Our story started normally enough. After dating for three years, we decided to get married. We knew we wanted to start a family quickly. We would both be 35 and Mo had had Hodgkin's lymphoma in her late twenties. We weren't sure about the impact the chemotherapy and multiple CT scans (we've now counted and she's had more than 30, plus numerous PET scans and gallium scans) might have on our fertility. We were so concerned that before we married, we made an appointment to be seen by one of New York's fabled reproductive endocrinologists. We didn't want to be making any decisions about life commitment without all the cards on the table. Everything checked out ok - low fsh, decent enough semen analysis - and the good doctor told us to get out there and try. Actually, he told us to start trying immediately. "We know Mo's ovaries took a hit from her treatments, we just don't know how much." We waited a bit - until we were several months before the wedding but close enough that we could conceivably semi-conceal a pregnancy bulge - and began trying in earnest.
After returning from our honeymoon in Africa we still weren't pregnant and had been trying for more than six months. We went to see another fabled fertility specialist, this time covered by our new insurance. He told us that Will's semen analysis was in fact NOT ok at all, and that he wasn't surprised we weren't pregnant since Will's morphology was less than 1% and his motility hovered around 20%. We could try IUI, the esteemed doctor said, but IVF would give us the best chance of having a baby. Being overly ambitious Manhattanites, we barreled ahead, naive and eager, straight to IVF.
After lots of lupron and follistim and HCG and oh-so-painful progesterone in oil, a ton of monitoring, and a fair amount of hand wringing and obsessing, we found out that we were pregnant! We tracked the betas and then the ultrasound pictures, and then got to see the baby's glorious heart beating just as fast as it should. We officially graduated from the RE's office and were sent to our trusty OB. This IVF process was not so bad, we decided, instantaneously forgetting about the anxious days and Mo's bruised buttocks, which by then was so sore she cried out during each progesterone injection. Unfortunately, when Mo got to her first OB appointment then next week, 9 wks along, we found out that the baby had died. Later, after a gruesome unanesthetized office D and C (we now STRONGLY recommend the OR to anyone who will listen) and several weeks of waiting, we learned that our little girl had Turner syndrome and Down syndrome. "Bad luck," our doctor said. "But very common. Most likely your next pregnancy will be fine." We were beyond devastated, and back to square one, minus the glow we had carried from our honeymoon.
While many of the family and close friends we had told about our pregnancy were sympathetic, we also got the "don't worry, miscarriage happens all the time" talk. As if we were twelve and had just struck out at the plate. This might not be that uncommon, but it wasn't even remotely similar to anything else in our lives that had gone "wrong" (although Mo's cancer came pretty close in the shocking and devastating deparment). This was different and the ache in our souls was deep. Will tried very hard to be hopeful. Mo was a wreck, filled with fearful visions that foreshadowed doom.
Hesitant and hopeful, we tried IVF #2 three months later in February. And we got....
But amazingly, a month after that, we were pregnant again, naturally. This felt like vindication, like some kind of cosmic do-over for the injustice that had come before. We tested the HCG levels ourselves (bonus of having an MD spouse) and saw the beta numbers doubling beautifully. We ever so anxiously waded through 7 wks of pregnancy until our OB would see us. And when he did, he breezed easily into the room. "How are you feeling?" he asked. "Terrified!" we both quasi-barked at him, and he looked puzzled that we should be so concerned after our last pregnancy loss. Then he slid the ultrasound transducer inside Mo and started looking at the screen. His expression changed. He said that the yolk sac was enlarged and that the gestational sac was measuring two weeks behind. The pregnancy was not viable. "This is just bad luck, very common," he pronounced, leaving the room (hmmm...this was starting to sound familiar...). We opted for another D and C so that we could run genetics on the remains. Unfortunately, the lab lost the sample and we were left not knowing what happened.
And then shockingly, we found ourselves pregnant AGAIN a mere month later. We hadn't been trying but hadn't acted to prevent a pregnancy either. But this time the beta failed to rise appropriately and within a week, the pregnancy was deemed a chemical. When Mo miscarried a few days later, she brought the tissue in and we found out that the baby was a boy and that he had trisomy 16.
Since then we have struggled individually and as a couple to come to grips with all that this past year had wrought. We felt beaten down and gutted with grief. We struggled to learn how each of us mourned and grappled with life's most puzzling questions so very soon after marriage.
For Mo this meant running many miles a week, researching everything known about recurrent miscarriage and infertility, and eating occasional bowls of cookie batter for good measure. For Will this meant compartmentalizing his own feelings of loss and despair while simultaneously trying to cheer lead downhearted Mo, and unfortunately for a time meant surreptitiously quaffing enough vodka to make a Siberian proud.
Needless to say, we decided to take a break from our relentless babychasing, stabilize ourselves, and then move ahead. Five months - and many therapy sessions - later we are starting to laugh again, to feel that lightness in our steps. We are turning toward each other instead of isolating in our grief. We now know that we can face great challenges as a couple and get through them. We are humbled in our experiences in trying to begin a family.
With great trepidation and cautious hope, we are about to begin our third IVF attempt as we were told this would lessen the chances for another miscarriage. And believe us, we would do ANYTHING to avoid another one at this point. Mo will begin lupron next week and we plan to blog our way - sometimes one or the other of us, sometimes as a couple - through the journey this time.
Our apartment is filled with the detritus of our previous IVF attempts. A closet shelf filled to the brim with syringes, needles, alcohol swabs - a junkie's dream. Long forgotten, nearly empty vials of meds in the back of the refrigerator (bottom shelf behind the cocktail olives). Infertility and pregnancy books line Mo's closet shelves (hidden away so as not to reveal to guests the depths of our obsession). And, sadly, ultrasound snapshots of two of the three pregnancies that slipped from our lives, but not from our minds and hearts.
Perhaps hardest to let go are the prematurely laid plans for Sundays in the playground, vacations, and everyday joys of having a baby in our home. We are hopeful that one way or another, these dreams will eventually come true. This blog is an attempt to record our thoughts and impressions of the (in)fertility process - as they converge and diverge, Mars and Venus, on the road to parenthood.
Mo and Will