Sunny Sweeney is ready to share her story.
PEOPLE has the exclusive first look at the country singer’s music video for “Bottle by My Bed,” the newest single from her fourth studio album, Trophy.
The song was inspired by the difficult journey Sweeney and husband Jeff Hellmer have been on in their quest to become parents, including a miscarriage the couple suffered after trying to conceive for some time.
Sweeney, 40 — who will make her 50th appearance at the Grand Ole Opry on Aug. 25 — spoke to PEOPLE about her decision to write the song and perform it live, the aftermath of her miscarriage, why she decided to tell her story — and what’s next for the couple.
PEOPLE: Can you tell us about your journey trying to conceive? Were you two expecting to get pregnant right away? When did you realize it was going to be a struggle?
Sunny Sweeney: I think everyone assumes that they will automatically achieve pregnancy as soon as they start trying. But after a couple of years had passed and nothing was happening, we realized it was going to be more of a struggle than we had anticipated. So, after a huge hiccup in our plans, we decided to go explore infertility treatments.
We spent so much money on what seemed like months and months of no return: shots, creams, hormones, medications and finally [in vitro fertilization], which was brutal on both my body and my emotions. We had a total of 12 perfect embryos when it was all said and done. We were so sure it was going to work this time. Then not a single embryo made it to the implantation stage. My heart was absolutely broken. We had “the talk.” It was putting too much stress on us. We were done trying.
A couple of months later, I miraculously ended up pregnant, naturally. We were stunned. We had gotten a few months into it, and we got to see the heartbeat. This completely restored my outlook on the parent/child connection immediately. Everything was sailing along smoothly. I embraced morning sickness. It amused me that things smelled gross. My body was changing, and I couldn’t “hide it” much longer. I thought, “This is it — we are actually having a baby!”
Then I went in for my regular checkup, and the heartbeat was gone. Gone. No explanation. Nothing. I waited two weeks to make sure the heartbeat wasn’t just hiding behind something else. Then we had to schedule the dreaded [dilation and curettage procedure]. It took me a couple months to finally digest that I had miscarried. That’s when my friends started coming out of the woodwork. So many people had been through this. It was comforting to know we were not alone.
PEOPLE: Have you and your husband discussed another possible route — adoption or surrogacy?
Sunny: Absolutely! We have thought of all the options. Mostly, we are considering adoption. Nothing is out of the question, but it’s so hard to put it all out there again. I think we are both hesitant to spend more money right now. I think we both believe in the back of our minds that if I was able to get pregnant before, then surely it can happen again. I somehow can’t give up hope, despite having every reason to do so.
PEOPLE: How have the difficulties affected your marriage? Have they brought you and your husband closer together?
Sunny: This journey has absolutely made us closer. Miscarriage is complicated. People assume it’s only the woman who is suffering, but I tell you what, I have known my husband for 14 years and have never seen him so upset about something. He knew how badly I wanted the baby, and it was devastating for him to see his wife go through that pain.
But it was not just my baby — it was his too. He was vulnerable and helpless and experiencing a loss all his own. It definitely causes stress on a relationship, but the truth is we both want to raise a little person together, so it’s something we are both willing to make huge sacrifices for.
PEOPLE: The song and video are both so raw. Can you tell us a little bit about the songwriting? Had you kept a journal while trying to conceive that you pulled from?
Sunny: I’ve had the title of the song and the line “All my friends are raisin’ babies, I’m still raisin’ Cain” for a couple years. I mentioned it to Lori McKenna, who is my hero in so many ways, but mostly because she is the mother to five amazing children. I knew she was the one to write it with. She understands what it’s like to have exactly what I want. She understands the love of a parent/child.
My “journal” regarding this song was all in my head. I never really wanted to talk about why we didn’t have children. I feel like our friends and family just assume that because of my job and being on the road so much, that we must not want any kids. Some topics are just better left alone. This is one that has always been hard for me to wiggle my way through. So basically, before this song was written, I had no reason to tell anyone anything. I let people think what they wanted to think.
PEOPLE: Have you turned to anyone else in the country community? Has anyone offered advice/support on infertility?
Sunny: Infertility seems like such a taboo subject. It makes you feel broken. It seems like no one talks about it, unless they know the person they’re talking to has also been through it.
Mostly, I talk to my mom, who is coincidentally my best friend. She has been through miscarriage as well. I talk to my husband and a couple of my girlfriends. Since this song has come out, a couple artist friends of mine, who didn’t know I was even trying to have a baby, have offered their advice on adoption and given us some of their contacts to start the process — if that’s the route we decide to go.
PEOPLE: Has music/songwriting been a release for you during some of the more difficult moments?
Sunny: Since I was a child, music has been my one constant. I want to feel something when I listen to music — that’s the point, in my opinion. As my career has developed, it seemed like it was just a natural progression to make and sing songs that help connect us as humans. I try to make people feel something.
I spent quite a few weeks and months in a state of complete depression after my miscarriage. I drank a lot of wine to drown the pain and spent countless nights sitting on my couch with the music up as loud as I could, staring into space, beating myself up about what I could have done differently.
PEOPLE: More and more people are sharing their struggles with infertility. What made you want to share your story?
Sunny: I was raised to be brutally honest. It’s just the way my family is. It has gotten me into some interesting predicaments in my life, but it’s safe to say that I don’t mince words. That being said, it was still a tough decision to sing this song live after we wrote it. I initially looked at it like a cathartic, “Okay, that felt good to get it off my chest” song.
I am so happy I was able to allow myself to go there that first time. The first night I sang it, a woman came up to me afterwards. She was very pregnant and sobbing. She said, “I know you hate me right now because I’m pregnant. I have spent my last couple of years mad at everyone that was pregnant.”
And she was right. It’s a very hard dynamic, because you are thrilled for your friends but you can’t help but question, “Why not me?” She continued, “I want you to know that we have tried for years and he’s finally going to be here next week. Please do not give up on this if it’s what you want.”
It was almost like a sign that on the first night I sang it live, someone that had been “me” in my situation was telling me to push forward with this. I have had some incredible reactions to this song. People want to talk about the subject. People need to talk about this. We need to commiserate and lift each other up, both men and women. If my song can aid in that process, I feel we have done our job as songwriters.