The Pain of Losing
I’m writing about this because, whether by societal expectations or ones set on their own, too often women are shamed into silence when it comes to talking about their fertility. It’s a hush-hush topic for some reason and while I can totally understand that some women might not want to talk about it because it’s too personal or too emotional, I feel strongly that it’s something about which no woman should ever feel shame.
I know this of course because I’ve been there. I’ve felt ashamed at my losses, at my inability conceive a child – as if I had some kind of control over it all. I’ve felt the anger and blood-boiling rage when people offer their unsolicited advice or condolences. So these are the reasons I want to share this with you. Not to make you feel pity for me, or make you feel wrong for not wanting to share your story. I want to write this simply to maybe possibly make someone feel less alone.
Eight years ago, my husband and I were ecstatic to be expecting our first baby. We were already aware of the fact that I had an issue with my ovaries (PCOS – a syndrome in which regular ovulation is a rare occurrence). Somehow, after only one fertility test, we were able to conceive spontaneously, without the help of any treatments.
Eight years ago, my husband and I experienced our first loss. The distinct memory of standing in front of a mirror before my final OB appointment, trying to convince myself that everything was fine, still haunts me to this day. In my heart, I knew something was wrong. I could just tell. And there was. Even though I was supposed to be 12 weeks – the proverbial safe point, though no point is ever safe, really – the baby’s heart stopped beating somewhere around 9 weeks, about two days after my previous ultrasound.
The song “Hey There Delilah” played on the radio as I drove myself to the radiology lab to confirm what my doctor had already shown me.
I was wearing a green t-shirt and flowy black skirt. It was a sunny summer day, the first day of summer vacation, actually.
So much of that day is seared into my memory.
At that point, I mourned the loss of what was stolen from me, of what I was certain that I’d never have.
I’m not going to sugar coat this and say my recovery was easy, that children came easily for us. Because it wasn’t and they didn’t.
I became depressed. I drank a lot. I was angry. My husband and I often don’t speak of that time. He knew I wasn’t in a good place and I’m sure he wasn’t either, but neither of us knew how to meet the other at the half-way point.
We did three rounds of fertility treatments with my regular OB. All of which failed.
Then we sought the treatment of a fertility specialist.
He told me I needed to lose weight. Well, duh. But despite that initial comment, we stuck with him. Again, we trudged our way through three more rounds of Clomid and IUI (insemination) – all of which failed. Three long months of waking up at 5:00 am to be poked and prodded all for the love of a child that we felt like we’d never hold.
Those three rounds didn’t work, but again, we were determined to push on.
I always felt like if you worked hard enough at something, if you studied diligently enough, good things would come to you. That logic totally flew out the window when it came to building our family and I felt like a total failure.
We had to take a few months off in order to do the requisite IVF testing and get on their IVF schedule. The month before we were scheduled to begin IVF, I gave my husband the best birthday present ever – a positive pregnancy test.
Seven years ago, we suffered our second loss. Our hopes were dashed all in a few short days. But since our IVF was right around the corner, I was less affected than I had been a year ago. At least that was the lie I told myself at the time.
To say that we were one of the lucky couples sounds fairly ironic, but we were. Fortunately for us, our first IVF was successful. I welcomed morning sickness; it comforted me. The twins were a way to give me back the babies I had lost. They were everything I had ever asked for, everything that had already be taken from me.
Of course a mother’s heart (and a father’s for that matter) always yearns to love more than it already does. I knew I didn’t want to be pregnant only once, even if I was lucky enough to get two beautiful sons out of it.
So we went back for frozen transfers, using the remaining embryos from the first IVF. Two rounds of those failed.
But again, we were a lucky couple. Our second IVF worked and we were blessed to have a third son. Our family was complete and we were happy.
We are complete. We are happy.
And then we became happier still.
About ten weeks ago, we were thrown for a loop when I found out I was pregnant. We hadn’t sought treatments. Hell, we hadn’t even been trying. It just happened.
We were ecstatic. Sure, we felt a little crazy. I mean here we were with three boys – twins age six and a three year old who had just been potty trained, but we welcomed the idea of bottles and diapers. Our hearts were wide open to loving yet another child.
Two days ago, we suffered our third loss. Again, just hours before my ultrasound I stood in front of a mirror and coached myself into believing that everything was okay, that the baby was in fact fine. Though I had no symptoms telling me otherwise, my gut churned with nervousness that we would not meet this baby.
The technician clicked a few buttons, avoided eye contact, and then stormed out of the room saying she needed the doctor to double check a measurement. In that instant, I knew something was dreadfully wrong. I looked to my husband and asked if he saw a heartbeat, because of course she hadn’t turned the screen to me. He said he thought he did, but it had all happened so quickly he wasn’t sure.
The doctor returned with her. They clicked on a few things again and then the tech left.
Our baby’s heart had stopped beating a week ago, only a few short days after our last ultrasound.
This time, rather than mourning the loss of what I didn’t know, I mourned the loss of something I knew all about.
I knew what it was like to hold a baby in my arms, to snuggle him close, to inhale the sweet scent of his hair. To sing him a sweet lullaby and feel him nodding off in my arms. I knew the frustration of sleepless nights and of a messy home. I knew the stressful arguments with my husband over everything and nothing. I knew the love I would feel despite all of that. I wanted it all.
And it was robbed from me. In a minute, all of the hopes and dreams I had built on that tiny baby growing inside of me had been stolen from me. The short lists of baby names I’d thought of in recent weeks were deleted from my computer. The visions of how we would tell our friends and family were banished from my thoughts. Our plans of rearranging rooms and buying all new baby stuff – hopefully lots of pink – were gone in a puff of smoke.
Irony knows no bounds, and the lyrics of “Hey There Delilah” rang out in the car – a minivan this time – as we drove to the hospital for pre-surgical testing.
My loss is still raw. It hurts, a lot. My eyes sting at the thought of what could have been – what might still be some day down the road.
My husband has been nothing short of amazing, but every time he wraps his strong arms around me, I cry so hard my head throbs. He combs his hands through my hair to comfort me. He coos in my ear that it’s not my fault and that it’ll all be okay.
I know it’s not.
I’m sure it will be.
Last night as the last of the anesthesia was wearing off, I wrote these words in a rather vague social media post:
“Today I was reminded of the simple goodness of life. My husband holding my hand. My kids running around like crazy, only to settle on my lap. Friends being the best I could ever ask for.
Make sure you stop every now and then to appreciate the world that so often passes you by, to hold close the people who hold you even closer.”
So for today, I’ll just breathe and hope that each day it stings a little less.
To my three angel babies, I love you and I’m so sorry I couldn’t get to be your mommy.
To my three boys, who I am so lucky to hold in my arms every day, I love you more than you might ever know.
To my husband, I never could have imagined this life. How on Earth I did I ever get so lucky to have you?
To the countless other women who have experienced a loss, I know that words aren’t sufficient to say how much I feel your pain. I only hope that sharing my words might make you feel less alone.
Because you aren’t.
None of us are.