… the reproductive adventures, with a guaranteed HEA, of a thirty-something, married, Southern teen librarian with a 14-year-old's sense of humor, an awkward spirit, and a stubborn, mouthy, redheaded country boy to accompany her through life.
It’s been some time since I’ve updated. I planned to do so when we heard a heartbeat, when we hit the second trimester, when we learned the gender, after the anatomy scan… and here we are, at 24 weeks.
I have, of course, been updating my primary blog about completely unrelated things all this time. I suppose that, after two rounds of IVF, a natural pregnancy seemed too good to be true. At first, I didn’t want to jinx it. Then, I didn’t want to discuss it as a miracle pregnancy, instead choosing to enjoy it as if my experience were no different from the average woman. Today, however, I am celebrating my 35th birthday and I can’t help but acknowledge what a huge number that is in the world of infertility. Regardless of the knowledge of how different individual bodies are, we all fear 35, as if we’ll wake up and our chances of conception willl somehow be so much lower than when we were 34 years 364 days.
Two years ago, I cried on my 33rd birthday, having just finished a failed IVF cycle and scheduled another for the next month. I didn’t know if I could do it again. I thought about the many versions of the future that could take place and the time I had to claim the life and title I so desperately wanted. Now, here I am, a mother of beautiful twin girls, 24 weeks pregnant with the boy I wished for when I blew out the candles on my 34th birthday… and I am so glad I didn’t give up.
I took the pregnancy test. If we were about to embark on more fertility treatments, in the form of an embryo transfer, I couldn’t allow myself to be triggered by a simple pregnancy test before we even start. So, a few days after my last post, I bought an 88 cent test from Wal-Mart. Predictably, it was negative and I was… okay. I had no expectation of any other result and was just annoyed with myself for wasting a dollar.
I’m not a frequent visitor of the infertility community, at least not for my own support. I have occasionally read about other’s struggles to remind myself that I’m one of the lucky ones, though. While it was truly crushing to find out that Jake’s sperm count was so low the urologist used the phrase “miracles happen” in regards to our conceiving naturally, our journey was a sprint, not a marathon. One year after receiving that devastating news, after two rounds of IVF, we were snowed in, painting our girls’ nursery and celebrating Valentine’s Day. We weren’t only thanking God for one baby, but two. As far as IVF goes, we had it easy. If the next transfer didn’t work, if none of our six frozen embryos ever took, it would be okay. We have our girls and they have each other. For many people, our family is the perfect size. When I think about all that infertility has taken from us, it helps to remember that.
All that infertility takes from a couple is a frequent theme in the community. It ruined our sex life for well over a year, as I’d often burst into tears after being together, knowing it would never make a baby. It cost us over $30,000. It ruined the chance of ever being surprised by a pregnancy. It caused unending stress until the moment I held my girls in my arms, which undoubtedly contributed to my developing perinatal cardiomyopathy and severe pneumonia, losing over half the blood in my body and nearly dying. That marred the first several months of my girls’ lives, as I constantly worried that I wouldn’t be around to see them grow up and, like me, they’d have to face life without a mama.
After all these losses, it seemed trivial to be disappointed that I’d never get that moment, when I could share my pregnancy with Jake. We’ve been watching Friday Night Lights, typically a Belle Show, but one he can enjoy having grown up playing football in rural Texas. Over the last few months, I’ve watched the scene where Tami tells Eric she’s pregnant at least a half dozen times, because that is exactly how Jake would react. That’s not a moment I would ever get, instead bonding over the far less romantic administration of subcutaneous shots and appointments to monitor my uterine lining. Reading the stories of others’ journeys, though, I could remember that it’s okay if I missed that moment, because there are so many far more precious ones I might never have experienced.
That was why it was so hard to talk myself into taking that pregnancy test. It hurt knowing I’d never have that moment and I feared it would crush me. While I didn’t experience the emotional breakdown I feared, it felt idiotic to take another one after two more weeks without a period. Obviously my cycle was still regulating. My girls aren’t even a year old. Despite being desperately worried for my health if I chose to pursue another pregnancy, my OBGYN had assured me that she was fine with my not being on birth control, since Jake’s sperm count was under a million the last time it was checked, so it made sense that it would take time for everything to regulate naturally.
Still, I needed to call the infertility clinic with day one, so I could schedule my transfer and I was eager to do so before I chickened out, knowing another pregnancy would be high risk after my troubles during delivery. The nurse had warned me that I’d need an ultrasound to test for a cyst if I didn’t get my period soon, so I begrudgingly decided that I’d make that appointment after our anniversary/Mother’s Day weekend. I didn’t want to ruin our fifth year and my first Mother’s Day with infertility drama. On Thursday, however, I was beginning to feel queasy and worried that I’d be sick over the weekend. I figured I needed to test once more before making the appointment anyway, if only to save myself the trouble of doing so at the clinic. I went to Dollar General, bought another $1 test and a can of soup, so I didn’t feel like I was completely wasting my time just purchasing another test.
When I got home, I quickly took the test, knowing I needed to put the girls down for their nap and sat playing with my phone while I waited a minute or so for the results, worried that I was somehow starting early menopause. I knew a negative test after a minute was likely a negative test after three minutes, but… it was positive.
Another staple of the infertility community is videos of women taking pregnancy tests, hoping to capture that moment when they get a positive, so they can share it with their children one day. I wish I could say that I’d have such a heartfelt moment about which to reminisce, but I don’t think that would be appropriate.
Carol Brady I ain’t.
“What the fuck?!?! That is not possible.”
I called Jake at work, breathing so hard I thought I’d pass out.
Me: “Do you have to stay at work?” Jake: “Um… I don’t know. Why? Are you okay? What’s wrong” Me: “I don’t want to tell you over the phone. Can you just come by for a minute?” Jake: “Okay. I’m leaving now.”
I immediately rushed back to Dollar General, a million thoughts racing through my mind, because this couldn’t be true and yet, false positives aren’t actually a thing. They’re plot devices in romance novels and TV shows. I bought the last two $1 tests, refusing to spend real money on nothing and raced home to immediately take both. As I hyperventilated, it came to me. Perhaps I’d bought a drug test! I’d been taking mild doses of medical marijuana, via gummy, nearly every night for some time, just to sleep. I rushed to the trash can to check the box, but no. It was indeed a pregnancy test… or rather three and they were all positive.
I was just coming out of the bathroom when Jake got home.
Jake: “Belle, the door’s locked.” I unlocked the door and sat on the bed. Jake: “Babe, what’s wrong?” Me: – clumsily shoved three tests at him – Jake: “What are these? What? You’re pregnant?” Me: “I guess so?” Jake: “That’s… cool.” Me: “This isn’t possible. This wasn’t supposed to happen. I haven’t had my echocardiogram yet. I don’t want to die! I don’t want to leave my girls!”
Jake: “Shhh… it’s okay. You’re not going to die.” Me: “They told me I couldn’t get pregnant! We have frozen embryos to use!”
This doesn’t actually happen, y’all. It’s just a story your well-meaning aunt tells, about how her best friend’s niece tried for years, took medications, did IVF, all for nothing and then, without warning, found out she was pregnant. It’s a story told with all the other well-intentioned platitudes about how you’ll definitely get your baby, even though they know nothing about your situation. If you stop trying and just have faith… you know, because infertile people didn’t pray hard enough. The urologist used the word “miracle” and if my cursory viewing of House is anything to go by, medical doctors don’t throw that word around a lot.
I suppose that’s the only way to explain it: a miracle. Despite my initial reaction and attempts not to get my hopes up… I want this baby. I’m so afraid that the pregnancy won’t be viable, that something will be wrong. The only thing I’ve ever wanted more was my sweet Violet and Scarlett. I worry about the medical marijuana and the heart medication I only stopped taking a month ago. I worry about Jake’s subpar sperm. I worry that I’m further along than I realize. I worry about all the one in a million odds that have kicked us in our asses so far. I’m petrified of getting sick again, of leaving my girls and a new baby, of being chronically ill for the rest of my life, despite getting the all clear from the cardiologist just yesterday.
So there it is… I’m pregnant. I’ll find out for sure what exactly that means in two weeks, but this was my moment. I got the surprise pregnancy and the chance to tell my husband… and infertility still ruined it. I am apparently no Tami Taylor and if this baby and I can stay healthy, I don’t even care.
We’ve officially made it to 20 weeks. I’ve been both dreading the anatomy scan and looking forward to having it behind us, petrified that something would go wrong and this would be the moment we received the Big Awful News. Yesterday, however, we saw the high risk doctor, a genetic counselor, and a sonographer to look over every centimeter of our girls and all looks good. That makes this my final post as the Belle of Infertility and I’ll be launching this blog and linking it to my main blog, belleofthelibrary.com. It’s been an awful ride and I can’t say I’ll miss it.
Zetus lapetus, online parents are the biggest martyrs. Note, I did not say “parents.” I know plenty of parents in real life who give realistic and not wholly negative portrayals of their day-to-day life, but online parents seem to be a different breed. Article after article exists about how hard everything is, regardless of all of the modern-day conveniences available to us, such as curbside pickup and online ordering. You can double the negativity for parents of multiples to the extent that I’m not even sure how they have time to write these woeful tales if they’re sooooo swamped and stressed out.
In all fairness, this is not a new phenomenon, so much as a a readaptation of an old one. Since college, I’ve noticed the competition to see who’s busier and more stressed. While I was going through a divorce, working two jobs, and starting grad school, I was also reading about my former French professor’s struggles of teaching and taking her kids to frigging cotillion and still making time for yoga and her latest cleanse. The competition wore me out then and it wears me out now. Yes, the biggest offenders have always seemed to be mothers, constantly comparing the stress of being the SAHM of one child, married to a wealthy oil man, to my generic spaghetti rings and 15 minute leg shaves between jobs, before ultimately staying up until 3:00 a.m. to finish a paper for my MLIS. Everyone struggles and if you have the ability to complain online, you do not qualify for the medal for struggling the most and neither do I! We live in an extraordinarily privileged society and all we do is complain and compare!
I get it. People need to vent and the internet seems to be the primary outlet, but does it have to be the sole commentary andforever a contest? Why are women always competing over who has it hardest?!?! I haven’t even had my babies yet and I’m so tired of all of the warnings from parents (mostly moms) about how difficult my life is going to be, because they have kids and they know, most of which are limited to online, because I can’t leave my house until I get the vaccine. Thanks for the tip, Microsoft Clippy, but I’m not an idiot and I don’t expect any of this to be fun for a long time. Having two newborns at the same time is undoubtedly going to be exhausting and expensive and stressful, but I get to have babies and there is no way that that will be more emotionally, physically, or financially draining than back-to-back rounds of IVF during a fucking pandemic… and if I’m wrong, what is the point of talking about it?!?! Maybe taking care of two newborns will be harder than spending days in bed imagining a life with no children, somehow scraping together thirty thousand dollars to try, or leaving work early to get progesterone shots in the ass every day for ten weeks, knowing it might all be for nothing. If that’s the case, maybe some words of encouragement and positivity might be more helpful than warnings and horror stories.
Quite frankly, if you got to have the children who are giving you such headaches, in the free and fun way, I really don’t want to hear about how tough it will be, because you can’t tell me how it compares to what Jake and I went through to get pregnant. You can’t imagine seeing your husband, who hasn’t cried since his senior year, get misty-eyed when he tells you there might never be babies. You can’t recall putting up the Christmas tree and picturing all the years of watching other people’s children open gifts, while you have none of your own. You can’t fathom a future without sick babies. bed time fights, disastrous family vacations, weird Halloween costumes no one understands, talks about dealing with bullies, sitting through those horrible class plays and concerts, and hearing your child say they hate you for the first time. No one realizes that couples going through infertility aren’t just thinking about all the good things they might miss, but the bad stuff, too. It’s every possible parenting scenario that’s made us cry, because we might never have it. Maybe that’s why, of the surprising number of couples who’ve struggled with infertility that I know, I’ve not heard a single pessimistic comment and the rest usually shut their traps, when I respond with “Better than no babies” I’ve had enough negativity around this pregnancy and I’d really like it if everyone would disperse from the line to say “I told you so” that seems to form around every new mom.
Jake and I had our first ultrasound with my OB on January 7th, at eleven weeks and two days. It was the first one he was able to attend and it was wonderful for him to hear the heartbeats and see them moving around, since he hadn’t gotten to be a part of pretty much anything, beyond payment. When I asked when we’d be able to tell gender, the doctor verified that we wanted to know and told us she thought they were both boys.
I felt terrible, because I found myself upset, no matter how hard I tried to get excited. I knew how much Jake wanted a boy, but I just really wanted there to be one girl, not just so I could have a daughter, but because I wanted to pass my Gramma’s name (my middle name) on, before she dies. She’s 86 and we’re in a pandemic. While I knew she’d prefer a boy, as she’s always favored my brother, I still wanted her to have that. After we sent off my bloodwork, to check for trisomies and verify gender 100%, I researched how accurate such an early guess could be and overwhelmingly found that it was really too early to tell. Since the doctor had seemed so certain that one was a boy, I just hoped that perhaps the other guess was mistaken. Eleven days after that appointment, I received a call that the trisomies results were negative and we were having two girls.
If I’d been able to choose the genders of my children, or rather had taken the option, because that was a possibility, I’d have decided on one of each. However, always having wanted closer and more plentiful family relationships, I suppose it will be nice for them to be the same gender. They’ll have more in common and share more experiences… and I get to have two little girls. I’ve wanted a healthy, normal mother/daughter relationship my entire life, even if it means being on the other side of it. I get to break the cycles my mother created and be the mom she never was, to not one, but two, little girls. Those little girls each get to have the sister I always wanted, as well. I’m confident that I’d have been able to get there with two boys and was genuinely disappointed when I realized the boy that had been so certain wasn’t coming, but now that I’ve adjusted, I’m thrilled to be having two little ladies and just hope they’re strong and healthy and have no mental or physical issues.
Jake truly is the go-with-the-flow man he claims to be, though. While he never made me feel bad for wishing for a girl, he insisted he wouldn’t be upset if the doctor was wrong and has given every indication of honesty with that statement. The only drama we faced, after the big reveal/correction, was choosing names, as he’d decided over night that he didn’t like any of our previous choices. After weeks of calling them Mando and Grogu or Elsa and Anna, of debating and his vetoing literally every name in existence, we landed on two classic girl names with our grandmother’s middle names. They’re old, as is trendy, but have cute, modern nicknames. For the sake of this blog and the fact that I use only pseudonyms, I’ll refer to them as Violet and Scarlett, both of which were on the table, but ultimately vetoed, because we didn’t like the inevitable Scar and Vi. The actual names have the same number of syllables and sound good together, but stand up on their own. They don’t rhyme and aren’t themed (like colors or flowers). Naming humans is tough, but even that seems to be out of the way.
I’ve yet to share any of this on my main blog and I’m not totally sure why. For starters, I’m not telling the general population the genders until Easter, when we can tell our families, and a few friends read my blog. I did cave and let Jake have his Christmas announcement about the pregnancy (partly because I’ll be clearly showing soon), but he wants to share the genders in person and we’re hoping I’ll have my Covid-19 vaccine by then. It’s more than that, though. I’ve seen the ultrasounds multiple times, recorded them on my phone, so I could watch them later, watched my belly grow before my eyes, and still… I’m terrified that something will happen to my babies, a fear I hear never quite dissipates and I’d imagine that is even more true with IVF conception. So, I’ll keep it a secret from my readers just a little bit longer, since there’s no way I could have done so with anyone who has seen me in person.
We found out at seven weeks, that not only was there one strong heartbeat, but two. It wasn’t a total shock. It was an accepted risk, when we chose to transfer two embryos and I’m not sorry we did… at the moment. I’ve been through my ups and downs, my moments of remembering that I don’t like children and now I’m going to have two, of acknowledging that I don’t know what to do with one baby. Jake, in his confidence and ignorance, having never had children either, keeps assuring me we’ll be fine… and I suppose we will, but I’ve always been a bit high strung. I told my Gramma after our nine week ultrasound and she’s thrilled. I’ve told a couple of people at work, as well, because I’ve been so sick in the mornings, that I’ve had to keep calling in late.
At this point, I think I might want to keep it a secret from everyone else just a bit longer. I’m so worried something will go wrong and I don’t want to have to make the rounds to tell everyone about it. I just want my babies to be safe and healthy and I want to know that’s the case before telling everyone, but I think they might tell on me first. I’ve been getting really sick and I can already tell I’m starting to show. I suggested telling everyone that I’m just hungover and letting myself go, but Jake has vetoed that plan.
Still pregnant. According to the app on my phone, it’s the size of a blueberry. I’m sick, out of breath, my breasts are sore, so over the injections, never get any sleep, despite absolute exhaustion, and I don’t even care, if it means having a healthy child. Six days from our first ultrasound. Here’s hoping there’s a heartbeat.
I’m still pregnant. I’m also finally beginning to feel human again after the egg retrieval. The doctors were so concerned about OHSS, going so far as to prescribe medication to avoid it, that I think I must have had mild symptoms, just not concerning enough to postpone transfer. The nurse hinted at as much, when she told me that my blood work indicated “no risk of severe OHSS symptoms.” All of my research shows that, while symptoms typically fade within a week, if you manage to get pregnant, they can linger for several.
My retrieval was on election day, exactly three weeks ago and my ovaries have only now seemed to return to their normal size. My abdomen doesn’t ache as much, though I’ve had to bite the bullet and purchase some $15 maternity jeans off Amazon, The daily progesterone shots leave my stomach less swollen than the retrieval, but still far too much so for my size 10 skinny jeans. I imagine the swelling is unlikely to go down, as long as I’m getting the shots, which is until week 10. After that, it’s likely I’ll start to show soon… even though I’m already making an effort not to look pregnant.
I’ve been in this awful Venn Diagram intersection for the last few weeks, experiencing the above post-IVF retrieval symptoms, while also discovering what can only be early pregnancy symptoms. They literally cannot be psychosomatic or shared with progesterone side-effects, like nausea and headache. The night before last, I literally woke up at 1:00 and could not go back to sleep for two hours, because my legs were so restless and due to the smell of Jake’s deodorant. It was overpowering, even with a blanket over my face and made me nauseous and my head hurt. I finally had to sleep on the couch, just to get a few more hours and washed everything on the bed the next morning. Last night, I woke up with horrible heartburn, which I’ve never had in my life and lay in bed for an hour trying to go back to sleep, before Googling remedies and getting up for a glass of milk. When I woke again, propped on two pillows, my head was pounding, which I’d still attribute largely to the progesterone.
The dreams, though… I know very little about pregnancy, as I stopped researching it when I found out Jake and I would have to do IVF. I probably know less about babies, for the same reason. Why stoke the fever? I had to Google it, but apparently strange dreams are a frequent side-effect of early pregnancy and I suppose it’s a relief that I don’t have some kind of brain parasite. I’ve always been a vivid and often even lucid dreamer, but these are like Stephen King/Nick Cutter material. I can rarely remember them, often because I don’t want to, but they also wake me up at night and I struggle to go back to sleep, because I don’t want to return to the bizarre images. It’s exhausting.
All in all, as far as I can tell, these are all good signs. Early pregnancy symptoms often signal a strong and viable pregnancy, which we won’t be able to clarify for another two weeks, when I have my first transvaginal ultrasound. So, here’s hoping, I’m still pregnant in two weeks.
They drew blood this morning and on top of my five positive home pregnancy tests (two mid-range and three cheapies), the clinic has confirmed that I am indeed four weeks and one day pregnant… today. I have another appointment on Friday, to see if my hCG (413) is properly doubling and we’ll see if I’m still pregnant then. As much as I’d love to be excited and call up my Gramma and listen to her shriek, I think the most I can muster at the moment is cautious optimism. So many things can go wrong in the next eight weeks. I miscarried at 11 weeks, when I was 21. A friend and coworker miscarried at 10, after IVF. Another friend and coworker found out that her son will be developmentally disabled to an unknown degree, at 15 weeks, after three IUI’s. I’ve told Jake that, assuming all is well, I’m not willing to tell a soul until 16 weeks, when I’ll likely be starting to show… and that’s only because he vetoed my “Let’s just show up with a baby” idea.
On the one hand, I’m sad we can’t be normal levels of over-the-moon right now, like people who get to have babies the fun and free way. On the other, I don’t care about the “experience” of being pregnant. I care about having a healthy baby and a family and this part is just social media fluff… not that I’m on social media.
Don’t get me wrong. So many of my prayers have been answered. We’re pregnant, with six freezer babies… but there are so many more prayers to say. Like most Americans, I’ve grown so accustomed to disappointment in 2020. I can be excited at 12 weeks, when this year is over and I’m well into my second trimester. In the meantime, please, please, please God keep this baby or these babies safe and healthy and let me have an unremarkable pregnancy, ending in a healthy child or two.