Sunday, July 21, 2019

All the Luck in the Universe

This past week, I took the girls and drove down to my parents'. G was an amazing traveler (by which I mean she slept in the car and we only had to make one stop each way to eat lunch). The stay was fun but not exactly relaxing. The big kids were a bit challenging (there's a story here about Zuzu skinny dipping, but I'm just not ready to talk about it). I will say, thought, that parenting is easier with a Grammy on standby!

The last full day we were there, I loaded up the kids and drove up to Kansas City to visit my friend Monica and her new babe. Seeing Baby G and Baby Johnny together was truly awesome.

I've written before (at length!) about Monica's pregnancy with EK--she got pregnant a few months after I lost Eliza and even though I was genuinely happy for them that IVF had worked and they were expecting a baby, it was hard for me to have her pregnancy following the same timeline as mine. I didn't attend her baby shower and even though I understood why she wanted to celebrate this pregnancy, I was also mad at everyone who knew me (even tangentially) and was pregnant and who thought they should still have a baby shower, like they could count on their baby being okay after my baby had unexpectedly died. It felt like a tacit way of saying that there was something I'd done that they could avoid so that they could be sure everything would turn out fine for them. Except we had no idea what happened and in my new world of internet-connected-best-friends, babies were dying right and left. So why would anyone buy anything for a baby in advance? In my weird grief mindset, having a baby shower was basically calling attention to your pregnancy and asking the universe to take it away.

(Newsflash: Grief is hard on friendships and also makes it hard to think clearly about things.)

Anyway, this is the story of my fourth pregnancy and Monica's second pregnancy, both of which started in the fall of 2018. When David and I found out that I was pregnant, Monica and Johnny were the first people we told--not because we are the sort who celebrates a pregnancy as a sure thing at 6 weeks, but because the week I found out was the same week Monica was having her one good embryo transferred after doing IVF for the second time.

David and I talked it over and we decided that we needed to tell them before they got the news about her pregnancy. Sure, if they got good news it would have been awesome to say, "OMG! I'm pregnant, too!" but as I whispered to David in bed one night, I was scared that maybe there wasn't enough good luck in the universe for us both. I felt like I'd won a lottery I hadn't even meant to enter, and now I was going to have my FOURTH baby, while my best friend was spending tens of thousands of dollars to try to have a second child. I know it doesn't make sense, but I was afraid that somehow I'd accidentally stolen her prize. Logically, I know that makes no sense, but I think what was really going on was that the idea of us being pregnant and having babies at the same time was delightful, I couldn't believe we'd ever get away with it. Pregnancy feels so precarious to me--surely it wouldn't work out for at least one of us.

So we agreed that we needed to tell them before they got any results. If it was good, we'd celebrate. If it was bad, we'd let them have their space and we wouldn't talk about it. But I couldn't imagine them getting bad news and then me saying, "Well, uh, just so you know, I'm possibly going to be having a baby about the time you would have had one..."

Of course they took the news graciously, but I'm sure it was a bit of a shock for them, too. I texted her to tell her because that's how I prefer to get pregnancy announcements (PSA: please tell anyone who has had a pregnancy loss about your own pregnancy via text so they don't have to compose their face--even when we're we happy, pregnancy announcements are hard.) So now they knew.

As timing would have it, our annual visit to the pumpkin patch with the Lewis family (see previous years here, here, and the very first year here) coincided with the day Monica was supposed to go to the lab for bloodwork that would tell her whether she was pregnant. This meant she was going to be at our house in St. Louis when they got the call. We talked about this in advance and talked about rescheduling the pumpkin patch, but there was no other weekend that would work. So they came up anyway, she went to a local lab here to have blood drawn before the pumpkin patch visit, and when it came time for the phone call (they'd scheduled it for late afternoon), D and I took EK and our kids to a park to play so that Monica and Johnny could get the news alone. If it was good, we'd all be our version of celebratory, which was more like cautiously optimistic with a strong helping of super cynical. If it was bad, we'd give them space to be alone for a while and everyone would go to bed early and cry.

My stomach was in knots as I watched the kids play. I was preparing myself for the worst and trying to remain hopeful. Monica had told me that she absolutely didn't feel pregnant at all (even though it would be so early she wouldn't have symptoms yet). I know she was also trying to protect herself by preparing for the worst. They had no other embryos after this retrieval, so this was her one shot.

And finally she texted me and said something like "I might be pregnant."

Ummm... might be?

You think that blood work for pregnancy is a pretty definitive yes/no, but it turns out that--particularly when you're testing super early after IVF--there can be complicating factors... So Monica's numbers indicated she was pregnant, but they weren't as high as the lab wanted/expected. They have pretty firm expectations for that sort of thing. She had to go back to the lab the next day for another blood draw to see if her numbers were doubling.

Our mood that evening was lighter than you might think--I mean, it wasn't bad news! But it was uncertain, which is hard. Lower than expected numbers could indicate a chemical pregnancy, or simply one that wasn't viable. Suddenly everything depended on the blood draw the next day. Still, I remember feeling kind of giddy with relief because we'd been bracing so hard for bad news and this was... promising, at least.

And the next day brought... more uncertainty. Her numbers had gone up, but they hadn't quite doubled. What did it mean???

Basically, she was pregnant unless she turned out not to be pregnant. She went in for an ultrasound when she got home and texted me that they saw a sac. My heart sank because I thought that meant there was no heartbeat. It turns out that it was so early (4-5 weeks?) you couldn't see a heartbeat yet and the sac was exactly what they were hoping for.

Finally, they saw a heartbeat and it seemed like maybe, just maybe, we'd gotten away with something. Maybe we were both actually going to have babies, and maybe those babies would be a due a month apart. Maybe this could actually work out.

Then Monica started bleeding.

I was googling all the things she wouldn't let herself google about statistics for viable pregnancies with spotting in the first trimester. I tried to be encouraging without pretending either of us were naive about what might be happening. She went back to the doctor and there was still a heartbeat. So, again, she seemed to pregnant.

We usually see the Lewises at some point around Christmas (often spending New Years with them) but this past year, My family went to Disney World the week before Christmas, and Monica and Johnny and EK went the week after Christmas (the most crowded week of the year--because they are bonkers).

We were driving home from Pittsburgh after visiting my brother when Monica texted me to tell me that she'd lost the baby. They were visiting the space center in Florida and she felt a little weird so she went to the restroom and there was so much blood. She thought she was going to pass out, the nurse at the first aid station was essentially useless since this was not heatstroke or a blistered toe, and poor EK had just celebrated her seventh birthday and then was told through the bathroom stall at the space center to go get her dad because her mom needed to go to the hospital.

I started crying in the car--like full out silent sobbing that nearly made David panic but I was trying to cry without the girls hearing me in the backseat. Checking to see that their headphones were on, I managed to tell him that Monica was having a miscarriage. I was still crying when my phone rang and her face popped up on the caller ID. I said hello and Monica said, "I need you to talk to Ellie Kate and calm her down." Then I was on the phone with EK, who was crying so hard that I could barely understand her. I pulled myself together as she sobbed, "Mommy is losing my baby brother."

I didn't know what to say. I wanted to calm her down, but I also didn't want to make impossible promises or tell lies. So I said something like, "We don't know yet what has happened. Are you on your way to the hospital?" She said that her dad was going to get the car.

(Sidenote: Johnny had run out to the parking lot to get their rental car, which was parked miles away from the entrance. He'd jumped in the car and couldn't get it to start, so he'd had to run all the way back to the bench where Monica and EK were waiting. It turned out he'd gotten in the WRONG CAR--the same make and model, but not their rental. Once they figured that out, he had to run back out to get the right car.)

I told Ellie Kate that they have great doctors in Florida and if there was anything that could be done to help her brother that they would do it. I told her that her mom was going to be okay. I asked her about her trip so far and how she liked Harry Potter land and she calmed down as we talked. Then they got to the hospital and she hung up.

It felt like ages before I got a real update. Monica texted me some more details as she waited for the doctor--there was so much blood and tissue and she was certain she had lost the baby. But when they got her on an ultrasound machine at the hospital (the SECOND hospital they drove to because the first one had such a long wait the ER)... there was a heartbeat.

So maybe she was still pregnant?

I couldn't believe it, and I know she couldn't believe it either. It was like the uncertainty of this pregnancy was dragging on forever, but at the highest level possible.

She was on bed rest for the remainder of the Florida trip, with one brief visit to the Magic Kingdom in a wheelchair. Then she flew home, saw her doctor, and they determined it was a subchorionic hemorrhage. Baby was--to everyone's shock and surprise--doing just fine.

A few weeks later, I had my bleeding scare. But it turned out I was still pregnant.

It seemed like these babies--should they actually make it here--were determined to scare the shit out of us before their arrival.

I really thought we'd lost each of them at some point during our pregnancies. And then one hot afternoon in July, I held both of them in my arms.

It's like we BOTH won the lottery. An embarrassment of riches for everyone! The universe smiled upon us. The fates were feeling benevolent. The odds were somehow in our favor.

These are the result of love and science and money and perfect timing and offhand chances and good medical care and genetics and DNA strands lining up just right. No wonder we call babies miracles--because no matter how many people get to make them and have them naively and thoughtlessly and with relatively little effort, there are so many moments when things could go sideways. And when they don't, no matter how flawed you are, you find yourself gazing at a little lump of perfection.

It turns out there was enough good luck in the universe for both of us. And we are so grateful.


  1. What a terrifying ride to such a gorgeous destination!! They are both just absolute perfection. ❤️

  2. what a story! So great that the babies arrived safely! Lovely pictures

  3. I found your post on stirrup queens and so glad i did!!! I am happy you both got your little miracles.

  4. Oh good gracious, I felt like I was literally on Space Mountain the whole time I read that. Those pictures at the end are priceless.

  5. So glad both your stories had happy endings! :)

  6. Ahhh. I'm almost in tears, because I had a huge bleed at 17 weeks... baby was still good, though, and we all hoped and prayed for a subchorionic hemorrhage. Unfortunately, my placenta was abrupting and after a few weeks I went into labor and lost the baby. I'm so glad this didn't happen to your friend!