This is a bittersweet post, but I couldn’t let October pass by without bringing awareness to Pregnancy and Infant Loss. It is observed annually in the United States, as well as many other parts of the world, on October 15. It is a day of remembrance for pregnancy loss and infant death, which includes, but is not limited to, miscarriage, stillbirth, SIDS or the death of a newborn.
I know firsthand how deeply painful the loss can be and I want to advocate for women everywhere who have lost their babies. I am sharing my journey in the hopes that it can help provide comfort and support to those who might need it. Remember, you are not alone.
I learned a lot from my miscarriages and if I can make a difference for even one person, then putting my story out there has served its purpose.
So let's take it back to the beginning. (Be prepared, this is going to be long)
My husband and I were married in 2007. After 2 years of marriage we were ready to start a family. We started trying for a baby in September of 2009 and just two months later, right before Christmas, I took a pregnancy test when I thought I might be pregnant, sure enough, I was. I couldn't be more excited. That's all we talked about for days. So, after my initial doctor’s appointment to confirm the pregnancy, we decided we wanted to share the news with our parents and siblings that same day I had the appointment. Two days later, the doctor’s office called to share the results from the blood work. The nurse said that I was definitely pregnant but with low HCG numbers. For that reason, they had me go in again the following day to recheck if the levels had increased and at the range where they were supposed to be. The next day after that appointment, right before the doctor’s office called for the results, I woke up with period like cramping and brown discharge. When the nurse called with the results moments after, I already had a gut feeling things were not going smoothly. And, sure enough, the HCG numbers had decreased, which only meant I was miscarrying the 6 week pregnancy. When we met with the doctor that week, he told us miscarriages are more common than most people realize. One in four pregnancies end in miscarriage and most times there’s no reason. He saw no reason for me to miscarry and thought the next pregnancy would go smoothly. He advised we take one month off to let my body recover and try again. At that point, everything was a big blur to us. Common or not, I didn’t care much about the statistics he had shared with us, and all I wanted to do was crawl into bed and hide under the sheets and cry. It never crossed my mind that I would go through a miscarriage, since well, no one in my family has ever experienced it and I was never informed of the subject. It wasn’t until it happened to me that I informed and educated myself on the topic.
After three months, we started trying again and immediately found out we were pregnant. This time, we made it to 8 weeks before I miscarried again. Again, my doctor confirmed my body passed the embryo and there wasn’t anything we could do, other than skip a month and try again. He informed us there was no reason why the miscarriage happened, other than just pure bad luck. My age (26) was perfect; my organs were in good shape, etc. Well, that wasn’t good enough for me. I wanted answers. And, so I asked him to run some tests to find answers for the reoccurring miscarriages. His response to me was something like “tests are normally done after three miscarriages so let’s see what happens next and go from there”. What?! After three miscarriages? Because the two miscarriages I had were not good enough for you. I knew from that response I had to drop this heartless doctor and find another, pronto. After my online search for a high risk OBGYN, I found a doctor with good reviews and made an appointment for a consultation. After meeting with this new doctor, right away I had a good feeling about him. He informed us of all the tests we could do to try to find answers and we were already beginning to make arrangements with him to run these tests. But, everything had to be put on hold because I found out I was pregnant again for the third time now. I called the doctor’s office and he took me in that same day. I went in for blood work as well as an ultrasound. It was too early to see anything on the screen but the blood work confirmed the pregnancy. A couple of days later, he had me go to the lab again to draw more blood and see if the HCG numbers had doubled. They had increased, but not doubled. HCG levels are expected to double every 24 hours. He had me go in and do another ultrasound to rule out ectopic pregnancy and also see if there was anything more we could see on the screen. Well, at 7 weeks of pregnancy, we could not see a heartbeat let alone an embryo. Usually, most ultrasounds pick up the heartbeat as soon as 6 weeks. So, we played the waiting game for about 2 weeks, between blood tests and the ultrasound, it was confirmed the pregnancy was not going well. The numbers were slowly dropping and there was a sac but no embryo. The ultrasound also detected a bleeding in the placenta. Our doctor gave us options and one of them was a D&C. A D&C, also known as dilation and curettage, is a surgical procedure often performed in early pregnancy miscarriage to remove the tissue from the uterus. We chose the procedure since I was about 9 weeks pregnant and did not want to pass it naturally. And, I wanted the procedure so he can send the tissue to pathology; I was hoping maybe we could get an answer after that department does its tests.
Some time passed and after letting my body heal, we picked up where we left off before I found out I was pregnant. The doctor scheduled me for a procedure called a hysterosalpingogram (HSG) at the local hospital. HSG is an outpatient procedure that takes about 30 minutes. It involves placing an iodine-based dye through the cervix and then taking x-rays to determine the shape of the uterus and determine if the fallopian tubes are open or blocked. The procedure was done while I was awake and talking to my doctor, with no anesthesia, only a painkiller to help with the discomfort. Cramping can occur which feels just like your period but it's a pretty uncomfortable procedure. He told me that everything looked fine in terms of my uterus, ovaries, etc. and the only thing that was showing up was one of my fallopian tubes was blocked. However, he assured me that was not an issue and it was not a result of the miscarriages and that I can get pregnant with only one healthy fallopian tube, which he was right. I had no issues with getting pregnant but sustaining the pregnancy was where my body was failing.
The search for an answer continued. The lengthy blood work was requested to test for all sorts of potential deficiencies and diseases and it just felt never ending between phone calls, appointments, and getting results. I did not mind at all, I just wanted answers. Any kind of answers, whether good or bad, I wanted to hear the reasons or if I was every going to have a baby or not. Even my husband was tested for all sorts of possible deficiencies, but his tests came back normal. My doctor also referred me to a hematologist, rheumatologist, and another OBGYN colleague of his specializing in maternal-fetal medicine. At this point, I was already overwhelmed with the upcoming constant appointments and lab tests but I was happy. I was happy to have a doctor who cared enough to help me fulfill my needs to find answers. A doctor that was so passionate and caring about his patients that went above and beyond his limits to seek answers and a solution.
After weeks of seeing specialists and running from one lab to the next, we were getting closer to finding something. I mean, I recall giving over 50 vials of blood in the course of all this. My amazing doctor, along with the team of specialists I had been referred to, concluded that I have Factor V Leiden, in other words, a genetic disorder of blood clotting. I was also diagnosed with hypothyroidism, in which the body lacks sufficient thyroid hormone. And, either one can be the cause of the miscarriages. Well, overwhelmed hearing all this? Abso-f***ing-lutely! Happy? Yes. I have answers and potentially a solution.
So if you've made it this far, you’re probably overwhelmed too. The doctor broke it all down for us, in a non-medical words kind of way. So every time I was pregnant, my body would clot the embryo or in my previous case, the placenta (which we had seen on the ultrasound in the previous pregnancy) causing a miscarriage. My doctor told us the way for me to carry to term was by taking a blood thinner called Lovenox. The scary part? I (I mean my husband) had to inject myself in the stomach throughout my entire pregnancy.
The day after Christmas on December 26th 2010, we found out I was pregnant again. I clearly remember this day because I was packing for Las Vegas leaving the following day and I had an extra pregnancy test that was staring me in the face while packing the toiletries. When having a baby is on your mind 24/7, the urge to test every month on the dot or even days before your expected period is so normal. Trust me! Right away, the doctor was speed dialed and my husband and I had him on speaker. He sent me to get lab done the next morning before we hit the road to our mini vacation, we went to the lab, and they drew 20 vials of blood from me. HCG levels were doubling; progesterone levels looked well, and everything seemed to be on point. When all this was confirmed, I began my daily Lovenox injections, along with 81 mg of baby aspirin, syntheroid for hypothyroidism, progesterone (just to be safe, although numbers were good), and prenatal vitamins. At this point, I was confident everything would be fine but I was still nervous I would miscarry again. I didn't want to talk about the pregnancy for fear I would get excited and would start planning the nursery, baby names, etc all for it to end badly again. This time around, we decided to keep it a secret from all family and friends until we reached the second trimester. And, when I passed the first trimester, I was so ecstatic. I was seeing my doctor every two weeks up to this point, and then it slowly changed to once every 4 weeks for close monitoring. I met with the specialists at the end of every trimester and my hematologist explained that at the 36-week mark, I would switch from Lovenox shots to Heparin injections three times a day. Heparin has a shorter life span than Lovenox. In the event I went into labor, I would not be able to have an epidural until the blood thinner was completely out of my system. Heparin can also be reversed whereas Lovenox cannot.
The remainder of my pregnancy went smoothly, of course, always with mixed emotions of excitement and fear but I took it day by day and before we knew it I neared the end of my pregnancy at 40 weeks. My doctor always said to not worry and that this one was finally the healthy pregnancy we were meant to have and were desperately waiting for. And, at 41 weeks, we got to meet our rainbow baby, Mason, a 10 pound baby boy with the fattest cheeks I had ever seen. And, I could not be happier that he was ours. Ours to hold, hug and kiss for days to come. Ours to call our son. We did it! Our family had finally grown. It was a teamwork of amazing people circling us and through lots of heartache and lots of bruising in the stomach, but we did it!
My husband and I always said we would love to have more kids, but if someone told us we couldn’t and Mason was going to be an only child, I would not mind at all. I was happy with one child if I knew I couldn’t have more. But, we did want more if it was possible and two years later, we did try for another baby. We were told once we found out again, we would meet the doctor right away and start the same procedure of treatments in the same method as previously done. Guess what? In May of 2014, we found out I was pregnant. I was excited, nervous, scared, all of the above. Again, the doctor ordered us to follow the same procedures and same treatments as before, which we did. But, things did not seem to go well. After my weekly appointments, the numbers kept rising and doubling every 3 days (instead of every 2 days as it should); the doctor had us wait until we could detect something on the ultrasound. We were all so shocked at how the numbers kept rising but there was no growth on the ultrasound. The numbers kept rising until about week 9 until it reached a plateau. But, nothing could be done until we could rule out all possibilities.
A few days after, home alone with my toddler around 5pm on a weekday I dropped on the floor with extreme pain. I thought I was dying. No kidding! Everytime I took a look at my son’s face who was crawling on the floor, I cried. The thoughts of not seeing him anymore, thinking that was the last time I would see my son was killing me even more. The pain got stronger and more intense. I could not even move to get the phone that was just a foot away. But, luckily, my husband called as he was leaving work and my son loved picking up the phone every time it rang. So, at the age of 2, he picked it up and brought it over to me as he was blabbing to his dada. I got on the phone, crying hysterically, and my husband could not understand a word other than I think I’m dying. He called my parents who live 5 minutes away to come to the house right away and he had also called the ambulance. After 15 minutes, I was rushed to the ER and was already strapped on to the hospital bed, with extensive tests and ultrasounds but no answers. My doctor was on the phone with my husband minutes before that and had rushed to the hospital as well (a hospital he’s not even affiliated with) and was at my bedside shortly after. No tests and no machines could detect a pregnancy in the uterus but HCG numbers very high as if I was having a successful pregnancy. So, then my doctor said the only other possibility is an ectopic pregnancy that is not even coming up on the ultrasound. And, if it was, we had to act fast. The only way we could determine in my case was to have a laparoscopy. A laparaoscopic surgery is surgery that uses a video camera and thin tubes inserted into small cuts on the stomach to remove tissue. Well, we had no choice and it’s not like we were going to harm anything as no embryo was detected on the tests. And, at that moment, the concern was to save my life as an ectopic pregnancy, if ruptured, is life threatening.
An ectopic pregnancy occurs outside of the uterus and the baby cannot survive. Typically, an ectopic pregnancy occurs when a pregnancy starts outside of the uterus, usually in within one of the fallopian tubes. As I mentioned, an ectopic pregnancy must be ended in order to save the mother's life. If the area of the pregnancy ruptures, the mother must be treated immediately in order to prevent death.
After I came out of the laparoscopy procedure, all dosed up with anesthesia, my doctor came to my bedside and confirmed that it was a ruptured ectopic pregnancy that shockingly was not detected on any ultrasound machine. And, if you remember, I mentioned earlier during that dye test we had found one of my fallopian tubes was blocked. Well, guess what? The cells never made it out of that unhealthy tube and started growing in that blocked tube. And, it kept growing and growing, thus the growing HCG levels, and it finally ruptured when it was left with no more room. So, I lost my tube and was left with only one fallopian tube. I was kind of glad it was removed since it was unhealthy and if I ever did become pregnant again, we could hope that the chance of having another ectopic was slim. At this point, I just thought someone was picking on me. That someone did not like me and wanted me to go through all this. For quite some time, I really looked at everything in a negative way; because, I mean c’mon how could you look at life and live life with a positive mindset? I have feelings, I am human.
Fast forward a few chapters, we came out of this dark chapter of our life after finding out I was pregnant again in December 2015 and by following the same treatments and procedures, we gave birth to yet another rainbow baby girl, Katherine, just two months ago. A healthy baby with a full set of dark hair.
I can still say that everything I have been through, and that my body has been through, I am the luckiest person alive. I couldn’t be happier. My relationship with my husband grew stronger than ever since we can only turn to each other for comfort. Relationships can definitely turn the other way and fall apart but you have to stay strong and lean on each other since it is you two going through this nightmare and all you have is each other with the same ultimate goal of having a healthy pregnancy and baby.
For any one going through this horrific nightmare, believe me, it can be very hard battle to overcome. I KNOW! You can face many feelings such as anger, confusion, depression, loneliness, guilt, stress, and shock. You grieve the loss of the future, of a child you will never know or a baby you will never hold in your arms again but will forever hold in your heart. You think of all the things you wanted to do with your baby but now can’t. A baby that you wanted so badly, connected with from the minute you saw the lines on the pregnancy stick, isn’t there anymore. No matter how far along, loosing a baby is tough and it requires healing.
So, it can be hard for people who haven’t suffered this kind of loss to understand. But, if you know someone who has had a miscarriage or is grieving the loss of a baby just know you can still be there for them. You may not know what they are going through but let them know that whatever feelings they are having is okay. Be there to listen to them. And, for the love of life, try not to say things like “It was meant to be” “You can always try again” or “At least you weren’t that far along”. Words like these don’t help and only make matters worse. Just be there for them, cry with them, let them be sad. Let them know you love them.