Saturday, October 16, 2010

Long post: pregnancy loss and difficult days

I strongly believe that one is never given more than one can handle in life... but that we are tested, strongly tested. This thought is the candlelight I plod toward through the deepest darkness that comes into my life. Today (well, technically yesterday), while certainly not one of my darkest days, is surely a trial.

It's Pregnancy Loss and Infant Remembrance Day today (well, technically yesterday). I didn't know this when I was getting up and going about my morning. Now that I know, I can't resist saying a few words you've probably heard before from me, again.

We came late to the game of trying to conceive: we were 37 and it was our 19th wedding anniversary when we discussed the issue after years and years of thinking we didn't want children, or were "not ready" for them. Pat was suddenly, passionately in favor of the idea. It took me only a day or two to get over my cold feet; I had been the enthusiastic one years before, but had so long set aside the notion that I was totally diffident. I made an appointment for a check-up with my ob/gyn to see what he thought. While he was "under the hood" doing all the annual exam stuff, he offered to remove my IUD... and, although I had thought I'd have to make an appointment for a surgical removal later, simply yoinked it, showed it to me (I saluted it -- after all, it did yeoman service), and told me to go get pregnant.

Get pregnant we did, as easily as some people catch cold. But stay pregnant, we could not. Six times, over the last few years, we experienced the roller-coaster of emotions that goes with early pregnancy loss, most times from thrombophilia, and a couple times from low progesterone. We went to a fertility specialist, who took one look at (fat ol') me and decided not even to test my husband; after lots of tests on me for fatness-related causes, he found only thrombophilia -- and refused to test for the low progesterone even though I had my short luteal phases well documented. He resolved to put me on heparin once a pregnancy had hung on long enough to be vigorous.

But after two more miscarriages --one horrible, with me waiting for six days to pass the dead tissue I knew was not viable-- while under his care, both due to low progesterone (and his callous scoffing at me when I told him I was sure it was low), I asked him in exasperation what the next step was. His solution was intra-uterine insemination -- an expensive way to inseminate a human ovum.

I was smart enough to realize that this did nothing to correct the progesterone problem, and get the baby far enough along to benefit from blood thinners. So I fired this doctor and went to a nurse practitioner with my charts. She confirmed immediately that I had low progesterone and prescribed it every month from ovulation until menstruation.

Progesterone wasn't good for my state of mind, and cost a ton. It disrupted my sleep patterns and made my body tender and leaky in unpleasant ways that interfered with my sex life (already suffering from a surfeit of scheduling and pressure). If I missed a dose and was late on the next, I would be dooming any zygote that was trying to nuzzle into the uterine lining. My stress levels soared.

During the three years described above, I couldn't take really any over the counter medication for colds, virii, headaches, muscle aches, sleeplessness, stress, my rosacea or other allergies, etc. I logged a lot of sick days. My boss wasn't happy. I wasn't happy.

We miscarried again, very early, while taking progesterone. We quit trying to conceive and decided to adopt. I took a moral stand on an issue at work that eventually caused me to quit my job. Then I got into an ugly battle over unemployment insurance. I was interviewed many times by people who liked my resume, but some found me overqualified, others found me overpriced for the depressed job market, and the most promising found me toxic, once they asked the terrible question of why I'd quit my last job and got an honest but heavily redacted answer.

All of a sudden I was 40. I had promised myself that if I couldn't deliver a baby before I was 41, I was too damn old to keep trying. And I had quit trying to conceive even before that.

And it helped. My stress level started receding, slowly. Sex was fun again.

In February, I got tipsy. I took cold medicine. I drank so much caffeine (by accident!) that I had heart palpitations. I ate some really unsafe, marvelous food: raw seafood, rare beef, lunchmeats, bleu cheeses.

One day I was driving to the grocery store and was feeling emotional. I knew that as I was unemployed and we were broke, adoption would be hard. But that was okay! I'd buck up, hitch myself up by my bootstraps, and we'd knock their socks off. Yes. We just had to commit to waiting a year or two to prove our financial worth. And if they never approved us, because of our looming student loan debt, well, then, we'd been all right together for 21 years of married life and almost five years dating before that. We were partners. We were a team. We were complete.

At the grocery store, I had a dizzy spell. I fell against the car, and when I did, my breasts felt horribly sore.

I knew I was pregnant, with bitter certainty. And I would be damned if I would put one more cent or one more bit of effort into this dreadful lost cause. I didn't even want to tell Pat. I wasn't even going to buy a pregnancy test. Screw it!

And driving home, I had waves of nausea. I decided to use an ovulation predictor strip as a makeshift pregnancy test (it can be done!) because I still had a bunch of them laying around and God knew I wasn't going to use them for their stated purpose.

The little fucker was all aglow with two pink lines before I could set it on the counter.

So I agonized for a while, 'til Pat got home and the doctor's office had closed for the weekend, and then reluctantly told him we had to buy pregnancy tests. He was stoic but unhappy. We went out and bought the least sensitive brand available. We didn't want any false hopes.

This test, too, was positive before it could be set down. I burst into tears.

We cried all weekend. Neither one of us wanted to go through it again.

On Monday, I still tested positive with the remaining test. I called my doctor's office and he sent me to the lab. I tested positive there, too. Immediately, they put me on progesterone and heparin. Slowly, during the slowest, most treacherous feeling first trimester, we began to feel hope. Then delight. Then awe, as the baby's growth and vigor dwarfed all of our prior expectations.

And now, I live in mixed faith and fear, a weird mixture of wary joy. I am 35 weeks pregnant now, with our little boy baby. And every day I try to banish my concerns and live mindfully and blissfully. But it is hard.

The doctor is worried about my blood pressure and monitoring me for pre-eclampsia. His suspicions are reinforced by my age, weight, the fact that I'm a first-time mom, etc., but also by the tendency of one of his nurses to get erroneously high blood pressure readings from me. Every. Time. Even though nobody else does.

So. Today.

We went in for our non-stress test (where they monitor the baby's heartbeat and how it rises and falls after s/he moves -- more active/reactive is better!) We are having these once a week. I have the nurse wait to take my blood pressure until we have done the test, as sometimes it's up when I first get there.

Only while I am sitting for the test, I get uncomfortable. My blood pressure soars. The nurse gets a reading of 150/110 and lets me wait another 10 minutes before retesting.

Then the improbable: the doctor, too, gets a reading off the scales. He doesn't like it and sends me across the street to the hospital where we will deliver.

They monitor the baby, even using the Baby Bothering Device to make sure he's awake (it looks like a cheap black plastic pepper shaker, but it vibrates/buzzes and it scared the bejeezus out of the kid, who went rigid from head to toe and then squirmed for all he was worth). They take my blood pressure every 15 minutes. When I am uncomfortable, it is up. When I lie down, it falls to very normal. They take some blood to check for bile and stuff from distressed organs (a sign of pre-eclampsia). They take a urine sample to test for protein leaks (same thing). They lose the urine and waste 1/2 hour looking for it before they finally ask (let!) me to pee again and just test that.

Four hours. Tax day, do or die, since we filed for extension in April and things have inevitably come up to make us procrastinate this month. I'm fine, but they tell me that this will probably be a weekly occurrence. When I am being released, they tell me that my doctor wants to see me twice a week and that this might be a TWICE weekly occurrence. Call my doctor to find out what time Tuesday they've scheduled me for. And can I do this 24-hour urine collection, please? Starting right now?

No, I cannot. I have my shower tomorrow. Can't leave the shower to ferry urine to the hospital, sorry, NO.

So we come home, irate, thirsty, starving, and grab a burger on the way in. We eat like ravenous antisocial dire wolves, while assembling tax receipts and things. I get about 20 phone calls, most of them stupid.

One of the calls is Mom. Can I call the exterminator to see if he'll come check the traps he put in the attic day before yesterday, because he doesn't want us to have dead things upstairs over the weekend? (He FINALLY showed up to plug the hole we knew they were coming in through... his employee refused, but offered to set snap-traps at $125/visit. No, thank you. We can set snap traps. Great guy, too -- except that he pushed aside food being prepared by a pregnant woman to spread out used, bloody, dirty rat traps on my kitchen counters like a direly grim Tarot spread, and risked having his head bitten off by me... which I didn't because he is Mom's friend.) I didn't want to call him, because I wanted a bath and he has shown disconcertingly inconvenient timing in the past... so I had Pat climb up the attic and check.

Of five snap traps, four had dead rat residents. Eew! So much for closing the hole... either they are still getting in, or there is a whole condo of them up there hiding in the rafters. Two were little juvenile rats. We hate killing them because we like them: shiny, healthy mammals with whiskers like plastic filament and inquisitive faces. But they need to get the fuck out of my house, because a baby is on his way. Pat took them away, but he doesn't want to do it anymore. I don't blame him. Between rat traps and volunteer wildlife rescue, we end up handling a lot of animals with rigor mortis, who have assumed the shape of the letter "L" -- and now that I'm pregnant, he is doing ALL of the corpse-wrangling for us both. Poor man. Anyway, I'm convinced that the answer may be NOT putting peanut-buttered traps up there where they like the aroma -- can't we bait traps with something they hate? Is that illogical? Sure, but ... aaaaaiiiiiieeeeeee!!!

Then we couldn't find our W-2s. Eventually we did. And we had to go through our medical bills again (which is just cruel today) and my business receipts (which is just cruel anytime, but that's my innate brilliant bookkeeping speaking.) Taxes are ridiculously frustrating, and I am sure verrry good for my blood pressure. Wheee!

But eventually we took a dinner & movie break with Robert, and saw Red, which was rather good (how could it not be? It's a Warren Ellis adaptation.) This is probably the last movie I'll try to see before baby gets here: I can't sit comfortably in any position, and now that I know it rockets the blood pressure, I'm going to excuse myself. I even took in a pillow to render the seat-back tolerable. Nonetheless, I feel much better, although uncomfortably full-tummied and heartburny, with major pain from pubic symphysis disorder, and still quite aware that I need to start a 24-hour urine collection, and still a little freaked out about taxes and rats and pre-eclampsia and stuff like our shitty, shitty Senate. You know. Stuff.

It's never more than we can handle, right? Right? Just please give me one more month (-ish) and let this child enter the world healthy, so I can stop feeling like my body is a perilous habitat. Just this once, let me be a haven, not a hazard.


Melissa said...

I just found your blog and this post, and was so touched by your story. You're a very strong woman having made it through so many miscarriages and now, a successful pregnancy. I'm also currently 36 weeks pregnancy with my first baby, and I'm 36 years old. I suffered a miscarriage prior to this pregnancy, so I know how devastating it is, although I cannot imagine going through what you have gone through. And pregnancy, even a successful one, is SO hard after you've had a loss.

I started a company called Angel Bracelets ( after I had my loss, and I thought you might be interested in sharing your story with us. We publish stories of loss on our Angel Stories page, and in addition we support numerous pregnancy and infant loss organizations with our memorial bracelets. I hope you find this helpful. Good luck with the rest of your pregnancy - we are both almost there!

Ducks said...

Melissa, thank you for the kind words -- and for coming by. Like any loss or violence, miscarriage creates a kind of silence: it's difficult to communicate effectively what one has been through and one's instinct is to choose one's words delicately so as to protect the uninitiated, but people who have gone through it instinctively understand. It's wonderful to meet you, although I wish it were in other circumstances.

Your website is beautiful! I have rarely seen such commemorative products that are as tasteful and elegant as yours. I would be happy to share my story if you think it's worth sharing. And thank you for supporting these organizations, too. I've never quite known what to do, and unlike you, have been cowardly enough to try to put my experiences behind me -- insofar as I can.

Good luck, and all the best wishes with your pregnancy, too.