love so intense it breaks your heart

This post is long overdue.

My baby boy was born on July 4th at 3:12am. Labor was long and hard and full of tears and grit and doubt and determination. But after these past 3 weeks with my boy I’m already forgetting just how grueling it was because what came next has been so incredible and all-consuming it makes everything that came before feel like a vague, inconsequential memory.

I started having contractions Thursday night, July 2nd, at 40 weeks and 5 days pregnant. They were barely noticeable; I had to concentrate to pick up when they were coming and going, but did note they were exactly 10 minutes apart. By the time my husband and I got ready for bed they had gotten strong enough that I hesitantly told my husband that  I thought this might actually be happening. He looked at me excited and said, “Then we should make sure to get a good nights sleep!” He fell asleep three minutes later. But I laid in bed wide awake for the rest of the night. Between the adrenaline and excitement of knowing I was in early labor and the increasing pain of the contractions I could not sleep. At 5am my husband woke up and noticed that I was pacing around. He got up and we finished packing last minute items in our hospital bags, had breakfast and started taking walks up and down our street, stopping periodically while I breathed through what I *thought* was a painful contraction.

By late morning the contractions were averaging 5 minutes apart and felt painful enough that we decided to go the hospital. We checked in, cheerful and excited, only to find out I was only 1.5 cm dilated. They sent me home, and the nurse told me to come back when the contractions were so painful I could no longer smile or talk.

And only a few hours went by before I lost my ability to smile or talk. The contractions turned into pain that I would never have been able to conceptualize or anticipate…pain that radiated through my lower back as if my back was being broken in half. I cried and swore and tried different positions while my helpless husband tried anything he could do to help ease the pain. I took a hot bath, I tried listening to relaxing music, I tried the breathing techniques we learned in our birthing classes. Nothing could make a dent in the pain.

We returned to the hospital in the afternoon, this time no longer cheerful, but with tears streaming down my face as I navigated another contraction while my husband checked in. At this point I was 4.5 cm dilated and we were admitted. An hour and a half later, we were situated in a beautiful hospital room, with huge windows overlooking Los Angeles. My epidural had fully kicked in, and my body was feeling a warm buzz from both the anesthesia and from finally feeling relief from such horrible pain. We had our relaxing labor music playlist going, and we watched the sunset over the Hollywood Hills from our window. I started to feel a sense of peace and a happy glow, and became even more overcome as I saw fireworks out our window in celebration of the pending 4th of July holiday. After such an intense day, I finally relaxed. But I still couldn’t sleep.

By 10pm I was fully dilated and by 11pm I began pushing.

And continued to push for four hours.

It was the most physically grueling experience of my entire life. I was nearing almost 48 hours of no sleep, over 12 hours without food, and my body was weak from all the overwhelming pain from the past 24 hours. But with every contraction I had to push with every bit of strength and determination I had and didn’t have. My baby got stuck in my pelvic opening and I started losing strength. I started to become unresponsive as my husband tried to get me to look at him in an attempt to revive me with a pep talk. I was dizzy and weak and panicked, and finally the tears came and wouldn’t stop. But I continued to push with every contraction, grunting and crying and pushing as hard as I could. My doctor started talking of vacuums and c-sections, but I couldn’t bear that thought so I just kept pushing. Even with the epidural the pain was intense and scary; I felt like his head would break all my pelvic bones.

And finally, at 3:12am he was out and crying and then instantly calmed as he was put skin to skin on my chest. I was suddenly no longer tired, couldn’t feel anything as they stitched me up; it was just my baby, my husband and me in this magical moment.

I finally had my baby. I finally had my boy.

The past three weeks have been an overwhelming mix of euphoria, exhaustion, disbelief, contentment, fear, self-doubt, and excitement, but also filled with love so intense it makes my heart feel like it could break. Caring for such sweet innocence has brought me to tears many times. I’ve had so many oddly paradoxical emotions as my postpartum hormones have fluctuated and settled. But all I know is I love this boy so much it breaks my heart.

Although I’ve been quiet in the blogging world lately, I still think about my readers and my fellow bloggers all the time. I have so much respect and admiration for all of you; the journeys you’ve all taken and the strength you’ve all shown. I know you are all in different parts of your story, and I want you to  know I still feel pain when you feel pain, and I feel joy when you feel joy. I’m cheering for all of you every step of the way. You’ve all helped me immensely as I’ve managed my own emotions and my own story to getting here. Even those readers who follow silently and I only know of when I look at my stats page – you’ve also brought me so much courage and encouragement.

Thank you all.

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my love.

38 weeks, 4 days

I’m almost to the end.

I’m almost to the end of a pregnancy that went incredibly fast and incredibly slow. A pregnancy that was emotionally difficult, yet almost completely uneventful. A pregnancy that we longed for and that I’m reluctant to say goodbye to, but also can’t wait to be over. And I feel calm, panicked, excited, terrified, happy, sad, apprehensive, and impatient all at once.

Just 10 short days until our due date.

And I can’t wait to meet our little guy. I can’t wait to see that he has safely made it into the world. I can’t wait to be done with all the pregnancy worries I’ve carried for so long; monitoring movement, wondering if he’s ok, panicking at thoughts of the worst case scenario happening. I can’t wait to hold him in my arms. I tear up when I think about going into labor, although I try to convince myself it’s not because I’m afraid (“It’s not ’cause I’m a wimp!” I tried to tell my husband, wiping my eyes), but just because I feel so overcome with the emotional intensity of it all.

And then there’s part of me that is sad to no longer be pregnant anymore. I waited for so long, I wanted it for so long, I fantasized about it for so long. I feel so mixed about it being over.

Tuesday was our 3rd wedding anniversary. Exactly two years ago to that day we got our first positive pregnancy test. So interesting to have our anniversary punctuate a beginning and an end to this particular fertility journey. Despite the struggle in between, I can look back on these anniversaries fondly, as happy times, as times of great anticipation, and feeling so excited and connected as a couple.

And of course, feeling like there is another huge adventure in front of us…

a healing heart

our beautiful baby shower.

our beautiful baby shower.

Our baby shower was last weekend. It was hosted by my godmother, sister-in-law, and mom, and we chose to make it co-ed. And it was exquisite. Held in my godmother’s backyard, late on a sunny California afternoon, they had an impeccable spread of upscale Mexican food and sweets, and a bartender serving sangria, margaritas and mocktails. So many of our friends and family came out, including many that traveled in for the weekend to celebrate with us. The day felt so loving, magical, and surreal.

As I tried to take in and savor each moment, I couldn’t help but be reminded of the baby shower I threw for my sister-in-law exactly a year ago. A year ago, when I was still in so much pain, but trying with everything I could to focus on the happiness I felt at the little boy that my family was gaining, and not on the babies I had lost. I wanted desperately to feel joy for my brother and for my parents, and the little steps I took in that direction felt monumental. So many moments I thought I was okay, and tried to convince myself that I was okay. So much pressure that I put on myself to be okay. But looking back now, I can see so clearly how much pain I was in, and how much more I had to go to heal.

At our shower the two little boys who shared the due dates of my two angels, my nephew and my best friend’s son, were together in front of me for the first time. It felt odd to see them together, and although I tried not to think about it, I felt a tug to my heart. The next morning, I woke with my two angel babies on my mind, and in the afterglow of such a beautiful party, I felt a sadness for them. They never had the opportunity to be celebrated in this way.

But, despite those reminders, what really struck me was how much my heart had healed.

At the same time that this pregnancy has been a long road of tangled emotions where I’ve been forced to face past trauma, confront fears, and search for elusive bits of equanimity, it has also been healing. Every day, as I’ve been working through these emotions, I’ve been working on finding peace and closing a chapter. Even where I still struggle, I know I’ve made progress. I still flinch at unexpected pregnancy announcements on Facebook. I still make assumptions that others have had an easier path to a baby than me, and I still let it sting. I still tear up at the word ‘miscarriage’, in any context, whether it’s a personal story, a brief mention in a TV show, or a magazine article. I still hold my breath at every prenatal appointment, as my OB searches for my boy’s heartbeat.

But I’ve also learned how to acknowledge these moments without letting them tear me apart. I can acknowledge the pain, without carrying the pain so deeply. I can see my nephew and my best friend’s son playing together in the yard, let it remind me of my own angel babies and spend a moment reflecting on them, and then smile that my nephew and my best friend and so many others have gathered around to celebrate the baby I will soon get to meet. I can reflect on the shower I threw a year ago, and remember the pain without seeping in the pain. I can feel in these moments how far my heart has come in its journey to mend, and how my identity is shifting. I no longer walk around with a swirling sensation of loss and defectiveness, but rather I feel like someone capable of creating life with a near effortless pregnancy.

Our baby shower felt like such a beautiful expression of love; for my husband and me, for our unborn baby, for the family we are creating. Surrounded by so many of the same people who rallied and supported us during our dark days, they were now there to celebrate our happiness. Days like our baby shower help us bask in the joy, and help us feel that no matter the struggle and the hardships we face, the universe will ultimately be good to us.

And the fight is so worth it.

30 weeks

I’ve spent the last two years with an almost singular focus: making it to the second trimester. Of course there were the mini-goals along the way; trying to get pregnant each time, getting through surgeries, waiting through cycles as my body healed from large cysts and lost pregnancies. And then there was the obvious larger, looming goal of simply having a healthy baby. But always there was an elusive land that I wanted to get to, and for many, many months everything I did was aimed at getting me to second trimester-ville.

It almost never occurred to me that one day I might find myself in the third trimester. The third trimester seemed so incredibly far away and out of reach, I didn’t even dare imagine it. But two weeks ago I arrived. 

While dealing with infertility and pregnancy loss, your world revolves around one common theme. Uncertainty. The constant swirl of looming questions in your head, “will I ever have a baby?” “when will I get pregnant?” “will this pregnancy stick?”, never go away. As someone who likes to plan and finds safety in knowing what to expect, I became surprisingly comfortable living in constant uncertainty. I somehow started finding safety in that, for if I stayed uncertain perhaps I wouldn’t attach to a particular outcome, or become disappointed or heartbroken with any one turn of events. 

And so when I got pregnant, I stayed uncertain. Partly out of habit. Partly out of fear. I felt a lot of emotions, including hope, happiness, anxiety, and terror, but never certainty. And I’ve clung to that uncertainty throughout my pregnancy. Although I started going through the motions of preparing for a baby and speaking in certain terms long ago, on the inside I had yet to feel like it was anything close to a sure bet.

That has started to shift for me. As my baby boy has grown, and I’ve gotten to know him well through his jabs and flips and by him simply just existing along side of me moment after moment, month after month, I started to believe in him. I started to find that if I had thoughts of doubts about the outcome of this pregnancy, I immediately felt a twinge of guilt. As if I didn’t believe in my baby boy, and in his ability to be strong and to survive. If I stayed in an uncertain place, I felt like I was undermining and betraying him. I started to find it harder and harder to doubt him. And although I openly express worry and anxiety, especially when he takes a rest from his karate chops and high kicks and goes quiet, I find it almost impossible to vocalize words like, “if” and “we’ll see.” Words I used to live by. 

Since this shift happened so late in my pregnancy, I feel like I am suddenly on a truncated timeline of processing what is about to happen: my shift to motherhood. There is a surrealism to this change that I think all pregnant women experience, regardless of fertility history, that makes the idea hard to truly grasp. But when so much of your energy during your pregnancy has been spent on navigating previous pregnancy trauma, there is little left for looking forward and truly internalizing this shift. I’m starting now, at 30 weeks, to begin embracing this change and shift in my identity; to think about what it means, and try to understand what’s ahead.

I’m thankful that this pregnancy has been so uneventful. My boy has given me no reasons to worry. My body has given me no reasons to worry. Once I surpassed the harrowing first trimester, I’ve had very few symptoms, save a burgeoning belly, some late night aches and pains, and an insatiable desire for cake. My prenatal appointments have been quick and routine; my fundal height growing exactly on pace and my boy’s heart rate always around a steady 140 beats per minute. 

I am grateful. And although I’ll always worry about my boy’s well-being, I believe in him, and I have started looking forward to the much desired inevitable: becoming a mother to this sweet baby boy who’s been loyally with me for the past 30 weeks. 

where i am taken when i’m asleep

*trigger warning*

I love waking up and remembering. No matter where I’ve been taken throughout the night – from the surreal to the whimsical to the horrors of loss and blood and hospital walls – I get to wake up and remember.

I’m still pregnant.

They say that your dreams are more vivid while pregnant. Perhaps due to just how much change is imminent in our awake-life, and how much our psyches are processing this shift into motherhood. Or perhaps it simply has to do once again with the pregnancy hormones that have made themselves at home in our bodies. My dreams take me for a wild ride every night, and every morning I am so thankful I get to wake up to this reality.

In the beginning, I had repeat dreams of being on roller coasters I wasn’t supposed to be on because I was pregnant. Dreaming of roller coasters was likely a humorous side-effect of being married to a man who works for Disney and taking one too many trips to Disneyland. But it was also an obvious metaphor for the ride I was about to embark on, and all the complicated feelings that accompany it after repeat pregnancy loss. The rides symbolized the loss of control I felt, and the fear that I would make the wrong decisions and jeopardize it all. Each night, I would find myself on a ride I thought was safe, only for it to speed up and take jarring turns and drops and I’d find myself screaming and clutching my belly and not knowing how to keep my baby safe.

Soon the roller coaster dreams faded and the loss dreams started. A few times a week, I would miscarry in the night. I would see blood, I would rush to the hospital, I would find out the pregnancy was over, that my baby was gone. Each dream formed it’s own heart-wrenching plot, but the ending was always the same. My heart would shatter and I would feel the same broken emotions that had been so familiar to me in my awake-life. The relief when I would wake up was so intense it would take my breath away. The realization would wash over me, swaddling me, like a warm blanket on a cold, shivering night: it was only a dream, I still have my baby, this is not like the others. I would instinctively clutch my belly for proof.

These loss dreams continued for weeks and weeks until they culminated in a dream that shook me so hard I woke up in the middle of the night sobbing. I dreamt I had been taken to the hospital. I can’t remember why or how I got there, but I found myself in a room surrounded by doctors and nurses. Somehow, without me knowing it and without my consent, the doctors decided to transplant my baby into the womb of another woman. They decided without my knowledge that the baby would have a better chance of survival with someone else. When I realized what had happened, I felt an indescribable shock as I realized my belly was empty; that where I thought my child lay safely was actually barren and hollow. Both literally and figuratively gutted, I started screaming. I felt shame and horror and heartbreak. I felt unworthy. I felt helpless and broken. And most of all, I felt anger. As a normally quiet and reserved person, I took on a new persona, and started yelling aggressively at the doctors, the nurses, and the woman with my child, one by one, demanding to know how this could happen. Just as I imagine I would do in my real life, should my child ever be in danger.

And then I learned, the baby would not survive.

The baby could not survive in the womb of another woman. And we watched as the heart rate monitor slowly dropped.

I woke up in the middle of the night with a gasp, and cried. I couldn’t shake the horror of all the emotions I had just so intensely experienced. I couldn’t shake the horror of all the emotions that I’ve experienced in my real life that had just haunted me in the form of a cruel dream. My heart stayed broken for the rest of the night, as I tried to nuzzle my way back to sleep, safe in the arms of my husband, safe in the realization that it was just a dream.

As I tried to process the dream the next day, I knew I could see the dream in two ways. As a broken woman, who felt unworthy of motherhood and damaged from the trauma of prior losses. Or I could realize what this dream was trying to tell me. That this baby belongs to me, and only I can keep him safe. Because I am his mother.

Soon after that dream we had our 20-week anatomy scan and since then I haven’t had another loss dream. I hope that continues, and that instead I’ll soon be dreaming of holding my sweet boy.

But still every morning, the joy of waking up remains the same. No matter where I’ve been taken in the night, every morning I get to remember. I’m still pregnant.

20 week anatomy scan, babymoon, & gender reveal

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my 20 week baby bump & the gorgeous view from our room.

Last Thursday, we had our 20 week anatomy scan. The next morning, we were booked to jump on a plane to Hawaii for our babymoon. I had just finished up a big push on a project for work, and I had been looking forward to this appointment and this trip for a very long time.

I arrived at the scan my usual bundle of nerves. Even though through this entire pregnancy, the milestones I felt I needed to hit to feel assured kept getting pushed further and further out (once we hear a heartbeat I’ll feel better, once we hit 10 weeks, once we get to the 2nd trimester….) having a healthy and normal prognosis at the anatomy scan would truly be a heavy weight off my weary shoulders. I couldn’t wait.

The scan went  almost completely perfectly. The baby was moving a lot, covering his face with his arms, hiccuping and fluttering about. All organs looked healthy and the baby is measuring quite big, in the 80th percentile. My cervix was over 4cm and was closed. They confirmed I have an anterior placenta, which disappointed me slightly since I want to be able to feel every little bit of movement as soon as possible. But I was thankful for no real placenta issues to be concerned about.

At the end of the scan, the doctor came in and told us that they saw a “bright spot” on the baby’s heart (technically called echogenic intracardiac focus). Apparently this has no impact on the health or heart function of the baby, but is considered a soft marker for Down syndrome. Because both of my first and second trimester bloodwork had come back so low risk (1 in 21,000), and the doctor did not see any other soft markers for Down syndrome  during the scan, she was not overly concerned, but did offer the MaterniT21 test to us. We decided to do the test, because apparently I’m willing to spend any amount of money in exchange for peace of mind. I’ve gone this entire pregnancy so far with a nagging, unsettling pit in my stomach that at any moment this could all get taken away, and have struggled so much to believe this baby is actually coming.  I didn’t want to spend the second half of my pregnancy continuing to carry those feelings. I wanted to release them and be done.

We left the scan a little unsure what to think, trying our best to reassure each other and keep our concern in proportion to what the actual risks were. The rest of the evening was hectic and included a trip to the emergency vet with my dog (she’s ok) and scrambling to get all our packing done for our trip the next day. But I felt unsettled, dazed, and overwhelmed with concern over my baby and my dog.

We vowed that we would use this vacation to take a break from worry.

It took about a day and a half of relaxing and exploring the beautiful island of Kauai, top down in our jeep with the sun and wind whipping our hair, but I finally released my nagging thoughts and worries and embraced all the things that make me happy and smile these days.

My husband had let the hotel know ahead of time that we would be celebrating our babymoon, so when we arrived we were inundated with congratulations. I was so overwhelmed at how beautiful the St. Regis hotel and the surrounding area was, that by the time we got to our hotel room I had tears of gratitude streaming down my face. I felt so grateful to be in this moment, to finally be celebrating our baby to be, and in the most exquisite way possible. And I felt so grateful for my husband, who spent two years traveling and often putting in grueling 80 weeks, but who’s hard work allowed us to book this extra luxurious vacation entirely on points. I wanted to soak it in and be in this moment forever.

But the next morning was the real pinnacle of our trip. We woke up before sunrise (I woke up at 4am out of sheer excitement) and drove to the east side of the island where the sunrise would be directly over the ocean. In my hand I had the envelope with our baby’s gender inside. I could hardly deal I was so excited. We got to the beach just as the dark started fading into light, and as we stood facing the ocean, I started opening the envelope just as the burning yellow of the sun started to crest the horizon.

We are having a boy!

My husband exclaimed, “I knew it!” and danced around in celebration. I laughed and freaked and hugged my husband. I felt like deep down I had known it too, although I always claimed to have no idea. But I also felt a little bit of shock and disbelief…at how real this was becoming and that I would be a mom to a little boy. I realized that in all my daydreams about become a mom I had inadvertently always pictured a little girl. Maybe it’s because it’s what I know, maybe it’s because I grew up around so many boys and longed for female companionship growing up. To realize I’d be having a boy instead gave me this whole new world to think and fantasize about, and that felt surreal, thrilling, and completely odd all at once.

But I also felt so, so happy.

Having a boy lit a spark for my husband, who is now feeling a connection to the pregnancy in a whole new way. He couldn’t stop talking about his mini-me, and all the activities they will do together, and letting every stranger who walked by know our news.

I also realized how amazing it was to get five undivided days together to process, talk, and daydream about our future son. The rest of our trip was lovely, with poolside reading, exploring beaches and canyons and hikes, complete with indulging in daily Hawaiian shave ice, but the glow of our gender reveal made the trip carry an aura of magic to it.

On our last day, as we stopped for lunch before heading to the airport, I received a phone call from the doctor’s office. Our MaterniT21 results came back normal. I blinked back tears, and had a silent moment of gratitude that I didn’t spend our entire trip twisted and stressed about the ultrasound finding.

Our little boy is healthy as can be.

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holding the envelope with the gender inside!

 

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it’s a boy!!

 

that gorgeous sunrise

that gorgeous sunrise we’ll never forget

16 weeks, 2 days

I’m in the very surreal land of the second trimester. And it feels amazing.

The first trimester really beat me up. I struggled with 24/7 nausea, vomiting frequently, intense fatigue, and constantly feeling like I was coming down with the flu. And on top of the physical effects was the constant worry that something would go wrong, that it would all get taken away. I grappled with the love/hate relationship I had with my morning sickness. In my head I knew I was forever grateful for this desperately wanted pregnancy, and the assurance the nausea brought. But emotionally and physically I was spent. I had thoughts that I was ashamed to have given how hard I fought to get here. Thoughts like, “I don’t like this.” “How will I ever get through this again to have a second child?!” And, “This. Totally. Sucks.” I tried my best to squash those thoughts and not give them space in my mind, even though I knew they were there. I always imagined I would love pregnancy, and I would have 9 months of total bliss, rubbing my beautiful belly and cherishing every moment. I thought that surely nothing could feel bad enough to bring me down from the high of being pregnant.

Instead, I ended up feeling so sad that I wasn’t enjoying it, that it was nothing like I thought, and I worried my nine months would be so rough I would never feel the bliss.

And then the second trimester came to my rescue. It eased my nausea, fatigue and my fears. I still feel pregnant, with sporadic aches and pains, and I still fall into bed every night, bleary-eyed and heavy with exhaustion, only to lie awake in the middle of the night after the 4th trip to the bathroom.  And although it feels like my nausea is mostly gone, I don’t quite remember what it feels like to have a completely non-queasy stomach. All I know is that I feel so much better. And any symptoms I have now are completely tolerable. I’m feeling like myself again. 

They say you end up with amnesia about how hard pregnancy and child birth are, and that is why women have the courage to have multiple children. I already can’t remember what it felt like to be so horribly nauseous all the time. I keep thinking it couldn’t have been that bad, and next time I’ll be so much tougher, the nausea won’t bother me as much. Lies I’m already telling myself, and believing, and it’s making me feel like already I can’t wait to do this all again. And again and again (if I am so lucky).

The second trimester has brought me some bliss. Some optimism. Some calm.

Last weekend I finally decided to buy some maternity jeans. The bloat/bump combo I’m sporting has made my regular jeans too small, and I find that the belly band I bought is so tight it makes me stomach hurt. My husband came with me and sat and watched as I tried on my first pair. I looked at myself in the mirror in these new jeans, my baby bump shyly poking through my sweater, and I smiled.

“I think…we might actually be having a baby,” I said slowly, in awe, to my husband.

“I know!” he responded, laughing. “You’re the only one who doesn’t realize that yet!”

I’m starting to realize it. Slowly, on my own time, I’m starting to embrace it, even though I’m also painfully aware there are never any guarantees. I had a prenatal check up last week, and everything looked good, baby’s heart steadily beating at 145 beats a minute. The appointment was so easy, so routine.

It is all starting to feel just a little more real. And that feels….so surreal.