Trigger warning : Discussion of infertility and pregnancy loss.
If you haven’t been following me on Instagram, you may have noticed that I’ve been a little absent on here . . . here being my blog. I think the last post I wrote was in February (the 2020 induced coffee station. . . remember that?)
I’ve definitely been missing in action. Although I must admit, the word action feels a little bit of an embellishment of the truth, seeing as it’s not been the sort of action you might imagine. I mean, does sofa surfing , Netflixing, napping and comfort eating even count as action? The Rambo- ish kind anyway?
Don’t answer that.
All you need to know is, is that I had good reason for all of the above. Firstly, it’s still a pandemic , didn’t you know? And secondly . . .
I was pregnant.
Yes you heard right … pregnant! Eeek!!
Almost 3 months ago I gave birth to a beautiful baby boy!
I know . . .For once, when I say ‘ a lot has happened’ after an unplanned blog hiatus , I really do mean it. In the literal terms.
But all that aside, this wasn’t your usual pregnancy and here’s where it gets kind of tricky. And a tad more serious. To be honest, I’m not even sure tricky is the right word to describe this pregnancy, so let’s just go with complicated instead.
OK, starting that again . . . . this pregnancy was very complicated for me emotionally because although I only had 1 child , this was actually my 6th pregnancy.
Deep breath (didn’t I say things were about to get really serious?) In my twenties, I suffered quite a few pregnancy losses – 4 in total. As a result, I am unable to ever conceive naturally (this still gives me a little jolt of pain whenever I say it out loud).
The baby I just gave birth to was conceived via IVF.
I call him my miracle baby (although I know a lot of science was involved). If you’ve been on the journey I’ve been on, you’ll understand why.
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Let me dial it back just a touch and share a little bit more about that. I feel like it’s finally time . Or rather I finally feel ready to be vulnerable and share such an intimate and personal part of my life.
Grief has eased its grips over me these past few years. What I’ve been through no longer feels as gut wrenchingly painful to recount. In fact it now feels more like a dull throbbing ache – the kind of ache you might experience after having stubbed your toe on something sharp except that feeling doesn’t go away.
An ache that at times might stop you in your tracks, but no longer feels quite so stifling to live with. I wouldn’t say I’ve healed completely , but more that I recognise my healing as a process without a solid finish line.
My hope is that if you’re going through something similar (regardless of whether you get the kind of ending you want), reading about my experience with secondary infertility might help you to get to that point one day too.
MY PREGNANCY LOSSES
I had my first miscarriage when I was 21 (I was about 7 weeks into the pregnancy). It was one of those traumatic experiences that will forever have a front row seat in my mind, mostly because it was my first time ever dealing with loss of any kind. Up until this point, loss was only something I had only ever heard about second hand or watched other people go through. An experience I couldn’t relate to, but still showed empathy nonetheless.
I remember all the details like it was yesterday. I was at work when it happened (on a 12 hour nursing shift actually that had already promised to be a shift from hell because it we were understaffed ) . I had managed to pull myself away for a few minutes for a quick toilet break – a toilet break that truthfully should have happened a lot sooner as my bladder was fit to burst .
That’s when I saw the blood. And I froze. I’m not quite sure how long for. But it felt long… sort of like the slow motion feature on a camera phone. Or like a screen freeze… I kept tapping refresh in my mind but nothing changed.
Que the confusion.
Is this my period?
No, it cant be, I’m pregnant.
Did I get it wrong? N0, I definitely saw two lines on the pregnancy test.
Is this real? Is this really happening? Is this really happening to me?
Then the cold hard realisation.
Yes this is real. Yes this is happening to you. Medina, you could be having a miscarriage.
The bile rising in my throat sprung me into action. I remember going back on to the ward in a sort of daze, telling my manager I was pregnant for the first time, rushing downstairs to A&E still in my uniform, and calling my husband in tears telling him to come now.
What followed was lots of pain, lots of bleeding, lots of waiting around in A&E only to be told that I was miscarrying by a gynecology doctor and that there was nothing he could do. I was sent home to pass the fetus. To pass the baby. My baby – a baby that I had already planned a future for in my head.
It was a lonely experience, even whilst crying in the arms of my husband. I wasn’t prepared for that sudden emptiness I felt once the bleeding finally stopped and everything was …. Complete?
What am I supposed to do now?
My body still thought it was pregnant , and I had to keep reminding it that it wasn’t. This part hurt the most.
Life really stood still for me in those first few days. Yet it kept turning for everyone else. That truth felt cold … cruel even , but that’s life sometimes hey.
I didn’t really talk to anyone about how I was feeling at the time because a lot of the initial comments from people were ‘you’re young, you’ll have another’. So I buried my feelings, and after a week went back to work as though nothing had happened.
My eldest son was conceived a year after this, and although I was so overjoyed to be pregnant again, it felt a lot less magical this time round (I’ll talk a little about pregnancy after loss in my part two of this post).
The next pregnancy (two years after my eldest son was born ) was a nice surprise, but something we definitely wanted ( I had decided to come off birth control at this point). Sadly, this ended in another early miscarriage. Although I truly dislike having to preface miscarriage with the word early. Early or not, it was still a loss. Still significant.
This miscarriage was a little more complicated because my pregnancy levels didn’t immediately drop once the bleeding stopped. I had to keep going into the hospital for blood checks. Emotionally, it was all very taxing. I remember feeling flickers of hope whenever my pregnancy blood levels spiked in anyway. I secretly hoped that I might still be pregnant and that the professionals had got it wrong.
They hadn’t of course. There was no baby. It was a hard pill to swallow, but swallow I did. Swallow I had to.
My third miscarriage was an ectopic pregnancy (when the fertilised egg implants outside of the uterus) . I remember waking up in the early hours of the morning with excruciating pain – pain that felt similar to what I vaguely remembered of child birth. It was so painful that I actually told (screamed at) my husband to call the ambulance (which you’ll know, if you’re a health care professional is something we don’t do without very good reason .) When the ambulance crew arrived they tested my urine and told me I was pregnant.
I had just had a period… that couldn’t be right? Could it?
My disbelief and then momentary happiness at possibly being pregnant was short lived because once I got to the hospital and they performed tests, I was hit with devastating news.
Yes I was definitely pregnant, but the pregnancy was growing in the wrong place – my left Fallopian tube to be exact. And the pregnancy was so far along that it was causing the tube it was in to rupture. All the pain I had been experiencing was a result of the growing pool of blood that was now spilling into my abdomen.
Again . .sorry what?!
I had learnt about ectopic pregnancies during my nurse and midwifery training. I had witnessed and cared for other women going through them. All the while never imagining it would ever happen to me. I guess we never think something will happen to us until it does. A sign of naivety I wonder or just a symptom of our humanity.
Before I even had time to get my head around it all, I was taken into surgery and my fallopian tube with the pregnancy removed.
You can still get pregnant naturally the surgeon told me after. Your body will adapt to using just one tube over time. His words cut through my foggy post anesthetic daze, but gave me no comfort. I had wanted this baby
After this loss, my mental health spiraled. I think up until this point I had managed to keep it together – sweep things under the carpet to stress about at another time.
But now it was finally time to address those feelings, I couldn’t face them. I went into a really dark place of self loathing and grief during the aftermath of my survey. I questioned my purpose and self worth as a woman. I questioned my faith in God and His plan. I felt so alone. So lost, unsure of who to turn to. I didn’t know how to move forward.
I let the hopelessness and sadness take over. And it did, overwhelmingly so, filtering into every corner of my life, leaving me without an ounce of joy and unable to function. As a mother, a wife, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and an employee.
Pretending everything was OK became too much of an effort and as a result I let my mask slip for all to see, including my family…. my parents.
But that was a saving grace maybe, because the dropping of the mask finely allowed them to see that things weren’t alright and give my husband and I the support we both needed. Encouraged by them , I decided to get professional help and started therapy with medication. After a few months, I began to feel a little better and my faith in God restored. I still had bad days, but they weren’t as dark and desolate as before.
In 2015, almost a year later, I found out I was pregnant again (with my one remaining tube… the doctor had been right. My body had adjusted). This time I couldn’t even muster feelings of happiness. I was just hit with what ifs and worry from the moment I saw the positive on the pregnancy test . I didn’t even tell my husband straight away but when I finally did he was so excited. He reassured me that things would be fine, that he had a good feeling this time. Of course I didn’t believe him, but I nodded all the same .
A few weeks went by and I started to feel really uncomfortable on one side. I had a gut feeling something was wrong , however I didn’t go into hospital straight away until I started bleeding . I guess I didn’t want to face reality. I knew what the next few days would look like for me in hospital and I wanted to be pregnant for just a little while longer. Before they had even scanned me I already knew it was an ectopic pregnancy .
The pain had felt the same.
I accepted the news with a quiet numbness that I could see worried my husband . Don’t worry I kept reassuring him. I’m OK. And Surprisingly I was. This time it wasn’t a shock. You see, I had already disassociated from this pregnancy early on. My mind had built up walls in preparation to protect me.
Another loss, another surgery . . . another tube removed (even if partially). This was how it went right?
How cynical I had become.
Only this time , I was told after the surgery that I would most likely need IVF if I ever wanted to have more children in the future. It was heartbreaking to say the least, but like I said, by this point I felt I had enough coping mechanisms in place to stop me from spiraling mentally like before.
The ‘what am I supposed to do now?’ question never came .
I knew what I had to do. Move on. I put all my energy into this blog and into my eldest who by this point was in full toddler stage.
MAKING SENSE OF MY LOSS
A few years went by where I thought I didn’t want anymore children. That I was happy with just one. That it wasn’t meant to be and that I had made peace with it all. In truth, I thought I had, but there were moments when I would watch my eldest son playing alone and would feel a deep sadness . I wished I could have gotten the chance to give him a brother or sister. Having come from a large family myself, I desperately wanted him to experience the joy of a sibling and I felt bitter that that choice had been taken away from me.
But you already have a child. Be grateful, a voice in my head would almost scold me whenever my thoughts went down this road.
The feelings that stemmed from my infertility and desire to have another child never felt valid. In fact, those feelings made me feel guilty and selfish because I knew there were women who could never have children of their own. I was already a mother. What right did I have to their pain?
I think this is what I struggled with the most. The constant battle of trying to figure out where those feelings fit in with other womens’ stories of pregnancy loss.
It also didn’t help that I was constantly asked when I was going to have more children by well meaning colleagues and friends. Sometimes I’d say I didn’t want more. Other times, if I was caught off guard and a lie wouldn’t come fast enough I’d say, ‘I can’t have children’. This reply reply was usually followed by uncomfortable apologizing on their part and looks of pity as though I was some wounded puppy. I hated people feeling sorry for me so the latter was rarely the answer I ever went for.
Pregnancy announcements from friends, colleagues and family were also difficult . I felt both happiness and sadness at their news – happiness at the prospect of new life and sad for my lack of.
Other peoples pregnancies often reminded me of my body’s failure to do what it was supposed to do as a woman. What society had drummed in me for years that it should do. That my womanhood was somehow synonymous with my motherhood. One could not fully be appreciated or exist without the other.
I felt like I had been lied to.
From an early age we are made to believe that getting pregnant and staying pregnant is as easy and effortless as it looks on soaps and tv shows. That all it takes is a drunken one night stand, or a month of trying and voila you’re pregnant! Congratulations, you are now guaranteed a healthy baby at the end of nine months!
So when it doesn’t happen like that, we blame ourselves. We dont talk about it thinking we might be the rarity when in fact we aren’t. Miscarriages are far more common then we realise. Among women who know they’re pregnant, it’s estimated about 1 in 8 pregnancies will end in miscarriage.
NEXT STEPS . . . IVF
After putting it off for quite some time, I finally did go for further fertility testing in 2018 (a dye was inserted to see if the remainder of my right Fallopian tube was functioning ) which with finality, confirmed my need for IVF to conceive.
Following this news, I do remember us looking into IVF and attending a few open days at local clinics to discuss options. As we already had a child, we weren’t eligible for a free round of IVF on the NHS and would have to self fund everything. It was all so expensive though! We quickly realised even with our very tiny saving, my husbands full time wage and my part time nursing wage, we wouldn’t be able to afford it .. . not for a long while. So the idea fizzled out and we stopped talking about it.
In 2019, I left my career within healthcare and went full time as a blogger. Becoming self employed actually improved our finances . For once we were able to put away bigger chunks each month towards the house deposit we had been saving on and off for over the years . (I’m jumping ahead of myself here , but a large portion of our house deposit money was what we used to pay for the IVF . Another reason why I hate when people make comments about the fact that I’m still renting. You truly never know someone’s circumstances. )
2019 was also the year that I actively began to work on my health and fitness. I lost weight, ate better and generally just felt more positive and healthier than I had ever felt in my entire life . At 30 too can you believe?
I finally sat my husband down and told him I felt ready to look into IVF again . We talked for hours. He expressed his fears of seeing me go down a dark path if things didn’t work out . I listened and I understood . Although these losses had happened to me physically I knew that seeing me go through so much pain while feeling helpless had affected him too.
We talked and talked over a course of a few weeks , and finally decided we would give it a go. But just one round, we decided as it was all we could afford. If it didn’t work , we felt that was what God had willed and we would accept it.
I started researching fertility clinics in my area, scrolling through reviews, reading experiences on forums , and comparing clinic success rates. In the end I found a clinic through referral from a work colleague who had been successful with twins , and towards the end of 2019 we booked our first appointment there. From then onward, things progressed fairly quickly.
Of course we had no idea what a sh*t show 2020 would turn out to be. Else we might have hit pause…
Well actually we kind of did hit pause, but it wasn’t our choice. I’m getting ahead of myself though… I’ll be sharing what IVF felt like in a pandemic in part 2!
Before I go though I want to leave you with some resources for further support.
- The Miscarriage Association: offer practical advice and support
- Sands: specifically supports those who have experienced a stillbirth or neonatal death.
- Tommys: support after a miscarriage.
- The ectopic Pregnancy trust
- On being childree – blog posts from women discussing their fertility journeys
Thank you so much for reading my story.