As I walked into the restaurant, a sea of pink balloons greeted me. Towers of sweet treats lined the table that was dotted with diapers and stuffed animals. A quick glance around the room and I spotted a dozen familiar faces, dear friends who have been my lifeline over the years. I smiled at the sight of this beautiful baby shower in honor of the child growing within me, but deep inside I felt an unfamiliar emotion.

After experiencing the loss of a child, I felt guilty for being happy this time around.

I always pictured the perfect life: a loving husband, a successful career, and healthy children to complete our storybook fairytale. But life doesn’t always go as planned. While I was blessed to find my soul mate, we learned that having children would be a challenge, one that would test our strength and our marriage.

Years of infertility lead us to weekly doctor visits and several surgeries on my end. Our last hope was in vitro fertilization, a process that’s not only physically demanding but also mentally and emotionally draining. On that fateful day in 2013, we sat in the exam room holding hands, nervously waiting to find out if either of our embryos were successful. Just moments later, we were in for the shock of our lives. One embryo split, making us pregnant with triplets, two identical girls and a boy.

The shock gave way to excitement as we experienced several months of bliss imagining how our lives were about to change. But our world came crashing down when I went into labor more than 17 weeks premature. At 22-weeks gestation, my triplets weren’t even considered viable by many hospitals across the country, but doctors gave my family a chance, doing everything they could to save our one-pound babies.

Grief quickly grabbed ahold of us. Our first daughter passed away in our arms just two hours after birth. Two months later, we faced the unimaginable heartbreak once again—our son died as we rocked him in our arms. Within two months, two of our triplets passed away.

We became part of a club no parent ever wants to be part of. Our lives would never be the same.

Child loss became part of my identity, forever etched deep within my soul. As I watched our lone surviving triplet overcome the challenges of prematurity, my heart ached knowing she would never have her built-in playmates to grow up with. And even as the years passed by, I couldn’t get over the fear of losing another child. The anxiety and anguish meant that people would see my daughter as our only child.

Almost six years to the day when my husband and I began fertility treatments, life threw us a curveball. After closing the chapter on having more children, we found ourselves back in the same OBGYN office, looking at an ultrasound of our bonus baby. We could never have children of our own, but something changed, and the miracle of life was flashing before our eyes on the computer monitor.

Pregnancy after loss is one of the scariest experiences a mother can go through.

Each week you wonder if your baby is still alive. You worry when you don’t feel her kick, and you worry when you feel her moving too much. You worry that your body is going to fail you, that you might once again leave the hospital empty-handed. The fear is enough to drive you crazy, to keep you up at night crying because you miss your babies you never brought home. Pregnancy after loss is a roller coaster ride; just as you think you’ve conquered one fear, another emotion chips away at your heart.

After surpassing the 22-week gestation mark, I felt a weight being lifted. I was officially pregnant longer than I had ever been before. Fear gave way to moments of happiness and excitement that my baby was still tucked safely inside my womb. I knew I wasn’t in the clear, my jaded sense of parenthood always front and center, but I found bits of hope with each passing week.

I took a deep breath and entered my baby shower. My close friends gushed with excitement as they witnessed my pregnancy glow. My smile was genuine as I visited with each friend, but I found myself holding back the tears. My water broke the night before my baby shower with our triplets, and it hit me, this was the first time I was experiencing what a normal pregnancy should be like.

I rubbed my growing belly as I laughed with friends over pregnancy cravings, but that guilt kept nagging in the back of my mind. This baby is perfectly healthy, yet my body couldn’t keep my other three babies safe. I felt guilt because my body failed me before. I felt guilt that I was celebrating this unborn child when two of my babies died in my arms. And I felt guilt for being consumed with fear and anxiety; that I wasn’t giving 100% to this pregnancy because I knew tragedy could strike at any moment.

As my husband packed up the car full of gifts and diapers, I felt my throat closing in on me. The tears quickly turned into sobs as I shared with my husband my true emotions.

Life is hard when parenting straddles both Heaven and earth.  There is no guidebook for how to navigate life when your child dies.

My husband and I reminisced over the beautiful day and talked about our triplets and the bonus baby on the way. As we pulled up at our home, I felt a sense of peace. There is no right or wrong for parents when it comes to navigating pregnancy after loss. It’s OK to feel sadness, it’s OK to feel guilt and it’s OK to feel happiness. Grief and joy can coexist.

As the final weeks of my pregnancy bring a wide range of emotions, I find my mind wandering back to my baby shower. What this day made me realize is that I will always be a mother of four, with two children in my arms and two children watching over us from above.

Stacey Skrysak

Stacey Skrysak is a local television news anchor in Illinois, but her proudest role is becoming a mom after years of infertility. Stacey is mother to a 22-weeker surviving triplet and two angels. Even though two of her children were only alive for a short time, her triplets have touched thousands of people around the world. Through her blog, Stacey has become a voice for infertility, premature birth and child loss. These days, she sprinkles in the trials and tribulations of raising a daughter, who was once nicknamed “The Diva of the Nicu.”