(*warning – pregnancy mentioned*)
About 3 weeks ago, I came down with a horrible stomach flu. For five days I suffered through a torrent of vomiting, chills, shaking, fever, and stomach pain. I couldn’t eat, move, or carry on conversation. I was miserable. As far as I was concerned, I couldn’t tell the difference between how I felt during those days, and how it would feel to actually be dying.
After 2-1/2 days of this, my husband brought me to the ER. I was having severe stomach pains, enough to scare me and get me to agree to go. We spent 9 long hours there.
They took blood and found that my liver enzymes were high and wanted me to do a full abdominal scan. They saw my white blood cell count was low. They saw my potassium was low. And during the ultrasound, they found sludge in my gallbladder and a slightly enlarged liver (which we later learned was likely from all the Tylenol I was taking in an attempt to reduce my fever). They told me I needed immediate follow-up with a GI doctor and should take a course of antibiotics.
I was 9 days post ovulation. I had refused to take anything during my illness except for Tylenol, for fear that I was pregnant. I let them know there was a possibility I was pregnant and didn’t want to take anything that would be harmful. So they did a blood pregnancy test. Which came back negative.
The physician assistant casually let us know the result and left the room. I felt that familiar punch in my gut, but took it in stride and gave a sad smile to my husband. “She has no idea how loaded that is for us,” I said, trying to joke, as I snuggled further under my heated blanket in an attempt to comfort myself.
The doctor proceeded to prescribe me Cipro, an antibiotic not safe for pregnancy, just in case what I had was bacterial. I kept pressing him on the negative pregnancy test, asking him if perhaps it was too early, wanting to know exactly what my beta was. I kept getting the same answer, that these blood tests are pretty accurate and that I should take the antibiotics. I felt uneasy about it, but with the evidence tilting towards not pregnant, and feeling as horrible as I did, I looked at my doctor’s extended hand and accepted that first dose.
But I decided I would test on my own every day to continue to confirm that I was indeed not pregnant before taking that day’s dose of antibiotics. So the next morning, less than 12 hours after the blood test, I peed on a stick. It was the first time I had done it without a pounding heart, without heightened expectations and the fear of insurmountable disappointment. I thought for sure it would be negative.
But a faint second line stared back at me. Positive. All I could feel was confusion speckled with total numbness. I called my husband. I called my RE and left a frantic message. I was afraid to trust the stick. It didn’t make any sense to me. How could I have a negative blood test, and then 12 hours later a positive FRER?!
In the frenzied googling that followed as I tried to solve this mystery, I learned there are two types of pregnancy blood tests, a quantitative test and a qualitative test. A quantitative test is the beta test that we all do at our RE’s office, that measures the exact amount of hCG in the blood. A qualitative test simply provides confirmation of the presence of hCG, and a “yes” or “no” answer for pregnancy, and will only register positive if the hCG is 25 mIU/ml or higher. Which is less sensitive than many home pregnancy tests.
And of course, they gave me the qualitative test. But no one spelled out this distinction for me.
Finally, the fear struck, and all I could think was why. Why after an entire year passing since our last positive test, did I have to get pregnant at the same time I got so violently ill?! With all the fever, dehydration, vomiting – how would my little bean ever survive?! Why, when I know that any future pregnancy would cause me high anxiety even under the best circumstances, did I now have to worry how this flu would affect my little one’s development?! I felt completely overwhelmed.
The week of betas that followed was one of the most stressful weeks of my life. I strongly suspected that this would turn into a chemical pregnancy. I did not understand how I could get so ill, right at the time of implantation, and everything would be fine.
Beta #1 at 11dpo was 28.
Beta #2 at 13dpo was 118.
Beta #3 at 17dpo was 691.
The week of my beta I continued to stay void of any happiness or excitement. I tried my best to be unattached and prepared for the worst. It stressed me out to think any further ahead than the present day. I could barely look at what my due date would be, for fear of it becoming another sad date, a continual reminder of what was lost. But when I received our 3rd beta number, I felt a lift. I knew I had crossed to other side of hope, and I knew, no matter how much I had been resisting, that if this one didn’t work out, it would hurt just as much as all the others. I also suddenly felt so sad for my little bean. I loved my other two babies from the moment I was aware of their existence. Didn’t this one deserve that love too? No matter how short its existence? How could I ignore it, just to protect myself? So I decided to love, and to hope, and to pray.
I immedietly got the chorus to the song “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child in my head, and would sing it to my little bean, deciding it was his/her anthem. I’m a survivor, I’m not gon give up, I’m not gon stop, I’m gon work harder, I’m a survivor, I’m gonna make it, I will survive, Keep on survivin’. It made me laugh and kept my spirits up. My husband would join in, singing Kanye West’s “Stronger” to my belly.
And then morning sickness started at 5w2d. I thought for sure if I ever felt that first wave of the elusive nausea I never felt in my first two pregnancies, I would jump for joy, assured that this little bean was healthy and growing. But I was too scared to believe that. Having just had that terrible stomach flu, I came up with all sorts of fearful reasons why I was feeling so woozy. I got scared I was getting sick again, sure that I was at the beginning of battling another stomach flu. I continually thought I had food poisoning, even waking up my husband in the middle of the night to ask him if he felt nauseous, because I thought the turkey we ate that night for dinner was bad. “Babe, I think the turkey was bad! Do you feel sick?! I’m so nauseous! The turkey was definitely bad!” I was laying in bed at 3am trying not to vomit. My husband just grumbled, “I feel fine, it’s because you’re pregnant!!” before rolling over and going back to sleep.
Finally, I decided I had created the morning sickness in my head. Out of hysterical desperation, I brought the nausea on myself.
This was how little I trusted myself and trusted my body after all we had been through.
This is what repeat loss can do to you. It makes you scared to trust, to believe, to hope. You don’t know what to feel. You know you should be positive, but you’re terrified of being positive. You know you should stay calm, but you are heading straight back into the war zone that gave you all the trauma to begin with. In the moments where I wasn’t feeling “enough” pregnancy symptoms a horrible, crippling wave of dread would wash over me, and I would feel my knees buckle and my stomach drop, and I would think, “Who am I kidding? This one is not going to happen either.” It is a horrible feeling. I had a handful of follow up doctor appointments in the week after my flu, and when I would share that I was pregnant, I always felt like I had to include a caveat. I’m pregnant, but I’ve had two losses before so…I don’t know….we’ll see….
My first ultrasound was yesterday, at 6 weeks, 1 day. I managed to stay (mostly) calm during the two weeks that preceded it, and although I was afraid to identify the morning sickness for what it was, it did help to ease my mind. I did my best not to think about the appointment, as I would immediately be filled with butterflies and a slightly sick feeling when I would. This worked until about an hour before the appointment, when I started shaking with nerves. When my husband and I arrived, we sat in the waiting room and I blinked back tears, legs twitching, hands shaking, heart pounding. When they took my vitals my pulse and blood pressure were higher than I’d ever seen before. I sat in the exam room waiting for the doctor and just started crying. My doctor walked in and gave me a hug and all I could say between tears was, “I’m so scared.”
But it was time, and my doctor was great about getting right to it. Only a few seconds had passed before she exclaimed, I see a heartbeat!! I had tears streaming over my cheeks and held my breath as she took measurements. Baby measured big at 6 weeks and 4 days, 3 days ahead of where it should be according to my LMP. Heart rate was 124. More tears followed. Then we listened to the heartbeat, and I looked at my husband and he had tears in his eyes. It was completely overwhelming. When it was over, I sat up and felt light-headed and dizzy from all that had just happened.
We’ve never had an ultrasound go well before. Even with our first pregnancy, where we did have a heartbeat, the baby was measuring 6w3d when it should have been 7w5d. This was the first time everything looked exactly as it should. It is an incredible feeling. We go back next Monday for another ultrasound, and of course I will be holding my breath until then.
I don’t know what will happen, or how long this will last. But I do know, today I am pregnant, and I am so grateful for that. Today I have an extra tiny little heart beating inside of me, vigorously pumping away, determined, surviving. And no matter what, I will love this one forever too.
((For family and friends who read my blog – there is only a small group of you that have this link. I’m so sorry if you’re reading this and I haven’t been able to tell you about the pregnancy directly. As you can tell, this is a particularly vulnerable and terrifying period for me and I don’t know what will happen, so I am not ready for this news to be completely public knowledge. Please do me a favor and keep this information to yourself for the time being, until we (hopefully) hit that elusive 2nd trimester. I love you all!))