WINDHAM — Congratulate Joan Baldwin on celebrating her first Mother’s Day and she’ll gently correct you: Today is her fourth holiday celebrating motherhood since her first baby, Maeve, was stillborn in June 2015.

It his, however, her first with daughter Vera, who was born 11 months ago after Joan and her husband, John Baldwin, struggled with grief and infertility after Joan’s pregnancy with Maeve ended sadly.

“I have two beautiful daughters: one in my arms now and one in my heart,” Baldwin said in her Windham home, cuddling Vera, a product of love and perseverance.

Baldwin, 37, and her husband, 36, met when they were 5 years old in a Portland kindergarten. They lived in the same neighborhood growing up, but their relationship did not blossom immediately.

Joan Baldwin said they went to an eighth-grade dance together, but it didn’t go well.

“He was being fresh and I was like, no, no, I don’t want to see you again,” she said.

So it surprised her when the two started dating after running into each other about six years ago. Then things started moving quickly.

“We moved in together a week later,” she said, and they married in September 2014.

Joan quickly found herself pregnant – “our honeymoon baby,” she said – and things seemed to be going well. But the placenta was not developing as Maeve grew, a condition called intrauterine growth restriction or placental insufficiency, and the baby died just a few days before Joan delivered her.

Joan and John got to spend some time with Maeve and had a few photos taken – Joan quickly recites the exact number, 23.

They tried again to get pregnant, but Joan has a condition that results in a decrease in the number of eggs she has and thus diminishes her chances of getting pregnant. They tried treatments, without success.

“We were spending all our money on fertility treatments that were not working,” she said. “It was pretty devastating.”

Finally, they heard about a contest that Ellie and Jared, a YouTube couple in Utah, were running. The prize was $15,000 in fertility treatments for a winning couple, based on short videos they sent in. John and Joan taped their video in the bathroom of Joan’s parents’ house, where they were staying at the time. The lighting was best in the bathroom, she said, with a shower curtain as the backdrop.

The couple talked about their relationship, their experience with Maeve and how much they hoped to have another baby.

They won the contest and the money was sent to a Portland fertility clinic. The couple tried in vitro fertilization, where an egg is fertilized by sperm outside of the womb and then implanted in the mother’s uterus.

Joan got pregnant again, but naturally worried.

“My pregnancy was very hard just with the anxiety,” she said, noting that she had dozens of fetal scans done during her pregnancy “to make sure she (Vera) was OK” and was cared for by a high-risk pregnancy team at Maine Medical Center. Vera grew well and was delivered by C-section on June 17, 2018 – Father’s Day.

“Everything good that’s happened to us was a result of that contest,” Joan said, noting with gratitude that Vera has been a very healthy baby.

But she’s also aware that their experience with Maeve “changes the way you parent.” For instance, Vera still doesn’t sleep through the night, but a thing that would frustrate some parents, she said, smiling, “really doesn’t seem to faze us.”

Joan said siblings of stillborns are called “rainbow babies” for the bright light they bring to their families after such a dark and stormy period.

She now hosts a YouTube page of her own with nearly 20,000 followers, in which she chronicles the family’s life and offers encouragement to couples struggling with fertility issues. She also designs and makes jewelry while Vera naps and sells it on Etsy, calling it “jewelry to heal your heart.”

An example is a bracelet with a mustard seed encased in a charm. The design draws on the biblical story in which Jesus tells his disciples that faith as small as a mustard seed can move mountains.

And, Joan said, she hopes to get pregnant again this year.

“It was always my dream to have two babies, but now that I’ve lost one, I want to have a third,” she said.

The family has no big plans for Mother’s Day, she said, although a trip to the playground on Portland’s East End might be a highlight.

A short distance away, she said, is a memorial bench for Maeve.

“For so many years, we sat on that bench and watched the babies,” she said.


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