… 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.
The wheels are in motion, y’all. Jake and I are on track for a frozen embryo transfer in July. I just need to call with Day 1 of my period in May. When I asked if we could do a June transfer, the nurse told me to call with Day 1 in April. Now that I’m over a week late, she’s suggested I take a pregnancy test to be sure and… I just can’t do it.
I know my husband’s sperm can’t get me pregnant. I accepted two years ago that it’s simply not going to happen. There’s a lot of toxic positivity in the infertility community and I’m just not here for it. Faith/hope/positive thinking… those things aren’t going to get me pregnant. God and science will get me pregnant if anything does. My husband’s sperm is not going to get me pregnant, the fun and free way. I’m in a good place with that knowledge. I have two gorgeous girls and six frozen embryos. It is okay that I don’t get to do this like other people and still… I cannot bear to look at a negative pregnancy test. I will not do it. My period will come and the clinic can wait for that day.
Me: “What if I get sick again?” Jake: “You won’t.” Me: “Why does it have to be so hard?” Jake: “Anything worth having is hard.” Me: “That’s easy for you to say when nothing has ever been this hard for you. Everything has been this hard for me.”
It’s been two years, y’all, but somehow it feels like twenty minutes since Jake and I started our infertility journey. It brought us two beautiful, healthy girls, with severe complications for their mama, but I am so happy. They were absolutely worth it. If you follow my primary blog, you know I quit the job I loved to stay home. Though I’d literally never considered being a stay-at-home-mom before, it’s been amazing and being mama to my beautiful girls has made me whole again. What more could I want? Well… to give more of my embryos a chance at life. That’s what.
When Jake and I started IVF, of course we feared we wouldn’t even get pregnant. After our first cycle resulted in no baby and no embryos to freeze, we were thrilled that our second ended in two to transfer and six to freeze. We wouldn’t only get the chance to have a child, we’d get eight chances. When the first double embryo transfer took, we were elated to be having twins. We’d prayed for both embryos to thrive, seeing them as life, both morally and scientifically. We were over the moon.
Every day with our girls is a wonder and I can’t believe they’ll be turning one in June. I also can’t believe I’ll be turning 35 in September, Jake 38 in October. We’ve always wanted our children to be close in age and I’d say that’s even more true since our first two were twins. We also don’t want to be Old Parents, so here we go with our first frozen transfer. I don’t know if I’m ready, but is anyone ever ready for this?
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.
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.
Well, I did it. I made it through a second pandemic retrieval, on election day no less, just after an historic ice storm that caused the largest power outage in the history of the electric company. My power didn’t go out, risking my medication or the secrecy of my cycle, if we had to stay with family. I didn’t get Covid-19, nor did my husband, nor did any of the clinic staff, ultimately leading to the cancellation of the entire cycle. The most precarious part is over… and I feel like I’ve been hit by a bus. I don’t recall this being so painful last time, but I had a meltdown, after coming out of anesthesia, because it hurt so much. It didn’t help, of course, that I had to go through all of this alone, with Jake waiting in the car. I cried for the hole in my vaginal wall, my engorged ovaries, and my overly stretched perineum, but I also cried because pandemic IVF sucks. However bad I thought this process would be, and I’ve considered it a literal worst nightmare for most of my life, I should have doubled it. Considering the global pandemic, it would have been more accurate to quadruple it. At least if we have to go through it again, it’ll be in July of 2021 and the Covid-19 situation might be a little better. As for this time, however, out of 30 or so follicles, they retrieved 22 eggs, they’re really worried about OHSS, and I’ve vomited twice. That’s all I know, for now.
Jake gave me my trigger shot last night and I feel awful. If Future Belle is reading this, as she prepares for another IVF Cycle, she probably doesn’t remember the intense discomfort of ovaries the size of clementines. “Discomfort” is the favorite word of all doctors, apparently, when I’d be more inclined to declare it “pain.” My entire mid-section feels swollen and my belly is bruised from three shots a day, sometimes four. I have over 30 follicles and look like a honeycomb on the ultrasounds. Sitting upright hurts. They put me on pills to avoid OHSS, because my estrogen is so high, so hopefully, after tomorrow’s retrieval, the pain will subside, but the primary side effect of said prescription is dizziness. The worst part, of course, is that this could all be for nothing… again. I’d do it a dozen times, were I guaranteed a family, but alas, there are no guarantees with IVF… one of the many joys of fertility struggles.