Courtney Hayes is a woman, who from the outside, looks like she has the picture-perfect life.
After graduating from Michigan State University on a full swimming scholarship, Hayes met her husband Josh, a physical therapist, while living in North Carolina. The couple’s Facebook and Instagram posts show them doing everything from hiking up mountains to exploring the crystal clear waters of Lake Tahoe.
But Hayes, a swimming instructor and business owner, hides a deep hurt behind her wide smiles — she has endured four devastating losses, one miscarriage after another, each a different kind of pain, each adding grief onto an already unhealed wound.
I first became connected to Hayes through a mutual friend, who heard about my own miscarriage and urged me to reach out to her. So I did. Hungrily, I scrolled through her posts, words spilling into my soul, offering me hope and healing. This woman gave voice to some of the most isolating emotions of my life. She somehow knew exactly what I was feeling and in reading her posts, I realized that I truly was not alone. For the first time since I found out I was losing my pregnancy, I let myself grieve the loss that very much felt like a baby to me.
Courtney Hayes changed my life and for that, I will always be grateful. Her decision to share her journey has not been easy, but she does it for women like me, hundreds of women who contact her privately in moments when they are at their lowest, women that she never fails to drop everything for and respond back to, because she knows what it feels like to reach out for connection when you need it the most.
“I realized then that by not hiding my sadness, I wouldn’t feel so alone,” Hayes tells me about her decision to speak so openly about her losses. “I wasn’t the only one hurting. Everyone is fighting some type of battle.”
Hayes’ journey has been a long one, although she confesses that she wasn’t always sure she wanted to be a mother. “To be honest, I wasn’t sure I wanted kids,” she explains. “It terrified me and I REALLLY liked my life the way it was.” But after her first loss, something changed. “When I lost this baby, I realized how much I truly did want to be a mother, both to my biological child and an adopted child.”
Hayes went on to have three more losses, getting pregnant naturally twice more and using IVF for the last attempt (she even documented the grueling process of preparing for IVF in a video). Each time, however, Hayes knew something was wrong. “I believe a woman’s intuition is very powerful,” she says.
Her losses have been all different, two with rising hormone levels but no fetuses doctors could find, and two with fetuses that the couple saw, heartbeats flickering with hope, before they stilled forever. “Walking around for over a week with a baby I knew was no longer alive was one of the most challenging times in my life,” Hayes remembers.
Each experience, Hayes says, has changed who she is as a person, how she sees the world, and how she relates to other people. She has shared some of her powerful posts on Facebook, speaking to the heartbreak, misunderstanding, and hopelessness that miscarriage, and the deceptive nature of social media:
“I share this photo with you because so many people told me how happy I looked. I think I was probably happy for the moment, as I was 8 weeks pregnant and although I was filled with anxiety, it is impossible not to feel hopeful. I was also in my happy place — with my husband in the mountains. Facebook is deceiving, however. I know I have looked happy in many photos over the year, but don’t be fooled. People always comment on all of our adventures and happiness — we do those things to run away from our pain. It is a front, to cover up the deep pain inside that has never gone away. I try to put myself in to happy moments to fool myself in to thinking I am really happy, but I don’t think I’ve truly been happy in over a year.”
As difficult as her journey has been, Hayes has carved out a way to cope with her losses in a way that sounds very familiar to me: wine, chocolate, and Netflix.
“For two weeks after a loss, I let myself do whatever I want, unapologetically,” she explains. “Lots of wine, Netflix, cake and chocolate! Seriously. I truly believe Netflix has saved my sanity … I now associate certain shows with certain miscarriages. The Walking Dead helped me survive loss number 4. I just immerse myself in the show and forget reality. Someone once told me ‘be kind to yourself’, so that is what I do. I try not to feel guilt for how I am feeling at that moment.”
She also shares that getting back to her love of nature, planting something that will grow with each loss (“when [our fig tree] produces fruit, it feels like it is our baby, living and thriving, just in a different way we imagined”), getting a special memorial tattoo, and growing deeper in her faith has helped her to heal. She also recognizes what triggers will hurt her and avoids them, even if that means making her circle of family and friends very small when she has to.
“I have to unfollow 2-3 people a day because it just hurts and I have to protect myself,” Hayes explains. “The people in these relationships did not intend to hurt me. They can’t help that they were pregnant, just had a baby, or said well-meaning things that broke my heart. They can’t help that they are excited and post bump updates every single week, but I can tell you that for someone that is on the other side of it, that stuff can really hurt. “
But the most important part of her healing has been found through talking about her losses. After Hayes announced her first pregnancy on Facebook then miscarried, she deactivated her account and went into mourning. But later, she decided to publicly share her loss — and the response, she says, has been incredible.
“I did a public post the first Mother’s Day after our loss explaining the situation. I was floored by the responses. I received so many private messages of other people who have also lost pregnancies or were struggling with infertility. I realized then that by not hiding my sadness, I wouldn’t feel so alone. I wasn’t the only one hurting. Everyone is fighting some type of battle. At that point, I decided to be very open about my struggles. By doing so, it has connected me to the most amazing sisterhood of strong women going through similar struggles.”
Hayes and her husband have began looking into adoption and have not lost hope that someday, their rainbow baby will find its way to them. Until then, she looks forward to one day writing a book and continuing to bring comfort and healing to all the women who reach out to her.
“Just because the physical bleeding stops, doesn’t mean your heart has stopped bleeding,” Hayes says. “It is a deep ache. I don’t know what to say to others who are hurting, but by sharing what is in my heart with them, I just hope I can give them the same gift others gave me by opening up to me. And that makes me feel like maybe something positive can come out of this incredibly crappy time in my life.”
Hayes wants to spread the message that it is OK to talk about our losses and that by joining together as women who have loved and lost, we can all heal.
“We, as women, are stronger than we give ourselves credit for,” she says simply. “And I can say from experience that the healing does come, even though in the darkest moments it feels like a nightmare you can’t wake up from. Giving someone a sense of peace is such an honor to me.”
If you are a woman going through a loss or struggling with infertility, Courtney welcomes emails from anyone she can try to help. You can contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.