A pandemic pregnancy: finding healing and hope under isolation
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Bethany Karulak-Baker is ready to celebrate.
Until about 10 days ago, her pregnancy has been a quiet one — in part because of the pandemic and in part because of a traumatic miscarriage a year ago.
Now 39 weeks pregnant, Karulak-Baker decided it was time to honor both the new baby and the life of the baby she lost — and her perseverance through it all.
Not one for a traditional maternity photo shoot, Karulak-Baker and her husband, Perry Baker, had a special plan in the works since February.
The couple owns Hayden-based Outlaw Apiaries and tend to 500 hives across the county. For months, they’ve been researching how to create a “bee beard” on Karulak-Baker’s belly.
“We decided, let’s go all out,” she said, “and create a new adventure for our family.”
They found the perfect local photographer in Brooke Welch, who despite never having been around bees like that before was fearless, Karulak-Baker said. “We had a blast — it went flawlessly. It couldn’t have been more perfect.”
The photos — and her testimonial about her miscarriage and being pregnant during the pandemic — went viral globally. Karulak-Baker received messages from Iceland, India and Tasmania. She got calls from journalists in Germany and England.
Many rebuked the decision to put bees on her belly, but that doesn’t bother Karulak-Baker one bit.
“People who don’t understand bees don’t understand,” she said.
Karulak-Baker and her husband know bees and knew how to choose the right bees, the right time of day and all the other factors to ensure she doesn’t get stung.
“There’s a whole science to it,” she said.
On the July 2 social media post, which included the belly-bee-beard photos, Karulak-Baker wrote, “I have emerged from these events like a butterfly from a cocoon: strong, beautiful and ready to take on the world. So, you see, this isn’t just a photo of a woman with honeybees on her belly. This photo represents much, much more. My only hope is that one day my children will look at this photo and see the warrior inside of me.”
Last summer, it was at a routine appointment near the beginning of her second trimester during which Karulak-Baker’s doctor couldn’t hear a heartbeat.
She knew instantly what it meant, though it took her husband time to process. They had been so excited about their third child.
There was no question. The baby was dead.
Karulak-Baker was rushed to surgery to remove the baby, and she lost a lot of blood. She spent several days in the hospital.
But the magnitude of the emotional trauma far eclipsed the physical trauma.
I was “broken hearted, filled with self-blame and distraught,” she wrote on the post. After keeping everything inside for more than a year, Karulak-Baker said a couple weeks ago, she impulsively felt compelled to share with the world.
Within hours, she had recorded her thoughts, typed them up and hit “post.”
“As we drove away from (UCHealth) Yampa Valley Medical Center, after losing our baby,” Karulak-Baker wrote, “I recall tearing up with the realization that my baby was left alone inside those brick walls; ultimately to be shipped away and examined. I fell into a deep depression for months following the unexpected surgery. I struggled with my mental health, with how to interact with friends and family and how to continue my responsibilities as a mother and wife.”
Then, to their surprise, the couple discovered several months later she was, again, pregnant. “We wanted to be excited,” she said. “But we were both scared.”
Karulak-Baker didn’t want to lose another baby and have to explain that, so she only told a handful of people — holding off on making any sort of bigger announcement as long as they could.
“Instead of embracing our new miracle, I remember feeling confused and apprehensive,” she wrote.
Then the pandemic hit, and Karulak-Baker went into physical isolation. Almost no one saw her growing belly. Normally, she noted, pregnant women are doted upon and surrounded by an air of excitement.
“This was a very private experience,” she said.
And it was very lonely at times, she said. “I was in my own little world. There was no planning for a baby shower. There was no one to share it with.”
Her husband took care of the bees, and she stayed home and rested. The pregnancy kept her feeling sick and extremely fatigued on a daily basis.
The honey-making business took a pause, and suddenly, the busy family had a lot more time together.
Because of the COVID-19 restrictions, her husband wasn’t allowed to accompany her to the doctor’s visits, which Karulak-Baker said was really upsetting to him.
But gradually, the positives of the bizarre new reality started to become apparent to Karulak-Baker. For the first time, they slowed down.
Ever since she and her husband met four and half years ago, “It’s been full throttle.”
The fell in love and got married quickly. They had kids right away. Baker works full time for the apiary and for Yampa Valley Electric Association. Karulak-Baker was finishing her doctorate in psychology, running the apiary and starting an educational nonprofit for children.
“There was never any time to take a break,” she said.
Quarantined, they had no choice but to slow down. Baker still worked at his other job — but without the honey production, they had a lot more time together as a family.
“The quarantine forced us to be still and learn things about each other we never knew,” Karulak-Baker said. “Like how patient Perry is. And what an amazing father he is. I observed that in a way I never had.”
An independent person who cherishes her time to herself, Karulak-Baker admits she was apprehensive at first at so much time together.
“But being forced together was the best thing that happened for us — our communication and our understanding of each other grew exponentially. We put ten years under our belt in six months. So in that sense, it was a wonderful thing. It took us getting quarantined to develop and mature in our relationship,” she said.
Karulak-Baker also said she became closer to her kids, ages two and four. “I was able to hold them longer and snuggle a little deeper.”
The whole family, she said, “developed a really intense bond I feel everyone should have. And I didn’t know existed — because we are always so busy.”
The quarantine without doubt brought challenges to their family as it has to everyone’s life, she acknowledged. However, “in spite of all this, our family grew stronger, and, in hindsight, I realize that the quarantine allowed me to grow my baby in a stress-free environment with phenomenal nurturing from my husband,” Karulak-Baker wrote. “There was a massive silver lining to this presumably dark cloud. We, as a family, grew to love and support one another more than I could have ever imagined.”
In terms of sharing her miscarriage experience in a very public way — typically very unlike her — Karulak-Baker said that while she still has emotions to deal with, “I think it makes it easier to talk about. It doesn’t feel like it’s a secret or something to be ashamed of.” And she was blown away by the women — complete strangers — who reached out in support and with stories of their own miscarriages.
And very soon, the family of four will become a family of five, welcoming a new outlaw beekeeper. And Karulak-Baker is certain it’s a boy.
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