Some Thoughts on Pregnancy after Infertility and Loss

IMG_5281IMG_5306

IMG_7087IMG_7477

When you’ve tried for years to get pregnant and stay pregnant, it’s a thrill get that positive pregnancy test.  Each week that passes feels monumental as the life inside you continues to grow.  You feel thankful and joyous and excited.  It’s a beautiful time, for sure.

But pregnancy isn’t all glowy and angelic.

Any woman who’s carried a baby knows that there are hard parts about it, too.  I spent the first 4 months of this pregnancy nauseous and vomiting in awkward and uncomfortable places.  One time I threw up so violently I broke the capillaries in my neck and cheeks.  I pee a little when I cough.  My underwear cut into my hips and fall down (how these are possible at the same time is beyond me).  If I’m not sitting up perfectly straight when I eat, I can feel the food in my stomach rising.  There are tattoos I can no longer see.  Some days I cry for no reason, and worry that’s I’m getting pre-post-partum depression.  I have cankles and all my closed-toe shoes are too tight.

I could go on, but I don’t want to seem ungrateful.

You see, when you’ve been through infertility and miscarriage, you look forward to being pregnant with such mythical enthusiasm, you build it up to be something beyond wonderful.  It will make everything you’ve gone through worth it, and you can finally move forward.  You tell yourself you would never complain about being pregnant; after all, it’s a gift, a privilege! When you’re trying to conceive, it is physically painful to hear other women complaining about being pregnant.  If they only knew how lucky they are!

But it’s not that simple.

Along with the classic discomforts of pregnancy, a woman who has lost a baby or babies also has to deal with something else. We face the cold reality that being pregnant does not mean the same thing as bringing home a baby.

Those first several weeks after getting a positive pregnancy test are both thrilling and terrifying.  You dare to dream about your family with a new baby and everything that comes after.  And yet you’re deeply worried things won’t work out the way you want them to.  For months, every time I went to the bathroom I checked for blood.  Every twinge, cramp, and ache made me worry that this was the beginning of the end.

That worry doesn’t go away.

This is my fourth pregnancy, and I know that concern will stay with me until I am holding this baby boy in my arms.  It’s just a part of the journey for me.  I’ve learned to manage those fears, and for me they have receded somewhat now that I’m nearing the end of my 2nd trimester.  But they will always be there.

I try not to feel resentful and accept that those experiences have helped shape me, but the truth is I wish they hadn’t happened. I wish we had those babies in our family and that I never had to feel the unbearable ache of my heart actually breaking.  Like anything painful in life, pregnancy loss is something that changes you.  Time can make it hurt less, but it’s always a part of you. It colors your experience of everything having to do with pregnancy, birth, and babies.  It just does.

All of this is to say that I am thrilled to be pregnant. It’s been a long journey for my partner and I to get to this point, and I’m thankful that we get the opportunity to parent another child.  But it’s hasn’t been easy, and we will always feel the loss of the babies that didn’t make it.

And at the same time, it’s okay for me to complain about hemorrhoids and cankles. They suck.

———-

October is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.  By writing this, I’m simply trying to share my experiences in the hope that it may help another woman or family.  

Comfort Me With Yarn

Knitters turn to yarn for myriad things: inspiration, creative outlet, to satisfy a need to buy something new, to celebrate, and to be comforted.  We flock to yarn shops to feel sheltered from the harsh realities of life and to gain inspiration.  To hold something small and beautiful in one’s hands is to experience a bit of peace while the world whooshes by around you.  The soft fibers, interesting colors, and sometimes even the fragrance of a beautiful yarn can transport you to a place of peace, if even just for a moment.

This is the story of one such skein of yarn.  This single strand of string has symbolized many things to me over the past 2 years: celebration, inspiration, consolation, comfort, renewal, and new beginnings.  Our affair began on a sunny Monday afternoon in February 2008, the day I found out I was pregnant.

I had been trying to get pregnant for 2 ½ years at that point.  Our quest to become parents began simply and innocently as it does for most people.  My partner and I knew that we were ready to become parents, and so we started looking into prenatal vitamins, doctors, pregnancy books, and midwives.  I knew with all of my heart that I was meant to be a mother.  I was young, healthy, and we had the space in our lives for children.  It seemed as if things would go as we had planned, and within the year we would be taking turns getting up in the middle of the night to feed and change diapers.

Fast forward a year.  I was still not pregnant, with no indications as to why.  The fact that our perfectly crafted plan wasn’t working out was beginning to take its toll on me.  As was the fact that several close friends had given birth to beautiful babies with apparently no struggles to get pregnant.

Life intervened and we moved to a new state and it felt like a fresh start was just the thing: new location, new doctor, new outlook.  It was around this time that I started knitting with earnest.  I had learned earlier, but it didn’t move me, didn’t really stick.  Starting over meant that I needed to meet people, get out of the house, and learn about the area.  Something compelled me to seek out a knitting group, and I quickly found myself at a local Stitch ‘n Bitch meetup.

For months I fumbled around with yarn and needles, learning through my mistakes and eventually getting better at the skill of knitting.  At the same time, we began seeing a fertility specialist and upped our efforts at getting me pregnant.  In some ways it was comforting when my doctor reassured me that I was healthy and should have no problem getting pregnant using Artificial Insemination (AI).  On the other hand, I felt sad that it hadn’t happened easily, that my body wasn’t doing what I thought should come naturally.

As I accepted more and more medical interventions into my life, I began to depend more on my knitting for support.  Holding yarn and needles in my hands, creating something tangible and beautiful, allowed me to feel as if I had some semblance of control over my life.  I may not be able to make a baby on my own, but I could knit a gorgeous pair of socks or a stunning baby blanket for friends having babies.  I knit in the waiting rooms of doctor’s offices while I waited for tests, exams, procedures, and results.  I knit during the simultaneously dreadful and hopeful two week wait, a time where I once again allowed myself to believe that I was pregnant.  I knit through the sadness and disappointment that followed every month when the pregnancy test came back negative.

Knitting helped me come to terms with the reality of my situation: after a year of AIs, IUIs, diagnostic tests, and fertility drugs, I was diagnosed with unexplained infertility.  Helpful.  My doctor suggested we consider In-Vitro Fertilization, or IVF, as a means to becoming parents.  At the beginning of our journey, this was so off my radar.  It was something desperate people did, people who had nothing left to lose and were clinging to the last threads of hope of having biological children.  Was that me?  I didn’t think so, and so we put off making any decisions about it until a few more rounds of treatment failed.  After much soul-searching, knitting, and conversations with our doctor, we decided to give it a try.  We were reassured that at my young age and with the considerable health of my reproductive system that I would definitely become pregnant.

For 2 weeks I endured daily injections of hormones, had blood tests and ultrasounds every other day, and finally, when things looked ready, egg retrieval.  A few days later, two fertilized embryos were placed back inside my uterus, and I was hopeful.  I knit a seed stitch scarf in stunning Noro yarn during the two week wait, imbuing each stitch with hope, promises to my unborn children, and love.  Lots of love.

I was at knitting group the day my blood test results came in. Sweetie called me on the phone and told me the good news: “You’re pregnant!”  I could hardly believe that those powerful words were directed at me, that after years of trying, I finally had the tentative first weeks of life inside my body.  My tired, battered, body had responded to drugs and positive thinking and had come through for me!

As was customary, some of the ladies from my group went to the neighboring yarn shop after our meeting.  I followed along, in a daze of disbelief.  So many thoughts were racing through my mind: when will I be due?  Is it twins or a singleton?  So this is what being pregnant feels like!  I could hardly focus on any yarn, and yet my hand kept reaching out, feeling skein after skein of yarn.  At once, a beautiful skein of sock yarn jumped out at me: Colinette Jitterbug in the colorway Marble.  It is mainly a cream color, punctuated by delicate shades of green and lavender.  The color combination reminded me of an orchid; I had to have it!  Celebratory yarn purchases are some of the best!

About a week later, I started to have spotting.  My doctor assured me it was nothing to worry about.  When the bleeding increased the next day, we all started getting more concerned.  I tried to knit to distract myself from worrying, but after a short time it was only frustrating me more.  How could my body be doing this to me now?  I spent the next couple of days begging God, the universe, and my babies to hang on, to give me a chance to be a mother.

My first ultrasound, a moment I had been looking forward to and dreading at the same time, revealed an empty uterus.  They were both gone.  Devastated and raw, we returned home and began the long process of grieving and rebuilding.  Words could not describe what I was going through to anyone, and though I desperately needed help and care, I didn’t know what to ask for.  Eventually, I turned to my knitting.  There was that lovely skein of sock yarn sitting in my stash, the pretty orchid colorway, my celebration yarn.  For some reason, this was the only yarn I was able to get excited about knitting.

Instead of socks, I chose to knit something that I could wrap around myself, something that would remind me to have hope and faith that life would be bright again someday.  I found a pattern for a lovely drop stitch scarf that seemed doable with just one skein of yarn and set to work.  I knit all my hope and love, sadness, anger, and grief, into that scarf.  It flew off the needles, and when it was done something within me, something small and tender, was healed.  There was still a long road of healing ahead of me, but for that moment, I knew I would be alright.

The next several months were a time of healing, restructuring my expectations, and focusing on knitting.  I rediscovered a love of writing, and tried my hand at designing knitting patterns. After taking time to heal and rebuild, we felt ready to try again.

And this time, it worked!

When I found out I was pregnant for the second time, I took that drop stitch scarf, made out of my celebration yarn turned comfort yarn, and undid the cast off.  I wound it into a skein straight off the scarf, spinning new hope into it with each revolution.

That “new” skein sat in my stash for all the months of this pregnancy as I waited and hoped for a better outcome.  Finally, when the time came to have Peaceful Baby, I pulled out the yarn and brought it with me to the hospital.  As I worked through the first few hours of labor, I knit my special yarn.  This time, it wanted to be socks; special celebration socks.

Last week I finished these socks, just as the second anniversay of the miscarriage passed.  It feels as if I have come full circle now.  I am done with this yarn, and done dwelling on past hurt and disappointment.  As my new life as a mother begins, I am trying to focus on the future.  This includes new yarn and knitting projects as well as new adventures with my little family.