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You never know how strong you are until strong is the only choice you have

By Michelle Johann

Navigating the world of infertility, I never felt like more of a failure. It was such a frustrating time where you don’t know if you will find your way out successfully. I started going to the fertility clinic before work. Our first procedure failed and that call was devastating. We were already a couple years into the process and wanted some good news. We soon realized this was a marathon and not a sprint! We tried again to get the approval, wait for the following month, and plan for the next medication regime. After our second attempt, we got a positive and were surprised with twins!

My pregnancy was uneventful. We did the required testing due to ‘advanced maternal age’ with all results clear and we learned we would be having boy/girl fraternal twins. We let everyone know past the 12 week ‘safe period’ on Mother’s Day.

We were counting the days. We had ultrasound visits with excited family members. We had brunches after appointments. Our twins were growing and we were wrapping up our 20 week appointment when the look on the tech’s face changed. We knew something was wrong. We were notified there was “funneling” of my cervix. We were in shock and the words flowed over us. Diagrams and explanations did not help. We wanted to know what this meant for our babies. We were told that I would have to go on bed rest to get to viability.

We researched what to do while on bed rest and let everyone know. Hubby made healthy meals and did everything around the house. We had a plan, we were a team, and we would do anything for our babies. I could feel the babies moving and I talked to them. I told hubby that we had to finalize our babies’ names: Payton Marie & Anderson Chris .

We made it through our follow-up doctor’s appointment and were almost 22 weeks. We were making it through for us and for our little family. On July 21st, I wasn’t feeling well. I seemed to be having Braxton and Hicks contractions. I wanted to be in denial until nothing resolved it. I told my husband that we had to go to the hospital. The car ride was a fog and my husband drove so fast. Nothing worked to stop my labor. Looking back, I can see the movements like a bystander watching a movie. It all went so fast and painfully slow at the same time.

We were moved to a delivery room. Payton’s bag broke. Anderson’s bag broke. We waited and waited. Again, it was a marathon and not a sprint. I was at risk for infection. We finally met our beautiful babies on July 22, 2012. Despite all odds due to their level of prematurity, they were alive. I saw and felt my children take their first, then last breaths.

Leaving the hospital without your baby (or babies) is an indescribable feeling of emptiness. During those early days, there doesn’t feel like a way out. My body literally failed me and my babies. We baptized our babies and we buried them. We were thankful for our village that helped us get through those days. My friend that walked in the garden with me, when walking into the church for the funeral took my breath away. My sister-in-law that gave me breast pads for the leaking as my body wanted to nurse my babies that were no longer with us. My dear friend who lost her son and was now pregnant with her rainbow, who hugged me and understood. Her husband that hugged my husband as he also understood. I will never forget the blood curdling cry that escaped my husband’s throat when the tiny casket carrying our twins together came out. It all hurt so much. His cry was what we all felt in that moment.

I had another diagnosis: Incompetent Cervix. Cervical insufficiency can happen the first pregnancy or subsequent pregnancies. It can be due to trauma from delivery, cancer, biopsies, and unknown reasons.

We slowly picked up the pieces. You don’t want to hear that time heals, as it doesn’t make it go away, but it does help. Some days you just put one foot in front of the other. We did not want to try again, then one day….we did. We researched, fought doctors, appealed insurance, and then scheduled a pre-pregnancy transabdominal cerclage surgery (TAC) with Dr. Haney. It was the best choice we ever made.

As the anniversary of their birth approached, I wanted to do something. I did a vision board. I consulted a nutritionist. I did yoga for fertility. I am forever grateful for the women at Pulling Down the Moon. They helped me heal. They helped me be at peace. PDtM, along with all the wonderful women who joined “a club that no one wants to join”, helped me not only survive, but gave me the strength to try again.

We had two subsequent failures. We were not sure if we wanted to continue to try. Five months after my surgery, I was surprised to find out we were five weeks pregnant. Naturally, for the first time in our lives–after loss, after failures, after surgeries, after everything–we had a chance for a rainbow.

It was like walking a tightrope for nine months, but I knew with the TAC that I had a 90% chance of a full-term pregnancy despite PCOS, IF, and IC. I am a different person now. I would not wish the experience on anyone, but everyone has their own journey and I am able to share mine to help others. Our five year journey for a family was completed on May 6, 2014 when Gavin arrived at 37.5 weeks. When you see me at the office and I listen to your journey, please know that I do understand.