1) What is your personal experience with infertility/miscarriage?
I was diagnosed as infertile in my late twenties due to a very large intramural fibroid tumor in my uterus. Upon seeking a second opinion I was told that if the fibroid was removed, my chances of conceiving would be good as long as I healed well following the surgery. My husband and I married in the spring of 2017 and began trying to build our family immediately. It took us a year to get pregnant and that first pregnancy never implanted. I miscarried before even having the chance to take a pregnancy test. We were saddened, but that first miscarriage gave us hope that we would be able to conceive again quickly, which we did. The following month I was finally holding a positive pregnancy test in my hand and my husband and I were so, so excited. My brother and his wife were expecting their first baby at that time as well and my sister in-law and I were thrilled to be able to share our experiences with one another. My pregnancy seemed to be going perfectly. We could definitely tell my hormones were doing what they were supposed to because I had a healthy dose of morning sickness from five weeks on, had developed a fierce love of napping and suddenly couldn’t stand the smell of dill, an herb that had always been a favourite of mine. We had decided to call our bundle of joy Jasper until we knew whether they were a boy or a girl. Our first appointment with my OB was all lined up at seven weeks, but I started spotting about a week before that. We were concerned, but not overly so because we both knew that spotting in early pregnancy is quite normal. I spoke about it with my mother, my massage therapist and my GP’s nurse and they all told me not to be alarmed as long as the spotting remained light and brown in color, which it did. I had been having cramping since the beginning of my pregnancy along with occasional backaches, but these didn’t worsen either, so after a few days we were back to our usual habits and no longer worried about the spotting. When we visited my OB a few weeks later, he seemed more worried than we expected him to be. He requested I undergo an ultrasound to make sure my pregnancy was not ectopic. Our baby was right where he should have been, safe in my uterus. He was measuring small but seemed okay otherwise. Since Jasper was so tiny, it was too soon to see his heartbeat, so my OB asked me to come in for a follow up two weeks later and handed me a referral for a D&C in case I miscarried in the meantime and began hemorrhaging. We left the clinic far more excited to have a picture of our baby than concerned about my doctor’s skepticism. Twenty four hours later our excitement turned to panic when my spotting and cramps suddenly worsened. My OB only kept office hours Monday through Wednesday so we called 811, a phone line here in Quebec where you can speak to a nurse at any time of the day or night. The nurse we spoke to was incredibly kind and patient and put the increase in spotting down to the transvaginal ultrasound the technician had performed the day before. He told my husband and I not to worry, but to head to the hospital if the bleeding became heavy or if I began experiencing very severe cramping. Things stayed stable that evening and through the next day until I suddenly began passing tissue. I called my husband who came home from work and we walked down to the local emergency clinic. They turned us away because they had no ultrasound technician on duty, so we walked further down the street to the hospital ER. We had left home with me just wearing a pantyliner to handle any further bleeding, never expecting the ER staff would keep a woman who was potentially miscarrying waiting for hours before being seen by a doctor, but we were wrong. It was the Friday before Canada Day and since we were not very experienced with ERs, we didn’t know the holiday would affect how the hospital was staffed. When we arrived at the hospital at 5:00 P.M., we found out that the gynecology department was closed, so the ER was going to be our lot. I was triaged and apparently classified as a non-urgent case because I was not doubled over in pain and bleeding all over the ER floor. I was reassessed after two hours and sent back to the waiting room and two hours after that at 9:00 PM I began bleeding more heavily, so we went back to the triage nurse and told him that I was worse. I had been asked twice so far how many pads I was bleeding through in an hour and when the triage nurse asked me the question again I lost it. I began sobbing and told him I didn’t know how many pads I would be going through, that I didn’t just sit in the waiting room waiting to bleed through my pantyliner so I could stain my clothes. I told him that when I felt like I was going to bleed, I went to the washroom but that the toilet flushed so quickly I couldn’t tell how much I was bleeding, I could only tell him it felt worse. Then he asked me about my pain and I tried to explain that I was used to very painful periods, so my opinion of my pain was skewed. I wasn’t about to lie and tell him it was horrible because it wasn’t. I did, however, tell him that I found it horrible that no one seemed to care that I was miscarrying, that there was clearly something very wrong with my baby and that I couldn’t believe no one was trying to find out what was going on. The nurse handed me a box of tissues, told me he was sorry but that there was nothing they could do to save my pregnancy if I was indeed miscarrying and sent my husband and I back to the waiting room after bumping us up the triage queue. We were called by another nurse shortly thereafter who drew my blood and directed us to a private waiting room with a bathroom so I could manage my bleeding more easily. We saw the ER doctor two hours later around 11:00 P.M. He asked us a few questions about my pregnancy and then left, telling us he would come back when he had the results of my blood tests. At 12:30 A.M. he came back, told us my HCG levels were still elevated, that my hemoglobin was still good and that we could go home. We asked about an ultrasound and he said there was no tech on duty because of the holiday but he did examine me and told us that my bleeding was coming from where the placenta should be. He told us there was nothing more he could do and that we would know within 24 hours to a week if my pregnancy would continue or not and that sometimes women who bled as I did went on to give birth to healthy babies. My husband and I walked home feeling like our going to the hospital had been a complete waste of time. It was 1:00 A.M. by the time we got to bed. I had put a proper pad on, one of the 10 overnight pads I wore for my periods. I woke up with a start two hours later when I hemorrhaged. I had bled through the pad, my underwear and the flat sheet on our bed. I had blood up to my navel. My husband stripped the bed while I got into the shower and washed myself off. While I was in there I went cold and returned to bed shaking. I told my husband that if I had a similar bleed again to call 911. Thankfully this did not occur and we were able to sleep through the night. I miscarried that afternoon. I had never heard my husband sob before that day and the sound broke my heart nearly as much as losing our much loved, precious Jasper did. It had taken us so long to conceive him and he meant the world to us and yet my body hadn’t been able to carry him to term.
I was very unwell in the week that followed my miscarriage. I had lost enough blood to render me anemic yet despite this and how broken hearted my husband and I were, we already knew we wanted to try to have another baby. We started trying again once I was recovered and luckily, getting pregnant was quite easy again the third time around. I tested positive in November and my husband and I named this baby Chase, which is a shortened version of the french word ‘’chanceux’’, which means lucky. We were determined that this baby would be our lucky one, the one that we would finally be able to hold in our arms. I was far less nauseous with this pregnancy and had more energy as well, but my mental health was taking a hit. I suffered from anxiety nearly from the moment I found out I was expecting. I checked for spotting every time I went to the bathroom and was suspicious about every backache I developed. Once I had made it past the sixth week of my pregnancy with no sign of any spotting, I relaxed a bit. I also started taking prenatal yoga classes once a week which did wonders to soothe my mind and any aches I was having in my body. At week eight I finally managed to convince myself that everything was going to work out for the best, so we decided to announce our pregnancy to my husband’s family at a joint birthday celebration for he and his mother. I was completely distraught when I began spotting a few days after the celebration. We put off going to the hospital, hoping the spotting would stop. When it hadn’t the following morning, I told my husband I wanted to head to the ER for peace of mind. It was three days before Christmas and I did not want to end up in the same situation we had been in with Jasper, with no gynecology services due to a holiday. We headed to the hospital after breakfast and spent the better part of the day there. I knew something was terribly wrong when the ER ultrasound tech couldn’t find our baby, let alone its heartbeat. At nearly nine weeks and this not being my first pregnancy, that was far from normal. We were sent up to the gynecology department so a more trained eye could have a look. The OB found Chase right away, but he was far too small. He was measuring six weeks and six days. He wasn’t moving, his heart wasn’t beating, there was no indication that he was still growing at all. The doctor requested that we return in two days’ time, on Christmas Eve, for a second ultrasound because sometimes, he said, babies can be surprising and two days can make all the difference. He didn’t look as hopeful as his words sounded though and he handed us a referral for the Repeated Pregnancy Loss Clinic and told us that he hoped very much we wouldn’t need it.
Over the next two days, my spotting worsened and I began to experience an increase in backaches and cramping. The tiny bump I had developed slowly disappeared and I broke out in pimples. I had spoken with my mother about what was happening, but no one else knew of our troubles because we didn’t want to dampen anyone’s holiday spirit with our tale of woe. We returned to the hospital on Christmas Eve as instructed. The second ultrasound was done by a technician only. There was only one OB in the hospital that day and it was a very busy day. We were kept waiting for hours in the ER, nearly nine hours to be exact, before the OB finally came down and told us that Chase was dead. He had been dead for two and a half weeks. We were so shocked that this was happening to us again but beyond that I felt something shift inside me. It was as if the part of me that had allowed me to trust life implicitly, to always believe that things would work out for the best, died along with my baby. My body had retained my pregnancy for so long that I was beginning to fall ill. That and the blood loss I had suffered when I had miscarried Jasper led me to the decision to undergo a D&C that same evening. My husband fully supported my decision. I underwent the procedure that same evening and have never been happier to have been drugged into oblivion. The only coherent emotion I felt for the remainder of that evening was disappointment that I couldn’t drink my homemade eggnog for the 24 hours it would take the narcotics to fully leave my system. My husband got us into a taxi and broke down in sobs as soon as we got home from the hospital. He was sad about the baby, he told me, but he was more upset by how frightened he had been of losing me when everything had gone so wrong, so quickly. I held him and we cried together.
We were quite busy with family and friends over the following week. What we heard most often from people was that they couldn’t believe we were keeping up with most of our holiday commitments. What they didn’t see was how many times I went to bed and sobbed myself to sleep in my husband’s arms. Keeping a brave face during the day so I didn’t suck all the joy out of my family’s holidays took quite the toll. The day after the last party at our place our Christmas tree was out the door and our decorations were boxed up and back in the basement. I wanted absolutely no reminders of how our Christmas had turned into a nightmare.
My husband and I haven’t tried to conceive again since losing Chase. We agreed that we both needed to take the time to heal from our successive losses before deciding if we want to attempt another pregnancy, especially since we know that I would be very closely monitored by a specialist for the first twelve weeks of that pregnancy. We have never come out of a pregnancy related doctors appointment with good news, so the thought of having to undergo regular testing and waiting for results every week is more than a little frightening. What we have done, however, is put our names down on an interest list for adoption from South Korea. We have to wait one year before we can submit a file for application because South Korea requires that adopting couples be married for a minimum of three years, but after everything we have gone through in the past year, a year is not that long to wait if we have a chance to finally hold a child of ours in arms without being terrified of experiencing another miscarriage. In the meantime, we are healing and trying to learn to trust that life has beautiful things in store for us again.
2) How has it made your life worse? How has it made your life better?
A bit less than one month after we lost Chase, my husband and I met a wonderful doctor who specializes in fertility treatments and investigating cases of repeated pregnancy loss. Both my husband and I underwent genetic testing and I underwent a plethora of other tests. I had no idea that Montreal even had a publicly funded repeated pregnancy loss clinic. Knowing that such a clinic existed made me feel much less isolated and stigmatized. So far, they have found no cause for our losses which opened up a whole new pot of grief and insecurity for us but on the other hand, at least we know that I do not have any serious health issues that would completely bar us from trying to conceive again if we want to. I have also come to appreciate just how fortunate my husband and I are to have such a wonderful support system in place. I don’t know what we would have done without the support of our family and friends through all of this.
3) When & how did you realize that you were going to be able to carry on after infertility/miscarriage?
I am the type of person who carries on no matter what, so not carrying on was never really an option for me. No matter how I feel emotionally when I wake up, I will still get out of bed in the morning and get on with life as much as possible, even if it means I need to take an hour out of my day to rest or have a good cry.
4) What have you learned through this experience?
I have learned that anyone can experience pregnancy loss, no matter how healthy, careful, and educated they are. I have also learned just how solitary an experience pregnancy loss is. I had no clue how many women around me had experienced miscarriages until I began to speak about mine. I find it so incredibly sad that so many women suffer in silence and I hope that we, as a society, can change this.
5) What do you hold on to for hope/courage/strength on your bad days?
My husband is my saviour on my worst days. He knows how to help me verbalize my grief but never pushes me to speak about it until I am ready. I also have a few mementos from Jasper and Chase’s pregnancies. A grey, knitted stuffed bunny from Jasper and his ultrasound picture and from Chase I have, among other things, a watercolor of a fox. We set these up on a shelf in what will one day be the nursery and I will often go in there to look at them.
6) How do you feel about your experience with infertility on your good days?
On my good days, my experience with infertility makes me feel empowered. My infertility diagnosis was the first time I did not take a doctor’s word at face value and it pushed me to take control of my health. To any women reading this who receive a diagnosis of infertility due to fibroids: Get a second opinion! Fibroid induced infertility is reversible in many cases, so always, always advocate for yourselves until you find someone to take a proper look at your case.
7) In three words describe yourself before/during/after miscarriage (in miscarriage specific situations)?
Hopeful. Fragile. Transformed.
8) In what ways has your experience with infertility/miscarriage changed you as a person?
My experience with infertility and miscarriage has changed me massively. Infertility and how it allowed me to take control of my health empowered me and I felt so confident after our first miscarriage that my husband and I would be able to build our family naturally. Since our third miscarriage I feel like I have lost some of my spark. I have always wanted to be a mother and spent my life looking forward to pregnancy and the joy it would bring. Coming to terms with the fact that something I have always desired so deeply now terrifies me has been very difficult.
9) How have others responded to your infertility situations? Has it impacted your relationships? What are some things you’ve been told that have been helpful/harmful?
Most people have responded with compassion and understanding. The most helpful thing that people have said to me is that they cannot imagine how I am feeling but that they are always ready to listen if I need to talk and I am so grateful that for the most part, that is all I have experienced. As with everything though, there have been a few bad apples in my bushel. One of the worst situations arose the day before we lost our first pregnancy. We were at a family function and I had been spotting for a few days at this point. Seated at our table was a man my husband and I barely knew who made it his mission to attempt to pick apart our private life and discover why, after being married three weeks shy of one year, I was still not pregnant. We kept trying to change the subject until he looked right into my eyes and said “Maybe you are childless because you don’t want children.’’ Words cannot express how shocked, horrified, and hurt I was by his comment. My husband promised me we would never see that man again.
10) Tell us about you. What are your hobbies/passions/pursuits?
I enjoy singing. I began singing in a choir in my second year of university and continued right through until February of this year. I gave it up because it was taking too much out of me to pretend I was okay and try to socialize in such a large group. I’ll go back to singing in the fall, but in a smaller, more intimate choir. I also take a pilates class every week and when I quit singing, I took up horseback riding again. I rode throughout my adolescence and had been wanting to go back to it for a while, but pregnancy was preventing it. Since our pregnancy plans are on the backburner I made the leap and spending time in a stable surrounded by horses for a few hours every week has been marvellous. Finally, I am a foodie. I love going to one of Montreal’s many farmer’s markets every week and putting beautiful meals together. I have an entire bookshelf off our kitchen filled with cookbooks and I love adding more to my collection on a regular basis.
11) What is your favourite quote?
"Let us be grateful to people who make us happy; they are the charming gardeners who make our souls blossom."- Marcel Proust
"Listen to the mustn'ts child, listen to the don'ts.
Listen to the shouldn'ts the impossibles and won'ts.
Listen to the never haves then listen close to me.
Anything can happen child, anything can be."