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“Be careful, those second children always come easier than the first.” Thats what we were told several times right after our daughter was born in 2018. It took us ten months to conceive her and it felt like a lifetime. We knew how blessed we were to be able to conceive, carry, and deliver our own child after the wait of bringing her here. Little did we know we were in for a whole lot more when it was time to try for another baby.
Our daughter was here after a DREAM pregnancy, labor, and delivery. She was a dream baby and life was so good, we were a wonderfully happy family of three, something we had tried so hard for! At my six week postnatal follow up I was pressured into going on birth control, to this day I regret that I ever went back on it. When our daughter was seven months old we decided to stop preventing and hope for the best. But even so, my cycle still had not returned. Another 8 months had passed and still no cycle, had to wean miss H even though we did not feel done breastfeeding. We were such a good team from day one, breastfeeding was an absolute joy for me but I knew if we wanted another baby close in age, we had to wean. The first morning of the long Fourth of July weekend, I brought miss H into bed to nurse for the last time at 15 months old; I whispered to her “this is the last time okay?” and I cried. A gentle breeze came through the window as to tell me it would be okay.
Three days later my period began, success! Time to start tracking and trying for another sweet baby to join the family. I figured in 14-18 days I would be ovulating and it was go time, but to my surprise on day 14, I began bleeding again. I chalked it up to my body still regulating after breastfeeding for so long. Three months of this (six periods) I had enough and made an appointment with my OBGYN. They took blood, ran tests, and sent me home. I was “normal” and there was no explanation for why it was happening; they assumed it was my body regulating as well. Anyone who has been TTC knows how long a cycle feels. I went on to have another 5 periods within two months. I was DONE, I needed answers. I had ELEVEN periods within five months. I demanded an ultrasound.
Sure enough, the ultrasound tech asked me if I was having any pain on my left side, no I haven’t. I returned back to the room to talk to my Midwife. A cyst, 5 cm, on my left ovary. That’s why I was bleeding so often, finally I had answers! They put me on birth control to shrink the cyst (which is exactly what you want to be on when TTC ( sarcasm)) and referred me to the Reproductive Endocrinologist to see if there was anything else keeping us from conceiving, and ultimately fast track us to pregnancy.
We finally get our consult with the RE six months after I weaned miss H. I had thought by sure we would have conceived by now, but as it seems we were just getting started. They ran all the tests, took all the blood, the sample from John and would get back to us with the results. I needed to be put on a thyroid medication and Vitamin D supplement to have an optimal chance at conceiving, and it looked at though the cyst had begin getting smaller. However, Johns swimmer count came back not great. Our best chance at getting pregnant would be through IUI (Intrauterine insemination). We scheduled it for February 2020 when we would be getting back from a trip.
To start your IUI cycle bloodwork is taken and an ultrasound is given to make sure there are no cysts before administering medication to help ovulate. I went into the ultrasound so hopeful, I couldn’t believe we were finally to this point and this might actually happen for us! Silence in the ultrasound room, then another haunting question “Do you have a history of cysts?” Nope. Why? She couldn’t answer me. I left without answers and waited for a phone call from my nurse giving me the go ahead to drop my prescription off and start the IUI cycle meds. When I answered my phone she sounded bummed from the get go “We wont be able to start this cycle, the cyst on your left ovary is 8cm. We will have to put you on birth control to remedy it” EIGHT?! EIGHT CENTEMETERS. Thats the size of a lime; how I wasn’t feeling that was incredible. But not only can we not do an IUI, we cant even try this month because I am on birth control yet again. JOY.
A month passes and well… now its March 2020. Do you recall anything happening March 2020? The beginning of Covid-19 halted all reproductive medicine. This was more detrimental to couples mid IVF cycle who had paid 10s of thousands of dollars. But it was emotionally detrimental to all the couples seeking reproductive help. And to make matters worse, to keep the cyst under control they suggest I remain on birth control. How unfair, and what a mind game.
May 2020 reproductive medicine could begin again, was this finally happening for us?? I went in for the ultrasound and bloodwork, praying that the cyst was gone, and IT WAS!! Praise the Lord, we can actually go ahead with an IUI. I took my meds, I grew a beautiful follicle, gave myself the trigger shot the next day, and then 36 hours later would be our IUI.
John went in first to give his sample then after it would be washed I was to come in for the insemination. All of this really sterile and cold feeling as Covid-19 restrictions were on high. We couldn’t even be there together. What a way to make a baby. I came in when they told me they were ready. I sat in the office so nervous and so excited. Finally a nurse came in with the sample and some paperwork and a distraught look on her face.. well, eyes. She began to explain to me that ideally they like to see X amount of sperm count when doing an IUI and Johns sample that morning had been 1/3 of what they like to see. Therefore, she would go ahead with the IUI because she explained, “Its not likely, but I have seen it happen” but if not, we would not be able to do an IUI again going forward.
She preformed the procedure and left me laying there afterwards with a timer before I should get up. I laid there crying and staring at the paperwork she had gone over with me. What happened?? What is going on?
The timer went off and I got up, composed myself and then asked the receptionist for a urologist referral for John. And my gut telling me there was no way that IUI would work and we had effectively just wasted $1000 between meds and procedure bills.
John made an appointment for the urologist as soon as they could see him, to try and get an explanation. Our appointment was about two weeks after the IUI. Which means we should know by then if it had worked. The morning of the appointment I took a pregnancy test. It was positive. WHAT?! HOW?! The chances of that happening with the sperm count we had was less than 10%. We were elated, what a miracle!!
We went into the urology appointment light hearted thinking we didn’t really need to be there anymore. But we were still looking for an answer. A quick appointment led to a diagnosis. A varicocele. Google that if you are interested, but essentially it could be resolved with surgery. The doctor also recommended John start a drug called Clomid to help with his count. All of these things were on hold until we would see if my pregnancy were in fact viable, hoping we would not need to do anything.
Two days later we were enjoying some time at a lake here, dreaming about the little bean that was a miracle, talking about how lucky we were, when I started bleeding. This was it, I knew there was a problem.
I called my nurse and she explained to me that bleeding is totally normal at the beginning of a pregnancy and that they would bring me in on Monday to check my HCG levels for reassurance. The weekend was the longest and I continued to bleed despite taking the progesterone I was on post IUI. On Monday they did a blood test and called a few hours later. “I am so sorry, your HCG is only 14 and what you are experiencing is a biochemical pregnancy” What a sick joke. We had finally done it when it was just ripped away from us. I don’t care what medical professionals say, a chemical pregnancy is a miscarriage. We lost a baby. And now we had a long road ahead of us to try again.
We scheduled the varicocele surgery for John to be done in July and he began taking the medication his urologist recommended.
Fun fact: Sperm takes three months to regenerate. So if there is something you are doing to actively try to improve your count, you wont know if its worked until three months from when you started. Did I say FUN fact, ah, I meant FRUSTRATING.
Surgery day came and I was hysterical, I felt so guilty for John having to undergo something so serious for us. I couldn’t even be there with him because of Covid. Thankfully the surgery went well and a large varicocele was resolved and between that and the medication we were likely to see an improvement by October. We went about our summer trying not to think about how lonely and sad we were feeling. Everywhere around us our friends were conceiving either on accident or within a month or two of trying. We felt broken. It had been a year since we had started trying again, and we were still nowhere close. We distracted ourselves with some trips as Covid restrictions were letting up a little bit. And when October finally came around we were chomping at the bit to get started trying again.
Early one morning John went in and we would know his count within a few hours. It was a terribly long morning as we waited for that phone call. We decided to go for a walk, and as soon as we got down the street the phone rang and the nurse on the other end sounded defeated. I knew it wasn’t going to be good. “I am so sorry” she followed with. “we wont be able to do an IUI with this count”. It was now a fraction of where it was even when we were told it was low before. It had felt like God was leading us towards a path we had discussed in the months leading up to this news. A path, that in that moment, felt like a calling.
We cried, we grieved, but we picked ourselves up and began our walk down the embryo adoption path. John stopped taking the medication he was on because clearly it was not working. We spent three months going through classes, paying for medical tests, establishing ourselves at new clinics required of the embryo adoption agency we had chosen. Had hard discussions of parenting a child that is not ours biologically but knowing pregnancy and delivery would aid in that transition. Embryo adoption is a beautiful gift, and I think more people should know about it, it felt like we were doing the right thing. Until suddenly it didn’t. A video our agency had us watch was extremely off-putting. We slammed the brakes. After three emotionally, mentally and financially hard months down this path. It no longer felt right, at least not through the agency we had chosen.
We began to talk about IVF and even sperm donors. But before knowing which way we would choose, John needed another semen analysis to see if he even had enough swimmers to do IVF. When it was yet another three months after stopping the medication, he went in for a SA. If you are keeping track, it is now January 2021; 18 months since we had begun trying for a second child. And all the while it had been proactive and we were doing anything besides wait and see, we were trying everything to grow our family.
Another one of those long mornings waiting for the results of John’s SA. Finally after four hours of waiting, an email. With exclamation points. And a smily face emoji. And good news. We cried, we couldn’t believe it. A number in the double digit millions!! Even our nurse was celebrating with us as she knew what we had been through. Suddenly we went from using a sperm donor and IVF back to IUI. We couldn’t believe our luck was finally turning around and in a few days, my cycle was starting over and we would get our shot!!
At this point I had trained myself to be prepared for bad news, another road block. But the blood work was was good, my physical was good, and the ultrasound was good!! I was cleared to start the cycle! I took my meds and when it was time I went in to check to see if I had a follicle read to trigger. I did, a perfect one on my right side, and that night I triggered. 36 hours later would be our IUI. If you remember how haunting the conversation was with the nurse during my last IUI, you would understand my trauma around that morning. I whole-heartedly believe that my worrying that morning had some hand in the pregnancy not taking. So when I went in for the IUI I interrupted the nurse and said “Please do not tell me any numbers, I do not want to know, I am scarred from last time” She smiled under her mask and looked into my eyes and said “I completely understand. But everything looks wonderful, whatever you guys did worked great”.
Cue the tears as she walked out of the room. I did not cry, I bawled. I couldn’t believe it, I was soaring, It was our time. She came back in and saw my face a wreck and I assured her they were happy tears and she was elated with me. She preformed the procedure and this time, instead of worrying over a piece of paper, I closed my eyes, cried and listened to a song on repeat “This is Our Time” by Wild. “Step into the open wide, watch the future come alive, this is our time. Yours and its mine, this is our time” It was perfect.
The two weeks between the IUI and when I could take a pregnancy test were blessed with a ton of work to keep me busy. I was trying not to think about the pending pregnancy test. But finally February 12th, we decided I should take that test.
We both watched as the results came up. They were fast and they were DARK. I was pregnant. Like really pregnant. We were both speechless, and so hesitant to get excited after what happened last time. So we embraced and looked at it and prayed, please Lord, let us meet this baby in nine months.
About three days had passed and then deja vu. I had started spotting. It was happening all over again. WHY? I told my nurse and they had me back in for blood to check HCG levels, I knew I would be getting that same phone call I got a year ago, another miscarriage. The phone rang and my nurse sounded chipper, uh, rude. But she said “I have good news!! Your HCG doubled, you are still pregnant!!” I begged for an explanation as to why if I was pregnant was I bleeding the way I was! It was no longer spotting, it was if I was having a period. She just told me that this can happen and I should not be worried.
She casually transitioned into the disclaimer they always need to add, “If the bleeding becomes bright red and you have sharp pain, you need to go to the ER because it could be an ectopic pregnancy” Immediately I worried and asked “do you think that is what this is??” she said no. I was told to take it easy so for a week and a half I laid in bed. Still bleeding.
Thinking I would be relieved by this news, I was still bleeding and was still anxious. They let me go back in another 48 hours and tested my HCG again. It doubled again!! It’s official. I was actually pregnant despite all the bleeding I was doing. I was assured this can be normal and was given my “now that you’re pregnant” paperwork from our fertility doctors. I was still laying in bed and only getting up to use the bathroom or to go to the couch.
Finally, after another two days of what felt like more consistent bleeding I begged my nurse for an early ultrasound. I got one that day, thirteen days after my positive test, and ten days of bleeding. The ultrasound tech looked high and low and gave us the devastating news that she couldn’t find a baby. And my lining was so thin that there’s no way one was even able to attach. They did mention a strange area near the top of my right fallopian tube near my ovary. I was assured, “we don’t think it’s ectopic but we are sending the images off to your doctor to confirm.”
We were sent home thinking I had miscarried at some point. Again. So close, AGAIN. As we were turning into our neighborhood I got a phone call from the nurse. She explained that it was in fact an ectopic pregnancy and I needed to get to their office as soon as possible so they could give me a shot of Methotrexate. A chemo drug used to target quick growing cells, such as an early pregnancy. Once I got to the office I suddenly felt a LOT more pain then I had been experiencing and they sent me to the ER. Five hours later after blood work and ultrasounds and general hurry up and wait of the ER, I was given the Methotrexate and sent home.
I was feeling relieved that we had an answer, heartbroken that we had lost yet another baby we had tried so hard for, but glad I hadn’t ruptured a tube or been any worse off. I slept fine and the next morning I felt normal enough to start picking up the house I had been neglecting for the past two weeks. Suddenly I had a pain that doubled me over. Was this all happening again? About 30 minutes of me trying to figure out if this was from the shot of methotrexate or if something more serious was happening I yelled for my husband, we need to go back to the hospital, something is wrong. Everything happened all over again like from the day before. Pain medication to make me comfortable, blood work, and more ultrasounds. Then finally doctors came in and explained in a hurry, “there’s blood in your pelvis, it looks like your tube has started to rupture and you will need to go straight to the OR.” Surgery. Emergency surgery. I had never even had surgery, I was in shock and so scared. And I would be losing a tube, devastated. I don’t remember much from pre op but all of the nurses were so supportive and sweet with me, the girl who couldn’t stop crying. I just wanted to be with my daughter and tell her mommy is going to be okay, I just wanted to be home and for this nightmare to be over. I woke up from surgery with three new holes in my abdomen and one tube gone. And John sitting there waiting to assure and comfort me that we would be okay. I am alive, and not hurt nearly as bad as I could have been. I’m still in shock of what happened over those two days. It was an isolated event, but its something I will carry with me for the rest of my life.
Two weeks of recovery were not only physically hard, but emotionally too. I was left to think about what happened and how it will change everything, I was physically in so much pain from the surgery. I just wanted out of that damn bed and to have my life back.
I was told to hold off on trying again for three months, to make sure the chemo drugs were out of my system. Are you seeing a pattern here? We have been living our life in three month chunks. Even though we were told we could try again and assured that having only one tube doesn’t alter fertility. We weren’t exactly chomping at the bit to try to get pregnant again. It was terrifying for both of us, what I had just been through. So, in a weird turn of events, we decided to become licensed foster parents, in hopes to adopt a little 8 month old girl John’s parents had been fostering from day one.
The months I spent recovering were liberating, I was just SO GLAD to be out of bed, feeling normal. We went through more classes, more background checks, and a home study. After a lot of work we became licensed in June with R’s trial on July 12th which would make her legally free to adopt. The entire time we were becoming licensed, we were told this sweet little girl that we had fallen in love with had nowhere to go once she was legally free. No family had stepped forward for her, so we were fully ready to be there for her. To have her join our family. We thought we were seeing God’s plan come together before our eyes.
We spent a weekend with her in Kansas in May, and then she would come to our home to visit in June. To try and make the transition smoother on her, she knew who we were, we weren’t strangers to her, we had a relationship. June 24th they had made it to our home and were there for two hours before yet another worst case scenario unraveled in front of us. Kin of R had just now spoken up, two weeks before her trial. And if anyone is familiar with the foster system, family is ALWAYS first. The little girl we had hopefully been calling “baby sister” would not be.
So here we are. A few days away from the two year mark of trying for another child. Tired, defeated, both of us physically and emotionally scared. Our daughter is three and very aware of wanting a sibling at this point. I wanted to hold off on telling our story until I knew how it ended. I don’t know how this ends, but what I do know is that I want people to finally have a real look at what trauma we have been through in the last two years. The reason why friends have shied away from us, kept secrets from us; the reason why 2020 and first half of 2021 wasn’t just isolating because of Covid-19. I want people to know that there are people out there struggling in ways you never knew. Pregnancy and conception do not come easy for everyone, so please don’t act like it does, be considerate and do not ask any couple/family when they are having kids, when they are having another, etc. Your innocent question could hit a raw nerve on someones greatest trauma.
We aren’t done yet, we know someone is missing from our family. We are tired but we are hopeful. It feels so good to get this out in the open and to let people hear our story, even if we don’t know the ending. And now that you know too, can we ask that you pray for our family? I tell people that its sad right now, but it makes for a damn good story, and gosh, we cant wait to see how it ends.