This week marks the anniversary of my sixth and most recent miscarriage.
The pregnancy was realized through a round of IVF using a genetically pre-screened embryo. When I learned the implantation took, I was so excited and nervous that I put myself on voluntary lock-down (not unlike the social distancing I’m currently practicing). I refused to travel for work or do anything strenuous. My levels looked great, and I began experiencing the wonderful bouts of nausea and exhaustion common to early pregnancy.
At seven weeks I started to bleed and became terrified. We went to the doctor to figure out what was wrong, but they couldn’t find any source of the bleed. Instead, they showed us a perfect little heartbeat on the ultrasound and told us to rest easy. We went home shaken and confused but happy and hopeful. The bleeding stopped.
Two weeks later, at nine weeks, at the final appointment before I would ‘graduate’ from specialty care back to a normal ObGyn, we were told the embryo had stopped growing. The heartbeat was gone.
I knew immediately that I was done. I couldn’t take any more. I would not go through this again.
My doctor, who is lovely, told me it wasn’t my fault. She said we’d done everything we could. When I switched to her care after my 4th loss, I’d told her I didn’t have much left in me, but she was encouraging and said there were still things we could try. That day we learned about the 6th loss, she said while she still firmly believed I was capable of carrying a pregnancy, she supported me in moving on to other options. I think she could see and sense my utter exhaustion.
Because the lab screened the embryos, they knew the gender; and because I have little patience and am terrible with surprises, I opted to know. It was a girl. In my head I had named her Laurel.
I gave myself more space to grieve than I had after prior losses, maybe because I knew it was the last time. I took a full week off work – like OFF WORK. My husband found an AirBNB at the beach and we spent the next few days watching the ocean, eating seafood, and simply being together. It was actually a really nice trip.
My memory over the past years is littered with similar and otherwise wonderful events remembered through the lens of my pregnancies:
- Our 10th college reunion which we attended during the 2-week period in our first pregnancy when we were waiting to see if it was progressing normally.
- The trip I took to Orlando with my sister and mom for her 60th birthday, after we learned our first pregnancy was indeed a miscarriage.
- Wandering together through Osaka, Japan trying to find a pregnancy test to confirm the start of our second pregnancy, and our subsequent celebration in Kyoto when we learned we were.
- Attending Riot Fest in Chicago during our second miscarriage, after I started bleeding but before our doctor could definitively confirm a loss.
- Driving cross-country with my husband when we moved from Chicago to Seattle and attempted timed intercourse with a trigger shot to conceive our third pregnancy.
- Hiking Mount Robson in Canada in the aftermath of our fifth loss.
These memories aren’t bad; they’re good. I was with friends, or family, or in foreign countries, or at fun events. But it’s as if there’s a scratch on the lens blocking certain shapes and distorting certain angles. They are all slightly marred. And, of course, I have sad memories too.
Anniversaries of losses can be hard, so can intended due dates, so can places or activities associated with the losses. Mothers’ Day can be particularly challenging. Receiving birth announcements and baby shower invitations can trigger sadness.
All I can do in these moments is honor my pain and practice self-care. Yesterday I made chocolate chip cookies and ate about 10 of them. I went back and looked through pictures from our trip to the beach. I talked to my husband about our losses and our journey. I journaled. I wrote this post. And I’m still sad.
Next year at this time, it will probably be better. I have two quartz stones on my bookshelf. One is from the Himalayas. It is jagged with sharp edges. The other is from a beach in western Washington. It is perfectly smooth and round. They are my reminder that time changes us. It blunts our corners and heals our wounds. This too, shall pass.