Karreen’s Story

After six years of marriage and 13 years together, my husband and I decided to finally start trying for a baby in April 2019. After a year of unsuccessfully trying, we pursued infertility testing with my regular OB, and I got a diagnosis of polycystic ovary syndrome right at the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. I am a teacher, and the pandemic added a ton of stress to my life on top of infertility treatments. We tried ovulation induction medications to no avail. I had a hysterosalpingogram that showed my tubes were open. Then, in August 2020, my husband was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Thankfully, it’s a fairly treatable cancer; he had surgery to remove his thyroid in September, and was scheduled for radiation treatment that December. By November, we had moved on to intrauterine inseminations with a new doctor. Because of the radiation treatment, we decided to freeze my husband’s sperm, because the doctors warned us against trying for about six months afterwards. The first IUI didn’t work, so my doctor performed a hysteroscopy, which showed that I needed a polypectomy to remove a large polyp–she did this procedure with only local anesthesia, which was incredibly painful.

We decided to switch to a new fertility clinic that was capable of doing IVF, and we opted for a second IUI with them. That IUI didn’t work either, so we decided to start the process for an IVF egg retrieval. Two weeks prior to retrieval, my new doctor did another hysteroscopy, only to discover that my first polypectomy had failed to actually remove the polyp, and it had grown even bigger. He scheduled me quickly for a polypectomy, this time with twilight anesthesia, and took care of the polyp without disrupting our retrieval cycle timeline. Our retrieval in March 2021 resulted in 5 day-5 embryos, and we did a fresh transfer of our best graded embryo. We sent the other 4 embryos for testing. To our delight, we discovered in early April that the transfer had worked! We were finally pregnant with our first baby!

We learned that we were having a girl after opting for NIPT testing (her results came back low risk for everything). This was fantastic, because we had gotten news back that only 1 of our other embryos was normal, and it was a boy. The pregnancy progressed fairly normally–I was lucky to have no morning sickness, and actually felt like my hormones were pretty normal for the first time in my life. I had the summer off from teaching, and started planning the nursery and purchasing baby clothes. Things were great, until they weren’t. At 19 weeks and 3 days, I was having a pretty normal Saturday, except my lower back was hurting throughout the day. I wrote it off as normal pregnancy symptoms. That evening, I started feeling like I had terrible constipation and gas pains. I could barely sleep. I again wrote it off as normal symptoms, but in the early morning hours, my water suddenly broke while I was using the restroom. I felt immediate relief from the pain I had been having, and even though I suspected it was my water breaking, I wasn’t really sure, and thought maybe a huge gas bubble had just escaped. My husband called the on-call doctor, who said that we could go into the ER if we wanted to, but they weren’t sure if we needed to. I then started bleeding, just a little bit, which prompted us to go to the ER. They immediately took me in, and did an ultrasound, showing that our baby girl’s heart was beating strongly. I calmed down, and thought everything would be okay, until the ER doctor came in and told us that we had lost all amniotic fluid and would most likely lose our baby.

We were transferred to labor and delivery, where an OB gave us the news–we had experienced PPROM (preterm premature of the membranes), I was .5cm dilated, and they couldn’t do anything for us. They said we had two options: induce labor that day, or go home on expectant management and “wait and see”. If my body didn’t go into labor, we had an extremely slim chance of making it to 23 weeks, where I could then be admitted to a NICU hospital until labor in hopes of saving our baby. However, the doctor didn’t sugarcoat it–she told me this was unlikely, and not to expect a miracle. We chose to go home anyway. Things were fine the rest of that Sunday and Monday. But Tuesday morning, July 27, 2021, I woke up to discover the umbilical cord had prolapsed. I knew what this meant. We drove straight to labor and delivery, where an incredibly kind OB and team of nurses explained that I was now 4cm dilated, and our daughter was going to be born that day, at 19 weeks and 6 days. They gave me Pitocin, and I labored for three hours. Our daughter, Laurel Alice, was born alive, but she only lived for a few seconds, and died while still attached to me by the umbilical cord, held aloft in the nurse’s hands so I could see her final movements.

I don’t remember much of the few weeks after her death, except an overwhelming grief and the fact that my husband and I had to pick up her ashes from the funeral home one week after she had passed, on our 8th wedding anniversary. I had to return to work less than three weeks after her death. The only thing I could focus on was trying to have another baby, but I was terrified of losing our last remaining embryo, so in November 2021, we decided to do a second egg retrieval. My doctor switched up my IVF protocol, and we ended up with 7 normal embryos this time–I felt like our angel Laurel definitely played a hand in that! We opted to have them genetically tested, and waited until January 2022 to do a frozen transfer. Unfortunately, that resulted in a chemical pregnancy–we got pregnant, but the betas went down, so I was told to stop my progesterone and estrogen supplements, and miscarried at 6 weeks in early February.

We were determined, and jumped right back into another transfer in March 2022. In an incredibly weird coincidence, my third embryo transfer ended up being on the EXACT same day as Laurel’s transfer, one year earlier! We decided to look at this as a hopeful sign. Again in early April, we were ecstatic to discover the transfer had worked, and we were expecting another girl due in December 2022, but I was anxious from the very start of the pregnancy. We chose to use the OB who had delivered Laurel, since I felt comfortable with him and his team had taken great care of us during the worst day of our lives. I pushed for progesterone support for the entire pregnancy (I had stopped it at 12 weeks with Laurel), and he agreed. He also said we would do monitoring every two weeks to check my cervical length, because they weren’t sure if my first loss had been due to PPROM or incompetent cervix. I felt uncomfortable with that, but figured he knew best. Well, he had referred me for an early anatomy scan to a maternal fetal medicine specialist, and the MFM decided she needed to see me by 12 weeks. She explained that I could get a preventative cerclage placed if I wanted one, but it came with risks. She recommended that, instead, I have weekly monitoring, and then if my cervix shortened, they would place a cerclage at that time. I agreed.

The weekly checks were going great, and my anatomy scan was perfect. A few days before my 22-week checkup in early August, I started feeling baby girl kick my cervix and bladder a LOT, and it hurt! I got nervous. Then the night before the checkup, I had an unusual brown discharge. I wasn’t feeling any cramps or pain, and I knew my appointment was early the next morning, so I tried my best to sleep that night. I went in for a routine scan at 22 weeks and 4 days, expecting to learn that my cervix had shortened, and I was right! The ultrasound showed my cervix had shortened from 3.1cm the previous week, to just 1.1cm! The MFM doctor explained that I was not going home, but instead straight to the hospital to have emergency surgery to place a rescue cerclage. It was an incredibly scary experience, but thankfully, the membranes were not bulging and my cervix was still closed, so the cerclage placement was successful. I was in a lot of pain afterwards, but healed fairly quickly. It was now confirmed that I have incompetent cervix, and that was likely why we lost Laurel; I will need a preventative cerclage for any future pregnancies.

My OB gave me weekly checkup appointments for the entire rest of my pregnancy after that, and I am currently praying and hoping that this baby girl makes it as long as possible before I go into labor. I am not on bedrest, but I have to take it easy. We have a high risk of another preterm labor and a NICU stay, but at least we have made it past viability, and my OB is confident that we have a good chance of making it to 36 weeks with this cerclage. I sure hope so! I am looking forward to bringing Laurel’s little sister home, and I hope we get to do so.

Karreen wears a pink dress with the rainbow skirt.  There are trees and a mountain in the background.

A small urn holding the daughter Karreen lost at 19 weeks pregnant is sitting on the rainbow skirt.

Karreen wears a pink dress with the rainbow skirt.  She smiles and holds her pregnant belly.

Karreen wears a pink dress with the rainbow skirt.  Her husband stands beside her and they look at each other smiling.

Karreen wears a pink dress with the rainbow skirt. Her husband stands with her and they look down at their daughter's small urn that is in their hands.

Photos taken by Sarah Ruth Photo Art.

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