After four cycles of trying, still no luck. I know that especially since my tubes are crap this is still well within the range of normal, but I’m starting to contemplate when to go back to the RE. The decision is complicated by the fact that my ovulation pain reached new heights of awful this month and sent me back to my OBGYN basically asking “This is not normal, right? Is there anything I can do about it?”
To give you an idea, this month for five days leading up to ovulation I experienced pressure and abdominal pain. For the ~2 days around ovulation, everything hurt. It hurt to sit down, it hurt to walk, it hurt to have sex (which is just adding insult to injury), and the pain was so bad that it woke me up in the middle of the night. I mean, I know some level of ovulation pain is normal, but this just seems beyond normal. I had brought up ovulation pain at my last annual visit and my doctor brushed it off, but it was so bad this month that I decided to go back. So I made an appointment, which wound up being with their midwife who I haven’t met before (I thought someone told me she had retired, but apparently she’s back).
I ran through my symptoms and she basically said that she’d be happy to order an ultrasound but didn’t think she’d see anything — I agreed that she was probably right, particularly since I just had two ultrasounds in May/June during my miscarriage, which also didn’t show anything weird about my ovaries. She said it’s probably either endometriosis or adhesions — I know I have some scarring from the first pregnancy when we lost our daughter at 18 weeks and I developed an infection that I later found out had scarred my fallopian tubes (worse on the left than the right, which is probably why my two subsequent pregnancies have both been on the right). She said that there’s basically nothing they can do about those things: “Well, I mean, there’s surgery, but…” she said with a little laugh. I was sitting there thinking: why are you laughing about surgery? It was as though she thought it was ridiculous that I might consider surgery for pain bad enough that it affects me for a whole week of every month and wakes me up in the middle of the night. I mean, that’s bad, right? So the upshot of the appointment was that I declined another ultrasound, and she told me that my best option was going back to the RE — she thought maybe another HSG would help break up some of the adhesions and relieve the pain a little (which sounds sketchy to me, but what do I know?). I left totally down in the dumps, wondering when I can finally put this phase of life behind me, because it’s just so unrelentingly awful (except for my son, who is the best thing in the Universe, which is the only reason I am willing to keep putting myself through this crap to try to have another one).
Fast forward two weeks to today, and my period arrives. I’m feeling like crap, thinking I’ll never get pregnant again, or if I do, the baby will probably die again. Then I had a meeting with our colloquium speaker.
This colloquium speaker and I have known each other on and off through meetings, talks, and conferences for a number of years. I think we have sort of a little mutual admiration society going on. I remember meeting her for the first time when she was a grad student and I was visiting her university as a postdoc to give the colloquium. She had just had a baby a few weeks before, but came to campus specifically to meet with me. I was equally as interested in her science as in what it was like to have a newborn — we had a ton to talk about. She just seemed so put together, was doing such awesome science, was interested in science education, was thoughtful, and appeared to be super-mom on top of it. My career was a little farther ahead than hers, but she was a little older because she’s a non-traditional student who started her PhD a little later in life. So, we kept tabs on each other a bit, as we both bounced around and wound up in our dream jobs as physical scientists at liberal arts colleges only an hour’s drive apart in New England. I started my job four years before she did, which means that she just started her job in January of this year. I had a kid about three years after she had her first. She invited me up to give a colloquium her first semester on campus, and this semester I invited her down to give a colloquium at our campus. Today she’s visiting, and we started off our meeting with the usual excited back-and-forth about what we’re both up to — how her first year of teaching is going, how my approach to tenure material submission is going, etc. Then, she changed the subject. She mentioned that she was 22 weeks pregnant. I congratulated her, quite genuinely, but couldn’t help feeling a small pang of self-pity that she was pregnant and I had just gotten my period for the fourth time after miscarrying, seven months into the journey to conceive our second living child.
But then, she kept going. She remembered a conversation we’d had a while ago — she had shared that she had two miscarriages in a row, and I had shared about the loss of our daughter in the second trimester. Well, it turns out that two weeks ago, at their 20 week anatomy scan, she got some bad news that their baby is much smaller than expected. She is in that heartbreaking waiting phase where they’re trying to figure out how bad it is and whether they will be able to make it to viability, but there is much talk of early delivery and long NICU stays and potential long-term health issues. Apparently they can’t yet tell whether it’s a placental issue or a chromosomal issue, but neither outlook is good. She won’t know more until her next ultrasound in two weeks, but she’s been thinking a lot about how to handle it. She wanted to know if I had any advice based on what I’d been through before (with weirdly similar timing relative to my tenure clock — we are truly living parallel lives in some ways).
My eyes immediately filled with tears for her. And I silently kicked myself for allowing that earlier pang of self-pity. It was an important reminder that we never, ever know what other pregnant women are going through, even when it looks from the outside like everything is perfect. Advice. What advice do I have? None, really. I don’t think I handled my 2nd trimester loss particularly well, but I also don’t think there is a good way to handle it. I told her a few things:
- Please accept offers of help. I didn’t and I made things unnecessarily difficult for myself. This is a huge life event, and it’s a small fraction of your time on the tenure clock and your life overall, so be kind to yourself while it’s happening.
- If doing work feels therapeutic to you, go with it. I couldn’t function for my own sake while I was going through our loss, but I could force myself to function for my students’ sake. So if it feels right to work, work. If it doesn’t, don’t. You need to do whatever you can to get through this.
- She wanted to know if I had thoughts about when she should tell her department — should she tell them soon so they could plan for the possibility that she might need to take medical leave? I don’t know if this is the right answer, but I said no. She doesn’t know what will happen. Possibly nothing will happen, and she’ll be able to get through the rest of the semester without any issues. Nobody can plan for this right now, so she has no responsibility to tell other people if she doesn’t want to. They will figure it out. They will not blame her for not telling them the news sooner. There is really nothing to tell right now other than that her baby is sick and she doesn’t know what’s going to happen. I advised her to wait until she knows what she needs so that she can ask for what she needs. Unless she wants them to know for emotional support purposes, but my experience was that people really don’t understand pregnancy loss, especially in the second trimester, and having everyone know is often just a higher emotional load to deal with.
That was pretty much all I could think of. I also told her that I am so, so sorry, and that I am here to help or if she just wants to talk — I told her that when our daughter died, I was just desperate to talk to people who had had second trimester losses, especially those who had gone on to have healthy pregnancies afterward, so if she has the same desire I am absolutely here for her. I just wish she didn’t have to go through it, especially not this tortuous period of not knowing what’s going to happen. She sounds pretty pessimistic about having a healthy baby at the end, but I will be hoping upon hope that it’s another case of unreliable ultrasound and that everything will be fine.
These childbearing years are the hardest thing I’ve ever been through, and it breaks my heart the more I learn how awful they are for so many women. I wish there were a better way. I wish it were easier. I wish people talked about it more and were better at supporting each other through it. I wish we could just wish children into our lives. When they do come, they’re amazing, but it doesn’t seem like we should have to endure so much suffering to get there. I will be holding this friend in my thoughts, and checking in with her in two weeks to see if she needs anything after their next ultrasound.