I am writing about pregnancy loss and I am going to be blunt. If this is something that may bother you, please don't read. I know these kind of things aren't for everyone, but I struggled with (and still struggle with) how I was supposed to feel. There isn't a right or wrong way to feel, or to heal, but this is my experience.
After Thea was born Christopher and I went back and forth on whether or not we wanted a fourth child. I'd always dreamed of four. When I first bought stockings for our fireplace I bought six, just in case. Ironically I now hate those stockings, but since we already have them I'm going to get some use out of them! But after three girls he was a little reluctant to pull the trigger again, not to mention three was already exhausting. Did we really want to add another to the chaos? I was about 14 months post baby when my cycle returned, and we decided we'd be pretty lax about the whole thing for a few months. Not trying, not preventing, as they say.
One day I was shopping for Collins' birthday. I asked Sarah if she had anything she wanted, and Sarah sent me a link to an Amazon wishlist (smart lady). On the list was newborn diapers. Initially I got excited that Sarah might be pregnant, but then I remembered that Collins loves to put diapers on all her baby dolls. I texted Sarah all of this, and she responded back with, "Well, we actually might need those diapers come July." I was thrilled! I love babies and I love Sarah so winning, right? I was so so excited. At some point during our exchange I mentioned that I was nearing day 40 of my cycle. To which she shot back "why haven't you taken a pregnancy test?!" Because my first cycle after Elsie was born was like 70 days long. I wasn't expecting anything. She asked me a couple more times over the next few days before I caved and ordered some test strips off Amazon. I'd probably need a few at some point anyway.
In the evening on the day they arrived (November 9th) I figured what the hell and decided to dip one. I was shocked when the test line showed up before the control line. Naturally, I assumed the test was defective. They are cheap tests. So I dipped another one in the cup. Same result. For good measure I dipped a third. All three tests were obviously positive. I couldn't believe it. I was in the bathroom by myself laughing, in total disbelief. I immediately sent Sarah a text with just a picture of the tests (sorry Chris!). I can't remember exactly how our exchange went, but I was just so dang surprised, and excited at the same time. It was perfect! Sarah and I could be pregnant together. We were going to have four babies, it was decided.
Once the initial utter shock wore off I realized I should probably let my other half in on the excitement. I debated for a brief second about coming up with something cute to tell him, said to hell with it, walked downstairs and laid the positive pregnancy tests on the desk where he was working. I'm pretty sure he looked at me with big eyes, let out a "seriously?" and then a huge smile spread across his face. We hugged and chatted and I'm sure I said "I can't believe it" 9 million times. I was so surprised I think my brain blacked out for a little bit. Ha.
Being perfectly honest, by the next morning I was terrified. Four kids. What on Earth were we thinking?!? Thea had literally just started sleeping through the night and stopped nursing. I still felt like I never had any time to myself. The baby year is HARD. Also I still didn't really believe those cheap tests (even though I used them with my last three pregnancies), so a Target run was thrown on the day's to-dos. I think Chris texted me twice asking me if I'd taken a 'real' test twice before I finally snuck off to the bathroom to get it done. Sure enough, 'pregnant' popped up on the digital screen. I was shocked yet again. This was legit. I really was pregnant.
Since I wasn't really sure how far along I was, and that test line was relatively dark, I wanted to get in to the doctor for an HCG draw. But that meant picking an OB in town. I loved my doctor in Kansas City, she was the perfect amount of peppy and to the point. She didn't do any unnecessary hand holding, but she wasn't a jerk either. And she had an open mind when it came to treating her patients. Beyond that I just hate change, so the thought of not using the same doctor stunk. However I knew that it didn't make a whole lot of sense to drive an hour+ for appointments when there were perfectly capable doctors and hospitals in town. Chris did some asking around and came home with the name of an OB that he thought I might mesh with.
I called the office the following morning. They told me to go ahead and come in for blood work when I had a chance, and scheduled my first appointment for December 15th. Because I had a previous chemical pregnancy, and then low progesterone in my first trimester with Thea, I requested they check those levels as well. At first it didn't seem like the doctor was going to agree with it, which made me hesitant to trust her, but later it was added to the orders. I was anxious to hear numbers, so as soon as I was off the phone with them, I got myself, Elsie and Thea ready and we were on our way to the office. I was nervous that Elsie would say something to my parents about going to the doctor with me, so I told her I was getting a flu shot. I don't think she ever said anything to them, but I'm pretty sure she told Christopher. I'm pretty sure that line was Sarah's idea, so thanks for that one! :) That afternoon I got a call from the doctor's office. HCG was around 1500. Shoot! I mean that number is still a great first number, but I was hoping for something closer to 6000. They won't do an ultrasound until HCG is above 6000, and I definitely wanted a dating sono. It wasn't until Monday that they called with my progesterone, but it was 16 which the doctor was happy with. They ordered another blood draw for November 22nd, and scheduled the ultrasound for November 23rd.
Again, I can't lie, I still had a 'what have we done' feeling swirling around for a couple of weeks. I was just nervous about taking care of four kids, loving them all, giving them enough time, while still keeping an ounce or two of my own sanity. I didn't connect to the pregnancy quickly. I didn't take any 'bump' photos (not that there was much to see, but come on, I started at like 4 weeks with all three girls), I didn't write anything down. It doesn't mean I didn't start imagining our life with four kids, and what it might be like. But I just couldn't really connect. Connection or not, symptoms hit me hard the following week. Suddenly I was absolutely exhausted. I was falling asleep as soon as the girls were in bed, and struggling to wake up by 7am. All food was repulsive, and I was so nauseous. Seriously, water and chocolate both tasted gross to me. Completely unlike me. Headaches were also a problem. I was taking tylenol every six hours, b6 + unisom daily, and occasionally other anti nausea meds to keep from being non functional and throwing up. I've struggled with headaches and nausea in all my pregnancies, but this was definitely different. Also, I craved sour patch kids like crazy, or really the sour patch watermelons. I usually hate stuff like that. It was nuts. Thus, we assumed it was a boy. I was also obsessed with the gouda bacon breakfast sandwich from Starbucks. They sounded good ALL THE TIME. I ate so many in the short time I was pregnant.
All the times that they could get me in for an ultrasound, I was going to need childcare, so we had to tell my parents our news. I wasn't sure how anyone was going to react, so I was hesitant to start spreading the news, but I needed help so... One evening when we were having dinner at my parents, we told them we had to discuss summer plans. Once we separated the big girls from all of us adults I said to my mom, "I don't think we'll be able to travel to Georgia in July, because I'm pregnant." Both of my parents flashed the absolutely shocked look across their face. Haha. We chatted for a bit, all sorts of disbelief of a fourth, but they claimed to be excited ;). Love you mom! On the 22nd I went in for my repeat blood draw, HCG was over 50,000. YES. That is exactly what I wanted to hear. I started googling average HCG numbers by week and was hoping I was seven weeks along.
The next morning my mom came over to watch the girls, and I headed to the doctor's office. I was nervous, isn't everyone before seeing their baby for the first time? When I got to the office I barely had to wait, it went so quick. I went back to the ultrasound room, she got the image up on the screen, and said, "there is your baby! And there is the heart beat." The baby measured 6 weeks 1 day (dang, I was off by a week!) and the heart was just over 100 bpm. Relief definitely flooded through my body. Everything else looked good, I had a small SCH, but it was most likely from implantation and she wasn't worried. Printed me a couple pictures and I was on my merry little way in like five minutes. My official due date was July 18th. Whoa. We were going to have two under two. Only for a few weeks, but yikes! That was never something I had anticipated. At the same time it would be nice to get through the baby years. I love babies, and I do believe there is another piece to our family puzzle, but man, big kid years sound kind of nice too!
baby four at 6 weeks 1 day
Over the next couple of weeks I continued to feel like crap, things seemed to be progressing normally, and we told a few friends. It was so strange though, it was almost like in the back of my head I knew I'd be having to spread bad news in not that long. I tried to ignore the feeling, I'm a constant worrier and a pessimist so I think I'd have those feelings no matter what. But it was such a nagging feeling. However chatting about baby four with the few friends that knew was so fun. I still didn't feel a strong connection to the pregnancy, but I was definitely getting more excited. Figuring out who would sleep in what room, who was going to share, all that stuff. I started planning it all out in my head. At nine weeks exactly I decided to break out my doppler. I know it can be tough to find the heartbeat when the baby is that tiny, but I was successful with both Elsie and Thea that early so I had to give it a try. It took me a while, but I managed to find it briefly. Hearing the heartbeat, in that moment, it became even more real.
Two days later I had my first appointment. It was with a nurse practitioner, not the OB I was going to be seeing, but she was nice and the appointment was pretty straight forward. We chatted about my medical history, she went over the medicines I'd been taking, everything looked fine. She was able to quickly find the heartbeat with the doppler in the office, and said it was in the 160's. The next afternoon I got a call from the OB's office. My doctor had reviewed my chart, and based on my history of gestational hypertension she prescribed one baby asprin a day throughout the pregnancy. I was a little surprised by this, as it was never mentioned to me at all by my previous doctor. I said alright, but did my own googling and asking of the doctor husband. From what we could find, it was generally prescribed for people with a history of clotting disorders, pre-eclampsia, or recurrent miscarriage. Gestational hypertension was not mentioned in anything we read, and my pregnancies had always been rather uneventful until 34ish weeks. I decided not take the asprin, and planned to talk to my doctor at my next appointment.
Honestly, that decision will haunt me on and off for years to come I'm sure. Would taking the asprin have allowed baby better blood flow? Would her heart have kept beating? Why didn't I just call the office and ask more questions right away? Learn more of the risks? I'll never have any answers. Chris hates that it is something in my head. And had I been taking the asprin and something still had happened, I might have wrongly blamed that. I just can't get it out of my mind.
The following Tuesday (December 20th) I went back to the office for my blood draw. They also took blood to send off for the early genetic testing. I was slightly hopeful that maybe the results would come back before the weekend (didn't happen), because after going back and forth we had decided to tell the girls about the pregnancy on Christmas morning. We both would have preferred to wait until 12-13 weeks to tell them, but Christmas just seemed like the fun time to do it. Also, I was starting to develop a small belly, and I didn't need anyone blurting it out or them randomly asking questions without us getting to tell the girls in our own way. We decided to wrap up a big sister shirt as one of Thea's Christmas presents. We hid it on the bottom of the pile so it was the last one to be opened. I would try to describe their reactions, but the video is just so much better...
Is that not hilarious? In reality Thea was all stranger danger about my brother, and apparently he looked at her wrong or something. But it was just so perfect. And Ryann, oh man, too fun. Elsie reacted pretty much as I expected. Didn't care a bit!
Ryann and Elsie were so cute. Ryann kept asking me how big the baby was, among other random questions, and just loved me telling her what fruit it was the size of. I think 11 weeks was a lime, and when I pulled a lime out of the fridge to show her she was just amazed making the connection. The two also started making plans about when they were going to share a room 'for real'. They had been sleeping in bunk beds in Elsie's room, but those were going to move to Ryann's room and they'd share that one. And Elsie started coming up to me and kissing my belly here and there. It was so fun and sweet.
The Thursday after Christmas (December 29th) I had a couple of girlfriends and their kiddos over. During our play date I got a call from my OB's office, the genetic testing was in! The nurse told me over the phone that all the genetic testing had come back normal, and that there was an envelope at the front desk with the sex of the baby sealed inside. Of course the three of us got super excited and giddy, and I was thrilled to hear baby was healthy! As luck would have it Chris only works half days on Thursdays, and we had plans to be near the OB's office that afternoon. So on our way, we stopped by the office and I ran in and grabbed the envelope. Chris wasn't ready to open it. I mean, three girls in, he needed to be able to process either way. He wanted to open it after the girls were in bed, with a drink in hand. Lol. So the envelope just sat there, nagging me for the rest of the day. :) Actually I wasn't too anxious to open it, of course I wanted to know, but I was perfectly fine letting Christopher take the lead and waiting.
Finally after the girls were in bed, we were standing at our kitchen island. We both had nerves going, but eventually Chris worked up the guts to open the envelope. He took one look at it, laughed, tossed it at me and said "seriously?!" I wasn't quite sure how to take that so I scanned the paper. "XX - FEMALE". A GIRL! It was another girl!! For the love oh my goodness we were going to have FOUR GIRLS. I gave Chris some hugs. You know he was disappointed. He didn't say it, he tried not to show it, but he was really hoping for a son. Honestly the idea of an all girl tribe is thrilling to me, but at the same time I know how badly Chris would like to have a boy so it was bittersweet. But nonetheless we knew. It was a girl. She'd be just shy of two years younger than Thea. All those new clothes I bought for Thea, I could use for the new baby. And all the bows! Haha. We texted our parents and a few of our friends. I'm pretty sure that provided some laughs for everyone. The odds of conceiving four girls are rather low, but at the same time each baby you have of the same sex increases the chances that the next baby will also be the same sex. So there's that.
That night I broke out the doppler again (really I had been every few days). It still took me a bit, but when I found the heartbeat I whispered, "hi baby girl." My daughter. That heart that was beating was my daughter's. That was the last time I heard that sweet sound.
We waited until Saturday, New Year's Eve, to tell the girls. Ryann had really been hoping for a brother, I'm not exactly sure why, and it hadn't just been for that pregnancy. She has just been regularly asking us when she was going to have a brother. So Chris went to the grocery store and bought pink balloons and pink candy, hoping the candy aspect would mask the fact that is wasn't a boy. Haha. They took it pretty well! When they opened the package Ryann said, "well at least we can still have lots of glittery things. I like glitter." Me too girl, me too. That night we went to a New Year's Eve party at a friend's house and let them in on our secret. On Sunday I ran into Ryann's kindergarten teacher at Target. We told her that I was pregnant, because she has four girls too, and Ryann was so excited to have a family like Mrs. G.
Monday night (January 2nd) I tried to use my doppler again. I spent a LONG time looking and just could not find the heartbeat. In my gut I knew something wasn't right, but I tried to stay calm. Baby girl was still little, and at just shy of 12 weeks my uterus could have been on the move a bit. Maybe the heart was in a different spot and I just wasn't finding it. I tried again on Tuesday. No luck. I was getting scared, but again, tried to stay positive. Suddenly on Wednesday morning, I was hit with a huge wave of anxiety. I couldn't think straight, I felt like I couldn't breathe. When Elsie and Thea were in their rooms for quiet time I tried again with the doppler. I spent a solid 20 minutes trying to find the heartbeat. Nothing. I texted Chris, begging him to bring home the portable ultrasound from his office. I couldn't keep wondering. I couldn't function.
Once we knew the girls were asleep, I laid on the bed and Chris got out the ultrasound machine. I felt like I was going to throw up. He put the wand on my belly and his eyes lit up a bit, "there she is!" But just a few seconds later he was silent. I can't remember how our whole exchange went, but I knew she was gone. He kept searching, looking for any signs of life. But there were none. No blood flow near the heart or the umbilical cord. Nothing. I felt so numb. She looked perfect. Just like a 12 week baby should, with her little hands curled up by her face, her legs tucked in under her. Just a perfect little baby. But her body was just twitching with my pulse. That lifeless image, her just twitching, I think it will forever be burned in my memory.
We laid together for a while. I didn't cry at first. I was just shocked. Immediately I was stressed about telling the girls. What was I supposed to say? How do I say it? How was this happening? How after hearing the heartbeat so many times, how after normal genetic results, how with all my symptoms, how was this happening? Why was this happening? What did I do wrong? I couldn't lay there anymore. I needed to move. What I wanted to do in that moment is run away and never come back. But I settled for cleaning. I stayed up far too late just cleaning and crying. Eventually I gave in to exhaustion and went to bed.