15 weeks, C’s Birthday and SoCal IVF Clinics on the radio

Today marks 15 weeks along for this pregnancy. It feels good to be well out of the first trimester, but also a bit anticlimactic, since we know all too well that it doesn’t guarantee a healthy baby at the end.

This is one of those thoughts that I have frequently, but generally try to keep to myself so as not to bum everybody out. For example, last weekend, at a kid birthday party, I met another mom of a three-year-old. Shortly after establishing that we were both expecting babies this fall, she made a seemingly innocuous observation, “Isn’t pregnancy so much less stressful the second time around? The first time I was worried about everything, but this time, I just get to relax and enjoy it.”

I felt like I was in a sitcom where I can picture the outcome of either possible response:

“Well, actually, this is my fourth pregnancy; most recently, my daughter was stillborn at 41 weeks last July, so no, I don’t actually feel less stressed this time around.”

Um. Probably not the best way to make a new friend.

<<<SCREECH!!! Rewinding video footage…>>>

“Isn’t pregnancy so much less stressful the second time around?…”

“Mmm hmm. C. Samuel keeps us very busy this time around.”

It wasn’t technically a lie, but it also didn’t drop a giant shit on the day of someone who was just trying to make polite conversation at a kids’ party.

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In other news, C. Samuel turned 3 last week. Here are some obligatory cute pics from last weekend:

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Happy boy at his birthday party, wearing his “birthday hat”

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Riding his new bike on the boardwalk

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Sharing his toys with Jane on Memorial Day

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Lastly, while driving home today from Discount Tires, I got sucked into an episode of Reveal on my local public radio station, and ended up sitting in my carport for 40 minutes to hear the rest.

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I don’t understand why my tire blew out yesterday?! (C. took this pic of one of my ‘good’ tires, post blowout…)

The episode was about a highly suspicious IVF clinic in LA, and talked about the issue of inflating SART stats, in particular by putting in two or more embryos in young (under 35-years-old) moms without a prior history of failed IVF cycles.

The story certainly wasn’t perfect. (Most notably, I didn’t feel like they fully considered the financial pressures on couples that choose a multiple embryo transfer on their first try.) But it hit on several important ethical concerns that arise as a result of trying to sell services for something so emotionally-charged, expensive, and with such an uncertain outcome.

I also liked the fact that in the radio version (though not in the written article), they presented the head RE at our IVF clinic, Reproductive Partners, as a model of ethical practice (not that it applied to us, since we never made it transfer).

Here’s a written version of the story:

https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.revealnews.org/article/when-pregnancy-dreams-become-ivf-nightmares/amp/

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11 weeks, NIPT, and Outlander spoilers

Sorry it’s been awhile since I’ve checked in. Last week was finals week, and the weeks leading up to it were a bit hectic, as usual.

A week ago, we hit the 10 week mark, which meant I could do a phone consult with the genetic counselor and have my blood drawn for the Non-Invasive Pregnancy Test (NIPT, which I’ve written about on this blog before, here).

I scheduled my appointment for the earliest slot they would let me, on Monday afternoon, and drove to the hospital for my blood draw the same day. As we have in each pregnancy, we checked the box to learn the gender of the baby at the same time. Then, we anxiously awaited the results. (The genetic counselor had said it would be “about a week”, but since I knew I had made it in time for Monday’s FedEx pickup, I was hopeful for a result on Thursday or Friday.) More so than with our previous pregnancies, I worried that this baby might have a chromosomal abnormality, both because of my age (my baseline risk now – at age 38 – is 1 in 50), and because after losing Jane, we no longer feel immune to even improbable adversity…

Thankfully, I had a full week of to distract me from thinking too much about it, with a speaking gig at a chemistry symposium at a nearby university Tuesday, and tickets to Hamilton (!) in San Francisco on Wednesday night. C had accrued enough points on his Ritz Carlton business card for an overnight stay, so we spent Wednesday night in style in the city before returning to reality. While away, I checked my email every 10 minutes for the message from Kaiser, which I finally got on Friday morning in the airport bathroom…

The subject line was “Good News!”, which came as no small relief. I waited until I was sitting with C to open the email and learn the gender of our little peanut.

If you had asked us before Friday what our preference was, we would have told you we preferred a girl – not as a replacement for Jane, but maybe as another chance at the imagined future we felt that we had lost with her: mother-daughter mani-pedis and father-daughter dances, a trip to England to visit Jane Austen’s house, C walking her down the aisle… On the practical side, a baby girl would also be able to make use of all the never-worn, adorable pink outfits and dresses still hanging in Jane’s closet.

The letter showed that we have a chromosomally-normal boy! And we are honestly so excited. We love the idea of a brother for C. Samuel (I actually had wished that Jane was a boy before I knew!), and I feel very comfortable cementing my identity as a “boy mom”, which seems easier in many ways. And while we aren’t totally ruling out the possibility of a third child, I have to admit that there is something romantic about the idea that Jane was our girl, and that we won’t have another.

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In other news, in between late nights grading, I’ve been making my way through the Outlander series on Starz. It’s my guilty pleasure on nights when C isn’t home or goes to bed early. I really like the main characters (especially Sam Heoghan’s Jamie Fraser, sigh!) and the sets and costumes. The story isn’t as compelling or the dialog as clever as, say, Game of Thrones, but I enjoy it enough to have purchased the first two seasons on Amazon. That said, if you are easily disturbed by violence, you’d probably want to take a hard pass. Continuing with the GoT comparison, Outlander is not nearly as skull-crushingly gory as GoT…but I found several violent scenes to be at least as emotionally disturbing as anything I’ve seen on GoT.

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I just had to add a photo of Heoghan (source and more photos)

At this point, I should give a SPOILER ALERT. If you think you might want to watch Outlander, or you are watching and haven’t yet made it into Season 2, Episode 7, then for heaven’s sake, don’t read further!

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So, for those of you still here, the reason I bring up Outlander is that a) I just watched S2 E7 Friday night, and b) stillbirth figured prominently in the episode. It’s actually not the first time I’ve seen a stillbirth on TV since losing Jane. The first was in the series premier of This is Us. (I don’t even feel bad about spoiling that one, since it’s like halfway through the SERIES PREMIER and is not even the big surprise of the episode!)

I felt both portrayals were well done, and yet, neither initially felt like our experience.

In This is Us, the expecting couple goes in to deliver their babies (like us), who are triplets (not like us), and then have complications during delivery that result in the loss of one of the babies. We never see the baby that was stillborn, nor do we see the mother’s initial reaction to the news until a later episode. What we do see is a touching conversation between the obstetrician who delivered the babies and the young father. We see the father’s initial confusion and denial, and learn that the obstetrician had a stillborn child that motivated him into choosing to pursue obstetrics. The moment felt very real; the message, about making lemonade out of “the sourest lemon life can give you”, while undoubtedly hokey, feels honest and welcome, especially coming from someone who has been there.

In Outlander, the expecting mother is subjected to an intense situation that spurs early labor (not like us), then she is semi-unconscious, confused during delivery (not like us), and only learns that her child is stillborn after the delivery is over (not like us). The whole sequence took place in the first few minutes of the episode, and left me feeling very little. I felt guilty for eating chips and salsa through what I felt should have been a very emotional scene for me, but I didn’t feel much empathy for the character (who I really like and am generally very invested in). Another variable that undoubtedly affected my experience was the inclusion of a flash-forward at the start of the episode, that shows the same character with her future child. So we know from the beginning that she will eventually go on to have another child.

Then, as she is retelling the story to her husband (who wasn’t present for the birth), we see in a flashback that she in fact did get to see and hold her baby…

And there it was – the ‘real’ moment that got me. I cried as she lovingly and carefully examined her baby daughter’s hands and feet, remarking on the color and texture of her hair. I cried as she cradled her, and sang to her. And I cried especially hard when, after holding her daughter for hours, she reluctantly handed her over to be prepared for burial. It was heartbreaking, and beautiful, and exactly how I remember feeling.

Is there a sudden spate of authentic stillbirth story lines in television these days, or were they always there and I just wasn’t paying attention? Either way, I’m grateful to see elements of our experience portrayed for a wide audience. In both cases, the friends and loved ones of the grieving parents responded so well – never minimizing the loss (even in This is Us, when the couple had two healthy babies to take home); in the case of Outlander, they gave the baby a name, commented on how beautiful she was, and asked to hold her – like our loved ones did for Jane. ❤

Ultrasound and fire truck update

Well, the spotting increased to full-on bleeding Wednesday afternoon, so C and I both canceled each of our evening plans and stayed home to mope. The bleeding slowed overnight, then started again Thursday afternoon, this time accompanied by cramping.

Ever the pragmatist, I emailed Dr. R before driving home from work:

“In the last hour I’ve started cramping and bleeding more heavily. Do you think I should still come in tomorrow if it continues/increases? Should I try to save any tissue for testing?”

She replied that I should still come in, and that I should save any tissue if I could.

Again the bleeding slowed that evening and overnight.

On Friday I got up and got ready for work. I taught my class (OChem II), replied to emails, prepped for Monday’s class, and represented my department at an event for prospective students. As I realized that it was time to leave, a feeling of dread settled into the pit of my stomach. I said a grim goodbye to my friend/department assistant (who is ‘in the know’ about everything going on), and drove home to meet C.

C and I drove to Kaiser, making small talk. I mentioned Dr. R’s email, and speculated that she might recommend a D&C so we could test the embryo and see if there was a genetic reason why things went wrong.

We arrived, checked in, and waited. A nurse took me back in to get my weight, blood pressure and urine sample, then brought me back to the waiting room because Dr. R was behind schedule and she thought I’d be more comfortable waiting there.

Eventually the nurse came back for us and as we walked down the long hallway to the very last exam room, I leaned over to C and told him it felt like we were walking to the firing squad. I undressed and sat on the exam table, feeling both literally and figuratively naked.

Dr. R came in and hugged us both. She said how nice it was to see us, that it had been too long. She asked if I felt pregnant, and I explained that the only pregnancy “symptoms” I had were feeling weepy and very tired…both of which could easily be attributed to depression over our apparently failing pregnancy.

Mercifully, she suggested that we postpone the usual prenatal visit stuff and skip straight to the cervical exam and ultrasound.

Dr. R did her thing as gently as humanly possible. She realized that the probe was disconnected from the ultrasound machine and had to start over. She tried again and focused in on the dark oval (the gestational sac) and said, matter of factly,

“I see a heartbeat!”

What?!

She carefully showed us – skeptical as we were – what she was looking at. She checked the rate and declared it to be a normal heartbeat, then she measured the embryo, twice, and showed us that it was measuring 6 weeks 5 days. (We were at 6w6d by my count.)

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Dr. R was so visibly happy; she just about started crying. Meanwhile, C and I displayed no emotion at all. We were (and still are) dumbfounded.

I had already been anticipating how I would tell my department chair that I needed to change my fall teaching schedule back to a normal schedule. (I had jumped the gun and moved some courses to accommodate a November due date, prior to student registration starting last week…) I had planned to console myself with a delicious cadillac margarita at the Mexican place behind our house, watch the depressing movie about stillbirth I’ve been wanting to see, and ugly cry on the couch by myself…

That I could still be pregnant was, and is, so unreal.

Of course, we know we’re not out of the woods – that we will never be out of the woods.

But that doesn’t stop this me from feeling like getting this far is a miracle.

Dr. R suggested I lay off the aspirin for a couple days and then start back on it again Monday and see how it goes. She said I could go to a ‘normal’ prenatal visit schedule and come back in a month…or that I could come back sooner if it would help me feel less stressed. C answered for me that of course I would want to come back. (He told her I’d just move in to the clinic if she’d let me!) So Dr. R set up an appointment for next Friday, and said we could “play it by ear” after that. It sounds like she plans to let me come in as often as I want!

We talked about other things, including how (and when) I should deliver, but it was pretty much consistent with what she had already recommended when we met back in September.

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In other news, on Thursday I heard back from the sales rep for Kompan, the Danish company that we contracted to make Jane’s memorial fire truck. He said he had just confirmed that the pieces of the truck had arrived at our local Parks & Recreation office! We don’t know when they’ll get around to assembling it and removing the current fire truck, but this was unexpected good news!

He went on to say that while he didn’t know all the details, our story had touched the hearts of many of the people at Kompan who worked to make it happen. He shared that many years ago, he had lost an adult son (age 25), and that he was honored to be able to contribute to Jane’s memorial. ❤

Here were the plans for the memorial again. We can’t wait to see it in place at our local park!