Loss, Grief and a Rainbow Baby

If your baby’s first picture looks like this, you may have had some trouble getting to that point. And you may have dreaded the seemingly innocent question so many people ask. “So when are you going to have a baby?” I slapped on my fake smile and uttered through gritted teeth “we’re working on it.” I understand all too well how painful it is to answer this nosy question. My husband and I suffered through years of infertility – only knowing that my body didn’t produce the right amount of hormones to sustain a pregnancy. We found out later that 8 of my miscarriages likely occurred because of chromosomal abnormalities, causing me to miscarry early on in each pregnancy.

We never imagined our journey to parenthood would take 8+ years.

After getting married, we decided to wait a few years before we started trying to get pregnant. Being both from large families, we knew we wanted children and thought it would just happen when we were ready. How naïve we were. About three years into our marriage, we decided the timing was right to start trying for a baby. After six months of trying, I got pregnant. But soon after, we found out that I was miscarrying. This happened twice more in a span of 6 months. My OB/GYN referred me to a local reproductive endocrinologist – Dr. John Storment. We met with him and he immediately put us at ease. His mannerisms, “bedside manner,” and even his sense of humor reassured me that we had chosen the right person to help us in this journey. He told us “we can get you pregnant. It just may take some time.” That was the understatement of the decade! 

Our treatments started out simply.

We thought we just needed a little push so we started out on Clomid to regulate and induce my ovulation. After three rounds and no pregnancy, we decided to take a few months off and just focus on our marriage. Over the next 5 years, we would go through more testing, rounds of other treatments, including IUI. We would have 7 more pregnancies, 2 ectopic, all ending in miscarriage. Through all the different treatments we tried, I always got pregnant in between treatments, naturally. Even though Dr. Storment would start me on medication right away to provide the correct amount of progesterone my body needed, I continued to miscarry. Throughout all of this, I was distraught and had days and months where I found it difficult to attend baby showers for friends and family. I do remember one pregnancy – one of my best friends was pregnant. I planned a baby shower for her and found out the day of the shower that I was miscarrying. It was difficult to say the least. There was a period where I would tell people that I didn’t want children. But deep down, I did. I yearned to be a mother. It was difficult to deal with the plethora of feelings that came along with miscarriages and the difficulties we experienced with infertility. It didn’t get easier with each pregnancy and miscarriage. I felt like I wasn’t woman enough, like I was broken. I even told my husband to find someone else who could give him children. He didn’t listen to me.

I was in complete denial … and shock.

In the summer of 2014, we found out we were pregnant again. It was my tenth pregnancy. Because I had a previous ectopic pregnancy, I had an ultrasound at five weeks. They couldn’t rule out an ectopic pregnancy so I continued to be monitored by my OB/GYN and Dr. Storment. On a Wednesday in late July, I went to work, but wasn’t feeling well. I chalked it up to the pregnancy hormones. By that evening, I was lying in bed, covered in sweat with terrible abdominal pain. I woke throughout the night, in pain, nauseated and so weak I could barely get out of bed. By 6am the next morning, I called Dr. Storment’s office and spoke with the doctor on call who sent me straight to the ER. I waited until my husband woke up and softly asked him if he could take me to the ER. Upon arriving, I was in such shock that I told the ER doctor I didn’t need pain medication and I just wanted to go home. Dr. Storment was in the hospital and when he heard my name, he sent his intern and ultrasound tech to personally do my ultrasound. They soon discovered that this pregnancy was indeed ectopic and had caused my right fallopian tube to rupture. I was bleeding internally, hence the greenish gray complexion and all the pain. He performed my emergency surgery himself. Afterwards, he spoke with us about my medical history and the treatments that hadn’t worked. Obviously, getting pregnant naturally wasn’t working for us. With the added complication of only one fallopian tube and multiple ectopic pregnancies, he told us our only chance of getting pregnant and having a the chance at a healthy pregnancy was by undergoing IVF (in-vitro fertilization) with PGS (preimplantation genetic screening) testing. He felt this would give us the best chance of becoming parents.

Yes, IVF is expensive.

At the time, my husband worked for a company that, amazingly enough, covered the majority of the cost of infertility treatments. We decided to pony up the rest we would need to pay out of pocket. Four weeks after my surgery, we began the medication regimen that would allow us to undergo egg retrieval in October 2014. Out of the eight eggs they were able to retrieve, only three were successfully fertilized and survived the first four days of cell division and growth in the lab. They were biopsied and the samples were sent off to a lab in New Jersey. Our embryos were then cryopreserved. We received the biopsy results a few weeks later. Only two of the embryos were normal and healthy. The results also included the sex of the embryos – one a boy, one a girl. The third embryo was missing a chromosome and would not be implanted, as there was a 99.8% chance I would miscarry due to the chromosomal abnormalities. We scheduled our embryo transfer for December 2014 and began another medication regimen necessary for the transfer.

Needles, vials and embryos…oh my!

In early December, we underwent a single embryo transfer. For the next five days, I rested (aka hung out on my couch and did all my Christmas shopping on Amazon). The next two weeks of waiting to take a pregnancy test seemed interminable. The next two weeks of waiting to take a pregnancy test seemed to go by slower than molasses. After giving blood at the lab for my beta HCG, I went home and waited for a call back from the office. I felt numb and in my mind, alternated between “this worked” and “this so did NOT work.” Two hours after my blood draw, Dr. Storment called. He said “I have your results. You’re….” then he cut out. I said “what?!” and he yelled “YOU’RE PREGNANT!”

Conflicting emotions come with a rainbow baby.

With the joy and excitement of pregnancy also came the anxiety – what if something happens to him? How would I deal with that? How would I move forward? I couldn’t stand another loss. Also, I felt conflicted – full of joy for this pregnancy and so much anxiety that something bad would happen. I felt like I couldn’t express my true feelings to friends and family because everyone else was so focused on the fact that I was pregnant.

Everyone’s story of loss and the grief associated with their loss are unique. A few months into my pregnancy, I broke down while speaking with a friend. She told me, “Just because you are finally having a baby, doesn’t discount the grief and loss you feel for those that went before him. Don’t let anyone tell you that you shouldn’t feel sad or wonder about those little angels anymore – you don’t have to let it go just because you are going to finally have a baby.” So, I grieve. I think about how old they would be today, who they would look like, what kind of quirks they would have. I remember those little angels and I pray that I will be reunited with them one day. At the same time, my heart is bursting with joy for my son, now 2 years old. I look forward to the years we will have with him. I stare at him in wonder some days, my heart bursting with love and joy and just a little sadness that he won’t know his older siblings. I’m still working on it, and probably always will.

For those of you struggling with infertility or loss (and family/friends who have no clue how this all works), I know that some days building the family you want feels like an insurmountable task. Know that you are not alone in this struggle. Your family may look a bit different than you initially imagined, but that is ok. Don’t give up on your dreams of a family – have faith, believe in the desires of your heart, and never falter in holding on, because anything worth having is worth fighting for.

If you or someone you know struggles with infertility or the effects of pregnancy or infant loss, you can find helpful resources here.

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