Road To Pregnancy
“This is a story about making personal decisions to the best of one’s ability with trust and love as a compass. It is about the fortune of unfortunate events that bind across generations and create spaces for deeper gratitude and love than you can imagine.
My road to pregnancy was not easy, it took years. Per the doctors’ assessment, there was only 1-3% chance I could get pregnant — my eggs were too old or low quality. Their assessment was based on lab results, specifically my follicle stimulating hormone (FSH), which very simply put indicated my body was having to scream at my old or otherwise tone-deaf ovaries to spit out my few remaining eggs. Or as a dear and very blunt friend would say: ‘That’s the sound of the last crusty egg rolling down the pipes.’ You know those vehicle stickers of ‘Baby on Board,’ or many variations? They are, of course, intended to warn drivers to be careful. I threatened to make one that said, ‘Hit me, I’m barren.’ (You have to be able to find humor in seemingly unhumorous things, or you’ll be stuck in misery.)
However, I was beyond fortunate to have an amazing acupuncturist, who had a different assessment of my prospects and pathway to pregnancy. With his support and guidance, along with the willingness of the fertility doctors (despite their grim projections), I went ahead with Intrauterine insemination (IUI), known to many as ‘turkey baster.’ In IUI sperm are collected, concentrated, and placed directly in the uterus when your ovary is releasing one or more eggs to be fertilized.
Doing IUI meant taking Clomid, a female fertility drug that, for me, was like being possessed, like another person had crawled into my emotional body and I was a skin puppet. If that sounds gross it is because it felt horrific. I mention this because the road to pregnancy had left me emotionally bruised and physically drained. Ask anyone who has struggled with infertility, it is profoundly isolating and challenging. (You might be asking, ‘Why not adopt?’ Trust me, I researched and investigated that option heavily. It is a process that is complicated, takes tremendous effort, and is expensive in terms of time and money. It was always on the table, but I was not there yet.) We tried IUI several times without luck. Then on my acupuncturist’s advice, and despite the doctors’ opinion it would not help, we added progesterone and bang, I got pregnant in the next cycle.
Finally. I felt overjoyed and like I had to pee and pee and pee. The first trimester went smoothly; all appointments showed normal progress, no issues. At the end of the first trimester there was a heartbeat, and I was told I was (generally speaking) ‘out of the woods.’ Most women, and certainly those of a certain age, know pregnancy comes with risks and no guarantees, but I do not remember being worried.
Testing For Abnormalities
Because my mother had given birth to a child with a birth defect (my younger brother) and because of my maternal age, I requested and was granted a nuchal fold test. The nuchal fold is a normal fold of skin at the back of a baby’s neck. It can be measured between 15 to 22 weeks in pregnancy via ultrasound and is used to look for abnormalities. I entered the test without a lot of worry. Almost immediately that changed.
The issues with my pregnancy, with my fetus, were so significant the doctor (who luckily was very experienced) begins to speak softly but clearly that he sees a problem. I get dressed and return to the genetic counselor’s office, a sweet young woman with an open, supportive manner. I am informed my baby has cystic hygroma. This condition is rare and highly variable. It presents as a fluid-filled sac most often on the baby’s neck due to a malformation or blockage of the lymphatic system. Best case, a minor issue that resolves. But worst case, the cyst creates an excess amount of fluid in the baby’s body (hydrops), which can cause early death. What I specifically recall is a description of how the lymphatic fluid would build up under her skin around her body until the pressure became too much; until her heart could no longer beat. This quite simply sounds like a horrible way to suffer and die. To fight for your heart against an external building force, unable to escape or alleviate the pressure until it overwhelms you. It also sounds like what women and girls feel in the US right now, as we fight for our freedom and our futures against an external pressure to control our bodies and fates.
I am told my case is very clear and very extreme. There is over 99% chance my pregnancy will not go to term, and if the baby is born (alive) it is not expected to live. The words ‘intrauterine fetal demise’ are the expected outcome. I can remember all of this — the office, the news — but when I think back I cannot breathe. I discuss my age, my remaining desire to have a child, and mainly try to process the news. I am told that medically, not only is the growing cyst a near death sentence for my baby, but continuing a pregnancy with a cystic hygroma getting larger could impact my future ability to have children. And I knew at that moment, if I continue this pregnancy and lose the pregnancy or newborn, I would never attempt to get pregnant again. I could not emotionally handle it, not the Clomid, not the trying… Because I am a military spouse with federally funded medical insurance, and the federal government cannot fund terminations, the genetic counselor compassionately refers me to Planned Parenthood.
After years of trying to get pregnant, after acupuncture, medical interventions, yoga, a medicine man in India, a change of jobs to reduce stress… I am forced to make a decision about continuing or terminating my very wanted pregnancy. And despite all the pain this causes, I was lucky. Remember I said my mother gave birth to my younger brother who had a birth defect? Back then, abortion was illegal, there were no options. My mom knew before delivery there was an issue.
She gave birth to Scott, whose head was not completely formed, his skull was open. She had no recourse but to wait for infection to take hold, spread, and take her baby. My mom had to watch her baby suffer and die. He lived (and suffered) one week. She always said there was nothing else (at the time) she could do, but if she could have she would have stopped the pregnancy, ending the suffering. So, I was lucky. I was lucky because I had the most supportive, understanding, compassionate mother in the world for my situation, and because abortion was safe and legal. Mom never advised me, she just listened and loved me through this. Along with the support of my mom, my husband’s support and the clarity of the doctor affected my decision. Ultimately, it came down to what was most kind and compassionate for both myself and my baby. This led me to choose therapeutic termination.
You might think my story is an outlier, not typical. But all the women I know who have had abortions made their decision based in what was humane. The teenager who is unprepared to parent and gives up gestating a dream for gestating an unplanned and unsupported pregnancy. The mother without the financial or emotional ability to care for a child, choosing to prevent suffering. A rape victim, already traumatized, choosing to not further her pain and trauma. People say overturning Roe v. Wade was about protecting life. Then tell me why organ donation is not mandated? Why is that a choice? You are dead already and you still get a choice. In contrast, we have now stolen from many women, living breathing women, their own corporal authority, claiming it is for ‘life.’ Luckily for me, I was in the legal and historical women’s rights sweet spot of not so far back as my mom and not so current as my daughter. Oh my gosh, did I really just have to write that? Back to my journey…
The doctors at Planned Parenthood were quick to confirm the pregnancy prognosis was very poor. They said it was the most clear-cut case they had seen of this condition and affirmed the prediction of it being terminal for the baby. Thanks to Planned Parenthood, I was able to get compassionate, humane, and safe care for myself and my pregnancy/baby. Since I was in my second trimester, the procedure would be more complicated. It entailed passively opening my cervix through insertion of Laminaria japonica, that’s rolled up seaweed for all the non-marine botanists (aka all of us). The Laminaria absorbs moisture, expanding to dilate the cervix to about 5-7 mm over 12-24 hours. Fascinating, and effective, thanks Mother Nature. Associated cramping is supposed to be mildly to moderately uncomfortable. I found it brutal, likely due to the emotional pain of ending what I had wanted so badly, the grieving through this process. I sobbed for hours. The next day I returned to Planned Parenthood. My husband could not, for Planned Parenthood security and privacy reasons, accompany me into the back for the procedure. I was escorted by a large man in Oakland Raiders scrubs, and while it was not what I expected, he could not have made me feel safer or more attended if he had been Mother Theresa herself.
Blessed With My Daughter
I was able to get pregnant 5 months later. Once again, at the end of the first trimester I had testing completed. I suppose I held my breath; I honestly don’t remember. What I do remember is a very conscious choice to not be detached from the experience, the pregnancy. To allow myself to go all in with love and hope knowing any other pretense was just that, an emotional façade. That I could not protect myself from potential hurt or loss and I would rather feel it all, the highs and the lows, than be numb. Luckily, this pregnancy had no issues. My daughter was born healthy, stunningly intelligent, and beautiful, 11 days past her due date (clearly my eggs were not too old or low quality, ha!).
My mom, across the country, waited for news of a healthy delivery (and waited and waited). She walked the woods to calm herself and I remained largely unaware of her level of concern. It was only after becoming a mother, only after holding my child (not that it requires birthing), that I could truly understand what it would have been to lose a child after birth. It was only then I realized the horrible tragedy of what my mom went through and how it made her understand and support my situation even more than I could realize at the time.
Writing this story, I have come to realize I carry shame; not for my decision about my pregnancy, but for never speaking aloud to my mom just how much her support meant to me. It was an unspoken love and connection between us. But I would like to say now, thank you Mom. Thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you more than words can express, and I’m sorry for what you went through.
If not for the legal availability and support for abortion (as a personal choice) I would not have my daughter. This is a fact my daughter understands and has stood up for already. I never could have come through a 2nd or 3rd trimester miscarriage, or worse yet, a baby born to die, and tried to get pregnant again. Many of the current state laws will put women in situations like mine back into my mom’s position prior to 1973. They would have forced me to endure unspeakable suffering, would have reactivated my mother’s trauma, and without a doubt would mean my amazing, beautiful daughter would not exist today. Women are loving, intuitive creatures entrusted with a womb for our control. Please read that again: we are ‘Entrusted With A Womb.’
My daughter is the result of love and support spanning three generations of women. She is an outcome of past tragedies not needing to be repeated into the future, thanks to legal support for women’s rights to their bodies. My ‘success’ as a mother is a direct effect of women having personal corporal authority; being able to make choices about and for their own bodies and pregnancies.
I was blessed to have my mother and I am equally blessed to be a mother; a mother by choice, by decision, and by a hard bumpy road no one can or should judge. My daughter, like all women, was born with all her eggs inside of her. She also carries her ability to choose her path to mothering because she owns her body, filled with a trust for self-governance and the support and love of generations of women encoded in her. She is entrusted; trust her.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Melissa Booker of San Diego, California. You can follow her family journey on Instagram and Facebook. Submit your own story here and be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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