Woman Pregnant After Husband’s Death Says Starting Family Was Their Dream

  • Mariah Smith’s husband, Chris, died shortly after they were married, when she was 24.
  • They’d discussed having children even if Chris didn’t survive cancer.
  • This is Smith’s story, as told to Kelly Burch.

This as-told-to essay is based on a conversation with Mariah Smith. It has been edited for length and clarity.

When I was 20, I was with my boyfriend, Chris, at his lake house. We’d been working hard to open camp, and it was time to relax on a sunset boat ride. As we walked down the dock, Chris asked me to pose for a picture. He wasn’t the picture-taking type of guy, so I was suspicious. When he got down on one knee, I thought he would toss me into the water; Chris was a goofball, so that’s just the sort of thing he might tease me with. But when I realized Chris was proposing, everything stopped. I immediately said yes, and we spent the rest of the weekend basking in the bliss of our love.

When we got married at the same camp four years later, a lot had changed. Chris had been diagnosed with sinus cancer, which had spread to his brain and spinal cord. But despite that, the wedding was the best day of my life, complete with s’more bars and bonfires.

This year I’ll return to the camp with my newborn daughter but without Chris.

Chris died from cancer in February 2021. He was only 27, and I was 24. Before he passed, I promised him I’d chase our dream of having kids. This spring, just over two years after Chris’ death, our daughter will be born.

At first we weren’t planning on me having kids without him

Chris had beat cancer as a child, so when he was diagnosed again in his early 20s he was optimistic. He was also informed. He refused to start treatment until he had banked sperm. If chemotherapy left him infertile, we wanted to know we could have the family we dreamed of. It was a must for us to share a family.

We learned quickly after Chris’ diagnosis that his cancer had spread to his brain and spinal cord. Still, there were moments of hope during his three-year treatment, including a period right before our wedding when the tumors were shrinking.

One day we were out to dinner and Chris asked if I would still use the sperm if he didn’t make it. We still thought he would survive at that point, but I immediately said yes. He didn’t want to pressure me, but I knew he wouldn’t ask if it wasn’t what he wanted. And I wanted it too. After that, Chris took legal steps to make sure I’d be able to use his sperm if he died.

When Chris died, our future family gave me hope

Becoming a widow at 24 was just as awful as it sounds. But I had something to hang on to: the promise of having Chris’ child. It kept me going, taking care of myself and working towards the future. It breathed life into my heart and soul.

I knew I still had that piece of him. I had the option to have our own family, even though it’d look very different than I’d anticipated. I could keep him alive in this way for our family and friends.

I don’t like the word “heal,” because losing the love of your life is never something you can heal from. But during the first summer without Chris, I made myself as healthy and whole as possible. I knew that if I was well, our chances of conception were higher. Still, getting pregnant was difficult. I did one IUI and three rounds of IVF and suffered a miscarriage before I became pregnant with our daughter.

I’ll make sure our daughter knows Chris

Our baby is due this spring. My mom and Chris’ mom will be in the delivery room. I’ve been preparing myself for meeting my daughter my entire pregnancy. It will be a moment of immense joy and sadness. Knowing that Chris won’t be there to hold her and meet her with me will bring a new kind of grief.

In Chris’ last moments, I talked to him about our future children. I said I would still have those babies and tell them everything about him. They would know how special he was and how hard he fought to be here. They would learn to recognize pictures of Daddy and would know how excited he was at the thought of them.

Chris and I had plenty of conversations about how we would parent, and I feel prepared to do what he would have wanted. Plus, I’m surrounded by our friends and family. This would be a much scarier journey if I didn’t have that love and support from that piece of him. I’ve been through a lot and still have a great challenge ahead: doing my absolute best to make sure my children know Chris, without ever being able to know him.

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