Today’s post is a bit of a long ramble. I’ve been wanting to write about our journey into parenthood for a while, but to be honest, I’ve been hesitant to write about anything related to my pregnancy, for fear I would jinx it. You’ll see why if you make it through. This post isn’t about all the happy experiences of pregnancy, it’s mostly about all the other stuff.
Let’s start at the beginning. Paulus and I decided that we would try to make a baby starting at the beginning of the new year. I had been thinking about pregnancy and babies for a while before this, so I had already done some research on the topic (don’t laugh! I don’t mean the obvious stuff!). Although making a baby seems like it should be easy, I had actually been surprised to (re)learn how few days in a woman’s cycle she is fertile, and how low the odds are of actually conceiving in a given month. Even if you get everything right, there’s still only about a 20% chance of conception happening. And on top of that, there’s an almost 25% chance of miscarriage in the first trimester.
Having learned all this, I figured I had better do what I could to increase our chance of success. I started charting my cycles, my fertility signs and my temperature, and I tried limiting my intake of alcohol and coffee. I also stacked up on things to pee on – ovulation predictor kits, cheap stick pregnancy tests, and digital tests.
In January, we narrowly missed the fertile window because some visa issues left Paulus stuck in Holland while I was in San Diego. In February, we got everything right, but nothing happened (except for my inner clock starting to tick more frantically). And then in March, we succeeded. At least for a little while.
When you’re trying to conceive, there’s a time known as the two-week wait. It’s the two weeks between when your fertile window ends and your period is supposed to start. For many women who are trying, this is not a particularly nice time. You could be pregnant, but there’s no way to tell. After an egg is released, it takes about a week for it to travel from the fallopian tubes and into the uterus. If the egg was fertilized, it will attempt implant into the uterus. Which also takes time. And if that happens successfully, it still takes several days for your hormone levels to increase enough to be picked up by a home pregnancy test. For this reason, it is often recommended to wait until the day you expect your period to take a pregnancy test, so you can avoid a false negative. So you wait.
I managed to wait for 13 out of 14 days before I took the test. During the previous unsuccessful cycle, I had noticed so many pangs and twinges in my abdomen, that I was sure I had never felt before, and hence they must be a sign of pregnancy. When I turned out to be wrong about that, I realized that I probably couldn’t trust my senses on this matter, so in March, I categorically dismissed every physical thing I was feeling. I really only took the test because we were invited to a party that night, and I wanted to make sure it was safe for me to have a drink. And then, to my surprise, the test said ‘pregnant’.
We were happy and excited for about two days, and then I started spotting. I wasn’t too worried, because I had read during all my research that some spotting is normal in early pregnancy. Still, I mentioned it to the nurse when I called after the weekend to make my first prenatal appointment with a midwife. She asked if I was experiencing pain, and I told her of the little aches and stuff that I had felt, which just happened to occur mostly on the left side, but which weren’t really painful. Regardless, this was enough for the nurse to want to err on the side of caution, so she sent me to the ER to rule out an ectopic pregnancy. Obviously, nothings sparks one’s worry as being told to go to the ER. So I went and spent a long afternoon and evening being looked at, measured, ultrasounded, and prodded with needles by different doctors and nurses. By mid- evening, I was confused, shaken and upset. Although I maintained there was nothing he could do, Paulus insisted on coming to be with me. As soon as he entered the room, I started crying. Mostly from the uncertainty of it all, I think, but also because it was becoming increasingly clear that the pregnancy might not be progressing normally.
Finally, after 5 long hours I was discharged. They told us then that a) the embryo wasn’t in a wrong place (good news), but they couldn’t see it in the right place either (could just be too early, or the embryo could not have implanted right), and b) my pregnancy hormone levels were low for being four weeks pregnant (bad news). There was nothing more to do than wait for another few days, and then measure my hormone levels again to see if they were increasing properly. So we went home. I cried some more, and took it easy for a few days. By the time we got the results of the second blood test, I already knew what was coming, because I could tell I was about to get my period. The hormone levels confirmed it, and just like that, I was no longer pregnant. Despite knowing how normal this is, and despite the fact that I was pregnant for less than a week, it nonetheless felt like a loss. Paulus was the level-headed one during all this. Being with him, and talking to our families was a comfort. It also helped to learn that others had shared similar experiences and had healthy pregnancies afterwards, and I soon began feeling that it would be ok for us to try again.
And so we did. In my April cycle, I managed to wait exactly 6 days of the two-week wait before I peed on my first stick. It was negative, of course, stark white, as it was obviously way too early to be testing. But, you see, I had purchased a 20-pack of cheapie pregnancy tests, so I was feeling like ‘what’s the big deal if I waste one’ and also, how stupid would I feel if I purchased 20 tests, got pregnant right away, and then was left with 19 useless sticks? So I just waited another few days, then tested again. Still negative, although there might have been a tiny shadow where the second line is supposed to show up. I figured I was simply willing my eyes to conjure up what I wanted to see.
In the course of the day, I noticed that I was spotting a little bit. Although I never have spotting that early in my cycle, I figured that the cycle after a miscarriage might be a bit wonky, so I didn’t let myself get too excited. In case you don’t know what there would be to be excited about, let me explain. There’s a phenomenon known as implantation bleeding, that can happen when a fertilized egg burrows into the wall of the uterus. When it happens, it tends to occur 6-12 days after ovulation. As it was my 9th day after ovulation, this was a definite possibility. Naturally, I tested again the following day (17 tests left still…). This time, there was definitely a line, though it was extremely faint. I tested again immediately, just to check the test wasn’t faulty. Same result. Then I had to go to work and think productive thoughts. Which I did, most of the day. And then I took another test when I got home (15 tests remaining…).
This continued for the next few days, during which I lined up all the tests in order, so I could check if the line got darker as time progressed. It did, but with excruciating slowness, and some irregularity, probably because I took so many tests at different times. While all of this was happening, Paulus was out of town for work. I had this idea that I shouldn’t tell him before I felt confident in the result. Only, that confidence kept eluding me. In fact, as the day of my expected period drew nearer, I noticed more and more of the symptoms that usually lead up to my period. Yet the lines on my tests in my ever growing collection kept getting darker, so finally informed Paulus. By sending him a photo of the pee stick collection, no less. To illustrate just how faint most of the lines I was obsessing over were, his first response was: ‘so not pregnant?’. The best I could muster was a ‘maybe’.
But then the dreaded date came and went, with no sign of a period. I still couldn’t let myself believe it, and I made Paulus pretend I hadn’t taken any tests yet (though I probably had taken 10 at this point). I made the decision to wait a week, to get beyond the point of the previous loss, then take a digital test, which would spell out the word for me. Hopefully then it would feel more believable.
Some 5 days after that, something clicked and I had to tell my mom. Feeling a bit better after that, I took the digital test, which made me officially pregnant. Since I was on a roll, I also called the midwives and scheduled an appointment with them three weeks later, for my first ultrasound. And then began the first of a series of long waits.
I had imagined much about how it would feel to be pregnant, but I had never thought that it would not feel. It has been a continuous source of confusion to me during the first trimester that I have felt absolutely no awareness of the little fetus that’s growing in me. First time we saw the baby on the ultrasound, I was relieved more than anything. Oh, it is in fact in there. But the relief soon started to fade, because I still couldn’t feel or sense anything. Come to think of it, the doctors and midwives could just have a standard film of a little embryo blob with a heart beat flicker that they show to everyone. Logically, I know that many women have experiences similar to mine early in pregnancy, especially before you can feel the baby kick. But emotionally, I can’t seem to wrap my head around the lack of physical awareness.
At this point (beginning of the second trimester), I’ve noticed that there’s a pattern to my emotions. It goes like this: I anxiously wait for some milestone to happen, like getting a positive pregnancy test, seeing the baby on the ultrasound, hearing the heartbeat on the doppler. The more time passes, the less confident I feel. I start to worry and wonder why I wouldn’t [have any symptoms/be nauseous/be showing/be feeling the baby move/(insert common pregnancy experience that usually occurs a few weeks later than the time of speech)]? Then, when the milestone happens, I feel relieved and happy. For a few days, or even a week. And then the process starts over.
I hope this doesn’t sound too bleak. I’m taking it as a learning experience in any case, and perhaps someone else will read it and find it useful. The good news is that it seems like it’s getting a little bit easier, because at every check-up so far, everything has been perfect, despite my misgivings. And soon the physical reality is bound to catch up with me. I’m out of the first trimester now, so the rate of miscarriage is drastically reduced. My belly will start growing (some say it already has, but I think it’s just bloating. Obviously.). That will be a great reminder that someone is in fact in there, developing. And finally, in the next one to two months, I should start feeling the baby move. I can’t wait for that!
Ok, I’m going to post this now, while I’m keeping my fingers crossed so as not to jinx anything…