I’ve been in love before. I’ve told family members, boys, friends, food, clothes and even dogs that I love them before. But it wasn’t until just recently, at the age of 31 and married for five years, that I learned how to love. What it meant to love. And what I would ultimately see given for that love.
My husband, Pete, is 9 years older than me, so he’s been itching to have babies since he put a shiny diamond ring on my finger. I, on the other hand, being the more finance-minded of the two, had a business to build, a laundry list of monthly bills we needed to pay and lots of bucket list items – like traveling the world – that I wanted to cross off first.
Well, I built my business, he got promoted and we traveled. So, a few years ago, Pete and I inevitably had “the talk.” And by talk I mean Pete casually mentioned that he stopped taking his medicines so we could start having babies and I got mad at him.
Pete has a severe case of Rheumatoid Arthritis. He was diagnosed with it about a year before I met him. But they caught it early and his medicines kept it under control. You’d never know that the man I married – who climbed a tree to be funny for our engagement pictures and jumps around on stage when he sings in a band – has an “old lady’s disease” that once crippled those who had it. The only bad thing about those medicines is that they can (ahem, will) cause birth defects if taking them while trying to conceive.
|A photo from Pete and Amy’s engagement session|
He knew I’d never just wake up one day and decide that we had enjoyed our restful nights, flexible schedules, savings account and time together enough to suddenly declare “It’s time for children!” So, he went off his meds as his way of ringing the proverbial alarm clock. Unfortunately, there was no snooze button on this one. Once you go off these medicines, you’re off, and it’s tough to ramp up again. So, naturally, to any alarm without a snooze, anger was my first response.
“How could he be so selfish? How could he just make this big decision without me? It’s my body — shouldn’t I be the one to tell him when I’m ready?” I remember asking my mom these things, thinking she would side with me like usual and we could enjoy a good little boy-bashing session. But she didn’t. She said to give it time to sink in, and that she bet a couple years from now, I’d be glad he did that. At the time, I thought she couldn’t be more wrong. But, of course, as moms usually are… she was very right.
After Pete had been off his meds for six months, we were cleared for Mission: Baby Making. I was still mad at him (isn’t it amazing how us women hold on to these things?) but I must admit, “trying” was fun, so I went along with it. About four months into it, we were getting ready for a dinner date and I realized I should have started my period the week prior. I didn’t think much of it because sometimes I’m a few days early or late — no big deal. So I quickly took a test to be sure. One line showed up like usual. I washed my hands and powdered my face one last time, thinking, “Life can go on as usual for at least another month! Whew!” But, as I went to throw it away, I noticed a faint second line that I had never seen before. As the faint line got darker, my face got more pale. Feeling light-headed, confused and mad that now I couldn’t have a drink at dinner even though it was a long, hard week at work, I stumbled with wide eyes into the next room to show Pete the test.
I’ve never seen so much joy fill up a person’s face so quickly. He just squeaked “baby!” and hugged me so tight I thought I’d pop. And I almost did — with fear, anxiety and an uncontrollable urge to scream “I’m not ready yet!” But I held back. I didn’t want to rain on his parade. Pete was so clearly happy, he almost bounced into the car and into the restaurant, as I slugged along behind him as if my entire body was filled with tar. I remember just sitting there at dinner, sipping on my water, nibbling at my food thinking “This is it. Water for 9 months. Can you even eat Indian food while pregnant? What did I eat yesterday? Sushi. Crap. I’m ruining it already. Horrible mom.” Meanwhile, Pete’s talking about names, colors for the room, and how we’ll tell our parents.
I slept on it and did feel a little better the next day. Still not excited yet, but I was at least “ok” with being pregnant. We soon told our parents and close friends, I did some reading on the foods you shouldn’t eat while pregnant, and made my first OB appointment for April 24, 2012.
The day before that appointment – where I’d hear the heartbeat and see this living creature inside me for the first time – I remember feeling a little off. Headache, tired, stomach ache. You name it, I had it. “And so it begins,” I thought. “All the dreaded side effects of pregnancy. Better get used to it, you’ve got 8 more months of it.” I had started spotting that afternoon, but my mother-in-law said that’s common and fairly normal. So, I lounged around all day and eventually went to bed. Then it happened.
I woke up in the middle of the night with the most excruciating pains I’ve ever felt in my entire life. As if someone put scorching hot coals into my abdomen and my body was doing everything it could to get them out. I ran to the bathroom and looked down to see a toilet filling with blood. All I could do was scream at the top of my lungs. Scream because I was scared. Scream because I knew it was ending. Scream because all the sudden I wanted that baby more than ever. Scream because I was so foolish to not want it until it was so violently being taken from me.
The screaming eventually stopped but the bleeding didn’t. Since I already had an appointment, I went to see my doctor that morning. But instead of hearing those miraculous first beats of the little baby’s growing heart, the ultrasound confirmed I had already passed the fetus and I was no longer a mom-to-be.
I gathered up my things, passed all the pregnant women in the waiting room, walked as quickly to my car as I possibly could, and as I shut the car door, I burst out in tears. I cried for what felt like an eternity. Tears of physical pain, emotional hurt, mental anguish, but most of all, I cried because I was truly, genuinely sad to no longer be pregnant. Who was this person? Just months ago, I thought I’d be relieved to have my life back to normal now. But I realized, in that car, sitting in my OB’s parking lot, with my face in my hands overflowing with tears, I was ready. It had to be taken away from me to realize I wanted it back. But I was ready.
Unlike most things in life, this new goal couldn’t be achieved with my usual “work hard, get results” kind of attitude. We rode the emotional roller coaster called “trying” for more than a year, until Pete waved the white flag. The pain in his joints – just masked by steroids for the past couple years since he went off his RA meds – was just too much to handle. We needed to bite the bullet (and bills) to seek the help of a fertility clinic.
While, deep down, I was disappointed that our “love child” would be more like a “test tube baby,” I knew it’s what we needed to do to get Pete feeling better and for us to finally be parents. So, I met with a fertility specialist doctor – a warm, gentle, older man – who walked me through the process. We’d try three months of inseminations (a high-tech turkey baster), and if that didn’t work we’d do IVF (in vitro fertilization). Fast forward past a surgery to clear my tubes (did you know the pathway of your fallopian tubes is just the width of a strand of hair?) and three months of unsuccessful inseminations, it was time to call in the big dogs of IVF. I was hoping it wouldn’t come to this because, frankly, it’s super expensive, and it involved a lot of needles. I hate needles. Hate.
But we signed on the dotted line. A box containing hundreds of three-inch-long needles and countless vials of medicines soon arrived on our doorstep. I went to a seminar with other hopeful-moms-to-be to learn how to use those needles because for the next few months, I’d be giving myself multiple shots in multiple different body parts to force over-ovulation so they could get – and fertilize – as many eggs as safely possible. I had to give these to myself morning, afternoon and night. My modesty quickly disappeared as I found myself more times than I’d like to admit sitting in my car with my pants down, injecting a huge needle into my thigh like a drug addict because I needed a shot before an appointment or event.
The shots worked because come Nov. 8, 2013, I went in for a procedure where they retrieved 21 healthy eggs. Then, as my doctor so technically put it, he “let them party in a petrie dish with Pete’s stuff” and we got daily updates on how many party animals were turning into embryos. Eight began to form, but after watching their progress for five days, only two turned out to be healthy enough to continue growing in the womb. So, we had them implant both embryos and I was on bed rest for two days.
While on bed rest, Pete was pretty much bed-ridden too. His joints were feeling worse than ever, so he went to see a new rheumatologist whose office was closer to his work. She did a scan of his hips – which were the most painful of all his joints – and immediately confirmed that he needed a double hip replacement. He came home with the news and I was completely shocked. I knew he complained of pain, and I could hear his hips occasionally pop when he’d walk or move, but double hip replacement? At age 40?
Luckily, he got a surgery appointment with one of the best hip surgeons in the city, who specializes in a less-invasive procedure with a much quicker recovery time. Surgery was set for Dec. 2, so all we could do until then was wait, seeing his pain increase dramatically every day as the steroids continued to wear off. He works mornings and wears a suit every day. For someone with RA, mornings are the most painful. Tying a tie and putting on a suit? Nothing short of an Olympic event. There would be some mornings that he’d get up two hours before needing to leave the house and still need help getting out on time.
Fixing an occasional collar or buttoning a difficult button soon turned into helping him bathe and dress from head to painful toe. One morning, as I helped him into the shower, he just looked at me, with complete desperation and defeat in his greenish-brown eyes, and said, “I can’t do it today. I just can’t. I’m sorry.” It was about a week and a half before his surgery was scheduled, and we had planned for him to work up until then. But he just couldn’t do it any more and I knew not to push him. So, we set him up on disability, and just waited for surgery.
I was getting occasional blood work done throughout November so my doctor could track my levels. I knew I’d be getting a call from them two days before Thanksgiving with the results of our IVF. Success or failure, no in between.
And there it was. Two days before Thanksgiving. My phone rang and my doctor’s number flashed up on the screen. I answered, carefully scanning the tone of the nurse’s first words. She kept a good poker voice, at first telling me that my blood tests came in … yes, yes??? … “and you’re pregnant!” she said, breaking all emotional ambiguity. “This is just one small step on a very long journey,” she cautioned, “but congratulations. We’ll see you in a few weeks for your first ultrasound.”
I couldn’t believe it. I was pregnant. I was so happy. And I was already falling in love with this little being growing inside of me that I had prayed for with squinted eyes and wished upon countless stars for over the past year and a half.
I couldn’t wait to tell Pete. There he sat, 19 months after I first told him I was pregnant. This time, though, he was pale, deformed and nearly crippled with pain. But I again filled that man’s face with complete and pure joy as I shared the good news. We embraced, and this time we were both happy. We had both worked for it, sacrificed for it and already loved it more than it would ever know.
We shared our news cautiously with family on Thanksgiving, making them swear to secrecy. A few days later, we held onto that good news with a white-knuckled grip as Pete prepped for surgery. I didn’t tell him this, but I tossed and turned the entire night before his surgery. Suddenly realizing he was going under anesthesia for almost an entire day, they were sawing off the top of his femur in one of the most vascular areas of his body, and something could easily go very very wrong. But when he awoke, I didn’t share my fears. I stayed strong and gave words of encouragement even though I wanted to melt into a scared, sleepless, sobbing puddle.
I wheeled him into the surgery prep area, and the nurse told us where the waiting room was. I kissed him on the forehead as she took him away. He looked back and waved. I waved back, smiling on the outside, but terrified on the inside with the thought of being one surgeon’s mistake away from being a widowed, single mom.
Pete’s mom, dad and I sat in that waiting room looking at a screen that showed the status of each patient: pre-surgery, surgery, and post-surgery. During surgery, the nurse came out and said the first leg bled much more than expected but they just completed it and had started on the second. What? Bled more than expected? Was he ok? Will he be ok? We didn’t ask questions. We just waited.
After a long 13-hour day of waiting, the nurse came out to say the surgery was complete, they were waiting for him to wake from the anesthesia, and that we could see him in a few minutes. We all exhaled as if we had been holding our breath under water the entire time. The nurse ushered us back into the post-surgery room, where I saw my husband for the first time in what felt like a lifetime. Even though his hair was back in a hair net, skin was yellow from anesthesia, and mind was groggy from just waking up, my heart fluttered. I ran to him and fell madly, deeply, in love with him all over again in that room. There he was, enduring so much pain and this epically dangerous surgery, all for us. For our family. So he could be a dad and I could be a mom.
|Pete waking up from his 13-hour surgery|
He stayed in the hospital for four days after surgery, and despite some horrible snow storms that week, his family and I all stayed by his side to make sure he was rarely alone. He finally returned home, and a week after he did, we had my first ultrasound appointment. The same appointment that had been such a turning point in my last pregnancy. The day before the appointment, I reflected on how differently I felt this time around. How happy I was. And, actually, how thankful I was for the lessons learned from my failed pregnancy because it taught me how to love, care for and talk to this little peanut inside of me as if it were already here in my arms.
Even though Pete was still bandaged from surgery and barely able to walk, he wanted to be there with me for this important appointment. So, we packed up the car and wheeled his walker in there together. As we sat in the room before the ultrasound began, my doctor cautioned us that we may or may not see a fetus or hear a heartbeat. If we see it and hear a heartbeat, the chance for miscarriage immediately decreases to only 5%. As I laid back and got ready for the ultrasound, I said a little prayer. “Please, oh please, let there be a heartbeat. I’m ready. We’re ready…” and before I could finish, the doctor began the scan and within a few seconds said “We have a fetus… and a heartbeat!”
I couldn’t hold back the tears. They started flowing, and through welled-up eyes, I watched as the doctor pointed at a flickering on the screen “That’s your baby’s heartbeat,” he smiled. Our miracle. Our everything we’ve been working for the past two years. Our dream come true. Our child.
|Amy with her new baby bump|
We drove home with ear-to-ear smiles that probably weirded out everyone we passed on the highway. We put print outs of the ultrasound by our bed and on our fridge. We emailed them to friends and family, finally more confident that we had a healthy baby on the way.
But that confidence quickly drained as I went to the bathroom the next day and saw blood. Oh no. Not again. But we saw a heartbeat. The ultrasound. The flicker. The 5%. No no no, not again. I wanted it this time. I prayed for it this time. I loved it this time.
With shaky hands, I dialed my fertility clinic’s emergency line, talked to a doctor, and made an appointment for when they opened in three hours. In the meantime, I went online and found every possible reason – some horrible and some harmless – for bleeding after a heartbeat is detected. Expecting the worst, I drove to my doctor’s office with glazed eyes and a hardened heart. The doctor on-call said on the phone that she would do an ultrasound to see what was going on and if the baby was still ok. I pictured this ultrasound being like my first from two years ago. An empty screen. Oh, please God, no. Not the black empty screen of death again. Please let me see the flicker. Please let me see life.
I sat trembling on the examination table as she began the scan. And there it was. The flicker. The little life. Still there. Just this time with a clot below the placenta that the doctor said looks to have stopped as soon as it started, and the pregnancy still looked healthy. I couldn’t believe it. I was still a mom-to-be.
I drove home and resisted the urge to call Pete because I wanted to tell him in person that everything was fine. I walked in the house to find that he had wheeled his walker over to the kitchen where the ultrasound picture hung, his head leaning on the fridge with his hand outlining the little baby’s form on the page. He looked up at me, his eyes searching for answers. I hugged him and told him my reassuring news that the baby was alive and well.
Today, we’re at week 16 of 40, and the nurse’s words still echo in my mind… “one small step on a very long journey”… but I write this knowing that whatever happens, this whole process has taught me so much. Not just that I want to be a mom. It’s something much bigger than that. It’s taught me how to love. How to fall in love with my husband all over again, after he teetered on the brink of life and death for 13 hours sacrificing for our family. How to fall in love with a flicker on a screen, a flutter in my tummy and my soon-to-be child who taught me that the most difficult paths lead to the most beautiful places.