Take Note: Jenn Hepton on Trauma and Grief within the Motherhood Journey

Oct 9, 2020

Jenn Hepton spent a decade struggling with infertility.

She endured multiple miscarriages, had to terminate her twins for medical reasons, and suffered the stillbirth of her daughter, Loey. 

She now uses her experience to help others as a certified life + parenting coach and grief awareness educator. 

We talked with her about her motherhood journey, about the trauma she didn’t know she was carrying, and about how she found purpose in her pain. 

Jenn and her husband, Nic, are featured in WPSU's Speaking Grief initiative. To view their story: https://speakinggrief.org/stories-of-grief/hepton-family

To learn more about Jenn's work: https://www.aconsciousmotherhood.com

FULL TRANSCRIPT:

Lindsey Whissel Fenton: Welcome to Take Note. For WPSU from my home studio. I'm Lindsey Whissel Fenton. The following interview deals with infertility, miscarriage, termination of pregnancy for medical reasons and infant loss. Take care while listening. Jenn Hepton spent a decade struggling with infertility. She endured multiple miscarriages, had to terminate her twins for medical reasons—a loss that led to her developing PTSD—and suffered the stillbirth of her daughter, Loey, in 2017. She now uses her experience to help others as a certified conscious life and parenting coach, and a grief awareness educator speaker and blogger. Jenn and her husband, Nic, are featured in WPSU's Speaking GriefInitiative. Jenn, welcome. I am so happy to have you here with us.

Jenn Hepton:  I'm so happy to be here.

Fenton:  There's been so much pain and trauma and grief in your motherhood journey. When did all this begin for you? When did you first realize that the road might not be so straightforward?

Hepton: Oh, my gosh. There's two memories that are coming up. One when I was 35, and I went to the doctor's office for my yearly physical. And she said, “Oh, you're 35?” “Yeah.” “Have you thought about wanting to start a family or having children? Because it's going to start getting a bit harder, you know, taking account your age.”  And I was like, “Oh!” I didn't think about it; wasn't sure if I wanted to have children, just got married. There's a lot of factors here. So, we had a conversation about how difficult that would may be if I waited any longer. So, that was kind of like, OK, the seed is planted. And so maybe this is something I need to take seriously. But around me, everyone seemed to be getting pregnant, and everyone was celebrating their pregnancy and having very healthy pregnancies and healthy babies. So, I was like, OK, whatever. But then when we started trying, and we are two years into trying, I realized, OK, there is something not right. You know? Like, why is everyone getting pregnant and not I? I have done everything they told me to do. I am eating all the foods I'm supposed to be eating, I'm meditating, I'm doing everything. Why is this not happening? And there was a moment where, I was on a trip with my husband, and I just, I remember saying to him, “I don't know if I'll ever be a mom. I don't know if I'll ever be a mom.” And that was two years into a 10-year journey. So, that's when I kind of realized this isn't going to come easy. Now I didn't realize what journey was going to happen. But at that moment, I was like, this is not going to be an easy one.

Fenton: And I want to talk about kind of the different stops on that journey and your experience with miscarriage and infant loss. But I want to make sure we also acknowledge the grief that comes with infertility. And, you know, that grief that comes every month it's not happening every doctor's visit. There's so much grief in that space. And in that experience that doesn't seem to get talked about very much. So, do you feel people in your life understood or understand what you have gone through understood what you were going through?

Hepton: No. No. Because, you said it, because no one talks about it. When I experienced my first miscarriage or when I started to share that I was having infertility, all of a sudden people started to share their stories. And I thought, well, this would be nice to know beforehand. But of course, we take in information that we need when we need it. But there is this grief that happens because there's this expectation that, as women, we get pregnant, we have children. That's what society is kind of taught us to believe. And then when we move into our fertility journey and we have a challenging time, there's grief upon grief upon grief, like you said. You know, when you are taking that pregnancy test and it's a negative again, you're grieving that loss. It's a grief of expectation, but we move on. We're resilient, we move on. And we have eyes on the prize and so we try again. Grief again. And then of course, there's the secondary grief of, maybe you're not sharing this with anybody, so nobody is supporting you, or your best friend has just gotten pregnant, and you're still wanting to get pregnant. So, you're grieving that. There's just so much loss and grief in the motherhood journey, or fertility journey, that we don't talk about. And I can see why. It's painful. I's uncomfortable. But that doesn't mean that we don't need, we don't talk about it. I think the more we talk about it, the less painful it may become; the less lonely, you know? It's very lonely place to be when we're not talking about it.

Fenton: In 2013, you were pregnant with twins. What happened next?

Hepton: So, 2013 we got pregnant naturally. We're over the moon. We found out it was twins. And I thought, “Ah! OK!  Done, we’re done. Yay!” And then I started to bleed. And spoke to the doctor went to get an x-ray or ultrasound. And they saw that I had a subchorionic hemorrhage, which sometimes happens with twin pregnancies. So, I was told to go bedrest. It was very early on. But I remember week 11, they had said that one of our twins was not developing; wasn't “viable” is the word that they used. And that we may have to make a choice to terminate one of our twins. So, we got to week 22 in our pregnancy and we spoke to three different specialists. And they all said the same thing. That this was not a viable pregnancy. I was leaking amniotic fluid, the membrane burst. And I still had the subchorionic hemorrhage. So basically, my life was in danger. And, again, both twins’ lives were not viable. So, they gave us the choice to terminate the pregnancy, which we did. And, again, we're going to talk about grief and loss. That was another, you know, having to make that decision to terminate something that you really want, is a grief, and traumatic, and there was a lot of emotional trauma, and physical trauma, and then having to go through that without anyone really understanding what you had gone through is grief itself. Losing friends, because they felt uncomfortable. And I, myself, losing a part of myself my identity for having to go through what I went through. And then, you know, developing PTSD from that experience, but not knowing that I had PTSD until a few years later. So, there was a lot of grief, a lot of loss there.

Fenton: How did the way your health care providers talked with you about your situation impact your grief experience?

Hepton: Such a great question. You know, this is why I believe in talking about the motherhood journey as a whole, because I think if when we have the awareness of the whole journey, then we can come from a place of advocacy, and come from a place of healing and wisdom. And I didn't have that. So, when we went through terminating our pregnancy, it was very clinical, and they used very clinical terminologies. But there was no one holding space for my trauma, there was no one holding space for my grief and my loss. And so, when we left the hospital after our D&C, or the operation where we have to remove the pregnancy, we were told to go home and rest. And we were given pamphlets to read. But when you're in that state of mind, like neurologically, your prefrontal cortex is not working. So, there's no reasoning. So, you're not going to open a pamphlet and read about your grief or read about your trauma. And that was it. There… I was given a few names to see counselors, which I did see, but they were very general-based counselors because I was very anxious. So when you're grieving, you get very anxious, you know, it affects the brain and the mind and you feel sick, your immune system is compromised, and I was feeling all these symptoms of grief, not knowing it was grief, and still in my motherhood journey, trying to get pregnant again. So, I'm grieving thinking I'm going crazy, but I'm still actively trying to get pregnant looking at fertility treatments, you know, having the conversation with my husband. So, there's a lack of support. There was a lack of space being held for me in that way. And I always say, you know, when you're grieving, you're going through your motherhood journey, you know, your support is so important.

Fenton: What unfolded in your pregnancy journey after the twins?

Hepton: I went back to the doctor and said, “When can I try again?” And, my eye on the prize, I was very determined, very stubborn. “When can I try again?” And he said, “Oh, in three months, no problem.” And I held on to that, believing it. Intuitively, though, I knew I wasn't ready. But I wasn't I lost that intuition. I lost that trust, I lost that in their inner wisdom. So, I continued to try to get pregnant. I was obsessed with trying to get pregnant. And I, within that time, sadly, had, you know, four or five miscarriages. But because I didn't process an honor each miscarriage and just kind of was like moving forward, I developed PTSD from that; not knowing until I sought and seeked therapy and help. And as I was moving forward trying to get pregnant, I was highly anxious. And if you're highly anxious, and you have PTSD, and you're living in emotional trauma, your nervous system is not calm, your adrenals are not calm, and so it's difficult to get pregnant. But at that time, I just wanted to get pregnant. So, we had IVF I UI. And sadly, we had miscarriages

Fenton:In 2018, you were pregnant again. Tell us about Loey; Marlowe. I love that name, by the way, I love that name.

Hepton: My beautiful girl. So, we decided to do a donor after having series of tests done and told that my eggs were not viable. How many times will I say viable in this interview? And at that point in my life, I was ready to hear that information. Because I was 40 years old at this point, 41. And I just really wanted to hold a baby, I was just so ready. So, they calmly said to me, “You know, Jenn, you can keep trying, you can keep carrying these heart aches. Or you can do an egg donor and there's like 78% chance that you'll come up with a healthy baby.” And that's something that I held onto. So, I was like, “OK, let's do a donor.” And we got pregnant with our daughter Loey, Marlowe. And it was a challenging pregnancy, but the one thing I told myself about that pregnancy was I didn't want it to be like my other pregnancy with our twins. Bless that that journey, it was a journey. And there's no regret. However, I had the awareness to choose to make sure that I really was present in this pregnancy. Because pregnancy after loss and after infertility is really hard. You get triggered on a regular basis. And your anxiety levels are really high. So, trying to manage that as like a full-time job. But I really made sure that I was intentional, you know, like waking up every morning going, I'm pregnant now. And grateful now what can I do to nurture myself now? So that was something that I really, really take away from that pregnancy. And with this pregnancy was challenging pregnancy in physically and I was also you know, bedrest for most of it. At 39 weeks and five days, I start to feel what I thought was contractions and labor pains. So, we went to the hospital. They couldn't find Loey’s heartbeat. And so, they had said to me and the most gentlest way possible, “I'm sorry, but Loey's heart is not beating and she's dead.” Oh, my goodness, not what you expect. So, I just, I knew I had to give birth to her. So, I was very much like, “OK, well, let's do this. This is the next journey. Let's get the painkillers. Let's do this.” And she was delivered at 4:16 and also pronounced dead at 4:16 on May 28, 2017. And the one thing that I have to share is that the way I was supported during that pregnancy and that loss made such a difference in my healing process, because the hospital made sure that we were physically away from anyone else delivering; they let us use the room for four days so we could spend time with Loey and process, our acute grief. Do any rituals or routines that we would need to do to have some type of closure. There's no real closure and grief. But in that moment, it was very important for us to spend time with her and to say goodbye. And we had a social worker come in to check on us three times a day. So, that support, paved the way to my healing and my post traumatic growth. And I think that's why my healing or my, my grieving process was so different from the last one.

Fenton: If you're just joining us, this is Take Note on WPSU. I'm Lindsey Whissel Fenton and our guest is Jenn Hepton, a certified conscious life and parenting coach who draws on her own experience with infertility and trauma to help others. Jenn, when did you start speaking so openly and start sharing about your struggles with infertility and pregnancy and infant loss? Because, as you said, this was not something that's, is still not something that we talk about very openly. So, when did you make that move?

Hepton: I made that move when I was pregnant with Loey, when I became pregnant with Loey. And was in that journey of pregnancy after loss, I realized how lonely it was, I realized how triggering and how scary it was and how full of anxiety I was. And at this point, I realized that you know, shared stories was the best way of healing for me. So, I started to share about my journey to Loey. And then when she died, I just I just knew, I don't know, it was like a force bigger than myself, I knew that I had to do this in order to parent her, and to feel connected to her. And as soon as I started to share my stories, people started to connect with me and said, “You know, I had to terminate a pregnancy. I'm battling infertility, I'm finding motherhood really challenging.” You know, as pregnancy after loss, it's like holding your breath for nine months. And then I realized that and took my healing to a different level. And because of that, I was able to be more open. And to be completely honest and transparent, I was pissed off and angry. And that's how my grief showed up. That's how my grief—grief shows up in different emotions. And for me, anger was the emotion that was showing up. Because people would share their stories. And I was like, “The doctor said what? Your mom said what?” I just couldn't believe it. And it wasn't anyone's fault. It's just that I thought I need to start talking about this more people need to know how to hold space for people that are going through this. And, also, people that are going through infertility need to know they're not doing anything wrong. And, also, to know that the motherhood journey is complex and layered, and there's so much. And there's also this sense of loss of identity that no one talks about in the journey. And so, we also need to, like really talk about that, you know, like the loss of identity when you are venturing into this motherhood journey when you're going through infertility, you know, there's a sense of lack. A sense of who am I in all this? And so, as soon as I started to share my story, I saw that people resonated with it, and people were healing. And I thought, “Right, we need to talk about this more. We really, really do.”

Fenton: You had been a teacher and a school principal, and now have become a grief coach and a grief awareness educator, and I know a long list of other certifications. So, you started speaking out about your personal experience, but then how did you come to the decision to use that experience in kind of a more tangible, practical way to help others?

Hepton: So, after Loey’s death, I moved into post traumatic growth. And then from there, I was searching for meaning for a purpose. And I knew I wanted to continue her legacy. I knew I wanted to parent her and show her love. Because grief is another form of love, and we have no place to really pour it into and so I, I knew that I was searching for meaning and purpose. And so, for me, it was creating awareness around pregnancy loss, advocating for pregnancy loss awareness, and meeting others who are experiencing the same.

Fenton: Your twins and Loey now have a brother, Milo. Tell us about him.

Hepton: Oh, Milo, Milo, Milo. Yes. So, after Louie's death, we knew that this wasn't the end of our journey. We knew that there was something more and so we were very privileged and very lucky to be able to move forward with surrogacy. And so, we found a beautiful surrogate who we call “Tummy mummy.” And we absolutely adore her and she's part of Milo's life and part of our lives and we got pregnant, she got we got pregnant. And, and again, it was another layer of anxiety and so many emotions, but it was actually quite—it was nice for me not to be pregnant myself, because I didn't trust my body at that point, which is something that does happen with infertility. And she had a beautiful, wonderful pregnancy. And she lived, she lives in Boise, Idaho. So, we would go over to see the ultrasounds and do the meetings, and the appointments. And then we went over for Milo’s birth. And that itself was magical, because the last time I was in the delivery room was when Loey died. And so, I was very anxious and very nervous. But I was able to try to be as present as I possibly could. And it just rewired my brain. It rewired the experience for me. And it was a beautiful, beautiful, magical experience. And Milo is now at the time of this interview, 17 months and a toddler. A toddler that's learning how to walk and run into things, and a very curious, little boy. But he's absolutely gorgeous. And I know that his sister and the twins are looking after him.

Fenton: And you started the journey to motherhood when you were 35. And you're now, if you don't mind me sharing, 47 and parenting a 17-month-old. Is there a grief in the fact that you aren't a traditional-age mom, or that you didn't get pregnant as your friends got pregnant? Does that have its own grief?

Hepton: Oh my gosh, yes. And it's just, we experience love. And we experience grief. And they're one in the same. And I don't think people realize how often we experience grief and how grief comes. So, parenting for me now has the grief. You know, when Milo is 20, I'll be 67. And will I see him get married, if he gets married? Or will ever meet his children, if he decides to have children? You know, it's now, it's this grief of time and the grief of the memories that I may not have. And we can get very lost in that lack. And so, I try to really, I have those thoughts. And then I need to really come back to the moment and say, “I have today. I have the moment with him. How am I going to make the best of this?”

Fenton: And I think this all speaks to just that grief can be so messy, and happiness and sadness can all get jumbled together. How does that show up for us? As you parent, like, do you ever feel like you're all that you've suffered robs you of joy sometimes?

Hepton: Oh my gosh, it does. There'll be moments where I'm exhausted because of grief, or there'll be moments that are robbed from me because I am too anxious to enjoy them. Or there's gonna be triggers; triggers that happen, that trigger my emotional trauma. And that takes away from the moment, you know, experiencing it with Milo. Or sometimes else, I'll say, “You know, I wish your sister was here. I really wish your sister was here to show you how to play with that.” And so, I entered that moment of grief. And it's, it can be really hard. And it literally happens in seconds, you have grief and then you can be joyful, and then you have grief and then you can be happy. And so, it's really trying to navigate yourself.

Fenton: You've talked about how you're using your experience and your education and your many talents as a renaissance woman in the space of grief and then broadening that into parenthood and you have a new venture. Tell us about A Conscious Motherhood School.

Hepton: Oh my gosh. Yes, yes. Yes. It's literally like coming home. Like, I'm so excited about this because as I was moving through my journey of healing, and grief, and just all of the training I've done with NLP, neuroscience, and hypnosis, and meditation, and consciousness, I was like, “Oh my gosh, how is this all going to come together?” And it just happened like “A Conscious Motherhood.” Like, it's literally being able to connect with your inner healer in this journey that we call motherhood, you know? Because we can disconnect from so many things. When we are triggered, or when we're overwhelmed, and it's really bringing it back to our intuition and bringing back to our inner healer and our inner advocate, and it's to really allow you to find space for healing and transformation. And what I mean by that is, we're conditioned to be—to be something; maybe it’s societal, maybe it's parental, maybe it's cultural. And so, as women, unconsciously, we seem to follow this path. I know I did. And if you're in your fertility journey, there's a lot of adaptive behavior, coping strategies, beliefs that come up that are not necessarily yours. They're programmed into you and your subconscious. And so, I use neuroscience and mindfulness to really allow you to heal so that you can come back to your inner wisdom in your motherhood journey, and then also moving into the parenting, because when you're parenting, it triggers a lot of unprocessed wounds. And so, when we figure out how the wiring has happened, how we can rewire ourselves, how we can heal, then we can really come to this motherhood journey from a place of like, sovereignty.

Fenton: To close out, I want to tap into your coaching, know-how and all of your expertise and end on something very practical, which is, we so often ask people what we think are these benign questions, “Do you have kids? How many kids do you have?” Not realizing how loaded these casual inquiries actually are. And you have a really lovely workaround for when we still want to get to know someone but want to be respectful of the fact that we don't know what they might be carrying. So, what's the phrase you use instead of “how many kids do you have” or “Do you have kids?”

Hepton: Yes. Isn't it interesting, right? Because we think that's a polite question to ask, “Is this your first child?” Or, “How many children do you have? When are you going to try again?” You know? Just really, like very triggering questions. And I think people have to realize that we all have our emotional legacies. So, I really invite people, instead of saying, “how many kids do you have? Are you thinking about having children?” is really like, “Tell me about your family?” Because that encompasses it all, right? It encompasses, generational, but also, like pets, you know? Maybe choose not to have a child or you're having a tough, challenging time having children and you have this beautiful dog that you want to talk about. It's really all encompassing, and it holds space, and it's not so triggering or intrusive. So, “Tell me about your family.” And leave it at that. You don't need to ask any more questions after that.

Fenton: Jenn, thank you so much for talking with us and for your generosity with your story and yourself and the work that you do.

Hepton: Always an honor and always a pleasure. Thank you. Thank you for holding space.

Fenton: Jenn Hepton as a certified life and parenting coach with Dr. Shefali. She supports other women in their motherhood journey from infertility to parenting after loss. She's also a grief and stillbirth awareness, educator, speaker and blogger. Jenn and her husband, Nic, are featured in WPSU's Speaking GriefInitiative. To view their story, visit WPSU-dot-org-slash-take-note. From my home studio, I'm Lindsey Whissel Fenton, WPSU.

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