‘I woke up six months after Scott died and thought it was time for a pregnancy test.’ ‘He’s the medication my heart needed,’ says a widow who gives birth to an IVF baby following her husband’s tragic death.

“I initially met Scott in August of 1999. I had just arrived on campus at Southern Nazarene University, located outside of Oklahoma City, as a freshman in college. Scott, a year or two older than me, left an indelible impression on me. He was tall, athletic (collegiate basketball), beautiful, and hilarious. Scott became a part of my circle as I settled into my new pals at university. We didn’t know each other well, but we had spent a lot of time together with the same circle of friends over the years. Scott has a lot of memories for me from college. I recall us playing horseshoes and croquet, as well as fishing and spending time at a friend’s pond and a friend’s horse ranch. He was always the life of the party, and he was always so nice to everyone.

A young woman and her husband stand together outside
Courtesy of Sarah Shellenberger

Years passed, and after graduation, I travelled to Texas to begin my teaching career while Scott enlisted in the Marine Corps. The following several years of my life were spent in Austin, Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, and Nashville, with some fantastic trips to Africa and the Middle East thrown in for good measure. Scott completed his military service (due to a knee injury that necessitated surgery). He went on to earn his master’s degree at the University of Oklahoma while teaching Physical Sciences at OU, Southern Nazarene University, and subsequently Southwestern Christian University.

I got a Facebook notification in 2017 while on my planning break in my kindergarten classroom in Nashville: Scott had messaged me. I was excited to read his message and see what he had been up to for many years because we hadn’t spoken in years. The small talk conversations ultimately grew into extraordinarily long messages in which we got to know one other on a deeper level. We discussed our pasts, aspirations, beliefs, families, and so on. We planned to meet for lunch when I was home for Christmas break after talking and texting for a few months. What was supposed to be a simple lunch turned into a 10-hour date when we met halfway in Tulsa.

A woman and her husband together at a restaurant
Courtesy of Sarah Shellenberger

I knew this would be unique the moment I saw Scott again in Tulsa. We were both worried, and Scott later acknowledged that he excused himself 10 minutes into our meal to splash water on his face to relax. That always stayed with me and made me feel great. Everyone deserves to be smitten by someone who genuinely cares for them. Scott and I influenced each other, and it was truly unique.

A husband and wife standing together near some plants
Courtesy of Sarah Shellenberger

Scott proposed to me some months later, after numerous journeys back and forth between Oklahoma City and Nashville. We decided that after our wedding, I would return to Oklahoma. On September 1, 2018, we married. We exchanged vows in the church where Scott grew up, and our reception was held on the property we had recently purchased together. The following year was spent settling into marriage and life on the farm. During the day, we both taught (college for Scott and 1st grade for me). We loved spending time with our dogs, cat, horse, donkey, and indoor pig as we developed our herd and affectionately referred to our small family of animals. I created a little pie company, which kept us occupied visiting farmer’s markets on weekends, and we began planting and repairing the property.

A bride and groom stand together in a field
Courtesy of The Big and Bright
A bride and groom stand together outside their home
Courtesy of The Big and Bright

As a couple, our greatest desire was to start a family. We had hoped for a kid from the beginning of our marriage, but after a year of trying, we became frustrated and fearful. We began seeing several doctors, and after months of medicated cycles, procedures, and testing, we were advised that IVF was our only viable choice for starting a biological family. We were heartbroken to learn that this was our reality, but we accepted it and swiftly found out how to begin the process.

A bride and groom stand together outside a barn
Courtesy of The Big and Bright

In December of 2019, we chose a clinic in Barbados for our first round of IVF. We decided on genetic testing and received one normal embryo as a result. We were delighted and grateful for the opportunity to become parents. We decided to return to Barbados for a second round in the hopes of increasing our chances of a successful transfer and pregnancy. Scott could not take time off work, so my mother accompanied me to Barbados for the second round in February. After several days of doctor’s appointments, I had my second retrieval, saw the island, and relaxed on the beach.

A woman and her husband stand on a balcony in Barbados
Courtesy of Sarah Shellenberger

My mother and I were scheduled to leave Barbados on February 18, 2020, and spend the night in Toronto before travelling back to the United States the next day. I sat on the patio of the apartment we were staying in and texted Scott as we waited for our ride to the airport. We were both looking forward to hearing the results of our second round of IVF, but I was especially eager to get home. When I was about to board the plane, I contacted Scott and promised to call him when we arrived in Toronto.

Our flight landed about 10:00 p.m. Toronto time, and my mother and I made our way to baggage claim. My phone went nuts once I was able to connect to the wi-fi. I was getting a lot of texts and voicemails. The first text I received was from a coworker of Scott’s, informing me that he and the student body had assembled and were praying. I had no idea what he was talking about, so I dialled Scott’s number. It rang a couple of times before going to voicemail. Never in my wildest dreams did I anticipate it would be the last time I spoke to Scott.

A woman and her husband wearing ballcaps and brown jackets
Courtesy of Sarah Shellenberger

I called Scott’s mother after being unable to contact him. Her voice was unsteady and passionate, and I realised something was seriously wrong right away. Scott suffered a seizure and a heart attack while teaching, and he was in the ICU, she explained. An ambulance had come on campus and spent several minutes treating him before transporting him to the nearest hospital. He was unresponsive in the ER for an extended period before being put on life support and into a medically induced coma.

My mother and I switched flights to go to Scott as soon as possible. I received the worst news of my life on February 19, 2020. My 41-year-old spouse, who was otherwise healthy and perfect, was not going to make it. I was taken aback. I fully anticipated him to wake up from his coma and return to the robust, active man he was. Instead of spending our first night back together enjoying a late Valentine’s Day, I was holding his hand, sobbing my way through my final goodbyes, signing organ donation documents, and trying to figure out how I was going to find the strength to say “OK” to withdrawing life support.

I lost the love of my life on February 21, 2020, at 12:25 p.m.

A man and his wife stand on a beach with their foreheads touching
Courtesy of The Big and Bright

Attempting to heal from the physical effects of IVF and sadness while trying to organise a funeral, sell our farm, find a new job, find a unique house, and figure out how to live on my teacher salary was a nightmare for the next few months. I was ready to start thinking about our frozen embryos in Barbados and how I wanted to proceed somewhere along the path. One source from our second cycle tested typical a week after the burial, giving us a total of two stored embryos.

A woman sits with her husband outside, leaning her chin on his shoulder
Courtesy of Sarah Shellenberger

As I bid Scott farewell, I assured him that I would continue to work on our family. We had been praying for a kid for a long time, and now we had two opportunities waiting for me in Barbados. In August of 2020, after months of preparation and six months after Scott’s death, I travelled to Barbados. I had my transfer on August 31, with an army of friends, family, and strangers praying for me and our embryo. I flew home a few days later and awaited the findings with bated breath.

On September 7, 2020, I woke up and decided it was time for a pregnancy test. I knelt by my bedside and poured my heart out to God and Scott once more, begging them both to assist me in becoming pregnant with our miracle child. After a few minutes of waiting, I turned the pregnancy test over and noticed two solid pink lines. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I sobbed my way out of my room and down the hall to my mother’s kitchen. ‘Mom—I’m pregnant!’ I remember saying, and both of us sobbing and hugging. It had been successful. After everything Scott and I had been through together, as well as everything I had been through on my own, I was finally pregnant.

A pregnant woman stands with a brown horse
Courtesy of The Big and Bright

I gave birth to a healthy 8 pound 5-ounce baby boy on May 3, 2021. Hayes Philip-Scott Shellenberger has swiftly become my life’s love and the medicine my heart so needed. Every day, I can’t believe how abundantly God has blessed me as I gaze into his blue eyes (precisely like his father’s) and adore his plump cheeks and long limbs and legs. Infertility issues and being a widow in my 30s were never in my wildest thoughts, but as I heal and find out how to move on, I’m doing my hardest to keep faith that my narrative isn’t over yet.

A widow holds her newborn son in the hospital
Courtesy of Sarah Shellenberger
A baby boy swaddled in a white blanket in the hospital
Courtesy of Sarah Shellenberger

I have no idea what the future holds for Hayes and me, but I am confident God has a plan for us. I know that the love of my friends and family will keep me going and that better days are ahead. Every night, I hope that Hayes is well and happy and that he grows up knowing how much his parents love and want him. As a single mom, I pray for strength and that God puts people into my life who can show Hayes how to be a decent man and live a life full of joy and purpose. I pray that I am the most incredible mother I can be for my son and that I stay well and strong.

A baby boy wearing a white cap sleeping
Courtesy of Sarah Shellenberger
A baby boy wearing a shirt that says "Cowboy" holds a stuffed cow
Courtesy of Sarah Shellenberger

In 2022, I’ll return to Barbados to transfer our final embryo, and I’m hoping Hayes will have a sibling to grow up with. I can’t see beyond today at this point in my trip, which is fine. I’m grateful for the joy and happiness that come with my sadness and infertility, and I’m thankful for the friends I’ve made along the path. Finding meaning in my suffering has become a priority for me, and I hope that my unfolding tale can help someone struggling with loss and despair. Community is crucial, and I would not have made it this far without the help of my peers. I am grateful beyond words to everyone who continues to support us via prayer, love, and compassion.”

A baby boy wears a shirt that says "Worth the Wait"
Courtesy of Sarah Shellenberger
A bride leans on the shoulder of her groom outdoors
Courtesy of The Big and Bright

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