strong." And I said, "He's not going to make it."
Within a matter of 30 minutes I'd gone from being the mom of this vibrant, lovely boy to holding him in my arms and his spirit was so clearly gone. That was the most devastating moment of my life.
And I'll never forget leaving the hospital that day with my husband, Jordan. And we got into his truck and we didn't have children with us, you know. And it was so surreal and strange. And we just drove home together. And then just crawled into bed and just cried all night. We just cried all night.
And then the next day people started showing up at our door. They came until . . . you know we went to bed that night, they just kept showing up. We just all grieved together as a community and as a family and this just tragic loss that we had all experienced.
The weeks and months that followed Jonah's death were just surreal. And at night, when I would try and fall asleep, I would see in my mind the experience of losing Jonah, over and over again. And I prayed for Heavenly Father to help me to be able to . . . to let that go and to be able to sleep. And I had a strong impression that I needed to write it down. And so I started by writing everything I could think of in my journal, and I wrote it down. And that night, I slept.
And then I had the impression that I needed to write it in a more public way. And that felt really scary, but I decided, since I had this time, that I would begin sharing my experience and start a blog. I remember pressing, publish, and just feeling sick inside, like just feeling like I put my whole heart and soul out into the world, and not knowing how people would receive it. But that blog, and that ability to write became so therapeutic to me.
Another thing that was therapeutic for me, at that time was gardening. And I decided that I needed to put a garden in a new place in our yard, and I went out one day, and I just started tearing out the grass. It was this hard, physical work. That was just like, I was channeling all my anger and my rage into pulling out this grass. I was so angry and so upset. And I wasn't angry at God, but I just had this anger in me from this experience. And so I just began to pull out this grass. And I was just out there by myself and I was quiet.
I just remember having this feeling settle on me. It wasn't a vision, it wasn't a dream, it was just this quiet impression of two little souls that were going to come to our family. Part of me thought, oh, I'm just, you know, dreaming about what I want, then wondered if it was a real feeling. But it was the kind of feeling that just stays with you. And it just kind of sunk into my heart.
When Jonah died, Jordan and I had this immediate realization that if we wanted to have more kids, we had to decide how we were going to move forward and that felt so overwhelming, because we had just experienced this incredible loss that was tied to Jonah's genetic condition. He had a small airway, and that's one of the contributing factors to why he choked on that fruit snack. And so the idea of just having another baby was terrifying.
So we started talking about it and trying to figure out how we could possibly move forward. We knew that there was a possibility that we could do genetic testing, to help us to make sure that we had healthy embryos, and that we wouldn't pass on this genetic disorder. And I felt this real hesitation in that space when thinking about that possibility.
Because part of me wondered if I was somehow rejecting Jonah and the beauty and light that he brought into our home if I chose not to have another baby like him. And if I chose to use science to select out the healthiest embryos, if I'd somehow be denying myself the experience that I just had, that was so powerful–being his mother. And that was really hard for me to wrestle with.
I have always been the kind of person–I want to do what's right, and I want to do what God wants me to do. And I want to be in tune with the Spirit. And I just wondered if somehow I was leaving God out of the equation. There was part of me that felt like if I had real faith, then I would just roll the dice and let God decide, right? That somehow if I were truly faithful, that we would just move forward without a question.
And luckily, my husband didn't feel that way. He felt that it was okay to move forward with genetic testing. That would still require a lot of our faith. And so we moved forward with that. It took a full year for an embryo transfer and we had one healthy embryo that we could work with.
And so all of our hopes were wrapped up in this one moment. And when it came time to do the transfer, my doctors cancelled it. They discovered that I had scar tissue from my first pregnancy, and that it probably wouldn't work. And so after this full year of waiting and hoping we were faced with this new challenge.
During this time, I decided that I needed to get a job to fill my time. And I was lucky enough to get a job at the Springville Museum of Art, which was great. And I had a colleague there who was working at the BYU Museum of Art. And they were getting ready for the Carl Bloch exhibit that was coming up.
Carl Bloch is really well known artist in LDS culture, maybe not by his name, but almost everyone would recognize his paintings. They are beautiful paintings of the Savior and His life. And the BYU Museum of Art was in the process of putting together this incredible exhibit of his works. But they wanted to have a spiritual component that connected to real people in their lives.
And my friend Ashley, who was working there asked me to share my experience of losing Jonah, in relation to one of Carl Bloch's, beautiful paintings, "Christ the Consolator," and I was really hesitant to do it, because I don't like being on video. And I knew it would be seen by a lot of people, but I knew from my experience, writing, that the experience I had of losing Jonah was really a powerful story for other people. that I got so much feedback from people about how it changed their hearts, or changed the way that they mothered their children or brought them closer to the Savior, that I moved past my hesitations and decided to go for it.
My husband and I were encouraged by lots of family and friends to go to the BYU art museum to see the Carl Bloch exhibit. So on a Saturday, we went for a little day date. And I was told by my mom, "Make sure you get the iPad version of the tour." So I got the iPad and started to walk around the gallery. And I wasn't as familiar with Carl Bloch before going to the museum.
So I walked in, and I just was like, "Oh my goodness, I know that painting, I know that painting." I didn't realize the Carl Bloch had done so many paintings of Christ. I just was blown away how much beautiful artwork Carl Bloch had done. And then as I kept going around the museum, I turned the corner and walked over to a big painting, a very large size painting of Christ teaching.
And I can't remember the details of it, but I very specifically remember there was an image of a little boy in the painting. And this little boy in the painting, was very intently listening to Jesus. There were other people in the painting, who would turn their heads, were scoffing, not paying attention, but this little boy was so significant to me because he was peacefully listening and looking at Jesus Christ.
So as I'm looking at this painting, I looked on the iPad, and noticed there's a button that you can push to have somebody tell you a story about this painting. So then I clicked on that button to hear a testimony of a woman. And she immediately started to tell some things that were happened in her life. She talked about a baby that was born to her and her husband, that didn't look like every other baby you see.
And as she started to describe this baby, my heart just stopped. I didn't have to see a picture of him, but I knew the second she described it. The way she described his eyes slanting downward, and his little chin and his tiny ears, and his missing of cheekbones, and the jaw, I immediately knew she was describing my son, who was born a month earlier.
There's only one out of every 50,000 births that these babies come into this form. And I knew immediately she was describing Treacher Collins syndrome that her little boy had. And so I kept listening and I actually listened to it twice because my heart was just so moved as I heard her journey of not only having a baby who wasn't a baby you anticipate, but then her experience of losing this baby and my heart just broke for her. And my heart was just in pain and suffering as she described this experience, but then listening to her to she described how much she was able to do it because of Jesus Christ.
And it was a very weird, surreal moment to be in so much pain for somebody, but also feel so much joy. Such anguish and peace at the same time. In that moment, in this large gallery, I completely felt and knew that I wasn't alone, and that God knew me. He knew my son. He knew this woman and He knew her son. And people will say, "Wow, what a coincidence." But to me, it was a knowledge that God knew of my situation. And he had a one of his children–one of my sisters–say, "I know what you're feeling. I know what you're experiencing."
I had this eternal connection with this woman. For the first time since my son was born, I felt like somebody understood. After leaving the museum, I became obsessed. And I know that sounds scary, but I became obsessed with trying to find this woman. So I got on the internet, like all stalkers do, and I started Google searching everything I could find. And I searched and searched, I looked, I knew I knew her picture. I didn't know her full name, I just knew her picture.
So I would Google, "Little boy dies choking on fruit snack," I googled, "Treacher Collins syndrome boy." I googled as many things I could find. And then I clicked on images one day, and I saw her picture and I knew that was her. So I clicked on that link, and it took me to her blog. And then I spent the next three days just reading every word of that blog.
And I just . . . my heart became even more endeared to her. Reading the way she beautifully was explaining her circumstances and situation life. It was like I was reading scripture, it was so holy to me to hear how she explained her trials and her good times, and her hard times.
I knew I needed to make contact with her. I knew I needed to connect with her in person. So I did what the best thing I feel like I could do, and I started to write a letter to her. I wrote a letter just thanking her for the peace she brought into my life, the answers that she brought to my life, the realization that God was aware of me. I remember thinking, she's gonna think I'm crazy. This random person, bearing her testimony, having a very spiritual experience, because of her situation, that was a hard situation, she's gonna be like, "This woman is crazy."
Even my husband was like, "Mmm... Whitney this might be a little bit out there for you." But I felt so prompted to write the letter. So that's why I had to do it. I needed to connect with her and let her know that her story changed my life.
But then I didn't know where she lived! So I started to stalk her again, and I googled, as much as I could to find out, and I found an address. I was a little nervous to send it, but then I kind of in the back of my mind said, "But, you know what? She probably might not even get it." So I sent a letter. And to be honest, after sending it, I kind of forgot about her. Like, it kind of left my mind and left my heart. And I kind of stopped being so obsessed.
And so I thought, "Okay, that's what I needed to do. I just needed to send that letter and I would move on." Even if I never heard back from her. That experience in the museum was a pivotal point for the rest of the journey of my life on this earth. Because it was such a defining moment where I knew without a shadow of a doubt that God knew me. He was aware of me. That He knew the prayers I've been praying the last month. He knew the heartache I was . . . the fears I was having about the future of my son. And in that moment, I can still see where I'm standing when I was looking at that exhibit and feeling as if in a huge museum–I was the only one in the room. And God was personally saying, "Whitney, I hear you. I'm aware of you. And I see you."
As a mom, I'm constantly telling my children, "Go help your brother and sister do this." "Go help your brother do that." And I truly believe that Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother are doing that constantly. That they are reaching out to us as their children and saying, "Go help your brother, go help your sister." Because we are all connected. We are all an eternal family and we are all God's children, and our purpose on this earth is to get everyone to come back to Heavenly Father and Heavenly Mother.
So let's say you get a prompting to send a text message or to go visit somebody or to be even maybe write a letter to somebody like I did, my advice would be just do it. Act on that prompting. Write that letter. Send that text message. Go visit somebody. Because Heavenly Father is inspiring you for a reason.
We were finally ready to do our first embryo transfer. Everything seemed like it was going to work. And the problems that I had had seem to be fixed. They transferred one healthy embryo that we had, and I miscarried almost immediately. It was so devastating. We decided that we couldn't do the genetic testing again. It was just too many variables, too many questions about why I had miscarried.
And so we decided to try an egg donor. And once again, all of the ethical and moral questions and religious questions came up with this choice and not knowing if we were doing the right thing, or if we should do something different. But we felt okay moving forward. And we chose an egg donor.
Around this time, my sister, Brooke, offered to be an egg donor for us. I didn't even know that that was the possibility. I didn't know how that would be. But I did know what it was like to go through an in vitro cycle, and all of the shots and all the hormones, the doctor's appointments that were associated with it, I just felt like it was too much to ask my sister, so we decided to move forward in a different direction.
We were able to get 12 healthy embryos. And when you're doing fertility stuff, they give you constant updates. So they'll call you after three days and say "This many have developed." And then they'll call you in two more days and they'll say, you know, "Five more are looking good." And so you're just waiting for these phone calls and hoping that things go well. The first call we got was good. They said, "We have 12 and they're developing." And the next call we got was not as good. And they said, "Well, now we only have six, but they're still developing." And then the final call, we got said that none of them, they all just stopped developing.
Our fertility clinic said they had never had that happen before. After the anonymous egg donor embryos didn't work out for us, I felt really strongly that we could move forward with Brooke, my sister, and the offer that she had made to let us use her eggs. My sister is so generous, she always has been and she's so willing to guide me and direct me and help me in every way that she can. And it just felt like, "Of course. This is what we're gonna do." And I don't know why it had been so hard before them because at that moment, it seemed to make the most sense of anything in the world, that these embryos would still be connected to my family through her, you know. And they would still have a connection to my parents and to my grandparents. And that just felt like such a gift that I hadn't even realized that I wanted.
Julie and I were just typical siblings. As we grew older–we were three years apart–as we grew older, I think our connection just grew apart as well. We were in different places of our life in different stages. I got married really early, I had my first baby really young. So by the time Julie got married, I had five kids.
My youngest was really close with Jonah, when he was about a year old, I had decided to go back to school and I was working a couple days a week and I was going to school a few times a week. And so Julie and Jonah would go pick up Lindsay from school every day. She just have the sweetest little relationship with him, she just loved him so much.
The day he died I was at the preschool that my family owned, and I got a phone call from Julie's friend saying that I needed to call my mom and have her go to the hospital. And I thought well, you know, I had taken kids to the hospital for stitches and stuff like that. and I think in my deep in my heart, that's what I wanted it to be. But I knew from her voice that that's not what it was. And I said "Okay, I'll call her. Is he going to be okay?" And she said, "No, I don't think so." And I remember the world just going fuzzy. I sat there for a long time trying to think about what to do. I didn't want to be at work. I needed to be there.
So as I was driving to the hospital, I called my husband and asked him if he would go pick up the kids from school. So I got to the hospital and I was sitting in the parking lot, and I got a phone call from my mom saying that Jonah had died. And I really don't remember how I got to the doors of the hospital. I didn't do it well, because at some point, a nurse came out of the hospital and walked me in. I just remember her arms around me. And she asked me if I was his aunt, and I told her I was. And she walked me in.
I walked in there and I saw Julie holding Jonah, Jordan sitting next to her. And my heart just shattered. It wasn't very long after that, well, maybe about an hour after that. The same nurse came back in and told me that my kids were at the hospital. I walked into this little side room that they had outside the emergency room and I just collapsed. All five kids came running to me and put my arms around them and told them what had happened. And we just grieved. We just wept.
I did not think that I could inflict another heartache on my kids. Two weeks before, I had asked my husband to move out, my kids were really suffering. And I was already foggy, I was already so confused about what was right and what was wrong. But I also knew that I needed to know what the right thing was to do for my children, for my family, how we were going to move through this grief and this heartache.
So I said goodbye to my kids, they went back with their dad. And I walked out to my car and I sat down in my car. My prayers to God at that point were like David in Psalms. You know, like, angry and sad and hopeful . . . and all of those things at the same time. And I sat in the car and I just cried to the heavens, "You have to tell me what to do today. Because I cannot break the hearts of my children anymore that they're broken."
And I started driving, the same prayer just going over and over and over in my head. And by that night, I knew that my marriage was over. It was a really, really, really dark and sorrowful night. And that night, my kids, all five of them climbed into bed with me and I remember us falling asleep to me singing or humming "Abide with me tis eventide." Cause my whole family, my children, myself, my sister, her husband, my parents, we were all slipping into the darkest dark. We spend a lot of time crying.
Julie took care of me. I remember just being awed by her. And how she just in her profound grief took care of me, took care of my children. And sometimes I felt guilty about it because I just I didn't know if I even had the emotional capacity to be able to do for her what she was doing for me.
My darkest dark lasted about two years and it was really, you know, we sometimes it felt black. But I met a man at the end, as I was nearing the end of that and coming through and healing, I met a man that I really loved and who really loved to me and we decided to start our lives together and bring our families together.
At the same time, Julie was still wandering through that dark, dark. And as I healed, I was even more aware I think of the pain and grief she was experiencing.
I started to have dreams that I had something of my sisters that I . . . but I didn't ever know what it was or how to give it to her. I just knew that I had something that I needed to give to her. I would have them pretty regularly. And I'm not a dreamer. Like I don't, I don't get answers to prayer and dreams. I don't . . . my dreams are usually just super weird. But these felt these felt like there was something there that I was supposed to be paying attention to. And I remember I would wake up and I would just lay in bed and think like, what, what is it? What is it? For a long time, I thought it was just grief, I thought that it was . . . I was supposed to be attending to her grief.
At this point, Julie had gone through a miscarriage and a failed IVF. And my mom came to visit and she was out for a couple of weeks and we were driving her back to the airport. And she said, "Julie and Jordan are thinking about using donated eggs." And it was like just this complete knowing. It was a knowing. That's the only way I can describe it. All of a sudden, I knew exactly what those dreams had meant. I knew exactly what I was meant to do.
And I just said, "Well why . . . why not mine?" Like why . . . why are we not doing this? And from there on it was that was just what was meant to happen. I offered Julie, I told her that I would do this for her. And I remember she she was very thoughtful about it. And she said, she said no. I didn't really feel discouraged. I remember thinking that it was a big thing. And that it was something that doesn't happen very often, at least in our experience and known world.
And so I just told her, it's an open offer, if you change your mind, I will do this for you. I don't remember ever thinking it wasn't going to happen. I just knew that she needed time to really think about it and decide if that was okay. And then she came to me and said, "I'm ready. Let's do this." I remember feeling really excited.
I don't know anybody that is supposed to be a mother more than Julie. And watching her go through all those years of sorrow and heartache and loss . . . I was just so happy to be able to help her be a mother.
So I was older, I was 35, had to go through a bunch of tests to make sure that I was, it was even a viable option. I was. So we went through the process. And one of the things that we had to do is speak with a psychologist. And I had to be there, my husband had to be there, Julie had to be there and her husband had to be there.
And the feminist in me it really like pushed against that. I was so like . . . why? Why? Why does my husband have to be there? Why did he have to give me permission to do this? I think part of it too, was pushing back against a former life I had had and I wanted to make these decisions.
In the end, I was so glad that he was there because I was able to see just how much healing had happened in my life. The psychologist wanted to know how I would feel about to raising these babies, if I would be okay with that. And I was stunned because they were never mine. They were always meant to be Julie's. Like my dreams had told me from the very beginning, I had something that was hers. And I was just holding on to them until they were ready, until everybody was ready.
My husband was asked how he felt about it. And I remember him saying that he was going to completely support whatever I needed to do and however I needed to do it. And that was such a departure from my former life. Which is why I was so glad he was there because it was just another reminder of the grace of God, another reminder of healing.
There is a quote by Neal A. Maxwell and I'm just going to paraphrase it because I don't remember it completely, but since the moment I heard it, it has always stuck with me. And he talks about how the Star of Bethlehem was placed in orbit millennia before Christ was born, but it was there so that it could shine on that night, it could lead people to Christ.
And I've thought about that a lot, and how that light, that star shone on that night in the darkest dark. And I think about how there are moments in time that are placed in the orbit of our life, that will shine on our darkest darks. We don't know when and we don't even know what they are, but they're there. And they will come. And we will encounter God in those moments.
We moved forward with Brooke going through an in vitro cycle, and she was able to get four healthy eggs for us. So we scheduled a time that we could implant two of those eggs. And we felt this renewed energy and excitement about it, that this time, it would work. The process is fairly simple. When they put the embryos in and then you just wait until you have a blood draw. And they can check to see if you're pregnant, and then you wait for another blood draw and see how your progesterone levels and all sorts of other levels to see if it's moving forward.
Initially, we got that first blood draw that said, "Yes, we were pregnant." And we were just so thrilled and ecstatic and hopeful. That part of our hearts was always reserved, because we'd experienced so much lost. And we didn't want to get our hopes up. Then we had our second blood draw, and the news was not good. They told me that my progesterone levels were dropping, and that I would probably miscarry.
We were just devastated and heartbroken and I felt lower than I had in any of the previous losses. Not Jonah's loss, but in the previous miscarriages and setbacks that we'd experienced, because I just felt so hopeful about this time. We got the phone call on a Saturday, and the next day was church. My husband was in a bishopric and he would go over early to have meetings and things and I would meet him later. I wasn't even sure I wanted to go to church. I didn't think that I could, because I was so heartbroken and devastated and sad. And I felt like I could have stayed home, and that would have been okay, but I got myself ready and I started driving and I was just crying in the car.
And on my way, I just felt like I needed to go to Jonah's grave. So I turned and I took a detour and I went to the cemetery and I went to his grave and I just knelt down right next to his headstone. I just felt so alone. And I wondered if God cared about what I cared about, if God wanted the same things that I wanted. If he knew me, if he was aware of me and my struggles, and I just didn't know if I could keep going. You know, it was so emotionally draining to go through this process over and over again.
I just prayed and I asked Heavenly Father to show me, to tell me, to let me know somehow that I was loved, that I was known, that there was a greater plan, and to give me the strength to keep going. I stayed there for a while just being alone there in the cemetery. And I got myself up and I went to church. And I don't remember anything about being at church. I just remember sitting around the hall. I'm feeling so sad.
The next day, I went to work and I was gone most of the day, just tried to get through it. And when I got home, I checked the mail and there was a letter. It was a letter from someone that I didn't recognize the return address and I went inside and opened it.
Her name was Whitney, and I'm just going to read what she said. "I hope that this note is something that can strengthen your testimony and reminds you The Lord has a divine purpose and plan for all of us. I hope this note reassures you that prayers are truly answered, because you were an answer to ours. When I read what you wrote, it felt like a direct answer to my prayer the day before." I knew that she had written that note days before, weeks before I don't know when, you know, when she wrote it, but it had come to my doorstep the very day after I had said this really heartfelt prayer.
And it had answered all the questions that I had had about whether God was involved in the little day to day parts of my life. And all of the questions that I had heard about whether He cared about me and loved me and what role He played in our choices, and whether I could ask for the things that I really wanted and needed. This little letter just after that for me and confirmed to me that God loved me. And it felt like the most miraculous and beautiful gift from my Heavenly Father.
At the time, we only had two embryos left from my sister. And it had been so devastating to miscarry that I wondered if I would be able to do it again and go through the process and the shots and the appointments, and the phone calls, all of it. But this letter just gave me this hope and energy and this belief that God was with us.
And I remembered that feeling I had in the garden as I was pulling up the grass, and that feeling of these two souls and two spirits. And I just felt like we had to keep moving forward, that we were moving towards a greater plan for our family.
During this time, I had many random experiences in which people told me about a different doctor that we should go to. Everyone from my visiting teacher to my phlebotomist that took my blood seemed to be telling me to go to this new doctor. And we had these two embryos, and we decided that what we had been doing wasn't working, and we need to try something else. So we decided that we would go to a new doctor.
The funny thing was that my husband, Jordan had to go get these embryos, from the fertility clinic, he had to pick them up in this little nitroglycerin case, and drive them on the freeway to the other clinic. And he was terrified. He was so worried that they would fall over and they'd get ruined and they're these tiny little cells that he had to move across Utah Valley to this new place. It was so absurd and strange to think of our . . . these two embryos moving before they were even little people down the freeway. But he was brave, and he did it, and he took those embryos to a new doctor.
And our new doctor immediately identified that I had a blood clotting issue and I had an immune reaction that we didn't know about, and he was able to pinpoint these things that had been ending my pregnancies and causing me to miscarry. That was so helpful to move forward with him and to have some answers to what we had been facing.
Knowing that we only had two embryos left, I finally asked my friends and family to fast for us. And I think part of the reason I hadn't asked for that before is because I had worried that if I asked for it, if we didn't have a successful pregnancy, my faith would just be broken. And it's such a vulnerable experience to go through these IVF cycles. Somehow, it felt safer to do it alone. Even though it felt safer, it was undeniable to me that God could use all of these different people in my life to create a powerful outcome.
So we went ahead with embryo transfer and the really amazing thing is that they show you a picture of these embryos before they put them in. So we were able to see what they look like and have a printed out picture of these embryos. And they were our last hope. They were the last two that we had. They did the transfer and it was right before Thanksgiving and I just remember being terrified. I was having panic attacks and I was so afraid, and we found out that I was pregnant. And then that just made it worse because I was so scared.
I was so scared that I would lose another pregnancy. And so we were just hanging on day to day, just taking it one day at a time moving forward. And we eventually were able to have an ultrasound at like eight weeks and we saw their little hearts beating every step along the way. We were terrified and scared but we just kept moving forward. And it was miraculous and amazing to see them growing.
It was hard and long and stressful, but we made it. Simon and Clara were born just after noon, on July 14.
I remember before we went to the hospital, Jordan had talked to me and he said, "We shouldn't let people hold both babies at the same time," because he was so afraid of them getting hurt or something happening. And so I said, "Okay, if that's what you mean, like, we'll tell people they can't hold both babies at the same time."
And when I had the C section, they whisked Jordan back to where they were washing up the babies and the next thing I know, he comes out, and he's holding both of these babies at the same time. And it just felt like we had been through this incredibly hard, five years, and we were so afraid, and we were so hurt. And our hearts had been broken, like over and over again. And here he was holding both of these babies at the same time and it felt so brave. You know, I just felt like we were both so brave, and that God had been with us.
Even though I was afraid that I was leaving Him out of this experience, He had shown up for us all along the way. He showed up for us with my sister, when He'd given me that impression in the garden that was so powerful that stayed with me and kept me going. And He'd given me Whitney at the time that I needed this reassurance in this powerful, powerful way. And now here, Jordan was brave enough to hold these babies at the same time and they were with us, and they made it. We were so grateful.
The night, well, the day the babies were born, I got a call from my mom saying that it was time and Julie was going to go in to have a C section. And so I got right in the car, and I bought a plane ticket. And I just . . . so much hope and wonder and I couldn't wait to meet these babies. And I got there and got to the hospital. And Julie and Jordan were both just so exhausted. Both so exhausted, and I offered to spend the night with Julie that night and I stayed up all night and just stared at them.
Just in wonder and awe at the miracle of them. I was reminded over and over that night about the scripture at the end of Genesis where Joseph is talking to his brothers, who had sold him into slavery. And because of that, Joseph had suffered and grieved and had lost so much. And as he's speaking to the brothers, he says to them, "What happened was really painful. And it hurt a lot. But God has made it good and I am in the place of God." And that night as I lay there on that really uncomfortable cot with this precious baby in my arms, I just kept thinking, we are in the place to God. He has always been here in every moment, making it good even when we didn't know that it was good. It was beautiful.
I've had the opportunity in my life to grieve. And in the moments of grief, I'm not sure I would have called it an opportunity. It was painful. It really, really hurt. But grief is one of those things that if we allow it to open us up, our grief will tether us to the hearts of other people and we will see how connected we are. We will see how similar we are. We will have compassion and love for other people. And I think when that happens when grief really opens us up, we are given the opportunity to participate in miracles and encounter God in everyone and in every story.
The amazing thing was that Simon and Clara were born just a week after Jonah's birthday. And so as we went through their first year of life, all of their milestones lined up in the same seasons and times, as Jonah's did. And so we had this incredible reminder of Jonah, all through that first year, because it was just like we were walking through the same space that we had walked with Him.
We had not moved past our fear, we were still very afraid, but we have come to this incredibly beautiful moment where I realized that God and His plans are huge. They're enormous, and they're beautiful, and they're interconnected. And we don't always understand them, but they are divine in ways that we cannot even understand.
That was Julie, Whitney, and Brooke. And I don't know about you, but my heart is just swimming with all the feelings after this story. There's just so much to witness here.
But for me, it's all really summed up in that quote that Brooke shared from Elder Neal Maxwell. She paraphrased it beautifully, but here's exactly what he said, quote, "The same God that place that star in a precise orbit millennia before it appeared over Bethlehem in celebration of the birth of the babe, has given at least equal attention to placement of each of us in precise human orbits, so that we may, if we will, illuminate the landscape of our individual lives, so that our light may not only lead others, but warm them as well," end quote.
Couldn't you feel that precision of our placement in orbit as we listened to Julie light the path for Whitney, who lit the path for Julie, so that she could walk towards Brooke who is lighting the path for Julie after Julie lit the path for Brooke? If it sounds complicated or circuitous–it is. But it's also insanely simple. We are all connected to each other by divine design. And when we decide to live our lives focused on Christ and His plan for our happiness, everything we do and everything we are becomes meaningful and useful in his plan. And we can't help but bump into one another in our efforts to live a life of discipleship because we are all pulled into the extraordinary orbit of the Son–together.
And then of course, there is Jonah. Sweet, sweet Jonah and his beautiful life that became the catalyst for so much connection. The whole time I was listening to the story, I was imagining Jonah ascending home like a reverse shooting star, full of joy as he sprinkled his life like powerful star dust to settle on each of these women who longed to see and know God.
I could also imagine his utter delight as he watched them embrace his gift and light up for each other, bringing warmth to the spaces where there was only darkest dark, and knowing to the long, quiet parts of that eternal orbit that felt completely unknowable.
And I could imagine him in that room with Julie and Brooke, and Simon and Clara, testifying that we are all one eternal round, and the connections that we have here on Earth, they're only a tiny part of what waits for us beyond right now. We are all connected. And if we've learned anything from this year of heartache, and masks and air hugs and zoom and loss and reckoning, it's that we can't actually do it alone. We really do need each other desperately. And if we will illuminate the landscape of our individual lives by connecting ourselves inextricably to Christ, the source of all connection, then our light may not only lead others, but it will warm them as well.
That's it for this episode of "This Is the Gospel," and I cannot think of a better way to close out the season. Thank you to our storytellers, Julie, Whitney and Brooke for sharing so much of themselves with us all and for showing us the beauty of true connection.
You can learn more about our storytellers in our show notes at LDS Living.com/Thisisthegospel. All of the stories in this episode are true and accurate as affirmed by our storytellers. If you have a story to tell, we want to hear it. You can call and pitch your story on our pitch line at 515-519-6179. And maybe you're listening and thinking I don't have a story to tell. Well, we're going to help you find it. We're working on a few bonus episodes during this in-between time that will help you learn how to find your own story so stay connected with us to know when those bonus episodes are coming by following us on Facebook or Instagram at @thisisthegospel_podcast.
Didn't you love the season? Tell us all about it. We get really lonely during the season breaks and it's so fun to hear from you. You can leave us a review on Apple, Stitcher or whatever platform you listen on. We read every one and truly appreciate your help and knowing what's valuable to you our listeners.
This episode was produced by me KaRyn Lay with additional story production and editing by Erika free and Kelly Campbell. And truly they deserve a medal for making this episode happen from just an idea in my head. It was scored, mixed and mastered by Mix at Six studios and our executive producer is Erin Hallstrom. You can find past episodes of this podcast and other LDS Living podcasts at LDS living.com slash podcast. See you soon