Sign up for Meridian’s Free Newsletter, please CLICK HERE
On Mother’s Day, I feel extra grateful for my Mom who has been my best friend since I was a toddler climbing on her back for family prayers every night. It’s a joyful day—a day to celebrate. But after interviewing and telling Mandy Nielsen’s story about infertility, I began to realize that Mother’s Day isn’t always a celebratory day for everyone. This holiday can be an achy reminder for some that they cannot have children of their own, that they’ve lost a baby or child, that they were abused or left by a mother, that their own mother passed away, or that they dearly miss a child placed for adoption.
We strive for eternal families with a mother, father and children in the Church, but sometimes that ideal doesn’t come. Sometimes we have to wait a lifetime for promised blessings. The following is the story of Camille Hawkins and her journey with motherhood—the reason Mother’s Day is a day of rejoicing and of mourning:
Camille always thought getting pregnant would be easy. Her mom and sister had both gotten pregnant with no trouble and neither had any pregnancy losses. As she and her husband began planning their lives and careers, their plans centered around having a family. That was what they had been taught all along in their families and at Church and what they ultimately wanted for themselves, but when they started running into complications with getting pregnant, their plans had to change.
Physical and emotional pain came with frustration that they didn’t really know what was causing their infertility. With the symptoms she had, they had to take a break from trying, and she decided to apply for graduate school at the University of Utah. Camille already knew that eventually she wanted to become a masters-level social worker, but being only 22, she found herself as the youngest in her class and having less experience than the rest of her cohort. The opportunity of working to accomplish her educational goals was overshadowed with depression and worry about how they would resolve their infertility and what was going to happen with their future family.
After graduation in 2012, they started trying different fertility treatments and specialists. Camille had surgery, went through three intrauterine inseminations (IUIs) and finally had a cycle of in vitro fertilization (IFV). Being only 24, she was a good candidate for a successful IVF treatment, but only two embryos survived the IVF process. Though both embryos were placed in Camille’s uterus and a pregnancy took, five weeks later she miscarried the day after Thanksgiving.
They were devastated. Not only had they paid over $15,000 for their IVF treatment to have a failed pregnancy, they were left feeling the pangs of a huge loss and no idea where to go from there. Camille had never felt so alone in her life.
She began looking for support groups to cope with her loss, and though she found some groups of women who had lost babies, some of the women in the group were already pregnant again. They did not have the same infertility challenges Camille faced on an ongoing basis. Connecting with an online infertility support group helped her see that many other women were mourning like she was and they, too, needed support. That is when Camille began a support group in her home, bringing women from all over the Wasatch Front and as far away as Cache Valley and Wyoming. She not only received the support she needed, but she felt good seeing others receive support as well. This would eventually lead her to found the Utah Infertility Resource Center, a nonprofit organization providing education and emotional support to those facing infertility.
When Camille and her husband Palmer finally got the courage to do another IVF treatment, all of the embryos died in the lab before she even got the chance to try for pregnancy. The process of countless shots and ultrasounds was so intense and anxiety-producing that they decided it was time to look into other options. They grieved the plan to have a biological child.
In December of 2014, after having their adoption profile up with LDS Family Services for four months, they got an email from a woman expecting a baby and interested in placing her baby in their home. They tried not to get their hopes up as they began corresponding with the expectant mother, but a few days later the woman’s social worker called and said she had gone into early labor and she wanted them to be her baby’s parents.
The Hawkins’ immediately and nervously bought plane tickets, arriving in time to see their little girl born at 31 weeks. They had no idea how long she would be in the NICU, but they felt peace knowing they were exactly where they were supposed to be. Experiencing the birth with the birth family members and bonding over this precious 3 lb. 2 oz. human was glorious for them. After all the pain of infertility, they finally had a tiny baby in their arms.
Bringing their baby home was thrilling, but soon after, Camille felt an unmistakable prompting that there was another baby girl that also needed to join their family. They were planning a trip for when their new baby was 10 months old, but something kept stopping her from booking the trip. It seemed crazy that before their little girl even turned one year old they would adopt another, but they decided to put their adoption profile up, believing if God wanted it to happen, someone would choose them. They felt distinctly connected to their first daughter’s birth family, and they knew if it was right, another birth family would reach out.
Two different expectant mothers contacted the Hawkins, one expecting a baby girl and one expecting a baby boy. When both birth mothers asked the Hawkins to adopt their babies they were ecstatic but immediately felt in their hearts the baby boy had another family waiting for him. It was a difficult decision, but one they felt guided on because they felt such a strong connection to the baby girl and her birth family.
“We took her home and we had two babies under one. It was so crazy that in under one year we went from not being parents to being parents of two,” Camille said.
Camille not only felt purpose as a mother of these two little girls who came so miraculously into their family, she felt purpose in her work at the Utah Infertility Resource Center. The center was growing and families could come to the center for education, counseling services, group therapy, and support groups. She had accepted the fact that her infertility was something she would carry her whole life, but helping others cope with their pain and trauma brought her peace.
In the midst of mothering and counseling in 2018, Camille was shocked to find that she was pregnant. They went to the doctor immediately, anxious about the high risk of losing this baby but excited that the baby was growing healthily. When they found out the baby was a girl, their daughters named her “Baby Flowers”.
All was going well. Camille made it to the third trimester and was preparing the nursery for the arrival of another girl into their family. She reveled in feeling the baby move inside of her and experiencing pregnancy after all the infertility treatment she had been through years before.
One night at 31 weeks pregnant, Camille noticed she couldn’t feel the baby move as much. She couldn’t tell whether she should be concerned or not. With a home Doppler, she listened to the heartbeat of the baby before getting ready for bed, and it sounded normal, but she couldn’t shake the feeling that they should go to the hospital just to get checked. Before leaving the house, she listened to the baby’s heartbeat one more time.
15 minutes later when they arrived at the hospital, there was no heartbeat. The baby was gone.
Camille was in shock. She had miscarried over Thanksgiving before, and now she had to decide whether to induce the birth of her precious daughter just before Thanksgiving. Moving forward with the induction was painful, but letting their families, friends and community, who had been so excited for this pregnancy, know what had happened was excruciating. “It was so devastating to not only feel it for ourselves but share it with everyone else too,” Camille said. When her sisters heard the news, they dropped everything to come from out of town to be there for her.
Camille labored for 36 hours. She breathed and pushed, just as any other birth, but when the baby was finally born on Thanksgiving morning at 3 lb. 7 oz., she did not hear a cry or feel the warmth of the baby on her chest. This little girl with black curly hair they were so excited to meet would not grow up in their home. Camille and Palmer were engulfed in sadness as they spent 2 ½ days in the hospital with their stillborn daughter, Everly.
With the support of families who had donated “Cuddle Cots” to the hospital to preserve stillborn babies so families can spend more time with them and a funeral home who supported her desire to bring her baby home, Camille and Palmer had time with Everly to introduce her to their two other daughters, read books together, take her into the nursery and mourn in their home.
“There is a long, long history of people caring for their loved ones, burying their loved ones and being with their loved ones…up until about the Civil War when funeral homes started embalming and [we started] outsourcing that care. It was very important for me to be able to spend as much time with my baby as possible and to be able to spend time with her in our home. I’m really grateful that we had that opportunity…Most people don’t even know that is an option.”
Burying their baby was something the Hawkins’ never imagined they would have to do, but neither was going through years of infertility, infertility treatments, miscarriage, and adoption processes. As I listened to Camille’s story, I couldn’t help but think that all of her painful experiences have also lent to an increased empathy for the families that she serves every day as an infertility counselor and for the families around her at church and in her community.
“My path to motherhood is definitely unique,” Camille said. “There have been lots of different clubs or camps that I’ve been in or identified with—being childless and struggling with infertility and then being a mom but never having gone through pregnancy or child birth. I felt very alone as everybody around me, now that I was in the mom club, was talking about breastfeeding and their C-section scars and all kinds of things, and I just thought, ‘Well, I don’t know what that’s like. I’m not in that club.’ And now I do have that experience, but I don’t have a baby to nurse or support or show proof of what my body went through. I see similarities to my daughters’ birth mothers’ experiences of leaving the hospital with empty arms after giving birth. Am I a real mom because my two living children at home don’t share my DNA? Actually, nobody in my house shares DNA.”
For women who face any of these issues or others not mentioned, Mother’s Day can be poignant, but it can also be an opportunity for all of us to look around and acknowledge women who may not have families or lives that look typical but who strive to nurture and love in their roles and spheres. Put your arms around the women who come, and pass no judgement on the women who don’t. Make it a day to say, “There is room for you here. We celebrate you.”
Elder Jeffrey R. Holland said, “There is room for the single, for the married, for large families, and for the childless. There is room for those who once had questions regarding their faith and room for those who still do…In short, there is a place for everyone who loves God and honors His commandments…”