One step forward, two steps back

It’s been just more than seven weeks since I miscarried and they’ve crawled by at a snail’s pace. I didn’t put any expectations on myself to feel better, physically or mentally, in any finite amount of time.

Emotionally some days are better than others. That’s often how grief works.

Physically has been a series of ant hills and mountains. Since I did not miscarry naturally, I assumed the recovery period would be pretty limited. My doctor, who also performed the D&C surgery, told me to expect some heavy bleeding and cramping for a few days, and mentioned to be aware of fevers or other unexpected changes. After a little more than a week, I was feeling more like my pre-pregnancy self. I was tested to ensure that my hormone levels were dropping appropriately, and it was confirmed that they were. After another follow-up, my doctor cleared my husband and I to try again following my next period. She expected that I would see that unwanted, old friend again within about four weeks, perhaps six.

I’m not sure why I thought my body would adhere to the normal timeline — considering that my infertility is largely unexplained — but as I passed weeks four, five, and six without a period I wondered if things were okay. I was feeling fine physically, so what was going on? I consulted Dr. Google (which, really, why do I ever do that?) and fell down a Babycenter rabbit hole. More than two-thirds of the women posting in the thread about post-miscarriage menstruation said they’d actually discovered that they’d almost immediately gotten pregnant again. Reading this, of course, gave me some hope. I mean, this was a lot of women who said this happened.

I even took a pregnancy test on my husband’s birthday thinking wellll… Negative.

Every time I’m tempted to ask myself why not me?, I just stop. Because I’m not those other women. I really never am. None of this has gone my way. I’m more like the one woman who posted that she was 13 weeks post and her hormone levels were still high and no red in sight. Ugh.

This week, though, I’m bleeding like a stuck pig.

Asking why not me? always ends in tears and frustration. This hasn’t been easy. In fact, it sucks. Today I’m feeling a little tired of pretending that it doesn’t. There’s not a handbook for it. I’m writing my own.

Treating my whole self

I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for many years. Because of this, and the help I’ve asked for in getting through some of the most difficult times, I’ve been in therapy pretty consistently since I was 22 years old. I strongly believe that this, paired with a cocktail of antidepressants, have allowed me to be a (mostly) normal, functional human. They’ve also kept me from slipping farther into the black hole that depression can crate. In a lot of ways, a combination of therapy and medication has kept me alive.

Like with any subject, there are people on the other side of the fence that believe that depression and anxiety can be controlled without therapy or medication; some may even say that “it is all in your head.” I’m not here to change their minds.

One of the most challenging things about infertility is managing the flood of emotions that come with the highs and lows of the experience. I’m no stranger to recognizing my own triggers for depression and anxiety, so I’ve tried to stay on top of coping with my emotions. That is, of course, when I can even process them. Occasionally it feels like everything I’m feeling — particularly since my miscarriage — gets stuffed into a cheese cloth and then wrung out when I least expect it. At the height of some of my worst months of previous depression, the feeling was very much the same. Some of what is in the cheese cloth remains, but much is coming out in a steady stream of everything inside. It’s hard to plan for what often comes out unexpectedly.

This weekend The New York Times Magazine ran a piece that hit close to home — “The Secret Sadness of Pregnancy with Depression.” It’s a tremendous, eye-opening read that focuses on antenatal depression (depression while pregnant) and how serious of a condition this can be, particularly if left untreated.

The article comments:

“Though antenatal and postpartum depression are linked, antenatal depression has remained underground. Much of the stigma around maternal depression — antenatal and postpartum — seems to focus on women who fail at joy, often suggesting that such women are heartless. How can anyone not be swept up by the momentousness of producing a child who will give her life purpose? The myth of the pregnant mother who is high on hormones has had considerable staying power.”

The emotional needs of the soon-to-be mother are too often ignored and pushed aside. Even the healthiest of pregnancies is still an insane journey of physical and emotional stress on a woman.

This piece reminded me why I recently decided to find a new therapist and spend that hour a week examining everything that I’m feeling now, and have felt in these two-plus years of trying to conceive a baby. Returning to treatment means taking the bull by the horns and owning that what I’m going through is enormously stressful and emotional as hell. I’ve never been one to take for granted what it can mean to have a clear head, and I’m certainly not ashamed to say I need some help getting there.

Mother’s Day

I expected this Mother’s Day to be challenging for me given my miscarriage just a week before. I was correct; I found myself overwhelmingly sad at a few points during the day. In the shower I thought about how excited I was for this to be my “first” Mother’s Day. In the car on my way to my in-laws I thought about how the last time I was there I was pregnant. That thought is probably the one that sneaks through most often. Two weeks ago I was… but now I’m not.

And it most often hits me when I’m in the car alone. That is occasionally problematic for my 35-minute morning and evening commutes. A few evenings ago when I was driving home from work and I thought about how I wasn’t excited about the rest of the year because I wouldn’t meet my baby at the end of it. Those are the thoughts that floor me and cause a waterfall of tears, wherever I am. Those are the thoughts that pop up, me having no control. Those are the thoughts when a simple distraction doesn’t cut it. I suppose I’m fairly lucky in that those thoughts haven’t come too frequently. Those that are debilitating are pretty few and far between.

That’s not to say that I don’t think about where I am now every day. It’s not erased. I’m just working on moving forward. For us, that means that we plan to try to conceive again when we’re given the all clear from the doctor. Trying again will hopefully mean another success, this time with a much better outcome. Moving forward means something different for everyone.

But I’m weary. Will I be afraid to acknowledge another pregnancy until I’m in the safe zone? Maybe. Will I be anxious through my first ultrasound, terrified that the conversation will be the same? Maybe. I will want to embrace the joy and excitement that conceiving a child brought me just two months ago. I want that, but am unsure right now if that can reasonably be my reaction the second time around. I just don’t know right now. And I suppose that’s okay. What I do know is that holding off longer than necessary isn’t what’s best for us.

Just keep swimming.

Thanks, Dory.

On the seventh and twenty-seventh

On April 7th, the morning of my last post, I found out I was pregnant. I cried and laughed and cried. My husband and I celebrated and talked about names. The next few weeks were filled with telling our families the wonderful news and pinning nursery furniture to a private Pinterest board.

On April 27th, I found out I was no longer pregnant. I cried again. Going into our first pre-natal appointment that morning I was both nervous and excited. My biggest concern was that the doctor would say there was more than one heartbeat. While I knew (and know) that I would be incredibly blessed to have twins, the idea is still a bit scary. But our doctor didn’t say there was more than one heartbeat. In fact, there was none; there was just an empty sac. We left our ultrasound unsure of what would come next. There were two possible outcomes, following a blood draw… 1. That I simply wasn’t as far along as we thought (one day shy of seven weeks), despite having had IUI during my ovulation. Or 2. That the pregnancy wasn’t viable and I would miscarry.

I didn’t go back to work that day. I knew I wouldn’t be able to focus on writing about accounting or banking. The only thing on my mind would be that tiny seed-sized embryo that had a due date of my brother’s birthday — December 15th (eight days after my own).

That afternoon I received a call from my doctor with the news. One of the last conversations a woman ever wants to hear. My hormone levels hadn’t progressed in about a week and a half, and my pregnancy — my little Christmas baby — wasn’t viable.

Yesterday, I had a D&C surgery to expel the embryo from my body, as I hadn’t shown significant signs that I would miscarry naturally. It was one of the hardest days of my life, as I’m positive it is for any woman who has to physically have something so important taken from her too soon.

I’ve been through plenty of death — I unexpectedly lost my stepfather nearly four years ago to a heart attack — but nothing has ever felt quite like this pain. I think each loss in one’s life is a little different. This one has left a tightness in my chest and a hole in my heart. There’s nothing I ever wanted more in life than to be a mother. I still do, but this will always be a part of me.

After being rolled out of the OR and into recovery yesterday, I apparently told my doctor that the next time I came to that hospital it would be to have a baby.

Over the last few days it’s hard not to question a lot of things. I question why I haven’t gotten the job as mama yet when a woman across the country can give birth at work and then tie up her helpless child in a plastic bag like trash. But there will always people have what I would like and yet make horrifically awful, selfish decisions with what they’re given. Life will never be fair.

I know a few of you reading here have experienced this rollercoaster of emotion — from the day the second line on the stick appears, to the day you’re no longer with that joy — and some, even more than once. My heart breaks for you as it does for my own Christmas baby. Experiencing this more than once must be excruciating, and I have so much respect for those of you that have and continue to get out of bed in the morning. I’m not sure I could.

For now, my husband and I will grieve for our Christmas baby. Then, soon, we’ll continue to apply for the jobs we really want — of mama and daddy. Hopefully without a dampened spirit, and only enthusiasm for the day we again see two pink lines.