Mom to Eleanor, Lost August 1, 2007 at 6 weeks
William, Lost August 4, 2009 at 7.5 weeks
Amie, Lost May 25, 2010 at 6.5 weeks
Michael, Lost December 10 2010 at 9.5 weeks
and Sunny, Lost May 31, 2011 at 4 weeks
On the morning of August 1st I woke up to bright red bleeding and realized I hadn’t felt any symptoms in a few days. I began to panic and called my mom to come take me to the ER. Once in the ER they did an ultrasound and I saw the gestational sac that the tech said measured 5 weeks, so maybe I just wasn’t as far along as I thought. (They said I should’ve been 7.5 weeks, but I later would learn that I should’ve been 6 weeks.) I’ll never forget that wonderful little black circle on that fuzzy gray screen, my first and only image of my first baby. I had an obstetrician examine me and they kept me in a room while they ran blood work, and all the while the bleeding increased and by the afternoon I had passed some tissue and knew there was no more hope. My baby had died.
I was in complete shock and didn’t know what to do with the overwhelming emotions. I spent a week crying and hardly being able to eat or sleep or do much of anything. I remember throwing up once in the shower while I was crying. I’d never experienced real grief before, and I felt so alone and angry and confused. I wanted to know why God would have had me get pregnant if my baby was going to be taken away? I had loved my baby so much, and had even bought a little Winnie the Pooh stuffed animal for her (I had been feeling like it was a girl, and for some reason thought of her as Eleanor even though we’d been planning on a different name for months). I even had an image in my head of what she would look like, and I painted her picture on my computer. I kept telling myself that it had just been a fluke, and as soon as I got my period back 5 weeks later we were back to not trying but not preventing.
I assumed it would take a few months again, and so I was shocked and excited to find out that very next month that I was pregnant again! I was so scared that I’d have another miscarriage, but I was so busy with college and life that I didn’t have any time to worry much or pay attention to symptoms. It took awhile for me to get insurance coverage and I went for my first appointment. A nurse told me I should be 13 weeks along and tried to find the baby’s heartbeat, but couldn’t hear anything. I began to panic again, fearing the baby had died, but she told me not to worry yet and sent me for an ultrasound. As soon as the tech put the wand on my stomach, I saw a very blurry picture of a little baby shape, its little heart beating away, and I began to cry with happiness. It turned out that I was only 11 weeks 3 days along (at the time I didn’t have the knowledge to have figured that out on my own) and I also have a severely retroflexed uterus so the baby was hanging out by my spine.
I had a completely healthy and uneventful pregnancy, enjoyed every minute of it (while I wasn’t worrying!), and at 9:05pm on June 17, 2008, after 21 hours of labor, my son was born (facing posterior): 7 lbs. 5.8 oz., 21″, healthy, and perfect in every way. That was the happiest day of my life, and after he was born I felt like I finally knew myself and had found my niche in life.
By the time my son was 5-6 months old, I started feeling like I wanted to try to have a second baby. I went through a few months of frustration because my son loved to nurse all day and all night and I didn’t have my period back yet. It returned at 9.5 months postpartum (which in retrospect is amazing!) and even though my cycles were long and unpredictable, I found out I was pregnant again a few months later in June 2009.
I was so excited and couldn’t wait to experience everything all over again. I had early hcg betas done and my numbers were good and more than doubled like they should. I strongly believed that my first miscarriage had been a fluke and there was no reason this baby shouldn’t make it. I deserved it after the frustrating 6 months I’d had. But still I couldn’t shake the memory of my first pregnancy, and was scared. I came in for an ultrasound at what I assured them was 6.5 weeks, and I knew something was wrong as soon as the tech put the wand in and had to search all over the place to find anything. All she could find was another little black circle that measured 5 weeks. They brought in the radiologist and the head obstetrician and everyone tried to tell me not to lose hope yet, but I knew my baby had died and I had to go a week carrying on like that before the miscarriage started naturally. I had been having severe cramping and heavy bleeding for about an hour, and decided to take a warm bath to try and help the cramps. While I was in the bath, I felt my uterus contract and a large amount of tissue came out–the intact placenta.
It wasn’t as hard for me to keep on going after that second loss, mostly because I didn’t have a choice. Someone had to take care of our son during the day. Because of that it seemed like the grieving process got drawn out even longer. And I wasn’t only grieving the loss of that little life that I had loved, but the loss of that happiness that I’d had and the future I’d imagined and planned on.
I felt that it would help me heal to have something physical to memorialize my third baby, and figured since I still had the stuffed animal for my first baby that I would get a stuffed animal for this one, too. For some reason there was a picture of a little brown rabbit with blue clothes in my head, and I found the perfect little stuffed rabbit to match that. I felt like that baby had been a boy, and decided to call him William because it was my favorite name but we wouldn’t be able to use it for real.
All I wanted was to have my body return to normal as quickly as possible, so I decided to wean my son at 13.5 months even though neither of us were quite ready. As soon as I got my period back 5 weeks later, we began really trying to conceive again. I did everything to keep track of my body and feel like I was in control of the situation, but month after month I kept getting negatives and my period would come. And each month I felt that grief from that second miscarriage as fresh as if it had just happened all over again. It was so hard watching my friends get pregnant with their next child with little or no problem, and even harder to see all the women come and go on message boards who I never got to know because that’s how little time it took them to get pregnant and move on with their happy lives. It was a horrible time, and slowly I began to realize I needed to let go and not try quite so hard.
After 6 months I was fed up with not having gotten pregnant again, and more than tired of having to wait a month just to ovulate (my normal cycles are around 40 days long). Each month that went by I felt horrible that the age gap between my first and future child kept getting larger. I did eventually decide to start concentrating on all of the things that were positive about having kids further apart, and eventually it wasn’t as big of a deal to me. I was slowly starting to learn that I couldn’t force myself to become pregnant and I wasn’t in control of anything–it was all up to God.
I was starting to wonder if there really was something wrong with me. I didn’t see why there should be. I was barely 24. But I needed to know because I just had this feeling that something wasn’t right. I called and got an appointment with an obstetrician. It was a joke. He told me my two miscarriages were flukes and laughed at me that I was concerned about how long my cycles were, but after I begged him he did give me a prescription for Clomid. I was angry, and didn’t want to just take a medication, I wanted to know if there was something wrong with me. So I didn’t fill my prescription right away, and instead called to get an appointment with a CNM. She was much more responsive to my concerns, and she ordered a few tests which came back mostly normal (my LH was low was all). She left it at that, but I wasn’t satisfied so I went in to our family practice and got an appointment made with a Nurse Practitioner who specialized in infertility. In the meantime, I heard a sermon at church over Psalm 23 that really helped me. I completely identified with feeling like I was walking through a dark, horrible tunnel, and even though I didn’t know how long it was there had to be light and happiness on the other side, and God was walking with me the entire way. It was comforting and for the first time I began to feel more accepting of my situation and more patient. I felt that I might give that Clomid prescription a try. It moved my ovulation from day 20-25 down to day 18, and I got pregnant that very cycle!
It had been 9 months since my last miscarriage, and I just knew that this baby had to make it. I deserved it after all I’d been through in the past year. But it was easier said than done to not worry, especially when I got my early betas done and my hormone level was on the low end of normal and wasn’t quite doubling like it should. But I tried to stay positive and I made it to that 6 week ultrasound once more. And as soon as the tech put the wand in I saw that familiar empty little black circle, measuring at 5 weeks. I knew instantly that the same thing had happened again, and I had never had such a helpless, desperate feeling before as I did lying on that ultrasound table with that tech trying to tell me not to lose hope. But I knew the baby had died, same as the other two. A few days later, on May 25, 2010, the miscarriage started on its own.
I was somehow able to go through that grief easier. Maybe because I was beginning to feel used to it, or maybe because I knew that I just had to keep going. Around that time I listened to the song Amie by Damien Rice often, and I thought that felt very fitting even though the song had nothing to do with what I was experiencing. I named that fourth baby Amie and got a little white bear with a red ribbon, which is the image that had come to my mind for it. I still have my positive pregnancy test saved and tucked into the ribbon, too.
This wasn’t right. I knew something was wrong, and now I had three miscarriages under the exact same circumstances to back it up. I found a Reproductive Endocrinologist in my area and made an appointment. I was disappointed to hear that they couldn’t get me in for another month, but by God’s blessing they called the next day with a cancellation the following week. That first appointment was amazing for me. The receptionists and nurses were so friendly and kind, and they knew the patients that came in by their first names. My doctor was nice too, and he called my son by his first name instead of some impersonal term like “a successful pregnancy” and assured me that he would get my son a little brother or sister. It was overwhelming to hear the plan he had for me, all kinds of diagnostic tests and procedures to be done in the next few months. It was hard to hear that in the meantime I wouldn’t be able to try to conceive because there might be something they’ll find that they can fix to increase my chances of having a healthy baby. But I felt like I finally had found people who cared and would do everything they could to help get me answers and a baby, and it gave me an incredible renewed hope.
By that time it seemed like everyone who had a child my son’s age (or younger…) were having another baby by now. All of my friends from my nursing group, friends from high school and college, and a few family members. It was so hard to be around and hear about that it could make me depressed for days. I’d struggled with depression as a kid, but had been healed from it for a few years. I had learned to cope then, but didn’t know how to cope with this situational depression. I hated those times where I felt hopeless, but I kept going knowing I would always bounce back up eventually. I had to try to avoid anything baby-related as much as possible to keep myself on those upswings as long as possible. It was a slow process to learn to relax and be patient and not focus on what others had that I didn’t. I tried to make myself focus on my wonderful little boy and the life that I did have. It could always be worse, but it’s hard to truly think that way when you’re in the throes of misery.
Through June and July I had blood work done to check for a whole slew of clotting and antibody disorders, MTHFR and something else I can’t recall the name of, chromosomal disorders for both my husband and I (they took out so much blood for that one that I passed out in the lab), they did a sperm analysis, and I had a hysterosonogram and an endometrial biopsy done. I wanted them to find something, anything, that would give me an explanation and that they could fix. But every single test came back normal. So based on the circumstances of my three miscarriages, my doctor diagnosed me as having poor egg quality. By the time I ovulated, my eggs weren’t good anymore and so if fertilized, they wouldn’t grow. It was a hard diagnosis to hear, but it helped greatly to have an explanation and my doctor assured me that with medication I could ovulate on time and get a good egg.
In August 2010 he started me off on 100mg Clomid, and I felt so hopeful and optimistic that it would only be a few months and I’d finally be having a baby. I was disappointed that I didn’t get pregnant for two months on Clomid, but then my doctor changed my protocol and put me straight onto injectable hormones–the highest level of fertility medication. It only got me one egg, but I was able to ovulate on the 12th day of my cycle–and we caught that one little egg!
I wanted to be happy and assume everything would be okay, but I couldn’t. For the most part I did well going one day at a time, getting through each step, and not trying to worry that my symptoms weren’t good enough. My early betas were outstanding–my hormone levels were higher than average and they tripled in two days. My symptoms stayed consistent through 5 weeks, which is when they had dwindled away during my three miscarriages, and at 6 weeks they began getting even worse. I had an ultrasound during the 6th week, and I was terrified to look at that screen and see another empty black circle. I was crying when my doctor put the wand in, but there was a little gray spot inside the black circle–a yolk sac. He said that it was perfectly normal to not see the baby yet, but he was very happy with that ultrasound. A yolk sac meant there was something in there. He had me come in a week later for another ultrasound, and that week I still couldn’t let myself get too excited yet. Not until I saw a heartbeat because after I saw a heartbeat I knew everything would be okay and I could begin to let go.
So in November, at 7 weeks 1 day, I went for my second ultrasound. Again I was terrified to look at the screen, but I immediately saw my baby! A little white kidney-bean blob inside that black gestational sac, with just the tiniest little fluttering area in the middle–a heartbeat! I cried, I was so happy. That picture, that one little moment, will always be in my memory. That was what I had been waiting to see, and that meant everything would be okay. My doctor called it a “Rockstar Baby.” It was hard to let myself begin to realize that we were finally going to be having another baby, and my doctor wanted me to come in for one last ultrasound in two weeks before he would release me to regular prenatal care.
The same day I had that wonderful ultrasound, I began to feel ill with a stomach bug,which lasted about a week and kept me from being able to pay attention to my symptoms. But after I began feeling better, I also noticed that I wasn’t really nauseous anymore. With my son I remembered nausea lasting through 14-15 weeks, and kept telling myself that it must just be different this time. I saw a heartbeat, there’s no way that anything bad will happen. But still deep inside I just had this bad feeling, although I wouldn’t let myself acknowledge it.
And when I went in Tuesday, December 7th, 2010, at 9 weeks 1 day for that last ultrasound, I saw a fuzzy gray blob inside the gestational sac with what looked like a little arm bud sticking out. Not moving, no more growing, no more heartbeat. I wanted to scream and disappear. I was so in shock and overwhelmed that I couldn’t even believe what was happening. They scheduled a dilation and suctional cuterage as soon as possible at the hospital.
I went in that very Friday, December 10th, 2010, still feeling numb about what was happening. I felt a little better after having an appointment with the head OB who would be doing the surgery because she told me it would be ultrasound-guided, but I’d never had a surgery before and I’d never been under anesthesia. My surgery was scheduled for 7:30 am. After getting my IV and speaking with the nurse anesthetist and anesthesiologist, they wheeled me into the OR. I remember them transferring me onto the operating table, asking me to lift my hips so they could take off the shorts, putting my legs into these boot-shaped harnesses, and two or three nurses standing above me telling me they were strapping my arms down because sometimes people will raise their arms while under anesthesia. I remember dreaming about dogs, which was weird since I don’t like dogs, and waking up slowly almost an hour and a half later to a nurse asking me if I wanted my glasses back on and a sip of water. She put on my glasses and then put the straw in my mouth and I could suck up the water, but I couldn’t figure out how to swallow it. I sat there for a few seconds trying to force my muscles to swallow, but it took them a while to actually do it. I was really groggy and everything is a haze from the first few minutes, but I remember the OB standing at the end of the bed, writing in a chart, and telling me everything had gone well. They sent me home with instructions to lay down and take it easy for a few days, and with some Tylenol with codeine which made me nauseous but did help with the pain some.
I felt so empty inside, and it was hard to believe that my baby was actually taken out of me because I hadn’t seen it happen. I hadn’t been ready for my baby to be taken away yet. My doctor told me it had to be a fluke, a chromosomal abnormality that could happen to anyone at anytime and for some reason it had happened to me, at that time, after everything I’d already been through. That’s why they’d done the surgery, to get the baby out so that they could run tests and figure out what had gone wrong. I wanted desperately to know what had happened. I knew it would bring me some closure, and I was so afraid that they wouldn’t find any answers.
I began feeling a bit better when I physically was moving forward. Two weeks after the D&SC my hcg was down to 25, and to my surprise I even ovulated a week and a half after that. I was able to continue with injections that very next cycle, but I didn’t have my heart in it anymore. I didn’t want to quit or take a break, but I felt so broken and empty, so I just kept going through the motions. I kept worrying that I wouldn’t be able to find out the baby’s gender, and I really wanted to know. Before I had found out the baby had died I kept having two names stuck in my head that we hadn’t even had picked out before, so I knew one of those had to be the baby’s name. Finally, after 7 weeks, my test results were ready. I was told my baby had been a boy, and he had Tetraploidy, meaning his sex chromosomes were XXYY instead of just XY. It was the cause of 2% of all first trimester losses, and not something that would ever have any greater chance of recurring.
I was so relieved to have an answer and an explanation. We named our baby Michael and I got him a beautiful silver and pearl box with an angel on it and his name and the date he was taken out of me engraved on it, and inside of it I put his ultrasound pictures and any other mementos I had or got from family. After having his box on my dresser alongside my four stuffed animals for my four other little angels, I felt like I could move forward.
It’s a very hard thing to know that your body doesn’t work like it’s supposed to. To know that you need strong medical intervention to have a better chance at having a baby who will actually grow and survive. I felt like such a failure. The one thing a woman’s body is made to do, mine struggled to do. The one thing that I feared I would struggle with when I got married turned out to be true. It’s so so hard to sit around and watch all these other women you know and some you don’t really know have no trouble getting pregnant. To them a positive pregnancy test means they’re having a baby. To me a positive pregnancy test is just another step towards having a baby. When they find out they’re pregnant, they talk as though they will have a baby because they know they will–and they do, of course. I don’t. I can’t. And I don’t even know at this point if it’s that I can’t let myself feel excited at those two pink lines, or if I just seriously can’t do it anymore. I have to protect myself. And to see these women ever complain about anything pregnancy-related, about how horrible it is to be tired all the time, about how much it sucks to be nauseous, about how terribly uncomfortable they are and they want that baby out of them immediately– it’s a punch to the gut every time. They are so naïve. They have no idea. Do they know what I would give to be in their position right now?
For a long time I felt so bitter towards those women. The only way I could let any new baby news roll off me was to think angry thoughts towards them in my head. After Michael, I went back on injectables and clung to that little bit of hope that my doctor gave me. After two unsuccessful months I had a consultation with my doctor and he went over IVF with me. I wasn’t prepared to be at that point, and it was completely overwhelming. My doctor thought IVF was my best chance, and he wanted me to only do one more cycle of injections before moving on. It made my next cycle feel even more desperate: like it would be my last chance because there was no way we could afford IVF for another year.
That next cycle I ended up having three big cysts on my ovaries, so we had to take a month off. I knew in my heart it would be good for me. I needed a break from all the ultrasounds, needles, pill suppositories, and appointments, and I thought a month off would help me relax and come to terms with my doctor’s future plan for me. But it was very hard and frustrating to know a month would be wasted and especially to know that I couldn’t take any medication so I’d have to wait on my body’s natural cycle where it took me as long to ovulate as it did to complete an entire medicated cycle. I still couldn’t get over how amazing it was and how much easier it made trying to have a baby when you could ovulate within 2 weeks of your period beginning. I was told it would be up to us if we wanted to try that cycle, just no meds. But we couldn’t do it. We couldn’t risk another miscarriage.
That month off did wonders for me. I felt that God gave me a peace, and I felt patient and like I could concentrate on my life with what I did have and not so much the infertility part. I felt comfortable with my doctor’s plan, and we also elected to do IUI for my last injectable cycle to increase our chances.
So we did IUI in May 2011, and I was so worried that I would be a basket case when it got around testing time, but I wasn’t. That was because I had begun having pregnancy symptoms that I recognized instantly, and I just knew. I was still terrified to take a test in case my body was playing a cruel trick on me, but it was positive. But rather than jump for joy and assume everything would be fine (although I did cry for 10 minutes), I immediately went to that place where I didn’t think ahead at all and just concentrated on one day at a time. The very next day, I felt off. The symptoms that had started off so good almost completely disappeared, and I kept telling myself it was normal for them to be inconsistent and I was just nervous. No reason to worry yet, I couldn’t even get in for blood work for another few days. So I bided my time, trying not to think about it, but all the while I knew I had a bad feeling inside. When my first beta came back it was only 7, and I knew that bad feeling had been right all along. The baby already wasn’t going to make it.
I didn’t know what to do at first. I had never been through such an early miscarriage before. I had never even been given any hope, and that made it easier to sort of shrug off and keep going, especially since my nurse said it happened so early I wouldn’t need to take a month off. What was hardest at first was to have had a chance, and then to be dropped right back down into that miserable place I’d gotten so used to and was so tired of being in. We felt so frustrated and defeated, but after a few days bleeding started and my doctor decided he wanted me to try one more month on injections, and I was okay with it. Especially because he wanted to try me starting them earlier for a more aggressive approach, so there was a small element of new hope in it. Even though in my heart I feel tired and like I’m not trying as hard as before.
Also after a few days I began to feel bad that I had never let myself bond with that sixth baby. I realize that some babies you will bond with more than others. Michael feels closer to me than the other four. It started hitting me a bit harder then, and I coped by deciding to call the baby Sunny because I had already had Sunshine stuck in my head for months as the nickname for the next baby… because they will be like sunshine after a long storm. And I had assumed that baby would have been my Sunshine. Why would anything go wrong again? After everything I’ve been through in the past 2 years, why? But I do know now there’s no point in ever even asking those questions. You might not ever know the answer.
And I do know that one day we will have another baby, and I can’t give up because that would make all of the pain and effort of the last 27 months not worth it. All 28 ultrasounds and 68 needle pokes. And when we have that next baby, it will be perfect and all of this would have been worth it. I know I would go through this and more for my son, and I know I’ll feel the same way for the next child. And through this I also have come to learn just how much of a miracle my son’s existence really is. God put him into our life at the perfect time, and I don’t know what or where I’d be without him. And so I don’t know how else this journey is going to continue, but I do know that I can get through it because God has seen me through everything so far. And I know that eventually I will get to come out of this dark tunnel, and all of that is what makes me able to have new hope each month. I know this has made me stronger, it has made me learn to be patient and know that I can’t control or predict my life, and it has made me appreciate what I have and will have so much more.
Shannon can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org