I used to think of myself as pretty much fearless. Very little scared me and I loved to take up a new challenge or adventure, such as moving to new countries or travelling to remote, exotic locations.
But the last three years (and four losses) changed me in so many ways and I now have a whole bunch of fears to keep me up at night: fear of never succeeding in having a living child, fear of my marriage being destroyed by all the heartache, and the worse of all, fear of loosing myself while trying so hard to achieve my desire of motherhood.
However, these are not the fears I want to write about today. It’s a much different and more urgent fear. It’s about this baby I’m still carrying.
Before I get to it, I want to tell the story of this pregnancy. This baby was conceived in a petri-dish, unlike the others before him, which were conceived naturally. It was my second fresh IVF cycle and just like with every other pregnancy I had, I just knew I was pregnant, days before I took any tests. I know it sounds crazy, but somehow I can just feel differently, like my period is not coming and I can feel it especially on my breasts. I joke with my husband that I can guess my HCG level from my breasts size and tenderness.
This time was no different and besides the fullness of my chest I have had a tiny bit of implantation bleeding, right on the ideal day for implantation, just to add to my certainty that I was, indeed, pregnant. Despite all of this I was extremely nervous when 13dpo came around and I decided it was time to test.
It was a Saturday and I got out of bed early, hoping to not wake up my husband. I peed on the test, marked 5 min in the phone timer and waited. I was hoping for a nice and clear line, but I got the faintest of all. I looked at it and couldn’t bring myself to be happy, because I was too afraid it would be a chemical. My husband was up and came to ask what was the result. I showed it to him and asked him to buy a better quality test, more trustworthy than this internet cheapie. I took the other test and it was also positive and also faint.
Next day, I took another test (actually several), which I continued doing every morning for many days. I was hoping to see it double in darkness as should the HCG levels double every 48-72h. They were getting darker, but I was not convinced it was happening fast enough.
My blood test day with the IVF clinic was Monday, so 15dpo. I didn’t get the result until Tuesday afternoon. I had been feeling very uncomfortable the whole weekend until that day, my belly was as bloated as a ballon, I looked about 5 months pregnant and could truly feel the skin in my belly stretching out. I never had this with any of my other pregnancies.
When the nurse finally called, she first asked me: are you bleeding? Which upon hearing no for an answer went on to say: That’s good, because you’re pregnant. I thought the whole conversation was upside down, but I often have small cultural clashes, so maybe that’s just another example. I guess she was expecting some happy response from my side, but all I could say was: what was the level? I had promised myself that if it was higher than 80 I’d stop worrying. So when she replied 80 I didn’t quite know how to react. She proposed a time for my first scan, when I should be 7 weeks and I told her about my symptoms, feeling bloated and with some pain. She scheduled for me to see the doctor the next day, to assess if I was having OHSS.
The doctor did an ultrasound to look at my ovaries, which seemed very large and full of cysts. She explained it was quite normal, a side effect from the treatment and it wasn’t serious enough, as I only had little fluid on my abdominal cavity. She could also see what seemed like a small sac formimg in my uterus, which immediately calmed my fears of another ectopic, so I was very glad for that consultation. She went on to say that this reaction is very common after a positive pregnancy result, it’s triggered by the pregnancy hormone. I actually already knew all of that, was just looking for some reassurance. Which I got when I heard her comment: it’s usually the strong pregnancies that cause this effect. Right there and then I decided to stop worrying and embrace this pregnancy. Love my baby wholehearted as he could be taken from me too early.
And so I did. But I couldn’t stop testing every morning. The next week during my acupuncture session, the acupuncturist said she believed everything was going very well and I nodded and commented how I was feeling very positive.
Everything changed on Saturday morning. I took another test and realised it was not getting darker anymore. All my fears took over and I started crying in disbelief that I would loose another baby. My husband found me crying in the sofa and asked what was wrong. I explained it to him and continued to cry. When I decided that was enough self pity and went to the bathroom to wash my face I found my husband crying in the bed. It broke my heart seeing him like that, again. I told him we shouldn’t trust these tests, they were not accurate enough for the use I was giving them and maybe the concentration of my urine varied enough to affect the results. We shouldn’t give up so early, there was no hard evidence until the scan. Suddenly I found myself so many reasons to not give up, all reasons I couldn’t see just minutes ago. But my husband replied, I’m crying because I don’t know how to help you. That touched my heart deeply and I thought, I need to stop worrying and pull myself together. I’m driving everyone around me crazy.
I still continued testing for a couple more mornings, but seeing that the lines wouldn’t get darker, I gave up and chose to believe everything was fine. As if it was that easy. My anxiety and fear persisted, fed on bad dreams and bad memories.
Until finally scan day arrived. I woke up that morning and remembered my dream from the night before. I dreamt we had the scan and the baby was fine and we saw the heartbeat. I got out of bed feeling unusually optimistic and decided to take another test. I haven’t tested in about a week or more. The test got positive very soon, just a few seconds after testing and it was the darkest ever for that pregnancy. It was just what I hoped for and gave me even more hope.
We arrived at the clinic and were soon called in. The doctor asked about symptoms and bleeding and told me to undress. I laid down with my legs up on the stirrups feeling my heart jumping out of my chest. This doctor was my favourite and she looked right into my eyes and said, I will look around by myself first and then I will show and explain everything to you, ok? It was fine for me, as I had a big screen right in front of my face and trained eyes that knew what to expect and what to look for. But all I could see was a small sac in my uterus, which looked way too small for seven weeks. The doctor zoomed in on it, still not saying anything, and I couldn’t find the embryo nor the heartbeat.
Neither did the doctor. She started by saying I should be seven weeks and by this time she would expect to see an embryo. She then showed me the gestational sac with the yolk sac inside and said she couldn’t find the embryo and that the sac looked more like a 5-6 weeks pregnancy. I don’t remember if she said I’m sorry. But she did say she didn’t think this pregnancy was viable. I haven’t started crying at this point, just felt completely numb. Can’t say I was surprised, just numb. I got up and put my clothes back on. The doctor repeated the baby was too small and she didn’t think it was viable but needed another scan to confirm it. I replied, I know, this is the third time I go through this. She was surprised to hear, but I wasn’t surprised she didn’t know or remember my history. We talked a bit about my options, though she didn’t want to discuss much before the second scan. I left crying and feeling heartbroken.
Back home, I couldn’t stop obsessing about how my pregnancy symptoms were just getting stronger. I’ve had two missed miscarriages before, so I know the symptoms don’t disappear so quickly, but I never felt them getting stronger still. Just the same or a little weaker. That made me think: this baby is still alive.
That brings me back to my biggest fear at this moment: I’m afraid in the next scan the baby will have grown. Not enough for the pregnancy to be believed viable, but enough to know that the baby is still alive. And I’m afraid the doctors will push me into ending this as quickly as possible. But for me, there’s a huge difference between helping my body expel a dead baby and killing my baby. Viable or not, the guilt will consume me. I know that because it has already happened to me during my ectopic. It didn’t matter that that pregnancy was impossible to survive, I loved that baby with all my heart and it felt as if I was killing him to save my life, while I believe my job as a mother is to always protect my children and put them first.
I don’t expect everyone to agree or even understand this. I know people have different opinions and feelings on this matter. I also don’t think there’s right or wrong, it just how I feel and I needed to get it out of my chest.
Please also don’t assume from this that I’m pro-life, I’m actually a firm believer in pro-choice. I don’t judge anyone else, as I think every situation is unique and that’s just one of the reasons I believe everyone deserves the right to make their own choices. I just want to not have to make the choice of ending the life of another one of my babies, again.