My miscarriage story is one that I never saw coming. Years prior to my four losses, I gave birth two two healthy boys. The only problem I had was some high blood pressure towards the end of my pregnancies. I had no problems conceiving, and zero signs that I would ever be dealing with infertility and miscarriage.
When I first started to experience loss, I wasn’t even totally sure what was going on. My first two losses are what I now know are called, “chemical pregnancies.” I got positive pregnancy tests, but within a few days was dealing with heavy bleeding and cramping. During this period, I was also dealing with an inability to get pregnant as I planned to. This was so new to me, as I got pregnant with my boys within the first or second month of trying.
Fast forward to 2019, I was dealing with a very stressful teaching job, and was so overcome with happiness to find out we were finally pregnant. The OBGYN office couldn’t get me in for my first ultrasound until I was 10 weeks along. When you are 38 and pregnant, this feels like forever! The ultrasound was scheduled for December 31, 2019. That Christmas was hard. The stress of my job had left me completely run-down, and my younger son was also very sick at the time. I felt like my ultrasound was going to be the relief I needed in order to know that my baby was ok.
The appointment began like other appointments I had. It was a doctor I hadn’t seen before, and she took time to ask all the background questions, and asked us what our birth plan would be. As she was scanning my belly, I suddenly saw the expression on her face drop. I knew something wasn’t right. She kept looking, and then shared the words that still echo in my mind today, “I’m so sorry, there’s no heartbeat.” My world was crushed. I lost it. Now I was left to decide if I wanted to pass my baby naturally, take misoprostil pills, or have a D & C. Because I knew the D & C would allow us to have our baby tested for chromosomal anomalies, I chose the D & C.
I had an excessive amount of pain and found myself in the emergency room the following day. The worst part of that experience is when I told the doctor on duty that I had just had a D & C, she literally asked me why. I was dumbfounded. They had my records at the hospital. Why would someone ask such an insensitive question. I learned that was only the beginning of the insensitive questions and comments I would face following my miscarriage.
Shortly after leaving my job, I joined a local gym and exercised almost every day with my mother-in-law. It was so nice to have time to focus on healing my body and my mind. Within 2 months, however, COVID-19 hit, and schools were shut down. This meant a huge shift in my daily routine, and no more trips to the gym with my mother-in-law. That was hard. I felt like I was finally getting into a groove and someone pulled the rug out from under me. It meant that I would become a full-time distance learning/homeschool teacher, while I was still trying to put my life back together.
In the summer of 2020, I finally started to feel more like myself. I had been hiking regularly and eating healthy. I was also taking supplements to support healthy egg quality, in hopes of being able to try again. At the beginning of September, I got a positive preganancy test and felt like all of my past pain and heartbreak was finally behind me. How wrong I was.
Because of my history of miscarriage, this time around, I would not let them make me wait for my first ultrasound. Unfortunately, my doctor had called out sick, but they assured me there was a nurse who could perform my ultrasound at another office location. I showed up to my appointment shaking with fear and with very high blood pressure from a stressful drive there. Right off the bat, the nurse starts asking questions with a snarky tone. “Are you always this anxious?” No lady, I just hate driving and to be quite honest, I am traumatized by ultrasounds. So she performs the scan. She then tells me that the baby is measuring small and the heartbeat was slower than expected. When I asked if that was normal, instead of saying something reassuring, she said, “I don’t want to get your hopes up.” Seriously?!
I was also dealing with a yet-to-be diagnosed urinary tract infection. This particular nurse didn’t bother to contact me about the UTI, only calling in a prescription for an antibiotic I’m allergic to more than 2 weeks after the fact! It wasn’t until I got a text message from the pharmacy that I even realized I had a diagnosis. By this point, I was pretty sick and the infection was spreading to my kidneys. I made it very clear to the hospital that I never want to see this nurse again.
I had scheduled a follow-up ultrasound with my own doctor a week later. I knew I would feel better seeing my own doctor. As I was checking in, that same awful nurse was sitting behind the desk. My heart sank and I felt sick. By the time they got me in with my doctor, my blood pressure was sky high and they were having me take my mask off and drink water just so that I could breathe. When she finally scanned my abdomen, she announced that the baby looked perfect and the heartbeat was strong.
Fast forward to mid-October. I wasn’t feeling well and began experiencing a lot of yellow discharge. This alarmed me, because it was eerily similar to my previous miscarriage. For my own peace of mind, I scheduled an appointment to make sure I didn’t have a vaginal infection. When the nurse was performing the ultrasound, you could see a sad look come over her eyes. I knew right away what she was about to say, “I’m sorry, there’s no heartbeat.” I just wanted to run. Because of COVID, my husband was sitting out in the car, and I was alone in the room, trying to hold back tears. I had to make another appointment, which I could barely hold myself together enough to talk. When I got out to the parking lot, I just remember seeing my husband, and hysterically screaming, “The baby’s dead!” I was devastated. My world was crashing in on me again and no one could say or do anything to stop it.
When I met with my doctor again after this ultrasound, she went over the various options I had to choose from. I wanted to choose my baby, but I instead was signing consent forms yet again for a D & C. I prayed so hard to be able to pass the baby at home. The doctor had sent me home with a specimen cup and told me that if I did pass the baby at home, we could collect tissues and have the baby tested for chromosomal anomalies. Thankfully, by the grace of God, I was able to pass my baby at home, with the support of my husband and children. It was a painful and heart wrenching experience, but still so much better than my previous D & C.
In all of the pain of these two most recent miscarriages, one huge piece that has helped me cope and heal was that I received word that both of my babies had chromosomal anomalies (one a trisomy, the other a monosomy) and there was absolutely nothing I did that caused them. As mothers, we often go right to blaming ourselves. What I could have, should have, or would have done differently. Because there was literally nothing I could have done to change the outcome, I had to release the heavy burden of guilt that had overcome me.
My visit with the last nurse was also instrumental on helping me continue my journey. She was the first person in my years of dealing with secondary infertility who ever mentioned IVF with PGS. She told me that if I wanted to move on in my journey, to look into it when the timing felt right. It took a month of living off Halloween candy and gaining 30 pounds before I was able to realize I would likely need help if I wanted another baby. I called a fertility clinic recommended by several friends who successfully had babies while under the care of the clinic. They explained that they wouldn’t be able to see me until January 2021, but that we would be able to get the ball rolling pretty quickly after that.
Not ready to jump head first into invitro fertilization, I told them I wanted to wait until March to start my cycle. March came, but unfortunately, my hormones were all too high to start treatment. I had to wait another month. Thankfully, this time around, everything looked good and I was able to start the IVF shots. My first cycle went well and they were able to retrieve and fertilize 4 eggs. Sadly, none of those eggs survived long enough to be sent out for testing.
In my second round of IVF the following month, I had similar results. This time, however, with my new HGH medication protocol, I had one embryo that survived to day five and would be able to go through PGS testing! I didn’t realize how long the wait would feel! About six weeks after my egg retrieval I finally heard back from my IVF doctor. While I only had one surviving embryo from my second IVF cycle, I learned it was chromosomally normal AND female! This was especially exciting to me, because the last two pregnancies I lost were both baby girls. I literally did a happy dance in my kitchen and remember feeling like I was on cloud nine.
While I was eager to have my embryo transfer, after completing 2 egg retrieval cycles back to back, I also knew my body needed rest. I chose to take off two months from IVF in order to let my body heal and also have time to enjoy my summer with my family. Taking time off proved to be the right decision for me. In early June, I developed cellulitis on my foot from a spider bite I received while tending to my garden. I was actually grateful I had waited for my embryo transfer, as I needed to take strong antibiotics several times a day for over a week. After the infection healed, I was able to enjoy a vacation with my husband and sons, while working on eating healthy and exercising in order to get my body into the best possible shape before having my embryo transfer.
As summer was winding down, I began preparing my body for my embryo transfer. I felt lucky that I only needed to use crinone gel to prepare and was finally done with IVF shots! With only one healthy embryo available, it felt like all my hopes were riding on this tiny little cluster of cells. On August 28th, I went into the fertility clinic for my embryo transfer. Partners still were not allowed due to Covid restrictions, so it was yet another part of my miscarriage and infertility journey that I had to embark on alone. I was so worried that the procedure would not be successful. It didn’t seem possible that with only one embryo available I could have success.
As I went into the procedure room with a painfully full bladder, I felt blessed to have gotten a doctor that day who was so optimistic and upbeat. On the first try, my little hatching embryo was so sticky that it didn’t want to leave the catheter. I was terrified that this was a sign of bad luck. The doctor eased my nerves by telling me about an embryologist who had done studies at their practice and found that when it took more than one try to get the embryo implanted, it almost always meant a successful transfer. After my embryo transfer, I had to wait 10 days for my first beta test.
Not being one who is able to wait, I had been doing pregnancy tests at home, as early as six days after my embryo transfer. I remember doing a pregnancy test in the middle of the night one time and ended up making myself so upset that I was literally shaking and couldn’t fall back to sleep. The light was so dim in the bathroom and the test results were so faint that I wasn’t able to see the faint pink line until the following day. Day 10 finally came, and oddly enough it was Labor Day! I went in for my first blood test, knowing that at least my home test was positive. The wait for the nurse to call after that first test felt like forever. When she finally called with my result, 134.8, I I finally felt like things were going right for me in my miscarriage and infertility journey. My beta results rose in the coming days, but I was also experiencing spotting and abdominal pain. I was convinced I was dealing with an ectopic pregnancy or a miscarriage. I had to just sit back and wait for my ultrasound.
In the weeks to come, I learned that the cramping and spotting I was experiencing were due to a subchorionic hematoma, which can be common in IVF pregnancies. Thankfully, though, the baby was growing and developing normally. Each ultrasound I went to left me full of anxiety and on the verge of tears. Once my subchorionic hematoma cleared up, I found myself dealing with a pretty bad case of COVID-19. This meant that I had to miss two prenatal appointments, including my anatomy scan ultrasound. Being really sick and not being able to be seen for prenatal care felt so helpless. I hadn’t started feeling my baby move yet, either, so I didn’t even know if she was OK.
In the spirit of a roller coaster pregnancy, filled with ups and downs, once I was feeling better after almost a month of having Covid, I started becoming itchy all over and unusually tired even for pregnancy. Thankfully, my maternal fetal medicine specialist is paying extra close attention to this pregnancy and quickly realized I was dealing with cholestasis. I am now 30 weeks along and while I am so excited, given my history of loss, I am also very anxious. I have prenatal appointments between two and four times per week and I am having to monitor my baby’s kicks throughout the day to make sure she is still active. My doctors are planning to have me go for a scheduled C-section at 37 weeks gestation, so I know I am in the homestretch now. I am looking forward to making it through the coming weeks and adding a healthy baby girl to my family after years of sadness and trauma. Many friends and family members have asked me what her name will be, and after everything I have been through, I honestly don’t feel like I can commit until I have her in my arms and know she is OK.
Photos taken by David Carter.
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