Over the past 3 years, I have noticed a rise in the discussion of fertility/infertility, but only recently have I witnessed a women coming forth and telling their story of living after miscarriage. I am honored today to share the story of my close friend, Landon.
Dealing with Miscarriage
When you’re a young girl playing pretend, you probably tell your friends and family how many children you’re going to have when you grow up. I remember telling my mom I’d have 3 kids, just like my family, after getting married at 22. From a child’s perspective, all women have children. It’s a right, an entitlement that comes with the gender. I remember going into third grade and being told one of the children in the class had been adopted into their family. I don’t remember pausing to think why – I must have assumed that the child’s family wanted to bring in a poor soul from the streets or something Disney movie-esque like that. It never would have dawned on me that the mother could have struggled with infertility or that she was unable to have her own children.
Twenty-two came and went without husband or children as I plowed through life head first. That was the year I moved to Thailand and ate my way from one noodle stand to another on a scooter while working at an orphanage and Thai school while my father wondered why he paid for a private college and degree in political science. A few years later I moved back home to nanny for a family, then went to grad school at UNC and fell in love with a boy in med school. He was just as busy as me which was wonderful. We graduated and I followed him to Chicago where we ate our way through that city as well – but we also did so much more: we went to comedy clubs, late night indy concerts and rented boats to take on river. We made lifelong friends and snowmen and cocktails to drink on rooftops. We eventually decided to slow down enough to say our vows (the best decision I ever made), honeymooned in Tahiti, and then went back to a very exciting life in the adult playground that is the Windy City. Eventually, though, we started talking about starting a family. Tiny footsteps were missing. My husband was in his fellowship at Northwestern and I had stable job I loved, and we were in our 30’s. We’re ready, we decided. Let’s get pregnant. Like this month. Like now. I’d always gotten what I wanted when I wanted it, so why not this?
Month after month went by and a process that started out fun and exciting started to give me anxiety. After 6 months, I began to wonder if something wasn’t working. Despite living life a bit like Peter Pan, I’m a tiny bit type-A and a tiny bit controlling, so this was a hard lesson in letting go. I began to realize that I had absolutely no control over one of the most important things in the world to me: being able to have a child. I tracked my fertility with an app and pee sticks and a thermometer that measured my body temperature to the tenth of a degree. I planned work trips and vacations around my ovulation. Nothing.
A year passed and we decided to see the fertility specialists at Northwestern. We went through testing and were pleased to learn that neither of us had any reason why we weren’t able to get pregnant, but we weren’t. We started with Clomid to help move things along. Clomid forces and times ovulation through a pill, but it really isn’t that simple. I’d take the Clomid after my LMP and then a few days later would go to the fertility clinic from 7-8 am (with all the other women going through the same process as me) for an ultrasound to make sure I hadn’t ovulated too many eggs – they didn’t want an octamom. I’d get permission to try that month, and then for two weeks I’d fall in love with a baby that I just knew was growing inside me, until I realized it wasn’t. Then I’d go in for bloodwork to confirm I wasn’t in fact pregnant and begin another round of Clomid and ultrasounds. My uterus has been well-documented. Looking back, this time in the clinic was sad for me. I’d sit quietly in a room full of women, eyes down, anxiety thick. How many emotions were in there? Shame? Fear? Guilt? Worry? Hope? I think I had some hope the first time I went in, but it dissipated. I ate a blueberry donut after every visit to cheer me up.
Fertility clinic at Northwestern
After three months of the 7 am cattle call, I was emotionally exhausted. I can’t speak for my husband, but I know he was too. I couldn’t ask for someone more supportive, but with that kind of support also comes empathy and it hurt him to see me hurt. We decided to move on to IUI, a more invasive procedure where they put hundreds of thousands of the best and brightest my husband had to offer right on top of my big fat egg. I was disappointed it had come to this and felt like my body had failed me – what kind of inferior woman am I that my egg needs all this help? Regardless, I was excited to feel like I had some control again. When I went in for IUI, Leah was my nurse and I joked that she was going to knock me up. I felt some hope, my husband held my hand, and we recommitted to getting pregnant that month. For two weeks I fell in love, and then was crushed. And then I did it again. And again. I’m broken, I thought. And I need more control.
What’s more controlling than IVF? Nothing, really. I’ve always had such mixed feelings about IVF. On one hand, I’m thankful to Jesus that we have the medical advancements available to provide an incredible opportunity for infertile women to become biological mamas. Medicine is amazing! On the other hand, it’s invasive, expensive, uncomfortable, and exhausting. If you’ve ever seen the pictures of the number of needles involved, it’s dizzying. Going from Clomid/IUI to IVF is like going from t-ball to the Yankees. There’s not really a middle ground, it was the next step, and we decided to do it. It was August.
Unfortunately, my insurance policy didn’t cover IVF. Luckily, Ramsey’s would, I just needed to join his plan in November so I would be covered the following year. This felt like great timing because we were wiped out and welcomed the break from pills, depositing specimens, vaginal ultrasounds, pee sticks, the Glow app, rearranged work trips, 7am cattle calls, $700 out of pocket procedures, and monthly heartbreak.
I’m 33 years old, which means most of my friends are in the middle of their family planning years. When pregnant friends have innocently complained of swelling feet, feeling like a whale, loss of appetite, not getting their preferred gender, having to use a pregnancy pillow… I’m left feeling emptier. “I’d love your morning sickness,” I’d think. “You’re complaining about that belly? You get to rub it and feel your child inside, what a blessing. What a beautiful way for you to connect with your little one.” I felt like my life was in slow motion while everyone else’s was in fast forward. Every cycle that went by, 5 friends had a new child.
“How is your fertility going?” I was asked at a baby shower once by a tall beautiful pregnant friend who has nothing in her heart but love for me. If people haven’t been through it, they don’t understand. My eyes welled and I got a mimosa for courage to make it through the end of the shower (also maybe to spite the women who couldn’t drink, I’m still human); I smiled as I wrote down the gifts that were given so she could write thank you notes for adorable thigs like elephant lovies and tiny nail clippers.
That November we wanted to get out of town and spend time with family, so we went home to my husband’s family in North Carolina for Thanksgiving. The time with them was warm and sweet. My husband is the middle of three boys. My in-laws run a private OB-GYN practice but don’t have any grandchildren of their own yet. We had a classic Thanksgiving with much time playing games, cooking, and eating an amazing mix of homemade Lebanese and American food. I’ve always felt such love in their living room. The night after Thanksgiving we went out to dinner. I was still keeping mental track of my ovulation cycle and knew I should have started my period that day, but hadn’t.
On the drive home from dinner I blurted to his family, “Can we go by your office?”
“Um. Why?” everyone wanted to know. I decided to be honest, it’s a medical family and they knew we’d been trying.
“For a pregnancy test.” Eyebrows raised, but they understood my need to know, and drove to my father-in-law’s practice to grab me a couple of medical grade tests. When I got home, I disappeared to the bathroom. For two years, I’ve seen one pink line. I’ve known deep in my gut that the second pink line would change everything. I’ve prayed to Jesus for it more times than I can count; I’ve waited with held breath for it to appear, and it never did, until that night. It wasn’t a faint line you have to look at sideways, it was a bright pink line. It was like someone released a dam of emotions I’d been pushing deep inside and they all came pouring out onto the test strip – tears, relief, joy, gratitude, a feeling of completeness. A line that said I wasn’t broken. I didn’t need IVF. I walked into my husband’s room and showed him.
“Does that mean..?”
“I think so,” I answered. “Let’s ask your dad. It’s never looked like this.” But I knew. His dad came in, smiled broadly and said “Congratulations!”
The rest of the family heard the joy and his mom and younger brother came in to celebrate. We went downstairs, me with my baby and my heart to the brim, and popped champagne and sparkling cider as everyone congratulated us, including the family’s Great Dane who nuzzled my belly like he knew my new secret. They tucked me into the couch and told me to rest, I was growing their first grandchild.
We decided to wait to tell my family. My dad was coming to Chicago on December 15 and we’d surprise my mom on Christmas day. The holidays are hard for my family. I grew up with a little brother, John, who was everyone’s favorite. He passed during the night from an epileptic seizure when he was 19 on December 21st, and his funeral was on Christmas Eve. As a family, we’ve never really recovered the warm holiday feelings, but we’ve been trying. I wanted to make it magical.
When Dad and my step mom came up to Chicago we gifted them a framed picture of an ultrasound from my fertility clinic that had just been performed to confirm the pregnancy. My dad was overjoyed – his first grandchild – and my stepmom cried tears for herself and also me. Everyone had been waiting. It was so wonderful! The next day I told my sister and she also cried. So much relief from the people who love us.
After my dad left, I went in to my first formal OB appointment and parked downtown where my husband works. I was eager to get a better quality ultrasound to gift my mom on the 25th. I had done my reading and had brought all my questions, including a bag of cosmetics I wasn’t sure were safe. My husband met me for the ultrasound and we held hands, eager to see our little one. Once my uterus was in view, our doctor frowned.
She informed us, “Based on your last ultrasound, I would expect the embryo to be bigger by now.” It didn’t sink in. I’m small, my baby’s small, that’s okay.
“So what does that mean?” I looked from her to my husband, who has less of a poker face, and realized the gravity. “No. no. no. no. no.” She said she was going to take a few images to compare them to the other ultrasound and my time of conception, but it didn’t look good. We could get dressed and meet her in her office across the hall. When the door closed, I melted. I completely fell apart. Sobbing with eyes closed, unable to look at the man I loved, I just got lost in the darkness. How could this happen to me? What was WRONG with me? He held me, and I asked, “It’s definitely a miscarriage?” He nodded. I got dressed, we went to the doctor’s office, and I don’t remember anything else that was said.
When we left the office, my husband said he had to see a few more patients and so I could wait downtown and then he could go home with me, or I could go home alone. I chose to wait in the car in the parking deck. I sat there on a roller coaster between sobbing and becoming catatonic. I was on the top floor of a crowded parking deck, and one of the parking spots in front of me was deceptively too small for a car to fit into it. For an hour, I watched drivers get excited about finding a spot, attempt to park, realize they couldn’t fit, and then move on. I felt like that space. Stupid hope for something that wouldn’t work, so many failed attempts, and ultimate emptiness. As I sat in the car, I identified the feeling I was experiencing: dark loss. I hadn’t felt this way since I lost my brother. It wasn’t as sharp and deep, but it was the same demon and I knew it well. I felt sick. I didn’t want to tell my mom, or anyone really. I didn’t want to ruin Christmas. We told the people who knew: Ramsey’s family, my sister, and my dad and stepmom. A couple close friends. I didn’t want to talk about it – they just needed to know what happened and then I wanted space to grieve.
I wondered when the process would start. I knew the pregnancy wasn’t viable, but how would it happen? I was given options to wait it out, take pills, or have a d&c. I’ll wait it out, I thought. It’s natural, maybe it won’t be so bad. A week went by and nothing happened. My husband and I flew to Charleston where my mom lives to celebrate Christmas and I forced my husband, sweet sister and her fiancé to act like nothing was happening. My mom was finally enjoying the holidays again and I wasn’t going to add another black cloud to Christmas. We had a wonderful time going on long walks together, cooking a big turkey, exchanging gifts. I melted a few times in the closet, but was able to be distracted by binging TV shows and eating food. It was one of the hardest things I’ve done, and I’m not sure I did the right thing by not allowing my family to love on me.
Faking a smile after lunch
When the holiday was over and my husband and I were back in Chicago, I waited a few days and told my mom. I don’t think it was as hard for her as it would have been if she’d known when I was pregnant and had gotten excited about the baby – she never really lost anything – but she was broken for me. She made me promise not to keep everything inside again. I told her I wouldn’t. The miscarriage didn’t start, so I took pills to trigger it. For two extremely painful nights I bled and cried as I cramped. I dug up some old pain pills that nearly saved my life. I didn’t realize how much it would hurt. When I went in for another ultrasound to make sure all the tissue had passed, they told me it hadn’t. Of course, I thought. Why would my body do anything it was supposed to? They recommended a lighter version of a d&c called a hysteroscopy, a procedure that still required sedation and scraping of tissue. I was NOT interested in doing this. They told me I couldn’t get pregnant again until all the tissue had passed, so I acquiesced. I went in, blew out 3 veins while receiving an IV, shook like a leaf on a tree I was so upset and scared, and came out more empty and broken than I’d ever felt in my life.
We went back to square one – IVF. I called the clinic once my insurance policy was in place and they put me on the wait list for May. I was disappointed because I didn’t realize I’d have to wait so long, but also welcomed the break.
Ramsey and I began talking about what to do with our upcoming vacation – we needed some joy in life. The concept of our 2019 February vacation has evolved over the past year or so. A few years ago, Ramsey asked off for the two weeks off around Valentine’s Day as paternity leave. We were confident we’d have a baby by then, and February would be a slow time in the city to enjoy family life together. When we didn’t get pregnant in time to use the holiday as paternity leave, we decided we’d call the holiday a babymoon. We were thrilled when we were pregnant in November and began talking about going to zika-free Hawaii to celebrate baby with a little bikini bump. Then those plans fell through and the vacation was adapted again. We decided to keep our Hawaii plans, and just use it as a time to heal. To sweeten our marriage and reconnect before the impeding IVF requirements.
We didn’t hold back on the vacation. On the way out, we stopped in Sedona to go hiking. When we got to Kauai and Maui, we ate at the best restaurants, stayed at the most expensive resorts, went snorkeling with turtles and ATV’ing through the sets of Jurassic Park. We laughed and made silly videos and fell in love all over again. Traveling with my husband is the best. He’s a big kid, and he brings me into his magical world. We didn’t want to leave – Hawaii had been warm and healing.
When we got home, ever the planner, I knew I should be starting my cycle. Mostly I was pleased I hadn’t started my period in Hawaii and had no expectations to be pregnant again. When I was a day late, I took a cheap pregnancy test. My hand flew to my mouth as I saw two solid pink lines form.
“Impossible,” I thought. In my head, my odds of getting pregnant were once every two years. How could I have even been ovulating immediately after that awful d&c procedure? If I were an egg, I would have opted to skip a cycle.
I wish I could say I was as joyful as the first time, but I was scared. And cautiously optimistic. But mostly scared. It was early in the morning so I went in for bloodwork at the fertility clinic to confirm it. A few hours later, they called and said I was pregnant. “I’m having a little Hawaiian pineapple,” I cautiously thought. Looking back on the vacation, I thought of all the rainbows we saw together, maybe 20 total. Signs missed, a rainbow baby was on the way.
Rainbows even snuck into pictures
I wanted to tell my husband in a sweet way, so I put together a little gift bag for him that included the pregnancy test. When he opened the little bag with the test, his eyes opened wide and he smiled and said, “Really!?” I nodded, still scared, but allowing it to sink in a little. We hugged and laughed and cried again. “For a moment, we’re pregnant,” I thought, wanting to savor it.
As promised, I told my mom who was unabashedly thrilled, and I got a little more excited. I scheduled an ultrasound a few days later to make sure it wasn’t ectopic, and my husband and I were shocked and excited to see a tiny little heartbeat – our first, and a big milestone. It became more real.
They offered to do another ultrasound before sending us to my OB, which I gladly accepted. We went back the next week and had an even stronger heartbeat, and a baby that looked like a shrimp. It was growing. Amazing. “Keep me on the list for IVF,” I told Leah the nurse on my way out. Ever the realist, still in a bit of disbelief.
A few weeks later was my first OB appointment with the same doctor who had diagnosed my miscarriage. She was lovely and I liked her a lot, but there was still some lingering PTSD. A woman who is a friend, medical doctor, and also the leader of my women’s Bible study volunteered to come with me since my husband couldn’t get off work. I gladly accepted; she has her own infertility story and would know the anxiety I was experiencing. When I went in and the scan began, I saw a baby that looked like a gummy bear – with a head, arms, and a big tummy. A baby, not a blob of cells or a shrimp. I fell in love – uncontrollably and with reckless abandon, knowing I could be crushed again if I miscarried, but I did it anyway. The human spirit is capable of so much – and I felt a wave of hope and love for this tiny thing I was carrying that I had never experienced before. I had come close with the first pregnancy, but nothing like this. My baby was perfect. I’m a mama.
Tonight, my husband and I are going to dinner in Lincoln Park. We’re going to walk to an adorable, romantic Italian place near our home because the weather is nice, finally. It’s symbolic as well – a winter of my life is over. Today is the last day of my first trimester, and tonight we’ll open an envelope that tells us baby’s gender. It’s a private, intimate moment for us that we have no desire to share with anyone else. A tiny part of me is resentful of all the adorable gender reveals I’ve seen on Facebook for the past few years, and I want something more sacred than that.
It’s easy to feel alone through this process, but I’ve been lucky to be surrounded by people who have reinforced to me how normal I am. My husband, first, has been the most supportive person I could ask for. He has given me time when I needed it, he’s cried with me, and he’s encouraged me. Apart from him, I have many friends who have been in my shoes. I’m infinitely grateful to my women’s small group through my church who has prayed incessantly for me to get pregnant for years, a group of women that has had ample experience with infertility. My friend Susie has given me advice, courage and hope through her own IVF miracle.
I’ve had to ask myself why I want to share my story. Part of it is cathartic. I want it written down to help me process it. Mostly, though, I want other women to feel less alone. I knew, going into pregnancy, that the rate of miscarriage was around 20-25% of ALL pregnancies. I knew that there was a decent possibility it could happen to me. I knew that most of the Christmas cards on my fridge featuring beautiful families with three perfect children had little rainbow babies hovering just below the surface. Knowing the facts, though, doesn’t make it any easier when it does happen. You still stop and think, “How could this happen to me? This happens to other people.” I felt isolated, alone and broken. Having a miscarriage is common, and so is breaking a bone or losing a grandparent, but we talk openly about one and not the other. I felt gender and fertility shame from within, and I felt like I was the only one in the world who has ever experienced something this tragic.
I began talking about it, sharing it with friends and even some close coworkers. Just like the statistics suggested, I learned that many people I knew had been through the same thing and had never told anyone, the generation above me especially. I learned that many women had multiple sequential miscarriages – a process I couldn’t even begin to imagine. Waiting two years for pregnancy only to experience a miscarriage feels a bit extreme, but I still know I’m not alone. It is common, but it doesn’t take away from the true grief that is felt. Being common doesn’t make it less difficult.
Some people process grief and miscarriage out loud – I’ve turned into one of those people, but that doesn’t mean it’s the right or wrong way. Many other people do not. For those who are quietly grieving, know that you’re not alone. It will still hurt like hell, but you’re in good company with millions and millions of other women. You’re not broken. Have hope and practice self-care. You are a future mama.
Sending love to all.