“So when are you going to have a baby?” I knew the routine. While I wanted to lecture on infertility and inappropriate questions, I slapped on my fake smile and uttered through gritted teeth “we’re working on it.” This seemingly innocent, albeit nosy, question was so painful to answer. My husband and I suffered through years of infertility, not knowing if we would ever become parents. We found out later that 8 of my miscarriages likely occurred because of chromosomal abnormalities, causing me to miscarry early on in each pregnancy.
A little background.
My husband and I met in October 2002. We married in June 2005 and decided to wait a few years before we started trying to get pregnant. We both come from large families and knew we wanted children. We thought it would happen once we started trying and didn’t give any more thought to fertility. How naïve we were.
We never imagined our journey to parenthood would take 8+ years. About three years into our marriage, we started trying to get pregnant. Six months in, I got pregnant. But soon after, we found out that I was miscarrying. This happened twice more in a span of 6 months. My OB/GYN referred me to a local reproductive endocrinologist. We met with him and he immediately put us at ease. His mannerisms, “bedside manner” and even his sense of humor reassured me that we had chosen the right person to help us in this journey. He told us “we can get you pregnant. It just may take some time.” That was the understatement of the decade!
We tried it all!
There were so many different treatment options – ultimately, we underwent multiple rounds of medication-induced ovulation, IUI and, finally, IVF. We took breaks in between treatments. We enjoyed each other’s company, focused on our careers, family and friends, and were the most involved aunt and uncle to our nieces and nephews. We had 7 more pregnancies, 5 ending in miscarriage and 2 ectopic pregnancies. Through all the different treatments we tried, I always got pregnant in between treatments. Every pregnancy ended in loss. I was distraught and had days and months where I found it difficult to attend baby showers for friends and family. One pregnancy stands out to me. One of my best friends was pregnant. I planned a baby shower for her and found out the day of the shower that I was miscarrying. It was difficult to say the least.
There was a period of time where I would tell people that I didn’t want children. But deep down, I did. I yearned to be a mother. It was difficult to deal with the plethora of feelings that came along with multiple miscarriages and the difficulties we experienced with infertility. It didn’t get easier with each pregnancy and miscarriage. I told my husband to find someone else who could give him children. He didn’t listen to me. I felt broken, like I wasn’t woman enough.
In the summer of 2014, we found out we were pregnant again. It was my tenth pregnancy. Because I had a previous ectopic pregnancy, I had an ultrasound at five weeks pregnant. They couldn’t rule out an ectopic pregnancy, so I continued to be monitored by my OB/GYN and my reproductive endocrinologist. On a Wednesday, I went to work, but wasn’t feeling well. I chalked it up to pregnancy hormones. By seven o’clock that evening, I was lying in bed, covered in sweat with terrible abdominal pain. I woke throughout the night, in pain, nauseated and so weak I could barely get out of bed. By 6 AM the next morning, I called and spoke with the doctor on call. After giving him a brief history and my symptoms, he sent me straight to the ER. I was in such shock (and probably denial) that I told the ER doctor I didn’t need pain medication and I just wanted to go home. My reproductive endocrinologist met me in the ER, did an ultrasound and discovered that this pregnancy was indeed ectopic and had caused my left fallopian tube to rupture. I was bleeding internally, hence the unbearable pain and grayish-green complexion. He rushed me to the OR and performed emergency surgery himself. After surgery, he spoke with us about my medical history and the treatments that hadn’t worked. Obviously, getting pregnant naturally wasn’t working for us. With the added complication of only one fallopian tube and multiple ectopic pregnancies, he told us our only chance of carrying a successful pregnancy was IVF with PGD (pre-implantation genetic diagnosis) testing. This would give us the best chance of becoming parents.
It’s Show Time!
We underwent our egg retrieval and fertilization in October 2014 and ended up with three embryos. They were all biopsied using PGD. Those biopsies were sent off to a lab in New Jersey and the embryos were cryopreserved. We received the biopsy results a few weeks later. Two of the embryos were normal, one was missing a chromosome. We scheduled our embryo transfer for December 2014 and I began the medication regimen necessary for the transfer.
In early December, we underwent a single embryo transfer. The next two weeks of waiting to take a pregnancy test seemed to go by slower than molasses. After giving blood at the lab for my beta HCG, I went home and waited for a call back from the office. I was numb and in my mind, alternated between “this worked” and “this so did NOT work”. Two hours after my blood draw, my doctor called. He said “I have your results. You’re….” then he cut out. I said “what?!” and he yelled “YOU’RE PREGNANT!” After a semi-difficult pregnancy, including hypertension, bed rest and a couple of false labor alerts, our son was born in August 2015.
Three years after our son was born, we tried once again. We had one good embryo left, I couldn’t just leave her in the “freezer” and we [obviously] weren’t getting any younger. I underwent an embryo transfer in April 2018. This time around, my blood pressure was controlled (mostly) with medication. Due to issues with my placenta that weren’t discovered until after the birth of our son, I went in for weekly fetal non-stress tests to make sure our daughter was getting the oxygen and nutrients she needed. Our daughter was born in December 2018. I’ve been asked if we would try for a third. Well – NO…for many reasons. One – we are getting older and feel that our family is complete with two very energetic, wonderful children. Two – the cost of undergoing IVF again is prohibitive. Three – even if we could afford IVF and wanted to go through all of that again, my body physically cannot support another pregnancy successfully. We would have to hire a surrogate.
Rainbow babies bring worry.
With the joy and excitement of pregnancy also came the anxiety – what if something happens to either of our children? How would I deal with that? How would I move forward? I couldn’t stand another loss. I felt conflicted during both pregnancies – full of joy for the simple fact of the pregnancy and so much anxiety that something bad would happen.
Everyone’s story of loss and the grief associated with their loss are unique. A few months into my first pregnancy, I broke down while speaking with a friend. She told me, “Just because you are finally having a baby, doesn’t discount the grief and loss you feel for those that went before him. Don’t let anyone tell you that you shouldn’t feel sad or wonder about those little angels anymore – you don’t have to let it go just because you are going to finally have a baby.”
So, I grieve.
I think about how old they would be today, who they would look like, what kind of quirks they would have. I remember those little angels and I pray that I will be reunited with them one day. At the same time, my heart is bursting with joy for my son and my daughter. I look forward to the years we will have with them. I stare at them both in wonder most days, my heart bursting with love and joy and just a little sadness that they won’t know their older siblings. For those of you struggling with infertility or loss (and family/friends who have no clue how this all works), I know some days building the family you want feels like an insurmountable task. Know that you are not alone in this struggle. Don’t give up on your dreams of a family – have faith, believe in the desires of your heart, and never falter in holding on, because anything worth having is worth fighting for. And know that the family you imagined may look a bit different, but that is okay too.