Whenever I am out with my 3-month-old daughter and we meet someone new, I tend to get asked the same questions every time: “How old is she?”; “What’s her name?”; and “Is she your first?” The first two questions are easy to answer, but the third always makes me pause.
My husband and I struggled for years with infertility. In September of 2012, an IVF cycle worked, and I got pregnant. Everything with that pregnancy looked great. In January, we went for our 20-week sonogram. The tech ran the ultrasound wand over my belly, pointing out the baby’s organs as he went through his measurements. He asked if we wanted to know the sex, and when we said we did, he told us we were having a little boy. He checked a few more things and told me that he was having trouble seeing the cardiac system. He wanted me to empty my bladder and walk around the room for a few minutes, in the hopes that the baby would turn over. He left the room, and my husband and I quickly called our parents to tell them that they would have a new baby grandson come June.
What happened next will forever be ingrained in my mind.
Instead of the ultrasound tech coming back into the room, a doctor with a very serious expression on her face came in. She asked me if I was sure of my dates, which I was, since with an IVF cycle there is never a question about when conception occurred. As she started looking at the ultrasound screen, I asked her if anything was wrong. She said the baby was measuring small and continued the scan for what seemed liked hours. Eventually she told me that I should clean up and that my husband and I should meet her in her office, where we would talk. She then added that we would have some “very difficult decisions” to make.
We soon learned that there was a problem with the blood flow to the placenta, and that the baby was measuring two weeks behind where he was supposed to be at that time. The chances for a healthy delivery of our baby boy were not very high. Best case scenario, I would be able to stay pregnant until the baby was 1 pound (the lowest weight that a baby has a chance at survival outside of the womb) and then we would deliver at any sign of fetal or maternal distress. Worst case scenario was fetal death and a stillbirth.
The next few weeks passed in a blur. I had an amniocentesis, a ton of bloodwork, and growth sonograms every two weeks. By my 24-week sonogram, the baby was measuring three weeks behind, my blood pressure was starting to rise, and I was admitted to the hospital for monitoring. A week later, after being induced due to early onset preeclampsia and dangerously high blood pressure, I gave birth to a stillborn baby boy, weighing just over a half a pound. It was one of the worst days of my life.
Recovering from this loss was not easy. Physically, it took me a long time to heal, and I ended up in the hospital two more times during the next four weeks, once for a blood infection and a second time for a blood clot in my lung. Emotional recovery was just as difficult; a pregnancy loss is hard for anyone, but our infertility history meant that I wasn’t going to get pregnant again without aggressive intervention. A bereavement group at the hospital, support from my family and friends, and trying to keep busy helped somewhat, but there were many days that I couldn’t hold back tears.
My husband and I knew we still wanted to be parents, but now we weren’t quite sure how we were going to get there. We had already been in the adoption process prior to our successful IVF cycle, so we thought briefly about going back to that. But the adoption process is hard as well, and we had already had two relationships with birth mothers fall through. We didn’t think we could go through that heartache again.
We ended up taking the summer off from deciding, and then after a consultation with our maternal fetal medicine doctor, we went back to the fertility clinic. Our reproductive endocrinologist felt that we had a chance at conceiving through IVF, and in September 2013, I started shots and medication for a new cycle.
That cycle ended up not working, as did the one we did immediately after that. Each time a cycle didn’t work, it was devastating. Our hopes and dreams of being parents were fading, and I didn’t know that I could keep going through the process while failing again and again. We took another six-month break, gave ourselves time to be a couple again, go on vacation, and just breathe. And then we jumped back in for one last shot. It took everything I had to take a chance again, but I knew I would regret it if I didn’t try once more.
Two years after conceiving the first time, I was pregnant again. I was monitored very closely the entire pregnancy for any signs of growth restriction and/or high blood pressure. On June 5th of this year, our 5 pound, 6 ounce daughter was born, healthy and beautiful. I am forever grateful for our miracle baby, and I love being a mom. But I never know what to say when someone asks me if she is our first. If I say yes, I feel like I am denying the existence of my son, who never got his chance at life. If I say no, and explain that we lost a child at 25 weeks gestation, the conversation gets awkward. The person I am talking to stumbles over what to say next, and I feel bad for making them uncomfortable.
So if you happen to meet us out and about, I am happy to share my daughter with you. Feel free to make her smile, or ask me her name. But please forgive me if I look a little confused when you ask me if she’s my first. I know you are just making conversation, but it is one of the hardest questions I will ever have to answer.