I know a lot about the baby growing in my belly, but not the gender. I know he (or she) was fertilized on September 7, 2011 at around 8:40am. The embryo was placed in cold storage a few hours later, along with three of its little embryo buddies, where it stayed until November 16, 2013. It was placed inside my ready-and-waiting uterus on November 21, 2013, where I imagine it burrowed right into the uterine lining. A few weeks later, our tough little embryo withstood a subchorionic hemorrhage that terrified me and my husband; we thought we’d miscarried.
I saw its first photograph when it was just a gorgeous cluster of cells, its second as it was being transferred to my uterus, and its third when it was so small it couldn’t even be spotted on ultrasound. Just two weeks later, I saw its tiny beating heart nestled inside a shape that more closely resembled a fish than a human.
By the time most women are getting their first glimpse of their unborn baby, I’d seen mine six times. Squeak (which is what we call Baby for now, until it’s born and we assign him or her a ‘real’ name) has had an atypical existence thus far, just as we have had an unusual (though not at all rare) journey to becoming parents. In just a few weeks, I’ll become a mother of two — both conceived on that September day back in 2011.
Sometimes I wonder how I got here. While some women are lucky to never experience the immense heartache that comes with trying — and failing — to get pregnant, others struggle for years, not months. Some struggle forever and pursue other means to make their families. I was lucky enough to have great insurance coverage, ovaries that responded well to stimulation, and a husband whose “swimmers” could get the job done. This is our story.
We married in August of 2009. Though it took some persuading, I had talked my then-40-year-old husband into trying for a baby fairly soon after the wedding. My 30-year-old body had other plans. For reasons never revealed, I couldn’t ovulate. I had plenty of eggs, queued up and waiting for their turn to shine, but my brain wasn’t sending the right messages. We tried a host of different medications to coax them out over the next two years. Clomid (which my body reacted to by covering my ovaries in cysts), Letrazole (no dice), and Letrazole plus injectible stimulation meds (which actually worked a little too well).
We wanted one healthy baby. Just one, and we had neither the desire nor courage for multiples. The docs recommended we move on to IVF, where the number of embryos transferred could be more closely controlled, and we agreed. Thanks to the aforementioned health insurance, it was an easy decision.
We didn’t succeed on our first go-round. The first cycle, called a “fresh cycle,” failed. Despite transferring a beautiful embryo, it just didn’t take. No explanations available. Luckily we’d had great luck at our egg retrieval, with 20 eggs retrieved and 11 fertilized. Even after the failed transfer, we had 8 left in storage with which to try again. In December of 2011, try again we did.
When the pregnancy blood test results came back two weeks later, the results were grim. We were shooting for an HCG number between 10 and 750 to indicate pregnancy. Higher was better. Normal was in the 300 range.
The nurse’s voice on the phone was somber. My number was 13, and it didn’t look good. I would probably miscarry, but should come back in two days for another blood draw to confirm.
Two days later, the number should have been 23 or higher to indicate a strengthening pregnancy. Mine was 22. Still awful. “Don’t get your hopes up,” the nurse told me. She was just doing her job, trying to prepare me. I ignored her and stayed hopeful. Against their recommendations, I asked for another blood draw in two more days. I needed to know.
The third blood test needed to be 36 or higher. The results showed a 75. It was nowhere near the 600 average that most women had at the same stage of pregnancy, but I didn’t care. My baby was still with me.
And stay with me she did. Our daughter Hillary was born in August 2012, three weeks before her due date, weighing 7 pounds 1 ounce and measuring 21-¼ inches long. When the nurse placed her tiny vernix-covered body on my chest in the delivery room, I burst into tears. She cried too, and I tried to soothe her by telling her the story of how she came to be: how no one thought she’d stay with us. The doctor who was delivering the placenta stopped and stared at me; the baby she’d just delivered had started as a 13 HCG? It was nearly unheard of. But I never gave up on Hillary.
I’m in the final weeks of my second pregnancy now, due August 9, 2014. We chose not to try naturally after Hillary was born, returning to the IVF clinic to use more of our embryos. (We still have some left in storage, though after this baby, our family will be complete. The decision of what to do with the remaining embryos is very personal and difficult, but that’s another topic for another blog.)
This baby is a lot like his or her older sister — active, and judging by the amount of kicks to my ribs, he or she is also tall. I’m uncomfortable now, but so grateful for the ability to carry this baby, to be pregnant at all, knowing so many women that go through what we did never have the opportunity. We all make our families differently, and for me and my husband, IVF and the team of amazing doctors at the University of Iowa are what helped us make ours.
There are many sayings out there about the ends justifying the means. Did I plan on making babies this way? Not at all. Did I enjoy giving myself injections every night for 12 weeks so I could become a mom? I can assure you I did not.
Sometimes, special measures are called for. When I look at my amazing daughter, approaching two years old now, and feel the strong kicks of her little brother or sister, I am thankful.
Every single needle stick was worth it.
*Special thanks to our guest blogger, Lydia Fine, for sharing her story with us!
There are so many ways to become a mother. Read other stories in our series, “How I Became a Mother.”