And Now Your Life Begins…

When you have a new baby, you will hear more than once, “And NOW your life REALLY begins.” This is one of the most ridiculous new baby sayings of all time. What was I doing before my daughter was born? What if I’d never had a baby? What about the rest of my life that isn’t all about the baby? Does nothing I’ve done or continue to do count unless it’s about the baby? This one is a close second: “Don’t you feel fulfilled now that you’re a mother?” Yes and no. You really don’t want me to answer that question honestly if you were the one who asked that in conversation because my answer will not be the simple “Oh, yes!” you were looking for.

My life is just continuing, and now I have an added responsibility and joy. I have a dream that was fulfilled, and it is everything I imagined it to be so far. I am not any more fulfilled as a person and follower of Christ than I was before. You may not believe me, but if you are struggling through infertility or miscarriage and think that your life will drastically improve and you will feel whole if you only had a child, it won’t and you won’t. If you haven’t dealt with all of the pain and loss you’ve been handed, it will not magically disappear when your child comes home. You will only add more work to your emotional to-do list, and you’ll probably feel guilty for still experiencing grief in spite of your bundle of joy – especially when it won’t stop crying for no apparent reason. Then you’ll feel like a bad mom on top of everything else, and the one thing that was supposed to fulfill you is creating more pain.

I’ve said more than once that I think the replacement baby mentality is a really bad idea, and I’m even more sure now that our baby is here. I look at her and love every curve of her face and every expression she makes, and I wonder at the same time what each of my angel babies look like. Each milestone she passes reminds me of what I missed every time we miscarried, and the grief is staggering if I peek over the abyss too long. Our daughter is a gift; her presence is a gift that has soothed the ache of longing to be a parent. She hasn’t erased anything that happened before her arrival, nor should we expect her to lest we force the weight of our losses onto her tiny shoulders. She is our miracle, but I already wonder how to explain that to her when she is old enough to understand without pressuring her to make up for nine angel babies.

I’ve done the work to be a whole person again, and in spite of that, the last month has been hard. Our first baby should have been five on April 1. The first few years, that day was really tough to handle. Each successive year was easier, and the distance of time allowed the open wound to scab over, to heal a bit more and sting a little less – until this year. Having our baby in my arms didn’t soften the blow; I think it may have made it more difficult. This year was incredibly painful, maybe because I’ve experienced a tiny bit of what we missed the last five years. Maybe more than anything else, the April Fool’s Day kick in the pants reminded me that my life is very definitely not just beginning, but my daughter’s is. She is brand new and baggage free, and it is my job to use my experience to teach her how to handle everything that life will throw at her, good and bad. So, my life will continue, her life has just begun, and I pray that we will both be fulfilled by being who God created us to be.

The Even Keel

In case you noticed the giant lapse in blog entries and wondered why, we had our little girl at the end of January. I actually went into labor on her due date, and our little Engelberta was born the next day. Also, in case you wondered, I am not going to use Engelberta’s real name here. If we are friends, then you have likely already seen her name and pictures on FB a few times. If you are Joe Public reading my blog, I hope you’ll understand that I’d like to give Engelberta some privacy since this isn’t her blog.
If you know me or my husband well, then you know that neither of us are overly excitable people; you know the type – they scream loudly on roller coasters, they squeal with delight upon seeing old friends, and they may actually jump up and down with glee. We, on the other hand, are not quite as demonstrative even though we may feel the same depth of emotion. I am the person who smiles (silently) on a roller coaster and who screams (on the inside) without making more than a little “ha!” noise. Through our whole pregnancy, people constantly asked us if we were excited, and most of them were squealing and/or jumping while asking the question. We always replied calmly that of course we were excited, while the interrogator looked dubiously at our lack of exuberance. I often felt like maybe I SHOULD be physically jumping for joy even though I was jumping, silently, on the inside. Our labor and delivery nurses kept remarking at how calm both of us were through delivery, but we kept laughing and saying, “You don’t go through everything we’ve been through and then freak out over delivering a baby.” You don’t freak out over much at all, actually.
I have realized that one gift the last five years’ events have given me is an extraordinarily even keel. Our circumstances can be all over the map, but my emotions don’t have to live on the peaks or in the valleys. Of course I feel the highs and lows, but my heart is anchored in the hope of Christ, and that gives me a solid place to stand no matter what life throws my direction. God gave us the lows of each miscarriage and the high of this successful pregnancy. The constant in every circumstance is that God gives us himself, and we have found our joy in his presence and not in our circumstances. That is freedom. That is certain knowledge that whatever happens, it is what it is, and it doesn’t define me; God does and what I do in the moment does.

Hope Deferred

“Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a dream fulfilled is a tree of life.” Proverbs 13:12 NLT

One of my favorite people on the planet has a child who will turn five in a month or so. This friend is the type of person who makes you glad to know that God created someone like that and then blessed them with a child to carry on all their best qualities. I found out that my friend and his wife were expecting their now soon-to-be five-year-old not long after I found out about my first pregnancy, and I couldn’t have been more excited to know that we would be parents within a few months of each other. Even after we lost our baby, I loved keeping up with my friend and his baby through the old college grapevine and then through Facebook. Every picture I see of his family is a little snapshot that tells the ongoing story of his dream fulfilled. Every post about the cute things his almost five-year-old says tells me that he is the amazing dad I knew he would be, and his wife is probably one of the coolest people in the world.

A recent post about the impending birthday was both fantastic and jarring – fantastic that they are celebrating five years of life with their little one, and jarring to realize that my first baby would have been five in April. I know we’ve been deferring our hope for a while, but I tend to think of our waiting through the losses in terms of just a few years, not half a decade. We have waited and mourned through five years to reach this point. We have lived with the sick and heavy heart of hope deferred. In that time I have learned that hope deferred really does make your heart sick – no matter how healthy it was to begin with, no matter how well you cope, no matter how much you heal – and a piece of that sickness will stay with you for the rest of your earthly life.

No matter how much joy our daughter’s existence brings – it is after all our dream fulfilled – it will never erase the past or undo all the heartache. Her life is a new tree of life in our lives, both figuratively and literally, and that new joy is all the richer and deeper because of our deferred hope. I have never been a fan of the replacement baby mentality – when people have a baby immediately on the heels of a loss to replace the pregnancy or child they lost – because it isn’t a healthy way to deal with the loss. There are moments when I feel our daughter moving around or hiccuping, and I feel overwhelmed by grief that I never felt any of our other babies do the same thing. What we lost over the last five years can never be replaced on earth; what we are gaining will not erase that pain, but we will appreciate our tree of life all the more because of it.

At first glance, you might think the proverb I opened with implies that hope deferred brings sadness while a dream fulfilled replaces that sadness with joy and a tree of life. Maybe superficially that’s true, but in reality, we aren’t really wired that way. I’d rather think of the hope deferred as fertilizer for the dreams that do get fulfilled. It takes a lot of manure to make the prettiest flowers.

Second Trimester and More Things I Never Thought I’d Get to Say…

We are now well into the second trimester, and each report from the doctor is great!  I know I’ve been strangely quiet on the blog about the pregnancy, but I’ve been weirdly protective of everything related to this baby.  (Okay, maybe not so weird given our history…)  I’ve yet to post ultrasound pictures anywhere, and I’m stingy about who I share them with.  I’ll post pictures at some point soon because I just know everyone wants to see our little alien. 🙂  She does look pretty human now, though, so we’ve outgrown the early stages of “What is that thing?” and “I’m just going to take your word for it…” on the ultrasound pictures.

Yes, that was SHE, in case you haven’t seen it on FB.  We’ll have a little girl joining us at the end of January.  And, no, we haven’t picked out a name yet.  We’re still perusing the name book and waiting to see what fits.  It’s tempting to choose a name that reflects the magnitude of what this little one means to us, but that’s a lot of pressure to saddle a kid with.  “You have to be brilliant and special because we’ve lost so much to get to this point.”  If that won’t create a host of neurotic breakdowns, I don’t know what will.

So while this child is more than we could have hoped for already, I think it’s best for her to be just a normal kid with goofy parents who are sure to embarrass her at every turn.  We’re already set to be the old farts in home room; when our little girl turns sixteen, we’ll be fifty.  That’s a little daunting.  But it’s also a tremendous asset.  I hate that we won’t be young parents, but we don’t have any crazy expectations that parenthood is some sort of magical domestic bliss.  We’re well aware that it is hard work, and we’ve both reached a point in our lives where we choose our battles carefully.  We’ve had to let go of so much already that rolling with the punches is just what you do.

I really want to see “The Odd Life of Timothy Green.”  I won’t watch it for another year or so because I can’t watch the trailer without crying.  They show part of a scene where the parents who have tried desperately to have a child on their own give up.  They write down all of the things that their child would be – funny, smart, kind – and bury it in a box in their garden.  Maybe the rest of the movie is horrible, but that scene is such a great snapshot of what our last five years have been like.  For a week or two at a time, we could dream about what our kid would be like before we had to bury the dream again.  That’s another reason I’ve been oddly quiet: for so long, loss has been our story that it’s hard to write about this amazing gift without feeling like I’m losing sight of where we came from.  I honestly hate that I am one of those stories being bandied about to other women who are struggling with infertility or losses of their own.  “If you just hold on and keep trying, things will work out for you just like they have for my friend…”  There is a time for hope, and there is a time for grief, and I hope that if you feel tempted to use me as an example for a struggling friend that you pause and consider what your friend needs most.  Usually, it’s not the miracle story.

I am under no illusions that this is nothing short of a miracle; we still have no medical explanation for our miscarriages, and there is no reason that this pregnancy has continued where every other one failed except that this is God’s plan.  I still don’t understand it, and I still don’t like most of it, and it certainly wasn’t MY plan.  But this baby is coming at this time in our lives for some reason that only God knows and we will likely never discover on this side of the veil.  If you really must share my story with someone struggling through their own infertility/pregnancy loss hell, I hope that this is what you share: we won’t always understand God’s plan, and we don’t have to understand it or even like it.  We do have to submit our plans and dreams to him and trust him to work out the details in a way that will honor him.  You may not get what you want, but you will always get what you need.  It will never be easy to lay down your own dreams and wait for God to give you new ones, but it’s worth the work and the pain.  I can honestly say that we would have been happy even if God hadn’t blessed us with this pregnancy because we learned to be content and useful where we were no matter what.  I really never thought I would be registering for baby clothes and strollers and toys after IVF didn’t work.  I never imagined that I would ever hear a heartbeat that isn’t my own coming from somewhere inside my belly.  I never thought I’d get to count down the weeks and measure my belly by the things I can no longer see when I look down.  I still have a hard time believing that we are actually telling people, “It’s a girl!”  And she is a miracle; she is a gift that I didn’t expect, but her impending arrival isn’t the greatest gift that this journey has given me – the knowledge that I really can and do trust God no matter what is greater still.

And Baby Makes Three

I haven’t blogged in a few weeks (or three…). The main reason for the blog void has nothing to do with being busy since I’ve mostly been holding the couch down. My blogging is as much a means for me to process my thoughts and emotions as it is a means to communicate, and I have avoided processing anything for almost a month, which is exactly how long I’ve known that I’m pregnant.

The first week was perfect, with great hcg levels that more than doubled. The second week brought cramping and spotting which was painful and scary and frustrating, but the numbers were still good, and our first ultrasound showed all the right pieces and parts in the right places. Last week we got to see the heartbeat, and this week we got to see the heartbeat again and see that our baby is growing just like it should be. I have avoided thinking through most of this process, which probably sounds as unbelievable to you as it is to me.

As introspective as I am, I haven’t let myself think much at all. Over-thinking the spotting in the face of such good test results would have discouraged me, and I might have given up. Over-thinking the heartbeat would have encouraged me to start planning nursery themes and looking forward to baby registries and showers, and I wasn’t ready to throw caution to the wind. I think the psychological term for that is protective pessimism. As much as I haven’t given up, I haven’t felt safe in my hope yet either. Baby steps are in order. (Pun intended…) I realize that saying I can’t abandon all fear of disappointment in the face of God’s new plan for us probably indicates a lack of trust. Instead of running full-tilt into the joys of pregnancy, I’m creeping into it – trying it on for size, testing for each step like a first-time high rope walker.

I trust that God is at work and that there is a plan here (as there has been all along), but I also feel like I’m waiting for the other shoe to drop as if I’m conditioned to expect the worst. I suppose physically, I am. Spiritually, though, I know that there’s really not another shoe. No matter what, God is God, and God is good. So what keeps me from doing cheers and signing up for the weekly baby update app and zapping things at Buy Buy Baby? As much as I truly believe this baby is sticking around, I have a world of experience in loss, so I may not really believe it until a week after the baby is delivered. I suppose I wouldn’t need to dig very deeply to find that there’s a fine layer of guilt not too far beneath the pain. To dive whole hog into pregnancy joy feels like a small betrayal of the babies we’ve lost, as if there was no joy in their presence or as if I might forget them. I know it’s an irrational thought, but grief is not rational.

One of my favorite poems we studied in a lit class I took my senior year in college is “Surprised by Joy” by William Wordsworth. You can find the full text very easily if you search for the title. The theme of the poem is moving on from grief, and the writer is surprised and more than a little guilty to be feeling joy in place of the sorrow and separation. It’s a beautiful poem – I’ve always thought Wordsworth was the most aptly named poet in history – and it much more beautifully than I can sums up the feelings I have about this pregnancy, especially a pregnancy following so closely after our latest miscarriage. If you’re disappointed that I haven’t been more enthusiastic about such great news, give me some time. I’m not much of a squealer to begin with, but I’m sure in a few more weeks I’ll be driving you nuts with baby updates and using lots of exclamation points!!!

For now, to answer a few of the questions I get a lot, we are right at 8 weeks, and our due date right now is January 31, 2013. Although our very first pregnancy technically lasted longer than where we are now, it was a blighted ovum, so having seen the fetal pole and now the heartbeat means that we know this isn’t a blighted ovum. This is the first time we’ve ever been able to see a baby; this is the first time I won’t just be wishing to see a heartbeat – now I can’t wait to hear it!

Period. End of Discussion.

This was the title of the post that was running around in my head last week. It was going to say that I hate the period after a miscarriage. As if the miscarriage wasn’t loss enough, you spend the month (actually, the rest of your life) after trying to cope and return to some sort of normalcy when you are hit with the ultimate normalcy of your next period. Maybe I’m weird (okay, there’s no maybe about that one…) or alone in this feeling, but the period after a loss can be harder to cope with than the moment of the loss itself; you can autopilot through a few weeks or even a month, and you can imagine that there was some sort or mistake in the lab work – or that it was all a nightmare that you’ll wake up from – until you start your period. (Squeamish folks/guys, skip to the next paragraph now.) Nothing feels more final or fatal than blood when you lose a pregnancy – it’s a constant, graphic reminder of your baby’s death. The return of a normal cycle just nails the coffin shut on your dead dream with the same bloody fatalism.

Here’s the rest of the story this month. Generally, I am only moody when I’m extremely stressed or my hormones are running amok, and my expression of moodiness is either to be angry at everything for no apparent reason or to cry at everything, also for no apparent reason. This was how I felt Monday last week, along with all of the general aches and pains associated with periods, so I consulted the calendar and discovered that I should be starting at any point. By Thursday, I was beyond cranky, so I decided to psych myself out with a pregnancy test – I could take it, see that it was negative and my imagination was running wild, and then feel free to start my period. God clearly has a sense of humor. That was the fastest changing, darkest line we’ve probably ever had on a home pregnancy test. I had just been waiting for my period to start so I could start taking the pill again so we could do the second opinion appointment so we could have a better idea of what steps to take next so we could… apparently watch God laugh at our attempts to plan.

I really considered not telling anyone, including my husband, until sometime next week. If it didn’t work out, I would only be a week late starting, which would probably not be all that unusual after an IVF cycle. As the opening paragraph indicated, I was already set to be a grump anyway, so who would notice if I was more of a grump? If it did work out, then I’d be far enough along to confidently yell “Surprise! We’re pregnant!” at random. You may be wondering why I considered not sharing this at all since I’ve been pretty open about everything we’ve dealt with. Honestly, I felt a little embarrassed. We spent the last two months dealing with IVF and another pregnancy loss – how could we have let yet another pregnancy happen? How could I possibly tell anyone without feeling like an idiot? I even hesitated to go to the doctor’s office on Friday. The staff would surely think we were nuts, and it’s hard to date a pregnancy that happens the cycle after a miscarriage, so… There were a million little nagging thoughts like that.

Of course, I couldn’t have been more wrong. The nurse gave me several huge hugs, and the lab tech drew a souvenir pig on the test (I told her about inheriting my grandmother’s pig collection since they had pig stress balls to squeeze for blood draws last month…) which the nurse brought out and gave to me. My friends have been just as surprised as we were, but they have been amazing and supportive – as if I should expect anything less! You guys are awesome! My mom may win the best response award this time. She decided that we are having twins – one for me, and one for her. When I said Steven may not like that idea, she amended her decision to triplets – one for me, one for him, and one for her. I think there was a “Friends” episode like that: “There are three of them – surely they won’t miss one…”

The blood work Friday looked really good. The progesterone level was good, and the hcg level was 263, which might be the highest first test we’ve had. I know it’s the highest first level we’ve had in the last few years. If all is well, by Tuesday’s re-check, the hcg level should be at least over 600, and maybe even close to 1000. I’m hoping for 1000 tomorrow because that would be the best-possible-case scenario. It looks like we are right at five weeks, and this is where we always run into trouble. Right now, everything looks great, and I am hopeful that I have faced my last post-miscarriage period. Right now, I have no idea what God’s plan is, but I have no doubt he’s in control of every circumstance, regardless of the outcome. Period. End of discussion.