No girl, when she imagines her future life, envisions having fertility problems. Nobody really thinks realistically about that, do they? We just assume we’ll be able to have the kids we want, when we want. Fertility problems are something that happen to “other people.”
Unfortunately, they happen to many more of us than we anticipate. I recently learned that about 7.3 million American women (or approximately one in eight couples) experience trouble conceiving. Chances are we all know someone who has suffered or is currently suffering with infertility. I myself am not even really sure, however, that I fall into this category. I never had trouble conceiving, but I have lost 71% of my pregnancies — five of seven of them have ended in so-called “unexplained” miscarriage. And pretty much every piece of medical advice or literature I encountered after that told me that about 50% of women don’t find answers for that “unexplained” category.
When my hubby and I were married in 2004, we knew we wanted kids – I always saw myself having a big family (probably the result of being a bored only child for 13 years); he said he would want about three. We figured we’d decide on it later … that it would sort itself out.
In 2005, we moved from the Washington, D.C., area to the Pittsburgh, PA, region. I was 27 and my husband was 28. He got his permanent job in October, and a few months later, I was pregnant. We were elated.
However, in March 2006, I started spotting, went in for a sonogram, and was diagnosed with “blighted ovum.” I was eight weeks pregnant, but the sonar showed an empty amniotic sac. With this type of miscarriage, a fertilized egg implants in the uterine wall, but doesn’t develop. The woman’s body forms a placenta and she feels many signs of pregnancy, but soon her body realizes that the baby is not growing, and it rejects the pregnancy.
I’ll never forget how sad I was that day. I won’t ever forget going home and sobbing in my bed. In fact, I was sad for a long time. My OB recommended miscarrying naturally rather than having surgery, which made the process drag on for about three more weeks. I hated every single day of it.
Miscarriage is a real loss. Even though you never knew that baby, you started imagining your life with them from the moment you got a positive pregnancy test. Miscarriage means that you grieve the dreams, hopes and excitement of having that little one in your life. I also think having a miscarriage before you’ve had any children presents a unique set of challenges in itself. For one, you fear that you might not ever have children. You began to think about changing the direction of your life – for me, I looked forward to leaving my desk job and being a full-time mom. All those ideas go on hold and you have to wrestle through wondering if you’ll ever achieve your hopes of being a mother.
People sometimes tried to comfort me by telling me that I would probably get pregnant again soon, or that I would be able to have a baby soon, or that it was just something natural that happens and it didn’t mean I’d have another one. People meant well, and it’s hard for them to know what else to say. There’s just not really anything people can say that will take away that pain. But when they say things about a future they cannot predict, the one grieving can’t help but feel the undercurrent of uncertainty. You know they are telling you things they cannot guarantee.
Fortunately, in my case, they were right. I became pregnant again by July 2006 and we had our son in April 2007. It was an uneventful pregnancy with no complications – I wasn’t even very nauseous or anything! He was born on his due date after 18 hours of labor. He was big and healthy and grew fast. I pretty much figured my bad luck was over and I’d be able to have all those babies I’d dreamed of!
Around the time our son was 18 months old, in the summer of 2008, I got pregnant again. It was planned and I had no trouble getting pregnant. The day that I hit six weeks, however, it was like a switch flipped and I grew miserably sick. I could barely function – I’d wake in the morning and throw up a couple of times, and try to take care of our son while nibbling on the same piece of toast all morning. I felt hungry but insanely nauseous. I could barely walk into the kitchen and make his lunch without standing at the sink shaking and trying not to vomit. It felt like having the stomach flu, except that instead of just having to survive one or two days of it, I knew it was going to last at least six more weeks. I felt like I wanted to die! On top of that, we had just moved into a new house and nothing felt like “home” yet. But at least the TV was working.
I remember the first week of that being the worst, and each week thereafter being slightly easier. I think by the time I got to 10 weeks or so, I felt like I was functioning at a higher level, and that seemed OK because I remembered feeling more energetic in my previous pregnancy around 10 weeks.
I can’t remember the exact circumstances when I started spotting, but a sonogram confirmed a loss when I was about 16 weeks pregnant. The baby’s measurements seemed to indicate it had stopped growing around 13 weeks’ gestation. I had a different OB-GYN at that time (who is still my OB today), and he was baffled and very sad. Most sources say, of course, that it’s less likely to lose a baby once you are past the 12-week mark. To me, it seemed like we’d had some very bad luck.
My doctor scheduled an emergency D&C, which made me really nervous since I’d have to be put under general anesthesia, but he did not want to risk infection or hemorrhage. (It turned out to be much easier than miscarrying naturally, since once the surgery’s over you focus on recovering right away.) A wonderful friend stayed at our house with our son, and my mom drove up from Maryland, and when it was over, I was just so glad to go home and hug my living child. Our church family brought us many meals over the next couple of weeks, and I remember experiencing comfort and peace from many sides at that time. I remember it being a time of growing in my faith despite the very sad thing.
My doctor sent away some of the baby’s tissues for genetic testing, but because it had not been alive for perhaps a couple of weeks, the laboratory could not grow any of the cells. We could not know if there were any chromosomal abnormalities. (I have read that only about 5% of miscarriages occurring after 10 weeks are caused by chromosomal abnormalities.)
It was November 21st when we lost that baby. One year later, to the day, we were blessed with the birth of our daughter. Again, I had an uneventful, uncomplicated pregnancy with very little nausea and she was born at full-term. She was healthy, and loud. Very loud. She cried the whole night and gave the nurses a run for their money! I found out later that we were pretty lucky to even have had her — because normally, people with my issues have nothing but miscarriages after the birth of a baby boy.
It was my third miscarriage that really shook the foundations of my world. I will pick up there in Part 2.