Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Baby T: Struggling with Risk, Miscarriage, Fertility Treatments, and High Risk Pregnancy

Disclaimer: This post is for those who want all the details. It's not a happy post and it will be one of the longest I will write this year. This is a very detailed explanation of how I stumbled, fought, and randomly wandered into my current pregnancy. It is a full account for those who may be struggling with fertility issues themselves.

In Spring of 2011, Abe and I found ourselves taking an extremely close look at our marriage. We discussed openly what we liked and what we didn't like. In the weeks surrounding our 10th Anniversary, we found that we needed to overhaul just about every aspect of our lives together. It wasn't easy. It wasn't kind. It was, however, necessary for the survival of our marriage.

The biggest revelation to come out of these dark days was that we both wanted another child. This took us both by surprise.  

We had been so mentally trapped by the idea that we couldn't have more kids that we had stopped thinking about whether or not we wanted more kids.

My pregnancies have been difficult and dangerous. Both deliveries were C-Sections. After our youngest, Jaime, was born, we were told that the risk would be far too high to ever consider having another child. In Fall 2009, I was hospitalized for 4 days with a Triple Pulmonary Embolism (3 blood clots in my lungs. It's a miracle that I'm alive) and again I was told that I would be absolutely insane to ever consider having more children.

In the darkest weeks of Spring 2011, I went through something I still can't fully explain. The stress of everything took it's toll and I neither slept nor ate in healthy amounts for a month. Food became such a foreign concept that when I finally did begin to eat again, my stomach could not tolerate solids and I had to start by having half of a Slim Fast shake for breakfast, another half for lunch, and some form of thin broth for dinner. While this may seem dangerous, my body could not handle more than that. There were several days when I couldn't even finish half a Slim Fast. Whatever this phenomenon was, it changed me physically. In addition to losing over 20 lbs, I started healing in ways I couldn't have imagined. Scar tissue from past surgeries started to dissolve and I regained feeling along the surgical lines in my stomach. A few doctors have speculated that my body went into some kind of survival mode; a "worst case scenario"/"end of the world" level of functioning. The mental anguish I went through sent a very clear message to my body: Things are bad and they're probably not going to get any better. My body reacted accordingly.

With my body suddenly healthier than it had been in years, I visited my doctor. I wanted to know exactly what had changed. A full physical and lots of extra blood tests came back with a common message: I was healthy. For those of you following along at home, I reiterate: Before the accidental body "reset": Not healthy. Afterward: Healthy. I asked my physician the one question I hadn't considered in years: Was I healthy enough to have a baby? His answer was a resounding yes. Maybe I should have been hopeful, but what I actually felt was fear.

What if he was wrong? In my fragile mental state, could I afford to let hope seep back in where it had long been banished? What if it was true, but turned out to be temporary? 

After telling Abe the results of the tests, I got online and found information on local experts. I called my insurance and found that they would cover a phenomenal Maternal-Fetal Medicine Specialist with experience in cases with risk factors like mine. I contacted his office and was asked a series of questions to determine whether or not I qualified to be considered for his care. It was explained that because he only treats high risk patients, they did not make it a practice to accept every patient who called. Luckily, I did meet the requirements. I was given an appointment... approximately 6 months down the line. Waiting for this appointment was difficult, but I took the opportunity to prepare myself by spending a lot of time at the gym and by improving my diet.

My appointment with Dr. Branch was short and mostly subsisted of determining which tests I should have done before trying to have another child. He ordered several blood tests which, (in addition to the results of the ones that my primary care doctor had shared) revealed that I could have another baby. At least, I could hypothetically.

Try, Try Again

After my appointment with Dr. Branch, my husband and I tried to prepare ourselves mentally and physically for another pregnancy. As physically unprepared as we had been for so many years, it was surprisingly harder to get mentally prepared. We wanted to be on the same page. We wanted to communicate openly and honestly without causing each other pain. We considered these things to be pregnancy prerequisites. My fear that this miracle window of baby-possibility could close at any moment was in direct conflict with meeting those pregnancy prerequisites. We decided to reach a sort of compromise and to start trying (though not trying with any plan or method - more as a "maybe baby" mentality) as soon as we were both seeing therapists. In September 2011, I found out I was pregnant. 3 weeks later, we lost the baby. In November 2011, I got 2 positive pregnancy tests... then nothing. In late January 2012, I miscarried yet again.

Something was wrong. I found Dr. Erica Johnstone - a reproductive endocrinologist - and made an appointment. With Dr. Johnstone's guidance, I started daily injections of Heparin (a blood thinner) and a course of Clomid and a single injection of Ovidrel in March. While ultrasounds made it look like we would conceive triplets, we ended up not conceiving at all.

At this point, I needed to keep my mind healthy. I had accepted an Artist in Residency opportunity at the Sloth Sanctuary in Costa Rica and that's where I spent April (2012).

                                                    Me and Becca, a choloepus sloth in Costa Rica.

Coming home meant getting back to work. I kicked up my photography projects to an all-time high and started editing my still yet-to-be-released book about my time in Costa Rica. (I swear, I will get it done SOON!) I had the opportunity to go back and start fertility treatments again, but the Clomid had made me very ill and I had packed on nearly 30 lbs in the month of March. I wasn't entirely sure I was ready to go back to that. Abe & I started to consider adoption and we resumed our "maybe baby" routine.

In many ways, this was exactly what we needed. Anyone who has actively tried to get (and stay) pregnant can tell tales of how difficult it can be to relax when a doctor has specifically told you to. It doesn't really work that way. Relaxing only works when you're not trying to do it. Consoling ourselves with the idea that adoption or fostering a child may be our option later on, we relaxed and just enjoyed our time with our two pre-teen daughters.

Fast forward to early July. Every member of the family came down with the flu. It was an ugly flu that landed each of us in bed. As each family member recovered, I noticed something: I wasn't recovering. In fact, I was getting worse. A quick look at the calendar revealed that while I may have had the flu, it wasn't the only thing making me feel like I was on the smallest boat on Earth. I was pregnant. Unsure and in an exaggerated state of disbelief, I threw on the least disgusting pajama pants in my closet, pulled back my hair, put on just enough lipstick to make me look not-dead, and drove to the local Target store. 2 days and 3 home pregnancy tests later, the disbelief started to wear off. I had told Abe as soon as I had completed the first test. He was ecstatic, but neither of us wanted to raise our hopes just yet. I called Dr. Johnstone's office and told them what was happening. They got me an appointment within a few days and confirmed that I was 4 weeks 3 days pregnant - 2 weeks shy of the 6 weeks my calendar had told me to expect. I didn't know what to think. I was put on Lovenox (a daily injectable blood thinner) and told to continue my prenatal vitamins (for the record: I always take prenatal vitamins. They do wonders for my hair & nails).

2 weeks later, I found myself back in Dr. Johnstone's office for a viability ultrasound. The baby was growing at the same rate as before and Dr. Johnstone said that I probably just ovulated late. She confirmed the heartbeat and gave me a grave warning: I would need to get an appointment with a high risk OB as soon as possible; there were 4 cysts growing rapidly and if they continued to grow, I would need uterine surgery during my second trimester.

I made an appointment with Dr. Silver (my current high risk OB) at the start of September and spent the majority of August praying for a miracle. Near the end of August, I woke up to a very sharp pain in my left side. I panicked. I called Dr. Johnstone's office and they got me in for an emergency ultrasound the next day. The ultrasound showed that the baby was doing fine, but they couldn't really tell what was going on with my left ovary. I was sent to a nearby hospital for a more intensive study. The intensive study was stressful and the results didn't come back until morning. The only consolation I had was that things were not bad enough for them to keep me in the hospital. The following morning I had my results and they could not have been better! Though my ovary had been damaged by the Clomid I took back in March, it was okay and the cysts had started to shrink.

Two weeks later, these results were confirmed by Dr. Silver. I do not need surgery. The prayers of so many of our friends and family have meant so much to us and it was wonderful to be able to tell them that things are going to be okay.

Now, we're 14 weeks 4 days along and things are still far from normal, but we're doing well. I had an emergency room visit a couple of weeks ago due to extreme pain in my chest, but they didn't find anything abnormal. My Lovenox shots have been changed to Heparin (per my request. The needles are smaller, but the injections have to be done every 12 hours instead of every 24.) and my Heparin dosage has been increased. Morning Sickness usually goes away after the first trimester... I've yet to see any sign of it fading, but I am hopeful.

If anyone has any questions, please feel free to ask. I will always remember the stress and the pain of TTC (that's "Trying to Conceive") and I am happy to discuss what has worked and what hasn't worked for us. If you or a loved one are TTC, please know that my heart goes with you. Fertility issues have been a part of my entire life and I can honestly say that I have seen the depths of the pain that they can cause. The key reason that Abe and I came to the conclusion of adoption so quickly was that I am adopted. My parents wanted a child with such intensity that they could not let infertility stop them from having a family. Again, if there are any questions I can help with, please do not hesitate to ask.

Love, Peace, and Hope,



  1. I went to the perinatal clinic at the U. I saw Dr Sullivan, but Dr silver actually delivered little man. He is great, go fight win girl. You inspire me!

  2. Thanks, Myra! Dr. Silver has been really wonderful to us, but we've also seen Dr. Branch. The whole clinic is just spectacular. I feel very confident in the team. Our next move is to find out if I can deliver at the U or if I have to go to St. Marks for my insurance. My fingers are crossed for the U!