The leaves on our little maple in the front yard are turning red. It’s the first thing I see when I walk out my front door, and it makes me smile. Not just because the tree is so pretty but because it’s a reminder of a little guy who changed my life.

October is Infant and Pregnancy Loss Awareness month. It’s a beautiful gesture to have a month to recognize it officially, but for those of us who have experienced loss we live it every day. At first, the pain is almost debilitating. But, eventually there is hope after loss.

My loss came on December 14, 2000 when my husband and I found out we’d lost our son at a little over 16 weeks gestation. He had an extremely rare chromosomal disorder that meant even if he had survived the pregnancy, he would have only lived minutes after birth. I was devastated, of course. Yet, as I went through all the stages of grief one thought remained constant: God is in control. He has a plan.

At first, that thought gave me little comfort. It was just a hard, cold fact. I knew it was true—but it didn’t make me feel better until much later on–after the crying, the grieving, the anger, and the questions. I was frustrated with my husband because he was so quiet and uncommunicative. He grieved so differently from me that it didn’t seem genuine. Our marriage struggled. It was a very difficult time.

I wanted desperately to get pregnant again, but at the same time was terrified. Then, once we did get pregnant, to say I became “a little neurotic” is the understatement of the year. Oh goodness, even as I type this I shake my head in wonder that I was ever such a high-maintenance mess. Poor Scott. Poor, dear Dr. Mandsager, my OB. Poor nurses and physician’s assistants. They deserved combat pay after dealing with me!

Two very difficult pregnancies and two healthy children later, I see in hindsight the silver linings of our experience. I have joined a “group” that I never wanted to be a part of; however, as a part of that group I can minister to others in ways I wouldn’t have been able to before. That my experience can be a blessing or a comfort to someone else is bittersweet, but important. I can hold someone’s hand, hug her, tell her, “I understand” and really, truly mean it. I know what she’s feeling—and maybe just for a moment help her to feel less alone. I can “share her burden” just as God intended us to.

My marriage is stronger now. It was good to go through that adversity and come out on the other side understanding each other better. Scott did grieve—it just looked differently than my grief. What I poured into tears and sobs, he poured into his new favorite project: a little red maple in our front yard. It had a tough beginning—we almost lost it to some kind of sickness. But, my husband worked round the clock, even treating the soil with nutrients through the nights to make sure our tribute to baby Karsten will outlive us. I understand now that was his way to deal with the loss. Now, every first day of school, I make sure I have Piper and Ben stand in front of the “baby tree” for a picture so I get all three of my children. It may sound silly to some, but it’s extremely important to all of us as a family.

I understand the difference now between hope, joy, and happiness. No, I was not happy at all during our difficult time. Yet, I can look back now and see that throughout it all, I never lost hope. I know my son is with His Creator—and although I had only 16 weeks with him here on earth, I have the hope that we will be together in eternity. It’s an amazing hope that does not lessen the loss, but reminds us of our Heavenly gain.