Written by Guest Blogger, Melisa Ellena
After years and years of trying to get pregnant, my husband David and I were finally thrilled to say, “We’re having a baby!” All of those infertility treatments, clomid, letrozole, inseminations, mini stimulation cycles, IVF, you name it, I went through it. Finally, I could put these treatments to rest. I can still remember the morning of my egg retrieval, I could barely put my shoes on because I was so bloated from all the medications. But it was all worth it; to hear that sweet-sounding heartbeat of our baby, knowing nothing could take away my pregnancy glow.
The early weeks of my pregnancy had gone by and being pregnant felt like a dream come true, “How is this happening? How did we get so lucky after all this time?!” I could actually visit the baby aisles in stores and not just look, but buy, I could pin all those cute ideas on Pinterest because I was in fact having a baby. Symptoms of nausea, tender breasts, watching my little bump grow and my bras getting too tight was something that not every woman gets excited for, but I loved it all. Does that sound crazy? I was looking forward to buying those crazy large bras.
During my pregnancy, my younger brother and now sister-in-law were preparing for the most magical wedding in the spring in England. My bump, that was now five and half months along would be traveling overseas and I was so excited to buy a traditional English fascinator, (fancy hat) and celebrate with family. Before I left, I had a couple tasks at work to complete and I had to make sure I was cleared to fly per my OBGYN. Everything was set and ready as we packed up and headed across the pond. While we were going abroad anyways, David and I took this has an opportunity to travel; can you say Babymoon. David is Italian and we thought going to Italy would be the perfect choice to celebrate. The culture, the food and the weather would be perfect.
After my brother’s wedding we traveled to Rome, Florence and Venice. We walked a lot and eventually the heat did get to me. I was six months pregnant after all, and even though I swam regularly with my bump and did the occasional Zumba class, I was tired, almost beyond my normal pregnancy tired. Venice was lovely but after a day of sightseeing, I wanted nothing more than to return to the hotel, use the restroom like most pregnant women do and kick my feet up and take a big ol’ nap. After my visit to the restroom, I noticed some pink spotting. Initially I thought, “Great, my body hated walking and sightseeing.” We were scheduled to head home the next day, I just need to make it back home, be back at work and check my emails, no more walking for this pregnant lady.
A train, a plane, and a car ride put us right back to England, right near Heathrow airport. This was our final goodbye to an amazing trip filled with even more amazing memories. We had to stay at a hotel before flying out the next morning and all the while, my pink spotting had gone from pink to red, bright red. Trying not to lose my shit, I made some phone calls back home to see what the advice nurses would have me do. After a few phone calls, and a small about of phone tag (a ten-hour difference and all), I was instructed to head into the nearest hospital for a quick vaginal exam. Knowing that I would be boarding a long flight home, everyone, including myself wanted peace of mind that everything was normal. It was exhausting mentally and physically and I just wanted to be home. Don’t think that I didn’t google and yelp the nearest hospitals. Why couldn’t I just be seen at St. Mary’s hospital, oh that’s right, I’m not Kate Middleton.
When we arrived at the hospital, I was taken back to an exam room alone. I figured with all our luggage, I could handle this exam by myself. But after a thirty second exam, the resident doctor, threw the exam backwards that sprung my legs from 180 to 90 degrees and left the room. Carting all of our luggage back to the exam room, a resident doctor and their on-call doctor were staring at David and I, “What is going on?” David said. What happened next was something I could never imagine.
I was being admitted into the labor and delivery department immediately for exposed membranes, pre-labor rupture of members. (PROM) My room was at the end of the hallway and actually the coolest room they had. England was having a rare heatwave and everyone assured me that I would be most comfortable in there. I remember all the nurses and staff in the department. Everyone was kind and gentle when taking my blood samples and wanted David and I to feel safe and well taken care while we were there. Upon seeing our first doctor, she said, “You’re already dilating and your membranes have been exposed. Have you been feeling ill?” Uhhh.. WHAT. What are you saying now? Exposed? My membranes are exposed? Yes, I don’t feel good, you just gave me horrible news, but what is happening to my body? Am I in labor? Is my baby ok? When can we go home? How did this happen? Is my baby going to be ok?” I don’t think I could process what was being told, I just had a million questions in my head and they all circled around, “Is the baby ok????” Panic set in and the crying began… for days, and days. David and I didn’t even know who to contact or what to say when we did eventually call back home. The bloodwork had come back and my white blood cell counts were doubling each time, I had been checking my levels. The answer was, infection. I had an infection in my body and the baby had the infection in the amniotic fluid. The infection was overtaking my body and the baby’s. I would not be able to keep my baby.
When hearing life alternating news about your pregnancy, your body, and hearing it not in your doctor’s office, in the comfort of your own home; your world comes crashing down. What was once a delightful family wedding, turned joyous Baby moon, turned nightmare, no words can describe the dark and awaited outcome.
While we were waiting any possible answers to save both myself and my baby, the hospital staff kept me comfortable, made me feel safe, knowing that I wouldn’t be going home and I would be waiting here, in their care, for my water to break. I wasn’t a candidate for a rescue cerclage (a cervical stitch that is placed to hold in the pregnancy) as I was getting sicker each passing day and the idea of holding the pregnancy with a stitch would only take me so far; maybe one or two weeks. Regardless, the outcome of my baby being born alive and healthy was very, very slim. David and I didn’t sleep much, and we didn’t eat much, our minds were clouded with thoughts that new parents should never have to face. We were in shock from it all. Amongst our swollen eyes from crying so much, it was hard to find the right words to say each other, except, “I love you.”
Defeat, heartbreak and numbness were the only feelings I could process during our stay. By day 5, my doctor said my infection was reaching dangerous levels that we could no longer passively wait for my water to break on its own. With medical intervention, we began the process of inducing labor. My water broke, somewhere in the night and I was weak, mentally, physically and emotionally. My midwife whom I now refer to as my helping angel, guided me through a birth I never thought I could face, and David stayed strong with me during the entire process. When my brother and sister in law heard of our news and had just returned from their honeymoon, and they wanted to say with us as it was just David and myself in the hospital. We didn’t really know anyone. Knowing this wasn’t a typical delivery, they had wanted to give David and I our privacy and said they would return when we were ready to see them, post-delivery. God, the thought of negatively impacting my new sister-in-law put more strain on my heart. This isn’t how we were supposed to bond.
With minimal communication to family and close friends back home, I didn’t know nor did I care what hour or what day it was. My baby would come be coming into this earth and leaving this earth in one moment. Why, why was this happening? What did I do wrong?
The birth and death of my son was gentle, quiet and heartbreaking. My midwife had kept insisting that even though I had just experienced something so painful, “You must see him. He’s beautiful.” Some mothers who have loss, want to see their baby, but David and I could not bring ourselves to. How could I look at someone so beautiful and innocent and know I could not take him home? I would never hear his heartbeat or feel his mighty kicks. I felt like a failure in knowing I couldn’t keep him safe. I could only see him in my dreams from now on. I wanted to keep his image of what I thought he looked like in my mind, and in my heart. I am his mother and I know what he looks like.
When the time came for the doctors and staff to witness our signatures for his birth and death certificate, I had to sign and date it, May 8, 2016. I took a long pause and looked at David. A lump in my throat started to form as I forced myself to swallow, “It’s Mother’s Day back home.” I had given birth to my first-born son on Mother’s Day. To say my heart sank would be an understatement of this lifetime.
From the hospital we were instructed to stay in the hotel for another week before we were finally cleared to fly home. Grieving on the airplane, wearing my dark sunglasses and headphones to hide my eyes and keep my tears at bay was a challenge. “Just don’t make eye contact with anyone” I thought.
We returned home and months and months had passed. I had returned to work, was healthy and healing, in the physical aspect. We had seen our families and friends and we were adjusting to the somber lifestyle we were given. There were good days and happy days, but mostly bad days. In the realm of grieving, there is no “correct” way to grieve the loss of your baby and there aren’t nearly enough resources out there that help. The unfortunate part about loss is there aren’t many tools out there to help you with coping and understanding what you went through and what you will be going through now and forever. However, throughout my breakdowns at the gas station, or while shopping at the local stores, I turned to Instagram as my main source of comfort. Finally, real women, couples and families who had their own stories and were brave enough to share them to make me, a girl in Oregon feel not so alone. Their passed-on words of hope, gave me strength to feel like, maybe I could still be a mother again.
In the coming months, David and I found a wonderful counselor through my fertility doctor. She was beyond helpful in navigating us through the crashing waves of emotions and validating my breakdowns. We felt stronger with each session, we felt heard and we had come to terms with what happened to our son.
Flash forward to eight months later, we were ready to meet with our infertility doctor and perinatologist to discuss our plan for another pregnancy. It was soon time for another embryo transfer. David, my driving force of optimism, “You have to believe we will get pregnant again” wanted a transfer sooner that I was ready for. In December we did an embryo transfer and the outcome was negative. No luck. My heart wasn’t quite there and I felt as if I was going through the motions. But I knew I wanted to try again. After the holidays and after ringing in the New Year I was ready for another transfer. I was seeing my acupuncturist regularly, who works miracles by the way, and my mind set was dialed in. This was it. I was going to get pregnant.
Embryo transfer day came and everything went as smooth as it could. I did my usual transfer rituals of eating pineapple core, keeping my feet warm with wool socks, listened to classical music, talked to my embryo and kept my crystals close by. On day 5 post transfer, no symptoms, no signs, no nothing. I headed into work on day 5 trying not to cry every second of the day. I knew it was over. I just knew it.
Superbowl Sunday (day 10) was coming up and I had big plans to pee on a stick, see a negative line, get dressed, get my nails done and cry the rest of the day. That was the plan and I was OK with that. Seven am came, my urine pregnancy test was already underway and after 3 minutes, I would be getting on with this miserable day.
TWO. Two pink lines. Two pink lines on a stick that I just peed on…??!! WHAT. A sight I never thought I would see again and there is was starting at me as if to say, “Of course I’m here.” I got dressed and drove straight to David’s work and showed him the stick. This was the beginning on a tiny rainbow.
I wish I could say my pregnancy was normal and I lived out my nine months in gestational bliss…but that wouldn’t be true.
I lost my son at six months and we chose to see a perinatologist (high risk provider) to have peace of mind that my pregnancy plan would be followed closely. In the hospital back in England, we were looking for more information regarding PROM. Our obgyn clinic had referred us to the perinatology department as they are the experts in high risk situations. Our doctor who consulted us over the phone would soon become our doctor to our subsequent pregnancy. The plan was to watch my cervix and see, would this happen again, or was this a cruel fluke of nature? We also decided to add in progesterone shots to prevent any preterm labor. I had gone through IVF injections, frozen embryo injections, what’s another shot in the backside.
I had standing appointments for cervical monitoring and I was coming up to my twenty-two-week appointment. We had talked about a cerclage, a stitch that could be placed in my uterus to hold the baby in. We talked about risks, benefits, outcomes, all of it. David and I couldn’t decide if there was a need for one, but on that twenty-two-week appointment it was decided for us. My uterus needed one. It was doing the same thing it was doing in Venice, Italy. To have your doctor catch what my body wanted to do the first time around was incredible. This is why we choose to see the perinatologist.
The operation happened on the same day and for anyone wondering, was it painful or scary, I would have to say “not really”. The anticipation of checking in and waiting around was more stressful than the procedure, which only took five minutes. Honest. Recovery was a little tough as its basically bedrest, but you do get to spend the days looking at everything online. A dangerous situation when you’re pregnant.
Soon enough, it was time to meet my rainbow, my daughter. The thought of giving birth and losing her was terrifying and I will admit there was a lot of tears leading up to her birth. All I could think about was “what if this happens again?” what if my body decides to do something it shouldn’t, will everyone survive this time, will I be strong enough if the doctors deliver bad news?” the stakes were high and too emotionally. My past was meeting up with my present.
My due date was 10/14 and on 10/13 we had our last appointment. There was talk about the baby being too big and my options were induction or a c-section. The truth is, I had already gone through the process of a vaginal birth and the anticipation of not knowing how long it would be, would I be reliving any memories, would I be present in this birth…I didn’t have the answers. My heart said no and I accepted the choice of having a c-section. And in the end, I am so happy we did.
Out she came, happy, healthy and crying with all her might. David couldn’t hold back any tears as he proclaimed, “She’s here! Oh, my word, she’s right here.”
Milan Rosalia Ellena had made her entrance in our world and quickly made it known that I was hers and she was mine. For so long my heart ached and worried that I would never hold another baby again, but I was proven wrong that morning; Rainbows do come after the storm and they shine the brightest when you open your eyes.
Milan is almost 2 years old and her spirit is pure, gentle, loving and carries David and I through the wondrous world of parenting. Our tiny tot has taught us so much about love, grievance, patience, and celebration of life. Life is hard without my son here and not a day goes by that I don’t think about him and see him in my daughters eyes. David and I didn’t believe for so long that our rainbow would come, but Milan changed all of that.
“No matter how your heart is grieving, if you keep on believing, the dreams that wish, will come true.” -Cinderella