Friday, June 25, 2021

Even Preggos Get The Blues


Leave it to me to get exactly what I wanted and then feel like the world was crashing down upon me.

While I experienced some prenatal depression with my last pregnancy, as soon as I entered the second trimester, it dissipated and I was excited AF to be pregnant. This time around, the primary emotion I felt as a newly pregnant mama was dread.

I can’t blame it on physical discomfort. Aside from a week of light bleeding, mild nausea, and only one vomiting episode, my body felt great.

But my mind was a cesspool of incessantly anxious thoughts and my mood was getting darker and darker as the weeks ticked by. Why? Let me count the ways.

First, I was overwhelmed. One of the inconvenient truths about parenting is that as soon as you think you’ve got it down, your child grows and changes and you have to reconfigure everything all over again. Just when I’d mastered a routine or developmental task with my toddler, another challenge would present itself. She was walking and needed a lot more stimulation – and supervision – now. Naps were spotty. We hadn’t kicked the co-sleeping habit yet and she had seemingly regressed on sleeping through the night. I was worn out and couldn’t fathom how I would juggle a full-time at-home job, chasing a toddler around, and caring for a needy newborn without any paid help.

But how could we afford help? Financially, we were bleeding out. My husband’s income decreased substantially during the pandemic (though I didn't realize it until we filed our taxes in the spring because we keep our finances separate), making me the unlikely breadwinner – as a freelancer! (No pressure!) Our roof needed replacing. Our AC died. Our washer broke. Our drains were constantly clogged. The monthly home repair bills rivaled our mortgage payments.

Our family was in flux, too. My oldest daughter – my confidant, my best friend, my most reliable household helper and babysitter – was graduating high school and preparing to leave for college. My younger teen came out as trans to his dad, which did not go well. Soon we were both on the receiving end of a lot of politically incorrect lectures and insistence on therapy (and not the gender-affirming kind). He refused to let our teen medically transition, and I had to deal with the emotional fallout since he only parents two hours a week these days.

And then there was my marriage, which had devolved into a co-parent/housemate-style relationship. My husband and I didn’t even feel like friends anymore. We were just checking things off the to-do list but never really connecting. (And don’t even get me started on sex – or the complete lack thereof, which I take full responsibility for. I was too resentful at having been thrust into being not only the primary wage earner but also the primary parent. Being forced to play the man and the woman of the house is a real libido-killer.) Our arguments increased in both frequency and intensity until one day, during what I hope was our rock bottom, he started moving his stuff out and I started slinging around words like "divorce" and "lawyer up." (He came back. We both cried. We’re trying therapy.)

Despite all this stress, the pregnancy progressed normally. My boobs ballooned and my belly grew bigger and faster than my previous pregnancy. But I didn't relish my rounder shape. I despised it. I started running again at eight weeks, terrified of weight gain. But it didn’t help, because I was also bingeing -- on everything chocolately, peanut buttery, and sugary I could get my hands on. I was engaging in old, familiar, eating-disordered behaviors again. It was my way of “coping” with the disturbing thoughts and feelings – except it only made me feel worse, just in different ways about different things.

It was all too much. What the fuck was I thinking when I decided to get pregnant again?! I couldn't imagine bringing a baby into this mess. It didn't seem fair to her. And yet: she was coming, whether we were ready and willing or not.

Depression, which used to visit me for a day every few weeks in an inconvenient but manageable way, was now a more omnipresent, vicious presence. I would cry myself to sleep. I would wake in the middle of the night and review all the ways I had fucked up – as a wife, a mom, a Christian, a human. In the morning, I would weep some more. I couldn’t even muster a prayer – I didn't know what to say, didn't feel like I deserved God's attention, much less grace. I felt like I was beyond saving. Even a miracle didn't seem like enough.

I can’t believe I’m about to write this, but: I hoped for a miscarriage. (And this is coming from someone who has had two miscarriages and a disappearing twin and wouldn’t wish pregnancy loss on her worst enemy.) I was disappointed when the aforementioned bleeding stopped. I was shocked that running failed to dislodge the baby. Each prenatal visit, the nurses and Dr. Baby-Maker greeted me with unbridled enthusiasm and I could barely force a fake smile. (Thank goodness for face masks.)

One of the reasons I took a break from blogging is because I was afraid and ashamed. Afraid that I had made a mistake. Ashamed that I wanted this pregnancy so badly and now that it was here, I wanted nothing to do with it. Ashamed that I’d put this deeply intimate and personal journey on the internet for public consumption and didn’t have the guts to see it through. Ashamed because I thought that a “good mom” shouldn’t wish her pregnancy had failed.

Soon I was 15 weeks pregnant and realizing that I was running out of time if I did not feel capable of going through with this pregnancy. I not only let the thought of abortion cross my mind, I actually took active steps to learn more about it. (And I don’t even believe abortion should be legal past 12 weeks unless medically necessary!) At one point, after clicking through Planned Parenthood’s online information about surgical abortion, I logged onto the clinic’s so-called anonymous chat. It went a little like this:

ME: How late in pregnancy can I get an abortion in Minnesota?

PP: Hi! I’m Trevor! What’s your name?

(Wow. Are you fucking kidding me? How about 1) don’t let men run the Planned Parenthood chat and 2) don’t ask for my name if it’s supposed to be anonymous.)

ME: I don’t want to give you my name. I want to know how late in pregnancy I can get an abortion.

PP: Have you taken a pregnancy test?

(OMFG. How dumb do you think I am?)

ME: Yes, I have. I’m 15 weeks pregnant. Is it too late to get an abortion?

PP: Most states allow abortion up until 24 weeks, but some states have restrictions after 20 weeks. You would have to call your local clinic for more information.

(I didn't want to call the local clinic. Speaking to another human about this would make it too real. Can you believe Planned Parenthood doesn’t have some kind of nationwide chart available for its employees to reference when asked this question? WTF. Do better, Planned Parenthood.)

I knew I couldn’t abort the baby – because she was a baby by now. I’d mostly been avoiding the What to Expect When You’re Expecting app on my phone, but I’d glanced at enough updates to know that she would soon have fingerprints. She could detect light with her eyes. She could hear. She was moving. I had only seen her briefly a couple of times on early ultrasounds – when she looked no more detailed than a chickpea – but by now, she would look fully human on a sonogram. Though abortion would be the “easy” way out for me, I couldn’t bear having that on my conscience. The chances that I would regret an abortion seemed greater than the chances that I’d regret having a baby.

I contemplated another option, one I never thought I would consider: adoption. I wanted to believe it wouldn’t be as traumatic for the baby to be placed with another family because we weren’t genetically related. I would be like a surrogate for another reproductively challenged couple – but without the generous paycheck surrogates get for their services.

I perused profiles of couples wanting to adopt on a local social services website. There were plenty to choose from, but of course no one seemed “good enough.” Their detailed profiles only provoked more questions. Why was this single woman single? Why did she want to adopt instead of trying IUI or IVF herself? Did this extroverted, sports-loving couple drink too much? Was that couple too old? Was this one too religious?

There were other questions as well: would the baby feel like she’d been abandoned twice – first by the gamete donors, then by me? Would I adhere to the tenets of open adoption, being receptive to getting updates about her or to her seeking me out in the future? How would I answer her if she asked why I gave her up for adoption?

Speaking of donors, there was that complicating factor, too: I’d found the sperm donor on the Donor Sibling Registry and had contacted him. He responded immediately and suggested we become Facebook friends. So we did. He was educated, successful, kind, and handsome. Surely, he could make cute, intelligent, healthy babies. I clicked through all his photos and saved a few pics along with his contact info in a file for the baby should she want to reach out to him in the future.

So I couldn’t give the baby up. I felt accountable to her sperm donor. What would I say to him if he inquired about the baby later? What would I say to all the people who saw my belly growing but never met the baby? What if I picked a couple to be the adoptive parents, and then gave birth and decided to keep the baby – and broke their hearts?

I wish I could say something snapped me out of this crisis, that I had an epiphany, a breakthrough, an ah-ha moment of magnificent proportions. I didn't. I’m still struggling.

But when I went for the big anatomy ultrasound at 18 weeks, and I saw the baby’s profile pop up on the screen, and her perfect head and hands and feet and head all wriggling around, it hit me: the only way out is through...

Wednesday, June 16, 2021

Two Week (I Can't) Wait


Embryo transfer complete, the dreaded two-week wait was underway.

Cue “symptom spotting” (aka looking for any sign you might be pregnant). I noticed that my belly had become very Santa Claus-esque. I literally already looked pregnant, which was absurd yet undeniable. (So much for the skinny legend I’d become.) I Googled “weight gain or bloat?” and was relieved I was not the only person to wonder. Everything I read seemed to indicate it was bloat, but I didn’t “feel” bloated. Was it possible to show even before a positive pregnancy test? Were my stomach muscles so loose from the last pregnancy that they were just like, “We give up”?

For a few days following the transfer, I also felt little tugging sensations in my uterine area, just like I did during the first trimester of pregnancy with my daughter. I also experienced frequent urination, constipation, sleeplessness, and a level of exhaustion that left me near catatonic, though these seemed less like tell-tale pregnancy symptoms and more like mere coincidence – or signs that something else was wrong. I’d been incessantly cold, too, which is not a symptom of pregnancy, and began to wonder if my thyroid had gotten out of whack again.

Mood-wise, I felt surprisingly calm. I wasn’t chomping at the bit to take a home pregnancy test (mostly out of fear of a false negative). I mentally held space for both the possibility that I was pregnant and that if I was not, I would get another transfer scheduled ASAP. I even started researching whether I should transfer two embryos next time.

“Why are you researching this stuff?” my older teen wanted to know. “You’re manifesting the transfer not working!”

“Because it makes me feel better to have a backup plan,” I said.

One week post-transfer, my patience ran out. I decided to take a home pregnancy test. The night before the test, I had two pregnancy dreams: the first involved a pregnancy test gadget so complicated, I couldn’t figure out where the results window was. In the second dream, I was at a gas station under the guise of buying candy for a movie, but I was really scoping out the pregnancy tests and trying to figure out how I could sneak off and take one. And I did – but once again I was having trouble finding the results window. Finally, my dream self flipped the test over and there they were – two blue lines!

I woke up at 4 a.m. and headed straight to the bathroom to see if my dream would literally come true. As I prepared all my testing items – pee stick, plastic cup – my hands were trembling so hard I could hardly get the test package open. I didn’t realize how excited I was about the outcome until I was actually moments away from knowing it.

Using only a nightlight for guidance, I peed in the cup, dipped the stick in the pee, and placed the test on the counter. A minute later, I glanced down. Just one line. Negative.

“I knew it!” I thought.

It was dark in the bathroom, though, and I was not wearing my glasses, so I thought maybe I should turn the light on to confirm the test was negative. I did, and…there was a second line! Thin and faint, but there! 


I took the test back to the bedroom and put it on the nightstand, where I continued to check it every few minutes in between prayers of gratitude.

The second line stayed. My heart swelled. I felt so amazed and scared and grateful and nervous all at once.

Later in the morning, I ran downstairs to find my husband pouring his coffee.

“I have a squinter!” I said and produced the test. He was not wearing his glasses, so he couldn’t see at all what I was trying to show him.

When he realized what I had in my hand, he couldn’t believe it. He didn’t seem happy, per se, more shocked.

“I had a birth dream about you last night,” he said.

“How did the baby look?” I asked.

“I don’t know. It was just a baby.”

Huh.

Just like my previous IVF pregnancy, what initially felt like a finish line – a positive pregnancy test – was really just the first hurdle. I ordered a pair of store-brand pregnancy tests from Target (never again!) and took one the next morning, expecting the second line to be darker, stronger, as the HCG in my body (and urine) should have been increasing exponentially daily. But the second line was still faint, anemic even. The following day, I did another home test – and the line still wasn’t darker. The results from those home tests were so discouraging, I threw them away. They were psyching me out.

Thankfully, beta hCG day arrived. It was a gray and cold March morning as I drove to the clinic for my blood draw. Random snowy patches dotted the tan grass and the trees were sad and leafless along the route. “This is how the weather will be when the baby is born,” I thought, calculating a late fall due date.

My blood draw was so fast, I didn’t even have to pay for parking. I spent the entire morning refreshing and refreshing my online patient chart. Finally, around lunchtime, the result was in: my hCG was 170! (A normal hCG level for four weeks pregnant is between 10 and 708.)

While I was reassured by the number, it wasn’t as high as my first hCG had been with my daughter, and it was lagging behind that of several newly pregnant members of the West Coast IVF Facebook group. And yet, according to one study, an early HCG level higher than 100 has a 90 percent chance of resulting in a live birth. The odds were on my side. Now that number just needed to double in the next 48 hours.

Like all things pregnancy, I once again felt like I was holding my breath and waiting to feel reassured.

On the morning of the second blood draw, I was greeted by a nurse I didn’t recognize. She was wearing pink scrubs instead of blue, and her name tag said “medical assistant” rather than “lab,” which made me wonder if she was really qualified to draw blood. As it turned out, nope, she wasn’t. Though she complimented my veins, she couldn’t penetrate them. She tried twice in my right arm, jabbing me painfully and then trying to maneuver the needle into a better position.

“Has anyone ever told you your veins roll?” she asked.

“No,” I said. (“This is not my problem, it's yours,” I thought.)

Thankfully, after bandaging me up, she called one of her colleagues over – who got the blood drawn on her first try.

After the lab visit, I headed over to the specialty pharmacy to pick up more progesterone and needles. The latter were out of stock because of the Covid vaccine, so I had to wait 10 minutes for the pharmacist to finagle a substitution. While I was waiting, a nurse from Dr. Baby-Maker’s office called. My bloodwork had confirmed that my thyroid was on the fritz again, so I was to restart medication for that, too. (Proper thyroid function helps sustain pregnancy.) So many drugs just to do what most women's bodies do (and mine has done in the past) naturally. Grr.

I continued my refresh-refresh-refresh routine on my online chart until the hCG results came back that afternoon: 424! More than doubled! My West Coast IVF treatment coordinator called to congratulate me and went over the upcoming important dates: seven weeks (first ultrasound), 12 weeks (the end of progesterone and estrogen medications), and my due date.

I put the photos of the embryo and the transfer on my bedroom wall along with the embaby’s profile to make her feel more real. Mild physical symptoms aside, it was hard to believe I was pregnant. Now I just had to wait and hope and pray that the pregnancy would stick.

And stick it did. But while this pregnancy was the easiest, physically, that I’ve ever had, emotionally, it was a motherfucker