It's amazing how much you can imagine in just a few short days.
For a few blissful days in February, I imagined the days leading up to Oct. 15, 2016 would be filled with nervousness, physical discomfort and the anxious energy of a first time mom-to-be. Instead the days leading up to Oct. 15, 2016 are tinged with sadness, but also a desire to want to share our story. To add my voice to the chorus of women who have experienced miscarriage.
October 15 is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Day. It is also the day we would have been due with our first child.
We never actually got to the point in our pregnancy where a due date was given, but as a woman who had been trying to conceive for a significant period of time with no success, the day I received news of a positive pregnancy test I couldn't not check to see when we'd be due.
Six weeks, four days -- that's how long we were technically pregnant. It seemed like both a horribly long time and 33 weeks too short.
Every month was a roller coaster of waiting to try and then waiting to test.
Sadly. Fortunately. Our happy pregnancy bubble was burst just four days after we had learned the amazing news. My hormone levels weren't doubling. The pregnancy wasn't "viable." The doctor told us the devastating news over the phone on a Tuesday night while we were watching TV on the couch. We were crushed. I sobbed in my husband's arms. It didn't seem real after all we'd gone through to get to that point.
At the time of our positive test, my husband and I had been trying to conceive for a year. After six months of no success and with me being 35 (at the time), we received the referral to a fertility specialist. A barrage of medical tests showed there was nothing medically wrong. We took comfort in this and continued to try.
To say it was difficult would be an understatement. Every month was a roller coaster of waiting to try and then waiting to test. The devastation month after month from the arrival of my period is hard to understand unless you've been through it. Every time I cried. I sobbed. I was sad and then I had to start the whole cycle over again -- the waiting, the trying, the hoping and the devastation.
At the one-year mark we decided to up the intervention and did an inter-uterine insemination (IUI). This procedure has just a 15-20 per cent success rate, but we wanted to give it a try before moving to IVF (in vitro fertilization). Plus it's a whole lot cheaper. Fertility is an expensive endeavour; between the drugs and the procedures not covered by OHIP I now know how couples spend tens of thousands of dollars in their desire for a child.
A week or so after the procedure I thought we might be pregnant. I waited a few more days before taking a home pregnancy test. It was a faint positive. I contained my excitement as the drugs I had taken before the IUI can cause a false positive. Two days later I took another one. Another faint positive. We were cautiously optimistic as we waited for the official results that would come from a blood test done at the clinic.
In those four days, we had imagined an entire future with our child.
A call from the clinic confirmed what the home tests had shown. We were indeed pregnant. The IUI had worked. We cried again, this time tears of joy. We thought after everything we had been through it was finally happening. We were getting what we so desperately wanted.
A second blood test two days later revealed my hormones weren't increasing as much as they should be, but they said not to worry. We scheduled another test for two days later and my hormones still weren't doubling. I started to panic; I emailed my doctor. When he didn't reassure me I knew it wasn't good. He called that night to confirm what we feared.
We were crushed. The life we had imagined was gone in a flash. It's amazing how much you can imagine and plan for in just a few short days. In the days following the good news, my mind immediately went to planning mode. I picked up a copy of What to Expect When You're Expecting, started Googling daycare centres in our neighbourhood, and talked to my husband about how we would be using a cloth diaper service. In those four days, we had imagined an entire future with our child.
For every woman, the circumstances around a miscarriage are different. But the heartbreak is devastating and the loss real. Learning our pregnancy was not going to progress was heartbreaking; and, for me, what followed was nearly as excruciating.
We had to wait for it to happen. My breasts still hurt, I was still bloated and, technically, I was still pregnant, but there would be no baby. A week after the devastating call I had an ultrasound and we met with the doctor, he said it was preferable for my body to miscarry naturally. The waiting was torture, but we would have to wait some more.
A week later and with me still pregnant the doctor prescribed the drugs for me to induce the miscarriage. I had been OK at that point. I'd cried, I'd processed, I'd been numb and was starting to heal, but the idea that I had to physically take the drugs that would end my pregnancy overwhelmed me with emotion.
That afternoon as I walked home from the bus stop I could hardly choke back the tears. It was actually real and I was about to take the action to end the pregnancy I wanted more than anything. Three hours later it began. Chills, hot flashes and lower back pain. I couldn't move for hours as that made the pain worse. Then the bleeding started. I was miscarrying. A week later it was over.
Those four weeks were the hardest I've ever endured in my life.
Since then there has been more waiting and more heartbreak on our journey to become parents. I had optimistically hoped by October 15 we would be pregnant, but the trying and the waiting continue.
Over the past year, I have found it tremendously helpful to be open and honest about our journey. The compassion and support I've received has helped make this journey easier. I have also found that people sometimes say the wrong thing -they don't mean to, but they do.
I hope shinning the light on pregnancy loss helps to raise awareness, to make women feel less alone, and to encourage people to be supportive and sympathetic. There should be no stigma or shame associated with miscarriage or infertility and people should feel comfortable talking about their experience -- if that is what they think is best for them.
To all the women coping with pregnancy loss and struggling with infertility, you are amazingly strong individuals.
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While not everyone is as open to talking about their feelings as I am, I think everyone loves to receive a bright bouquet of flowers –- it’s a nice way to say that you’re there for her, and you care, without forcing her to talk about her feelings.
If you’ve gone through a similar experience, share your story with your grieving friend. While it’s unfortunate that miscarriage is so common, your friend can take comfort in not being alone. Knowing that others in their own network of friends have experienced the same thing makes it easier to work through the grieving process.
There’s no better time for your friend to focus on taking care of themselves. A restful body will help to heal the mind. Gift your friend with a massage or a pedicure so she is forced to take time out to enjoy a little pampering. And if you can, join her!
Unfortunately, there isn’t really anything you can do to reassure your friend that they’ll feel better in a few weeks or months. It’s a grieving process –- one that affects everyone differently. All that you can do is lend an ear, hold a hand and wait it out with them.
While you may be wondering what the doctors discovered or if your friend is going to try again -- wait for your friend to share those details with you. Don’t try to pry it out of her. She might not be ready to discuss the details with you yet, but if you let her know that you’re there for her and available if she wants to talk, then she will come to you when she's ready.
10 Fertility Facts You May Not Know
1. Your fertility is mostly determined by genetics, which influences how many eggs you are born with. Doctors believe that the number of eggs you have at birth determines the length of time you will remain fertile. At birth, women have about two million eggs in their ovaries. For every egg ovulated during your reproductive life, about 1,000 eggs undergo programmed cell death. Other things, such as smoking cigarettes and certain types of chemotherapy, can accelerate egg cell death and promote an earlier menopause.
2. Regular menstrual cycles are a sign of regular ovulation. Most women have regular cycles lasting between 24 and 35 days. This is usually a sign of regular, predictable ovulation. Women who do not ovulate regularly have irregular menstrual cycles. Those who do not ovulate at all may have a genetic condition called polycystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS).
3. Basal temperature charting does not predict ovulation. An older method of tracking ovulation involves taking your oral body temperature each morning before getting out of bed. This is called basal body temperature. This method is used to spot a rise in basal temperature, which is a sign that progesterone is being produced. The main problem with using this method is that your temperature rises after ovulation has already occurred. This makes it more difficult to time intercourse at an optimal time for conception. A better method is to use over-the-counter urine ovulation predictor test kits such as Clearblue Easy. These kits test for the hormone that prompts ovulation, which is called luteinizing hormone (LH).
4. Most women with blocked fallopian tubes are completely unaware they may have had a prior pelvic infection. About 10 percent of infertility cases are due to tubal disease, either complete blockage or pelvic scarring causing tubal malfunction. One major cause of tubal disease is a prior pelvic infection from a sexually transmitted disease such as chlamydia. These infections can cause so few symptoms that you may be completely unaware your tubes are affected. This is why fertility physicians will order a dye test of the tubes, called a hysterosalpingogram (HSG), if you have been trying and failing to conceive for 6 months or longer.
5. In most cases, stress does not cause infertility. Except in rare cases of extreme physical or emotional distress, women will keep ovulating regularly. Conceiving while on vacation is likely less about relaxation than about coincidence and good timing of sex.
6. By age 44, most women are infertile, even if they are still ovulating regularly. Even with significant fertility treatment, rates of conception are very low after age 43. Most women who conceive in their mid-40's with fertility treatment are using donated eggs from younger women.
7. Having fathered a pregnancy in the past does not guarantee fertility. Sperm counts can change quite a bit with time, so never assume that a prior pregnancy guarantees fertile sperm. Obtaining a semen analysis is the only way to be sure the sperm are still healthy!
8. For the most part, diet has little or nothing to do with fertility. Despite popular press, there is little scientific data showing that a particular diet or food promotes fertility. One limited study did suggest a Mediterranean diet with olive oil, fish and legumes may help promote fertility.
9. Vitamin D may improve results of fertility treatments. A recent study from the University of Southern California suggested that women who were undergoing fertility treatments, but had low vitamin D levels, might have lower rates of conception. This vitamin is also essential during pregnancy. At Pacific Fertility Center, we recommend our patients take 2,000-4,000 IU per day.
10. Being either underweight or overweight is clearly linked with lowered levels of fertility. The evidence in recent years is that obesity is clearly linked with a longer time to conception. Having a body mass index less than 18 or over 32 is associated with problems ovulating and conceiving, as well as problems during pregnancy.