Bethany and Kevin Hart approached parenthood cautiously. Not due to any doubt they wanted to be parents, but because they wanted their timing to be deliberate and thoughtful. After five years of marriage and, coming from large families themselves, knew they wanted children. But they wanted to be intentional about the decision to forever change their family.
“We knew we wanted to be parents but we also wanted to accomplish a lot in life. Kevin and I spent four weekends in a row at his family’s lake house, just spending all day in conversation,” Bethany told me. “We wanted to make sure our relationship was steadfast and our marriage really, really firm. We wanted to understand how we’d remain a force as husband and wife when we introduced kids, since we know sometimes parents pour their lives into their kids and then forget who they are.”
The immediate result of these conversations was not a baby, but an all inclusive, weeklong vacation in Cancun. “We always laughed that we’d get pregnant fast so we wanted a last hoorah; a big trip was our last box left to check.”
Sure enough, a month after returning from Cancun, Bethany was pregnant.
“I had a sneaking suspicion. Even before I knew, I did the whole, ‘take a sip’ fake drinking at a wedding. I took six tests before I texted my best friend Sheila. I so badly wanted to surprise Kevin.” Bethany and Kevin are huge Blackhawks fans and Kevin’s lucky number is four. They always do date nights on Monday, so the following Monday Bethany brought him a baby sized number four Blackhawks jersey with a note. “I’ll never forget the look on his face, it was such a cool moment.” Even with everything that happened later, Bethany’s voice is pure happiness when she tells me this.
“That first night was so joyful, but when we went for the ultrasound I just knew something wasn’t right.”
A mother’s intuition
After much anticipation, Bethany and Kevin went to their 10-week appointment, where the doctor told them she’d found some extra cells in Bethany’s uterus. She reassured them it was normal and that she’d just scrape them out.
“I didn’t share this gut feeling with Kevin; he’s so carefree and I’m always the worry wart. As soon as they did the pap smear, it was abnormal but the doctors kept reassuring me that pregnancy does crazy things to your body and everything would be OK.”
Even with a feeling that something wasn’t right, Bethany allowed Kevin to convince her to share their happy news. Normally the more subdued of the two, Kevin began showing Bethany murals of bright jungle animals for the nursery. Melted by his excitement, Bethany acquiesced and Kevin posted on Facebook that the two were expecting.
The following Friday, Bethany went back to her OB-GYN for a colposcopy. “My doctor told me my cervix looked abnormal but downplayed it so much. She said she was going to have me see an oncologist first thing Monday morning, but the magnitude of that didn’t really register, I was just like, ‘am I going to lose that baby?’ To which she answered, that’s the worst case scenario but there’s no way. She said she just wanted to get a pair of eyes used to non-normal looking cervixes to check me out.”
Bethany’s mom drove her and Kevin to the oncologist that Monday morning. “It was total mother’s intuition—she insisted on driving us,” Bethany said.
“After my checkup, before I could even put my clothes on, the doctor brought in what felt like seven med students. Then he’s like, ‘this is cancer. You’re gonna lose your kid, and you’ll never have kids. Kevin was holding my shoulders. I’ll never forget that grip.”
The next few days were a whirlwind and Bethany, ever the protector, had little time to register her own emotions as she comforted distraught family and friends after telling everyone the news. “It seemed like everyone knew how bad [the situation] was except for me.”
Kevin went into immediate research mode while Bethany didn’t touch the internet. They just wanted to find any doctor who told them they could keep Hallie—the name they’d given the baby they now knew was a girl by way of an ultrasound where she looked like she’s taking a jump shot. A basketball player herself, the gravity of the situation set in as Bethany looked at a picture of the daughter they wanted so badly. Bethany’s cancer was aggressive and medical opinions started stacking up that chances were unlikely Hallie would survive.
“I just kept praying for God to make it clear to me. I didn’t want to feel like I was deciding between my life and my child’s life,” Bethany said. Eventually her prayer was answered with a kind doctor whom Bethany and Kevin immediately trusted. He did endless research and made calls to medical experts on behalf of the Harts, but eventually all three of them recognized that the path was clear: chemo for Bethany, which meant delivering Hallie very young, or carrying Hallie to full-term without treatment, in which case it was likely neither Hallie nor Bethany would survive.
“He was like, listen, if your goal is to have a family, it’s going to be impossible if you’re not here,” Bethany said. “Everyone else had been team Bethany, but this doctor was team family. He was fighting so hard to give us every opportunity but at this point we all knew we had to go through with chemo.”
At 19 weeks, Bethany went in for surgery. Step one was a c-section to deliver Hallie, where doctors would do what they could but according to Bethany, “the writing was on the wall, barring a miracle.” Step two was a radical hysterectomy, which meant removing Bethany’s uterus.
“I don’t think the cancer piece even registered in the days leading up to the surgery. All I could focus on was Hallie. The surgery was on a Thursday, and they delivered her and did what they could. We got her foot prints and hand prints and Kevin shared those with me right when I woke up. That was probably the most impactful moment of our marriage, maybe my life.”
In addition to the enormous loss, Bethany began to recover from a massive surgery. She spent six days in the hospital and when she got home, wrote her first blog post, in which she shared the baby’s name, Hallie Hope Hart, for the first time. She explained, “I hadn’t wanted to share it before because that was all I had of her.”
A month after surgery, Bethany started chemo. It’s difficult to imagine how anyone experiencing such acute loss finds the strength for chemo, but according to Bethany, she spent the following months in survival mode. Living life calculated down to the minute with treatment and scheduling, calling doctors, counseling sessions, and survivor’s guilt all contributed to the hellish four months of cancer treatment. Added to that is how we all experience grief differently, and Bethany and Kevin were no exception.
“We were married for five years and in my mind, we were the best couple ever. But what’s hard about grief is I’ll have moments where I’m crying uncontrollably and Kevin is fine, and then you swap. Therapy was so critical to teach us how to communicate through this process. Nobody knows how to talk to you so no one does. I had a core group of people who really walked into the mess with me but most people stood on the outside. I learned a lot about who I am and how to ask for what I need.”
Grief and Recovery…Rinse and Repeat
While they were still learning about surgery and their options, Bethany and Kevin asked about egg freezing so they might someday have another child of their own—which, Bethany said, she now defines so differently.
“They couldn’t extract eggs because I was pregnant. I knew going into surgery that I couldn’t have a child biologically my own, which was a separate grief process. So we thought about an egg donor, but then it felt like, it’s half of us? It was way too fragile at the time so we tabled that option quickly. We knew almost right away that we would adopt. I finished treatment in March and in April we were looking at adoption.”
While it’s usually taboo to tell a grieving person that “everything happens for a reason,” Bethany said in their case this trite wisdom was exactly right. “We were in no place emotionally and in our marriage and ourselves to adopt that quickly. Now we feel more ready and it hasn’t happened yet, but we’re keeping the faith. We’ll have a child that’s meant to be ours.”
Even while actively pursuing adoption, Kevin and Bethany’s friends and family help remind them of the family of three they already are. “It means more than anything just hearing her name and knowing people remember her. Any grieving parent will tell you the worst thing would be for no one to talk about her. Especially in our circumstances where she literally saved my life.”
Motherhood is never easy, but Bethany believes in the powerful bond it creates not only for a woman and her child, but for womanhood. “Motherhood comes in so many forms. The more we, as women, band together, the more power we gain. The moms without their children feel just as special and powerful when we’re acknowledged—that’s where the true power lies.”
A few months after the operation, Bethany and Kevin were at an airport restaurant on Mother’s Day. A cheerful waitress approached them, grinning and well-intentioned. “And are you a mother?” she asked, placing down napkins as Bethany’s eyes welled up with tears. Kevin places his arm around Bethany’s shoulders and answered truthfully, “yes, she is.”