Wednesday, January 23, 2013

From Empty Arms to a Full House: My Miscarriage Journey

My apologies in advance for the length of this post but I needed to get all of these feelings out.
I don't recall at what age I knew I wanted to grow up and have children of my own, but I'm certain I was pretty young. Of course, when you're a child and even a teenager or young adult, you never think that there would be anything to PREVENT you from having a family. You sort of just assume that, being a female, you will get pregnant and give birth. It's just a matter of human nature, right?

Of course family history plays a role in that. My grandmother had 4 children, my mother and one aunt also had 4 and another aunt had 6. Even on my father's side there were children in every generation. There were no "known" problems with fertility. Surely, I would have children someday. In the meantime, I would use birth control (the "pill" and condoms) to prevent that from happening until I was ready.

I married my now ex-husband in 2000 and got pregnant (seemingly easily) in 2001, giving birth to my oldest child (a daughter) in early 2002 (she just turned 11). My pregnancy with her was relatively un-eventful until the last few weeks when my blood pressure was very high and I was diagnosed with pre-eclampsia. I was induced and had a nearly 20 hour labor but delivered her vaginally without any real issues.

Fast forward a few years. It's now 2003/2004 timeframe and we want another child. I've finished my degree and am settled into a career with a Fortune 500 company. Things are "ok" with our marriage still. We try again.

Between the end of 2003 and the middle of 2006 we get pregnant and LOSE (by miscarriage) 7 babies. i went to 2 different doctors. One claiming to "specialize" in "infertility". My issue wasn't "true" infertility because I was able to actually GET pregnant. I just couldn't carry another pregnancy to term and they couldn't tell me why. I believe to this day that they didn't do the testing they needed to because our insurance wouldn't cover it and they wanted to ensure they got paid.

With each loss, I slipped further into depression. I didn't have joy in my life - not even with my daughter at that point. I was unhappy with my job too. I changed to a different position within the company and started to travel A LOT. That made things with my marriage worse.

Our marriage was in shambles at this point and barely being held together. I stayed for our daughter, but I was miserable. Yes, the miscarrages were definitely a factor, but there were other problems too which all combined together made me leave a few times (starting in 2005). I kept going back - we had history - a child together. I was CATHOLIC and you just didn't "get divorced". After our last miscarriage together, I had had enough. I couldn't take the stress, the lack of emotional support from him, the financial mess we had gotten into. We made a combined 6 figure income and were still barely making ends meet each month! It was all too much to handle so I "checked out".

I became selfish and bitter. I blamed him, I blamed myself, I blamed my body... I blamed God. My family sided with him in the divorce because of how selfish I became. We have joint custody of our daughter, but he is her primary custodial parent. That was rock bottom for me. I couldn't / wouldn't let her or my family see me like that. I was a mess.

I moved into a spare room of a friend's house and focused on just keeping my job. I went to work and came home. I ate myself fat (nearly 220 pounds at my highest). Depression took over. My ex gave me an ultimatum - get therapy or I wouldn't be able to see our daughter without it being a supervised visit. I agreed because I felt backed into a corner but it was truly for the best.

Through therapy I came to realize several things: 1) my ex wasn't entirely "at-fault" in the break up of the marriage - I had shut down emotionally, 2) I was eating myself to DEATH (probably close to being diabetic and getting heart disease) and my daughter NEEDED a mother! and MOST importantly 3) the miscarriages weren't MY fault - I hadn't done anything wrong!

When you are going through a miscarriage, no matter how far along you were, you question EVERYTHING you did. Everything you drank, ate, lifted... Whether you were around someone who smoked or was sick... You look for a REASON it happened... You blame yourself... You blame other people... You blame God...

I'm pretty sure I lost my faith after the second miscarriage but FOR SURE after the third. I stopped going to Mass (not that I went that often, but at that point I didn't even go for the "major" Church holidays). After seven in just a few years, I gave up on God completely (to the dismay of my family).

After a while in therapy, I slowly built up the relationship with my daughter again.  She was still so young she didn't quite understand the whole "mommy was gone and now she's back" part of it all - even though much time hadn't actually passed. She also didn't understand what "divorce" meant - just that mommy & daddy had different houses now. I'm thankful she was so young at the time. If she was a tween (like now) it would have been much rougher on her and I fear what my depression and the anger her father & I had towards one another would have done to her self-esteem.

In 2007, the divorce was finalized and I met someone else. (I had dated in between but obviously there were no pregnancies involved there.) My now husband is amazing. He understood from the beginning that I might not be able to give him children of his own. That was a difficult conversation, let me tell you. No one wants to go on an early date with someone and say "I just want to be up front and honest with you. If you want children someday, I may not be able to have any." But I didn't want him to think he was wasting his time with me.

We actually DID end up pregnant before we got married (thank you antibiotics for a severe sinus infection). I had a new doctor at that time and he was optimistic. I had gotten my weight down to something healthier. I was eating better and had been working out at the gym several days a week. When I made it past 12 weeks, even I was starting to get my hopes up. We went for our 16 week ultrasound and hoped to find out the gender. Everything was good but no "shot of the goods". I was excited at this point - I even let myself start thinking of names. I told family, friends, everyone at work... I even told my daughter... she was SO excited to be a big sister...

We went back for our "anatomy scan" at 20 weeks. I had been having horrible migraines the week before but thought nothing of them at the time. They gave us the bad news - the baby's heart had stopped. I would have to have a D&C since I was so far along (I had had 2 previously with a 10 week loss and a 12 week loss with my ex). My doctor was out of town. They tried to find another one. NO ONE would do a D&C that far along. I was heartbroken. Not only did I lose yet ANOTHER baby, but this time I would have to have labor INDUCED to get the baby out!

Labor was a nightmare. It was painful. I was emotional. My now husband was amazing. He stayed right by my side the entire time. We had been together just a few short months but he was so supportive. He had been excited for this baby too - I could tell it was just as hard for him to lose it. The nurses were AMAZING! They gave me pain meds (I could have whatever I wanted since it wouldn't harm the baby). I delivered our son on Sept 11th 2007 at 20 weeks along. His heart had stopped a day or 2 before that (they estimate). He was so small! Not even 8 inches long and only a few ounces.

After he was delivered I started to hemmorage horribly. I was rushed to the operating room for a D&C to stop the bleeding. I left a blood trail from the delivery room to the OR. My now husband thought I was going to die. I thought I was going to die. I think even the medical staff thought I was going to die. They did the D&C and got the bleedign to stop. I had lost a lot of blood but just barely not enough to need a transfusion. I would remain in the hospital for a few days afterwards. I think I remember making a deal with God that day. If He would let me live, I'd stop trying to have more children and would just be thankful for the one I had.

I wasn't sure about holding the baby. The nurses brought me a teddy bear to snuggle. They gave me a box with a baby hospital bracelet, some photos, his little footprints etc. I couldn't look at it all. I cried - a LOT. They asked about burial or cremation. I couldn't think about that. They said they had a mass infant grave they could put him in. I just nodded my head and let the pain medication take over so I could sleep.

A few days later I came to the realization that I couldn't have our child in some mass infant grave at a hospital! I wanted to be able to say goodbye. I hadn't even held him at that point. I freaked out! I was worried that it would be too late but I made the phone call. Thankfully it wasn't too late. They transferred him from the hospital to a local funeral home. The funeral director was so kind (but I guess that's part of their nature, right?). He let us spend a few hours with him. I put a little white gown on him. I wrapped him in a blanket to keep him warm (I remember him looking purple-ish blue and so cold).

My husband didn't hold him. I later asked him why and he said he didn't want to take any of that special time away from me. I love him for that but I also think it might have helped HIM if he had held him that day. We had him cremated. I ordered a baby block urn in green (mine and hubby's favorite color) with a teddy bear on it. We keep that urn in our bedroom on our dresser along with his box and bear from the hospital. A few years ago, I put one of the photos of him the nurses took in a frame that is also there.

We had two other miscarriages together but not nearly as far along (and neither pregnancy was "planned"). The last one was January 2009 and the military doctors sent me to a REAL specialist for testing at that point. $16,000 worth of testing later (thank you TRICARE!), they found out what was "wrong" with me. I have a blood clotting disorder called MTHFR. It's not a big deal when I'm not pregnant because it only causes "small" clots. When I'm pregnant, however, it causes clots in the placenta & umbilical cord. This explains why our son's heart just "stopped" unexpectedly when everything had been going so well.

I was told that the "fix" was something so simple. I have to take a baby aspirin a day for the rest of my life to prevent small clots for me personally. When I'm pregnant I have to be on blood thinners (in addition to the baby aspirin) from the day I get a positive test up until labor starts. I also have to take extra folic acid because the condition can prevent my body from absorbing enough for me & baby (and that's important for babies to grow healthy in the womb).

Seriously - that's it. A baby aspirin, blood thinner injections everyday I'm pregnant and some folic acid pills. I wondered if we should officially TRY to get pregnant again. The doctors said it was ok to start trying (it had been over 3 months at that point from the last one). We never really talked about officially trying. The realization that it was something so (relatively) simple to fix kind of made me angry. Why couldn't the other doctors I had had been able to figure this out? I could have been watching our son grow up (he would have been a year and a half old) instead of still grieving his loss.

That summer we discussed trying officially and before my husband went to WLC (military training for NCOs), I got pregnant. I found out the day before he got home and told him as soon as I saw him. I was excited at the possibility that we MIGHT have a chance at actually having a family together. I called the doctor and got the medications I needed. We were blessed with a son from that pregnancy in April 2010!

Shortly after his birth, my husband went on his 4th deployment to Iraq. He missed quite a bit of his first year, but we documented everyday with photos and used Skype as much as we could. We got pregnant again nearly immediately when he returned from his deployment and I went on the medications again. The Army would move us to Kentucky that year and our daughter was born here at Fort Campbell in November 2011.

Last summer we were suprised to find out we were expecting again when she was just 6 months old. I am on the blood thinners and folic acid now (along with my daily baby aspirin) and we are expecting to welcome another son sometime in February.

This is our last pregnancy. My body has been nearly back-to-back pregnant for the last few years and pregnant 14 times in total (3 living children, 10 miscarriages including the 20 week loss of a son and now this new pregnancy). I think it has had enough. I don't want to push my luck either with my health.

I should also say here that after the diagnosis I started going back to Mass again. Once our son was born, I really found my faith again. God answered our prayers for a family. It wasn't how I originally planned it, but here we are. I am happier, healthier and very blessed.

They say everything happens for a reason. I probably won't ever know the reason why I had to go through 10 miscarriages, but I'd like to think it was to make me a better mother. I'm more patient with my kids. I slow down in life and look at the little things. I treasure each moment as it comes. I don't want to miss a THING of the kids growing up. Many women complain a lot about being pregnant - the nausea, the weight gain, the fatigue, the pain of labor. Then when their babies are born they continue to complain about the crying, the diapers, the sleepless nights. I am thankful for all of that more than you can imagine.

Right now I'm treasuring every kick (even the ones to my stomach) and everytime he catches his foot in my ribcage (no matter if it hurts like heck). This is my final pregnancy so I'm treasuring it that much more, but mostly I treasure it all because I know just how quickly it can all be taken away.

If you are also struggling with infertility and in particular, recurrent miscarriages, feel free to email me. I know how much it helps to have someone to talk to who has 'been there'. My advice - NEVER give up. Find a doctor who will listen to you & your concerns. Have them test you for EVERYTHING. Yes, the testing is expensive, but it should MOSTLY be covered by your medical insurance and COULD be something so simple to "fix"!

So, snuggle your babies tight (no matter how old they are) and appreciate them. BE in the moment with them - even when they are testing your patience. Be thankful for the morning sickness, the ligaments stretching and the feet in your ribs. It means they are healthy and growing. You are BLESSED!

Later Taters!

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