When we announced we were pregnant with Nora Beth almost exactly 2 years to the day that we announced our pregnancy with this new little sprout, I shared a bit about our process with IUI here (note to self: make that chicken again soon). Some parts of our journey (how very Bachelorette of me) were intimately similar. Others were distinctly different this time. I’m sharing in as much detail as I can, not to breakdown what fragile boundaries were still left between us and this blog, but for someone else entering this process. I hated that I had to turn to the murky depths of message boards to find details about our treatments, rather than someone’s in depth and personal experience.
Following Nora Beth’s birth, Davey and I knew that we wanted to start trying for an accompanying baby pal for her posthaste. I never went on birth control, because with our fertility issues, we wanted to maximize our chances to get pregnant on our own. Our hope had always been to conceive naturally, but when I took a pregnancy test in early September of 2015, I was shocked when the digital screen greeted me with “PREGNANT.” I knew it could happen. I knew we wanted it to happen. I just didn’t think it would happen. Because I feel like I’ve dwelled on that experience ad nauseum within this space (here and here and here and oh, here, in case you didn’t follow prior), I will fast forward to October 29, 2015, when I had a D&E to remove the blighted ovum from my body. The procedure went smoothly and was painless, until a week later when I experienced complications and hemmoraghing, losing clot after clot after clot, resulting in essentially a second, emergent D&E while awake in my doctor’s office (though, for my people-pleasing tendencies, this was okay, because I was worried that I was overreacting to the bleeding, but when my doctor looked down and said, startled, “oh my God, Caroline,” I knew that things were bad. I mean, if I’m going to add drama to the mix, I’d rather it be REALLY dramatic, take note, Bravo). My doctor warned me during my follow up appointment that my cycle may take a really long time to return, but that we could start trying again after it had. Luckily, 7 weeks later, I was back on my normal cycle, but my heart and mind had shifted from wanting desperately to get pregnant on our own to just wanting to keep our next pregnancy, not caring how it happened.
In December 2015, we returned to the hallowed halls of REACH to visit our team that had helped us conceive our most perfect and precious Nora B. We talked to our doctor there (for Charlotte readers, I highly recommend Dr. Wing and his nursing team) about our loss, about David’s numbers and about my ovulation cycle. We have always faced male infertility but also found out that my later ovulation day (typically day 19) may also be a contributing factor when paired with our pre-existing conditions, because my body wasn’t producing enough hormones to sustain a pregnancy. That alone could increase our risk of future miscarriages. Before we could move forward with any treatment plan, however, I had to stop breastfeeding. We went to Flying Biscuit after that appointment, and unexpectedly, I couldn’t stop crying. It felt needlessly unfair to have to choose between feeding one child in order to give life to another. Ultimately, the decision was clear, but sitting their salting my High Flyer with tears, it felt inhumane to make me choose while I was still reeling from our loss. I remember clearly hiccuping to David that I should be pregnant right that minute. I should be 5 months pregnant and not having to choose how to move forward with a fertility plan.
I started weaning NB immediately, and, as I should have guessed, she was much more prepared than I was and weaned like a dream (she does everything like a dream… sorry new kid, but you do have big chunky shoes to fill). By mid-January, we were ready to discuss IUI again. IUI is a fairly simple procedure that essentially puts sex into a tiny turkey baster and into the hands of a trained medical professional. To prep, I took 5 days of Letrozole from days 5-9 of my cycle. On day 12, we went back to the doctor for an ultrasound to see how many follicles were matured, determined the best day to give myself a shot in the stomach to trigger ovulation, and then returned 36-48 hours later for bloodwork (me) and to leave a specimen sample (David). Three hours later, I returned to the office to have the now cleaned and concentrated specimen (removing any dead or not-optimal sperm) inseminated into my cervix. A breezy (nope) 14 day wait later, we would know whether or not we had a baby growing. See, it’s just like a Chia pet.
Here’s how my rounds looked.
– Nearly debilitating headaches from the Letrozole.
– 3-4 mature follicles.
– Sample size of 2 million (with NB we had 18 million, and it’s not recommended to inseminate with fewer than 10 million). receive an additional sample of 3 million and inseminate with 5 million.
– Feel despondent but hopeful. After all, with NB it took 1 round. In my mind, I’m convinced I will be pregnant in 14 days.
– Feel so much cramping, particularly in my lower back, throughout my wait.
– Test days 9, 10, 11.
– Begin period on day 12.
– No side effects from the Letrozole.
– 3 mature follicles.
– Sample size of 3 million.
– Feel… resigned and detached… peaceful? Are those all the same thing? No. But I accept that they are. This cycle puts us directly on our same timeline as NB. Will find out on the same day, and these babies will have the same due date.
– Feel nothing during my 2 week wait. Literally no symptoms – very similar to my wait with NB.
– Tell three friends that I am pregnant. Day 12 feel extreme nausea and bloating. Know I am pregnant.
– Test days 8, 9, 11, 12, 13 and 14.
– Start bleeding that evening. But no cramping, bleeding looks… different? I started bleeding on a crazy day… I have just picked Nora Beth up from our nanny’s and am rushing home to change clothes for a team building event with a client and have 20 minutes between getting home and greeting our babysitter. Find the blood. Cannot feel my hands or face. Am numb and in shock and convince myself it is implantation bleeding. Call my nurse and tell her the same thing. Stop bleeding at some point during the evening. The next day is our anniversary, and I know we’re pregnant.
– Still bleeding in the morning. Oh, hi cramps. Oh, shit. This is my period. Cry and cry and cry in the car on the way to the mountains. Sob on the phone to my nurse – something I have prided myself on never doing.
– Go back for my round 3 ultrasound fully expecting (still?!) that we could see a baby. Do not. Embarrassed with myself.
– No side effects from the Letrozole.
– 4 mature follicles.
– Sample size of 8 million (this was a miracle. We were convinced that the sample size would be 1 million. Prayed fervently all morning that God would multiply the sample. A dear friend sends me a video of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir singing “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing.” Cry in Mayobird while I wait to go back for the insemination. Feel so hopeless. Write this post.)
– Realize that even with 8 million, our chance of a positive pregnancy is less than 2%.
– Want to give up. Feel hopeful somewhere in my depths but also resigned that somehow we will have to fund IVF. That feels impossible in many ways.
– Refuse to test early because it steals little piece of my soul with each negative.
– Feel some stabbing pain in my bosoms around day 9. Feel light cramping beginning day 10.
– Just want to make it through day 12 without blood. Go to the bathroom approximately 2856 times on day 12. Go to sleep. No bleeding.
– Terrified to get excited, because I still have 2 days to go.
– Almost test on day 13 after putting Nora Beth to sleep. Still cramping slightly.
– David and I are both awake by 5:30 on day 14. I haven’t slept much, and when I have, I’ve just had dreams about testing.
– Test. Positive. Disbelief but also feels like I knew the whole time. David and I have no idea what to do with ourselves, though we are surprisingly calm and pragmatic. Futilely try to go back to sleep. Call our nurses at 6:00 to tell them about the positive test and await further instructions. I swing by for a blood test while fielding a conference call and en route to a meeting.
– At 2:30 p.m. the office finally calls with results… HCG of 90. A solid, positive, substantial pregnancy (with NB, our initial HCG number was 12). Hang up and try to stay calm since I am in the middle of a meeting. Have already told about 5 people who have been praying for us… update them with our numbers. Create a plan with our nurses for the next few weeks. I’ll need 2 more blood tests to confirm that my numbers are climbing, then we’ll have ultrasounds at 6 weeks, 7 weeks, and 9 weeks.
Okay, back to long form narrative (are you asleep yet?). I’ll backtrack just a bit. I was thrilled with our initial HCG number and had to laugh at the irony that for the first time in 4 IUIs, I did not test early, but with that number, we would have received a positive as early as day 10 or 11. As dizzyingly excited as I was to clutch that stick letting me know that life existed in my womb, it was immediately tempered by guilt, sadness and fear. I was so guilty that at least 3 women I know and have walked alongside in their own appointment and cycle schedules weren’t pregnant yet… 1 in particular having just been dealt a truly devastating blow, that to this day, I cannot wrap my head around. It felt like I was betraying them. I felt immensely and tremendously sad that they were still in the throes of the trying. I still can’t wrap my head around it. I still feel guilty celebrating.
And the fear. Oh, the fear. If I had to choose a word to describe this first trimester, it would undoubtedly have to be terror. While the happiness, excitement and overflow are absolutely present, the emotion that has risen to the top most has been terror. I’ve felt like my body might trick me again. The comfort of each blood test’s results of more than doubling numbers lasted about 10 minutes at a time before I realized that with my blighted ovum, my numbers were increasing too. My body was responding with pregnancy, but there was no pregnancy. I was counting down for our first ultrasound.
The morning of our first ultrasound, I allowed the fear to grip me completely. I was barely in control of my faculties, and as my sweet husband continued to reassure me and encourage me, I was snappy and shaking. My hands were numb and my teeth were chattering, and inside I was steeling for bad news. Even with Nora Beth happily eating mandarins on David’s lap, I couldn’t focus on anything but loss. Our team let us know that there wouldn’t be much to see, and we most likely wouldn’t see a heartbeat, and if we did, we wouldn’t be able to hear it. I was prepared for another empty sac. But no. There was life. Sweet, beautiful life, and an unmistakeable flicker of a beating heart. And more, the faint sound of it pulsing and assuring me that it was my baby, and I was its mama. Relief flooded my heart. Until the next day when we had another 6 days of waiting before we saw that baby again. My nausea at that point was crippling, and I was limping through my days chasing a busy toddler and trying to stay on top of my work and ahead of the panic. I was also experiencing extreme cramping and expected to see blood every hour. Our next ultrasound was equally reassuring. Baby was growing, its heart was strong and sure, and its song sang to me. I recorded a video to send David and to listen to over and over again to try to stop the repetitive “it’s a trick,” refrain I was allowing the enemy to chant to me. Our next wait was another 2 weeks for our final ultrasound at REACH before being released to our regular OB/GYN. Yet again, numb hands on the way, and yet again, a viable life, measuring perfectly, with an unmistakeable heartbeat of 173 bpm.
Three ultrasounds to prove our baby was alive and thriving. 18 million doubts and questions choking me out. At 10.5 weeks, after 5 weeks of feeling miserable but thankful, I finally turned a corner and started to feel like a human… a human that seemed a lot like myself, in fact, but I immediately texted my mom, “I feel so much better, but what if this is sudden loss of pregnancy symptoms?!” I’m now just over 12 weeks. The general population knows I’m pregnant, and group knowledge is nothing if not legitimatizing, right? My fear is subsiding, but I know fresh waves will roll over me until I’m holding my son or daughter in my arms. At our first OB visit, we were told we wouldn’t try to hear to heartbeat, because baby was still too small, and they didn’t want me to be afraid if we couldn’t hear it. HAHAHA. Right, that would be irrational, of course. Almost as irrational as immediately posting in a local mom group to see if anyone had a Doppler. We now have a borrowed Doppler at home and have heard baby’s rhythmic heart twice. No, it is not recommended at home. But neither is housing a terrorist under your roof, which essentially I had allowed the enemy to become… a detonated bomb of horror waiting to blow.
As I bid adieu to the first trimester, I’m trying desperately to give that demon an eviction as well. Yesterday, I posted this story to Instagram. I’ve read it back four times since posting to remind myself of God’s faithfulness to my family.
Following our blighted ovum miscarriage last fall, I found myself emotionally limping through to a place of expectant hope. At the end of 2015, our church was leading a campaign called #surround. In December, each family was given a jar of water to write a word on that we were believing for our families in 2016, then we emptied the jars corporately and took our empty jars home. Without hesitation, I wrote “Heartbeat” on our jar. Praying that our family’s heartbeat would be aligned with His, and that in 2016, we would hear a new heartbeat. In February, we headed back to our fertility specialist to begin rounds of IUI (we conceived Nora Beth through 1 round in 2014). Our first and second rounds failed on day 12… The second failing 2 years to the day that we found out about NB’s own heart… the day before our 4th anniversary. Each failure felt like another loss, and the pain was raw. As we prepared for our 3rd, and potentially final round before moving to IVF, I found our jar, that had been sitting on our counter for months, untouched. The 14 day wait of a fertility treatment is brutal, and my hope was low. I was weary. But every day of those 14 days of waiting, I filled that jar with a little bit of water. At 5:37 a.m. on May 11, I filled the jar with its last bit of water, and it overflowed. And so did our hearts as we received our positive test minutes later. I have (unsurprisingly) a lot more to say about this pregnancy, and I’ll be sharing more on my blog this week, but until then. Heartbeats and jars of water. And hope and expectation. And joy and wonder. And perfectly penned stories.
I still wrestle with His decision to take that Fall life from us. I still choke up when we sing a song at church that proclaims “Our God has robbed the grave,” because He chose not to rob the grave I begged Him to rob. I can talk articulately and clinically about everything that happened to us from our first ultrasound that showed no growth and everything that happened since, but I can’t seem to pry the lid off the excitement that I experienced in the 3 weeks preceding it. I can’t possibly touch the pain I feel over the plans we were making and the names I was thinking and the stream of giddiness I shared with my friends and family. I can’t. And maybe I never will. But I’ve let that steal the same enthusiasm from these past 9 weeks, and I refuse to thematically carry over into the next 6 months as we prepare for this child. This life. This miraculous, blessedly existing, desperately wanted life. Tiny baby, we cherish every moment we have with you, and we cannot wait to meet you. For better or worse, our darling, you are ours, and we will always, always be yours.