Some day I will write about what really happened after we met with our fertility doctor.
But not today.
Today, I will skip over everything else because I want to tell you about the day I met my tiny boy.
The first time I saw him, he was just a clump of cells, a small blob. I didn’t think about what it had cost to get to that point. I thought I could never love anyone or anything more than that little blob.
Getting pregnant the old fashioned way is a miracle. Getting pregnant through IVF feels equal parts science experiment and magic. I don’t know how else to explain it. You give yourself shots and take the pills and obediently show up for all your tests hoping it will work. And even though your doctor and countless people before you have done it, it’s still hard to trust the process. Can you really grow me a baby? Can you really make me pregnant? It’s all out of your control, and it’s so, so frustrating. Not to mention that giving yourself shots is the pits. It’s better when someone else gives you shots, but if it were up to me, I’d vote for NO SHOTS. Tell me I have to take 37 pills everyday, but don’t make me get shots every day, several times a day. I hate shots.
But when I saw him, I realized that everything we had done—everything I had endured—was to get us to that point: I did it all so I could meet my tiny boy.
I thought my heart would explode.
After all this time, he was finally here, and he was mine.
Most of IVF is focused on preparing your body for pregnancy. I thought the shots and pills and blood tests would never end. Getting pregnant is actually anti-climactic: one minute I wasn’t pregnant, and a few minutes later, I was. Our doctor pointed to a tiny white speck on the dark screen said, “There he is. Take good care of him.”
After implantation, you enter into a period known as the two-week wait. If implantation is successful, your tiny baby should burrow within 24-48 hours, but you don’t get results for two weeks. My body seemed to change overnight.
It was terrible.
I experienced what my doctor and nurse called “terrible cramping” for almost a week and a half. I’ve had cramps before. I wouldn’t describe what I felt as “terrible cramping”. Remember that infamous diner scene from Alien when the baby alien explodes out of that guy’s stomach?
It felt like that.
When I called my nurse about it, she said it was normal—that my uterus was stretching, which was a good sign. “Your body doesn’t know you’re pregnant. Usually the hormones would prep your body for the baby so you wouldn’t feel this much pain, but you’re tiny so you’re going to feel everything.”
I should’ve been happy that she said I was tiny, but I didn’t care. I just wanted it to stop. Did I mention I was bloated? Like severely bloated. Like I looked over four months pregnant. Like my body decided to speed up my pregnancy to give me a belly even though I was only a few days pregnant.
I couldn’t stand up straight, and I thought my skin couldn’t possibly stretch to cover my swollen belly. All of a sudden none of my clothes fit, and I could no longer sleep comfortably in any position. And I had a UTI.
But none of that mattered when we found out we were pregnant. It worked. At our first ultrasound, our doctor pointed to a blob on the screen and said that was our boy. I couldn’t see anything though. I thought, my phone takes better pictures than that! Then he flipped a switch, and all of a sudden, we heard the steady thump of his tiny heart beating sure and strong. He said our baby looked like a sea creature with flippers, like a manatee.
|Seriously, what am I looking at?|
Judging by what he saw and heard, he said we had a 95 percent chance of carrying to term. That’s a solid A.
You may think it’s silly to start dreaming of your baby when he’s that small, but when you’ve struggled with infertility for years, it doesn’t feel too soon. At first I was wary about celebrating, like it was too good to be true, but our people helped us celebrate. They loved us, fed us and helped us through the entire process. My nurse-friend, Jen, came over every three days to give me my dreaded shot in the butt. If the other shots were thumbtacks, the butt shot was a sword. We couldn’t do it ourselves so she made my butt shots part of her life. So when we got the news, our people celebrated. It wasn’t just happening to me—we were having a baby.
Though it was premature, we decided to celebrate with a gender reveal for our families. They were going to be in town for Father’s Day so we thought it was a good time since everyone would be together. I will never forget that day.
We went in for our second ultrasound the day after Father’s Day. Our ultrasound tech asked questions while she took measurements. We saw our manatee on the screen, but there was no flickering light—no movement—and when she turned on the sound, we didn’t hear anything.
“I’m sorry, but I can’t detect a heartbeat.”
I was stunned. She kept looking and taking measurements, but nothing changed. Our baby was there, but he wasn’t.
I kept thinking, This isn’t happening to me. This is a routine check-up. Everything is supposed to be fine. But it wasn’t. And then Mike squeezed my arm and said, “I’m so sorry,” and I realized it was happening, but it wasn’t happening to me: it was happening to us.
The rest of the details from that day are hazy. My nurse said I had two options: have a miscarriage at home or have surgery—a D&C. If I had a D&C, the doctor would order tests on the baby and on me to find out what happened. She told me I could take some time to think about it, but if I chose the surgery they wanted to do it sooner rather than later.
I navigated through periods of calm and hysteria all day and night. It was exhausting. I have never cried so much in my life. I felt like I was experiencing the world all wrong, like I was turned inside out and was trying to claw my way out of my body. I thought if I could just break through my skin, I’d realize it was all a bad dream, and everything would be okay. I wondered how the sun was still shining--how the world kept spinning--when we were suspended in time by grief.
Since I was no longer pregnant, we had the two things I missed the most—sushi and wine—for dinner. I hoped it would make me feel a little better but the flavors were off. Everything tasted of tears and loss. Instead of feeling full, I felt terribly empty.
The next day, we ran away. We ate the last of the gender-reveal cupcakes for breakfast, put Crosby in the car and drove away. We hid in a different city where we could pretend we were on vacation, sat on the beach and talked about the boy we would never meet.
Did he know how much we loved him?
Did he know how much we wanted to meet him?
Did he know how terribly sorry we were that we’d never get to know him?
Did he know that we did everything we could to keep him with us?
Did he know that we were dying a million deaths over him?
Did he know much we already missed him?
We did what we do best: we hung out. We drank wine and read books and played Scrabble. We talked and laughed and cried. We weren’t worried about work or finances or when we would try again. We were just Mike and Bean. That night, as we sat beneath a thick blanket of stars, we cried and said we loved him—our tiny speck, our little manatee—and we said we would never forget him. That night, we said goodbye for now.
We had the ultrasound on Monday, and I had surgery on Friday.
It was a terrible week.
I knew that after the surgery, he would be gone from my body, and it would be like he never existed. He was so young that some might say he was barely a person. But he was—he was real to me, and he was mine, and nothing will change that.
It should be easy to revert back to life before Manatee, but it’s not. Sometimes when I wake up, I forget, and I am so happy. But then I wake up—really wake up—and remember that he’s gone.
It hurts. I miss him.
My doctor ran tests on me to see if I have Lupus or natural killer cells. (Don’t ask me what those are. I barely know myself.) Tests on our little guy came back normal, and the tests didn’t show that there’s anything else wrong with me.
We will probably never know why we had a miscarriage.
But we know it’s extremely common: one in four women have a miscarriage. I am one of those women. Most people don’t talk about infertility because it’s complex and agonizing and personal. It can also be incredibly lonely.
I don't think it should be.
I think it should be okay to talk about infertility and loss and the things that break our hearts over and over again. We tend to keep these terrible secrets hidden inside our bodies, like they're not relevant or worthwhile parts of our stories. But they are. They matter.
If you’re going through something similar, know that you’re not alone. If I could say anything to you, I’d say this:
You are not a failure.
It’s not your fault.
I am so, so sorry.
If you know someone going through this, please say something. Anything. Don’t let them feel like they’re alone or that there’s something wrong with them. Don’t hold back because you don’t know what to say. Say you’re sorry they’re going through this because it is terrible and shitty. Acknowledge their loss. Respect their grief. Love them. It doesn't fix anything, but it helps.