My First Pregnancy
My first, abbreviated pregnancy was in the summer of 2014. After a successful IVF, I was thrilled to discover that it had worked and that I got two very strong positive blood tests. My hCG beta level had more than doubled in the time it was expected to and I had a due date to look forward to.
A few weeks after my positive pregnancy test, I went in to see Dr. Fujimoto at UCSF for our first ultrasound. I remember the feeling of nervous anticipation while my husband and I waited in his waiting room for our appointment. I had been sitting in that room a few times a week for months but this was the first time I was there as a successful IVF patient. I was about to see my baby and I was sick with excitement and anxiety.
The ultrasound was just like all the other ultrasounds I had done during my IVF cycle only this time Dr. F wasn’t looking for follicles, he was looking for a heartbeat. I watched the screen with fierce intensity as he moved the wand about looking for our baby. And then there it was! A strong, steady heartbeat. I will always remember the note of pride in his voice as he said “there’s your baby!” to my husband and I. Everything we had been working toward for years was finally paying off. I was pregnant, my baby had a heartbeat, everything was right with the world.
And then the unexpected: a second heartbeat.
I knew we had put in two embryos but I never considered that they may both implant. Dr. F suggested to us that it was very unlikely. I had a moment of sheer panic at the thought of it before Dr F told us that Baby B’s heartbeat wasn’t very strong and not to get too attached to it.
That was a weird thing to hear. Part of me was instantly relieved at the thought of only having a singleton. That was, after all, the ultimate goal of our IVF in the first place. We were only trying to have a single baby this round. But part of me also felt a piercing sadness at the thought of losing a baby that I had worked toward and that was currently living inside of me. Dr. F wanted us back in two weeks to check the heartbeats again so we decided to sit with cautious optimism until then.
What a strange two weeks those were. I kept all my focus on the strong heartbeat I had seen. It still felt strange to be pregnant. I wasn’t having any physical symptoms yet, although I desperately wanted some. I wanted some internal sign that I was pregnant. The only thing I had to go on was an image of my ultrasound. My pregnancy felt academic and theoretical at that point.
After two weeks, we went back in for our 8-week ultrasound. The familiar feeling of anxiety pooled in my head and stomach as I sat in the waiting room with my husband. Dr. F got straight to the ultrasound and my husband and I held our breath to hear what he was going to tell us. Dr. F got a very serious look on his face as he scanned me. He said “I’m so sorry, but I no longer see a heartbeat” and my world fell in on itself. I can’t remember saying anything as I started trying to get my head around the idea that it was all over. All those months of planning, testing, hoping, waiting, and finally, celebrating were all over. There was no longer a heartbeat to be seen. I squeezed my husband’s hand and tried to figure out how I was going to get up from the table when this was done.
Dr. F’s face was filled with such pity for us. I couldn’t look at him. And then he said “but Baby B’s heartbeat is nice and strong!”
He’d switched them. Last time he told us that it was Baby A with the strong heartbeat and Baby B that was likely going away. This time he did it the other way around. We were still pregnant.
It had only been about a minute since I thought that my pregnancy was over but I felt revived in a way I have never experienced. A sharp, intense pain was washed away by a powerful sense of relief.
That little scare put a strange feeling in my gut for the next several weeks. I had a hard time connecting to the feeling that I was pregnant and going to be a mother. It was like I just couldn’t “see” it in my mind’s eye. However, I carried on, took my vitamins and folic acid, avoided sushi, drank sparkling water instead of martinis when we went out to dinner, and started reading “What To Expect When You’re Expecting.” I still didn’t have any physical symptoms of pregnancy and that made me uneasy. I wanted to be hunched over my toilet several times a day and to have to keep Saltines in my purse. But there was no need. I felt…normal.
A few weeks after that scan I had traveled down to Los Angeles for work. LA is my hometown and I was always so excited to be there. I had been working on a film project for a couple of years and I was going to be in town filming for a few weeks. I decided to splurge on a hotel room instead of crashing on friend’s sofas this time because of my “delicate condition.” One of the challenges of that trip was that I still had to do progesterone in oil (PIO) injections in my rear end each evening. My husband had gotten really good at administering them but since I was out of town without him, I had to learn to give them to myself. That involved standing in front of the mirror in the bathroom and twisting my body around so that I could plunge the syringe into my upper buttocks. It was a pain in the ass. Literally.
One evening, I met my friend for dinner. I was so excited to be able to tell her about my pregnancy. My husband and I had made the decision not to tell many people about our IVF or our pregnancy but Peaches (not her real name) was one of my closest girlfriends and I wanted to share my joy with her. Before our meals arrived, I went to the bathroom in the restaurant and discovered blood. This, of course, sent me into panic mode. I had just started to relax into the pregnancy after 2 scans but blood was definitely not something I wanted to see. I rushed back to the hotel and Googled for hours only to read over and over again how it was perfectly normal to have a bleed at that stage in pregnancy. I called Dr. F’s nurse and she told me that everything was probably just fine and not to worry. Fat chance of that! I must have gone to the bathroom 40 times that night seeing if the bleeding had stopped. It had. But I barely slept that night.
Over the next few weeks, I was very busy with my film project and getting ready to move to the UAE. My husband was being transferred with his job to Abu Dhabi and so I had to pack our life in San Francisco up to be able to make the big move. I was very anxious about it but I was also looking forward to being pregnant and having our baby in a new country. I figured it would be a good way to meet new people.
Two weeks before we moved, I had my Nuchal Translucency scan. This is an ultrasound where the doctor assesses your baby’s risk of Down syndrome and other chromosomal abnormalities. This happens close to the end of the first trimester and it’s usually after this test that you are given the all clear to announce your pregnancy. I was so excited to pass this landmark in my pregnancy. I wasn’t even nervous about it, despite having been so for every other scan I’d had up to that point.
My husband and I sat together while the technician started the ultrasound. We had started referring to the baby as “Limey” since my pregnancy app said that the fetus was about the size of a lime that week and because of the fact that my husband is British. We were jazzed to have a look at our sweet “Limey.”
The ultrasound technician, whom we had never met before, was chatty with us as she began the scan. But then she got quiet. Alarmingly quiet. I knew what was happening when she told us she needed to go get the doctor. When the doctor come in he did a scan and said the words I had been dreading: “I’m sorry, but there is no heartbeat.”
According to their measurements, the baby had not grown since around the 9 week mark, and we were at 12 weeks then. My baby had died.
I don’t really remember the rest of the appointment. I know that I was told that I could have a D&C to remove the fetus if I wanted to and, since we were only about 10 days from moving to the UAE, I said yes. I recall that everyone was very gentle and nice to us.
I still think of it as the worst day of my life.
Five days later I had my D&C. My pregnancy had lasted 84 days.