A Year of Miracles

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My miracle baby is no longer a baby. She turned one on Friday.

I haven’t been sure how or when to post on here anymore. I don’t feel a calling to be a straight-up mom blogger. And, more importantly, a lot the people who read this blog are still going through infertility and loss, and I want to be sensitive to that. But I feel like this milestone is too big to pass by, so here I am.

Hi.

One year, holy smokes. One year of looking into the face of a baby I never thought I’d meet. Some days I still ask myself if this is really a dream. I’m not exaggerating when I say that every day with Winnie in our lives feels like magic. I am up to my eyeballs in gratitude. This life, this family–it is all I’ve ever wanted.

Grief still lingers, of course, and probably will for a long time. On a recent road trip to South Carolina, it hit me hard that Winnie’s twin should be traveling with us. I miss my mom, I miss my brother, I miss all three of those babies that I’ll never get to meet–at least not in this lifetime. But so it goes, right? There can’t be light without darkness. The last few years were very dark and very long, but how can I begrudge them when they brought me here, to this place right now?

I quit my job after Winnie was born. I had been unhappy there for a long time, and I just couldn’t fathom leaving this hard-earned baby every day to go to work. I’ve been doing a bit of freelance writing here and there, but mostly I’m just spending time with my girls. Lettie is in pre-school three days of the week, but I have her home with me the other two days. Winnie is with me every day, all day. I never thought of myself as the stay-at-home mom type, but so far I’m loving it. There is nowhere else I’d rather be. I have no plans to return to work at the moment, but who knows what will happen in the future. I’m considering going back to school at some point to be an infertility nurse. I eventually want a career that allows me to help others who are going through what I went through, but I’m not sure what that will look like.

Other than than hanging with Tim and the girls, I’ve mostly been doing things that feel good to me. I started writing creatively again, which I haven’t done for years (aside from this blog). I even took a memoir class to get some ideas going. I’d like to turn my experience with infertility into a book, but alas I am slow and lack focus, so we’ll see when or if that happens. I’m trying not to pressure myself. I made a mosaic the other week out of an old recycling bin. I’m planning on painting my front door an eggplant purple soon. Every morning during Winnie’s nap, I take a nap, too. Slowly, I am healing. I am returning to the person I used to be before infertility took over my life–or, maybe more accurately, I am learning who I want to be right now.

If you can believe it, Winnie is still breastfeeding. She had the same exact issues as Lettie (tongue tie), but for whatever reason she just fought for it harder than Lettie did, and we were able to exclusively breastfeed pretty much from day one. To have that nursing time with her was and is one of the greatest gifts of my life. Personality-wise, Winnie is happy and very laid back (like her dad–she did not get that from me; I have zero chill). She’s shy, but she likes to smile at people and say “hi” from a distance. She eats everything, and I mean everything–pate, tapenade, filet mignon, you name it. She was a terrible sleeper, but thankfully we seem to have finally worked that out through sleep training. Today, she dropped a big, wet open-mouthed kiss on me and said, “Ah-la-la-la.” I’m telling myself she said “I love you.” You never know.

I have so much more I could say, but this seems like a good place to stop for now. I’ll leave you with some pictures of Winnie’s first birthday party. I’m not the crafty type, but I ended up making all of the decorations (along with tons of help from my mother-in-law and her friend). I had so many conflicting feelings about my baby turning one that I had to channel it into something…sooooooo crafts it was!

Even though I’ve been silent on here for so long, I think of you all often. I am grateful to you, and will always be grateful to you, for being there for me during the hardest time of my life. I’m not sure how much I’ll post on here going forward. Maybe I’ll pick it back up again at some point, who knows. Regardless, if you need an ear to listen or a shoulder to cry on, or if you have any questions about immunology treatments or anything else, hit me up at theskyandbackblog@gmail.com. I am here.

she asked
‘you are in love
what does love look like’
to which I replied
‘like everything I’ve ever lost
come back to me’
–Nayyirah Waheed

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Hello Darkness, My Old Friend

Let me start out by saying that baby is fine.

But we had a scare. And I have anxiety. Not a good combo.

I’ve talked on here before about my tendency to fret and worry, mostly in a jokey way, but I’m not sure if I’ve ever come right out and said that I have legit clinically diagnosed anxiety. It’s a disease just like infertility. And also like infertility, it’s not really something that’s readily understood or discussed in society. You can’t make it go away by positive thinking or relaxing. You can’t shut it off. You can do cognitive behavioral therapy, traditional talk therapy or SSRI meds, and all of those things help (although I personally haven’t tried meds), but they’re not a cure. I am currently in therapy. My therapist is good, but I only see her once a week. That leaves six other days for my mind to spin into circles.

Overall I’ve kept my anxiety fairly in check this pregnancy. I for sure had some very anxious bouts. The first trimester in particular was super scary, as was Christmastime. I’ve been keeping it together, though…for the most part.

But now? Sh*t has gone off the rails. Ever since I entered the third trimester, my anxiety has been building. My antiphospholipid antibody syndrome puts the baby at higher risk for stillbirth, so naturally I’ve been obsessing about stillbirth. Is this a productive or beneficial thing to do? Nope. Rationally, I totally know this, but anxiety doesn’t play nice with rationality. It actually beats the crap out of rationality on a regular basis.

Things kind of reached a peak over the last few days. On Tuesday evening I noticed that baby wasn’t moving as much as she normally does, so I did a kick count. A kick count is where you count the baby’s movements—you’re supposed to count 10 movements in two hours. She did her required ten movements in a pretty short span of time, so I stopped worrying.

Then later that night I woke up around 3:45 am. Baby usually wakes up every time I wake up in the night, without fail. The kid likes to party all night long already. But she didn’t wake up this time. I gave her about 20 minutes to start moving and shaking. Nothing. I ate a banana and waited. Nothing. I drank some orange juice. By this time I was wide awake, but baby wasn’t. She did eventually bust out ten movements after the OJ, but it took her the full two hours. Usually it takes her, like, five minutes. I got out of bed and was about to go into Labor & Delivery to get her checked out when Tim suggested I try drinking a Coke as a last ditch effort. I drank a Coke and it worked. She did ten kicks in about two minutes. I was semi freaked out, but figured baby was fine.

That brings us to this morning and my appointment with maternal fetal medicine. I have weekly non-stress tests now, and from 36 weeks on I’ll have them twice a week. A non-stress test is basically where you chill in a lounge chair and a nurse hooks the baby up to monitors. They are looking for baby’s heart rate to accelerate three times in 20 minutes. If that happens, they are assured that all is well. I was figuring the non-stress test would be a breeze like it was the previous week, and that it would provide me with some reassurance.

Only, the baby didn’t pass the test. The nurse told me that the baby did have some accelerations, but they weren’t fast enough. She then sent me for a biophysical profile. This is an ultrasound where they look for three things within 30 minutes:

  1. Baby needs to be seen practice breathing for at least 30 seconds
  2. Amniotic fluid levels must be adequate.
  3. Baby has to move her core back and forth three times, and she also has to show muscle tone, which means things like opening and closing her hand or flexing her leg.

She aced the practice breathing. She also had good amniotic fluid levels. But she wasn’t moving. It took that little runt almost the full 30 minutes to do her required movements. She did pass the test, but only in the nick of time. The nurse assured me that she was fine. She said she was the most conservative nurse there, and that she always errs on the cautious side, but even she felt confident baby girl was good.

So baby is ok. But I am not. I really am not.

I’m 33 weeks today, and my OB has already talked about inducing me around 39 weeks (common practice with antiphospholipid antibody syndrome), so there is an end in site. But I don’t know how I’m going to make it through the next six weeks. I’m not trying to be dramatic by saying that—I really feel like I’m losing it a little. I feel completely overwhelmed with fear and anxiety. I’ve talked to my OB about these feelings. She doesn’t want me to take any anxiety medications because I’m already on so many other meds this pregnancy. She suggested therapy, which I am already doing. Basically the only course of action is to wait it out. I want this baby to be safe and healthy in my arms so badly, but right now that seems so far away.

The Things She Carried

[inspired by Tim O’Brien’s novel, The Things They Carried]

She carried 758 needles, 170 suppositories of the vaginal variety, and hundreds of blood draws—she was told she had good veins, like that was some kind of prize to win. She was weirdly proud of her awesome veins, because in this game of carrying and dropping, losing and winning, there’s not much else to be proud of.

She carried 63 ultrasounds, some of them a routine check for follicles, some looking in vain for beating hearts, some checking to make sure “the products of conception” no longer existed inside of her.

She carried names of drugs she could barely pronounce—Menopur, Follistim, Ovidrel, Ganirelix, Intralipids, Lovenox, Prednisone.

She carried four IUIs, three IVFs, 66 follicles, 33 eggs and 20 embryos. Some of these embryos were placed back inside of her, and some never grew beyond a handful of cells. All were loved.

She carried lesions on her ovaries, cervix, uterus and bladder. She carried a blood clotting disorder called antiphospholipid antibody syndrome. She carried overactive natural killer cells, which weren’t really killing much except teeny-tiny embryos too little to fight for themselves.

She carried one laparoscopy attempt. One actual laparoscopy. Three egg retrievals. Two transfers. Two D & Cs.

She carried 1,938 miles of travel—from the house to the fertility clinic; from the clinic to work; from Philadelphia to Manhattan for surgery; from Philadelphia to Woodbury to visit what she hoped would be a miracle doctor; from Philadelphia to Woodstock to spend the day with a fertility visionary. She carried $726 in parking garage fees, and even one parking garage accident.

She carried Please Gods and plea bargains. She carried what-ifs and what-will-I-do-nows.

She carried special diets—no gluten, no dairy, no sugar, no air.

She carried the love of a good man, but she carried it clumsily and sometimes carelessly. She lashed out. She yelled. “Why can’t you carry any of this for me?” she wanted to know. There was no good answer to that question—he knew it and she knew it, and at the end of the day she was lucky to still be holding his heart.

She carried the memory of lost babies—three at last count. First was Gabriel. She lost him on the bathroom floor at work, and by the time she got to the hospital she was so bloody it looked like she was starring in a Carrie remake. Then there was Anna, who was confirmed genetically normal and therefore should have lived, but didn’t. Anna, who said au revoir to the world on Christmas day, but who would never open a single present. Finally, there was Baby B, a loss too new to even get a name.

She carried a persistence that even she admitted was insane. She carried advice from relatives, friends, acquaintances, the checkout lady at Target, wondering why she was doing this to herself, why she didn’t just give up. Stop this nonsense. Be happy for what you have. Halt. Cease and desist before you ruin yourself, your job, your marriage. And she did want to stop, she did. But she needed to try one last time. One more needle, one more blood draw, one more doctor. One more.

And now.

Now she carries a baby inside of her, a little girl, no bigger than a winter squash. She feels her kicks, taps and nudges, and they feel like hope. She still carries the what-ifs—so many what-ifs—but now she carries something else as well—trust. Trust that this is the soul she is meant to meet. She sings to her baby every night, hands on her belly, heart wide open as a summer sky: ‘twas grace that brought you safe thus far, and grace will lead you home.

The Ghosts Of Christmas Past

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On paper, I’m all set up to have a Norman Rockwell Christmas. I’m a mother to a three year old who has stars in her eyes about the season. I’m approaching the 14th week of what is, as far as I know, a healthy pregnancy. We have a tree with an angel on top and garland around our banister. Our house smells like cinnamon.

But then, underneath, there’s so much sadness.

Last Christmas, I woke up covered in blood. I left my daughter just after opening stockings to get an ultrasound. And at that ultrasound we found out our much-longed-for baby no longer had a heartbeat. It was one of the worst days of my life. I came home from the clinic and put on a good face. I didn’t want to ruin the magic for Lettie, my living child. We opened presents and I exclaimed in excitement over every little thing. I pushed all that grief aside, put it in a neat little box marked “Christmas,” and left it there. And sure, I did grieve some over the next few weeks and months, but my deepest, most secret sadness remained tucked away.

Here’s the thing about grief: it doesn’t like being ignored. It’s stubborn, and it comes out one way or another.

Two weeks ago, we went to the hardware store to pick out our Christmas tree. The same hardware store we went to last Christmas. As we were paying for everything, I found myself in the middle of a panic attack. Last year I was pregnant, just like this year. Last year I felt so much hope for the future, just like this year. It’s going to happen again, I thought, I’m going to lose this baby, too, just like last year.

And it’s not just the miscarriage that is making me melancholy. I miss my mom more than usual this time of year, too. I wish she were here now. I wish she were here last year. I wish she were here always.

Christmas is hard. Pregnancy after infertility and loss is hard. I keep waiting for someone to come along and say, “Just kidding, we’re taking this baby away from you, too! Sorryyyyy!”

There is always something to be fearful about. Last Friday, we met with a genetic counselor, and it’s official: we can’t do any non-invasive blood testing because the vanishing twin could jack up the results. So we’ll be going into our 20-week ultrasound blind. The genetic counselor warned us they might find “soft markers” for genetic disorders at this ultrasound. The markers are pretty common and often mean nothing, but sometimes they’re indicative of downs or trisomy 13 or 18 or whatever else awful thing they’re on the lookout for. I am now terrified of this scan, and it’s still six weeks away.

On Monday, I brought homemade cupcakes to work. I tied a tag around each that said, “Baby B, due June 2016.” I wanted to do something fun to announce my pregnancy. I wanted to give this baby the celebration he or she deserves. But after I carefully placed the cupcakes on my co-workers’ desks, I walked to the bathroom and cried. My pregnancy was out there now, and I couldn’t take it back. No matter what happened, I couldn’t take it back.

And the thing is, I feel guilty for feeling all of this. I’m finally pregnant after wishing for it for so long, and I can’t even embrace it? What is wrong with me? I have a beautiful daughter who is beyond excited for Christmas. Why can’t I be excited right along with her?

I’m having a tough time of it, you guys. I’m trying, I truly am, but some days the ghosts are really loud.

 

Graduation Day & Baby B

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Friday was an amazing day. I “graduated” from my fertility specialist. That means, from now on, I am under the care of an OB, just like a regular pregnant lady. To say it was emotional is a big, fat understatement. The ultrasound tech gave us our final ultrasound and Baby A was looking good, right on track for 10 weeks, even moving his or her hand in a waving motion.

I haven’t mentioned our ultrasound tech yet, but she is wonderful. Not only technically good at her job, but extremely calming and caring. She never seemed rushed and always took the time to answer all of our questions thoroughly. And believe me, my science teacher husband had a ton of questions about not super-relevent things, like ultrasound views and such. After our scan, I thanked her profusely for being so good at her job. And then I started to cry. Not tearing up, but like actual shaking cries. Then Tim started crying, too. The tech gave me a big hug and said, “I’ve been doing this for a long time, I understand. That kid is growing so well. You’re doing great.” I’m pretty sure she even teared up a little, too.

Afterwards we met with our doctor and he officially released us from the practice. I didn’t cry again, but I did give him a bear hug and several “thank yous.”

Wow, you guys. Just wow. I really never thought I would see this day. Truly. I know we’re still not out of the woods yet, but this is a huge milestone. So for now, I’m putting the worries aside and I’m just going to bask in this glow, and give thanks to the Universe and those babies and my body for getting us this far. I can’t even write this without crying.

In sad news, at our 9 week ultrasound, Baby B no longer had a heartbeat. I haven’t updated you guys on this yet because I don’t really know what to say. I’m not sure how I feel, honestly. It’s a loss, for sure. But then there’s this miracle growing right next door. It’s just a weird situation. I do know, however, that I am extremely thankful to Baby B for coming here briefly and helping his brother or sister.. I will be grateful for the rest of my life.

Next up: final visit with Dr. Braverman tomorrow and first OB visit on Friday. Keep growing big and strong, Baby A. You’re doing great!

8 Week Ultrasound Update

Just a quick post to give you the deets on Friday’s ultrasound.

Baby A was looking good! measuring on track with a heart rate of 166. Yay, Baby A! We could see his or her arms, legs and even a tiny spine. It’s kind of amazing how much growth there was in just one week.

Baby B had not grown at all in a week, which means he or she is ultimately not going to make it. Strangely, there was still a faint heartbeat present. Needless to say, it was rough watching that little embryo trying to hang on, fighting a losing battle.

All in all, though. I’m ok about it. Yes, it is another impending loss, which is never easy. But I still have one healthy baby going strong and I am beyond grateful for that. Also, I was really nervous about a twin pregnancy and all the risks that go with it. I already have enough anxiety as it is without adding Twin Mania on top of it. So while I would’ve been thrilled with two healthy babies, part of me is also relieved to not have to worry about the additional risks that blessing would’ve brought.

My next ultrasound is on Friday again and I’m really nervous. I’ll be nine weeks. When I went on my ill-fated google fest a couple of weeks ago I read about a lot of people miscarrying at nine weeks, plus I know of some other bloggers who have miscarried at that time. So that week just feels ominous to me. Also still haunting me from my googling binge are the heart rate fears. Baby’s heart rates have been fine since 6 weeks, but I still feel sketched about it.

I’m still scared every single day, you guys. Grateful as hell, but terrified. There seem to be so many more hurdles left to get through. One of the biggest being, is this baby genetically normal?  I likely can’t do the non-invasive first trimester blood tests because there’s a chance the twin could throw off the result. And I refuse to do any invasive testing (amnio, CVS) — I’m not down with the risk of miscarriage that goes along with them. I don’t care how small it is. So we may not know until our 20 week scan (or longer) if the baby is genetically normal. I know this is how our moms did it, but it seems crazy to me. Oh, and we also need to make it to 20 weeks to even have that ultrasound to even find out about genetic anything. Hurdle 7,654. Need to get my track shorts on, stat.

Other than the physical symptoms like nausea, this pregnancy doesn’t feel quite real to me. Like, how could this actually be happening to me? How could I possibly be lucky enough to bring a baby home in 8 months? I’m trying to believe. I want so much to rise above the fear and just have confidence that this little miracle is here to stay. I want to be brave for him or her. But, crap, it’s really, really hard.