It's 4 a.m. and I'm lying in bed quietly sobbing. I don't want to wake my sleeping husband. And while I purposefully surf the net hunting down forums, blogs, websites, anything that discusses women on their recurrent (fourth) baby tragedy, I feel incredibly alone. Isolated, vulnerable, different. I am now less of a statistic, more of an exception: two healthy babies in my early-to-mid thirties followed by four miscarriages. Except I am not really sure what this fourth one is. I'd felt a number of pregnancy symptoms, but when the brown blood showed, I was at peace with the impending Aunt Flo. It's ok, I'd said to myself, at least I can drink. Except said period never came. So I tested, and sure enough, a positive. A bit faint but there nonetheless.
Our kids -- age five and three -- boy and girl, know it all now. They know that a smiley face means there's an egg in mommy's tummy and a plus sign means there's a baby. "It's twins!!" they screamed with glee. "Boy and girl!" they exclaimed unanimously. And a little corner inside my heart hoped they were right. A little part of me prayed that the brown was just implantation, because if it's twins there might be more bleeding, right? And as long as it's brown it's ok, no?
Over a week later and still plagued by more, unwavering brown spotting. At this point I, (and my amazing, strong, patient husband), braced ourselves for the inevitable. But this time was different; this time the hope that had prevailed in the last year started to wane. Something inside our hearts snapped and we both hugged and cried and questioned and agreed this time we needed a break. When a trip to urgent care one day later confirmed 288 (low) units of beta HCG but no sac in my uterus, and a suspected, albeit non-visible, ectopic pregnancy, we were spent. Deadened inside. Still, my littlest, sweet three-year-old girl whispered in my ear as I cuddled her to sleep: "It's a girl mommy. And a boy." And I wished she were right and that maybe it would be our miracle.
Rewind five and a half years. I'll never forget the moment James was born. It genuinely, whole-heartedly is the happiest moment of my life. I'd never felt such love and such overwhelming joy and gratitude for that nine pound, five ounce miracle boy. He was gorgeous, earth-shatteringly gorgeous. I'd had a perfect pregnancy too; I'd loved it all: the belly, the TopShop maternity fashion and oh my, the boobs -- the blessed boobs! And I took it for granted. All of it.
Eighteen months later, we went for the double. Siena's entry into this world was a bit bumpier than James' and little did we know then that it would give us a taster of things to come. I was thirty five and early blood draws gave her 1:14 odds of having Down Syndrome, which we discovered later she didn't have. The pregnancy progressed and Siena came into this world all spirit and sparkle and light -- and my gosh alarmingly loud. My beautiful baby girl.
As I held her in those first couple of hours post birth and stared into her pretty eyes, I was again blown away by the magnitude of my love for her. But this time there was something else too. I can only describe it as a burning desire, a deep, deep, yearning for another one. I questioned my own sanity -- love, you literally just had a baby, what on earth are you thinking?! But I knew then and there that we had to have another.
Life happened, work milestones, best friend's wedding planning and everything in-between, so we put baby-making off for a bit and started trying right after I turned thirty eight. Siena had just turned two. Our conception track record was one to three months and bang on month three we were pregnant.
January 2015, we were over the moon happy. We felt blessed that baby number three was on the way and I knew it would be our last. This was it. So I called my OBGYN's clinic and the office girls cooed and congratulated and scheduled my eight-week appointment. And I was relaxed. I was seasoned, a pro, a dab hand at this. So much so that my husband and I agreed he needn't bother showing up for the first scan because (ha!), you only get to see the heartbeat and anyway he had a meeting.
So I lie on the bed, legs spreadeagled, staring at the ultrasound monitor, joking and chatting with my doc. Until I see an uncertain look on her face and she says, "I can't find a heartbeat. Let me look again." Then she looks pained and says, "I'm sorry. I don't think I can find a heartbeat." And I feel the heat travel from my chest to my face. I hold my breath and the dread in my tummy is visceral. She tells me she'll ask for a second opinion. A male OBGYN comes in and checks and within seconds confirms there is no heartbeat, the baby is dead. Baby measured eight weeks on the dot so her heart had only recently stopped beating. And there it was. Our first baby tragedy.
In the minutes that ensued, amidst talk of d&c, of misoprostol drugs or just "letting it happen when it happens naturally," I sat there, nodding, letting the tears roll down my face. And I called my husband who desperately searched the forums in the hope that the doctors were wrong. "I've read that sometimes eight weeks is too early to see the heartbeat!" he said.
That afternoon he came home to me, we hugged in the kitchen and we cried. We named her Tulallah and I realized I could probably pin point the moment her heart stopped beating, because I remembered the night before my scan as I stood mundanely washing up, my thoughts had suddenly wandered to my Italian nana and granddad. A sensation so strong that they were with me. I remember thinking nothing of it. Now I like to think they came to take our little Tulallah back up to heaven for us.
The grief is real, it knocks you for six, it smacks you hard right in the face and consumes you. But our friends rallied and the outpouring of love was ridiculous, so we picked ourselves up, stuck our middle finger up at life and said "shit happens." We moved right on. I was on fire. "Matt!", I said to my partner-in-crime, "Next time's a winner. After all, likelihood of miscarriage is one in three. We're just a statistic."
That was February 8th 2015. One d&c procedure later, (and the discovery that Vicodin, muscle relaxants and a double gin and tonic are a stunning concoction), it's suddenly April 24th, in Hawaii, the day before my best friend's wedding. My period hasn't shown. I send Matt to pick up a stick, I pee on it and feel a burst of joy as it materializes into an instant positive. He and I quietly hug, this time tacitly reluctant to be too sure of ourselves. But I'm still a bit cocky because surely this won't happen twice in a row, and so we enjoy the rest of our vacation and schedule our first ultrasound, this time a wee bit earlier because I'm older after all and I'm also a little bit scared.
This time we both show up, hearts in throat staring at the ultrasound monitor. Yessss! A heartbeat! But baby is measuring small. "Are you sure you have your dates right?" my OBGYN questions jovially. Actually I am sure, I'm damn sure. OB laughs me off and changes my due date to six days later. I can't help but worry.
So then we work ourselves up to the next milestone: twelve weeks. We are hoping and praying and holding each others' hands tightly as the scan begins. This one's the biggie! The sonographer talks us through body parts and we see our little baby moving. It's incredible. Until ten minutes in the practitioner quietly asks us if we've been for genetic testing yet. That visceral sense of dread again. "We're about to," I say, adding, with a hint of aggression, "Why, are you seeing something you shouldn't?"
She looks at us with an expression that can only be described as profound woe, and utters the words we were dreading to hear, "I'm afraid I do. Your baby has a severe cystic hygroma starting around her chest all the way over her head. This is symptomatic of a serious genetic abnormality." And sure enough our tiny, beautiful baby who's moving and jumping right before our very eyes, has a build up of fluid traveling around her body from her chest, round her head and to her back. The specialist comes in with deep sorrow in his eyes. They tell us they're so very sorry and that the baby will not make it.
The baby had Trisomy 18, tests later revealed. A form of aneuploidy that is incompatible with life, the doctors tell us. And the baby is a girl. Maisy, we called her.
And this time we're numb. This time we wonder whether it's just bad luck or the new status quo for us. This time we start wondering why.
When our third attempt, in October 2015, ends in a miscarriage at five weeks, a whole new reality unravels. We discover that age really is a factor. That statistically over 70% of my eggs at the age of just-turned-thirty-nine are bad. That (after comprehensive fertility tests reveal all looks "perfect" with a higher than average follicle count), it's my egg quality that sucks.
But you know, at the end of 2015 although we suffered three losses, we felt peaceful, closer than ever as partners and raring for 2016. Because 2016 would bring us what we wanted. Because anything is possible, we just have to keep trying.
We're not give-uppers. But it's March 2016 and I am recovering from two shots of methotrexate in my bum, in a bid to eradicate the now-confirmed ectopic pregnancy growing outside of my uterus. And I am bleeding, again.
A whopping six pregnancies in six years, four losses in thirteen months and I can feel the hope slipping. And yet. And yet. We will keep trying. We'll take a break, I'll dose up on vitamins and Co-enzyme Q10 and tank down antioxidants, ditch coffee and alcohol, and I'll detox and get needles put in me.
Anything. Anything to make my eggs good. Anything to welcome this baby into our arms. Anything to have our little girl, who I'm convinced is waiting for just the right moment in time, to come down to us.
To her I say, we'll do everything we can love, and we're waiting for you.