Christmas and other dates

  

The meaning of Christmas has changed to me over the years. 

While growing up in my tropical hometown, Christmas was not much more than a nice, big family get-together, with traditional foods and few other rituals (such as exchanging gifts), but not much different than any other family party. 

The first Christmas holiday my European husband spent at my home country was eye opening for him. Hosted at my grandma’s house (when she’s still alive), there were about 150 people, spread on several tables set in the garden. There was live music and the dinner was served buffet style. We were laughing and dancing and singing karaoke. There was some Christmas songs, a Christmas tree and other decoration, which would set the season’s mood, but other than that, it was just another summer evening spent among family.

Living in Northern Europe, Christmas became somewhat more special to me. I realised how much excitement it would bring to most people, and the Christmas lights and decorations had a much different meaning when illuminating ever darker days. Christmas Eve also symbolises the winter solstice, so it became a countdown to better, warmer, lighter days to come, and something special to enjoy and look forward to during those long, dark, cold nights. Not to mention the overwhelming number of traditions people here follow so joyfully. 

I embraced this newfound Christmas spirit and especially enjoyed buying and decorating a ‘real’ tree (in contrast to the plastic tree or whatever-tropical-plant-one-already-has-at-home approach in my home country). We also started some of our own traditions, such as our friends dinner, which involved too much food and deserts, games and gift exchanging. 

This annual reunion was very special to me, because these friends are like a second family; they are our family here, in this place we chose to live in. This party always happens several days before Christmas Eve, as most of us travel back to our home countries during the actual holidays. My husband and I try to be with one of our families each year, usually swapping between the two every time.

Everything changed in 2013 with our first loss. That year I couldn’t care for Christmas celebrations. There were no decorations in our home and our friends dinner got canceled, as they decided they didn’t want to celebrate without us. 

Last year, I was pregnant for the third time when December came in. I wanted to be positive about this pregnancy, as we had seen the baby’s heartbeat on the 7 week scan in the end of November, so I decided to take Christmas back with maximum intensity. We chose and cut down our own 2 m high tree, which we placed in our living room to add to all decorations I had all around: lights by the window, snowflakes and other things. I carefully chose which dishes to prepare for our friends party, which we were hosting. We also prepared several games and even a Christmas playlist. We got confirmation of two couples coming from abroad only for this party. Everything was planned and organised and we were super excited. I had also decided to announce the pregnancy during the dinner. Only we never had the party.

On a Tuesday we had our 10 week scan, which showed there’s no more heartbeat. On the Saturday, when we’re supposed to be hosting the big dinner party, we were at home, suffering through the misoprostol induced miscarriage (tomorrow marks one year from that date, when we lost our third baby). It should have been a memorable day, celebrating life among our best friends. It was memorable, no doubt, but for different reasons. It was one of the most terrible days in my life and one I’ll never forget. The physical pain, the blood, the orange-sized clots, the contractions lasting for about 14 hours, the emotional pain of loosing our much loved baby, the loneliness of this journey, all still too engraved in my brain.

Today, only 2 months after our last loss, it’s hard to enjoy the Christmas season. Too many bad memories haunt me these days: our first loss on November 29, 2013, our second baby due date on December 8, 2014, our third loss on December 13, 2014. My husband struggling with anxiety and no end in sight to our pain are weighting too.

Although we’re attending our friends dinner tonight, I’m afraid it’s going to be difficult. Besides the three children attending, my pregnant friend will be there, a living reminder of where my own fourth pregnancy should be at. I find it very hard being around her now, when she’s obviously showing and everyone around her are openly excited and rejoicing (even though they know of everything we’ve been through). 

It’s not all bad, though. Next Saturday we’re travelling to my husband’s home country in south Europe, and we will be on vacation for 3 whole weeks! I’m very much looking forward to warmer temperatures, lighter days and no work-related stress. We’re spending Christmas Eve and day with his family in the countryside, as usual. The food will be great and the atmosphere, relaxing. Being surrounded by small children, not so much. Meeting the new addition to the family, born last month, definitely not easy.

That’s why we decided to book a one week retreat by the beautiful coast, on a natural park, where we can take long strolls over the cliffs by the beach and enjoy nature and the mild temperatures. I’m very much looking forward to that, hoping it will help both my husband and I a little, just enough to recharge our batteries for the next battle round waiting for us. 

In the meantime, we’ve decided not to have a tree in our house this year, but we’ve hanged the lights by the window and I’ve placed a few small decorations around the house. We don’t want to skip Christmas completely, but we’re trying to take care of ourselves as best as we can.

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Coping

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In my last post, I described how I felt when my life suddenly changed in an unexpected way. I found myself in a pit of grief, guilt, shame and despair. Since then, I’ve learned how to live with these feelings a little better. I’ve learned to cope better.

As sad and depressing my posts regarding our latest loss may seem, this is the best I’ve ever felt after a miscarriage. I don’t know exactly what have changed, but I feel better. I still can’t sleep well, have back pains and migraines, don’t want to socialize much and have a hard time enjoying almost anything, but it still feels a lot better than the other times.

For my husband, on the other hand, this is the lowest he has ever reached. He’s really struggling right now and it breaks my heart to watch him.

After the ectopic surgery, when we lost our first pregnancy, our hopes and dreams, but also a significant part of our fertility with one of my tubes gone, I worried we wouldn’t be able to conceive again. My husband was a lot more optimistic. His main concerns were about my health, both physical and mental, as he watched me struggle with depression and grief.

I imagine he never really got attached to that baby. One Saturday I showed him a positive pregnancy test, the following Tuesday the midwife was telling us something is wrong. The whole pregnancy he was probably focused on helping me go through this. I, however, couldn’t ignore the overwhelming changes in my body, likely caused by the high levels of HCG; and at every glimmer of hope offered by a doctor, I would cling to it and wish our baby, our little survivor, would be found healthy and well. When reality hit us, I guess it was easier for him to let go.

A few months later, when I found out I was pregnant again, we ran to the doctors to see if the baby had implanted in the right place this time. I had a trip to my home country, booked months before, to only a couple of days after we knew I was pregnant and all was well, though so very early. I left, alone, and spent over 2 weeks there, several thousand kilometres away. I should have been happy and grateful, and I was, but it was that new pregnancy that made me realise how I hadn’t finished grieving our first baby and the guilt and sadness resurfaced.

When I arrived back, the doctors consultations and doubts over the viability of this baby immediately started. Yet again, my husband never really lived that pregnancy, never really got attached. He supported me through our first medical abortion with misoprostol, through the painful procedure, the fear of the unknown, only the both of us, at home, alone. His focus was on getting me well and healthy again, and probably only the sight of the perfectly intact gestational sac and placenta, fitting my hand palm exactly, as we sat in the bathroom looking at it, made him realise there really was a baby.

The third pregnancy is when it all changed for him. This was our take-home baby in his mind. He filled his heart with plans and hopes for the future after the 7 week scan showed a perfectly sized embryo with a beating heart. I, the forever pessimist, kept calculating HCG rising times and worrying, even as doctors, friends and family insisted everything was fine.

Three weeks later, when the heartbeat was gone and we had to endure another medical abortion, I still felt desperately sad, though my husband was falling from much greater highs. The day after the medical procedure was the first time I’ve seen him cry, sob and talk about his feelings towards our babies.

At that time I decided I couldn’t go on like this any longer. I needed to feel better, to cope, if we were to continue on this path. Or I couldn’t keep trying. That’s when I found all your blogs and started following your journeys silently. I also started seeing a therapist and doing yoga and acupuncture. I was open to anything that could help me with the pain.

My husband went on as he did with the other losses, moving forward and stuffing his feelings down. I think he didn’t expect it to be any different or harder this time; only it was.

As we saw different doctors in the hope of figuring out why I was loosing the babies, the recommendation to try IVF came in. At first I thought it was pointless, I could get pregnant naturally, why would the fate of our babies be any different if they’re fertilised outside my body? Doctors couldn’t answer this, but proposed to choose the best embryo, the one with the best chances of surviving. I wasn’t convinced. My husband, the ever optimistic, trusting the doctors, believed this was going to be it.

While we decided whether to move forward with IVF or not, I wanted us to try (and I really mean try) to get pregnant again, the natural way. Seeing how hard it was becoming for him to follow my baby making schedules was the only clue to how difficult this experience was for him too. And that’s what ultimately made me agree to IVF.

Pregnant again, after the second fresh cycle, I kept anxiously worrying, while my husband trusted this was finally it. IVF was our answer and our baby was here.

As our world came crushing down once more, I think he finally understood this is not going to be easy. There’s no easy way out, only a very long and painful way ahead of us. I think this realisation is what he’s struggling with now.

Last Wednesday he went to see our GP and told her he’s been having constant anxiety attacks, among other symptoms. She suggested medication and recommended therapy. She also gave him a leave note for a week, when she wants to see him again. He, therefore, have not been going to work since then. He had one therapy session and have another one scheduled, but isn’t very convinced psychology can help him.

We’re trying to get the therapy paid by our private health insurance, provided by our employer, but I’m not sure it will work out. So far, I’ve been paying for my sessions out of pocket, even though it was recommended by our GP, because the insurance said they only cover losses after 20 weeks. I guess we’re supposed to not feel anything before 20 weeks. And it doesn’t matter how many losses one has, I’ve also tried arguing for that; they only look at how far along was the last pregnancy.

In a way, it feels we’ve switched places now. I’m helplessly heartbroken as there’s nothing I can do to make him feel better. I imagine that’s how he felt about me with every loss. I want to tell him, give me your pain, I’ll take it, I’ve learned to live with it now, but I can’t. I can only hope we can go through this new challenge, as we’ve been able so far.

However, I can’t help but wonder, is there a limit to how much heartache a relationship can take? Even if we are honest, communicate well and respect each other, will there ever be a time when all our memories, moments and lives are so overwhelmed by sadness and pain we only remind each other of past struggles and can’t find happiness together anymore? I hope not.

Dreams

  

I can probably count on my fingers the number of good nights of sleep I had these past 2 years of losses. Ever since my first pregnancy – which started with intermittent bleeding and doubts – I’ve suffered with insomnia, restless sleep and bad dreams.

I won’t say they’re nightmares, because they don’t involve monsters or other paranormal entities, but they certainly leave me with bad feelings lasting from hours to days. Some I haven’t forgotten about and jump back into my mind when I least expect.

I had such a dream again recently. It woke me up too early and made it impossible to fall asleep again. It hasn’t left my mind yet.

It was about my very dear friend. My best friend from here, where I currently live. The friend here whom I trust most, to whom I tell my deepest, darkest feelings and fears. My friend who is about 18 weeks pregnant with her second child. A child she conceived in the very first month she tried.

She told me about her pregnancy during the two-week-wait of my second IVF cycle. On the afternoon we were supposed to be celebrating my birthday. I knew she was trying and was expecting the news, just not that day, at that time. 

The moment she told me I just froze for some seconds. Too many seconds, most likely. All I could think about was: I’m going to get pregnant from this cycle, then I’ll loose this baby and I’ll get to watch her baby grow week by week, always wondering how far would I be, how my baby would be, never being able to let go. That was my biggest nightmare. And it came true weeks later.

Since my miscarriage we haven’t seen each other much. My fault. I’ve been avoiding social interaction in general and her company in particular. Which is totally unfair, as she has done nothing wrong. 

In the dream, we were at their place one evening. I was making small talk and so asked how was the baby doing. Her husband then replied, very nonchalantly: what baby? I got confused and looked at her prominent belly, trying to make sense of it. He continued: there’s no baby, don’t you know? My friend then said: we had another scan. There was no brain, so there’s no baby. I’m getting it removed. *

At this point, I was very confused and sad. Her husband kept repeating ‘there’s no baby’, so I told my friend, don’t listen to them, it’s your baby, it’s ok for you to love him like a baby and feel sad. But my friend looked at me as if I was crazy and said, don’t worry, it’s not a baby. Trust me, I have a baby, I know (referring to her first born). Then I woke up.

I know at first this dream seems to be about jealousy or if I wish bad upon my friends. I really don’t think it’s the case.

I think it’s about how so many people have downplayed my early pregnancies as ‘nothing’ that don’t deserved to be loved. How I struggled to let myself love my babies, no matter how early they died, whether they’re viable or not, chromosomally normal or not. I heard too many times from different people, it’s not meant to be, most likely the baby was not healthy and the miscarriage is a good thing. With the ectopic I also heard how lucky I was to survive it, I could have another baby later. With this last loss, many doctors repeated that there was no embryo, just an empty sac. In other words, there’s no baby, stop making a big deal out of nothing.

I listened to those advices before, with my first and second losses. It didn’t help me move forward faster, on the contrary, it only made me suffer more. I suppressed the grief and the love I had for my babies. So much love, I didn’t know what to do with it. So much love, but everyone kept insisting there was nothing to love.

I imagine I still have unresolved feelings on this matter, otherwise my subconscious wouldn’t be disturbing my sleep with such horrible dreams. There’s no unresolved feelings towards my babies, though. I love each and every one of them, and I don’t care if they had the right amount of chromosomes or not.

* I’m very very sorry if you have been through a similar situation, I can’t imagine how hard it must be to have a termination for medical reasons. I really hope I’m not offending anyone, it’s really not my intention, I’m simply recounting the dream as I had it, but it certainly doesn’t represent my option on the matter.

Family matters

  

When I think about my infertile condition, it hurts… In contrast to my seemly super-fertile family, it hurts much more. 

My paternal grandmother gave birth to 16 children, 14 of which reached adulthood. The two toddlers she lost (her first and her third children) were taken by (at the time) common childhood diseases, such as tetanus and diphtheria. Think of rural South America about 80-90 years ago. There’s no vaccination and no doctors. 

Loosing infants was so common, my grandpa would usually wait at least a couple of years before registering the kids. After all, they had to be registered in the nearest village, about 150 km away, which was a long journey by horse carriage. There’s a funny anecdote about this. My grandma would dutifully write down each child’s birth date and name on a piece of paper each time my grandpa went out to register them. Once, he screwed up and ended up registering two of my aunts with only 4 months difference, when in reality they have 1 year and 4 months between them. My aunt is still (and always will be) 1 year older on any of her documents than she ought to be.

I’ve also heard stories of first trimester miscarriages between births, but have no idea how many my grandma endured exactly, as these things as shushed about and are just a normal part of life (right?). 

My grandma’s last daughter was born when she was already over 45 years old. Considering she got married when she’s about 17 or 18, she spent all of her childbearing years either pregnant or breastfeeding (or both). And she must have been pregnant about 20 times or more. 

Before you make the didn’t they have a TV? joke, let me answer you. No, they didn’t. They didn’t have birth control either. I know there are some TV shows nowadays romanticising the idea of very big families, but let me tell you, they are really not that easy or fun. I’m pretty sure my grandma would have chosen a different life if she could. Being very faithful to her Catholic Church, she was suppose to carry every child God sent her, and so did she. No questions asked. 

Each of her 13 surviving children got married once or more and had an average of 3 kids each (my father had 4). One of my uncles died of brain tumour in his early twenties, before bearing any children.

My maternal grandmother, on the other hand, gave birth to 14 children. She was much more fortunate to live in a bigger village with access to medical care and better means, so she didn’t loose any infants. She did have the usual miscarriages, which are, as you know, just a small ‘side effect’ of motherhood. Again, I know no details on these ‘insignificant’ women matters. 

She passed away of heart attack still young, on her early forties, when my mom was only about 20-something years old and her youngest brother was about 1 and a half. If it wasn’t for this unfortunate accident, she’d probably have had a couple more children before reaching menopause. Again, no TV, no birth control, faithful Catholic wife. 

Out of her offspring, two sons died before bearing children (cancer and kidney failure) and one son is gay (and only very recently homosexuals are allowed adoption or IVF in my home country, so he never had a chance). Ten others went on to get married and had an average of 2 children each (my mom had 2).  

It goes without saying that my family is huge. People here in Europe tend to be amazed by this story, but in my home country it’s not that uncommon (not so common either). If you did the math, my immediate family consists of about 90 people. Adding step-children and the 4th generation (my cousins’ and siblings’ children) it easily reaches and surpasses 150. 

Of all these people, I only know of 3 who struggled to conceive. My maternal aunt, who had a hysterectomy in her twenties (no idea of the cause, maybe endometriosis), my cousin who fought PCOS and myself. My aunt raised three step-daughters from very early age, my cousin had a daughter with help of IVF and I’m still fighting in the trenches. 

Statistically, at least 10% of all child-bearing age people are infertile. So there should be no less than 10 infertiles in this bunch. Conclusion: my family is super-fertile, besides this (un)lucky one. 

Can you imagine how lonely these thoughts make me feel?

Another very reasonable explanation could be that I simply don’t know of more cases because infertility and pregnancy loss are not discussed openly. Not even between immediate family members. And that only feeds the loneliness. I believe people prefer to stay away from these subjects, hoping that by avoiding them they are saving me pain. On the contrary, it only adds to it. 

I’m open about my struggles and that makes a lot of people uncomfortable. I don’t care, I won’t let this silence perpetuates, it only makes grief harder than it has to be. 

My grandmas had much of what I desire the most: children. However, in so many ways my life is much easier than theirs and I’m much more fortunate: I have a caring husband, who loves me and isn’t afraid to show me his affection (something my grandmas couldn’t even dream about), we have good jobs with decent salaries, a nice house with a big backyard and a car, access to medical care and we even get to have wonderful vacations every year. 

My grandmas had lives full of hardships and difficulties, the only highlight being their children. I’m very grateful for all the great things I have, but the gift of motherhood is still my greatest desire, for the same simple reason it brought happiness and purpose to my grandmas’ existences: children unconditional love.

Choosing happy

  

After a miscarriage I always find it hard to enjoy life again. I’ve heard from many people (especially my mom and my mother-in-law) that I must not give in to grief and just move forward. I think it’s unfair (and hurtful) to say such things, it’s not like I’m in bed crying all day for weeks. I force myself to function and fulfil my duties, but I can’t force myself to enjoy it. It’s simply not possible. 

Before our baby’s death was confirmed, a good friend told me to think of things that bring me joy and do more of these. I thought that was a great advice. I just couldn’t think of anything. I remembered lots of things that used to make me happy, such as socialising and partying, I just don’t seem to enjoy them much recently. 

Now it’s been almost 3 weeks since the D&E and I wanted to feel happy again. I want to try and enjoy life even amid all the RPL and infertility struggles. I want to remind myself life’s worth living. 

With that in mind, my husband, a friend and I went yesterday to a tree top park. In my (rather short) list of things I still enjoy are hiking and being outdoors in nature. The only thing that really seems to recharge my energy is being surrounded by beautiful natural areas, so that was the main reason for choosing this park. I also generally enjoy pushing myself, testing my limits and tree topping is a lot about that (especially when I’m far from fit as I’m told not to exercise while pregnant or trying to conceive). I had tried one of these parks around 3 years ago and had a blast, so I was really excited about this Saturday. 

The park was in a birch forest, which looked amazing with the Autumn colours. They had 6 different courses at up to 21 m high. The sun was shining, though the air was a little chill, and we’re off to a great start!

  

We first did course number 3, which was fairly easy and straight continued to course number 4. We were having a lot of fun and still not overly tired. We took a break to eat something and decide whether we should finish it off with number 5 or 6 (the higher the course number, the higher the level of difficulty). 

I’m glad we ended up choosing number 5, because I certainly wouldn’t be able to finish number 6. I realised, in the middle of the course, that I might have exagerated a bit. 

During pregnancy I was anemic and taking iron supplements, which probably only got worse with all the blood lost during the miscarriage. The first week after it, I was feeling weak and had some episodes when I started to feel as if I was going to faint and had to sit down. Pushing myself physically so much after less than 3 weeks since the miscarriage was maybe too much. However I found the strength to finish it and was glad about it!

We ended the day with a nice early dinner at a Mexican restaurant nearby and a victory margarita for myself. We had fun and even though I honestly didn’t feel like I was enjoying it as much as I’d hoped, I still think it was a good idea to try and do something fun, to try and find happiness again. 

I’ll keep trying and keep choosing to be happy.

Goodbye Little Seashell

  
I loved you every moment I carried you. Even when I seemed pessimistic or sad, deep in my heart I loved you and hoped you would one Spring day reach my arms. 

You were the most beautiful 4-cell embryo I’ve ever seen. All the medical staff, doctor, nurse, embryologist, were so excited how perfect you looked. With perfectly defined and symmetrical little cells, developing and growing just at the right time. I, however, already loved you even before I saw you. 

While I carried you, I let my mind run wild with dreams. Dreams of holding you, kissing every part of your little body, breastfeeding you and rocking you to sleep. I even knew which songs I’d sing to you and which stories I wanted to read. I thought about your nursery and your cute little clothes. I imagined you crawling in the floor and sleeping on dad’s chest. These dreams kept me going, kept me strong and hopeful. 

No more  hopes and dreams now, it’s time to say goodbye. 

As I used to tell you every morning and every night, I’ll always love you, no matter what happens, and I’ll always carry you in my heart, together with your three siblings. 

I’ll never forget you. 

***************

Note 1: I wrote this for myself and wasn’t sure I should post it publicly. It’s very personal to me, and even though I know not everyone sees their early pregnancies as babies, I hope you can all respect my feelings and my coping mechanisms. Everyone copes the best they can. 

Note 2: We nickname each one of our babies. This one we used to call Little Seashell, because he (she) was conceived in a warmer than average August, so warm we were able to go to the beach and even swim in the water several times.