Thursday, March 9, 2017

A tale of multiple pregnancies

So in continuing the tradition of surprising people who never thought I would get married, I'm now 26 weeks pregnant, totally baffling people if I hadn't already.

"I cannot believe my best friend is pregnant, I never thought this day would come," is one of the first things my friend of twenty-five years said to me moments after hearing the news. In the list of things people thought were impossible, world peace was first and me making a conscious effort to produce another human was ranked second. While I've always been considered the mother hen of my friends, making sure everyone is okay and accounted for on trips to other countries and late nights that led to White Castle binging, I wasn't the one aching to be a mother. It's not that I haven't possessed a maternal instinct, it's more like no one planned on me purposefully enforcing it.

But, in the summer of 2015, after the life-changing experience of losing my own mother, the need to do something meaningful in my life, something beyond my career or personal goals (like learning how to perfectly roast a chicken), overwhelmed me. Creatively I was stunted. The memoir I'd thought I'd be able to write about the relationship I had with my mother wasn't flowing out of me the way I had expected it would. I wasn't ready. And while I was very busy gathering ideas to design everything from the floors to the roof of the home we'd purchased in New Jersey, I still felt empty.

I remember walking around the house, in and out of rooms that had been stripped down to the studs and thinking,  It would be ridiculous to waste all this space on just us. We should have kids. 

It's not that my husband and I had never discussed it, it was just that we spoke about it in the way you talk about wanting to visit Thailand one day, but never actually open your date book to figure out how you're going to fit that kind of epic trip into your schedule. But now, I wanted to nail the trip down. I wanted to be a mom.

My husband was immediately on board, and so, off birth control I went! I feel like there should be a parade for such events. I mean, I had spent the last fifteen years following a strict regiment of pill-taking only to stop it completely and throw caution to the wind. It felt momentous.

Within two months, I was pregnant. I wasn't deeply surprised because I never thought it would be hard. I pretty much assumed I was this fertile being who'd been suppressed for years and was now given the opportunity to blossom and deliver multiple humans into society. I was wrong.

About the eight week into my pregnancy, we visited my OBGYN for the first time. An initial urine sample was enough to make my doctor hug and congratulate me as we walked into the exam room. There was an excitement my husband and I shared as we waited to see the visual evidence of our little baby to be. The doctor situated herself, positioned the monitor so we could both see what was going on inside my lady parts, and got to work with the ultrasound wand.

"There's the gestational sac," she said, pointing to a little bubble in a sea of black.

And then she went silent, working the wand with gusto. Almost immediately my heart dropped. I could tell she was looking for something that she wasn't seeing.

"Are you sure your dates are correct? Because if they aren't, if you're here earlier than you should be, this is fine. But if you're dates are right..."

"There's no way I'm wrong."

She put the wand aside and looked at us, her whole demeanor changed. "Then what's happened is a blighted ovum, a miscarriage will follow." She looked at us sadly and explained what this all meant. The short version - the egg had been fertilized, but the embryo had never developed. So while I was showing up pregnant on any test I took, the truth was, I was not. She assured me of the "good" news: "At least you know you can get pregnant. And odds are a blighted ovum will not happen again." Oh, joy. 

Let me quickly summarize the hellish few weeks that followed as to not lose you before this story gets better... I did a lot of Googling (this is never a good thing, especially when health-related) and read story upon story from women who had gone through this and who had to wait weeks, even months before their body naturally miscarried the damaged egg. Do you know the kind of mind f*ck that is? Your body has failed you, and now it's just going to kick back and drag this situation out for an indefinite amount of time when all you want to do is forget it happened and get back on track.

My doctor gave me a few options. The first was to use pills that would force a miscarriage. That was a very fun experience, especially the part where I felt the equivalent of contractions throughout an entire night only to wake up and find out the pills hadn't fully worked. The next option was to try the pills again (no thanks!) or have an aspiration abortion where basically all the stuff that won't come out gets sucked out with a vacuum. Another option that sounded like a wonderful way to spend a day! But it was either that or fall into a lovely depression while I waited for my body to stop being an asshole. I chose the former. And let's just say, that wasn't a walk in the park either. I had a panic attack in the middle of the procedure and thought I was dying. So there's that.

With the whole ordeal finally behind me, we waited a few weeks for my insides to heal before trying again. I wasn't too discouraged when I got my period a month later. My body was still in transition, I told myself. But one month turned into four, each filled with glamorous periods. We started using ovulation kits which quickly turns baby-making into a chore and leaves you feeling even more defeated when a "perfectly" timed session doesn't lead to a pregnancy.

Finally, in April I missed my period by two days and felt elated. It was the week of our second wedding anniversary and if I was in fact pregnant, the baby's due date would be Christmas day. How perfect was that! I tested positive and when I told my husband the news he was ecstatic. Finally, we could move on!

Except we couldn't.

A few days later my period hit, along with an emotional breakdown that left me crying in bed for about five straight hours. What was wrong with my body? How could this be? I called my new OBGYN, whom I had not yet met in person, and begged her for an answer. She told me the events I'd described to her sounded like a chemical abortion - a situation where your body terminates the pregnancy so quickly you wouldn't have even known you were pregnant had you not tested so early. She gave me a new rule of thumb: don't test until TEN days after a missed period. Ten days?! That's like asking me to ignore a delectable cake sitting on my kitchen counter, tempting me with its sweet scent. And when I did meet her in person, she ran tests which only showed there was nothing wrong with me. I was in prime baby-making health, despite being on the verge of thirty-five. It just wasn't the "right time".

What followed in the next few months was more trying and failing. Sure, it wasn't really failing, per se, but when you're in our shoes, there's no other way to feel. It didn't help that people who didn't know our situation liked to say things like, "My kid needs a playmate, when are you guys going to get the ball rolling?" or "You've been married more than two years, isn't it time to start a family?" Granted, I heard this mostly from people who never had issues having children. So here's where I'd like to insert a PSA: HOW ABOUT YOU DON'T SAY THINGS LIKE THIS TO PEOPLE. Never assume you know someone's story despite anything you think you know about them, because more often than not, you're probably wrong. As a side PSA, for those that do learn of a couple's hard time, how about: DON'T JUST SMILE AND TELL THEM 'WHEN YOU STOP TRYING, IT'LL HAPPEN, JUST RELAX.' After I heard that for about the seventeenth time I thought about just wearing a sign that said "F*ck Off", but I do realize the people behind the statements meant well and believed encouragement was the best they could offer. Personally, I'd rather just hear: THAT SUCKS. IF YOU NEED TO TALK ABOUT IT, I'M HERE FOR YOU.

By the time the summer of 2016 rolled around and we were creeping up on a year of unsuccessful attempts, I made a choice: if I wasn't pregnant by the early Fall, I was done. I'd redirect my efforts towards something else and leave this process in the past...Then my mom intervened.

In July, I met with a psychic medium a friend of mine swears by. Aside from channeling my mother and having her talk to me about other pertinent things going on in my life that the psychic could not have known, mom wanted me to know that I would be pregnant before the year was up and that I'd be blessed with a child that was just like me. 

It's not that I left that session with tremendous hope, instead I just left with a validated plan. Let's see if you're right, mom. And that's all there was to it.

September rolled around and I was on the same exact cycle I had been a year earlier when I'd gotten pregnant the first time. I missed my period again just as I had then. Despite my doctor's warnings, I tested the first day instead of the tenth and the test showed a strong double line. Did we smile? Yes. But excitement was no longer something we could feel in the way we had that first time, we'd been robbed of it. Instead, we took some deep breaths and waited it out. On the tenth day, my period still hadn't come and I was well aware that it wouldn't be. Still, I wasn't jumping for joy. I'd made it passed this marker once before as well, only for things to not turn out as I'd hoped.

I called my doctor and, based on my history, she scheduled an immediate visit. I figured it was too early for them to see anything and that only blood tests would be performed, so I didn't bring my husband along. When I walked into the exam room, my doctor brought out the ultrasound machine and I did a double take. Flashbacks hit me like a harsh wave and I felt incredibly uneasy.

"But you won't be able to see anything. It's too soon, no?" I asked. She told me there was a chance we would and to just relax. A few minutes later that familiar black sea was on the monitor and the small gestational sac sat inside of it.

"See this," she pointed at a fluttering white dot, "That's the baby's heartbeat."

I looked at her like she had three heads and so she went on to explain that the baby's development appeared perfectly normal and she wanted me back in a few weeks to check on the progress. If my husband had been there, I would have burst into tears, but without him I held it together, acting like I'd just been told my Wendy's order was ready. "Oh, ok, great."

I left the office in a state of shock and, after snapping out of it, called my husband. In that moment we were both incredibly happy, but the scarring of our year-long experience remained and so we were cautious, not spreading the news or believing in it too fully ourselves. And we remained that way with each week that passed, especially when I spotted and was put on bed rest for a week (why would any of this be easy?), and into my morning sickness and extreme fatigue and every other wonderful thing that comes with a viable pregnancy.

It's crazy to think that was twenty weeks ago, that I'm still pregnant with a healthy baby growing inside of me, and that the little baby is a girl who, when the ultrasound technician caught her posing for the sonogram photos said, "She's quite the ham" to which my husband turned to me and replied, "Just like you."

Just like me. 

Just like my mother said she'd be.

Now, I'm roughly three months away from meeting this little being and while I could spend the next six paragraphs telling you all the ugly  wonderful 😁 truths I learned about what pregnancy does to your body, I'll save that for another blog post. Instead, I'll leave you with this... It wasn't until I started sharing my fertility issues with other women that I began to learn how hard it's been for others. Miscarriages and complications aren't the first stories you hear when it comes to pregnancy, sometimes you don't hear them at all. But they are important. They are a way of helping us understand the struggle of others and that we're not alone when it happens to us.