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  • Guest Blog: A Personal Journey

    Five years ago, after deciding to start a family, I became pregnant for the first time. Although my husband and I were nervous about a miscarriage in the first trimester, once we got to three months, we relaxed and started planning for the arrival of our son. I was staying active, eating healthily, doing everything I was told to do, and so it didn’t occur to us that our son wouldn’t be born in the summer of 2014. Then, in April 2014, our lives changed forever. At 25 weeks, I started having contractions. Within a few hours our son died in utero. I will never forget the look on the doctors faces as they desperately searched for a heartbeat but couldn’t find one.

    Later that night I was induced, and Luca Thomas Sturdy was born at 4 am on April 4th, 2014 weighing 1.7 lbs. There was no first cry, Luca was born into silence. Our midwife stayed with us, crying by our side, and encouraging us to hold him, of which I am so grateful to her. Luca was perfect, tiny, but perfect.

    The next few weeks and months were the hardest time of my life. I felt like everything I knew to be true was gone and I couldn’t understand how life could continue. It took months for the reality of what had happened to sink in. I would look in the mirror and think ‘thats not me, thats a women whose baby has died. No, it is me, that’s who I am now.” I had become one of the ‘other people’ that terrible things happen to. We got through it with the help of a wonderful counsellor and support from friends and family, but it fundamentally changed us both, and how we looked at life. We realised how unpredictable life can be and how naive we were to this previously.

    It also reinforced how much we wanted children, and so we started to try again. We were constantly told what had happened was ‘bad luck’, and that we’d have our ‘rainbow’ baby. We conceived quickly again, but this was the start of a series of loses, four more in total, all apparently unrelated and ‘bad luck’.

    After the third loss, we started IVF and begun seriously researching adoption.

    IVF bought its own challenges and a great deal of resentment. I resented having to inject myself, and having to deal with daily phone calls to tell me if any of my eggs had survived and fertilised and then if any of the embryos had developed over night. I started to resent the idea of pregnancy – I didn’t want to deal with this anymore, I just wanted a child. IVF was a horrible reminder of how little control we had and it turned becoming parents into a numbers game.

    Luckily, we had talked about adoption in the past so looking into it wasn’t a huge leap for us. As we researched it more, we understood it wasn’t a simple ‘plan b’, but came with unique and serious challenges. It added to the isolation I already felt when I compared the decisions we were making to friends around us. We had to let go of all our preconceived ideas of what our children would be like, and what how our lives would unfold.

    We tried two rounds of IVF, both unsuccessful. Our lives had turned into a constant battle with fertility and grief. If we weren’t putting all our energy into trying to get pregnant we were recovering from another loss. I was embarrassed to contact friends as the only news I ever had was another loss, and I felt like people were running out of energy to support us. Suggesting we should have hope seemed farcical. I hated that this had taken over our lives so completely and felt so withdrawn from everyone around us who were seemingly breezing through life, now trying for their second or third child.

    Through counselling I realised that I was avoiding my biggest fear; that we would never have children, whether through conception or adoption. It was like a monster in my peripheral vision, lurking just out of sight, but close enough that I could feel its presence and it filled me with dread. I decided to face this fear. I thought alot about what our lives could be like if we didn’t have children. I wasn’t ready to chose this path, but in facing it as an option, it helped me to see that there were so many possibilities and I could let go of the fear of any one path not working out.

    And then an opportunity arose to move from London to Chicago. We realised how good it would be for us to be in a new place, and have a new focus, so in January 2017 we moved to the mid-west. After another loss, we decided to stop trying to conceive and focus on adoption – we had just been approved to adopt by the state of Illinois and were excited to start the matching process.

    Four days after making the decision to stop trying, I had a positive pregnancy test. I cried, not out of joy or happiness, but at the thought of the inevitable loss this represented, I was devastated and petrified of how this one would end. After four and half years I finally, genuinely, did not want to be pregnant. I had accepted that we would start our family a different way, and was excited about this. But we pulled all our energy, and started the process again. I had my first scan at five weeks, surgery at eight weeks for a transabdominal cerclage and began weekly progesterone injections. I had multiple emergency trips to the hospital believing the baby had died. I felt sick going into every scan, which I was having every two weeks. But, despite everything, in between all the anxiety and stress, there were amazing moments – feeling the baby move, my husband singing to him, imagining the moment we would meet him (when I could bring myself to have this fantasy). We decided at 36 weeks we had to tip the scale and focus more on excitement rather than fear and so we bought some baby clothes. Once I got over the initial anxiety I couldn’t stop smiling as I held these tiny clothes and thought about our baby. I used every tool available to me to get through those nine months – acupuncture with Kelly, yoga including Prenatal Yoga After Infertility with Kellie, meditation, massage with Christine S, mantras, group therapy, swimming, walking.

    I am writing this on Oct 16th, and our son Adam James Williams-Sturdy is three months old today, having been born on 16th July weighing 6lbs 8. He is an absolute joy and we still cannot believe he is here with us. Despite everything that has happened to us, we feel like the luckiest people in the world when we see his beautiful smile and his big bright eyes. He was born on Luca’s due date, four years on, and looked just like Luca when he was first born. One day we will tell him about his big brother.

    I hope that sharing my experience helps others to accept that there is only so much of life that we can plan and predict, and by letting go of the rest, you can find new paths forward and new ways to be happy. This is the legacy that Luca has left us.

  • 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.