My Second First Trimester – Morning sickness, acupuncture and wrestling with hope

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Before I start gushing about how amazing it is to feel my baby move around in my belly and about how we are loving our midwifery care, I really wanted to reflect on my first trimester.  I think sometimes it’s easy gloss over the struggles when you have such happy news to share, but to honour my full experience it’s only fair to write about the darker times too.  Unfortunately, I’ve had to do this more often than I would like, but I know I am far from alone in this journey.

The first trimester was such a strange time for me.  Arguably, it is the most dynamic time in your body (though I may change my mind once I reach my third trimester…) with hormones constantly on the rise, no fully developed placenta to carry the load of growing your little one (shout out to placentas everywhere!),  morning sickness, fatigue and on top of that you don’t even look remotely pregnant.  At a time when you really could use some help with your groceries, a door held open or for someone to kindly ask how you are feeling, no one really does.  There are no outward signs of the intense and complex processes occurring inside of you.  It feels kind of lonely.

I found myself feeling like an impostor a lot of the time.  Like I was lying about feeling so terrible, because on the outside I looked totally normal.  I imagine it is perhaps similar to what people with a “hidden” chronic illness feel like on a regular basis; ignored, passed over and assumed to be just peachy, when really their bodies are wreaking total havoc on them.  I felt so guilty for not making dinner for my wife (and I normally love cooking) and for basically being a giant lump.  The fatigue just kind of crept up on me.  All of a sudden I was sleeping until noon, even when I was going to bed at 9:00 or 10:00 pm.  It was a struggle to even have a shower some days.  For someone who is always doing a million things, it’s hard to admit that you are tired without feeling incredibly lazy and full of excuses.  I didn’t even believe I was “that” tired until I started to feel like my normal self again in the second trimester.

In general, my second first trimester was a lot like my first first trimester.  All day morning sickness, hating all food, and all of the fatigue.  The picture above was a very familiar view, as it is for a lot of mama’s in those early days.  I lost a few pounds simply because I just couldn’t eat.  Perhaps some of you have had an experience when you indulge in that one certain type of liquor (we’ve all been there, right?) that even a whiff of it sends your stomach reeling back to that god forsaken time you swore off drinking forever?  Yeah, that’s how I felt.  About. All. Food.  Nothing appealed to me.  Occasionally I could stomach some raisin toast, maybe a popsicle.  Apple juice was really good, for like a week, then I hated it.  I would wander the grocery store (which has so many smells, that I couldn’t spend too long there) unaccompanied by my usual well-thought out list for my meal plan that week, and just bought whatever I thought I could stomach.  I happened to also be unemployed after our recent move to Winnipeg, so most of my days were spent watching Netflix, trying to write cover letters and thinking of something I could eat that wouldn’t make me vomit everywhere.

It was a fun time, let me tell you.

I started doing acupuncture every couple of weeks to help with my nausea and to hopefully prevent another miscarriage. The World Health Organization does list both morning sickness and female infertility as conditions that can be treated with acupuncture.  There appears to be some evidence of the benefits of acupuncture for women undergoing fertility treatments (they are looking especially at the potentially benefits for IVF treatment), but it seems much more research is necessary before that’s conclusive.  Even though I knew I had very little control over the situation (which was beyond frustrating for my type A personality), I still wanted to do everything I could to hang on to my little one this time.  Following the acupuncture treatments I only threw up a couple of times and found that it was very relaxing and soothed my nausea for a couple of weeks.  In addition to the treatments, my acupuncture doctor also left some very small “tacks” in place, under a small bandaid for a week at a time.  I had one on the left and right inside ankle, and one on either side of my chest.  They were freaky at first, but it really seemed to take the edge off of my nausea.  It was also comforting to have the acupuncture doctor (who was also a medical doctor) take my pulse and reassure me that it was strong and indicative of a healthy pregnancy.

Wait, did she just say her acupuncturist could tell she was pregnant by her pulse?!   Yes I did!  Here’s one study  I found that verified the theory in Chinese medicine that an expectant woman’s pulse is noticeably different (to a skilled practitioner’s hand) and also changes with each stage of pregnancy.  My acupuncturist not only told me I was pregnant before I confirmed with a blood test, he also accurately predicted the gender based on my pulse!

Despite everything I was doing, I was so worried about losing my baby again.  Pregnancy after loss, especially in those early days is so bittersweet.  Nothing seems worth getting excited about because you know it could all change in a heartbeat.  You are happy, but careful not to be too happy.  I was lucky enough to have a great circle of close friends who I told in the early days, but I didn’t tell too many people, just in case. Instead of feeling like we had a big announcement like we had last time, we refrained from telling our extended family for a while.  It just seemed unfair to get everyone’s hopes up.  It was unfair to get our own hopes up.

I had such a conditional love for my body.  I constantly felt like I was bargaining for the future.  After losing our first baby, bleeding out twice, emergency room visits and taking months to recover from the miscarriage, the trust I had in my body was shaky to say the least.  I tried my best to meditate, stay as positive as possible and to take care of myself, but it felt like it didn’t even matter.  I did my best last time and it wasn’t enough, so what difference could I make this time?

As the end of my first trimester approached, I did feel more at ease with myself and my body.  Slowly, I started to believe that I was truly pregnant and that maybe we would have a little one by the summer time.  I gradually allowed myself to be more positive in conversations about our future, started contemplating maternity leave and began moving some of our previously collected baby things out of storage.  Everyday I was letting myself believe that things would be okay.

It was a difficult time, as it is for many mamas who are experiencing pregnancy after loss.  Having a support system of friends and family was probably what helped me the most.  Just having someone to confide my worries in and share how I was feeling that day, whether it be good or bad, helped me process what was going on.  I don’t know if I could have kept all my fears to myself for all of those weeks, and I’m glad that I didn’t have to.  Even though I was nervous to announce too early on my blog and social media (I was even nervous to announce after my first trimester was over), I didn’t hesitate to tell my close friends and family from day one.  Don’t get me wrong, it was still uncomfortable to be open about the pregnancy early on, knowing full well it may not have a happy ending.  And I totally understand wanting to keep it a secret from everyone because I debated keeping it a secret from everyone until we knew for sure everything was alright.  Of course, it’s a very personal choice and I fully understand both approaches.  In the end, I knew that if my worst fears came true, I would want all of the amazing support that I had during my first miscarriage.

Despite my struggles over this past year, I feel so much gratitude for having a loving spouse and wonderful friends and family.  Thank you.  I feel so lucky.

-K

 

 

 

Pregnant Again – A Bittersweet Joy

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Guys, we did it!  I’m pregnant!!!

I apologize for the radio silence over the last couple of months, but we’ve been dealing with A LOT.  I’ve missed you all.  Let’s start at the beginning shall we?

After my last negative pregnancy result, a lot was riding on our third attempt at IUI.  Not only that, but I had moved to Winnipeg (#militarylife) to be with my wife while she learns to fly helicopters (#mywifeisbetterthanyours).  So now I was 778 km away from my fertility clinic.  Yikes.

I got my period like clockwork shortly after my negative result.  I informed the fertility clinic and hoped they could get me an ultrasound in Winnipeg to save me a long drive back to Saskatchewan.  Unfortunately, the fertility clinic in Winnipeg was absolutely no help (not to mention they have a nine month wait list!).  The closest ultrasound they could get me was in Yorkton, SK.

On day 13 of my cycle, I got into my car and drove 5 hours to the bustling metropolis of Yorkton and had my 10 minute ultrasound.  Now, I had a decision to make: head back to Winnipeg, with a chance I may have to be in Saskatoon the next day for the IUI procedure, OR continue on to Saskatoon and hope that my body’s cycle would be as consistent as it was last cycle.  So armed with hours of podcasts, off to Saskatoon I went.

About an hour outside of Saskatoon, the clinic called me with the results of my ultrasound.  I barely breathed as I listened to the results.  The good news was that I had two eggs developing!  Woo hoo!  I had somehow transformed into a fertility goddess!  Practically a medical marvel!  The bad news was that the eggs weren’t quite ready to go, and my IUI was scheduled for three days from then.  Sigh.  After almost 8 hours on the road, I did a big ol’ U-turn and headed back from whence I came.

Aside from driving for 16 hours, the IUI went off without a hitch later that week.  I meditated for 10 minutes right after and relaxed, with my feet in the air, for about an hour in my hotel before heading back home to Winnipeg.

I just kept thinking, “third times a charm”.  C’mon body, you got this.  And, if I had two eggs ready to go, how could this not be my chance?

The two week wait, seemed better than the other ones.  It could have been the acupuncture, meditation or maybe just that I was used to the anxiety and knew that increasing stress levels never really helped much.  My wife’s tendency to not worry so much about things you have no control over seems to be wearing off on me.  I was also very unemployed after our recent move, so I was able to rest as much as I wanted and take time for myself.

A couple days before I was due for my pregnancy blood work, I felt the familiar itch to take a pregnancy test.  I had done a pretty good job keeping my anxiety at bay.  I had an extra test from my previous attempts, so I grabbed a cup and headed to the bathroom.  I did the dip and then laid the test on the counter to wait.  I swear time stands completely still as soon as that stick comes in contact with urine.  When I didn’t see that second little line appear instantly I just walked away.

Screw this.  It’s negative again, isn’t it?  Just like last time.  Whatever.  It’s fine.  We’ll try again.  We can still adopt.  I’m infertile. Broken.  I shouldn’t have even checked.

My mind was a whirlwind of negativity and fear.  I had watched so many negative pregnancy tests, turning them to see the result window at different angles, in a different light.  My desire was so strong I felt I would will that little line to appear, but it never did.

I went to the kitchen to do something that I don’t remember.  A couple minutes later, I walked back into the bathroom.  As quickly as I had dismissed the initial results, I felt the urge to know for sure.  The familiar feeling of hopefulness and potential that comes from being at the top of that fertility roller coaster overcame me.

And there was that second line.

It was clear as day.  Vibrantly blue against the white background of the test window.

I was pregnant again.

I’d like to say I was overjoyed.  I’d like to say that I was thrilled and excited and elated.

I mean, I was all of those things, but I also wasn’t at the same time.  I was also scared.  I was nervous and anxious and unsure.  I had been here before.  And it all disappeared in the blink of an eye.  A positive pregnancy test to most people means a baby in nine months.  To me, it meant the beginning of a fragile journey where a happy ending was not always the outcome.

A few days later blood work confirmed I was pregnant and that my hCG levels were rising properly.  I breathed the tiniest breath of relief.  As soon as I confirmed the blood work I set out on my mission to get a midwife.  Even though it felt too early, it’s been my dream to have midwifery care and by-gosh I was going to get it.

I actually was accepted into a midwife’s care in record time!  I called with my information and a day later a midwife was assigned to me.  I had to have some pregnancy karma stored up somewhere in the universe, right?

I was really excited to have a midwife and it made the pregnancy feel a little more real to me.  We had our first appointment at the birth centre in Winnipeg (which is goooorgeous).  Our midwife was warm and friendly and everything I hoped she would be.  We had a nice hour long consultation about health history and our journey thus far.  My wife was a champion and drove direct from her flight training in her flight suit (hot!) to be there for the appointment.  We found out I was due on June 8, 2018.  It felt so far away and so close at the same time.  The next step for me was to get an early ultrasound and hear that precious heartbeat.

Unfortunately, the health care system in Manitoba does not offer early ultrasounds unless there are extenuating circumstances or a need to date a pregnancy.  You’d think that a previous miscarriage would qualify as a reason for an early ultrasound, but nope.  I didn’t qualify.  My midwife offered to fudge things a bit and put me in for an ultrasound for “dating purposes” (even though I practically knew the exact moment of conception), but I might have to wait until I was around 10-12 weeks to get the ultrasound.

I wasn’t willing to wait that long.  I just couldn’t.  This pregnancy already felt so tenuous and delicate that I knew I would lose my mind waiting until almost the end of the first trimester to confirm.  So, back to Saskatoon I went for a 7 week ultrasound at my fertility clinic.

I laid down on the table and the doctor asked me how I was doing.  I said I was morning sick most of the time and very, very nervous.  Her face was kind with the understanding of my history.  In went the ultrasound wand and almost immediately my little baby popped into view on the screen.  My eyes welled up with tears as I heard the doctor measure her heart beat.  A smile spread across my face as the tracing of the 167 beats per minute flowed across the bottom of the monitor.  Baby was measuring perfectly and her heartbeat was strong and fast.

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My relief was incredible, though not complete.  This was a huge milestone for us, but we still had a long road ahead.

As soon as I was dressed, I told my wife, family and close circle of friends who have supported me throughout my loss.  I felt so grateful, not only for the support of the amazing people around me, but also for the hope of starting our family.

The first trimester was a strange time for me.  It was a happy time, of course, but it was also tempered with worry and uncertainty.  Pregnancy after loss is a constant conflict of emotions.  I feel trapped between two worlds.  One world where I look forward to having a big belly and planning pre-natal classes and buying baby things.  Meanwhile the other world taunts me with loss and embarrassment and despair.  I want to be happy and hopeful and look to the future, but it’s challenging with the reality of the true miracle of life.  The reality that nothing is guaranteed.  The reality that life is so, so precious and it could be taken away in an instant.

I’m sure you were all hoping for a slightly happier blog, but apparently that’s just not how I roll.  I guess I’m not naive anymore.  Miscarriage steals the magic and the potential of pregnancy.  Every day does get easier.  As I type this, I am 15 weeks and 5 days pregnant, baby is the size of an avocado and I’m already showing off a little baby belly.

Every morning when I get out of bed I look at my belly in the mirror to see if it’s still there, how big it is, how round it is.  I ask my wife constantly if my boobs are still big, to make sure my body still knows that I have a baby on the way (also because they are ridiculously huge now, so it’s kind of funny).  I check baby’s heartbeat every week with a fetal doppler, just to make sure she’s still in there and doing okay.  Until the last little while, I have tried not to refer to myself as pregnant or talk about it too much, in case it all changes.  I add qualifiers to statements about my pregnancy like “as long as everything works out okay” or “we know anything could still happen”, just to save face in advance.  Just last week my wife sang to our baby and I felt like it was barely real.

I’m so happy to be pregnant.  I know how incredibly lucky I am.  I know so many moms and families would give anything to be in my position because I was once in their shoes.  I was the barren mom looking at pregnancy announcements on Facebook and feeling the sharp pang of jealousy.  We are joyful and hopeful.  My joy just has a bittersweet companion, and I’m not sure when that will change.  Maybe it won’t.

For now, I’m trying to be healthy and meditate and enjoy the holiday season.  It’s going to be a bit hard seeing all of our families again because it was when we saw everyone last that we announced our first pregnancy.  I’m trying to step into my pregnancy confidently and connect with my baby.  I booked a Hypnobirthing class today.  I bought some maternity clothes.  I’m still nervous about our upcoming 20 week ultrasound in January, but I’m not letting that worry take over my life.  We are in a good place.

Thank you in advance for the well wishes.  So many of you amazing people are rooting for us and I can’t thank you enough for your kind words and positive messages over the last few months.  I promise more to follow shortly on the trials of the first trimester and our continued fertility journey.

Have a wonderful holiday season.

-K