Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Melissa's Story

I once was a fresh 26 year old with a mint reproductive system, dreams of having a large family, and no awareness of how dreams can become your worst nightmare. My fight to come out on top was quantified by two simple questions. Number of times pregnant? Number of births?
I didn’t know at that time those two questions would become an agonizing, merciless score for me. I was defeated by those numbers continually for years, but I never abandoned the mission to somehow have the score commence in my favor.
My husband, Ryan, and I dated for seven years before we got married, so the moment we tied the knot we had had our fill of couple bonding time, and were ready to throw a lot of kids into the mix. Two months after our wedding, a seemingly strange period snowballed to realization I was pregnant, and then a miscarriage. However, I was perfectly fine with it. I had no doubt we would get pregnant again, and we could put this little blip behind us.
A couple days after learning I was miscarrying, an excruciating amount of pain began to accompany my bleeding. All night I laid in a ball, whimpering, but I had no frame of reference. I had never miscarried before, and just thought this was what it was like. No one hypothesized my miscarriage would be abnormal.
The next day, however, everything became far from normal. I was making dinner at the stove and could no longer stand on my own two feet. I collapsed to the ground when I couldn’t grit through it any longer. I told Ryan I needed to go to the ER immediately.
When we arrived my seemingly unscathed baby making factory continued to fool the ER doctors. “I’m sure you are just trying to pass the baby, but we’ll have a look on the ultrasound and see what’s going on,” the on-call OB said matter-of-factly.
The OB took one look at the ultrasound and things rapidly spun out of control. I was put under and rushed to surgery within minutes. I remember Ryan trying to update my mom over the phone and crumbling. He could barely get the words out before breaking down. I distantly heard him say, “They’re taking her to surgery…She’s bleeding inside…There is a ruptured fallopian tube from an ectopic pregnancy, and they need to take it out.”
I woke up and saw there were now staples covering my stomach. Years later, Ryan told me when I was coming around out of surgery I was yelling at the doctors to put it back. I needed them to put me back together.

The doctor burst into the room and said, “Congratulations on your pregnancy! Given your past history, we’ll follow your HCG numbers for a bit and make sure they are doubling every two days like a normal pregnancy.”
This is how my ceaseless relationship with the phlebotomist was born. My poor unsuspecting veins never knew what hit them. Since one fallopian tube had just been ripped from the line up, my pregnancies would always be accompanied by countless lab trips to get blood drawn.
The frequent blood draws weren’t what I truly detested, though. It was the excoriating waiting periods after to see if the numbers confirmed a viable pregnancy and an embryo landing in my uterus.
In spite of this new set of baby making challenges, I was still pretty damn impressed with myself. I now only had one possible side the egg could travel down, so my odds of conceiving had been greatly reduced. Four months later, with a big asterisk on the six miserable weeks I recovered from the surgery, I was pregnant again!
The first round of HCG numbers were iffy, though. They had barely doubled, and neither the doctor nor I were so confident in my baby-making capabilities anymore.
“We’ll take another test in two days and see which direction things are moving…” the doctor said flatly. “We’d like to see them shoot up from here…”
I spent the next two days constantly willing this baby to grow. I talked to the embryo constantly. “You know what you have to do. Please, please, please go to the right spot.”
The doctor called us late at night right before we planned on going to sleep, and by that I mean lying horizontally in bed, staring at the ceiling all night, and fervently praying we would bring home a baby in the near future.
 “I’m sorry,” she said, “but your numbers are not doubling…or going down. They are the same, which leads me to believe this could be another ectopic. You need to go the ER now and they will give you a drug to stop the pregnancy, Methotrexate. It’s used in cancer patients to stop cells form multiplying, so it will stop the pregnancy from progressing.”
I got off the phone and wailed, and I don’t mean in a figurative sense. I screamed and sobbed so much our downstairs neighbor came out of the house as we brokenly got ourselves into the car to make another trip to the ER.
The endless regulatory, but admittedly necessary, exchanges and rituals you have to perform when going through very traumatic experiences, kill me. We had to drive a car, follow proper road rules, explain to the triage nurse why were there, answer questions when we both wanted to angrily tell every nurse and doctor to go f— themselves, change into a gown, all the while crying uncontrollably and wallowing in pain.
The somber ER doctor came into the room and made me relay again why I was there and why my OB had ordered this. I had nothing left in me to form words anymore, so Ryan took over the explanations.
The doctor’s brusque attitude finally broke, he looked sadly at me and said, “So you wanted this baby?” Observation of the year, Buddy.
He took a vial of medicine and did his best to shoot me in the rear while I shook with grief. My now obviously piece of crap baby factory would be forcibly shut down. He left the room, I stood up, slowly dressed, and left the hospital again with my dreams even more rattled.
The phone was ringing when we got home.
“This is the emergency room. You left without being discharged or any instructions. You cannot try to have a baby for three months. The drug will make a hostile environment for any implantation. You need to follow up with blood tests to make sure the drug is working and get the OK from your doctor before trying again.”

After clarification the remaining fallopian tube was open and ready to rock via an extremely unpleasant HSG dye test procedure, we called it up to the majors and willed it to step up big time.
Luckily the tube heard us loud and we conceived shortly after I was cleared to try again. Shortly after learning I was pregnant, I started bleeding…a lot. And I don't mean the am-I-hallucinating-seeing-blood-and-I-need-a-second-opinion, but the break out the bad underwear and spaceship-sized maxi pad amount of blood.
We kept checking in with our doctor and she would perform any mind easing rituals she could for me. Yet I was still bleeding and when even the expert doesn’t have a clear reason why, it’s hard to keep a positive outlook. But I wasn’t letting this one go, dammit.
I started to do whatever I could; I was on a endless cycle of prayer, pleading, and repeating perpetual mantras in my head all day. “Please let this baby happen, please let this baby happen, please let this baby happen…” I chanted to myself relentlessly, feeling if I ever broke from my chants I would tempt an ominous fate.
In between all the “have a heathy, living breathing baby” chants, I squeezed in a few million “let it be a girl” chants, and all my prayers were answered on March 15, 2006 when Clara arrived and let us be a bonafide family.

After the birth of Clara we moved back home to Indiana from Colorado, and found a whole new set of doctors we could amaze with our short and freakish reproductive history.
 When Clara was a year old I was having a very odd period and I knew something was off. I bled, stopped for a few days, and started bleeding again. I was terrified when I took a pregnancy test and saw it was positive.
Since this was similar to how my first ectopic occurred, I rushed to the ER again. I feared the remaining tube was going to give me the big finger and close up shop in a huge life altering way.
However, the HCG numbers fell dismally and showed I was miscarrying. I was disappointed, definitely, but still impressed my one remaining tube was throwing up some impressive pregnancy numbers. We'd get it next time, Kid.

And we did. Nolan screamed on the scene January 18th, 2008. And like every second child does (especially ones close in age to the first), he gave us quite a pause if maybe this big family thing wasn't all it was cracked up to be.
But eventually we came back to our crazy senses and wanted to press on with building up the family roster. Unfortunately, the baby making assembly line took on the characteristics of Willy Wonka’s factory before he decides to give out the Golden Tickets.

For two long, extremely frustrating years I checked almost monthly for those two little lines to appear on home tests, convincing myself I was pregnant every time my period was due. I went on a full scale mission to conceive and experimented with anything faceless women on the Internet had successfully tried. I did everything short of cloning my two existing children and IVF, and every month I sobbed in the bathroom, cursing my period and non-responsive body.
When the only thing you wish for so fervently is to have a baby, whether it’s your first or tenth, it takes on a life of its own. My personality started to have a striking resemblance to Sigourney Weaver’s Zuul in Ghostbusters.  
Month by month my failure to get pregnant would fester and grow into a consuming vehement resentment of all things baby. I was enraged when two of my sisters accidentally looked at sperm, got pregnant, and gave birth to healthy babies I couldn’t even bring myself to look at, let alone hold. I would have to leave church during baptisms, and frankly even baby Jesus at Christmas-time would bring me to tears. I felt like my TV became a breeding ground for nonstop baby advertisements, and someone was cuing pregnant women to constantly roam the streets like zombies out to torture me.
With every morsel of me I felt our family was still a work in progress. It was like I took a giant breath and I couldn’t exhale until I was pregnant again. My elusive, intangible baby was out there calling to me and I wouldn’t give up on it.

The doctor walked into the room staring at my chart. She briefly looked up and absently extended her hand to greet me.
“Wow,” she said. “It seems like you’ve had a bit of some bad luck.”
I never know how to appropriately respond to that, so I usually don’t. I just let it hang there, hoping my new doctor would take the nonverbal cue to bestow on me a ground-breaking theory of how to fix me resolutely.
My new OB put me on Clomid so we could increase the chances of actually conceiving, and I magically became pregnant the first month. We were beyond ecstatic and immediately felt the agony of the past two barren years wash away. This was my time to be the annoying pregnant lady.
We saw the heartbeat at eight weeks, and I’d like to say I just rode into the sunset of my blissful, worry-free pregnancy, but I didn’t. The heart rate wasn’t very strong, but the doctor and my back-up entourage of thousands of fertility-challenged women on the Internet assured me I could still go on to have a healthy baby. Sometimes heart rates are low at first, but I couldn’t shake the bad feeling.
The day after the dooming heart rate ultrasound we were headed on a family vacation out-of-state, and I couldn’t logistically insist on daily ultrasounds to quell my fears. I just didn’t feel right, though. Sure, I could convince myself my boobs hurt, I was tired, and I needed to pee all the time. I was a pro at psychosomatic symptoms by now, but deep down I knew this baby wasn’t taking hold.
When I got back from the trip I immediately scheduled another ultrasound to hopefully quiet my anxiety, but it was our worst nightmare. We were back to square one because we no longer had a heartbeat. 
After trying so long to conceive, I could feel the pregnancy clawing at my insides, not wanting to let go after all the hard work. I felt I would not miscarry on my own, so I had a D and C so I could put this painful chapter behind me quickly and move on with trying to conceive again.

I swayed my doctor to put me on Clomid again shortly after recovering from the D and C. I did not want my obviously stagnant eggs to get any more lethargic. And sure enough, we became pregnant again immediately.
I was petrified every second of the day, so I resumed my chanting mantras to will a healthy baby. Everyday my body would uncoil a minuscule amount from the tight frantic ball of nerves it was in. I had had a couple ultrasounds, the heartbeat was strong, and I was definitely feeling pregnant.
We were almost going to perform the ultimate test of fate for any couple that has dealt with fertility problems…announce the pregnancy. Our 14 week genetic testing ultrasound was coming up, and after that we would share the joy and finally accept that this baby was ours to keep.
The more pregnancies you’ve had trouble with, the nicer the ultrasound techs become, and this one was loving us. She chatted away about how nice it would be to be surprised about the gender, how our two kids would love having a sibling, blah, blah, “here are the arms!”, blah, blah, “the head, the belly!”, blah, blah, “by your measurements it looks like you are 14 weeks along,” blah, blah, etc.…
”Excuse me,” she said and quickly bolted from the tiny dark room.
We were stunned, not really sure what happened to our playful baby banter. The image of our baby was frozen on the ultrasound screen. My husband and I couldn’t even bring ourselves to think something horrible was happening, not after that frivolous small talk.
We slowly realized something was wrong. I kept repeating, “The screen says the baby measured 14 weeks. It’s 14 weeks old today. It has to be fine.” Any fertility inept woman can tell you down to the second the gestational age of her baby because she is continually willing time to speed by until things will be statistically “fine.”
I was still lying there with the ultrasound goop on my stomach when a more authoritative, somber man came in, and our hearts hit the floor.
“I’m sorry,” he said. “It seems there isn’t a heartbeat.”
“You need to check again! It can’t be right! That is exactly how old the baby is,” I desperately pleaded.
“I’m sorry,” he firmly repeated. “There isn’t a mistake. It must have happened recently. You’ll have to follow up with your OB.”
This was another one of those times when we had to somehow operate, complete the most menial tasks, in order to deal with one of the most horrific experiences of our lives.  We had to drive the car, walk up steps, say my name to a receptionist tragically looking at me because she just received word from the ultrasound facility I needed to come in immediately, and sit and wait next to pregnant women absently flipping through magazines. Everything was just so impossibly hard to execute because I was completely ripped open.
And then I had to decide on not so menial things, like how this baby would leave my body.
The doctor morosely told me, “You can take your time and think about it. You can have another D and C or we can induce you and deliver the baby in the hospital…”
I did take my time to think between continually sobbing at the life-numbing injustice of what we were dealing with again. But in the end I knew, even during the rawest pain, I would not stop trying, and I didn’t want to jeopardize having possible scar tissue with two back to back D and C’s. I would deliver the baby.
The doctor had to insert medicine to start contractions, so I had to go back to the office. Before I would let her do it, though, I insisted she check the ultrasound again for a heartbeat. I still couldn’t come to grips that my seemingly “typical” and miraculous pregnancy had just simply ceased to exist.
She wouldn’t let me look at the screen, but drove around my belly for a few obligatory moments before she sadly said, “There is nothing there. No heartbeat.”
When we had to go to the hospital later that night to deliver the baby. As people walked negligently past me in the halls, I couldn’t believe they didn't pull some sort of alarm and whisk me to the mental health floor. Because I felt and looked like I was about to come unhinged and I did, big time.
The nurse led us into our room on the labor and delivery ward. I froze for a millisecond before going absolutely nuts.
“YOU HAVE TO GET THAT OUT OF HERE!! GET IT OUT OF HERE! GET IT OUT, GET IT OUT, GET IT OUT!” I screamed and recoiled from the bassinet where they put squirmy, fist-clenching, crying babies moments after they burst into the world.
She looked cautiously at me, and said, “Ma’am, I can’t move it. It is hooked up to a bunch of cords.”
I hope that lady never lives a day in her life where she forgets what an asinine and down right imbecilic thing that was to say to an obviously emotionally eradicated human being.
She pushed the bassinet a few inches farther away, hoping that would pacify me, and cooly told me to change into my gown because the doctor would be in to check how things were progressing.
My husband and I had to sit there, wait for the doctor, and through our own sobs, listen to other women scream as they exhaustively pushed their breathing babies out into the world.
Mine did not take so much physical effort, but it ripped apart something in me virtually impossible to ever get back. The doctor unenthusiastically caught the baby as it flopped on the bed.
He paused and asked, “Would you like to see it?”
I don’t know if I made the right decision because it haunts me still, but I said what instinctively came out, “Yes.”
It looked like a baby, a very sad, tiny, lifeless baby. The doctor had wrapped our baby in a towel and propped it up so the proud parents could see.
I didn’t know it was possible to become any more unglued, but I did.
After going through that I became a walking shell of myself. I wore sunglasses constantly so I could cry as I pushed the grocery cart, drove the car, ran errands, and my kids wouldn’t be the wiser. I don’t remember taking a lot of showers standing up, I’d always end up falling down to the tub, bawling, with no energy to even wash my hair. It would take everything I had to fake it through each day with my children, and every night I would take a sleeping pill so my time of crying in my bed would be abbreviated.
I could see how my pain was making my family and friends uncomfortable, but frankly I could care less. I realized why people are never comfortable extending reassuring words to the grieving because they know what is looping through our heads, “I’m going to punch you in the face for saying such ridiculous, cliché things to me.” If they had to be a little uneasy trying to act normal around me, so be it, as if their little trifle of discontent mattered at all compared to what was raging through me.
My depression morphed into a black, inky sludge of a plague, vacuuming all normalcy from my life; suffocating me every moment of the day.
Eventually I was exhausted from it, and no longer felt as if mourning the loss of my baby was making me a more heroic, deserving mom. I was ready for some professional help and to step briefly away from my full time job of happiness deprivation. I enlisted the help of a therapist, and begrudgingly went a couple times a week.
I can’t say with certainty the therapist saved me. It felt a little canned and hokey talking about my life, mostly because I kept thinking, “Is this what I’m supposed to be saying to a therapist?” I didn’t have any big “Ah, ha!” Oprah moments, but I did realize this…
What happened sucked, plain and simple. It wasn’t my fault, God’s fault, or destiny’s fault. It was just something awful that happened to me. I just had to stop wallowing in the unfairness of it all, lace up my boots, and move on. Once I not only realized that, but truly believed it, I felt the weight of it lift from me and float away like a nuclear cloud.

I stared at the form, considering how to answer those two seemingly absolute questions. It seemed absurd I was now having to mentally catalog and count on my fingers how many times I actually had been pregnant. It wasn’t lost on me that normal women wouldn’t have to do this.
I sat there and contemplated “NUMBER OF BIRTHS.”
Did my last baby count as one I gave birth to?
Would this one?
Yes, because sweet little dimple-faced Finn was sent down from the heavens to us on January 23, 2012. If there is such thing as karma, he was our payback. He was an angelic, old soul from the moment he was born, and refused to give us any grief because he knew what we went though to get him here. In his own way, he lets us know, “Mom…Dad…, you are the bomb for not giving up on me, and I’m going to make you laugh everyday to show you what’s up.”
I'd like to say all my doctors, high risk doctors, and OBs were amazing and dedicated to my quest to have a baby again, but the fact is they weren't. They all listened to everything I had gone through very indifferently and then proceeded to offer me no answers or even avenues to investigate. Mostly they just informed me, “You’ve had a really rough time.” You don’t say!  “You had two successful births and there are no medical reasons why you shouldn’t be able to have another.” REALLY! That is all you have to offer despite your years of practice and wealth of knowledge??!!
Some of them mollified me and threw me a bone of something I could try, but most of them insisted there was nothing wrong, which I couldn't even believe they could say with a straight face. I spent so many hours reading books, listening to what friends tried, and researching any similarities between myself and random women on the Internet.
I was my biggest advocate, and I wasn't willing to sit by and let some uninspired doctors choose my baby fate.
During these searches I came across symptoms of gluten intolerance. An insane amount of headaches, CHECK; continual mouth sores, CHECK; skin rashes, CHECK; a barrage of gastro-intestinal issues I'll spare you the knowledge of, CHECK; unexplained infertility, umm… HELL YES! I immediately got tested because I just knew I had stumbled upon something that definitely resonated with me.
It turned out I was unquestionably allergic to gluten. I’m not sure if gluten was the source of all my pain and suffering, but I will tell you this, it was the only thing I came across that completely made sense to me.
How did this affect my reproductive system? Let me try to explain this to you in the most medically and scientifically sound way I can. I feel like when I ate gluten my body was like, “Whoa, dude! What’s this garbage? I can’t operate like this! I’m all angry and fiery up in here. You expect me to grow a baby in this hell hole? You’re freaking bananas!”
I can’t say with absolute certainty that abstaining from gluten allowed me to be able to finally conceive and carry a child to term, but if you want my opinion, yes, damn straight it is.

I realize most sane couples close down the workshop and clock out after a few kids. They want to sit back and retire from endless days and sleepless nights where you are constantly dishing out bottles and snacks, wiping faces with spit on your thumb, and carting abhorrent diapers out of living quarters. Not us.
There was no way we were going to prevent another pregnancy, although we both honestly believed our dream of having a larger family would never become a reality.
But little Elliot was our Hollywood baby. It was like we got transported to a whimsical romantic comedy set. We gasped with hands slapped to our cheeks. What? I’m pregnant?? How can that be? I already have a baby at home! Where the hell are we going to put a baby in this tiny house? Are we going to move out and just let them raise themselves like a pack of wolves?
And true to form, my effortless, breezy Hollywood pregnancy yielded an equally amiable, perfect baby on November 11, 2014. We faded to black with our little cherubic baby cradled in our arms and all his siblings crowding around, admiring our newest addition.
And I don’t care if you just threw up a little in your mouth because that is my story. Over and over I was asked to condense it into those two little blanks that followed “number of pregnancies” and “number of births”. How could I possibly fit all that anguish, joy, rage, relief, and happiness in those two lines?
Amazingly time does allow me to fold up everything we went thorough and file it away. I know what I endured, and I will carry that with me always. But I no longer have to cling to those stories and curse at them. I no longer admonish my body for what it put me through. It was the means of how we became our family, and the score no longer matters.

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