It seems completely surreal that I am writing this post. There were so many months in the last year and a half that I never knew if we'd get pregnant again let alone get to this point in pregnancy (just past the first trimester - I am almost 15 weeks pregnant writing this). Although it's hard to relive and share such vulnerable personal information, I know we're not alone in the infertility journey and all the major fears and doubts that come along with it. We hope sharing our story will bring you hope, a place to belong (you are not alone in this battle), and maybe some new insight. Hearing other infertility stories and how they made it through helped us tremendously in our journey.
I want to add a disclaimer that none of this is medical advice but merely our story. Please talk with your doctor/healthcare provider whenever you want to try something new (a new supplement, test, etc.) Everyone's body is unique and a qualified professional should be working with you and monitoring you to make sure you're doing what's best for you. I also want to give a "trigger" warning. For anyone who has experienced loss and struggles reading about it, please skip to the "Losing Hope & Building Fear" section. I decided to give the details of our miscarriage for a few reasons - to document it for ourselves, to advocate for those who have been through it but aren't ready to talk about it, and to give knowledge to those who may not know what it's like. Unfortunately, my doctor at the time did not do a great job of describing what could happen and I believe this previous knowledge would have helped me be better prepared and less afraid.
I want this to be a place of vulnerability, hope, and maybe some fresh ideas. You will always get all the details and honest truth here. So, let's dive in.
Gannon and I began trying to conceive in October of 2018 and, to our surprise, got pregnant right away. We found out the Wednesday before we were moving from our apartment into our first home. You could say Gannon was a little stressed about it all happening at once, but I was elated! My fairy tale dreams of owning a home and having my own family were all coming true at the same time! It was almost too much excitement to handle.
Unfortunately, we miscarried around the 6-week mark on December 3rd, 2018. I found out I was pregnant only a few days before miscarrying though (because I had just come off of the birth control pill and wasn't sure what my cycle looked like - so when it was "late" I didn't suspect pregnancy right away). The whole process of knowing, getting excited, making plans, and then experiencing loss all happened really fast. The actual miscarriage itself just felt like an extra heavy cycle. We were devastated, but also hadn't planned to get pregnant so soon so we figured we would just try again. We read that 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage, so while it was devastating, we felt like it might be somewhat normal. We were hopeful our chances would be better the next time around. Maybe we got our "1 in 4" out of the way - if that was a thing?
We waited for one cycle to begin trying again, as recommended by my OB, and in January we quickly conceived again. I thought I was "Fertile Myrtle" over here! This time, I was tracking like crazy and knew 6 days before my missed cycle that we were pregnant (the earliest you can take a test). We were so excited to have a second chance. During this pregnancy, I experienced almost no symptoms, other than a little breast tenderness and some nausea just a couple of times. We went to our first sonogram at 6 weeks (shown below), a little earlier than normal due to our previous loss. It was exciting and encouraging to see something happening, although there wasn't much to see! Around 7 weeks, I noticed some bleeding and we went in again only to see a small heartbeat trying it's hardest to beat, but was slow. They predicted it was slowing down rather than speeding up as it should have been at that point. They informed us that we were most likely miscarrying again but recommended that we come back in a couple of days to see if the heart had completely stopped to confirm the loss. At that point, they would schedule the D&C surgery to remove the baby. The next couple of days we prayed and felt helpless. We couldn't believe this was possibly happening again. We came back to find the heart completely stopped and scheduled the surgery a few days out, at their first available time slot.
The next few days were really hard and confusing. I knew I still had our baby inside me, but it wasn't living. I was bleeding and cramping at this point but it was light. I don't think I'll ever forget the feeling I had those few days - battling between wanting the baby out and at rest and not being ready to let it go.
One day before the scheduled surgery, I began experiencing heavy bleeding, severe cramping, diarrhea, and nausea. It was pretty scary and I had never experienced anything like it. I didn't know it at the time, but I was actually in a mini "labor" of sorts and was experiencing contractions. My body was trying to naturally miscarry and I had no idea. After several hours, a lot of blood loss, and the pain becoming unbearable, we finally decided we should go to the hospital around 10 pm. After a long and what seemed to be a pointless overnight hospital visit (that story is for another day), we ended up returning home and the baby came out (for lack of a better word) or was "delivered" in our bathroom 1 hour before the D&C surgery was scheduled on February 28th, 2019. Looking back, it was one of the most physically and emotionally traumatic events Gannon and I had ever experienced, but I'm grateful for the way it ended. Because my body was able to miscarry naturally, I healed quickly and my cycles came back right on track the next month. I know this isn't always the case after having the surgery - and there can be complications. So, I praised God for allowing my body to do what it did naturally. We were finally able to put our second child to rest and begin our grieving process.
Because this miscarriage was much more severe and traumatic than our first, we decided to wait a couple of months before actively trying again. But when the time came, we didn't conceive right away as we had before. And we didn't again the next month. And again. And again. And again. We weren't able to conceive again for about a year. We began to experience another side of infertility that we didn't expect to; not being able to/struggling to get pregnant.
Losing Hope and Building Fear
There were so many times during this past year that I told myself, "it's possible that God has written our story with no biological children, and I have to learn to be ok with that". I hated saying that or accepting it, but it seemed to be the only way I could cope with the losses and the unknown.
In April of 2019, I joined an infertility support group called Shiloh through my church, Watermark, in Dallas, TX. It helped me immensely. Through the program, I realized that I did not only long to have children and be a mother, but I completely idolized it. It was my "ultimate" goal, something I identified my purpose in. I felt like I wasn't only mourning the losses of my babies or any future children, but my own identity. I felt like God was really doing a work in my heart during this time of suffering, showing me all the areas that I put this world before Him. Even though it was comforting to come to this realization and continue to deepen my relationship with God, it didn't make it any easier.
There were still days that my anxiety and fear over our situation seemed debilitating. Friends and family did their best to help, but there just never seemed to be any words that could make me feel better - other than scripture. Comments like "you're so young" and "at least it happened early on" seemed to want to dismiss our pain and very real fear. We understood that it's a situation where most people feel uncomfortable discussing it and just are not sure what to say. If you're struggling through this right now, try to remember your friends and family only have good intentions and truly do want the best for you. I regret some of the relationships that I distanced due to my misinterpretation of their words.
Mindset & Intimacy
Intimacy in the midst of infertility was...weird. So much was planned, scheduled, and sometimes unromantic. I even cried in the middle of intimate moments, I hate to admit, as I began to associate intimacy with possible pregnancy and therefore potential loss. Our mindset suffered greatly around intimacy and I know this isn't uncommon in the infertility journey. It was weird to us that other couples could conceive in a "fun" way and totally unexpectedly.
If we could go back, I think I would have "tracked" my cycle a few times to see when I was ovulating. If it was regular, I would have stopped tracking - but rather I trusted that I knew "around" the time I was ovulating. This way there could be less planning and more spontaneity. Healthy intimacy is incredibly important in a marriage and we saw the negative effects it had when it becomes an unhealthy part of infertility. Always remember that your spouse is on your team, not just a means to get pregnant, and someone you fell in love with. Enjoy intimacy and the time you have with them. If you've never dealt with infertility, these comments may seem odd or hard to understand, but I'm being real, raw, and honest.
What We Did Differently
Finally, a year later, in eerily almost the exact same time frame (to the day) as the last pregnancy, we did conceive naturally. The first question I get all the time is: what did you do differently?! They wanted to know in regards to getting pregnant and keeping the child longer this time. So, I put together everything I could think of below - and maybe these things did help - but it might have just been that God said, "it's time", and that's that.
Testing - Shortly after the second miscarriage, we decided to get some testing done. It seemed like we had no problem getting pregnant at the time, rather carrying a baby to full term, so only I got it done. It was an extensive blood work panel that looked at everything from blood clotting factors to immune abnormalities to gene mutations. Everything came back normal except for a heterozygous mutation for MTHFR (a type of genetic mutation). Essentially this means that my body has a tough time with methylation - a process by which your body's genes, enzymes, and biochemicals receive methyl groups that they need to function properly. This can affect one's detoxification, antioxidant production, cell repair, brain chemistry, energy production, genetic expression, immune response, inflammation and more. In practical terms, this can look like: energy levels dropping, mental outlook suffering, metabolism getting out of whack, hormones going nuts, cardiovascular issues, and possible recurrent miscarriage in early pregnancy. As you can imagine, this test actually did more for me than just an infertility test - it really helped me begin to understand myself, how my body works, my personality even, etc. It was actually a true blessing that I may not have known about had I not experienced the previous miscarriages. This is genetic, so I told my family to get tested as well. The MTHFR gene mutation requires a blog post all in its own - but for now and in regards to infertility, this means I need to supplement with extra folate to properly support the health and development of our growing baby. My body cannot properly methylate folic acid into folate (the absorbable form) - a crucial nutrient needed for brain and neural tube health. There is not enough research to show that this mutation can directly cause miscarriage or supplementing with folate would prevent it, but it doesn't hurt and certainly just helps my body function more efficiently.
Supplements - For my first two pregnancies, I had only been taking prenatal vitamins for a month or two. This may not have been long enough for my body to build up the stores required to carry a healthy baby, especially after coming off of the birth control pill (many nutrients are depleted here, especially b vitamins, including folic acid/folate). For this pregnancy, I had over a year of nutrient stores plus an added folate supplement due to my MTHFR gene mutation results. I also worked on healing my gut (removing food sensitivities, eating low inflammatory foods, supplementing with gut-healing nutrients such as collagen, l-glutamine, bone broth, etc.) and took immune-boosting supplements such as vitamin C, vitamin D, and zinc. A couple of months leading up to conceiving, Gannon began taking supplements as well. My main concern was zinc, as this can help with sperm count and motility. He was also on a probiotic, vitamin C, and some liver supporting nutrients (specifically catered to his needs based on testing in my practice).
Ava Bracelet - About 6 months before we conceived, I partnered with Ava Women and received their fertility tracking bracelet. It is clinically proven to identify both the opening and closing of the fertile window by tracking five physiological factors. These include skin temperature, resting pulse rate, heart rate variability ratio, perfusion (blood circulation factor), and breathing rate. I used OPKs (ovulation predictor kits) simultaneously for a while to see if this bracelet was accurate, and it was! It made the fertility process so much easier and less stressful. All you have to do is wear it at night and sync it with your phone in the morning - it does everything else for you! I've attached an example of part of my chart for one cycle for your reference. Click here to get $20 off if you decide this might be a helpful tool for you as well.
Cut out caffeine - I think this may have been one of the biggest and hardest changes leading up to conceiving. I completely cut out coffee/caffeine about 1 month before we conceived. I actually mostly did it to help my skin! I noticed it was possibly contributing to some of the acne along my jawline. I think it was the caffeine - adrenal - hormonal connection. Once I became pregnant, I was told to continue limiting caffeine (because I was considered "high-risk"). Man, I do miss my coffee - let me TELL you. But it is 100% worth it.
Vacation - a couple of weeks before we conceived, we traveled to Seattle to visit family for Christmas and then took a trip to Disneyland for New Years! I have to say, while in Disneyland, we think it was the first time we weren't thinking about infertility or wanting to be pregnant in over a year. It was the first time we had truly relaxed in a while.
Sperm Meets Egg Plan (SMEP) Method - I read about this method on an infertility blog I follow and we decided to try a version of it in January of this year (2020). It was mostly just for fun and partly a hail mary. At this point, we had an infertility appointment scheduled and were mostly relying on the fact that we would need to use extra measures to get pregnant again. With this method, the thought is that you increase your chances of getting pregnant by the timing and consistency in which you are intimate. You essentially "try" every other day starting on the 8th day of your cycle. Then, on the 10th day of your cycle, you begin taking OPKs (ovulation predictor kits) and upon getting a positive test, you "try" for three more days in a row. Skip a day and try once more. This seemed like a lot, so we shortened it to: "try" every other day starting after my cycle (period) ended and stop a few days post ovulation. This was the most we had ever "tried" before. Usually, we would just wait until "around" ovulation and try a couple of times then. It was a bit of a marathon, but actually fun and obviously, worth it! We have no idea if this helped, but it sure didn't hurt!
I gave it to God - I had a really hard time figuring out the words to put in this bullet point. People told me to do this all along and it felt impossible. I struggle with the need to control everything in my life - I think part of this has to do with my unpredictable upbringing but it is also just my personality too. I felt like I had to exhaust all my options (which we did) and only then could I "give it to God." To be brutally honest, I'm not sure I even fully did that. To me, giving it to God meant giving it to the infertility specialist - or in other words, trusting that God would work through them. I think I began to trust them more than I did my all-powerful God. How silly. How human though. Regardless, the sense of leaving this situation in someone else's hands really helped. I finally stopped thinking about it and felt a small sense of peace again. That being said, during my infertility journey, I felt this same sense of peace when I would dive into the word and study what it had for me. As I drew closer to God, I truly did feel peace. But I needed to do that daily. I needed that daily reminder to help with the anxiety and fear of the unknown. Unfortunately, I didn't do that. I wish I had. Either way, I know God never left my side and he gives me grace over my human desires and sinful heart. I am so, so grateful for my God.
**I want to mention that even though Gannon and I have not needed to go to an infertility specialist at this time and have conceived "naturally", we did discuss what those visits and procedures would look like from a Christian perspective. For example, how we would collect a sperm sample, how we would go about IVF, etc. So, if you're there, I'm happy to discuss this with you if you don't quite understand your options or know what to ask.**
How We Found Out
As you know, I had totally given up on getting pregnant naturally at this point. On the day my cycle was supposed to come (day 29), I noticed some heavier white discharge and this was abnormal for me. I remember reading on an infertility blog once that another woman noticed this as a sign she was pregnant (I read so many of these and looked for every symptom, oh my word).
I thought, eh what the heck, I have a bunch of those cheap Amazon pregnancy tests under the sink, I'll just try and see. I pulled out the same small circular tupperware I've been using for months to test for both ovulation and pregnancy and did the usual thing. I left the test on a tissue and walked away. I came back and I thought my eyes were deceiving me, I could swear I saw a second line. I stood there, frozen, staring at the stick, waiting for the results, and the line kept getting darker and darker. I took another test. and another. I took 6 total and all were positive. I remember falling to my knees crying and praising Jesus for this miracle. Gannon heard me from the other room and came in worried something was wrong and seeing the tests lifted me up and rejoiced with me.
Just kidding. Gannon was at a lakehouse with his buddy! I was all alone and wanted to scream this news from the rooftops but I knew I wanted to do it in person and see his face. The next morning (Sunday), I ran to Target to get some "nicer" tests (shown above) that I could "announce" to Gannon with. I took the tests eagerly awaiting the positive results, thinking maybe it was still all in my head and I was imagining things. When everything came in positive or showing "pregnant", I finally started to believe this was actually happening.
In our first pregnancy, I had surprised Gannon with this cute little onesie set. I couldn't remember where I'd put it, it had been over a year now. I searched everywhere and finally found it at the bottom of Gannon's "shorts" drawer. He had hidden it from me to protect my heart. I got teary-eyed when I found it, I cannot believe how much this man cares for my heart even at the sacrifice of his own.
I set out the onesie and the "nice" tests on the coffee table and now I just had to wait. Wait for him to get home. He told me he would probably arrive around noon. It was getting close to 1 pm and I was ANTSY. When I finally saw his friend's car pull out front, I was so excited, I felt like I was going to explode. He (what seemed) slowly unloaded the car and his friend came to say hi, all the while I was trying to kick him out and get Gannon inside, but not too far to spoil the surprise!
I finally got him alone, pulled him inside, and said: "I have a surprise for you!!!" I pulled him into the living room and pointed to the coffee table. He looked over and couldn't believe his eyes. Keeping calm, as usual, he said "Oh, are you pregnant?" I screamed "YES! It's a miracle!" We hugged, kissed, and couldn't believe this was actually happening. again. I think we both secretly said through our eyes "I hope this time is different."
First Trimester Recap
Given our history, I was deemed "high-risk" from the start. All this meant was that I was going to have a lot more check-ups in the first trimester than what is considered "normal" and take a lot of extra precautions to hopefully allow the baby to develop fully through the first trimester - then we would reassess. For me, this meant I would be on "pelvic rest" - AKA no working out, no intercourse, and no "over-exerting" activities. Going on walks was OK. I was also supposed to limit caffeine to very little or none - research has shown that consuming caffeine during pregnancy is associated with an increased risk of fetal growth restriction (source).
In my first few check-ups, all they did was take bloodwork because it was too early to see anything on a sonogram. At first, my labs looked phenomenal. Actually, my progesterone was so high so early on that they told us we could be expecting multiples. I think that made Gannon's heart skip a beat! But at my next check-up, my progesterone lowered tremendously. It was still within normal ranges but given how much it dropped in a two day period, it could have become an issue if that had continued. So, I began using a vaginal progesterone gel immediately and continued until 12 weeks (or the end of the first trimester). Progesterone is crucial to maintaining a healthy pregnancy. Unfortunately, there is no evidence to show that progesterone supplementation can prevent miscarriage, but sometimes it can help. I was not excited to be taking a synthetic hormone, but because it had a chance to potentially save our baby, it was worth it to me. That being said, I think it significantly contributed to my symptoms moving forward.
1st Trimester Symptoms + Diet
Up until week 7, I was feeling great other than a little fatigue. Once week 7 hit, I experienced all-day nausea, fatigue, food aversions, sleep disturbances, and moodiness (just ask Gannon, sorry!) It should be noted that this was around the same time I began the progesterone supplementation. I had not experienced any of this before as my first two pregnancies ended so early and things were not progressing as they should have been. So, I welcomed ALL of these symptoms - regardless if it was progesterone related or not. I was just excited to be "feeling" pregnant and tried not to complain much. Because you cannot feel the baby and are not showing much at this point, it was sort of reassuring to know "something" was happening!
As far as diet does, I always envisioned myself eating perfectly during pregnancy. My diet is generally pretty good and for the most part dairy, grain, caffeine, and alcohol-free! But wow, nausea and food aversions are a real thing and it was hard to not want ALL the carbs and ALL my childhood favorites! While I still did pretty good, food cravings of mac and cheese, Lucky Charms, and premade hashbrowns took over every once in a while. I was totally OK with it and practiced the one rule in my Restart Program - "whatever I eat, I choose it consciously, I enjoy it thoroughly, and then I let it go!"
A few things seemed to help with nausea including ginger/lemon tea, Simple Mills almond flour crackers, practicing deep breathing, and sometimes eating a healthy snack before getting out of and right before getting into bed. I got used to the symptoms at some point, let myself feel them, and allowed myself to rest when I needed to. Carrying a healthy baby was my number one concern!
I plan to write another post on specific foods I would recommend for conceiving and pregnancy soon - stay tuned!
Mindset & Miscarriage
Pregnancy is a weird concept for the two of us to understand at this point. Being pregnant is a blessing and we know getting pregnant naturally is also a blessing, but we've never seen the "fruit" of pregnancy if that makes sense. When we originally found out we were pregnant we were elated because it took us so long to get to this point, but fear and uncertainty set in shortly after.
I hate to admit this, but it's been hard for us to connect with this baby so far and to get excited. We are scared that if we get too attached, the potential loss will make it so much harder.
A girlfriend of mine helped me immensely with this story though, and I wanted to share it for those who might be in our same position. She knew a man who recently lost his wife to cancer. For the last few months of her life, he began to emotionally disconnect from her - assuming this would make her eventual but certain passing easier. After she passed, he realized it did not. It did not make it any easier at all. Instead, he was left with regret from not connecting with her and being "all in" those last few months. This story hit me hard and made me realize that even if I try my hardest to not connect with the baby to protect my heart, it's not going to make the potential loss easier. I also felt extremely selfish as this child deserves all the love in the world for as long as he or she will be here.
As I'm writing this, almost 15 weeks pregnant, I am so so excited to meet my little one and get rid of those protective walls I have put up. I love you, baby.
Pregnant, Quarantined, and the Future
Going through a pregnancy during a Pandemic was definitely not what we had pictured. But, if you would have asked us 6 months ago if this was our option or none at all, of course, we would have taken it. It is a miracle and a dream come true to be pregnant. Period.
Currently, I've been completely quarantined in my home for about 7 weeks (most of my first trimester). I've been out three times - two were OB appointments and once was to ride along to the Chick-Fil-A drive-thru with Gannon to grab dinner. Praise the Lord for drive-thrus. And Chick-Fil-A.
Looking forward, we understand and accept that the rest of our pregnancy may look a little different than expected as well. We will not be able to do a "Gender Reveal" party and are still unsure if any family visits or in-person showers will happen at all. Everything may be virtual. For those that do not know, Gannon and I have no family in Texas - everyone is located in Washington state.
Living and being pregnant in a pandemic is definitely different and keeping us on our toes. With our history of loss, less OB appointments/check-ups, and ample time to just sit and "think", my anxiety and fear has definitely increased. Gannon cannot attend any check-ups either. I FaceTime him each time, but it's not the same. I completely understand the safety precautions, but it saddens me as this is just as much his child as it is mine. I know he wants to be there, right next to me and the baby, every step of the way. Ultimately, all we can do is choose to trust God during this time and whatever His plan is for this baby. We truly believe that if He wants this baby here, there is nothing that can stop that!
Well, if you've made it this far, thank you! Thank you for reading our story - I hope some of it was educational but also gave you some hope if you are walking in our shoes. While I do not wish infertility upon anyone, unfortunately, it is extremely common. I want to bring awareness to this issue and be a source of education and hope for families struggling to find a place of support.
All that to say, goodbye first trimester, you were a rollercoaster! Hello, second trimester, I can't wait to see what's in store.