The Birth of My Baby – And Why Happily Ever After Isn’t All That Matters

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On June 12th and 10:00 pm, I did the hardest thing I’ve ever done.  I birthed my beautiful son into this world.

7 pounds and 6 ounces of pure perfection.  Our little rainbow babe.

I wish the following post was all about my magical birth centre experience.  I wish I could tell you all about how I breathed my baby earthside, in a birthing tub that was just the right temperature, surrounded by supportive staff, soft lighting and rainbows.  I wish I could tell you how empowered I felt allowing my body to do what it was naturally meant to do.  I wish I could tell you how amazing it was to finally have the birth I had been preparing for since long before my miscarriage.

But like most birth stories, my plans were ruined before we even got started.

Labour gently crept up on me at 4:00 am on June 10th. It took me falling asleep and waking up multiple times to realize that what I was feeling were my first contractions.  I got out of bed, just to see if they were real and they continued to come in waves every so often.  I softly woke my wife, letting her know that just maybe labour was starting, but not to panic.  It never happens like it does in the movies.

We stood together in our dark living room, her arms encircling my waist swaying gently, watching the sun slowly peek above the horizon.  The sky turned one shade lighter as the stars disappeared and light started glinting off the downtown Winnipeg skyline.  She would later tell me that this was one of her favourite moments of our relationship. Just the three of us, calmly swaying together, the future bursting with potential.

Just as mysteriously as they had started, the contractions stopped and we carried on with our day.  It is very common for early labour to start and stop a few times, so I tried not to let anxiety get the better of me.

The next night the contractions started again at 1:00 am, but with more conviction this time.  Soon I wasn’t able to sleep or rest through them, so I got up and walked down our hall.  I got my birth ball (a glorified exercise ball) which sat mostly untouched the last few months in our living room, waiting to be retrieved for this very purpose.  My hips drew generous circles through the air as I breathed through each contraction.  After reading and listening to so many birth stories, the contractions were exactly how I expected them to feel, but at the same time so foreign.

I stayed with my wife our in bedroom, keeping the lights off.  She gently shook my hips with every contraction as they became more intense and closer together.  It felt good to have that vibration and pressure on my back.  Eventually I made my way to the shower, and discovered the true power of water.  It felt wonderful to let the hot water pour over my back, relaxing me and easing the sharpness of the pain.  We had small electric candles that I had purchased for covert middle-of-the-night breastfeeding operations, but they made for the perfect birthing ambience in our bathroom.  I hung my arms around my wife’s shoulders, doing little squats as I breathed, picturing my baby moving down.

This pattern of birth ball, shower and walking continued until my water broke at 10:00 am. I was getting up off the birth ball and felt a sudden gush of fluid down my leg.  It quickly formed a small, clear puddle at my feet as I clenched my legs together, trying desperately to make it to the bathroom.  My contractions were 4 minutes apart and about 1 minute long, so if I wasn’t fully in active labour I was definitely on the precipice.  My wife was getting worried that my contractions were getting so close together, so we called the midwife.  She was hesitant to have us come in right away, likely because I was a first time mom and labour tends to take a little bit longer, but she could tell we were worried and said that she would meet us at the birth centre.

My contractions slowed right down once I was in the car.  The light of day and the busy downtown traffic was so distracting.  I had been dreading this drive since the beginning of my pregnancy because I knew how easily labour could be disturbed.  We had worked really hard to make ourselves a calm, dark cave at home and I felt like I was in the groove.  But not anymore.

Of course I was only 2-3cm dilated when they checked me at the birth centre.  I was kind of expecting that, given how quickly my contractions were derailed by the car ride.  Disappointed and tired, we drove home with orders for “therapeutic rest”.  The midwives recommended Tylenol, Gravol, a meal and as much sleep as I could get.  I was going to need it.

We ordered a massive pizza (the perfect size for eating one’s emotions) and I settled down for a nap.  Miraculously, I slept for about 2 or 3 hours and then labour started up again at 7:00pm.  Given that my water had already broken we were on a bit of a timeline.  The midwives said that they had to consult a physician 24 hours after my water had broken, which scared the crap out of me.  I felt my dream of a hippy, crunchy, natural water birth start to crumble.

I tried not to lose hope and more importantly I tried to stay relaxed.  The midwives recommended some nipple stimulation to get the contractions ramped up again, as it released oxytocin into the body.  Let’s just say, it worked pretty quickly.

The contractions continued ramping up through the night.  They felt noticeably different from before and soon I couldn’t really talk or concentrate through them.  The shower was my only reprieve and I kept cycling through the hot water and resting on my birth ball until  2:00am.  My contractions were definitely every 4 minutes, lasting 1 minute (sometimes longer) and had been going on for over an hour.  We called the midwives and they said we could make our way over.

This time my contractions didn’t stop in the car and I was really hoping that my cervix had progressed.  The midwife checked me again and I was only 2 cm dilated.  I was devastated.

The midwife said that maybe the baby’s head wasn’t quite in the right position to help my cervix dilate, so she said we could wait in the waiting room for an hour and see if repositioning the baby helped me move along.  She instructed my wife to gently lift my belly each time I had a contraction and to continue to walk around.  If my contractions weren’t painful before (and they were) they were definitely painful when my wife lifted our baby into position.  It was a gruelling hour, in the hauntingly dark waiting room of the birth centre.  My moans echoed in the high ceilings, partially drowned out by the ocean sounds in my headphones. The memory of the moment my wife and I had shared 48 hours previously felt like it was from a story of another lifetime.

An hour later, I was no further ahead.

My head was a whirlwind of fatigue and exhaustion.  I could barely hear what the midwife was saying, but I really didn’t need to.  I knew what she was recommending and I knew what that meant for my birth.

Because my water had broken early, the baby was now at increased risk for infection as the cozy, watery home that had protected him for the last nine months was no more.  They had room at the hospital to admit us right away, or we could go home for a handful of hours and try to be admitted that morning, if nothing progressed in the next few hours.

I often think back to this pivotal decision.  So many factors were at play: exhaustion, the concerned looks on the faces of my wife and my mom, the safety of my baby, my desire to have a natural birth, the strong recommendation of the midwife.  Sometimes I wonder what would have happened if I had just gone home.  But I was called to be a mother before my son was even born because his safety and well being were all that mattered.  I knew that a natural birth was best for him and for me.  But after knowing the risks we were faced with, I never would have forgiven myself if anything happened to our baby.

So with tears streaming down my face, we told the midwives we would go to the hospital.  It was the first in a series of difficult decisions my wife and I would have to make over the next 15 hours.  I was crushed and terrified and I felt so betrayed by my body.  After months of hearing endless stories of natural birth and watching the most breathtaking videos of unmedicated home births, I felt supremely ripped off.  I figured we might as well book the C-section right then.

My contractions continued as we checked into the hospital.  I was definitely in active labour, but apparently my cervix did not get the memo.

The hospital room was somewhat dingy. Bright fluorescent lights assaulted my eyes and the scent of hand sanitizer took me back to my floor nursing days.  A hospital gown was folded at the end of the bed, but I promised myself I would never put it on.

I laid back in the hospital bed as my worst nightmare unfolded in a blur in front of me.  Continuous fetal monitoring was attached to my belly in two places, an IV was started in my wrist. I watched helplessly as fluids began dripping and synthetic oxytocin entered my veins.  I was connected to a million things and felt so disconnected from my body and from my baby.  I felt trapped by all of the technology that was supposed to be helping us.  They might as well have chained me to the bed.

In a desperate attempt to have some control over what was happening to me, we turned off the lights and turned on the ocean sounds I had found so comforting at home.  At least I could try to simulate some of the relaxing environment I would have had at the birth centre.

I was able to rest for about an hour or so before the contractions really started to get bad.  Synthetic oxytocin mimics real oxytocin, which is the hormone responsible for progressing labour.  Unfortunately, the synthetic oxytocin doesn’t come with the natural endorphins that your body would otherwise produce in labour to help counteract the pain.  Additionally, the protocol increased the synthetic oxytocin every half hour, regardless of whether or not my body was ready for it. I had no access to any natural methods of pain management that I had planned for, like warm showers, a relaxing bath or using a TENS machine (as it interfered with fetal monitoring).  The hospital couldn’t even provide me with a decent birthing ball, which is a very useful tool for helping baby move down and for easing pain.  The first one they brought in was so deflated I was basically squatting on the floor, and the second (and only other ball on the unit) was very small.  And do you think they had a pump to keep the balls inflated properly?  Nope. Of course not.

It was just me and the synthetic oxytocin.  And it was brutal in every way.

I felt profoundly out of control.  No amount of breathing or meditating could relieve the intense, vice-grip pain that resonated through my whole body with every contraction.  Every 5 minutes.  Every 4 minutes.  Every 3 minutes.  Soon there were no breaks between contractions at all.  I cried.  My wife cried.  My mom cried.  I made the most deep, primal sounds, trying to wash away the pain with my voice.  I shook the bedrail so hard I thought it would break off.  I cried again.  And again.  And again.

My wife coached me expertly through each contraction, helping me to relax and make the most of the small breaks between contractions.  Her voice was the only thing grounding me and making me feel like maybe I could get through this somehow.  She let me pull and push and hang off of her in any direction and was always lifting water to my lips to keep me hydrated.  She walked me to the bathroom and helped me pull up my pants and navigate the mess of cords and wires.  She rubbed my shoulders and advocated for me and communicated with our midwives.  She supported me in every way and showed me the true meaning of “in sickness and in health”.

After about 8 hours of this, I reached a breaking point.  The nurse looking after me said that, because I was a first time mom, I could maybe expect another 8 hours or more of labour like this.  I thought I was going to die.  I had to do something.  I knew if I kept going like this I would end up being too exhausted to push my baby out and that would guarantee a C-section for us.  So, I asked for sterile water injections.  And a few hours later I asked for morphine.  I was so ashamed, but so desperate.  I still hate that I had to ask for help, and I knew the potential risks to my little baby, but I couldn’t carry on.  I just couldn’t.

My pain relief also gave a little relief to my poor mom and wife who were on the sidelines watching and listening this nightmare unfold.  They had not taken the time to eat or sleep much, not wanting to leave my side.  My mom was incredibly strong and stoic, supporting us in anyway she could.  I could feel her loving presence and hoped that I could make her proud.  As I rested in bed briefly, I saw them relax as well.  At the back of my mind, I felt so horrible for putting them through all of this, wishing I could have done anything to prevent it.  They were absolute champions and I can never thank them enough for being there for me.

The morphine wore off all too quickly, but I felt a small burst of energy and carried on the synthetic oxytocin train of hell.  I cycled between sitting on the chair, sitting at the edge of the bed and going to the bathroom to keep my bladder as empty as possible.

At 5:00 pm I reached another breaking point.  I still had hours ahead of me and was almost at the 24 hour mark for no food, and no decent rest.  The obstetrician offered to check my dilation.

I was only 4-5 cm.

I couldn’t believe it.  All of that pain for a couple centimetres of progress.  There was no end in sight.  I sobbed into my wife’s shirt, clinging to her for dear life.  And then I looked into her eyes and asked the unthinkable.

Should I get an epidural?

I was being traumatized.  I was hardly even feeling excited to meet our baby.  That’s how I knew I couldn’t go on anymore.  The situation was only going to deteriorate from here, given that I had not had food or rest and the contractions were only going to get worse (as if that was even possible).  And the hardest part was yet to come.  I still had to push my baby out.  I knew that if I was too exhausted to birth my baby, I was guaranteed to have a C-section.

I had already reached my limit hours ago and was only holding it together because my wife was living each contraction with me.  She never left me.  Her strength matched my own and I absolutely could not have birthed our son without her.  She was my rock.  She was my everything that day.

She knew how fiercely opposed to epidurals I was, and tried to push me a little further, but quickly saw I had nothing left to give.  So we called the anesthesiologist.

Ironically, as soon as the epidural started working, I felt back in control of the birth.  Back in control of my birth.

The contractions changed from the intense pain that felt like I was being ripped in half, to intense pressure and tightness.  I could still feel everything, but it was different.  And I was able to rest.

Within two short hours, I was feeling very intense pressure in my bottom, which is a big sign that baby is in position for pushing.  The nurse checked me and I was 10 centimetres dilated.

Finally.

The midwives were called, as they were going to help me bring my baby into the world.  I was so grateful that they had not abandoned us, and even though my care had been transferred to the obstetricians at the hospital, they were still going to do everything they could do to support us.

The pressure in my nether regions was increasing and I was feeling like I could push.  I hated that I was on my back, but I didn’t have a choice.  I knew it was the least effective position to be in and put me at higher risk for tearing, but between the IV in my hand, the monitoring and the epidural I couldn’t be in any other position.  The foot rests came out and I placed my feet on them, gritting my teeth with determination.

I was going to birth my baby.  Right now.   Everything else had been taken away from me.  But I refused to let them take this away.

The midwives showed up quickly and before I knew it, my vagina had a big audience.  I closed my eyes and focused on my breathing, my body and my baby.  I worked with every contraction, pushing my baby further down and closer to us.  A couple of times the midwife gently put her fingers in me to guide my pushing, but mostly I was left alone to follow my instincts.  I learned with each push and soon enough the midwife told me that I could feel my baby’s head if I reached down.  My fingers brushed the very top of his little head, as he started to crown.  He had the finest hair on the top of his head, all soft and wet.  I felt a rush of joy and knew that all of my hard work and suffering was going to be so worth it when we held him.  So soon.

I was equal parts ecstatic and terrified as I felt his head start to descend and crown.  I was so scared of tearing, but my desire to meet my little one overcame me.  Somewhere, somehow I mustered the last of my strength to push him out.  I was careful and slowly panted with little pushes, gradually easing him through the birth canal.  Suddenly, I felt a big release and I looked up to see the midwife holding my baby to look at me and then she immediately placed him on my belly.

He was warm and wet and felt almost rubbery.  His skin was pale and a slightly blue tinged, so I rubbed his back and called to him again and again.  It felt like time stopped as I waited to hear him cry.  Finally he took a breath and let out the most precious cry.  I was overjoyed.  I kept talking to him as he looked around for my face.  I knew that he knew my voice.

My wife and I were completely in love.  I barely remember delivering the placenta, as I was so focussed on our little baby.  He was wide-eyed and I started feeling him push his legs against my belly as he made his way towards my voice.  I had seen the infamous breast crawl so many times, and I couldn’t believe my little one was doing it right before our eyes.  He slowly pushed his way up to my breast as the room bustled with people charting, reporting and monitoring.  It was such a juxtaposition of intense intimacy and bureaucratic bustling.  But all of that was in the periphery as I watched my baby.

I felt like I could be in that moment forever.

He latched a couple of times and I was over the moon.  I was so passionate about breastfeeding and I wanted us to get the best start possible.  The nightmare was finally coming to an end.

As we came back to reality, I realized that I was soaked in blood and covered in meconium.  I didn’t care one bit.  I never thought being pooped on would feel so amazing, but it totally did.  Because it meant I was a mom.

I don’t really know how to process my birthing experience.  Maybe it’s just too soon.  I know I’m not alone in this, as so many women have births that range from less than desirable to downright traumatic.  Just because you are fortunate enough to go home with a healthy bundle of joy, doesn’t mean everything was joyous. And that’s okay.  I know that I am so incredibly lucky to have my healthy baby boy, but I still feel a bit robbed.  At times I am angry at myself, my body and at how the health care system let us down.  But I am also grateful that I had a clean hospital with excellent, caring staff to take care of us when we needed it most.  I am so thankful that I get to watch my little boy grow every day and yet I am sad that so much of my birthing joy was sucked up by medical protocols.  Maybe I’m being too greedy.  Maybe I should just be happy with what I have.  I don’t know.

But here’s what I do know:

I feel grateful.  I feel betrayed by my body.  I feel like my body is so powerful.  I feel lucky.  I feel so in love.  I feel sad.  I feel let down.  I feel angry.  I feel like a failure.  I feel so tired.  I feel so happy.  I feel connected to my wife.  I feel like my marriage is on the back burner.  I feel so alone.  I feel like I will never get to be alone again.  I feel frustrated.  I feel like this is who I was meant to be.  I feel like I will never be the person I was before.

Maybe this is what parenthood feels like.  If it is, I guess I’m doing okay.

-K

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My First Second Trimester and Everything You Never Knew You Wanted to Know About My Pelvic Floor

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Looking back, I can hardly believe my second trimester has flown by so quickly.  Living through it, however, was like time was standing still.  The night my pregnancy tracker flipped over to show I was in my second trimester, was one of the happiest nights I have had in a long time.  It was just after midnight and I hurriedly flipped through all of the different options that let me compare the size of my baby to various fruits and objects and read all about how our little one was developing.  I think it was that moment that I let my pregnancy start to feel a bit real.  Even with my new-found optimism, I was hooked to my app and religiously checked every morning to see that one more day had successfully ticked by.

Our next big hurdle was our 20 week ultrasound, which is the only ultrasound we would get during the pregnancy here in Manitoba.  It was only a few weeks away, but it felt like an eternity.  I tried to be content with all of the progress we had made so far, but uncertainty and doubt were creeping back in.  I felt once I could see baby and know that everything was okay, I would maybe, just maybe, let myself start to get excited.

 We showed up far too early for our ultrasound appointment, because I was so nervous about being late.  My wife and I chatted light-heartedly in the empty waiting room.  I was so glad she could be with me.  Even with all of the hardships of moving and not finding work as a nurse, I was so grateful to be close to her.

The first portion of the ultrasound was done without my wife in the room, so that the technician could focus.  I laid flat on my back, which was already getting a bit uncomfortable underneath my little baby belly, and got the familiar warm squirt of ultrasound gel on my tummy.  I was so nervous.  She used much more pressure than I would have expected and quickly got to work snapping pictures from various points on my belly.  I felt like I had hit a huge milestone having an abdominal ultrasound, as the rest of my many ultrasounds had been of the invasive vaginal variety.  I was finally living the classic TV/movie ultrasound scene that I had been so fiercely jealous of for the last year.

I hoped maybe the technician would leave the ultrasound screen tilted so that I could see what she was looking at, but of course she didn’t.  I stared intently at the technician’s face (and probably freaked her out a bit) to see if I could catch a glimpse of my baby in the reflection of her eyes.  I tried to read her expression to glean any information I could about how baby was doing.  Is he in there?  How is his heartbeat? Is he okay?  But she was like a statue.  I would just have to wait.  So I stared at the ceiling trying to have patience.

 After 15 minutes she called my wife into the room and I immediately took her hold of my wife’s calm hand.  The technician’s demeanour softened considerably and she swung the ultrasound screen towards us.

 And there he was.  Our little boy.

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 She showed us all of his limbs (there were four!) and his little heartbeat (fast and strong!) and I even saw him swallow a bit of amniotic fluid (go baby go!), preparing for breathing outside of the womb.  He was just perfect.  He was swimming around like crazy and moving his little hands and feet.  I could have watched him forever.  My heart exploded with joy and relief and my eyes welled up with tears.

 I left the hospital walking on a cloud.  And for the first time my wife and I started talking about names and making plans for meeting our little one.

 Maybe we were going to be okay after all.  So powered by hope and the sight of our son, I let my type A personality take over and start planning for the future.

 I had already been reading books, listening to podcasts and generally absorbing any information I could get my hands on regarding birth and pregnancy since well before my miscarriage.  So now I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to put some of what I had learned to good use.  I had my diet and exercise pretty much under control – my diet was 99% plant based since becoming pregnant again and I was walking about 30 hours a week with my job.  I was de-stressing with meditation a few times a week.  Though my sleep pattern was irregular due to work, I was sleeping a lot, and felt rested most of the time.  I took time to connect with baby, rubbing my belly and having little chats with him.  And more importantly, the fatigue and nausea from my first trimester faded into the back ground and was replaced with renewed energy and a solid appetite.  I felt really lucky.

One of the themes that kept coming up in my baby research was the prevalence of pelvic floor issues in the post-partum period.  It’s kind of become become the norm for a woman to lose bladder control while laughing or sneezing after having a baby.  You see this reflected often in our pop culture and various TV shows.  As it turns out, peeing your pants isn’t really normal.

Everyone has been talking about Kegels for a while, but now we are starting to have a more in-depth discussion about the mysterious muscles of the pelvic floor, which is really what we are trying to target with Kegel exercises.

 So what is this pelvic floor thing all about?

 The pelvic floor is a sling of muscles that supports your internal organs and controls the opening and closing of your urethra, vagina and anus.  So it’s kind of a big deal.  And yet there is not a lot of knowledge out there about the impacts of pregnancy and birth on this important muscle group.  After listening to more than a few experts rant about how this is in fact not normal, I decided to do something about it.

 As it turns out, there are physiotherapists who specialize in the pelvic floor!  How cool is that?  And, as it turns out, there were a couple in Winnipeg, so I booked myself an appointment.

 I was called into a small office with an examination table and shook the physiotherapist’s hand.  She had a kind face, excellent posture and a calm demeanour.  She had her trusty pelvis model in her hand and some diagrams of the pelvic floor.  She began her explanation with a tone that sounded like I was the umpteenth patient she had explained the pelvic floor to, but I knew that I probably was the umpteenth person she had explained the pelvic floor to, so I didn’t mind.

 After her teaching, she explained the pelvic floor exam that she would perform.  How is she going to assess my pelvic floor, you ask?  Well, vaginally, of course.

I took my bottoms off and laid on the exam table.  She donned a glove with some lubricant and gently inserted her finger in my vagina.  She was very matter of fact about the whole thing and I appreciated her professionalism (though she did sneeze halfway through the exam, which was about as awkward as you might imagine it to be).  I hadn’t really had a health care professional get that up close and personal with me since my miscarriage, so I was glad that I felt at ease with her.  I reminded myself that this was nothing compared to what giving birth was going to be like, and that encouraged my embarrassment to fade away.

 She had me perform a few exercises to test the strength of my pelvic floor.  First, she had me perform what is commonly known as a Kegel.  Basically, it is fully tensing your pelvic floor (as if you were holding in pee) and fully relaxing your pelvic floor (as if you were trying to not hold in pee).  She rested her hand gently at the top of my baby belly, to assess if I was assisting my pelvic floor with my abdominal muscles.  This would be a sign of weakness or poor control of the pelvic floor, and it is really important to target the pelvic floor muscles specifically.  After that, she had me contract my pelvic floor for a full minute!  I managed to last the full 60 seconds and felt pretty pleased with myself.  The last exercise she had me do was to contract and relax my pelvic floor in quick succession.  The hardest part was being aware of fully relaxing between each contraction, which is an oft neglected part of the Kegel.  In fact, one of the keys to a smooth birth is being able to fully relax your pelvic floor to allow baby to pass through!

 At the end of the exam she said my pelvic floor was excellent and she couldn’t feel or see any problems with strength or coordination.  To be honest, I haven’t done anything out of the ordinary (not even Kegels on a regular basis) to maintain my pelvic floor strength, so I was pleasantly surprised to hear that everything was good.  I actually didn’t even know if I was doing a Kegel properly until she assessed me!  I found the description of elevators moving up and down that you often find in Cosmo-like articles really confusing.  Turns out, it’s really not that hard to do!  I have not had a lot of pelvic floor pain or bladder leakage during my pregnancy, but I wanted to make sure I was going into birth with my body in top notch condition.  The physiotherapist said that she wished more pregnant people would come in prior to birth, as a lot of terrible problems (like pelvic organ prolapse) could be prevented or at least improved if issues were addressed as soon as possible.

 At the end, I asked her if everyone should just be doing more Kegels and she said that the solution was not as simple as that.  Sometimes people can have a pelvic floor that is hypertonic, or too tight, which can cause just as many problems as someone who has a pelvic floor that is hypotonic, or too loose.  She said the best first step is to have an assessment done to find out what’s going on down there!  I’m a firm believer that prevention is so important!  One of the ladies I met in my hypnobirthing class said that she had a lot of pelvic floor issues related to snowboarding, and I’ve heard stories of dancers and yogis who have issues as well.  My physiotherapist recommended some exercises specifically for me, including Kegels, basic core movements on an exercise ball and some hands-and-knees core exercises.

As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, so get those pelvic floors checked, ladies!

-K

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