MY JOURNEY THROUGH INFERTILITY, LOSS, AND WHAT WORKED
*Note: This post discusses sensitive topics such as pregnancy loss
We started trying just after I turned 30. For a long time, we didn’t worry that we were not getting pregnant. We weren’t really trying, we told ourselves. No rush, we told ourselves. And then finally, wonderfully, that big plus sign showed up! If you have ever looked down at a pregnancy test and you’ve been waiting to see that little plus sign (or digital “Pregnant”) then you will understand the feeling of being completely excited, overwhelmed by joy, and then fear, and for just a few moments it’s like your life stands still. You are pregnant. You are performing the sacred rite of creating another life.
It’s not glamorous, peeing on a stick. But the next few moments after that can be some of the best of your life. I felt like the Grinch when “his heart grew three sizes that day!” My heart exploded with a new feeling of love that it had never felt before. It had taken about a year and half, but I was pregnant. I rushed to call my OB, only to hear that I would have to wait another month for our first ultrasound, since they are typically done at about 8 or 9 weeks. It felt like an eternity to wait so long! How were they not just as excited and thrilled as I was at this miraculous event? I couldn’t wait for that appointment.
We arrived at the office and the tech took us back to the ultrasound room. The tech performed an external ultrasound (like you see in the movies with the gel on your belly) and then she didn’t say much. We stared at the screen and she stared at the screen. She excused herself and said she would send in the doctor. A doctor I didn’t know entered the room, apologized to me and told me the horribly crushing news that they did not detect a heartbeat. The OB I had seen at the practice previously was not there that day, so I was told this news by a stranger. It was the worst news of my life, in all honesty. Then the doctor asked me if I wanted them to perform a D&C procedure that day. What? What was a D&C? Why didn’t anyone ever tell you about this? I had no idea what she was even asking me. I felt like the whole thing was very clinical, which in retrospect I don’t think that was the best way to handle the situation, but I also understand she was just doing her job. She probably did not want to deliver this sad news to me, but she had to. We decided to go home to try and process what had just happened.
I was incredibly sad, and broken. I lay in bed and cried a lot that day and for the next few days. I was so torn up from that experience that I actually switched doctors. I got a recommendation from a friend and the experience - while still very sad - was handled with much better bedside manner. I decided to go forward with using Cytotec to induce a miscarriage. I was 10 weeks pregnant. The new doctor and I discussed how we would go forward, and right now there wasn’t any mention of fertility treatment, but if we could not get pregnant within one year we would revisit the issue.
We did get pregnant again, maybe six months afterwards, and I miscarried this baby too. Again the interminable wait until the first ultrasound and then the crushing disappointment almost did me in. We resolved to try again. What else can you do at that point? We so badly wanted children and it seemed like all I could focus on. But then in a couple of months I rushed to the hospital one day with excruciating pain in my lower left abdomen. I got an ultrasound at the hospital and the doctor diagnosed an endometrioma on my ovary, which is a small cyst of endometriosis. It was very painful, and I was referred to a fertility specialist at this time.
The fertility specialist looked through all of my files and did bloodwork. Surprisingly, they did not want to treat the endometrioma. The doctor said to me that it would hopefully resolve itself, as endometriosis can sometimes do when you get pregnant. But then he told me I had anticardiolipin syndrome (say that fast three times!) which is a blood clotting problem. Essentially, my body was clotting and shutting off the development of the placenta when I was getting pregnant. That, he surmised, was the reason why I had lost my last two pregnancies. My own body was treating the pregnancy like a parasite, through no fault of my own. Although the blood test had found what was wrong and it could be fixed, I was still devastated by the two previous losses.
I wondered so many times why this blood test was not performed on me after my first loss, or why in fact it was not performed on all women who are trying to conceive, just so that they don’t have to go through what I had been through. If it had, I might have had two children already! To this day it is one of the fruitless questions that passes through my mind. But we moved forward… We would keep trying to get pregnant, and when I had a positive test, I would come in for an early ultrasound and bloodwork to confirm the pregnancy. Then I would start taking blood thinners, which would prevent the clotting problem. This part was not fun, it meant I had to give myself a shot every day for the entire pregnancy. But at least it was a tangible way to fix the problem.
This time it was another 6 months and we did not get pregnant. The fertility specialist then suggested using Femara at the beginning of my cycle (you take a pill for 5 days) and then using the Ovidrel trigger shot so we would know when ovulation was going to occur. They do an ultrasound on day 12 of your cycle to see how many eggs you have and how mature they are, and you do the shot on day 13, 14, or 15. It’s more complicated than that but in the interest of brevity, that’s basically the process. I did Femara and Ovidrel for 3 months, and on the 3rd try, we were pregnant again.
I called the doctor basically the moment that I saw that positive test! We had an ultrasound at 6 weeks, and lo and behold, there was the heartbeat. We saw this little flicker on the screen and I had another one of those life-standing-still moments. It was incredible. I cried and smiled and laughed with my husband! We had a viable pregnancy this time! There was a baby in there, and the heart was already beating! It was truly a miracle. I began the blood thinner shots and my pregnancy went completely normally afterwards, although the anxiety and worrying if everything was ok with the baby continued. I luckily had a natural-birth friendly OB-GYN this time, we hired a birth doula, and my husband was incredibly supportive through the emotional rollercoaster of pregnancy.
Nine months later, my son was born. We hadn’t found out beforehand so it was a surprise when the doctor said, “You have a son!” It was also a surprise when, eight months after my first birth, another little plus sign showed up. We hadn’t even been trying to get pregnant! I guess it’s true what they say, that sometimes it is easier to get pregnant the second time. Now we have two sons, and they are 16 months apart in age. The past couple of years have been a whirlwind of being pregnant twice and raising one and now two children. The journey through the losses of our first two babies, and through the loss of my Dad around the same time, was one of the hardest times of my life. But look at where we are now! A family of four, growing and changing together.
I got through the hardest times by clinging to my husband, my family, and my friends, many of whom had experiences very similar to mine. It helped to talk about it sometimes, and it helped to lay in bed and do nothing sometimes. One important lesson I came away with was that there is no right way to grieve. No one can tell you how you are supposed to feel when you lose a child. You have to get through it in whatever seems like the best way to you. To some is a societal taboo to even mention that you have had a loss, but it happens to so many families in all kinds of different situations. We can and should talk about these losses, not only to normalize the topic but also so we are able to love and support one another through it.
In memory of my two babies and my Dad, I got a tattoo one cold winter day on my shoulder blade of three forget-me-nots. Although it might seem like a funny thing to commemorate with a tattoo, it’s a bittersweet symbol of the losses but also a reminder to appreciate the joys that I have now. I cherish the memories with my Dad and often think about what advice he would be giving me as a parent. I look at my two children and think, “I am so lucky. Look at these two wondrous little beings that have been placed in my care.”
6/27/2018 12:21:46 pm
Oh, Kelly. I had no idea of all you went through. I'm sitting here in tears after reading your piece. You are one amazing woman, full of love and understanding of what has happened to you. You are also an inspiration for anyone going through something similar. I know you'll go forward & enjoy these two little boys. May you always have the wind at your back!
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Cincinnati Birth and Parenting, LLC was founded by Molly Murray, a birth and postpartum doula and childbirth educator. Through this growing company, Molly connects parents with information, resources, and support while also staying committed to building up fellow professionals and connecting them with the people who need their services most.