Recently, I had the true honor of working with a special woman who showed me what true bravery looks like.  Beth* had gotten married in her mid-30s and had tried to conceive naturally for several years before choosing to do IVF. After several failed attempts, and having depleted her bank account, she and her husband decided to try IVF one last time. This time it was a success. She was beyond elated to discover that she was carrying twins. The biggest blessing of all was that she was going to be a mother to both a boy and a girl. Beth was grateful.

At around 20 weeks, Beth’s doctors discovered that Baby A was not developing as well as they would have liked. The medical staff kept a close eye on Baby A. At 24 weeks, Beth went to the doctor for a routine visit and was heartbroken to discover that Baby A, her son, had no heartbeat. At the same visit, Beth was diagnosed with severe preeclampsia (dangerously high blood pressure during pregnancy), and emergently admitted to the hospital where she would remain until the safe delivery of her daughter over two months later.

This is when I first met Beth. I found her in her room overlooking the city, looking tiny in her huge room, and enormous bed. Our visits would become a regular part of her day and mine. Every week I would come to Beth’s room, give her the latest People and Us magazines, and we would talk. Beth felt trapped in her room. She was desperate to go home and begged the doctors religiously to let her take her show on the road. The answer was always a firm, “NO!” She felt lonely and isolated, and crippled with fear that her daughter would suffer the same fate as her son. She grieved, and prayed, and worried. She was certain that she was going crazy, feeling completely out of control, and helpless.

At first, Beth’s room was sterile and looked exactly as a hospital room should. Each week, things changed. One week she had new colored sheets on her bed, another week Christmas decorations adorned the space. Beth even ordered boxes of creams and lotions directly to her room. There were many trips to Labor and Delivery to rule out new dangers that kept cropping up. Through it all, Beth stayed the course, kept her eye on the prize, surrendered herself to the process, and remained hopeful.

I continued to visit Beth weekly. As she deeply mourned her son, she began to allow herself glimmers of happiness as she thought about meeting her daughter and holding her son in her arms. She began to come to terms with the fact that joy and sadness can live in tandem. They are not mutually exclusive. She did not have to carry guilt that she had done something wrong to cause the loss of her son. This was her reality, and she needed to live it fully—no matter the outcome. For now, she was pregnant with two children, and one was still breathing.

Beth would discuss delivery often. Should she see her son? Maybe it would be too hard for her she thought. How should she manage a funeral for her son? Should she cremate or bury him? Should she name him? After much discussion, the decision was made to bury her son and do a private ceremony for him. She also decided she would see the baby only if the doctor thought it made sense for Beth to seem him based on his appearance at delivery.

Our last visit together, Beth looked tired, worn out, and just not right. Her discomfort had reached new heights—ribs dislocating, and hours of excruciating pain with little to no relief. Then one morning, I received a frantic page from a nurse on Labor and Delivery. Beth was being induced, her blood pressure was not in a safe or a healthy range,  and time had run out. I raced to her room. As soon as she saw me, she started to laugh, “I actually miss my room. I want to go back! I don’t want to be here. It is too soon. I’m not ready! ” I held, her hand, gave her a kiss on the check, and told her she was ready.

Several hours later Beth delivered her daughter and her son. Her daughter was rushed to the NICU where she remained for a bit over a month, due to her early arrival, but according to the neonatologists should live a very full and uncomplicated life. Beth chose not to see her son at delivery, but her husband did see and hold him. And, as is protocol, pictures were taken of their son.

Beth was now under the care of the NICU staff. Several weeks later, I was standing in the hall, and the most beautiful, happy, smiley woman ran to me. At first I did not recognize her in street clothes, and with makeup on. Then she smiled and hugged me with such love that I knew immediately it was Beth. She told me her daughter was in the NICU and doing well and when I had time she would love to see the pictures of her son. She was ready now. I told her how brave she had been, and how inspiring she was. She said, “life doesn’t always turn out the way we plan it to, but at least we get to live it.”

Beth is right. No matter what our circumstance, we all get a chance to live and do our best to make that life mean something. Beth doesn’t realize it, but she exposed me to true bravery. Being courageous doesn’t mean never complaining and always smiling. True bravery means showing vulnerability, honesty, and raw emotion. No matter what our circumstance, we all get a chance to live and do our best to make that life mean something.

*Not her real name.