This blog contains sensitive material on miscarriage and child loss.
I recently photographed a newborn session for a very special rainbow baby, Lloyd! After talking with Heather and Jared about their struggles and heartbreaking loss I knew they had an important story to tell. I have asked Heather to tell their story so that others in the same situation will know they are not alone.
Over the past 2.5 years Jared and I learned a valuable lesson; the path to parenthood is often full of challenges and heartbreak (trigger warning for those wishing to continue reading).
We decided to try for our first child in early 2017. For most couples, planning for pregnancy is as easy as quitting birth control and starting a prenatal vitamin. For us, preparing for pregnancy was not benign and involved meeting with various specialty doctors to obtain permission to move forward. This is all because I have been type one diabetic since the age of 7 and have chronic hypertension. So we were expecting it to take some time to fall pregnant. Much to our surprise, I fell pregnant the first month. Exciting!
As a high-risk pregnancy, I was assigned to maternal fetal medicine (high risk Obgyn), who immediately hospitalized me for testing (EKG, kidney function, etc) and to institute a strict carbohydrate limited diet and insulin regimen. At this point I was a mere 5-6 weeks pregnant. We had our first ultrasound where we celebrated seeing a flickering heartbeat at 6 weeks. Things seemed to be going well. Each week I would have a doctor’s appointment and we would review my blood sugar and diet logs. I had excellent control of my disease and felt empowered.
However, at almost 8 weeks in the early morning it was apparent a miscarriage was imminent. I drove myself to the ER, because my husband was working as a sheriff’s deputy overnight. Jared met me at the ER and my best friend also came for moral support. The ER doctor told us that everything looked normal and healthy. We were relieved, but I still had a bad feeling in the pit of my stomach. I had an appointment scheduled midweek for a routine ultrasound and each day dragged on waiting. My husband and I arrived at the appointment hopeful but very nervous. It was quickly determined there was no longer a heartbeat. Everyone we saw gave us condolences and saddened stares. We chose to have genetic testing completed on our baby in hopes that we would gain some insight, because like everyone we wanted to know why. However, all tests returned normal and we learned we had lost our first son on March 15, 2017.
One thing they never warn you about is pregnancy is hard on your body. In addition to losing our first pregnancy I gained a mass on my breast. That mass had to be removed before we could move forward with attempting a second pregnancy. I still remember the day the oncologist told me we were free and clear to try again because the mass they had surgically removed was benign. This isn’t something I talked about with many people.
A few months later we celebrated again because I was pregnant! However, our celebrations were cut short because I miscarried merely a week after we became aware I was pregnant in July 2017. At this point I demanded to have further testing to try and determine why I could not maintain a pregnancy. We began seeing a reproductive endocrinologist in August 2017. After about a month and a half of tests and procedures—we were told there was no known reason for our recurrent pregnancy loss diagnosis. With guidance we decided to proceed with mild fertility treatments to help my body produce a “better egg.”
Yet again after two months of these treatments I fell pregnant for the third time. It was almost Thanksgiving and we were so grateful and hopeful! Our hopes were quickly drained as signs of a miscarriage appeared the weekend of Thanksgiving. Honestly, I wished, hoped, and prayed that wasn’t what was happening; later I grew to wish it had just been a simple miscarriage. We found out two weeks later I was carrying an ectopic pregnancy. The embryo had implanted in my right fallopian tube instead of my uterus. Ectopic pregnancies are not viable, they cannot be moved to the uterus. The options are to inject a chemotherapy drug to kill the rapidly dividing cells or have surgery to remove them. If treatment does not happen in a timely manner death can occur. I was unable to take the chemotherapy drug and was scheduled for surgery immediately. Once again, all the doctors and nurses were kind but their faces were pained with sorrow for us. On December 6, 2017 I had my first surgery to remove the ectopic pregnancy with hopes to preserve my fallopian tube. On December 16, 2017 I had my second surgery to remove my fallopian tube. The first surgery failed to remove all the rapidly dividing cells and if they spread to other organs this could be fatal. I was very fortunate to have the same amazing Obgyn (named Dr. Meredith Gray, if you can believe that) perform both surgeries. She told us at the second surgery that she could not wait to deliver our future babies. This was something we desperately needed to hear!
After a few months of recovery, we decided to try again. 2017 was not our year: I was pregnant three times all ending in loss. We entered 2018 hopeful. It took a bit of time, a lot of patience, and some fertility science to conceive with only one fallopian tube. We found out in July 2018 that we were expecting for the fourth time. The night we found out this amazing news I couldn’t sleep. There was insurmountable fear and worry. One of my fears was if we lost this pregnancy, what would people say? Would we be able to pick up the pieces and try again? I was followed very closely by my reproductive endocrinologist with blood draws every other day for a week. Then the excruciating 2-week wait for an ultrasound to confirm a heartbeat. During that 2-week wait I developed a subchorionic hemorrhage which mimics a miscarriage. Thankfully at our 6-week ultrasound a very strong heartbeat was visible. It was a very happy day—a day we decided to tell our close family we were expecting again.
Two weeks later during an ultrasound (my husband unfortunately could not make it) I was told the subchorionic hemorrhage was very large (it had grown). I was also told that the fetus might have a chromosomal abnormality like Down’s syndrome and the chances of a miscarriage were high. It was devastating and lead to the longest month of our lives. We were able to have noninvasive tests completed at about 10-12 weeks to confirm our risk for chromosomal issues. Thankfully everything was normal and our miracle was a boy!
The pregnancy progressed and with each milestone we breathed a huge sigh of relief. With type one diabetes there are hundreds of developmental issues that can occur. With tight control of blood sugars those risks are dissipated, but still higher than for non-diabetics. I managed to keep my average blood sugar around 100 (normal) with a hemoglobin A1c of 5.2 (anything below 5.6 is non- diabetic level). At our 20-week anatomy scan we celebrated a perfect report card with lunch and purchasing nursery furniture. I finally allowed baby showers to be planned and released our gift registry; we planned daycare and picked a name. Both Jared and I had a very difficult time at our daycare tour. I personally broke into tears afterwards. It’s hard to pay a deposit and commit to something you still are not convinced is going to happen.
But after 38 weeks and 2 days, our son Lloyd Joseph was born alive and healthy at 7 pounds 1 oz. His birthday is March 18, 2019; almost exactly two years to the day we lost our first son. Of course, he was delivered by Dr. Meredith Gray—the kind and amazing Obgyn we met during our darkest hours in December 2017. If there is a message in our journey for those who have also experienced loss and those who are still in the thick of the battle against infertility and recurrent pregnancy loss—it’s don’t give up. The journey to parenthood is often paved with pain and difficult choices but in the end, it’s all worth it.