Blogging is all fun and games when I’m talking about our travel adventures, parenting mishaps, and life overseas. Then there’s the deep stuff, the hard stuff that is uncomfortable to discuss. And actually, the truth is I’m not uncomfortable, it’s just that the topic is sensitive and awkward and you feel like you shouldn’t be open about it. So you keep it all in and for me, that doesn’t make me feel any better.
I have always, always wanted to be a mom and to have a big family, and I wanted to have my children close in age. We were both ready to have a second baby when Abby was around 8 months old. I realize this probably sounds crazy, but Abby was sort of a trick baby who slept well and was relatively easy to handle, and this was well before we had insight into what her toddler years would be like. Because we had home leave and a big move to Georgia on the horizon, we decided to hold off a few more months, but when Abby turned 1 we felt more than ready. And we were insanely happy when we learned I was pregnant just a few weeks later.
We were on vacation with my family and excitedly shared the news with them, and with JR’s family soon after. I feel a pang thinking about how unabashedly happy and naive we were then. In the weeks that followed, we had multiple ultrasounds in the U.S. and then in Tbilisi shortly after we arrived, a terribly long period of limbo that resulted in a miscarriage. Just two weeks after arriving in Tbilisi, I was med-evaced to London for a D&C.
It was hard and awkward un-telling our families. We were sad but optimistic – these things happen, miscarriages are common, this was a small hurdle. I repeated those words to myself and found myself quoting them when I shared the news with people. I have always struggled with anxiety but it really kicked up as I waited for my cycle to return so we could begin trying again. I found out I was pregnant again in early November. Although we both wanted to believe that our previous experience was just bad luck, I had trouble feeling confident about the pregnancy. I questioned everything – especially because I didn’t have any typical symptoms (which was quite the opposite of my first trimester with Abby). We wanted to avoid the frustration of uncertainty, so we waited until I was about 7 weeks pregnant before scheduling an ultrasound. I knew at that point we should have seen a heartbeat, and when the local Georgian doctor said he couldn’t find one, we were crushed.
The doctor said it could still be early and wanted us back a week later. Limbo again. I wished with every ounce of my being for a positive outcome, and in spite of JR’s insistence that the news would be positive, in my heart I didn’t believe it. The following week it was confirmed that I was having a miscarriage, and I made my way to London for my second D&C just before Christmas. It was awful timing with the holiday, but we did our best to focus on Abby and my mom’s visit.
Throughout all of this, I was in close communication with my OB in Ohio. I asked her what was wrong with me, she said most likely nothing and we were just experiencing really awful luck since we were getting pregnant, just not staying pregnant. I believed the bad luck explanation for the first miscarriage, but to have two in a row seemed like more than bad luck – it was particularly cruel and painful. She and the doctor who handled my procedures in London agreed that we should continue trying, and if anything else happened it would be time to move on to a specialist.
In February I had another positive pregnancy test and I didn’t even want to tell JR. The emotional ups and downs were so draining, and I thought maybe I could spare him the roller coaster somehow. Per my OB, I went in for multiple blood tests right away and within in a week, it was pretty obvious that I was experiencing a chemical pregnancy (a very early miscarriage). As soon as we realized what was happening, I asked my OB for a referral to a reproductive endocrinologist (RE). This step was really scary for me – I felt like I was admitting defeat, admitting something was wrong with me physically and a viable pregnancy wasn’t going to happen without medical help. At the same time I didn’t feel like we had a moment to waste. I didn’t want to miss out on a window of opportunity to see an RE and hopefully have tests done during our R&R in Ohio.
I was able to see an RE the first week I was home in early March. He was straightforward – borderline abrasive. He said there were some standard tests I could and should do (karotyping my chromosomes, basic blood tests, and a sonohystogram to check my uterus) and thankfully he was able to schedule me for all of those things that same day. I’m especially grateful for that as one of my biggest worries was being limited by our time and availability in the U.S. and leaving without any real answers. But most importantly, he told me he didn’t think the tests would reveal anything. He said I was experiencing secondary infertility and recurrent miscarriage and most likely it would remain unexplained. He said that we could and should continue trying on our own and we had around a 70% chance of getting the magic combination that would result in a viable pregnancy, but the only thing he could do for me medically would be in-vitro fertilization with pre-implantation genetic screening (IVF with PGS).
I was blown away. First, just hearing the word “infertility” hurt. I’d been pregnant 3 times in 10 months. Then, what I had hoped was some small-ish medical problem that could be fixed now sounded like a full-blown worst case scenario. When and how would we accomplish IVF living overseas? How much would it cost and how would we pay for it (he estimated $17,000 for one attempt and our insurance offers no IVF coverage). The alternative was to keep getting pregnant and having losses, which was taking a huge emotional toll on both of us. I wondered why this was happening and what was wrong with me. I also struggled with immense guilt that I was so focused on my sadness over not having a second child, that I was missing out on wonderful, every day life with our amazing daughter.
On our last morning in Ohio, I once again found myself staring at a faint pink line on a pregnancy test. I don’t think I felt any excitement, honestly I felt kind of numb. When we were back in Tbilisi, I contacted the med unit and my RE’s office to let them know. The RE recommended that I have the same initial blood tests as before (HCG count and progesterone) and to start progesterone supplements immediately. The med unit here was very accommodating and encouraging, and I dutifully took the progesterone every night. The wait for my first ultrasound was awful. JR and I talked in terms of “well if I’m pregnant” never feeling confident in saying it affirmatively. Every day, I feared it would end or worse, it was already over and my body didn’t know it yet. I didn’t feel pregnant at all, I felt dejected and worried and sad.
Finally, when I was 7 weeks along, we went back to the doctor for my first ultrasound. Earlier that day, I had lunch with our good friends here and their daughter put a flower sticker on my hand. I told her it was my good luck charm, and when I laid down on the table, I closed my eyes with tears streaming down and gave JR my hand. He was rubbing the sticker and I kept my eyes closed while he looked up at the screen. The ultrasound doctor spoke in Georgian to the doctor who accompanied me from the med unit, and waiting for the translation was unbearable. I finally opened my eyes and looked at our doctor who smiled at me and said “there’s a heartbeat.”
Even now, so many months later, I can remember every feeling of that day. I held it together decently well until JR and I were alone in front of the hospital, on a small, busy street in the middle of Tbilisi, waiting for our ride, and then I burst into tears. And that’s how almost every appointment has been since then. I’ve had four more ultrasounds, including two in London, and each time I hold my breath and brace to hear the worst. Hearing that heartbeat – one of the sweetest sounds in the world – I feel this weight lift off of me that I’m not even sure I realized was holding me down. This pregnancy has not been easy, not because of any major physical symptoms but because the anxiety and fear have robbed me of enjoying most of it, but we are grateful and counting down the days until we can meet our new baby.