where we are now

Many days, weeks, and months later I woke up this morning at 5 a.m. unable to fall back asleep and found myself composing a post in my head. I’ve often thought about logging back on and writing, but today feels different. There are many potential reasons why which I will try to get to along with a long overdue update about my Combo and me.

First things first, I am officially 33 weeks pregnant. When people ask me when I’m due, which happens at least once a day and often in common places such as the grocery store, I can now say “next month”. I often reply with only that amount of specificity because 1. why do they really need to know the exact date anyways? and 2. it helps me continue to wrap my head around the very true reality that I will likely have a baby in my arms and in my home next month. February. February holds other meaning as well – one I don’t share with the random inquirers at the grocery store, but does vibrate in my heart when I think of the month – as it was the due date for my first pregnancy. Instead of looking towards the birth of my first born I could be gearing up to celebrate a two years old’s, my two year old’s, birthday. A healthy pregnancy and soon-to-be baby definitely helps heal the losses of the past, but it never completely erases them.

Combo and I are doing well. I have the usual pregnancy woes – sore hips and feet by the end of the day, never ending heartburn, breasts that have grown so big I feel so a disproportionate (brunette) Barbie doll who should struggle to stand upright, sleep that only lasts for two hours at a time at best, and the physical stamina of an 85 year old arthritic woman – but really I have no complaints. Feeling my little one twist and move inside me every day makes all of those minor discomforts wonderful. I’m constantly amazed at what my body is capable of doing. There is a reason why she is called “mother nature” as only the power of the woman can grow LIFE.

Don’t get me wrong, there have been set backs that were more than just blips on the radar. Most notably, getting diagnosed with gestational diabetes at 28 weeks in the midst of wanting to celebrate Thanksgiving with all things edible and continue straight through to the sugar gluttony of Hanukkah and Christmas. I tearfully accepted this new, unwanted reality and then got over my pity party and have changed my diet to include very little processed sugar (but still some!) ever since. I prick my finger four times a day and have weekly calls with a perinatal nurse to go over my blood sugar levels, but when I really stop and think about it I would do that for years on end if it ensured that Combo would stay healthy. What a strange, shifting mindset: when someone else’s health is more important than your own happiness.

And then there have been the high points, too. Like finding out that Combo is a boy and sharing that news with all four grandparents together at a dinner. Taking a new born care class and seeing how willingly and eagerly EJ changed the diaper on the baby doll and carefully held the fake baby through the class as we were instructed to do so. Or just this past week ordering furniture for the nursery because I couldn’t put it off any longer. After all, when the number of weeks required for delivery are more than I have remaining in my pregnancy it’s probably time to hurry up and get some furniture already.

And the thoughtful, challenging conversations about parenting choices and decisions to be made now and later for our little guy. Circumcision is rarely talked about in this blogging world. It seems to be relegated to blogs exclusively about whether or not to circumcise or immunize, but it’s a very real choice that EJ and I are grappling with right now and deserves a space here. Even with my Jewish background, I’d never given much thought to circumcision. Honestly, since I come from a family of three daughters and most of my first cousins are women, I always assumed I’d have girls and would get to side step the choice of whether or not to alter the way our baby is born. Whether or not to circumcise has since become the easy choice (we will) the more difficult one being when and by whom. In our home as part of a traditional bris by a mohel? At the hospital by an unknown pediatrician? We are still circling around and this will likely turn into a post of its own. Even if conclusions are yet to be drawn, the conversations, while sometimes tense and difficult, have helped me learn more about my husband and myself and have maintained an umbrella of exploration and honesty.

And finally, my sister had her baby last night promptly on her due date. She is two for two with babies born right on time and I’m hoping Combo will decide to follow suit. While initially hard, I’ve mostly enjoyed being pregnant at the same time as her. It’s been reassuring to have a reference point of where I could find myself just a few weeks down the road and to get her advice and empathy as our bodies grew and morphed together. I knew she was heading to the hospital at around 6 last night, but purposefully didn’t take my phone to bed thinking I would get little to no sleep waiting for an update. By my 5 a.m. waddle to the bathroom I was curious enough to check and saw the news that she had delivered a healthy baby girl at 10:45 p.m. last night. Initially relieved, I shuffled back to bed only to find I lay wakefully and thoughtfully.

Old, buried feelings surfaced – it was supposed to be me next, there will be a 10 day old baby at my shower next weekend who will inevitably demand attention that is rightfully mine, I want the attention of my parents and sisters all on me, and on and on and on. New, unforeseen feelings also rose – fear for my own labor and delivery and the unknowns that await, a heavy respect for the reality of parenting both a new born and on for life, worry that I will never live up to my own and other’s expectations. It was an odd mix and as my thoughts waffled the beginnings of this post emerged.

So now, I’m back to my old classics of counting and playing with numbers to sooth the minor OCD in me and make sense of the weeks to come: 10 more days until my baby shower, 15 more days of work until maternity leave, appointments with the midwife or doctor every 2 weeks, a niece that is 16 hours old, 7 more weeks of pregnancy, 3 pieces of furniture on their way, 4 blood sugar tests to be taken every day. The list goes on. It feels good to write and get back to words instead of numbers so I will likely be more present as the weeks move forward, if for no other reason, than to have a space for myself where these thoughts are captured.

I feel like an impostor

At 17 weeks I’ve been trying to do more things that a “normal” pregnant woman would do. I’ve made the transition to wearing almost exclusively maternity clothes and ventured to my first prenatal yoga class. I can’t help, though, but feel like I am just pretending and don’t belong in these stores and rooms full of pregnant women. Did I just imagine my bump being there or is it truly a part of me? Is my constant heartburn really because of my growing Combo or is it just a result of my crappy food choices?

Yoga used to be a regular part of my weekly routine. I would cringe when a visibly pregnant woman walked into my class and hope upon hope that she didn’t set up her mat in viewing distance of mine. I cried in many a class – all a teacher had to say was “set an intention for your practice” and often the tears would come. Most memorably, I once left a class only 10 minutes in after the teacher announced to us all that she was 12 weeks pregnant. How naive to blurt out to a whole room of strangers that you are delicately 12 weeks along. Only a woman without the scars of miscarriage and loss would consider doing such an ballsy thing.

Prenatal yoga class, surprisingly or not, held some of the same triggers. I explored a new, smaller studio with one practice room separated from the waiting area by only a white curtain. I was sitting on the bench with the other expectant women as the class before us wrapped up. Someone pulled the curtain back and I immediate inhaled sharply. I flashed to imagining my pre-pregnant, post-loss self on the other side of that curtain which had just been pulled back to reveal not one, but many visibly pregnant woman all gathered in one location. Wading through a small waiting area of pregnant bumps during my hopelessness would have been crippling. I wondered privately if there was anyone in that room for whom I was a trigger. I’m not sure what PTSD feels like, but I think I may be starting to understand.

Cut to each one of us doing check ins as the teacher goes around the room. How many weeks, how are you feeling, any pain, word for the day. I kept waiting for someone to challenge that I really belonged there as I didn’t quite believe it myself. As I wrapped up my introduction the teacher asked, “Is this your first?” I responded that I had done a lot of yoga, but this was my first prenatal class. She corrected gently, “Is this your first baby?” I stumbled sheepishly and confirmed.

Small moments, indeed, but ones that left me feeling like an impostor trying to pass for pregnant. Of course when someone asks about firsts to a pregnant woman they are referring to children, not classes. Throughout the rest of class I imagined what it would have been like to respond differently to her question. What if I had gone back to my predetermined language of “this isn’t my first pregnancy, but this will be my first child” giving voice to my losses that came before?

I’ve started to wonder in the last week or two if staying connected to the infertility/loss blog world is helping or hindering my connection to Combo and this developing pregnancy. I think, reluctantly, it’s time to take a step back. Following the stories of other strong women has been powerfully grounding as I flailed during my losses and tried to find my footing to move forward. Now, though, I know too much. I’ve read about early losses that are startlingly similar to my own, but also later losses that leave me fearful that the same fate might be awaiting me. It’s time, I think, to focus on my own singular experience and build connection with EJ and with Combo.

I don’t know that I’ll disconnect entirely, but as a first step I’ll remove the wordpress app from my phone and bookmark from my tabs at work. I hope, should I check in, that I see stories of successes and joy for the many women I feel I have gotten to know, even if just through their words and stories. Whether or not I write more, my thanks to you for your courage and honesty and for, even if for a short while, sharing this space with me.

finding the right words

Over the pat few weeks I’ve spent a lot of time thinking and talking about how to share with the wider world that I am pregnant. As my steady weight gain continues and I become more and more apparently different, it is quickly becoming more noticeable that something has changed. At this point, of course, those around me could just assume that I’ve put on weight due to the excessive carbs I’ve been packing in and the life void of exercise I have embraced, but soon enough it will be clear that my body is changing because of our growing combo inside of me.

From the start of this pregnancy I have been set on finding a way to honor my past and embrace hope for the future. In the early weeks it was easiest – everything about this pregnancy was marked in terms of milestones that were or were not reached before. The points of comparison were obvious and the only people outside of ourselves who knew we were pregnant were those that had traveled the path through recurrent pregnancy loss with us. I felt a pressing need to include the word “again” every time I shared with a close friend. I couldn’t just say, “I’m pregnant” it had to be, “I’m pregnant again.” As I contemplated opening up to more friends, co-workers, and extended family, however, I was faced with the challenge of wanting to share about our losses AND wanting to express our excitement about this pregnancy. A long talk with my mom, a lot of ruminating on my own, and a session with my therapist has led me to some clarity and language that I love.

Here’s what I have come to:

1. I will not share the same level of detail with everyone, every time. It’s ok to have some people with whom I share nothing about my losses and that doesn’t diminish the importance of my prior pregnancies nor does it mean I am ashamed of them.

2. It feels best when I lead with some details about how we got here and end with words about being hopeful and excited about this pregnancy. The other way around tends to leave people having to respond to something sad and difficult instead of something happy.

3. I am strong and wise enough to face others’ discomfort if need be. While most people will likely be supportive and understanding, some might not be and I am not so fragile that I can’t handle that.

This past weekend I went to a bachelorette party for a newer friend. I have branched out in the past few years and made some new friends and intentionally haven’t shared anything about my path to motherhood with them. It felt safe and clean and refreshing to have a social space that didn’t include my doldrums of miscarriage and failure. These women are kind and smart and it was the perfect setting to “try out” my new found language.

When it came to turning down some champagne for the third time I shared that I couldn’t partake because I am pregnant. Cue hugs and smiles and exclamations over how excited everyone one is. I had a glimmer of feeling like a woman who hadn’t been battered by loss and, I’ll admit, it felt wonderful. From there, though, I shared that, “It had taken us much longer than we expected to get here and we were really grateful to have made it this far.” It’s natural, I’ve learned, for the assumption to then be that we had difficulty trying to conceive to which I respond, “Actually, for us it wasn’t hard to get pregnant, but hard to stay pregnant. This is my fourth pregnancy and it is the first that feels really hopeful. Things are going really well and I am so appreciative of where we are right now.”

And that’s all I really need to say. I don’t need to go into the details of when my pregnancies were or how long they lasted or how they ended. By sharing these simple sentences I give voice to the many, many women who experience an early loss in their lives and voice to our hardened sisterhood of women that experience more than one. I validate the struggles that EJ and I endured to get this far and share my protective love and joy over our little combo. It’s language that both confirms what I need to say and acts as a small gesture of social activism to end the silence that engulfs pregnancy loss. That feels just right to me.

100 days

It turns out that I am a terribly inconsistent blogger. It likely has more to do with my ambivalence about keeping this space open now that I seem to be progressing through a normal, healthy pregnancy, but that could also just be a lame excuse. Either way, it has now been over a week since my NT scan and I haven’t peeped a word to the inter-world.

Today makes 100 days since the first day of my last period. 100 days on this journey of pregnancy number four. I inherited the gift/curse of counting from my father. We both channel our neurosis into numbers, dates, and calendars. I’ve known, therefore, at any given moment from the start of TTC exactly what cycle day I am on, exactly how many hours there are until my next appointment, exactly what every one of my lab results are, and now exactly how many days I am into this pregnancy. 100 feels like an important milestone – it’s such a pretty, round, complete number.

Back to my NT scan…everything went really well. EJ came with me and we both enjoyed how thorough the ultrasound tech was. We reveled in getting 15 – 20 minutes watching our little combo bend and flex and move around inside of me. (Is that baby really inside of ME? I can’t quite believe it yet.) While I don’t know exact measurements – look at me letting go of needing to know! – we screened negative for Down’s Syndrome and Trisomy 18 which is all we could have asked for.

When I first laid down on the table with an uncomfortably full bladder and the tech fired up the machine all we saw was combo face down and completely still. My heart dropped and my breath constricted. I sensed the nightmare that I had imagined might horrifically come true. The ultrasound tech had me go to the bathroom and empty my bladder and she assured us that combo would wake up with a little more room. Needless to say, I breathed a big sigh of relief when I resumed my position with an empty bladder and she was right. Will I ever not be nervous going into and during an appointment?

I’m back at work full time after a slightly lighter summer load and this pregnancy is becoming harder and harder to conceal. Those I work closest with have known for quite a while, but my growing breasts and belly are giving me away. I have another check in appointment with Kate, my nurse-midwife, next Thursday and then I think it’s time to come clean. After all, I don’t want to be the one that people are whispering about after I leave the room. I’ve settled on some language that I love when sharing this news that both honors my previous losses and celebrates this healthy pregnancy. I feel armed with the right words and the support of my friends and family and ready (almost) to share the existence of little combo with the wider world.

firsts and lasts

I’ve been quiet here for a while because I’m not really sure where to take this blog from this point on. You see, I never intended to have a pregnancy blog, and yet here I am knocking on the door of my second trimester with a seemingly normal, healthy pregnancy. When I opened myself up to start writing here I thought I would for sure be facing more aggressive treatments and that if I did happen to find myself pregnant I would inevitably be approaching more loss.

Don’t get me wrong, even now at 12 weeks I am more nervous than I am excited. I wonder if and when I will ever truly relax into the fact that I am, indeed, pregnant and that we might actually have a baby in a few months. Maybe if I’m feeling movement on a regular basis? Maybe when we find out the gender and I can grasp on to something concrete? Only time will tell.

The past week, though, has brought with it some very meaningful firsts and lasts. In no particular order:

LAST #1: I finished my twice-daily dose of progesterone suppositories after 10 weeks. Sticking little pills up my vagina twice a day (and the ensuing leaking that follows – how many panty liners have I used?) is something I will not miss. Yesterday, my first day without the pills, I found myself on edge. What if these pesky little pills were the only thing keeping me from bleeding? What if they were single-handedly maintaining this fragile pregnancy? So far, I have one and half days sans progesterone behind me and I live my days one at a time.

LAST #2: Along with the progesterone, I am no longer taking baby aspirin. Same fears apply to this one, but I was assured by my CNM, the perinatologist, and my acupuncturist that it is completely safe to discontinue this mild blood thinner at 12 weeks.

LAST #3: As long as I’m cutting out pills, I have completely weaned myself off of my low dose of daily Zoloft. This was completely my choice and I felt very firm that I wanted to minimize extra chemicals and medications if possible. (Yes, I realize that is in complete contradiction to my last two points, but my mind is nothing if not contradictory.) I am happy to no longer be taking anything mood altering and hope I won’t feel the need for those little blue pills for a long, long time.

FIRST #1: I took the plunge and bought some maternity clothes. My mom and I went to Ross and a local consignment store and for about $100 I took home 4 pairs of pants, a skirt, maternity leggings, and 4 tops. Bringing the bag of clothes into my home felt like tempting fate – like saying, “Look! I’m getting attached and starting to plan for the future! Don’t you want to throw this all back in my face and take my blossoming happiness away from me?” That said, I haven’t been this comfortable at work in weeks. While I fear my belly is more bloat than baby, I find myself wondering why we don’t ALL wear elastic waist bands ALL the time.

FIRST #2: I went to the lab on Monday morning to have my blood drawn for the first trimester sequential screening. My NT scan is on Tuesday and I should get initial results at the time of the scan. When I checked in at reception the friendly, familiar woman greeted me by name before she saw my ID and Kaiser card. She even commented that she doesn’t often remember names, but mine for some reason sticks. I have no doubt it is because I have been to the lab too many times to count in recent months. Back in January during pregnancy #3 and at the beginning of pregnancy #4 I was in at least every other day. While this may seem unwelcome to some, I felt like I had another provider in my corner.

FIRST #3: This morning before rousing ourselves out of bed EJ and I had sex. Because of my paranoia about messing with the delicate balance of my body and general ickiness from using the progesterone, we hadn’t had sex since conceiving our little combo back in June. Yes, that makes two whole months and it was amazing to regain the physical intimacy with my love.

Those are my important markers – beginnings and endings – of the week and it is affirming to see them listed all in once place. I’ll likely check back in after my NT scan on Tuesday. Right now, I’m hours away from a much needed, much wanted weekend. Mostly I will sleep.

on compassionate care

The days keep ticking by in a mostly uneventful blur of work, sleep, and bland food. My once-sharp mind seems almost incapable of finishing a spoken sentence, let alone writing anything coherent. But, I will try all the same.

Last week included back-to-back appointments – graduation day from the fertility clinic with Dr. T on Tuesday and then my “first” pre-natal appointment at my OB’s office on Thursday. EJ and I met with our nurse-midwife, Kate, and she facilitated a smooth and easy transition from one office to another. While I know that Kaiser often gets a bad reputation, I have been thrilled with their ability to coordinate care and this move between Kaiser facilities was no different. Kate spent the better part of an hour with us familiarizing herself with how we got there (“you conceived on your own?”) and what we envision for the rest of our pregnancy. Since I can only think in increments of a week of a time, being asked where I’d like to deliver is akin to being asked to choose between traveling to Saturn or Mars, but I swallow and somehow manage to answer these seemingly absurd and way premature questions.

There came a point while EJ was still in the waiting room that Kate was preparing to do a pap smear. I had resigned myself to this unfortunate reality and abuse of my cervix and accepted it as a necessary evil. After all, EJ and I aren’t having sex for fear of disrupting my “area” and I even think twice about getting in a swimming pool lest some unknown contaminate sneak its way up there. As I stared at the ceiling with my feet in the stirrups Kate paused and asked a question that caught me off guard: “How traumatic would it be for you to experience some spotting at this point in your pregnancy?”

This simple question all at once made me feel comforted and assured that it was me, Emily, that was receiving care not some generic pregnant woman on the table. In asking this Kate acknowledged that I’ve bled during three much wanted, much fought for pregnancies and only have deeply negative associations with blood and pregnancy. While intellectually I could have rationalized that I was spotting because my cervix had been scraped during a routine pap smear and that it was completely normal and safe, emotionally I would have stumbled and fallen hard to see blood during this, my only pregnancy that has made it this far. All at once I had a caretaker advocating for me instead of me advocating for myself. She suggested we hold off on the exam and I readily agreed. Kate, you probably don’t know the gift you gave me that day, but I thank you for your compassionate care.

As we wrapped up the appointment, Kate explained that typically we wouldn’t be seen again for about six weeks. Gah! Six weeks is an eternity. But then, she surprised me again and asked, “would you like to come back in two weeks instead?” I’m sure you can guess my answer. I have no idea what Kate’s own story is, but on some deep level she understands me as not only a newly pregnant woman but as a survivor of recurrent pregnancy loss that is forever changed by what has come before, working towards healing.

And now I find myself today in the beginning of week 10. I’ve expanded the circle of those in the know to include my co-workers out of necessity since I often am spacey and my energy – even for sitting at my desk and working on my computer – is dragging most days. I live for my weekends during which I sleep and sit on the couch and cuddle with my dog and my husband. Life is good. I’m not sure I ever thought I would get here and yet here is exactly where I am.

graduation day

I’ve been composing posts in my head all week, but whenever I have had the time to sit at my computer and write them I can’t seem to summon the desire. Energy is lacking every minute of every day so expending any extra to move my fingers across a keyboard seems like too much to ask.

Today, though, is different. Because today we saw our little combo bobbing and moving around on the ultrasound screen with the little heart beat still pounding quickly in rhythm. Combo is measuring right on track – 8 weeks 6 days – and I could almost feel the tension leave my shoulders as Dr. T smiled and shared the report.

One of my favorite things about these early ultrasounds is getting to spend the car ride back to our house with EJ. Cars have always been an easy place for us to connect and this morning proved no different. I took a few of the 20 plus minutes to call my parents as I knew they’d be waiting on edge for our update, but the rest of the time was spent thinking and talking about the fact that we might really be having a baby. The “B” word isn’t spoken aloud too often between us. It might be a subconscious superstition, but it was noticeable this morning when EJ uttered the word. A baby, after all, is what this whole damn struggle has been about and we might actually by circling back around to remember and embrace that dream. It might finally be coming true.