Repeat pregnancy loss. It’s not a term I was familiar with or understood the weight of until we joined this very special, very resilient club ourselves.
Three hopes, three dreams, three opportunities to expand our family and give our son a sibling. Three little seemingly perfect blips that sadly, and so quickly, went away.
Our first miscarriage came and went quickly, as we only had two weeks of the knowledge of our little nugget before it was gone.
It was October. Our three-and-a-half-year-old son had a hard night sleeping, and I ended up in his bed with him. I had had some minor cramping and spotting the night before, but I tried to shrug it off as this is something I had experienced during my first pregnancy.
By the time I woke up the next morning, I knew in my heart that our pregnancy was gone. I stood up to go to the bathroom and ended up running because I could feel the blood coming. Typical of life with a toddler, our son came running right after me and wanted a hug. I sat on the toilet holding back tears, holding my precious baby, and in came husband, who instantly put the pieces together.
We tried again and miscarried between six and eight weeks in January.
I truthfully don’t even remember when it happened. I do remember a certain heaviness as my concerns transitioned from “this was just a fluke” to “we might have a problem.” My husband took the next day off work, and the three of us drove up to the mountains. Our son played in the snow and relished in having our undivided attention. I wept on and off all day and rested in between.
Our OB was a huge help during this time. Compassionate and concerned, she moved forward with testing to help us narrow down any potentially treatable issues. Within a few weeks, she notified me that my ANA (antinuclear antibody) levels were really elevated. This is associated with autoimmune disorders and something I had been familiar with since getting sick in college and having subsequent maybe-it’s-lupus-or-maybe-it’s-fibromyalgia diagnoses over the next twelve years.
I managed the symptoms mostly on my own and really grew to dislike rheumatologists in large part because of the lack of clarity about my situation. My OB strongly felt this time that the ANA levels needed to be addressed and helped me to find a wonderful rheumatologist. She spent time going through years of records and confidently finally diagnosed me with lupus. I started taking medication to help with symptoms I had been living with for years and we came up with a plan for moving forward with trying to get pregnant.
The two big concerns with my type of lupus and pregnancy are blood clots and kidney involvement. I had had zero kidney issues to date so that was ruled out. My team decided that I would go on blood thinners with our next pregnancy to alleviate any potentially harmful blood clots.
We had a plan. It felt empowering. Terrifying but empowering.
A few months later, the weekend of my husband’s 40th birthday, a day before we were welcoming family and friends down to the beach for a weekend-long party, I had a positive pregnancy test.
We laughed and cried, and my dear supportive husband drove an hour and a half home and back to get the blood thinners so I could start them immediately. As our son napped, I watched a YouTube video and gave myself the first of what I had no idea would be many injections. I pretended to drink champagne all day with everyone but didn’t have to fake the joy that filled my heart.
That’s not to say the pregnancy was without hesitations and fear. After losing a pregnancy, everything feels a bit more fragile. Every trip to the bathroom has you praying there’s no blood. You count down the days in between every visit to the OB. I even struggled for months with crippling anxiety about our son’s health and well-being, which my therapist assured me was normal because we had, in fact, experienced the loss of children in our miscarriages. For months, I woke in the middle of the night in a complete panic that led me to his room to make sure he was ok.
I had just settled into a place of feeling more comfortable with this pregnancy, allowing myself to be driven more by the hope of what might be and less by the fear of loss, when I had my first routine appointment with the perinatologist at 11.5 weeks. It was a stressful appointment to begin with. They go over the increased risks of certain abnormalities with baby because of your age, and then there’s an ultrasound. Thanks to COVID restrictions, I had to go to this appointment alone.
We had already heard baby’s heartbeat at eight weeks, and until you hear it again, you don’t realize how much stress you carry in between each appointment. One of the techs in the room had previously worked for my OB’s office, so we excitedly recognized each other and were chatting as the other tech started the ultrasound. I’m not sure how long we made small talk until I realized the other tech hadn’t said a word. The silence spoke volumes, and I knew. “Is there a heartbeat?” I asked. She told me that my bladder was too full to tell and asked me to go to the bathroom. I knew instantly our baby was gone despite her gentle distraction techniques. When I came back, the two women helped me lay down for a vaginal ultrasound as I sobbed, and I’ll never forget asking one of them, “Is this because something bad happened?” Her compassionate but professional eyes looked at me and said, “Yes.”
Within minutes, the doctor came in to confirm that our sweet little blessing had stopped growing, likely that day or the day before.
Being alone and learning this news was devastating; having to call my husband and relay it to him ripped me wide open. That night, we received our genetic testing results and learned that our fetus had been a boy.
The next day, I started a dream job at a company that manufactures baby monitors and other technology that provides parents with valuable insights about their babies. I smiled and faked my way through the day, terrified of compromising my professional future when all I could think about was what the future looked like for my family. I also couldn’t believe the luck of my timing in losing another child and beginning a job advocating for other parents and babies.
After work, we had an appointment with our OB to go over our options. She has the most joyous office, filled with flowers, and the smell of lavender pumps through diffusers. It’s comfortable and inviting, and it’s typically filled with laughter and smiles. I mean – having a baby is something to be happy about! This time was different, and the staff understood our request to wait outside. As we waited, several of the staff came out to give us hugs. Their compassion really gave magnitude to our situation – our loss was surprising, and it was horribly sad.
We finally met with our OB, who shared her staff’s compassion with tear-filled hugs, and she spent time chatting about the devastation of loss. Her kindness throughout the whole ordeal was one of the things I will remember most. She saw me as a woman and a mother and so much more than a patient. I saw her too, and I will forever be thankful for her.
We chose to have a D&C so that we could have the tissue analyzed and hopefully have more insights into why this happened.
Because of COVID, operating rooms were booked solid for non-emergency procedures, and we would have to wait eight days for the surgery. I was gutted. How was it that I would have to wait more than a week for this nightmare to end and for our grieving process to really begin?
The next eight days felt like a bad dream. I lived hour to hour and even minute to minute at times. Walking around with death inside of you carries with it a haunting sadness that I still can’t fully comprehend or give words to. I literally couldn’t wait for it to be over. Then, the night before the surgery, I was completely overwhelmed with emotion at the thought that we had to say goodbye forever to our son. I didn’t want to let go. This was the closest I would ever be to him, to being able to hold and protect him, and the magnitude that it was truly over was just so heavy. My husband was wonderful during this time. Although he was grieving, too, he held me in my sadness and helped the time pass by surrounding me in his love.
The day of our surgery finally arrived, and we officially said goodbye. I had a strange request of our OB, but she graciously told me that she would tell our boy that we loved him. We all sobbed and hugged before I went off to sleep.
Within a few days, we learned that the analysis of the fetus was totally normal. This news was truly devastating for me. I had held onto the thought that we miscarried because there was something wrong, and it was nature’s way of protecting my body and our family. Not having this reason meant we had nothing – we had no answers or things to fix, and while my heart knew this wasn’t the case, my head told me it must mean it was my fault, and this was without a doubt the hardest part of the process for me.
Our OB’s suggestion was to see a fertility specialist.
We had exhausted all options with standard testing, and we needed more insights and potentially help. We didn’t make this decision lightly. For two people who have wanted so desperately and for so long to be parents and who seemingly get pregnant very easily, this seemed completely unnatural and foreign to us.
We did a few more tests to rule out anything obvious, and our repeat miscarriages were in part chalked up to bad luck. While we can’t change that, the risk of miscarriage decreases by 65-80% with IVF because of the chromosome testing, and that was the deciding factor for us.
IVF is not a promise of a baby. It is grueling physically, mentally, emotionally, and financially with no guarantee of ten fingers and ten toes at the end. However, we were not yet ready to close the door to expanding our family, and if this was our last chance, we wanted it to be our very best.
Before deciding to move forward, I had a lot of questions about the meds and the process.
I called a friend who I had worked with years ago and who had been open about her IVF journey. She doesn’t live in the same state, and to me, the fact that I wouldn’t run into her in the grocery store made her a safe place to ask my questions and express my concerns.
We talked for an hour, and she was so supportive. The biggest takeaway from that conversation was that she encouraged me to give myself and us credit for what we have already been through. I had already experienced giving myself injections. Three losses were not only devastating emotionally, but they physically took a toll on me. We had already been through so much and proved stronger than we thought we were, and we might be ok with the IVF process because we were already ok. This was a great perspective I hadn’t considered, and it made a huge impact.
Off we went!
The meds arrived in the mail. I watched videos to learn how to mix them and became an actual doctor-scientist overnight! Organizing everything helped me feel like I had some control and ownership of the process, which for me, is important. My husband even helped mix them and prepare my nightly heating pads.
I also did a three-week IVF diet to improve egg quality. It included lots of leafy greens and whole foods, and my boys did a great job eating it, too. If there was something I could do to increase our chances, I wanted to do it. I changed my deodorant, stopped wearing perfume, and for the first time in years, have gone without nail polish on my fingers and toes to minimize toxins. Did you know that receipts carry an alarming amount of BPA in them and can quickly be absorbed into the skin affecting egg quality?! I felt like a crazy person dodging receipts at the grocery store for a few weeks. This all sounds a bit neurotic, but I promise it came with a certain serenity to it – these are simple changes to make over a short period of time that would hopefully improve the quality of our eggs as we entered what we believe to be our last try.
Egg retrieval day was exciting. There were a lot of nerves, but we were anxious to start having some insights.
And there were great insights! They retrieved 17 follicles. 12 were matured and able to be fertilized. The next step was to let them grow 5-7 days into blastocysts – an important step in the process. Then, you just wait and hope.
We had six blasts that went out for genetic testing. After another week of waiting, we learned that we had two normal embryos – almost identical in grading – that we could implant.
As we wait to start the month-long medication process leading up to our transfer, I am truly feeling overwhelmed for the first time. Of course, we desperately want it to work. I also have fears about how my body will hold up – not just with the process but, if we are lucky, with pregnancy. It’s been through a lot in the last year, and my lupus has been largely manageable for the last 16 years.
I am fiercely committed to being our son’s best mama, and while we believe that includes giving him a sibling, it also means giving him the best of me today.
This process has challenged my ability to do that because I’m tired or emotional or physically uncomfortable, and some days it’s easy to question if we are, in fact, making the right choice. It’s a constant challenge not to lose myself in the process, too. Our focus for the better part of two years has been on getting pregnant, and finding value in myself outside of the guilt of loss is constantly evolving.
Then again, seeing our last due date quickly approaching on the calendar and thinking of the pain associated with that loss reminds me why we are doing this in the first place.
“Grief is just love with no place to go.”
This quote really hit home for me. We have so much love to give another baby. We have done everything we can to put us in the best position for this to work, and at the end of it all, so much is out of our hands. It might not matter that I didn’t wear nail polish or tried not to eat carbs. But it matters to us that we tried, and we surely are.
Our perfect result is a healthy baby in our arms in ten months’ time. Perhaps it’s the harsh reality of pregnancy loss that has also forced a certain aching acceptance in my heart – our family is perfect the way it is. As someone who considers herself a mother at the core and someone who is learning that my motherhood is not defined by the number of children I have, all I can ask for is that my child(ren) be truly and deeply loved. There is no shortage of love for our son, and that makes this mama’s heart incredibly full.
This guest post was submitted anonymously. The author included this hopeful update: This month, we welcomed a healthy baby girl who we will be eternally grateful for. One day she might know about the journey the three of us went on to bring her home, and if she doesn’t, I hope she knows that she was fiercely loved and chosen over and over again by her family.