Monthly Archives: September 2015

Some days are different

Getting pregnant almost exactly a year behind the timeline of our first pregnancy (during which our daughter died at 18 weeks) has been surreal.  Hitting milestones within days of when we hit them last year means that every milestone in this pregnancy is a vivid reminder of the same milestone we hit with our daughter last year, only to lose her just shy of the halfway point in our first pregnancy.  But finally, this week, things have started to feel different.

Mid-September was rough for us, as we passed the anniversary of our daughter’s death and then, a week later, the same gestational point in this new pregnancy with our son.  Now, here I am, 19 weeks and 3 days pregnant, and I can finally say definitively that some days are different.

The anatomy scan was a huge one, of course — the day before the anniversary of our daughter’s death, we went in for an early anatomy scan with our son, and instead of our daughter’s lifeless body on the screen, we had the incredible experience of watching our son wriggle and kick and listening to the sonographer check off normal anatomy point after normal anatomy point.  We’d never had that experience before.  It was new, different, and extremely emotional.

But now I’m hitting reminders of my first pregnancy that are less momentous on the surface, but often more poignant in a lot of ways.

I’m the faculty advisor to my university’s women in science group. Last year during our big start-of-year open meeting, just over a week after delivering my daughter’s lifeless body, I stood in front of a crowd of bright-eyed young female scientists and tried to greet them enthusiastically, all the while still deeply mourning the loss of my daughter who would never get to decide on a college major — and more alarmingly, while feeling in the middle of the meeting one of the large gushes of blood that I did not yet know heralded the retained products of conception that would require surgery later that week (I also didn’t know I had a raging pelvic infection that was in the process of scarring my fallopian tubes, which along with the blood loss probably accounted for some of the weakness and dizziness I felt).  After the meeting I rushed back to my office to call one of the nurses at the OBGYN office and tell her I’d just bled through my second pad in two hours, and she told me to sit down and put my feet up and call them back if the bleeding didn’t stop in an hour.  Well, that was sort of useless advice as I had to teach a class in an hour, and had a special guest coming in to do a neat demo with my class, and I had to greet him and make sure he had what he needed to set up his equipment.  I walked into my department chair’s office shaky and weepy and needing advice, and he told me it was fine if I wanted to cancel the class, but I decided that I’d just sit through the demo and try to stand as little as possible during lecture.  I survived and made it home, only to wind up in surgery later that week.

This week, I led that same women-in-science meeting almost exactly a year later.  This time, I was visibly pregnant, and felt my son kicking while I scarfed two slices of pizza during the meeting.  As I faced a room full of bright-eyed young female scientists, thoughts that my daughter would never be one of them were no longer foremost in my mind (although they were certainly still there) — instead, I wondered more about who our son might be at this age.  Various other female science faculty who had come to the meeting greeted and congratulated me.  I walked back to my office on a bright September day, not in panic, but peacefully.  I taught my class without fearing that I’d pass out.  After class, when I sat down in my office to relax and catch up on email, my son threw a dance party in my belly.  It was such a contrast from the same day last year.  It made me think about my daughter and remember what we lost, but it also drove home that this pregnancy is different from our first.  Last year’s horrors aren’t (yet) repeating themselves (thank goodness).  This pregnancy isn’t picture-perfect by any stretch of the imagination, and I’m still a mess of anxiety, but these new experiences and the reassuring movements that I now feel every day are reminding me that things are different this time.  Now that we’re past the point at which our daughter died, the differences between this pregnancy and our first are more obvious than the similarities, and that’s been an important change.

So here we are, entering the “different” days of this pregnancy.  As I expected, it’s been scary being in the early days of fetal movement, since anytime I don’t feel him move for a few hours I get nervous (after all, I felt our daughter move for a few days, and then didn’t feel her move for a few days, and then we found out she was dead).  Fortunately I’ve got our hand-me-down Doppler to get through the worst of those times.  It also feels like the farther we get into pregnancy, the higher the stakes, since if something happened now or even closer to term, it would be all the more painful — and having barely survived the pain of an 18 week loss, I shy from even considering a later loss.

That said, the differences are also reassuring.  I’ve never needed reminders that this pregnancy is different from my first pregnancy — it’s felt different from day 1.  But I am relieved to have hit the end of the period of eerie similarity — of telling the same people I’m pregnant at the end of summer, of switching to maternity clothes as the semester starts, of going to the same start-of-year activities with the same burgeoning bump (just a different baby inside this time).  Now the experiences feel more new, and I’m finally starting to experience parts of pregnancy that I never experienced in my first pregnancy.  It leaves me wistful for what we missed out on in our first pregnancy, but mostly grateful that this pregnancy is happening and hopeful that our son’s outcome might be different.  As I hit the halfway point this week, I’m thinking about February, and finally starting to imagine what life might be like with a living baby in the house.

More Pregnant Than I’ve Ever Been Before

As I write this, I’m 18w3d pregnant, which officially makes me More Pregnant Than I’ve Ever Been Before.

The last 1.5 weeks have not been easy.  I felt OK emotionally leading up to the anniversary of the day we found out our daughter had died (September 11), but then was thrown for a loop by a repeat of some symptoms that had occurred at exactly the same gestational stage in our first pregnancy, just a few days before our daughter died.  I won’t go into details, but think GI bug.  They had told us the first time around that it was unlikely to be related, and I was tested for a bunch of different food-borne pathogens that can cause pregnancy loss and everything came back negative… but it was still just incredibly disconcerting to spend the anniversary of our daughter’s death having the same symptoms at the same gestational stage that I’d had the year before, and which preceded her death by less than a week.  And by “disconcerting” I mean that it completely freaked out my husband and me.

I put in a teary phone call to MFM that day and wound up talking to a nurse who spoke to me like I was four years old: “You know, even though they’re in the same part of your body, your digestive system and your reproductive system aren’t actually connected…” and “You may not be aware of this, but one in five pregnancies doesn’t make it to term, and sometimes lightning strikes.  That’s probably just what happened to you in your first pregnancy: bad luck!”  Neither of which was helpful to me to hear at the time (also, I wish people would stop quoting the one-in-five statistic at women who’ve experienced second trimester losses — for us, the odds are about 1%, and half the time the problem is a non-chromosomal issue that makes future pregnancies more risky!).  I thought I was getting better over the weekend, but when Monday brought a renewal of my GI symptoms I put in another panicked call to my local OB’s office and had a teary visit with the one doctor in the practice I’d never met before who checked me over (including making sure my cervix was closed) and then proceeded to bemusedly tell me I was probably fine and that I should really be trying to enjoy this pregnancy because you don’t get that many pregnancies in your life and it’s a wonderful and beautiful and miraculous thing.  Which also was not something that was helpful to hear at that moment, even if I appreciate the sentiment (did she think it just hadn’t occurred to me before that I should try to enjoy this pregnancy?).

Anyway, fortunately I had just received a package in the mail the week before, containing a home handheld Doppler from a friend who had gone through infertility not too long ago.  I had thought I wouldn’t use it, but being able to regularly check that our baby was still alive for the few days after my freak-out in which I was constantly convinced that he was dead really saved my sanity last week.  Now I’m finally feeling like I’m past whatever disrupted my GI system, the baby has survived, and I’ve made it past the emotionally difficult anniversaries.  Things are finally looking a little brighter.

I also had the experience this week of going back to visit the institution where I had earned my PhD to give a prize colloquium.  It was the first time it was clear from other people’s reactions that I was visibly and obviously pregnant — perhaps because people there knew me well enough to know that I don’t normally have a giant belly, so they were more comfortable than total strangers about commenting on the fact that I was pregnant.  Many people commented immediately, as soon as they saw me.  With others, when it came up in conversation that I was pregnant (I’d mention that I was going to be on leave next semester), their surprise made it clear that they hadn’t noticed at all.  It was funny — I’d have thought that the younger faculty with young kids at home would be the most attuned, and the older men the least attuned, but it absolutely didn’t work out that way.  The old male scientists were often the first to notice and immediately comment!  Maybe the ones with young kids are just too sleep-deprived to notice who’s pregnant and who’s not?

One experience that showed me that I’ve gained some equilibrium talking about our experiences with pregnancy loss was an awkward moment at the dinner after my colloquium.  One of the nearly-retired male faculty asked me, “Wait, is this your first?  For some reason I thought you had another…” and I was able to easily answer, “Well, that’s actually a complicated question.  Last year I was pregnant, but the baby died at almost exactly this stage in the pregnancy.”  I didn’t tear up at all — I was able to just be matter of fact about it.  I didn’t feel that I could have answered any other way, especially since three of the eight people at the table (my PhD advisor and two of my closest collaborators) knew what had happened, so I just figured I’d put it all out there.  I was sitting next to a senior woman who’d been a fantastic mentor to me during grad school, and she proceeded to tell me that in the process of having her three boys (the eldest of whom just went off to college this year), she had three miscarriages along the way.  So we talked about it on our own for a while, and then the conversation moved on, and that was that.  Not long ago, I wouldn’t have been able to have that conversation, but even on the day that I hit the same gestational stage that our daughter had died, I was OK with it.

And now… I’m just trying to look forward to experiencing new parts of pregnancy.  From here on out it’s uncharted waters for me, and while that’s a bit scary, I’m primarily thankful that I’ve made it this far and I’m looking forward to the parts of pregnancy that I never got to experience the first time (my friends who have had normal, full-term uncomplicated pregnancies think I’m nuts and tell me it’ll be miserable, but I don’t care!).  I already feel my son moving inside me more strongly than I felt my daughter, and I’m looking forward to feeling more distinct kicks and hiccups as he grows.  I’m starting to love my growing belly again, and am actually looking forward to seeing it get bigger and bigger over the next few months.

I’m even feeling that maybe I’ll be able to start thinking about decorating the nursery and accumulating a few basic baby items sometime soon.  I’m not putting any pressure on myself to do that — I know that if it doesn’t get done before the baby arrives that’s OK (infants don’t need much, after all) — but if I can bring myself to do it I think it’d be nice to have that normal nesting part of pregnancy, and might help me start to feel closer to my son.  The room we’ve left empty in our house since we moved in last June has been a source of complicated feelings for me over the past year and a half, and part of me really wants to start to fill it and make it look like the home for our baby that we’ve always imagined it would be.  After everything we’ve been through, I hold tightly to the thought that no matter what happens in this pregnancy we WILL be parents one way or another (probably through adoption if our son doesn’t make it), and creating that space would for me be an act of hope for our developing role as parents as much as it would be an act of love for this particular baby-to-be.  I think maybe I can be OK with that.

Anatomy

This morning we had our early anatomy scan, at 17 weeks.  Spoiler alert: it’s all good news!  But man oh man, have I been a mess until now.  Tomorrow is the anniversary of the day we found out our daughter died, and next week our son hits the same gestational stage.  I’ve been… a little bit of a wreck the last few days.  This morning I woke up at 2:30am with my mind buzzing full of worries about anatomy — I couldn’t get back to sleep, so I picked up a book, “read” it for a while, and finally fell back asleep around 3:30.  Then I got up with the dog at 6:30, went downstairs, turned on my laptop, and read the horrifyingly sad post by Sweeping Up the Broken Pieces about her second bout with neural tube defects (which is probably going to lead to her third TFMR), which was just discovered on ultrasound this week.  I sobbed for her.  I’m not linking to her blog here, because I don’t want any pingbacks to what has turned out to be happy news for us to hit her at a vulnerable time, but seriously, if you don’t already follow her blog, head over there and give her some support (just google “Sweeping Up the Broken Pieces blog”).  The universe is a crappy place sometimes, and it’s being particularly crappy to her right now.

With all that buzzing in my mind, we loaded up the car this morning (my mom had driven from two hours away to come to the anatomy scan with us) and headed down to MFM.  They were running way behind, and our ultrasound took place almost an hour after it had been originally scheduled, so I got to spend plenty of time biting my nails and discussing choroid plexus cysts with my mom (who is a women’s health nurse practitioner) in the waiting room.  Our sonographer was soft-spoken and reassuring (I asked her to tell us as much as she could during the scan), and as she snapped measurement after measurement and I slowly started to realize that maybe everything would be OK this time, the tears started rolling down my cheeks.  I managed to hold it together enough that I don’t think anyone else realized I was crying (if the sonographer did, she didn’t say anything).  But it was just so emotional after the horrific ultrasound 364 days ago in which the OB made the same measurements on our lifeless daughter that it just totally undid me to finally see a healthy wriggling fetus at last.

The scan went on so long that my husband started yawning (after all, he had been inadvertently woken up by a freaked-out pregnant lady at 3am), and I almost fell asleep.  Apparently our little guy was being super-stubborn about getting into a position that would work for one particular view of the heart that they wanted to get.  The sonographer called in the doctor, who tried unsuccessfully for a while, and then after a break the sonographer tried again.  They tried everything — lots of tummy jiggling, running the ultrasound transducer up past my belly button to get a sideways view, tilting the table until I felt like I was going to slide off head-first (by that point the doctor had come in, and he was much more taciturn — he just said, “hold onto the sides, please,” and I really think I would have fallen off if I hadn’t!), and finally having me get up and walk around to try to get our little fellow to turn.  But nothing worked, and eventually they gave up and said they could either have me come back for a short ultrasound next week just for this one snapshot of the heart, or they could just do it when I come in for my regularly-scheduled growth scan in four weeks.  Since everything else looked normal (including every other view of the heart — four chambers, arteries, whatever else), we decided we could wait four weeks to tick the last box on the anatomy scan, and for now at least I’m feeling completely OK with that plan.

Everything else looked great — amazing, really.  Tiny kidneys, brain, spinal cord, some cute shots of his nose and lips, fingers, feet (and, yup, a penis!) — all parts present and accounted for.  There were a bunch of really neat color Doppler images of blood flow through the heart, umbilical cord, and arteries — you could even see the tidy spiral of the blood vessels around the umbilical cord.  Our boy was more active at the beginning of the scan, wriggling and moving his arms and legs, and then I think he fell asleep at some point (my mom said they generally have ~half-hour sleep/wake cycles at this point, and indeed, it was about half an hour into the scan that he seemed to want to take a break and rest, in that unfortunately inconvenient position).  Then we had a quick check-in with one of the MFM attendings to talk about adjusting my Lovenox prescription, and finally headed home just in time for lunch.

It’ll be another week and a half until I’m more pregnant than I’ve ever been before, but it’s really exciting to (mostly) pass a milestone — a normal anatomy scan — that I never reached in my first pregnancy.  I still know that anything could happen with the placenta, and that abruption risk has nothing to do with fetal anatomy, but it still feels like something new, different, and GOOD, which is a really nice feeling to have.  Hopefully this good news will carry me through the emotional minefield of the next week and a half.

So that’s our story!  I continue to have freak-outs, and we continue to have nothing but good news at every turn. I’m showing enough now that I’ve gotten my first “Are you sure there’s only one in there?!” (from a retired old bachelor scientist), and people are starting to notice before I tell them.  I still haven’t had the nerve to bring it up with any students (even my research group, which is starting to be problematic as they make their plans for the year), but that will inevitably happen soon.  Every week feels a little bit more real, and today was a huge step towards believing that maybe, just maybe, we’ll be able to bring home a living child this February.