By Emma Gardner, Butterfly Run Vancouver Committee Member
We had a pregnancy scare recently.
We are careful and we take precautions not to get pregnant ‘naturally’. Strange to say, given that I would dearly love to have another baby.
I rarely share the details of our infertility story, but it is infertility awareness week, and I am now in a place where I feel I can. I share in the hope others who read this and are going through something similar, maybe maybe feel less alone in what they are experiencing.
This is what is behind my horror and fear and when my period was late …
My first positive pregnancy test, 10 years ago now, was a joyous happy moment. Finally! It had taken a few months, but it was planned, it was happy, it was wonderful! We were going to have a baby!
Looking back now, I was so innocent and so unaware of what the next ten years would have in store for me. It makes me sad to think of that person now. Who even was she? The person who got pregnant and just thought a baby would come. So innocent. So clueless. So totally ridiculous.
My first pregnancy ended in missed miscarriage, around 9 weeks. No bleeding, no cramping.
Nothing. Just a gradual ‘absence’ of my pregnancy symptoms. I went to my doctor, who wasn’t overly worried, but agreed to send me for an early scan. That was my first ultrasound and my first time to hear the words “I’m so sorry, there is no heartbeat”.
Nothing was simple. I took the medication. The pregnancy didn’t all come out. I ended up needing surgery. It was traumatic.
I was sad, I cried, I felt lonely and bereft. I was also told how normal miscarriage is and how I would get pregnant again.
Miscarriage. One in four pregnancies ends in miscarriage. That’s a hard statistic to avoid. Ok. We’ll pick ourselves up. We’ll try again. We’ll be ok. We’ll get pregnant again.
We did get pregnant a second time. I was cautiously happy, but the innocence was gone. This time I was very tuned in to my pregnancy symptoms ‘disappearing’. And disappear they did, around 8 weeks… Still no bleeding, no cramping, and plenty of assurances that ‘everything is probably fine’. But the pregnancy symptoms had died down and I did not feel like things were going to be ‘fine’.
Naturally more nervous, we arranged for an early ultrasound. I endured that scan alone as the clinic would not allow my husband to come in with me. (By this time, I had moved to Canada from the UK, and was navigating a new healthcare system in a foreign country. I was dealing with travel insurance policies, a lot of paperwork, ad hoc clinics, a lot of bills, and a lot of waiting at the payment desk at BC Women’s Hospital).
The news was the same. “I’m sorry. There is no heartbeat”. This time, while I was less shocked – now I had experienced pregnancy ending in miscarriage – I was no less sad or upset. I was starting to feel pretty unlucky that I had had 2 miscarriages out of 2 pregnancies. That second pregnancy was also a ‘missed miscarriage’.
Physically, the 2nd pregnancy loss was no easier to navigate than the first. One D&C surgery should have solved it. It does for most, but it didn’t for me. I was back in a few weeks later for another surgery because there was still ‘pregnancy tissue’ left over. It was very traumatic. Again.
Third pregnancy came. Finally. It took longer this time. Now we were on calendars, apps, timings, ovulation testing etc etc. I wasn’t getting any younger and we were already 2.5 years into trying at this point. It was no longer fun trying. It was stressful and upsetting.
By now I had my BC government healthcare coverage and we were also under the care of the Recurrent Pregnancy Loss Clinic at BC Women’s Hospital. Or ‘RPL’ as everyone who has been there and knows it, calls it. We met our doctors, our nurses. The ones who we would come to know us well and who would recognize us on the phone.
For that 3rd pregnancy we got taken in early by RPL for our scan due to already having 2 missed miscarriages. Unbelievably, again, there was no heartbeat. This loss was my earliest, around 6 weeks, and it was my only physically ‘simple’ one. The miscarriage happened, with medication, and all the tissue came out by itself. As it is supposed to. No surgery needed for miscarriage number 3. I felt lucky. How messed up is that.
Three miscarriages in and I was not doing well. Emotionally I was feeling anxious, traumatized, depressed. I felt very alone, isolated. I was still new to Canada. I was deeply envious of pregnant friends and family members. I cut myself off from seeing them as the feelings were just too awful to bear. I lost many friends around this time, for sure. I didn’t care. I was trying my best to put one foot in front of another.
Physically I was also not in good shape. I had had 3 D&C surgeries for 2 miscarriages. One of those surgeries had unwittingly damaged my endometrial lining which was now very thin and patchy. We were told it might not be able to support a pregnancy. Was that the reason for miscarriage number 3? I was not handling that news well. I was given lots of medication to take to help try to thicken the lining. RPL helped us navigate countless scans and much monitoring and we were told to try again. It was hard to keep hope.
The tissue from our 3rd pregnancy had been analyzed and we were told it was normal. We had just been really unlucky to have 3 miscarriages in a row. That felt like more than unlucky to me, but I accepted what we had been told by the hospital.
We tried again.
Much longer this time to get pregnant, probably due to the poor endometrial lining, the stress, the anxiety, the sadness, the everything. I was feeling more alone than ever and less and less hopeful that we would get pregnant and have a baby.
Eventually pregnancy number 4 came. The relief! And the fear and anxiety. They were a big factor by this point. But, we had done it. I was pregnant.
We had a very early 5 week ultrasound at RPL. Things looked good, fetal pole, yolk sac, all growing and looking good. We went back at week 6. Still growing and then it was big enough for the heartbeat to be detected. We had a heartbeat!!! The first heartbeat we had ever seen on an ultrasound! We were so happy, so excited. Our team at RPL were delighted for us. It was happening!
I was still feeling very anxious and they monitored us closely. We were at RPL for weekly follow ups. Always a heartbeat, always growing. My endometrial lining was looking good and seemed able to support a pregnancy. That question had been answered. Phew.
Around 10 weeks we were in for another appointment and there was the heartbeat right away and so was our wriggling baby. I was so happy. This time the technician was quieter. Less chatty. She said something about the shape of the baby’s head and told us to come back next week for another ultrasound.
I was worried in that week. But there was a heartbeat, I’d seen our baby moving. A lot. My partner was hopeful. But I was starting to get a gnawing feeling in my gut. What had the tech meant about the baby’s head?
We went back around week 11 another follow up and another ultrasound. Heartbeat great, baby moving. Great. But the technician is no longer talking to us at all. She is being elusive when I ask direct questions. But I can see the baby moving and I can see the heartbeat. What is wrong? She leaves the room and shortly after the doctor arrives.
The doctor does my ultrasound, and I am quiet while she works. I feel sick. She switches off the ultrasound and she looks at us and says “I know exactly what this is. How much do you want to know?”. It sounds strange, but I wanted and needed her directness and her knowledge. I just needed answers. I needed to know everything.
Our baby had anencephaly, meaning it had no skull and was missing part of the brain. It is a fatal condition. The baby would most likely miscarry, be stillborn, or best case scenario, die very shortly after birth.
The details of this pregnancy loss are much harder to remember than the others. It was deeply, deeply traumatic and that has affected my memory of events.
I remember we had to wait a few weeks before they would formally diagnose the condition. Which is crazy. And felt utterly inhumane to me. The baby was still alive inside me. I had to wait a few weeks before they would take me in for the surgery to end the pregnancy. I remember having to be prepped for the surgery – this pregnancy was now around 15 weeks and required more intervention than all my others. I remember screaming and screaming in agony at the prepping appointment as the doctor injected something into my cervix to soften it and prepare it for the D&C. My surgery was scheduled for the next day, but I went home for the 24 hours. I have no recollection of those days. Or the pre and post op. Or the days after that. I do remember the form you have to fill in where it says “How many previous pregnancies have you had”. On the form to devastatingly medically terminate our 4th pregnancy, I write “3 previous pregnancies”. The form also asks how many living
children you have. I write 0. I have zero living children. And I am now terminating the life of the wriggling baby inside of me that I have been told has a fatal condition and will die soon anyway.
What sort of a decision is that? And who should ever have to make it. I signed the paperwork to terminate my 4th pregnancy. We found out later he was a little boy.
This is a long post and ours is a long story. This is part of our infertility journey. I will tell the rest another time. It didn’t get easier, and it didn’t get less traumatic.
BUT, I do want to share here that, many years after that first positive pregnancy test, we eventually went on to have 2 children, Grace and Jack, both by necessity of IVF.
The above is what happens when I get pregnant ‘naturally’.