when to try again

We’ve come a long way, but the question always remains the same. How far into this journey are we?

I’ve had two miscarriages. I’ve seen three gynecologists, one perinatologist, one urologist, and one fertility doctor. I’ve undergone full fertility testing. I’ve had surgery. My husband’s had surgery. I’m on three different medications. We’re approaching six months since our last loss, and we are close to getting the approval to try again.

But is it enough?

Even with the hard fight that we’ve fought to get here, is it enough? Will our next pregnancy be successful? Or will it lead once again to loss, leading us to IVF, to more anguish, to more years of fighting this fight?

I want to try again. Soon. Now. But I am scared. Even with everything we’ve fixed, we could still miscarry again. Luck may not be on our side. There may be some other mysterious medical reason why this is happening. And how would I cope with another loss?

“I feel really positive for you,” our fertility doctor has told us. “Do you?” she asked. Possibly. I want to. No. Not at all. I am scared, cautious, hesitant to leave this reprieve from trying to conceive. I feel anguished from the desire for it to all be ok. I get momentary glimpses of happiness by thinking that it might be. But then I pull back, not wanting to let myself go there. It’s easier without hope and optimism. You don’t have as far to fall.

In two weeks I’ll see my fertility doctor again, she’ll look at my uterus and let me know. It’s time to try again.

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i didn’t think i could

My brother and sister-in-law’s baby is due in 8 weeks. Thier baby, measuring 1 week ahead, strong, and healthy. My nephew, ready to enter the world the same week my own little baby was to be born. My baby that will never be. But I feel excited. And I didn’t think I could.

It was a long road to get here. I’ve had to take deep breaths and face situations I was scared to be in. Spending time with her pregnant belly. Attending baby showers. Listening to stories of ultrasounds, and what will happen when she goes into labor. I often felt skittish and scared, a knot in my stomach, an ache in my heart. But I slowly stopped being scared of the sadness. As I let go of the pressure to constantly feel happy, happy, happy, and let myself feel whatever I was really feeling, I became less anguished. As I did that I finally started to feel at peace. And with peace, slowly came a happiness and excitement, where I was finally in a place where I could embrace my future nephew.

My miscarriages left a big hole in my heart. I’ve decided to let my nephew fill a little bit of that hole. To embrace the joy around his birth, and feel excited for the bond that will be created. I’m looking forward to this little person to enter our lives. A little boy who will resemble all the cuteness and charm that my little brother had as a child. A boy who will hopefully one day be the older cousin of my own child.

And it’s still not without moments of sadness for my own losses. But I ride the waves and tell myself it’s ok.  It’s ok to feel two emotions at once. Two emotions that seem at odds with each other, the paradox, both competing with the other. Joy and loss can co-exist. I didn’t think I could get here. But I’m here. And it’s ok.

embracing the dark

“Just think positive.” Well meaning advice I heard over and over, but those words made me cringe, grating on my grieving heart. I grew tired of that cliche during my short-lived pregnancy following my first miscarriage. Feeling positive was a risky place. How could I let myself feel positive, only to feel soul crushing disappointment if the pregnancy didn’t last? Wouldn’t feeling positive make the fall that much harder? I thought that if I could somehow manage my feelings enough I could make the grief of a second miscarriage less devastating. I wavered between not wanting to get my hopes up, counting on my inner pessimist to keep me grounded, and daydreaming of our baby, full of hope that the next ultrasound would show us exactly what we wanted to see. Feeling negative wasn’t going to make another loss any easier, I decided every once in a while, and would slip into another daydream of when we would get to make our pregnancy announcement.

Once I miscarried a second time, I still received the same advice. “Positive thoughts! Third times a charm!” It was true, when you’re carrying the grief from a fresh loss, choosing a positive outlook makes you feel like a strong person. That this blow wasn’t enough to rock your faith in the world, that it couldn’t take you down. But somehow getting that advice from others made me feel like they didn’t truly understand what I was going through. That they didn’t get how hard it is to trust that you will get your healthy baby one day. Or what it’s like to harbor the increasing fear that something could be truly wrong, that this could happen again and again, and perhaps ultimately end with childless arms.

In my darker moments, I would confide in those closest to me that I did not think I would end up ever being able to have a child.  And of course, everyone told me that wasn’t true. I would have a child. But just because they thought that didn’t mean I wasn’t embroiled in my own dark grief, believing that I was facing the reality of motherhood lost.

Eventually, I came to feel positive and hopeful, with only sporadic pockets of fear and pessimism. But I couldn’t be told. I didn’t want to feel like everyone else thought all it takes is positive thinking to overcome this battle. I knew it took embracing all the negative emotions first. All the fear, the anger, the despair and the grief that have led me to my darkest place and shaken me so hard I wanted to explode. I needed to sort through these feelings, let them have their place and time, and then when the time is right put them away, and breath in the positive thinking that would ultimately carry me through this.

bittersweet

peonies

I love Christmas. I love the Christmas carols, and the warm, cozy feeling the season is meant to invoke. I love Christmas trees and wrapping presents and fireplaces and family. But this year the season is bittersweet. I feel sadness as a I continue to grapple the loss of our second pregnancy. And I feel sad that I feel sad during this time of year.

I remember sitting on a bench in the middle of the Santa Monica promenade, my husband and I taking a break from Christmas shopping to enjoy our favorite treat, self-serve frozen yogurt. I had smushed together a combination of peppermint bark, cake batter, and cookies and cream and was delightfully taking in the mashup of flavors, occasionally sampling my husband’s double chocolate and snicker doodle treat. From our bench we could see a handful of street performers, a soulful singer delivering jazzy renditions of Christmas songs, a trio of guys with an impressive popping and locking dance routine. As the California sun beat down on us, I turned to my husband with tears in my eyes. “How can things be so wonderful, and so terrible at the same time?” I asked him. It was a dramatic overstatement, but in that moment I felt a tangled paradox of emotions. Life was so beautiful, but my heart was still so broken.

We were spending Christmas with my in-laws this year, in their big, beautiful home, with my husband’s loving and hilarious siblings. When I first learned that I was pregnant I had smiled to myself, thinking of how Christmas would feel so special this year. Christmas day would mark our entry into the 2nd trimester, a club I was desperate to get into. But we had lost our baby two weeks prior. We were still picking ourselves up, still figuring out how to remain optimistic, positive, and hopeful. I had spent the few days before our departure to Boston relatively happy, feeling the lift that comes from surviving a trauma and realizing you could still figure out how to smile. But when we arrived at LAX the morning of December 22nd I burst into tears. Our Christmas holiday was starting, and we didn’t have our baby to be.

This feeling amplified because of the juxtaposed position my brother and sister-in-law were in. She was days away from hitting 12 weeks in her pregnancy, and she and my brother were on their way to her childhood home in Ohio to make their big announcement. They were debuting their wedding video for her family and wanted to include a surprise message at the end. WE’RE PREGNANT! I wanted nothing less for them, and it warmed my heart. But it made our loss that much more raw.

Bittersweet. I remember learning the meaning of that word while studying Romeo and Juliet in 9th grade English, as we discussed what was meant by “sweet sorrow”. But now I had lived the meaning of the word. It was the paradox. The wonderful with the terrible. The happiness for others with the pain for yourself. The warmth of the sun with the tears in your eyes.

The joy of the season with the wound in your heart.

my miscarriages

When I was young I remember distinctly a scene from a movie of a women being rushed through the halls of a hospital on a gurney, covered in blood, and wailing in pain. She was having a miscarriage, I learned. I don’t remember the name of the movie, or why I was watching that gory scene, but the image has stayed with me since. Miscarriage looked horribly traumatic and painful; the worst thing to happen to a pregnant women. Like many tragedies, I assumed it only happened to the unfortunate few, and clung to the unconscious assumption that it would never be my reality.

I just suffered my second miscarriage. Not only am I still coming to terms with the idea that this is part of my reproductive reality, I’m also struggling with the idea that I’m now categorized as a woman with “recurrent pregnancy loss”. While my first miscarriage was marked with piercing grief and disappointment, this second loss is a battle against fear. Will we ever be able to have children? Why did this happen twice? What is in store for us – will we have further losses or be thrown into IVF, and suffer continued devastating disappointments? Or are we the less than 4% of couples that have two losses in a row, and just plagued with two cases of bad luck? How much more sadness will we have to endure?

Our first miscarriage happened in early July this year. It was our third cycle trying when we first saw the word ‘pregnant’ on our Clearblue digital pregnancy test. My husband and I held hands as we walked together, with our eyes partially closed, smiling and nervous, to the bathroom to see the results. Pregnant. Seeing that word was an incredible moment, the feeling emblazoned in my memory forever. A simultaneous experience of disbelief, awe of the unknown, excitement, and relief it had actually happened. One of the rare moments when tears and laughter happen at the same time, I jumped up and down giggling, crying, as my husband laughed at my outburst.

We loved our baby instantly. We came up with a nickname and ascribed a persona that amused us endlessly, imagining our baby already with so much personality, busy in the womb, doing hilarious things. I felt the bond immediately, even before I knew for sure I was pregnant. Three weeks after the positive pregnancy test we were in the ultrasound room, seeing it for the first time, a blur of grey, with a rapidly thumping heartbeat. Seeing the ultrasound made my husband nervous. “It seems so delicate!” he marveled. I felt reassured. My body’s doing what it’s supposed to do.

“It’s measuring small,” the technician told us. At eight weeks along, it measured six weeks five days. Our doctor did not seem alarmed, only that we needed to come back for a second scan in a few weeks, to make sure it continued to develop. Dates can be off, she told us. We left the office, happy, excited, ready to share the news with our family. I ignored the nagging question, why is it small?

Three days later, I saw what makes every pregnant woman’s heart stop. Spotting. The blood was so faint I thought I might have imagined it. I called my doctor who told me to rest for the remainder of the day and call back if it turned heavy and red. I hung up and followed orders, teary and hormonal, but relying on my positive nature to cling to the hope it would be ok. The next night it was official. I let out a pained shriek when I went to the bathroom and saw the gush of red blood, the symbol of pregnancy loss, the death of our child to be. My husband rushed me to the emergency room, where they admitted me immediately. “Do you have any pain?” I was asked, and shook my head no, refusing to acknowledge my throbbing lower back, or the cramps that had plagued me the day before. If I don’t admit to them, maybe this won’t be real.

The four hours in the emergency room were hard. A doctor with a poor bedside manner, the endless moments of silence and waiting. I remember trying to read the ultrasound in the reflection of the window, as our technician’s poker face gave us no answers. Under some miracle, is our baby still in there? Ultimately we were given the news we already knew, and were sent home. I took a shower and lied awake for the rest of the night, empty, not wanting to go to sleep and have to wake up and remember that we were no longer expecting a baby.

Four months later we were pregnant again. Tentative, cautiously optimistic, the pain from the first lost finally starting to lessen. I felt constant anxiety, on some days feeling like it was just a countdown until I miscarried again, other days feeling like just maybe there will be a baby at the end of this. I was afraid to bond with what was inside of me, afraid to acknowledge it, so busy worrying about whether I would keep the pregnancy that I didn’t even dare to begin processing the idea of becoming a mom. I constantly tried to “read my gut”, as if my gut could predict the future. Is this it? Is this the one? Or will our pregnancy be taken from us once again?

At the ultrasound we should have seen an 8 week embryo with a clearly beating heart. All we saw was an empty gestational sac. I could immediately see on the ultrasound that there was nothing there. There is no baby, I said in my head, numb, not reacting. “This is not good” the technician said. She didn’t need to say it. Technically termed a blighted ovum, an embryo had failed to develop. I had three choices as my body had not yet recognized that this was not a viable pregnancy: wait to miscarry naturally on my own, take pills to cause my uterus to contract and pass the pregnancy tissue at home, or visit the surgical center for a D&C to remove the remnants of the pregnancy. After an emotional day of agonizing over which method would be the most painless and least psychologically debilitating, I chose the D&C. “You go to sleep with the problem and wake up without it,” as one doctor put it. The next day at 6am, I was in a hospital gown, attached to an IV, a tear sliding down my face moments before the general anesthesia took effect wondering, how did I get here?

As anyone who’s grieved before knows, time is the only healer, only it’s not a linear process. You become comfortable with the ebbs and flows of your feelings, being able to laugh and find joy again makes you feel like you’re being strong, but you know it might be short lived. The searing pain can come unexpectedly, the slightest reminder can be your worst enemy. I became so sensitive around pregnancy that even seeing a man with a sizable pot belly sent a quick volt of pain through my body, even though I knew that was ridiculous. The belly envy I felt was enough to make me feel sick, aggravating the ever-present pit in my stomach, and plunging me into a level of jealousy I had never known before.

Through the pain of these losses, I took comfort in still being able to see so clearly all the other ways I am so fortunate in my life. They cut through the bleariness of the days following my miscarriages and felt like a warm blanket. My husband and I grew closer than I thought possible and our love for each other intensified in such a visceral and tangible way I thought I might explode. We physically were not capable of leaving each other’s sides for even a moment in those days following our losses. We both cried on the other’s shoulder, taking turns in the support role. My beautiful home helped me feel safe, the sun that we can always rely on in our Los Angeles neighborhood never stopped shining. My family stayed by my side, often my mom laid on one side of me, my husband on the other, while my dog napped curled in the nooks of my body. I started receiving cards in the mail, flowers and cupcakes at my door, and even received a painting a friend had done herself, painted from a photo from our wedding. I cherished every gesture of love and thoughtfulness and used every bit of it to regain strength.

I still don’t know at what point of the journey we are in. I sit and wonder, is this just the beginning? It can take some couples years to finally conceive their healthy babies. How much more will our endurance, optimism and resilience be tested? How much more of our heart will be broken? Or have we gotten through the toughest part, with the odds on our side that our next pregnancy will actually result in finally meeting our baby? I’m having to learn to live with uncertainty, to take it day by day, and remain present in the moment. To become comfortable with living with a pain in my heart, a yearning for something I can’t have just yet. To understand that every dark place I visit during this time adds texture and depth to my life and the person I’ve become. This is just part of my story.