When I was doing my labor and delivery rotation in nursing school I was able to observe an emergency c-section. I remember watching the couple’s faces completely devoid of emotion. I whispered my observation to the nurse and asked her if she thought it was odd that they didn’t seem excited their child was about to be born. She told me they had had five losses before this pregnancy and that they were probably still in disbelief that they would have a healthy baby to take home finally. I remember thinking how awful it was that this couple was so haunted by their previous losses that they were scared to enjoy this incredible moment. I had no idea that this event would be mirrored in my own life a few years later.
The First Positive
In October 2010 we discovered we were pregnant after 6 months of trying. We were beyond ecstatic. I had been diagnosed with PCOS as a teenager and told my chances of being infertile were extremely high. I felt on top of the world that I was able to get pregnant and without any medical interventions to help. We scheduled our first doctor’s appointment and started dreaming of our tiny bundle of joy.
One week later I woke up early on my day off. I got up to use the restroom and saw blood, lots of blood, like a heavy period. I had to wait for the doctor’s office to open for what seemed an eternity. When I finally got through and told the nurse what was going on I thought she would rush me in immediately. Instead, I was told they had an opening that afternoon and I could come in then. That morning was one of the longest, most stressful of my life.
My husband and I made our way to the office, terrified. We were taken back to an ultrasound room. The ultrasonographer started the ultrasound but warned us that since I wasn’t very far along they might not find a heartbeat even if everything was perfectly fine. All we could see was a gestational sac. She said this wasn’t necessarily good or bad but it did measure a little small. Next we went and saw the doctor that tried to reassure us everything would be fine. She had been my doctor for years and I trusted her confidence. I ended the visit with blood work that I would repeat in 48 hours.
The next day, feeling much more confident but still bleeding, I went to work. I told a few of my closest coworkers what was going on and they also reassured me. My spirits were somewhat lifted and I thought everything might be okay after all. The following day I went back to the doctor for my repeat blood work. Being a nurse myself, I had of course researched miscarriage at length after I started bleeding. I knew what the normal levels should be for how far along I was. They should be at least 5,000. While the nurse was drawing my blood I saw some results paper clipped to the front of my chart. I leaned over and looked at them. The level from two days before was 10. I said to her “That isn’t a good sign, is it?” She couldn’t look me in the eye. “No, not usually.”
I instantly broke down. As I came out into the hallway my husband kept asking what happened. I couldn’t even speak. A nurse led us to an exam room, gave me a box of tissues and told us to take as long as we needed. I cried uncontrollably and told him about the lab results. I couldn’t believe it was actually true, that I had actually lost a baby. I had never known anyone that had had a miscarriage. I was numb. We got home and I walked into the bedroom. The first thing I saw was my copy of What to Expect When You’re Expecting. I threw it across the room. I was so mad at the book and everyone else for giving me false hope. The nurse called me that afternoon to confirm the second set of blood work had even lower levels than the first. It was official.
My husband took time off work to be with me. My mom came in from out of town. I tried to hold it together for everyone but by now the severe cramps had started and the bleeding was only getting worse. The physical pain was excruciating but nothing compared to the emotional part. It took me weeks before I could talk about it without breaking down.
A Second Chance
We were told to take at least a month off from trying to conceive but that we could start again after that. In early February of 2011 we discovered we were expecting again. Of course we were beyond thrilled but I also felt robbed of the innocence that women who have never lost a baby feel. Every twinge, every symptom now terrified me. I feared every moment we would lose this baby too.
At eight weeks we had our first ultrasound. I was hesitantly excited. The moment we heard the heartbeat joy washed over me. It was the most beautiful sound I had ever heard and that little bouncing bean was gorgeous. We had another ultrasound at twelve weeks and again everything was perfect. I could now breathe a sigh of relief. We were out of the dangerous first trimester. We announced our news to everyone. The rest of the pregnancy was difficult but without complication. On October 13, 2011 at 8:13 PM we welcomed a perfect little boy, Noah.
Noah was a happy baby once we figured out he had reflux, and he was the center of my world. I now worked part time at an OBGYN office and every moment I wasn’t there was spent with him. When Noah was about six months old my work offered me an ultimatum. Go back full time or quit. I had no interest in working full time and we were financially able for me to only work part time so I went on the hunt for a new job. Unfortunately, part time nursing jobs with somewhat regular hours are very hard to come by. I decided that when my time at my current job was done, I would simply stay at home, at least temporarily.
The last few weeks on the job I got my first cycle since Noah was born. I was still breastfeeding and pumping while at work so it was no surprise it took seven months to come back. What did surprise me was how long it stuck around. Weeks and weeks. I finally called my doctor to see if this was normal, they assured me it was. A few days later I went to take the trash out and started gagging at the smell. The thought that I could be pregnant crossed my mind but was quickly dismissed. I was on birth control and still breastfeeding, I should be double protected.
The thought still nagged in my brain. I decided to take a test just to feel at ease. I did and to my great shock it instantly turned positive. I was in denial, there must be something wrong with the strip. I took another, and another, all positive. I even made my postmenopausal mother take one as a control to make sure they weren’t all just showing positives. Hers was, of course, negative.
I called my doctor and the nurse told me to come in for blood work. I begged for an ultrasound because I had no idea how far along I was since I wasn’t having cycles. They only told me that based on the blood work results would the doctor order an ultrasound. I went in and had the blood work drawn. I got almost all the way home when I remembered a free clinic in town we had received pregnant patients from when I worked for the OBGYN office. I googled their address and went back downtown. I begged the women at the clinic to do an ultrasound to see how far along I was, they said they couldn’t since I was already under the care of a doctor. I had known it was a crazy, desperate idea but I just wanted someone, anyone, to tell me what was going on with my baby and if there was any chance they would survive.
Until that moment I hadn’t realized that I wanted that baby. Noah was only 7 months old so they would be very close together in age, but I now knew that I wanted that baby. I was also terrified because now we knew this wasn’t just a one time event. I only had one week left at work but I couldn’t bring myself to go into that office and stare at the women waddling with their big bellies and keep a smile on my face while inside I was insanely jealous. I told my boss I couldn’t come back.
I got my first set of blood work back and it was somewhere in the thousands, a number that really meant nothing without a second set to compare it to and no last menstrual period to date it off of. I went in for second, then third, then fourth sets of blood work and watched that number drop until the doctors were satisfied that I had passed everything. The doctor had also suggested we get bloodwork for clotting disorders and other common causes of recurrent miscarriage. I was oddly disappointed when everything came back normal. I just wanted to know a cause for why this was happening. I eventually stopped bleeding and was ready to try again.
A Possible Cause
Around this time I joined a message board on the internet for women who had had losses and were trying to get pregnant again. I remember seeing a woman’s signature that included a condition that at the time meant nothing to me, Hashimoto’s Disease. I didn’t remember what that was from nursing school, so I turned to my handy friend Google. The results simultaneously terrified me and excited me. This was an autoimmune thyroid condition that can cause infertility and repeated miscarriage. I had been thinking I needed to get my thyroid checked because I seemed to have a lot of hypothyroid symptoms, but once I learned about this condition I couldn’t wait to get to the doctor to be tested for it. Could there possibly be a logical explanation for why my body had such a hard time holding on to pregnancies?
I went in for my appointment and presented my case to the doctor of why I thought I might have this condition and why I wanted to be tested. To my great surprise she was very resistant to testing me for these antibodies (I still have no idea why). After a lengthy discussion I finally convinced her to draw all the necessary blood work. A week later a nurse called me to tell me that I was indeed hypothyroid but that my doctor wanted to send me to a specialist instead of treating me herself because my antithyroid antibodies were also elevated. I finally had a diagnosis that explained my losses and my many other physical symptoms.
Once we found out the diagnosis my husband and I decided to hold off on trying to conceive until I had gotten on medication and gotten all my levels normalized so that I would have the best chance of being able to have a healthy pregnancy. I got a call from the specialist and was told the soonest I could be seen was months away. I couldn’t wait months. Not only was I gaining weight, all my hair was falling out and I had absolutely no energy whatsoever. Not to mention every day we waited to get pregnant again seemed like an eternity. I called my general physician and got an appointment the next day to see him to see if he could start me on medicine while I waited on the specialist. He agreed and got me started on Armour.
The very next morning I got a huge shock. We discovered we were expecting yet again. I must have ovulated early! I was absolutely terrified. I had literally only taken this medicine for one day and had no idea how quickly it might help me. Did I have enough in my system to calm the autoimmune factor that kept making me miscarry? All I could do was wait and pray.
Two weeks later, on a Sunday afternoon I started spotting. I was scared, but hopeful since this was nothing like the heavy dark bleeding I had with my two previous miscarriages. I called my OB’s office and was connected to a new doctor I had never met before that was on call. I explained my history and what was going on. This new doctor seemed very concerned and told me to come in first thing the next morning. That night the bleeding got heavier and I prepared myself for the worst.
I went in the next morning and the first thing they did was an ultrasound. I had been bleeding heavily all night and must have already passed everything. There was no sign of the pregnancy on ultrasound. Next we went and talked to the doctor. I was now worried that my pregnancy with Noah was a fluke and that I would never have another healthy pregnancy. I discussed my concerns with the doctor. For the first time, a doctor treated my loss as the actual loss of a life and not simply a medical condition to be treated. This doctor truly had compassion for what we were going through.
Another Route to Baby
Adoption was an idea we had talked about many times over the years and now it seemed like it might be the only way for us to have more children. I talked to a friend of mine who had adopted to find out what the first steps we needed to take were. I called the next day to request all the forms we would need to fill out. We completed countless pages of paperwork asking insanely personal questions. We got fingerprinted, did background checks, home inspections, started classes on what to expect of the process.
During these beginning stages of the adoption process I was going in for frequent bloodwork to test if the thyroid medicine was controlling my antibodies and getting my hypothyroidism reigned in. Once all of my levels were back to normal we got the go ahead to start trying to conceive again. We did but with reservations. We weren’t sure if we would get pregnant and even if we did if I could maintain the pregnancy.
After a few months I got another positive test. I was hesitantly excited. We scheduled an ultrasound for twelve weeks. It just so happened we had an appointment later that same day to meet with our adoption social worker. We had decided not to tell her about the pregnancy until after the ultrasound. I was afraid of telling her and somehow messing up the adoption and then losing the pregnancy and not getting a baby from either route.
The morning of that ultrasound I was so nervous I vomited three times on the way to the doctor’s office. I didn’t think I could handle it if we got any more bad news. I was literally shaking I was so nervous while we waited. The ultrasound started and I held my breath. To our amazement and delight there was a tiny baby on the screen, complete with beating heart and little kicking legs. I didn’t even realize I had been holding my breath until that moment when I was finally able to exhale.
That afternoon we met with the adoption social worker. We told her our big news with baited breath. Would this effect our adoption plans? She accepted our announcement like it was no big deal. She told us we would simply have to update our home study to include the new baby once they arrived but it wouldn’t effect the adoption. We decided to continue on with the adoption plans since the waiting list for a child was still several years. Unfortunately, a few weeks later the social worker called us back. She had mentioned the pregnancy to her supervisor and didn’t realize that they actually had a policy stating a couple could not continue with the adoption process while pregnant or for a year after the child’s birth. We would have to put our adoption plans on hold and just focus on our little miracle.
We decided not to find out the gender of the baby. After all we had been through it seemed like such a petty thing to care about. I just wanted to focus on a healthy baby. It was another difficult pregnancy and this baby seemed determined to scare me every chance they got. Labor scares, water breaking scares, crazy fast heart rate on the doppler. But after all the stress, we finally got a gorgeous baby girl after a super quick labor. At 3:55 PM on September 11, 2013 we welcomed our long awaited daughter, Riley.
My time as a mother has been filled with both joy and tears. Being able to watch my two amazing children grow and develop their own personalities has been the most incredible experience of my life. These years have also held their share of difficulty. At one month old we found out Riley has hip dysplasia, like I do. She had to wear a harness to help her hip sockets develop around the clock for seven long weeks. Shortly after Noah’s second birthday he was diagnosed as autistic.
Through the repeated heartbreak and the joyous moments, I wouldn’t change a thing. As cliché as it sounds, every moment of these experiences has shaped who I am as a person and a mother. I cherish every moment with my children just a little bit more, knowing I have the love for all five of my children in my heart but only two of them here on earth to cuddle and kiss.