Greetings faithful blog readers,
First of all, thanks for all the love, encouragement, and support on Thursday; we are truly grateful to have each of you in our lives, especially as we take a new journey into the unknowns of parenthood.
I wanted to open up on the blog today about topics I've never written about. This post will take a turn for the personal, so fair warning: sad (but authentic) content ahead.
I guess the first thing I wanted to share is that deciding we wanted to be parents wasn't easy for us. Neither of us have "always known" that we wanted kids. We went into marriage with a decision of sorts on the family question which was "zero or two," meaning we thought we'd either have no kids or have two. I didn't start thinking seriously about the kids question until the ends of 2015 (though before that, I annoyed my cousin and mother with some long conversations on the topic which went nowhere). I'd always counted on having a few years for just the two of us before seriously considering the kids question, so that's what I did. If you've been reading the blog for awhile, you know we really made the most out of the past few years. We've built our careers and our savings, traveled, moved into a house, and most importantly, our relationship has strengthened. But neither Brendan nor I are "checklist people." We didn't want to parent simply because it was "what people do;" we certainly didn't want to go into it because we felt like it was expected or just the next "item on the checklist." When I thought about parenting, I felt completely overwhelmed by it. I knew it wasn't a fair decision to go into parenthood because I expected to "get something out of it." If I was going to do it, it'd be for the experience alone; I also knew I'd have to live with having little control (over who my child was, what happened to my child, whether my child would like me even, etc.) I already struggle with anxiety and didn't know if I could accept the staggering responsibilities and all this uncertainty. Brendan said, essentially, I could go either way, what do you want?
I still didn't know, so I took a break from trying to figure it out. Once I stopped thinking about it so much, I ended up having three experiences that swayed me on the kid question. Written here, they sound ridiculous. That's because the conclusions I drew from them were more emotional than logical. One of them involved a little girl at the college mistaking me for her mother, another was watching a horror movie (The Babadook) with Brendan and a subsequent conversation that followed, and the last experience was a conversation I had with a wise and experienced co-worker I adore. I talked to Brendan about how I felt, and he was excited about the prospect of becoming parents too. We decided to plan one more thing that was just for us: we'd always talked about traveling to Africa, and we decided to make it happen pre-kids.
In all the prep work to leave for Africa, there were a lot of doctor's visits. I made our wishes to start trying for kids after returning known, and we picked our treatments for preventing malaria and what vaccines to get and when accordingly. We had an amazing time on safari, and since we drove over 3,000 miles across Namibia (one of the least densely populated countries in the world), we had plenty of quiet time to talk and sort through all our feelings. When we got back from Africa in August, I was excited at the prospect of taking my last birth control pill.
A few weeks later, in September 2016, I was waiting on my period. I took a test, but it was negative. I felt fine about it but a little disappointed. I knew the odds weren't high that I'd get pregnant that first month, but I'd still gotten my hopes up. A few days later, still no period. I took another test while getting ready for work. It took a few minutes, but that second line showed up. I was so excited that I woke Brendan up to show him. A May baby. I fell immediately in love. We were giddy with excitement texting each other back and forth that day.
Right away though, something didn't feel right. My tests didn't get darker. I felt panicked. I went to the doctor for blood work a couple of days after taking my home test. They called and said to come in for more blood work after the weekend. The weekend felt slow because I was desperate to know what was going on. On Monday, I was so relieved to learn that my levels were more than doubling in 48 hours: everything looked good, and my first OB appointment was scheduled for October 18, 2016.
My anxiety that something was wrong didn't go away though. I didn't experience morning sickness which worried me. I called the nurse who reassured me that everyone was different and not to worry. I did eventually start to feel some nausea, and I did grow some too, but during week seven of the pregnancy, I had a terrible nightmare that I'd miscarried. We were hopeful though: we talked nursery plans and bought a larger car; I kept a pregnancy journal and wrote in it every night. We let ourselves fall in love with this baby. The days leading up to the nine week appointment seemed to crawl, and then we were finally there.
In the waiting room, I was filled with dread. During the ultrasound, the tech asked if I'd been taking any fertility drugs. I thought that was a strange question and told her no. She got really quiet and said she needed to get the doctor. We already knew something was wrong, but I wasn't prepared for the information the doctor gave us next: it appeared I'd lost triplets early on. He said that this was extremely rare and that miscarriage was more common with a multiples pregnancy. He also explained that I was experiencing a "missed miscarriage" (a miscarriage that had gone unrecognized by my body). Blood work confirmed there was no way my dates were off; the pregnancy wasn't going to progress, and I was given two options: take pills to induce miscarriage at home or go to the hospital for a D&C. We were still wrapping our heads around the loss and now grappling with trying to make a medical decision. I felt lost, terrified, and so sad. The same day, Brendan's mom called us with news that Brendan's young cousin had died. It was just the worst day.
To me, the surgery seemed like the better option. I didn't want to feel pain or be aware of what was happening. It was a Tuesday the day we found out, and the surgery couldn't be performed until Thursday. I went to work on Wednesday; we both did. It was midterms week, and our students were preparing for major tests. I needed to be there, but it was hard to act as though it was business as usual.
Thursday morning came. I signed a lot of papers. I had to tell the hospital my religion and sign more papers about not having a living will. For the first time, I wondered if I'd made the wrong choice. It was cold in my room, and I couldn't eat all day. When a nurse put in the IV, I told him I was going to pass out right before I did. Brendan was with me the whole time; I could tell he was scared but staying calm for my benefit. I was nearly in tears before they wheeled me to the OR. I was afraid of something going wrong and suddenly very aware of how many people I was depending on. In a way, it was moving experience as I realized, for the first time in awhile, how interdependent we all are.
When I woke up from the surgery, I immediately felt to make sure there wasn't a scar (a hysterectomy is an extremely rare complication of the D&C, and I'd been worried about that). As I was coming back to consciousness, I told the nurse that I'd really wanted to be a mom to our babies. She started crying and told me I was the same age as her child. She sat with me until Brendan was able to come. We picked up food on the way home. I was starving.
The next day, I woke up and went to teach my 8AM. We both did. I put on my usual teacher persona; those three hours in the classroom were actually a relief. I felt more like myself there. My wise mentor and professor, Amy, years earlier had told me this secret: "to students you're just Professor Egan." The fact that they didn't know what was going on gave my life at least one element of normalcy.
I picked up my mom from the airport that afternoon. She'd changed her flight plans and came directly to us from a work trip. We'd had plans to visit a bed and breakfast in Fredericksburg and attend a benefit concert, but we canceled them. My mom made us get out of the house that weekend: furniture shopping, grocery store, a movie, eating out...she brought us some sense of normalcy in a really sad time. And when she left Sunday, life just went on from there. Brendan cooked, made me eat, did the laundry, and kept the house almost spotless. He did everything he could to take care of me and cheer me. I tried my best to keep going: I got my hair done, we saw my friend's play, did activities with the club we co-advise, handed out candy on Halloween, watched all the Harry Potter movies, and I healed from the surgery. In November, we met up with friends at SCMLA in Dallas. I was starting to feel a little better. Then, the election happened. I don't feel I need to elaborate on how that affected me.
Despite the setbacks, life put good in my path: I was nominated for the Teaching Excellence Award at school, and I found out I was a finalist for PANK's CHAP[BOOK] contest. The holidays were tough, but one thing I've learned about life is that you can't just stay sad. We went on because we had to, and if I looked, there was support to be found where and when I most needed it. In truth, there were also some really hurtful comments thrown my way. Bad things happening to good people is something some people just can't accept. To comfort themselves, they'll try to make a terrible experience related to you having done something wrong. It must have been something you did or a lesson you needed to learn. For every negative comment, there were more people with helpful reactions: people that sent flowers, brought dinners, and made every effort to show us we are loved. I tried to put my focus on all that love. At my post operation follow up, my doctor told me he was sure I'd be pregnant again by May (my original due date). I felt hopeful, but due to my long cycles post surgery, it was December before we could try again.
We did several things to honor and remember our loss. They're personal, so I won't detail them here, but I'll say I never will "get over it." Loss is something that changes you and it's okay. I don't appreciate when people tell me I'll have a child and forget about our first pregnancy; I don't wish for the erasure of the sadness: the sadness is because I lost but also because I loved. I also put my energies into becoming politically active: specifically in trying to protect other women from this disaster, which increases the cost of the D&C and creates more red tape and hassle during an already devastating time. Thinking beyond my own grief helped me to cope with it.
At the end of the year, I found out PANK would publish my chapbook; 2017 started with winning the Teaching Excellence Award (and with it, a spring break trip to San Francisco). While in San Francisco, we learned we'd both been accepted to the Tin House Summer Workshop in Portland. The fact that we'd both been admitted was a big deal and really gave us something to look forward to together. Things were looking up personally, though I couldn't figure out what was up with my body.
In February, I was sick for nearly two weeks, and my cycle was long; I booked a doctor's appointment. After an ultrasound, my doctor thought I may have insulin resistance and put me on Metformin. The drug had helped two of my friends conceive, so I was really hopeful about it. I instantly felt better on it. I was peeing less and needing to eat less; it also didn't make me sick at all. My doctor said it was all a good sign that the drug was working.
I wanted to be proactive about testing, and my doctor let me take the lead. My thinking was if there was a problem, I wanted to know about it sooner rather than later. I'd tell him the tests I wanted, and he agreed to do them. He never tried to talk me out of anything and really let me make my own plan. I appreciated how he listened to my concerns and looked into them. I kept track of everything in a Word document. March testing revealed everything was great on Brendan's end. We had an amazing time in San Francisco and in Napa. I really enjoyed all the wine, which was perhaps the only plus to not being pregnant. We tried two cycles of Clomid (fertility drug) and Ovidrel (ovulation trigger). Thanks to monitoring, we knew our timing was perfect each month, but we had no luck. My friends assured me everything was fine, and I tried my best to believe them.
When May rolled around and we still weren't pregnant, I was super sad. We were doing all these end of the school year activities, and I kept thinking of what "should be." Our would be due date came and went. We went to a friend's wedding the next week; I focused on being present for that joyous occasion, and my heart was happy for Memorial Day weekend. At just the right moment, life would give me something to celebrate. I'd scheduled a HSG (a test that involves having dye moved through your uterus and fallopian tubes for x-rays) for when we returned home, and I felt confident we'd finally have some answers.
The HSG was painful but not nearly as bad as I'd worried it would be. It revealed everything was healthy and fine (no blockages, no fibroids, no polyps). Brendan and I made a pro/con list and decided to give up on the idea of medicated/monitored cycles for the summer. We were going to be traveling (to Taos, Austin, Portland, Connecticut, and Maine) and fitting in appointments would have been possible but annoying. I started envisioning a new future: maybe a trip to Asia, I thought. We let the doctor know our decision and left for Taos the next day.
We had a wonderful month in Taos. We stayed busy with writing, I found a yoga studio I loved, and we spent time outdoors. Being away from the stress of the semester was much needed, but I still didn't get pregnant. I coped by booking us a romantic evening soaking at the hot springs, a massage, and a white water rafting trip. I turned 31 and thankfully still felt as happy about my birthday as ever. We headed home for a few days and then drove to Austin. We celebrated four years of marriage and then flew to Portland for the Tin House workshop. The days were long and busy, but I knew it was the week. Due to the exhausting schedule, I didn't think this would be our cycle, and I'd resigned myself to acceptance. Before leaving Portland, we indulged our love of sushi, oysters, and fancy drinks. When we flew to Connecticut a couple of weeks later, I packed pregnancy tests but only half heartily. At dinner the first night, I only drank half a beer just in case, so I know I was still holding on to a little hope.
I wasn't planning to test unless my period was late, but that first night in Connecticut, I had a dream that I was watching a positive pregnancy test develop. Brendan had already gone downstairs to make coffee; I groggily dug a cheap strip test out of my bag. I carried the test back to our room and set it down where I looked at it for the first time. I'd imagined maybe squinting and seeing a faint hint of a second line, but this was nothing like that: this was an obvious second line within less than a minute. Whoa, I was pregnant.
I momentarily debated waiting to tell Brendan until further testing confirmed it, but who was I kidding? The moment he got upstairs, I told him about my dream and showed him the test. We took about ten minutes to let things settle in before heading downstairs. It was July 26th, twelve days shy of our one year anniversary of ditching the pill: we'd been waiting for this moment, and it was here. I quickly emailed my nurse who was super happy for us and told me I'd have to call and schedule an appointment. That'd be tricky since we weren't ready to tell family the news just yet. As thrilled and hopeful as we were, a part of us didn't want to get too ahead of ourselves. We knew there were no guarantees.
The next morning, I took a First Response test. The test line came up positive before the control line even. I took it as a good sign of the HCG increasing fast (at the same point in my cycle during pregnancy #1, my tests had still been negative).
I snuck a moment away to call the doctor's office. I purposely scheduled my first appointment for the week after a bachelorette party/bridal shower I was hosting. I didn't want to have my heart broken before my friend's big event. I wanted the party to be special and perfect, so when we got back home, I threw myself into planning and let that be a distraction. I allowed myself to tell one friend: a woman I'd gone to high school with that I'd recently reconnected with. We'd been talking about trying to conceive issues, and she was already through her first trimester. She was amazing and listened to many of my anxieties including my retelling of a horrible nightmare I had the night before my first ultrasound where I dreamt I was pregnant with a shark.
I had extremely high anxiety on the way to the ultrasound. I was hopeful we'd see a heartbeat, and I already knew the miscarriage statistics based on that first ultrasound heart rate. Perhaps that sounds grim, but I wanted to know the realities upfront. I instantly cried when I saw our baby's heart flickering on the screen and heard that beautiful sound, and I cried the entire ultrasound. There it was: one little baby sized .74 centimeters with a heartbeat of 129 beats per minute measuring 6 weeks, 5 days (2 days ahead of what I'd expected). This put us in the lowest miscarriage bracket (6.5%); I felt extremely relieved but by no means did my anxiety disappear. It'd be another two weeks until our first official OB appointment.
The next day, my morning sickness kicked in. I spent the day on the couch; I was nauseated and vomiting all day. I've never been so happy to be sick in my life! I called the daycare where we'd been on the waitlist over a year and a half (I joined the list months before we even started trying) and gave them our official due date. Our baby was the size of a blueberry at this point but already was my whole world. In the next two weeks, I had nausea most days, but only three days where I actually was throwing up. I was extremely hungry all the time but completely turned off by most foods. I'd eat macaroni and cheese and scrambled eggs but that was pretty much it. Poor Brendan took to doing all the food prep as the smell of the trash can and fridge would literally make me vomit. I appreciated every symptom as a good sign. I told Brendan I highly suspected we were having a boy!
The first official OB appointment went great. The baby measured 8 weeks, 5 days (exactly on target based on ultrasound #1) and had a heart rate of 181. We were nearly at the same point where we'd discovered the loss during pregnancy #1. The due date was officially set for April 5th, 2018. I was relieved but still afraid.
I plan to continue with the story of our current pregnancy in a future post, but I'll conclude by saying that pregnancy is an emotional roller coaster: the anxiety has been high, the love I feel for this child is immense, and the process is completely out of my control. All I can do is ask for love, prayers, and support. Some of my friends told me they'd cried when they saw our news posted on Thursday; perhaps they knew the big courage it took for me to post it.
It's not that I don't know what can go wrong, but I'm learning how to celebrate even in moments of uncertainty; it's been over a year since our loss, and I'm just now able to write our story the way it deserves to be told. It's not a story about what we've lost: it's a story about how much we let ourselves love, how we faced the hardest hurt, and how we, despite knowing that potential for more hurt, let ourselves fall deeply in love all over again.
Here's to love: even when it's hard, when it makes you vulnerable, when you can't control what happens next; Because it's still the best thing to live for.