written by
Sabrina Johnson

Counting Down...Pregnancy or Death?

Story Narrative 9 min read , February 4, 2022

At the end of June 2018, our family vacation to Indiana Beach had ended. We went as a family and stayed in a cabin right outside the amusement park. We were thrilled when we found out that the cousins we grew up camping with would join us for the trip.

As a child, Ton would use his beautiful pickup truck that I always dreamed of driving to haul our fifth wheel to Monticello, Indiana, for a week-long vacation with family and friends.

We would spend the week outside, riding rollercoasters, eating way too many corn dogs and elephant ears. Indiana Beach was our thing.

This year looked a bit different than it did in the past and needed A LOT more help to make it possible. We needed a hospital bed, shower chair, tall poles to help with standing and transferring, and a lot of held-back tears.

We were approaching the year mark of getting the a-ok to start trying again to have another baby, and quite honestly, I had given up with the idea of seeing a positive on a pregnancy test.

I was one of the lucky ones that were able to get pregnant the first two times exceptionally quickly and was now finding myself holding the tests up to the light each month to try and see if I could find the fainted of faint double line.

Months prior, we discussed a one-child family, and I was wrapping my head around the idea of Thor being an only child. I was looking around during the trip, thinking about how blessed I was with Thor and that being a family of three was fine.

Then, we got home.

I was upstairs unpacking, and something nudged me to take a test while I was alone. I remember thinking I would take it, toss it, and no one would need to know since it would be negative just like the rest.

But then it was positive.

Like POSITIVE POSITIVE.

Not the let me hold it up to the light to see if it is positive, but the kind that is right in your face that you would still know the screaming plus sign from across the room even without your glasses on.

I was shocked.

I just mentally prepared myself for being a family of three. Remember, Type A Me here. I already checked the box. I made a new list; I had a new box filled.

I had a plan already. I knew how I would tell my family we were content being a family of three, how I did not want to be questioned if I was not having a glass of wine.

I JUST told myself I would be okay with this new plan.

Six months ago, I was told my dad was going to die. Honestly, not getting pregnant, I figured, was a sign that this was my time to focus on Ton, family, and the moments we had in the present because his future would not be too long, and I could worry about mine after.

I would lift, transfer, carry, and hold my dad in my arms, and now that was going to stop.

It needed to stop.

I could not lift, transfer, carry, or hold my dad anymore.

I had to worry about carrying his grandchild.

His grandchild, oh my.

Will he even meet this grandchild? Will I even meet his grandchild?

Ton loved being a Papa. He was a great dad, but man, he would have thrown me under a semi-truck in a moment if I was in the way of something Thor wanted.

One of Thor's favorite stories about how Papa loved him more than me is how Papa never shared with me. Growing up, Ton was a bit of a germaphobe. He would never let you use his utensil to take a bite off his plate or take a sip of his drink. He was not someone who walked around saying, "sharing is caring."

Well, when Thor came around, apparently so did all fears of germs, which always blew my mind because toddlers are, well, you know, toddlers.

Thor could come inside covered in dirt and ask for a sip of Papa's water, and Ton would proudly prepare the straw for Thor to have a drink.

How was I supposed to tell Ton that I was pregnant again, knowing he was already progressing in his disease, knowing there would be a chance he could not be around to meet the child?

I was terrified. Was this going to break him? Would this give him hope? How in the world could I be pregnant now? How will I handle being pregnant, raising a toddler, caring for a terminally sick dad? I was terrified for both of us.

But then, I told him.

I can still so vividly remember that moment. After the words fell off my lips, I could breathe again because, at that moment, I saw the spark in his eyes. This news gave him something to fight to live to see.

My boys were loved so deeply and differently from the moment I told Ton I was pregnant.

Thor gave my dad life.

He gave him a reason to be a kid again, to eat ice cream before dinner, to sit on the floor covered in cheeseballs, and provide a new generation with weird analogies and sayings that you questioned ever saying them in public.

Ashton gave my dad a reason to live.

Ashton is named Ashton Anthony. He has a little -Ton in him and gets to carry on a piece of tradition with having the Anthony namesake and jumping out of a crib by your first birthday just like his Papa and Uncle.

The most significant difference between being pregnant with Thor and Ashton four years later was counting the weeks and days of my pregnancy.

While things are different after the first in more ways than one, I could spew out how many weeks and days pregnant I was at any moment. Each week I would send my parents screenshots of my pregnancy app, and we would discuss what weird fruit they were shaped like for the week and how they were growing big and strong.

Mentally I could not handle processing how far along I was in the pregnancy or, even worse, thinking of how much time I had left in the pregnancy.

Now, listen. I am not saying that I was not begging my OBGYN in crocs and what would look like a crop top t-shirt at 35 weeks to find a way to take this child out of me as I listed off words that I hoped would make him take me straight to the operating room because I could not take another minute being pregnant.

But, I knew once I was done being pregnant and once Baby Boy Johnson was here that Ton would not have that spark of a fight to continue to live.

I felt immense pressure to stay pregnant forever and hold on to these last few moments with my dad.

At the beginning of my pregnancy, I had asked my doctors to make an exception to the one person in the operating room rule. I was hoping to give Ton the experience of watching his grandson being born and be one of the first people to see and hold the baby he has fought so hard to meet.

By my 20 week appointment, the appointment where you scheduled the date of your c-section, I sadly knew told my doctor that they would not have to make the exception because I was not sure if he would even be alive by the end of my pregnancy.

The last half of my pregnancy was the most challenging mentally, with the conversations between Ton and me questioning how to handle this final stretch. A conversation that a father and daughter should never need to have is weighing out the pros and cons of losing your dad at the end of your pregnancy or shortly after delivery.

Ton had fears around him passing, causing me to go into labor and needing an emergency c-section because Ashton was breech. He feared his passing while I was pregnant would end up risking my life.

I had fears around him passing after Ashton was born, spirling me deep into postpartum depression.

The worst part about the entire conversation was that both situations would still include him passing away.

Thankfully none of this was up to us. The Universe knew what and how things needed to be done.

Ashton and Papa met a couple of times before he passed away. Quick frankly, those memories are the hardest for me to relive.

Am I happy they met? Absolutely.

But, when I see the pictures from that time, all I can see is the pain in Ton's eyes.

The pain of knowing he is seeing his grandchild, a child he will not be able to watch grow.

The pain of knowing how badly his daughter wants her dad to be there for this child like he was her first.

The pain of knowing that all we are about to have is memories because he knew his time on earth was running out.

My aunt placed Ashton on Ton's chest the night before my dad passed away. They were able to cuddle in bed, just like Ton loved to do. Ashton, being only two weeks old at the time, laid still and peaceful as if he knew the sound of the heart beating slowly beneath him.

At that moment, everything from the summer of 2018 started to make sense.

Sometimes we know why things happen when they do, but the timing always ends up being EXACTLY as it should.

As a family, we all needed something positive to look forward to during this time.

LIKE POSITIVE POSITIVE, just like that pregnancy test.

Being pregnant reminded us of the circle of life and that we need to continue living for this new life entering our family.

Thor is about to turn seven, something that I tell him daily I am not okay with happening. He is a grown man in a little boy's body who will question everything you do, enjoys a long explanation, and the gift of gab was passed his way.

Ashton is about to turn three; the thought of that alone brings a tear to my eye. He is a typical second child who has this smirk that makes you melt and makes him get away with far too much. I have never met someone in love with their big brother like Ashton is with Thor.

Those two will make you laugh all day, feel so incredibly loved, and enjoy knowing they have the best guardian angel who visits us often as a cardinal that we call the Papa Bird.

I was terrified then, and I am terrified now.

But, being terrified has led me to some great things. So, just maybe, being terrified is that daily reminder that things will work out exactly at the right time, just like when the Cardinal greets you outside your window on the days you need that reminder the most.

family caregivers family pregnancy loss grief counting papa grandson