The Journey from “we” to “three”

Our journey – or any similar journey that involves struggles to start a family — isn’t one that I would wish on anyone. I can’t even begin to count the number of times I cried. I cried over what we were going through, cried each time I saw a pregnancy announcement on facebook, teared up when I saw a pregnant stranger, etc. It was an emotional rollercoaster. My hope in sharing this story with all who care to read it is to shed light on an area that is not talked about. I feel lucky to have had an extremely supportive husband to lean on, pick me up, and keep me going. My family and close friends were very supportive, but it was often very hard for them to understand what I was going through and I completely understand. Before experiencing this myself, I know I would have had no idea what to say to someone in my situation. I also connected with a group of women in an online community that is focused on women trying to conceive and found an entire support system of women in similar situations. The support I received from them was, and continues to be, invaluable. I know that not everyone has a support network like this so my hope by opening up is to possibly reach someone going through something similar. To be their support person or to encourage them to open up about their journey.  It’s time that infertility in all forms, whether it be IVF, recurrent miscarriage, male factor, or any of the variations that exist not be so taboo to talk about. To not feel like you are less of a person for not being the person – that you secretly want to strangle – who conceived after one night with too many cocktails and no protection. You are not alone and you should not feel ashamed of what you are going through. Without further ado, here is my/our journey.

Adam and I were very anxious to start a family as soon as we got married, but never in our wildest dreams (or more accurately, our nightmares) did we think we would be starting on a long journey filled with much heartache and tears before realizing our dream of having a child. We started trying to have a child as soon as we were married and for the first few months we just enjoyed all of the excitement that comes with being newlyweds.

After a few months I started really understanding my body and when it was most likely that we would be able to conceive.  In September of 2012 I was extremely excited to see a second line a few days before my period was expected… WE HAD DONE IT!! My excitement was short-lived and by the next morning I was already bleeding and soon found out that I had likely had a chemical pregnancy/very early loss.  I did some internet research and found these are actually very common so didn’t sweat it and felt much more confident in October 2012 when I got another positive test! I was all excited to tell Adam and packaged up a little Badgers onesie, some shoes, and the positive test and told him I had a belated birthday gift since his birthday is in September. He was overjoyed and I will never forget the tears of happiness in his eyes at the prospect of becoming a dad. This time I actually went in for an early appointment with a midwife, answered all of those early questions, had labs drawn, etc. Adam and I were so excited and couldn’t wait until we could share the good news. Unfortunately, we never got to share the happy news with anyone.  At 6 weeks I started bleeding while I was at work. After a frantic call to the clinic, I had my HCG levels checked. They came back at 24, which is incredibly low for 6 weeks and a second draw confirmed that I had miscarried.  We were devastated. Again, I turned to the internet and did some research.  I found out that this was still fairly common and attempted to soothe my worries with this information.

Although I had only had two losses, the midwife we were seeing could sense my extreme fear that there was something deeper wrong and ordered a repeat miscarriage panel on me.  The only abnormal value that came back was my TSH (thyroid stimulating hormone) at 4.5.  The doctor I was seeing at the time said this was “within the normal range” and I accepted it at the time, but now know this is far from ideal when you are trying to have a child.

We kept trying throughout the rest of 2012 and for the first half of 2013.  During this time I found out about a number of friends who would be expecting their own bundles of joy and each announcement hit me a little harder. Immediately following the miscarriage I had a hard time leaving the couch and any little thing would set me off into a ball of tears – a commercial for pregnancy tests, a pregnant woman in a TV show, and of course seeing pregnancy announcement fill my Facebook feed. It also didn’t help when countless people would ask, “So when are you going to have kids?” I realize this is a common question to ask a newly married couple, but each time I was asked it was like a knife to the stomach. It was hard not to tear up when I was asked this and soon I got better at shutting off the emotion and repeating a well-rehearsed line.  It was much easier if I was asked this when Adam and I were both together. He would often squeeze my shoulder and answer on our behalf so that I didn’t have to worry about my voice breaking mid-sentence. This is also the reason that I will NEVER ask someone when they’re going to have kids. I am more than happy to talk about someone’s desires to have children, but I do not want to put anyone through the emotional rollercoaster that I went through.

I tried to tell myself that it would happen for us soon, but deep down I just didn’t have a good feeling. I started seeing a new OB after we changed insurance, which turned out to be a blessing as I found an OB who I absolutely love and has been an advocate for us ever since.  In May of 2013 we met with Dr. B and the plan was to do some additional testing in another month to verify I was ovulating and that everything else looked good. She also recommended I start seeing an acupuncturist if I was open to it, as she had had a lot of patients who had success after doing it.  I was surprised and very pleased that she would suggest throwing Eastern medicine into the mix.  I found an acupuncturist who specialized in women’s fertility health and little did I know when I started seeing her how much she would help me on the journey to starting a family.

I started seeing Amy for acupuncture on a weekly basis, who wanted me to start taking my basal body temperature (BBT) each morning and take some new vitamins. She wanted to see what a month looked like for me before recommending any further plans. The first treatment I had a lot of spots where my chi was blocked, so felt optimistic that acupuncture was going to help us. We were preparing to go through additional testing and were counting down the days until we would start them, so we were extremely surprised when I had a positive pregnancy test in June, on Father’s Day of all days. I took the test at 5am and counted every minute until Adam woke up so that I could tell him the good news. I didn’t have anything elaborate planned. When he got downstairs and sat on the couch I handed him the test and said, “Happy Father’s Day! You’re going to be a daddy!”  He was obviously overjoyed. With the addition of acupuncture we were feeling confident about this pregnancy. I even bought a pregnancy book to document the entire 9 months and started filling out all of the details.

Because of my history of loss, Dr. B ordered beta HCG levels to be drawn 48 hours apart, to make sure that my levels were rising appropriately.  I soon became VERY familiar with HCG levels and what they mean for a healthy pregnancy. My levels looked good and at approximately 6 weeks we were scheduled for an early ultrasound with Dr. B.  I was SO nervous. We had never made it this far before!  Adam was very positive going into the ultrasound room.  The baby was measuring 6 weeks but didn’t have a heartbeat, which could be very normal since 6 weeks is right on the cusp of when the heart starts beating.  We were told to come back in a week for a follow up ultrasound to check on the growth of the baby.  The next week was agony. Finally, Friday had arrived!! The night before my dad arrived at our house for the weekend and Adam thought we should announce the big news to him.  I was extremely hesitant to do this so early, but Adam was SO excited so I caved.  My dad owns a construction business so we bought a little toy toolbox and customized the box to read “Grandpa’s Little Helper” on it.  My dad opened the gift and was SO excited for us.  The next day we were off to our follow up appointment.  Again, I was a ball of nerves.  They pulled up the baby on the ultrasound and our doctor was fairly quiet.  I knew this couldn’t be good.  The baby had indeed grown, but not by the amount it should have, and the baby did have a heartbeat, but it was only in the 60s.  It should be well over 100 at 7 weeks.  Dr. B said that it looked like I would miscarry. I couldn’t hold back the sobs.  I just didn’t understand why this was happening again.  I had the choice to undergo a medical intervention called a D&C to remove the baby or to let time pass and miscarry on my own.  I chose the latter option and talked to my acupuncturist abut some herbs I could take to help speed up the process.  I did need to have one more ultrasound to confirm the miscarriage and I will never forget laying on that ultrasound table and having Dr. B tell me that there was no longer a heartbeat. Dr. B knew how much this meant to us and didn’t want us to lose hope.  I will never forget listening to my voicemail and having a message from Dr. B telling me about an article she had read about the statistics for a healthy pregnancy after 3+ miscarriages. It meant a lot to me that my doctor would take time out of her very busy day to call me to tell me about something she had read that pertained to me.

This miscarriage was the hardest to digest up to that point. I had a hard time getting out of bed a lot of the time and it felt like I cried a kiddie pool’s worth of tears. Adam tried to console me, but at times it was really hard to pull me out of my own thoughts. It created tension between us and looking back I feel really bad for being so consumed dealing with the loss that I didn’t even stop to think how this was affecting Adam.  He wasn’t immune to suffering either and in a way, had it even harder than I did. While I had a small network of women I met online who had experienced the difficult journey I was on, Adam didn’t have this at all.  As much as women don’t talk about struggles with infertility, men talk about it even less. He really did not have an outlet and because of how fragile I was he didn’t want to weigh me down even more with his sadness.  Instead, he grieved in silence. This is another reason to tell our story. To tell other men out there who are going through something like this that you need to talk about it and it is ok.  And if you don’t know someone you can talk to my husband would be more than willing to be that person.

We had now gone through 3 losses and Dr. B recommended we talk to a doctor that specializes in fertility.  As quickly as we could, we set up an appointment with Dr. O. We sat down at the table in his office and he went over all of the testing that I should have and some other options to help us conceive if we needed it.  We were in the minority group for patients he sees, as he typically specializes in helping couples who are unable to conceive on their own.  We were able to conceive, but weren’t able to hold a pregnancy for anything.  After many, many tests the results were in!! The few tests Adam had done came back completely normal.  My tests came back pretty normal as well.  Dr. O wanted to put me on a super low dose of levothyroxine for my thyroid since it was a touch higher than he ideally wanted. I also found out I have Hashimoto’s, which is an autoimmune thyroid condition that results in my thyroid levels going up and down. I had one very minor blood clotting marker, which Dr. O recommended baby aspirin for. But that was it… Dr. O really didn’t see anything on my results that stood out as a reason for this happening.  In the future he recommended his “triple treatment” to combat the common problems.  I would start on baby aspirin and then after ovulation I would take progesterone and prednisone.  I felt confident now that we were doing SOMETHING.

At the same time I continued seeing my acupuncturist, who was becoming more and more convinced that I had deeper autoimmune issues that were causing me to miscarry.  She encouraged me to eliminate gluten and some other foods that are known to flare up your immune system, particularly for people who have thyroid conditions. Saying good-bye to gluten was very, very hard for this Italian girl raised in the Midwest.  Farewell pasta, so long beer.

We started trying again in August and in October – WALLA – positive test!  I felt confident since we were being so proactive, but the test line wasn’t getting darker after 3 or so days, which is not normal and by that point I knew what it likely meant. A blood draw confirmed what I already knew in my heart – miscarriage #4. We were devastated. We met with Dr. O again, who was unsure why this happened again.  He said it was very possible that the combination of things we were doing was working and this was just the “bad luck” of a miscarriage that can happen to anyone.  I attempted to convince myself that this is what the case was for us, but in the back of my mind I just knew something else was going on.

People meaning well told us to “relax” and that “it will happen when you stop trying”, which honestly made me want to scream and stomp my feet like a child having a tantrum.  But instead I just smiled and nodded.  I learned how to smile and nod quite well. I’ve heard people say that when you’re pregnant you need to find your “pregnancy bubble”. Everyone has recommendations, criticism, stories, etc. for you and think they know best.  Well, I was finding I needed to find my “TTC bubble”. I would try to just tune out to what people were saying all together. In my head I was probably thinking about groceries I needed to buy, bills to pay, or what day of my cycle I was on.  I would think about anything to avoid hearing what people were saying. Even those close who knew the struggle we were having couldn’t really understand what we were going through. I remember hearing pregnant women complain about morning sickness, gaining weight, and the other changes that come with pregnancy. Although they were likely very uncomfortable, I would have given ANYTHING to throw up every day all day or gain 50 pounds if it meant that I was pregnant.

Symbol of our journey

Symbol of our journey

In February of 2014 I decided to get a tattoo that to me would symbolize the journey that we were on.  It is a tattoo of a tree and in my mind it symbolizes unwavering strength. A tree endures all of the extremes that Mother Nature creates – harsh winters, steamy summers, extreme storms, etc. and still stands tall and strong. This is how I had come to see TTC. No matter what life had to throw at me, I was determined to remain strong. A second reason for the tree is that I also see it as a more obvious family tree. My plan would be to add a flying bird above the tree for each of the losses we experienced and when we were finally blessed with a child to hold in our arms I would have a bird added on a branch of the tree.

We soldiered on and in March of 2014 I was surprised by those two beautiful lines on the pregnancy test.  I was excited and scared.  I made the routine call to my OB’s office to request the early blood draws to check my HCG levels.  Dr. B always called me back within a few hours because she knew we were anxiously waiting to hear the result.  By this point I had stopped coming up with creative ways to reveal I was pregnant to Adam.  It had turned into a numbers game – were my levels going up? Dr. B called back and said it was good news!  The numbers looked PERFECT for how far along I was.  AMAZING NEWS!  Combined with this great news was the prospect of a new house. We had just had an offer accepted on the house of our dreams. Our forever house.  Everything seemed to be falling into place. Dr. B did want me to do another repeat to make sure my levels were rising.  Sure, no problem!  I skipped off to the lab the next day and waited to hear back from Dr. B.  When I didn’t hear a call after a few hours I did not think it would be good news and, sure enough, when Dr. B called later that afternoon she told me my levels were decreasing instead of increasing.  My body was in the process of miscarrying. My fifth miscarriage. We were devastated.

At this point I knew without a doubt that we were dealing with something much bigger than “bad luck”. I started consulting Dr. Google about miscarriages tied to the immune system and, to my surprise, found an entire online community of women in the same situation as me. I also found names of doctors who specialized in reproductive immunology and one of the very best, Dr. KK, was only a short drive away in Chicago.  I talked to former patients of hers who had been in the same place I was and heard about her courses of treatment, the price, and the success rates. Adam and I talked it over and decided that we were willing to do whatever we needed to in order to have a child. In our case it came at the cost of our dream home. Because Dr. KK was not covered by my insurance all office visits and testing would need to be paid for by us and our initial estimates were easily $20K. It wouldn’t be possible for us to have a nice down payment for a new home and pay for the medical treatment – especially since we didn’t know how much the medical bills could add up to.  It was a bittersweet day when we made the call to the realtor saying we need to withdraw our offer.  We were letting go of one dream in order to pursue the possibility of another.

Our next step was to send in a lot of paperwork to Dr. KK’s office with my medical history, but we decided to pause on that until we returned from an already planned vacation to Puerto Rico.  It was a much-needed reprieve from the stress we had been under. We were able to let go and just enjoy one another.  When we arrived at the VRBO condo we were renting, the property manager surprised us by handing us an envelope with a gift from our friends. We thought it had to be a mistake, as we didn’t think anyone knew where we were staying, but when I opened up the envelope I knew that it was indeed for us and the tears started flowing immediately.  My friends from college, who knew that we had just had miscarriage #5, had been on a mission to find out where we were staying and arrange for a gift to be delivered to us. They had worked with the property manager to have her buy us a gift certificate to a restaurant nearby with the most beautiful views. I felt so thankful to have such great friends who will be there to celebrate the highs and offer support for the lows. While scrolling through Facebook one lazy afternoon on my phone, a friend and coworker sent me a message saying big things were happening at our company.  We were being acquired! There would be a host of changes coming, one of which was our health insurance. A quick search on the new health insurance’s website revealed that Dr. KK was in-network and covered! I could not believe what I was seeing.  I literally squealed with delight and am pretty sure I was jumping up and down when I told Adam the news.  We left vacation feeling relaxed, renewed, and excited about the future (and a little frazzled from attempting to train a puppy we rescued from the beach and were taking home… but that’s another story!) The other light at the end of this very dark tunnel was that our dream house was still on the market. The seller actually contacted us to see if we were still interested and since we most certainly were we accepted her counter offer now that we knew we wouldn’t need to worry about a ton of extra medical bills.

I sent in a very thick packet with my medical history to Dr. KK’s office and received a call a few days later to set up my appointment….. which was 4 months later because of the long waiting list.  Clearly I was not the only one with immune issues.  We were bummed about the wait, but decided to keep our chins up and enjoy the summer together without any of the pressures of trying to conceive a baby.  No temperature checking, no ovulation testing, nothing.  Just enjoying the summer.  I ended up getting in almost a month early because of a cancellation, which was FANTASTIC news.  At the initial appointment I had 18 vials of blood drawn and a 45 minute ultrasound to check the blood flow levels to my uterus and to also check to make sure my parts didn’t have abnormalities.  While they were checking everything out they also told me that I was about to ovulate.  I thought they would want us to wait to hear my lab results and get me started on a course of treatment, but they told us to “give it a go”.

We “gave it a go” and I didn’t think much of it because the odds didn’t seem that great. The size of the follicle was pretty small and we were only going to have one attempt at it.  As any person who has been trying to conceive for a while knows, you can use the gold standard of pregnancy tests, the First Response Early Result (the commercials that say you can test 6 days sooner… you know the one!), as early as 9 dpo (days past ovulation) and have a pretty good chance at seeing two lines if you’re pregnant. At 9dpo we had plans to go out on the boat with friends and if I wasn’t pregnant I wanted to be able to have a beer or glass of wine while soaking up some sun.  I tested and wasn’t surprised that it was negative.  Adam was hesitant about me having a drink, but I convinced him it was completely fine.  We had a wonderful day with friends and the next morning at 10dpo I tested again.  Well instead of seeing just one line I saw an extremely faint second line. Holy. Shit. The last ditch effort worked! Adam was working so I called him at the station and just said “Guess what?! I’m pregnant”.  He just laughed and basically said, “I told you so.”

Pregnancy #6 was now in the books and I was a nervous wreck! I immediately started the usual lab draws every 48 hours to check my HCG, progesterone, and estrogen levels.  After some panicked moments of me being on vacation and having a hard time getting a hold of the doctor I was finally able to fill some urgent scripts from Dr. KK for levels that were not optimal.  Then it happened – my HCG levels didn’t double… and anyone who has been through this knows that numbers should double in the beginning… or more than double… Queue panic attack.  That was two days prior to my follow-up appointment with Dr. KK and I knew it was going to be a long 48 hours. When we arrive at Dr. KK’s office we reviewed my test results from the previous visit and got a blood draw for my HCG levels. I also had an ultrasound to check on the fertilized egg. We knew it would be too early to see much since I was 4w6d pregnant, but they were able to see the gestational sac.  We were told that it was “nice and round but really small” so that was not reassuring. For the most part, my tests came back normal.  My uterus and ovaries were a-ok and the vast majority of my lab tests came back perfect too – with the exception of a few.  My list of diagnoses was as follows: Unspecified connective tissue disorder, Autoimmune thyroiditis, Increased NK cytotoxicity, Increated TH1:TH2 ratio, and Genetic thrombophilia with HPA-1a heterozygous mutation. The “bigger deal” ones in this list were the NK (natural killer) cells and the TH1:TH2 ratio. Essentially, instead of my immune system calming down to allow a foreign body, the baby, grow inside of me it would fire on all cylinders to kill it.  My body would treat a fertilized egg much like it would a cold or flu.  It was great to have a diagnosis and understand why this was happening, but sobering at the same time because it meant I would definitely need quite a bit of intervention to help me maintain a pregnancy.

Ultrasound at 6weeks where I saw the heartbeat for the first time

Ultrasound at 6weeks where I saw the heartbeat for the first time

We left having an answer, but still not knowing if the new pregnancy would make it.  I was also started on quite a few more medications, one of which was lovenox. Before I left the clinic that day I had to practice injecting myself in the stomach with this blood thinner. As I sat there in comfy chair I just started crying. I had never done something like this so the prospect of jabbing a needle into my stomach was terrifying. After a while I finally got the nerve to stick myself in the stomach.  The needle stick was actually the easy part.  The burning sensation of the medication was worse, but I had done it! Now we would need to wait to hear the blood results back for my HCG levels.  It was a very, very long weekend. On Monday morning I logged into my online patient chart and they had posted my results.  My levels had QUADRUPLED.  I screamed and was jumping up and down.  The next Friday I returned to Dr. KK’s office for another ultrasound, but was by myself this time because Adam had to work and was unable to get off.  I was ready to crawl out of my skin waiting for the ultrasound to start, particularly since I was technically 5w6d and you often do not see a heartbeat until 6w0d or a little after.  The woman doing the ultrasound could obviously tell that I was nervous so after inserting that lovely wand into my lady parts and pulling it up on the screen she quickly said “There’s the baby and that little twinkling Christmas light is the heartbeat!”  Immediate relief.  She measured the rate and it was a healthy 102bpm and the baby was measuring 6w2d. This was the first time we had EVER had a healthy heartrate.  I was crying and quickly texted Adam so he would know the good news.

For the entire first trimester I made weekly treks to Chicago to have ultrasounds done so they could closely monitor the growth.  I became all too familiar with that dang wand since it was far too early on to use the traditional ultrasound over the stomach.  Everything needed to be done transvaginally.  Each week I was a nervous wreck prior to the ultrasound being done, convinced that something had gone horribly wrong. This was partially because of my long history of loss and partially because I had very few pregnancy symptoms. I had no nausea, food aversions, etc. My boobs had definitely increased in size, but that was literally the only thing that had changed. I later found out that this could have been the only pleasant side effect of the high dose of prednisone I was on since I developed nausea at 20 weeks when I was weaned off of this med. My daily medications included gulping down about 15 pills (including vitamins), having Adam inject me in the bum with progesterone in oil each morning, injecting myself twice daily with lovenox in the stomach, and reapplying estrogen patches every other day to stomach. I was covered in bruises and sticky adhesive gunk, but was ready to do anything for the sake of this child. I remember having a breakdown one day in our kitchen.  I was so overwhelmed at that point from a combination of being constantly worried about losing the baby, my laborious med routine, and all the hormones coursing through my body. Adam had told me that I just needed to put it out of my mind. To not think about the pregnancy, but that was just not possible.  What really made it not possible was because I ALWAYS needed to think about it due to there being a med I needed to take at every interval of the day.  To give you an idea of what my day looked like here was my med schedule:

  1. 5am – Wake up and take my thyroid meds
    2. 6am – Every other day I switch out the estrogen patches on my stomach
    3. 6am – Insert morning vaginal progesterone
    4. 7am – Inject first dose of lovenox into my tummy
    5. 7am – Husband injects progesterone in oil into my butt
    6. 8am – First dose of prednisone after breakfast
    7. 12pm – Prednisone, fish oil, calcium, baby aspirin, vit d, vit E, folic acid, prenatal with lunch
    8. 7pm – Inject second dose of lovenox, take prenatals, calcium, fish oil, and third prednisone
    9. 8pm – Take 2 progesterone oral pills
    10. 10pm – Insert evening vaginal progesterone
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Adam and me in Vegas early in the pregnancy

Around 7 weeks we found out I had a subchorionic hematoma, affectionately called an SCH, which is a bleed by the uterus. Anyone can develop these, not just people like me with other “issues”.  It meant not being able to do a whole lot.  It wasn’t bedrest, but it felt pretty close.  I luckily sit at a computer for work all day so was cleared to continue working, but was told to be a couch potato.  I couldn’t even go for walks. I was allowed to go on “slow strolls” where everyone else around me would easily be able to pass me. It wasn’t long after this that I was on my way to Las Vegas for a work trip. Everyone knows how much you need to walk to get around Vegas, so not only did I need to refrain from adult beverages, I also needed to walk around at a snail’s pace. Adam was joining me for the last half of the trip, but this meant I would need to find someone to help me inject the progesterone in oil into my butt for me since the angle and thickness of the liquid made it difficult for me to do on my own. I was luckily traveling with a friend/coworker who knew everything I was going through and volunteered to inject me.  I actually ended up with two friends, Annie and Erin, in the room with me and I think it was harder for both of them than it was me.  🙂 I’m sure it was quite the sight with me bent over a bed and one with a needle and the other providing words of encouragement.  But I’ll never forget their willingness to help me.

At 8 weeks I was 2.5 hours away from home for work when I woke in my hotel room at 5am to go to the bathroom, wiped and saw A LOT of blood. Bright red blood.  I looked down at my underwear and they were soaked with blood, and the crisp white hotel sheets also had blood on them.  I immediately was in a panic, phoned Adam on his way to work and then called the after hours line for Dr. KK’s office. I had to let my supervisor know what had happened and that I needed to drive home last minute to go to my doctor, which he was very understanding of.  My OB’s office was able to get me in for an ultrasound at 3pm that day.  It was the longest 2.5 hour drive and 7 hour wait until 3pm ever.  Since Adam was at work and unable to leave, my best friend Lindsay went with me to the doctor.  We were both nervous wrecks.  The doctor on call that day did the ultrasound and after being convinced I didn’t see a heartbeat on the screen she said “Everything looks perfect! There’s the heartbeat and you can see the arms and legs forming. If I didn’t know you had been bleeding I would say this is a perfect ultrasound image for how far along you are”.  Music to my ears!  It is very possible the SCH caused the bleed, but we will never know for sure.  Thankfully, at 12 weeks the SCH had healed completely.

Receiving an infusion in Chicago

Receiving an infusion in Chicago

Partway through my first trimester we found out that the medications I was on were not helping my immune system levels and the doctor highly recommended that I begin infusions of another medication that is supposed to help. This started my weekly 3 hour infusions with a 2+ hour commute one way to receive them. My med regime was getting even more complicated! In December we were able to move my infusions to be done in Madison so I was able to cut out the 5 hour round trip drive.  This was a huge relief!  Dr. KK thought I would be able to cut down on my infusions after having a few, as often your immune system will calm down, but my immune system didn’t get the memo.  The PA I worked closely with at Dr. KK’s office told me that I had the “SEAL team” of immune systems. Usually you would be happy about having a strong immune system, but not in this case! I think there were about 3 total weeks during my pregnancy that I didn’t have to receive an infusion.  At 34 weeks I was able to stop them completely and it felt so weird not to spend my Fridays hooked up to an infusion pump.

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Facebook announcement

It was a major milestone to make it out of the first trimester.This is usually when the end of the “risky” period for pregnancies ends, when the chance of miscarriage plummets dramatically. Although I should have felt comforted, I was still a nervous wreck because I wasn’t the typical pregnant woman.  We were eager to share news of our pregnancy with everyone, but I was so afraid that by doing so I would jinx the pregnancy and something would immediately go wrong.  This feeling followed me throughout my pregnancy — when we started the nursery, paid our deposit on a daycare, found a pediatrician, etc. etc. etc. I knew that it was completely irrational, but still couldn’t stop myself from thinking it. At 13 weeks we made the big “Facebook Announcement” with a picture of a onesie we had purchased that said “Baby Zookeeper” along with a caption that read, “The Perez Zoo is expanding once again! But this time it is growing by two legs instead of four. Our new zookeeper-in-training starts April 16, 2015!”, which was fitting since we have 2 dogs and 3 cats. Although I was very excited for the news to be public, I was also hesitant to post it. I remember how I felt to see announcements like this when were deep in the trenches and I knew at least two people who were having a difficult time conceiving would be subject to seeing this post.  I couldn’t help but feel guilt for causing them any pain, but tried to remind myself that they both knew of our struggle and would hopefully understand.

Because of my immune system issues I needed to have monthly ultrasounds to check on the baby’s growth and have weekly non-stress tests (NSTs) at my OBs office starting at 32 weeks.  Elevated NK cells and TH1:TH2 levels can cause intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR), pre-term labor, and for the placenta to age prematurely. There were a few times when I didn’t feel movement as often as you should and a little scare with my fluid levels, which turned out to be wrong.  Other than that everything with my pregnancy went completely normally. I was still nervous each time we went for ultrasounds and NSTs that something would be amiss, but they turned out to be good things and I now have a VERY well-documented pregnancy. We have TONS of ultrasound images of this kiddo as she was growing. I needed to be induced at 39 ½ weeks at the recommendation of Dr. KK’s office, as they don’t want patients to go past 40 weeks due to the increased chances of the placenta failing and putting the baby at risk. I really did not want to be induced, as I had my heart set on a natural labor, but the only thing that really mattered was getting her here safely.

I was induced on April 12, 2015 and after 32 hours of labor (a story for another time…) Ellison Rose Perez was born at April 14, 2015 at 1:49am.  She weighed 7lbs 12 oz and was 21 inches long.  Everyone always says that conceiving and having a child is a miracle, but I’m not sure everyone understands just how true that is. For us, it seems like even more of a miracle. I truly didn’t know if I would ever get to experience carrying and birthing my own child. She was (and still is) absolutely perfect!! My husband put her in my arms after delivering her (literally delivering her! Our doctor let my husband actually deliver our child) and as I was looking down at her I knew every.single.thing was worth it.  It was worth every tear I shed, every nervous moment, every pill I had to swallow, every injection I had to do, and every minute I sat in an infusion chair.  I also knew that I would do it all over again.

Finally a family of three

Finally a family of three

First time holding our little miracle

First time holding our little miracle

And we will do it again. Immune issues like mine can vary greatly from pregnancy to pregnancy so I won’t know until I am pregnant again what my treatment protocol will look like.  It is possible things could be better and I would only require a little intervention, it is possible for it to be exactly how it was with the first time, or some combination in the middle. Only time will tell.

If you’re reading this and are also on your own journey in trying to have a child, may this post bring you hope that it is possible for you to have your little miracle. My hope is that this also helps others be more open about their own journeys, as it is not something any individual or couple should have to go alone.  It’s time that we stop feeling embarrassed to talk about this, stop feeling that we are broken, or less of a woman. You are deserving.

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Loss #5 and New Hope

It has been a while since I have written a post. I mostly felt like I didn’t have much to write about since TTC month after month, year after year gets to be pretty repetitive. AF, OPKs, BD, BBT, TWW, HPT, BFN… and repeat. My life has become a revolving set of acronyms. It was all about achieving the best acronym of all… BFP!!! 

Fast forward to March at our appointment with the RE.  This would be month 6 of TTC on our own and it was getting old. I was sick of timing something that was supposed to be spur of the moment and passionate. It was so far from either of those things that it was becoming a huge chore. We talked with our doctor about starting letrozole and IUI to up our odds. We were all for it. Sign us up!  Well, low and behold on March 28th I got a natural BFP.  My body seemed to be saying, “NO! I can do this on my own.. SEE!” Hallelujah!!

The first week after my BFP I was extremely anxious. My chest was tight, I felt like my throat was closing off… it was almost like having a 24/7 anxiety attack.  I was out of town for work and was unable to get a beta drawn to calm my nerves. Finally, that Saturday I had a beta drawn and the number came back in the high 300s, which was great for where I was (4w4dish…). My doctor was optimistic! The next day my ladies were super sore and had noticeably grown, which was also a GREAT sign. I was finally feeling like this was it!! The aspirin, prednisone, progesterone, acupuncture, and umpteen vitamins were going to work and keep this baby alive!

And then Monday came… I went in for my second beta and it had dropped by 12. My doctor was devastated when she called to deliver the news.  I was just in shock… completely numb to what she was telling me.  It felt like a slap in the face that the day after I had started feeling all of these symptoms and was finally optimistic that I received the bad news. I was mad, sad, scared, and a host of other emotions all in one… none of which were happy. I was mad that this was happening again because 5 miscarriages is NOT FAIR. Not fucking fair. I was incredibly sad because I was losing another baby. Another dream of holding a healthy, happy baby in my arms squashed.  But most of all, I felt scared. What was causing this? All of our tests came back fine. Plus, I was on all of the preventative medicine “just in case”.  I felt broken… that I was completely failing at one of the key things that defines being a woman to me… being able to carry a child. 

Overall, I handled this loss much better than the others. It helped that I hadn’t allowed myself to get as attached as the pregnancies before. What really helped, however, was finding information about a doctor in Chicago, Dr. Kwak-Kim, that specializes in Reproductive Immunology. I have always been suspicious that there is something with my immune system and my acupuncturist believes strongly now that my immune system is a huge factor.  I do have Hashimotos and had a positive ANA result after my first m/c when I was tested. Both of these are immune system-related. 

This Friday we have an appointment with our RE to talk about what is next and I have already mentioned wanting to see the doctor in Chicago for further immune testing since all of the common tests have come back normal on me. I am so grateful that my doctor is supportive of this and has said he will take care of all the paperwork for me. This is HUGE since I know not all REs believe that the immune system can cause repeat miscarriages, but my doctor is 100% on board. I feel so incredibly thankful for that.

My husband and I have said that starting a family is priority #1 for us so we are going to move forward with seeing the doctor in Chicago and also doing the letrozole and IUI. I am going to throw the kitchen sink at this to increase our odds. This journey that doesn’t have a destination yet has been a tough one.  As a couple, we are stronger than ever but I can’t say it has been without rough patches. If anyone has gone through this and has never had a fight with their partner, never been at odds, never felt like the deed is a chore, etc. you are a saint. My husband and I are both incredibly strong people and have so much love for one another but even we have succumbed to the strain that comes with a two year struggle that has resulted in 5 losses and 0 live babies.  But we are committed to seeing this through and staying the course until we have run out of options for me to carry our child.

So now we wait… wait to hear for the referral to go through and receive a date for an appointment with Dr. KK. I have heard it can be two months, so I need to prepare myself for that. I’m not exactly very patient when it comes to all this… especially when my 31st birthday is on the horizon (April 30th..) and all I can think of is my ovaries getting closer to retirement. 

A lifelong reminder of this journey

As you may guess, last month I did not get my BFP. It was disappointing, but I did not allow it to crush me and bring me into a state of mild depression. I decided to focus on the things that it meant I could do this month instead of focusing on the fact that it meant I was not pregnant. This month that included being able to get my new tattoo and to start a more intense fitness regime to whip my body into better shape before spring (and before I get pregnant).

I have always been fairly fit. I run, do yoga, or weight training a few times a week.But after I hit that magical age of 30 I noticed it was getting really tough to actually stay in shape and keep the weight off. Holy moly! I have upped my runs on the treadmill since it is way too cold for my lungs to be running outside and also started going to classes a few days a week at a more specialized gym. The classes they offer are much more intense and really challenge my muscles. Plus, they play awesome music and the workout changes every single class. It is exactly what I need to get and stay motivated. I was doing so well, but had to take a short hiatus because of my new tattoo. Because of its location I couldn’t wear a bra at all for a few days and I especially couldn’t have a sports bra rubbing on it as I was jumping up and down.

On to my tattoo! To the right is a picture of it right after it was done so it probably looks red along the edges.

tattooThe tattoo of the tree is very symbolic to me of our TTC journey. To me, a tree symbolizes unwavering strength. From season to season, through rain, snow, heat, and cold it perseveres. That is how I see myself on this long journey of trying to start a family. I may be a bit more battered now than I was when we started, but I am wiser, stronger, and have found the strength to continue on. In the future, I will add birds perched in the tree for each child we are blessed with and flying birds to the top of the tree for each of the losses that we have experienced. The tattoo came out beautifully and each day as I wash and moisturize it I am reminded that I am strong and I will persevere. Recurrent pregnancy loss is just the season we are in right now and although this season of our lives has been long and very hard, it will not be here forever. RPL will, however, forever be a part of my story. When we are blessed with a healthy pregnancy and baby in the future, this tattoo will also serve as a reminder of our journey and the impact it has had on the woman I have become.

Today is CD17 and I am still waiting on my positive OPK. The last two cycles I was spoiled with CD15 Ovulation days and had expected something similar this month, but no such luck. All signs (cervix position, opening, and mucus) indicate that it should be happening aaaaaaany day now. We’re still trying the approach of not having my husband know when I am ovulating and so far it has been going fairly well. I tried to get in a few more chances this month, but since I was expecting a similar cycle as last month, it is fair to assume those extra sessions didn’t really matter. I have a feeling my husband is quite aware what time of the month it is right now and is just going along with my advances, which makes it much easier. Hopefully it will only be one or two more tries and we can call it a wrap. Otherwise I am going to need to go out and buy a lot of new lingerie…

 

A Refreshing Change

After writing my last post, I had really accepted that we would need to take at least a month off, as the continual TTCing was really getting to my husband. But instead, I have been pleasantly surprised how the month has gone.

Adam suggested that I not tell him when it was that time. Initially, I was completely turned off to the whole idea. In my head it seemed like I would be lying to him, but Adam assured me that he didn’t care. After mulling it over in my head I decided to give it a try. I kept temping like usual and started doing OPKs as I would normally do, but instead of leaving my evidence in the trash I stuffed all the test trips in the back of a bathroom drawer out of sight. I was nervous about initiating too early and then needing to initiate a few times over a short period of time, fearing that he would be on to me and we’d be back to square one.  I decided to wait for a positive OPK before planning my “attack”. It went off without a hitch!

About 4 days after the big O day I asked my husband how he thought this cycle had gone and he said he hadn’t even known it was that time already. He had had no idea. Success! I told him I was nervous about initiating two days in a row and he said I should have.  That without the constant reminders about needing to get busy, he actually felt in the mood much more frequently. I was delighted to hear this.

Today is 8DPO and I am really not sure if things worked out or not yet. I did almost pee on a stick this morning, but for once, the rational me said “girl, you’re 8DPO. Are you nuts?!” and won the battle over emotional me. Even if they don’t work out this cycle, I am hopeful about this new strategy we’re trying. It might not work to do it every month with my travel schedule for work, but we’ll give it a try.  And hey — maybe, just maybe, this month will be our lucky month to get a BFP and a healthy pregnancy along with it!

Who will win the POAS battle tomorrow?! At 9DPO it’s really a toss-up between Emotional Me and Rational Me. Emotional Me says, “But maybe you can be one of those lucky ones that finds out at 9DPO. Wouldn’t that be amazing?!” while Rational Me says, “Come on. You know that very very very few people find out at 9DPO. 9DPO is the most common day for implantation to even happen! You should wait.”

 

 

Turning Point

The past week or so has been an incredibly difficult time for my husband and me. The journey of trying to have a child has had far more downs than ups and it seems we’ve reached the tipping point. Adam has always been the rock, the person to pick me up when I am down and need to be comforted. What I haven’t realized until recently is just how much this process is affecting him.  He is hurting. The endless, timed BD sessions for a chance at conceiving our little miracle have left him feeling empty and distant from me. What used to bring us enjoyment and closer together does almost the opposite now. I’m left feeling unsure of how to reach to him, to let him know that the person he married is still here, and that I want to help in any way I can. The words I say never seem to be right and the gestures I make don’t seem to help. I am at a loss. How do I show him that he really is the #1 person in my life? If it weren’t for this trying to have a baby business, we wouldn’t have a problem in the world – aside from normal stuff like the dishwasher dying, which is easy peasy compared to what we are working through.

I have such conflicting feelings. On one hand I want us to have a baby so badly because I know it is what we both want and as mentioned above, the tension would evaporate into thin air. But on the other hand I feel like every time we try it is just pushing him further away. I can’t do this without him — but more than that, I don’t WANT to do this without him. I love him more than I thought I could love someone. I am a “fixer”, a “problem solver” by nature and I can’t seem to find a way to fix what we’re going through right now and it is slowly killing me from the inside out.  And watching my husband suffer is pure torture for me.

I want to be able to turn my brain off from trying to conceive. To forget what I know and not be in tune with all of the changes in my body to know what time of the month I am in.  But I honestly don’t know how to reprogram myself. It has been 18+ months since we started trying and that is 18+ months of programming my mind to be aware of everything so that we could have a good chance at having this miracle child. At this point I don’t think I have a choice but to take a break from trying to conceive. I can’t risk pushing my husband further away.  I just hope I have the strength within me to do it.  To find a way to not think about it all of the time and to not feel depressed by “missing a month”.

We’ve talked to a psychologist about this, but I honestly don’t think it was very helpful. In some ways, I think she made things worse. She mentioned how what we have gone through can be so hard on the husband because he hates to see his wife going through so much pain. But for the woman, their priority shifts from the husband to the baby and becomes all about the baby. The way she said it has stuck with my husband and has made him feel that baby is #1 in my mind and that he is now not important, which is completely untrue. I could actually slap the woman for saying this. I know that priorities change when you have a baby, but maintaining the relationship with my husband is extremely important to me. I want us to maintain our interests and not have the only things we are able to talk about be our children. I have witnessed far too many couples whose only thing in common is their children. Yes, there will be sacrifices we make and we will need to put our children first quite often, but that doesn’t mean our relationship goes by the wayside. I will fight, fight, fight not to let that happen. I didn’t think I would have to start that fight before we actually had children, but it seems I do.  I need to fight, fight, fight to make sure my husband knows how incredibly important he is to me.

I’m not sure where the next few weeks or month will take us just yet, but I am ever hopeful that we will find “us” again. The us that said “I do” on our wedding day, the us that used to be carefree and spontaneous. The us that used to smile and laugh a heck of lot more often than we have as of late.

 

Two Months In Review

I realized this morning that I haven’t blogged in over two months. I wish it was because I had miraculously gotten pregnant and I was waiting until a safer point to write a blog post about it. But, unfortunately, that’s not the reason why I haven’t written in two months. I’m still here, still not pregnant, and still trying. I have just been so preoccupied with the holidays, doctor appointments, TTC, and life in general I have been neglectful of my blog.

In November my husband and I met with our RE to talk about what happens next.  He is still very positive that I can have a normal pregnancy. He said that I fall into the “unexplained recurrent miscarriage” bucket, as there really is no clear reason for my miscarriages. Our tests all came back A-OK. Seems like good news and bad news all wrapped up in one ugly package.  We talked about the meds and vitamins I have been taking. When I mentioned that I had been using an oral progesterone supplement from my acupuncturist because the $900 crinone prescription was just more than we could do each month, he said he didn’t think my body was absorbing enough of it and prescribed prometrium for me to use, which is $15 per refill. MUCH better. He also recommended I now start taking the prednisone midway through my luteal phase, in the event that I have an autoimmune issue that they are unaware of in 2013 that could be causing issues with implantation and with my body accepting a “foreigner”. That, along with the 81mg aspirin I am already taking, is the plan.

My husband I also went to see a psychologist mid-December. Adam was growing increasingly concerned about my mental state. It’s true that I was very sad and felt depressed after the chemical pregnancy in October, but I didn’t realize he was so concerned he would actually call my OB and talk with her about it.  Love him even more for loving me so very much. Talking to both the psychologist and my OB were good for us.  It helped my husband understand that although I can go through very sad periods of time and it can really suck, that my feelings are completely normal. I’m not planning any repeat sessions with her because I honestly have nothing to hash out. If we could just conceive a healthy baby every nagging negative thought in my head would disappear.

Until we get that BFP, we are trying to do a better job of not letting it rule our lives. To not put off making plans to go on a vacation and to plan more things during the week, like we used to before TTCing took over our lives.  I am trying (really, really trying) to relax more about it. To enjoy that glass of wine and not “what if” myself over every possible thing I did that month and convince myself it could have decreased our chances at conceiving.  It still does control our lives a little. The fact of the matter is I travel every third week for for my job and we need to plan to be together if my travel falls during that critical time of the month. But so far, it has worked out ok.

I am looking forward to 2014. I just know that it will bring a healthy pregnancy along with it. 2013 was a great year for both my husband and my professional lives, but it was pretty shitty for our personal life. 2014 is going to bring wonderful things for our personal life.  It’s still very possible that we could welcome a baby in the year 2014.

My body really wanted to hammer home the fact that 2013 was sucky because on December 31st I was greeted with Aunt Flo. So here we are on my first cycle of 2014. Let this be THE cycle.

Happy New Year to all of you wonderful ladies trying to conceive. May 2014 bring all of us healthy pregnancies and healthy babies we get to hold in our arms.

Loss #4

It has been a while since I posted anything and I was so hoping to post good news, but that just doesn’t seem to be in the cards for us yet.  October was my first real cycle following the miscarriage in July. It was the first time my body ovulated and was the first real chance we had at conceiving again.  Last time it took us 8 cycles to conceive so I was being realistic that it would probably take us a few months and I wasn’t going to be down if it didn’t happen this cycle.  BUT.. much to my surprise, it DID happen this cycle. On 11DPO I saw two beautiful pink lines on my home pregnancy test. I was in shock and SO elated.  I immediately called the doctor to get my beta drawn so that we could start looking at my doubling times. I wasn’t expecting a very high number, but I also wasn’t expecting the result I got – 6.5. 6.5?! I had read that FRER (First Response Early Result) were sensitive to 6.5, but I didn’t actually believe it.  Now I was seeing proof of it.  The nurse on the phone advised me that at this point it was considered a chemical pregnancy and that I should watch out for bleeding and cramping.

My stomach sunk at that point.  I don’t think she realized I was only 11DPO and it was very possible that the numbers could still go up, but either way I wish she would have read my chart. Read my history and been a little more sensitive to the patient she was talking to on the phone.  I got to be happy for about an hour and a half before having the pit in my stomach return.  I was told to return Tuesday (this was Friday) to see if my numbers had quadrupled. Four day. FOUR WHOLE DAYS.  Seemed like an eternity.  All weekend I took a test each morning, hoping the line would get darker. It didn’t. But it didn’t get lighter either. It stayed the same. The exact same.

By Monday I confirm something is definitely not right and mourn on my own. Tuesday rolls around and my second beta comes back at 6.9. Odd. The nurse ventures a guess that it is a pregnancy that isn’t progressing and my body just hasn’t recognized that yet, which is why my numbers have stayed pretty much the same. Officially time to let go.

I call the fertility clinic to talk to a nurse and tell her what has happened. I ask her at what point is this not just “bad luck” and time to look at pursuing intervention.  She talked to the doctor and we now have a follow-up appointment scheduled for November 25th, which is the first day I could get in.  Clearly we aren’t the only individuals who want to have a baby and can’t for one reason or another.

I just feel so defeated.  When will this ever happen for us? Will we ever get to experience the joy of holding our own baby in our arms? Will we ever get to celebrate a positive pregnancy test? At this point we are both pretty jaded.  It is hard for us to get excited about getting a positive result because all 4 times we have had it taken away from us.  It is hard not to be cynical.

For now we will continue on and keep trying.  I ordered us some new vitamins that should be arriving today that are supposed to improve egg and sperm quality, in case it so happens a squirrely egg or sperm is causing this issue to happen over and over.  It could still be a fluke I suppose. This was the first cycle I was on the progesterone and baby aspirin from the get go… so maybe?  I probably sound foolish to some, but it is hard not to have hope. Hope that we will get our baby and that we don’t need to pursue additional interventions.  Hope hope hope.

Through all of this I am so incredibly thankful that I have my husband. He has been and continues to be amazing. I do not know what I would do without his support. We are in this together. The journey of struggling to conceive puts a test on any relationship. It can be a huge strain. We have certainly had our talks and not all of them are sunshines, rainbows, and kittens… but we are in this together. For better or worse. Forever. Like he told me last night, “I’m not going anywhere. I’m in this forever. Whatever we need to do we will do.” And for that, I am so incredibly grateful.