Today, we are proud to share Heidi's journey with you all. Heidi's interview resonated with me on a deeply personal level. It's hard (putting it lightly) to make the decision to actively stop trying to get pregnant and I'm thankful for Heidi's enlightening perspective on this particular aspect of infertility. (Ariel)
1. What is your personal experience with infertility/miscarriage?
My experience with infertility didn’t start until after we started trying for our second child. Our first daughter, Blythe, was conceived after five or six months of casual “let’s see what happens” trying. My feelings around my first pregnancy were mostly centred on learning about my changing body and thinking about how becoming parents was going to change our world. My pregnancy with our daughter was textbook perfect. I was surprised to find out that I loved being pregnant and I did it pretty well. Her birth was quite the opposite requiring an unplanned cesarean after several hours which resulted in a nicked bladder (mine, not hers) that sent me home with a catheter bag for ten days. I suffered from recurrent bladder infections for close to a year and a half afterward, a few of which landed me in the ER.
Our daughter was beautiful. When she was about a year old, we decided the time was right to try again. For many reasons, I liked the idea of having my babies born close together. My sisters and I are close in age and we maintain a close relationship with one another. We also liked the idea of “getting it done.” Why not do the diaper/sleepless night/nursing all at once? Also, my husband is a decade older than me and we joked that we didn’t want others at our children’s high school graduation assuming he was the grandpa.
We were thrilled after a month or two to find out we were again pregnant.
In rereading this, it seems so naïve (it was) and I recognize the ease in which we treated getting pregnant. It must be painful for those who have struggled so hard with infertility.
The day after my birthday, I went to a midwife appointment where we heard our baby’s heartbeat. Shortly after, I passed a clot of blood. We called our midwife who was ironically busy helping to deliver a dear friend’s baby at that very minute. She talked us through what she thought was probably going to be a miscarriage. We went to bed shocked. There was nothing else that we could do. I woke up in the middle of the night with cramps that sent me to the shower and later, to the bath. I delivered (Is that even the right word?) a tiny, perfect baby around 2:30 a.m. We were devastated. The next morning found me back in the ER because I spiked a fever. It was a terrible trip. Not one person acknowledged our loss. I went through the usual battery of painful and invasive tests – all while just wanting to be at home, in bed, with my husband and young daughter. I also foolishly answered the phone when my friend’s number came up, thinking I could conceal my pain from her as she told us about the birth of her daughter. I ended up bawling on the phone while she comforted me. The fact I wrecked that moment makes me cringe to this day.
I ended up with another bladder infection and was sent home with antibiotics and nothing else. The only person who’d gone out of their way to treat me nicely was an older gentleman volunteer who’d accompanied me to my ultrasound. He called me dear and offered me his arm. When he saw how unsteady I was, he insisted on finding a wheelchair. His kindness was what I held onto that day. The kindness of my friends and family was what got me through the next horrible days. Although technically no longer a patient, I was blown away by the care of the midwives who called to check up on us several times.
Because we’d lost the baby at home, we decided to give our baby the most loving end of which we were capable. We laid him in our garden wrapped in the tiny “Big sister” t-shirt we’d purchased for our daughter. We planted a white peony with him which is the purest spring flower that I could think of. We also christened him Hugo in our hearts.
I’m a small business owner/farmer and May 10th happens to mark the beginning of my busiest time of the year. Those weeks and months passed by in a fog of trying to smile at customers, trying to act normal, and sometimes failing entirely by crying in front of them.
This was my introduction to just how common miscarriages are. So many women shared their stories with me. It was also my introduction to the fact that people don’t know what to say and that sometimes they say terrible things they genuinely think are helpful. It was awful to feel like I was not doing my best at my job. I was barely getting through the day with anything left for my husband and daughter. It was hard because we had shared our exciting pregnancy news with some family members and close friends. Why wouldn’t we? With our first daughter we’d waited until we were “safe” to tell people. This time we were at eleven weeks and six days. We had heard a heartbeat so we thought we were “safe” again.
We kept trying to have another baby. For many months we relaxed and assumed it would happen. After all, we’d had twice gotten pregnant “easily.” We were also on the same page that, for us, we were going to do things “naturally” – that is, not monitor my cycles, use ovulation tests, or schedule sex. We felt that by not adding stress to our situation, we’d have better luck.
After a year of this, I went to the doctor, thinking we’d find some simple reason. Within a few weeks it would be resolved after popping some vitamins, voila: baby. Veterans of this game would laugh at me knowingly. It took months to schedule tests, wait for appointments, and rule out the simple stuff. We really had nothing terribly wrong with us -- Low motility. Six months after that, slightly low motility. These months were a rollercoaster of waiting: “maybe this month”-ing and testing our courage again after disappointment. I wouldn’t let myself think about how hard actually being pregnant would be after our last loss. In the face of these thoughts, my courage waned. We weren’t sure how far down the “Fertility Treatment” path we’d be able to go: strength wise, time-wise and, ultimately, financially. We’re both self employed farmers and have worked hard to create a simple life on little money. One thing I wasn’t comfortable with was leveraging our future. Not when my husband and I had worked so hard and we already had a daughter who needed us.
We decided to try fertility drugs for three months after my next cycle and then decide from there how far down this path we would go. On our last month of trying naturally, my period was late. We waited four days and took a pregnancy test on our seventh anniversary. After two years of trying, we were again pregnant. We laughed a little and I joked that I always have worked best under pressure (my thesis was written almost entirely in one thirty hour caffeine fuelled sitting). Then the fear set in.
The last time there had been absolutely no indication I was going to lose the baby until I saw the blood. This time I was hyper aware of everything. Did my breasts hurt less than yesterday? Was that nausea? I never thought I’d look forward to constipation! Twice, I spent an entire day crying on the couch and walking around in a fog because of spotting. I checked Google constantly (don’t do that. Just don’t.) It made me so aware of how difficult pregnancy is for some people, of how it isn’t always a time of wonder and awe, but of fear and constant anxiety.
This time around, I made a conscious decision to tell more people in my family and “village.” It was partly a selfish decision because I knew how hard this pregnancy was going to be. I don’t regret that decision. Many of our family and close friends knew of our struggle and knew how badly we wanted another baby. They shared in our cautious optimism. However, after a few more weeks, I knew something was wrong. My symptoms had all but disappeared. I could work hard all day with no nausea, unlike the previous pregnancies. Although I knew that some people didn’t have these symptoms, the fact that they had been there and had gone made me nervous. We were also coming up on the two year anniversary of our first miscarriage. Finally, on the night of my birthday, I spent hours crying to my husband and decided the only way I would go to sleep would be to call the OB first thing in the morning.
On the drive to the OB’s office,I thought that at least in a couple of hours, I would know either way. I was hoping she would give me that “silly worried mama but I understand” speech. But in my heart, thought it would be the other one. There was also a very painful poetry in the fact that this was the anniversary of our first loss. I thought it might mean only one painful anniversary to remember. Although there are now two different due dates, both around Christmas.
With the ultrasound machine, our OB found a sac but no heartbeat. She sent us across to the hospital to get a better ultrasound, telling us to be “cautiously pessimistic.” My certainty grew as the silent sonographer tried a regular ultrasound, then asked if I’d consent to a transvaginal ultrasound, then said she needed to “consult with the radiologist” before coming back to tell us to go back to the OB’s office. My husband thought I’d heard her say definitively that there was no heartbeat, but I knew simply from the lack of eye contact and the fact they didn’t show us the screen. I said, “They’d have shared if there was good news.” We were seven weeks and six days along.
The Doctor’s receptionist kindly moved us into a private room right away. The doctor came in and simply said, “I’m sorry.” She said all of the right things. I know I’m lucky for that, because many people don’t even get that. All I could think of was, “How did this happen twice, exactly two years apart?” It seemed too cruel. She said that the good news was that this was the gold standard in fertility tests – we could get pregnant. I thought, “Are you kidding me?” and I said, “No. We’re done.” Earlier, while waiting for the “radiologist to consult” I’d cried to my husband that I thought our daughter would be an only child. He replied that he thought so too. I hate to be one of those disgusting, gooey “we share one brain” type of woman, but the fact is we’d been remarkably on the same page about almost every aspect of this journey. The fact we were again on the same page gave me a measure of peace.
The OB recommended a D&C the next day. Thinking of the middle of the night bathtub experience and the profound sadness on my husband’s face the last time, I agreed. I also needed to be physically okay enough to open my greenhouse in seven days or we would lose several months of work and much of my winter income. It sounds mercenary but it was just a fact of life. I just wanted things to be done. The next day was “day two” of the anniversary, since the last time I’d discovered blood on May 10th and physically miscarried after midnight. It looked like this would follow the exact same pattern.
Thankfully, I’d been able to stay pretty calm at home in the morning. I’d arranged things that needed to be arranged, texted people who needed to be texted, and even worked in my greenhouse in the morning. But as we got on the elevator, we ran into a couple excited to be with their newborn. That seemed too cruel and I lost it.
We waited several hours to be seen as the staff were backed up with other patients. Finally, I was taken into pre-op. I cried. A lot. I’m grateful that in this department at least, the nurses and doctors were much more kind to me. They were very kind in fact which was my saving grace. At time of writing, it has been 24 hours since my D&C. Compared to last time, I feel remarkable and I’m grateful. I’m also grateful for all of the people who are supporting us right now. But I think our fertility journey has come to an end. After finding out my worst fears were true, I feel done. I cannot go through another pregnancy even assuming it wouldn’t take another two years. I am depleted of courage, mental and physical strength. I find peace comes from gracefully deciding to stop than getting to the end of our journey with no baby to show for it. I know this isn’t everyone’s choice, but it is the right one for us.
2. How has it made your life worse? How has it made your life better?
My life is worse because I feel different now. Although I’ve read all about how it’s not my fault, and my body didn’t let me down, I still struggle with these feelings and with feeling like I let down my husband and daughter. I fight these feelings because they help nothing. There’s also sadness that my life didn’t turn out like “I’d planned.” We had wanted a sibling for our daughter. My husband has one brother, I have five siblings. We wanted that closeness for our daughter.
My life is better because, like I’ve read so many times on this site and other blogs, while trying to find peace, it has brought my husband and I so much closer and made us so much stronger. I am in awe of the strength of his care for me. We are so grateful for our daughter. Through travelling this path, I’ve learned that there are so many people with worse heartbreak than us who end up with no children. My heart aches for them because I know that there were days after my first loss that my baby girl was how I was able to get up in the morning.
3. When & how did you realize that you were going to be able to carry on after infertility/miscarriage?
This is a difficult question to answer. I always knew I would have to carry on, because there were people who needed me. So I just fought day by day, like anyone who has grief has had to do. Miscarriage/infertility is a strange loss, because you can’t see it. People often have a hard time acknowledging it. But it still causes grief, and that has to be worked through like any other loss and that will be on your own timeline.
4. What have you learned through this experience?
I’ve learned about what I call “the secret sisterhood.” Before my miscarriages, when they had only touched my life peripherally through friends, I didn’t really understand how common and how life changing they were. People would talk about “losing a baby” which is such a strange euphemism. We didn’t lose them. We did everything we could to hold on to them and they were ripped from us. I find peace in talking to people who have been through this, even though they might be perfect strangers, because they understand. I draw so much strength from these women. So often miscarriage is talked about only after the fact. People reveal their “previous disappointments” only once they are announcing a happy pregnancy. Part of mourning my losses is that our baby journey ends after two losses (not a “win”), and we have to find a way to make peace with that.
I’ve also learned how strong I am. I am so lucky in my life and so blessed. These are the hardest things I’ve had to deal with and I’ve learned that I can. Unfortunately, I’ve also learned that I can tend towards bitterness when I hear about someone’s unplanned pregnancy and when young fertile pregnant girls complain about being pregnant. I have felt like I’m more deserving of a baby than they are because I’ve “done all the right things.” I don’t like this about myself but I’m learning to face it.
5. What do you hold on to for hope/courage/strength on your bad days?
My husband, daughter, family and friends, and faith.
6. How do you feel about your experience with infertility on your good days?
I love this question because if you’ve never experienced these kinds of losses, you don’t understand the concept of good days relating to infertility. On my good days, I am just so grateful that I have my daughter and that my pregnancy with her was so enjoyable. It was something I took for granted. Also, I liken this journey to another time in my life, just after university when I’d moved home with a broken heart and my future plans were shattered. At twenty-three year old, I was devastated. But Without that hard experience, I wouldn’t have met my husband and I wouldn’t have had the courage to start my business. I also wouldn’t have ended up living so close to my family and making so many amazing friends in my community.
7. In what ways has your experience with infertility/miscarriage changed you as a person?
I’m much more open than I used to be. Believe it or not, I used to be very private. Like, Old English aristocracy (without the money, title or land) “we don’t talk about our problems” private. My miscarriages have changed that because I simply couldn’t deal with them by myself. It wasn’t until I was able to talk to people about it that I found healing. By talking about it, I’ve also had the privilege to help other women who are going through this. That part has felt like such a gift.
8. How have others responded to your infertility situations? Has it impacted your relationships?
Again, I’ve been so blessed. My friends and family have been nothing but supportive. I’ve also become much closer to people as a result of this journey, particularly a cousin who has had a similarly difficult time. It’s difficult to say how it will affect things going forward. I occasionally dread large family gatherings and the inevitable questions of jovial uncles or the careless inquiries of strangers, but I choose to see these as well meant and try to respond to the “Isn’t it time for another one?” question with a gentle, “Well, these things don’t always happen as we try to plan them, do they?” It’s my hope that this is kind enough that they don’t feel affronted but pointed enough that they think twice before asking someone else. And it’s enough that I usually get away without crying.
9. What are some things you’ve been told that have been helpful/harmful?
Oh, all of the usual unhelpful ones. We all know them. I get a lot of “Don’t give up hope.” This one particularly hurts this time around because we have consciously decided that we are done trying for a baby. The most helpful are from people who admit they don’t know what to say and who just hug. Or bring food.
10. In three words describe yourself before/during/after miscarriage (in miscarriage specific situations)?
After: Shocked at my hubris in thinking we had any control over “planning our family.” (I know that’s not one word).
11. Tell us about you. What are your hobbies/passions/pursuits?
I am a passionate farmer/gardener. I love growing things, coaxing life from soil and seeds, with only water and sun. (It’s a little more complicated than that if I’m being honest). I am passionate about my business: owning a greenhouse and running a Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program where I supply over sixty families with the freshest, tastiest produce I can produce. I love reading, listening to podcasts, and learning. I love helping people, volunteering, and being involved in my community. I love to travel, and have been to over thirty-five countries on six continents. I’ve camped in the Kalahari and seen elephants on the salt plains of Botswana; been zip-lining in Costa Rica; river surfing and white water rafting in New Zealand; toured Auschwitz; and been horribly, irrevocably and intentionally lost in Singapore where I spent days eating from food carts and wandering wherever I wanted. My love languages are food and flowers. I like to cook. I love sitting on the front porch with my family. I say all of these things not because I am in any way more interesting than the next person, but because we are all way more than our infertility/miscarriages.