My journey with secondary infertility and miscarriage began back in early 2016. Hubs and I knew we were ready to have another baby after delivering our first, Turkey Burger, in August 2014. We got pregnant almost right away in April. At 8 weeks pregnant, we saw a beautiful little heartbeat on the ultrasound screen. My doctor saw a second sac that was empty where a twin had tried to get started but didn’t fully form into a baby. This is called a blighted ovum, and given that there was another baby developing normally, it was a vanishing twin pregnancy.
A lightbulb went off over my head when I realized there had been good reason for the excessive morning sickness. The blighted ovum was causing my hormone levels to behave like there were twins. Because of the blighted ovum, the doctor warned us there might be some bleeding, but not to overthink it. He scheduled a follow-up appointment at 11 weeks. He didn’t do that with Turkey Burger’s pregnancy, but ever the optimist, I brushed it off and assumed they had some policy change in the clinic.
For some reason, I left that appointment thinking everything would be fine, even though looking back on it, I should have realized the tone of the appointment was different. I guess it was naiveté.
The 11 Week Ultrasound
Much to my surprise at the 11 week appointment, I was ushered into an ultrasound room. Hubs wasn’t there, because it was supposed to be a routine appointment, and he couldn’t make it to all of them. I waited for 45 minutes the ultrasound, and all the while, I was developing a pit in my stomach. Suddenly, my mama intuition gathered that something was wrong. As I sat there waiting alone, gowned up and chilly, I started thinking about how my belly grew so quickly this time but then stopped. I had brushed it aside, just assuming it was routine second baby stuff.
Sure enough, my doctor was chattering away when he began the ultrasound, but quickly fell silent. After what felt like an eternity, he uttered the words I knew were coming: there wasn’t a heartbeat. This was the last week of June. Unfortunately, because of the upcoming holiday weekend, it would be a full seven days before he could perform the D&C, which is short for dilation and curettage.
After the longest week of my life, I had the D&C at a crappy little hospital where my intake specialist said all kinds of unhelpful and insensitive things. I have never felt grief like that in my life. There’s just something about a mother’s heart that makes the pain almost unbearable. I felt spiritually numb, my belly felt empty, and I just couldn’t bring myself to care about much of anything. I remember coming out of the procedure with Hubs by my side and curtains hanging from the ceiling on either side of us. He said I had been sobbing in my sleep and moaning. It’s kind of wild to think that a baby I only carried for 9 weeks could have affected me that deeply, even in my subconscious.
My dad came to town the day of the appointment so that he could take care of Turkey Burger while Hubs took care of me. I remember lying on the couch across from my Dad, noting the pain on his face and just feeling absolutely nothing. The next day, the four of us went to lunch, since I was physically fine in the aftermath. I held it together pretty well, until a newborn at a nearby table began crying. My eyes instantly welled up with tears and I felt embarrassed by my reaction. Why? I have no idea.
Waiting for Betas to Reach Zero
Over the following month, we followed my HCG levels back down to zero to make sure there wasn’t any cancerous growth from a partial molar or molar pregnancy, and it took a full 5 weeks from that point for me to stop getting positive pregnancy tests. In the weeks after the D&C, I continued to gag and dry heave into the kitchen sink every morning as if there was still a baby in there. My body just wasn’t getting the hint. It was easily the hardest time period of my life thus far.
One morning, Turkey Burger, age 2, was sitting in her high chair, chattering away about her cereal and asking for more milk while I threw up in the sink right in front of her. Being only two, she didn’t even notice that mama was struggling physically and emotionally. I yelled at her and felt guilty for the rest of the week.
Around Labor Day weekend, I miscarried again, this time at just 5 weeks pregnant while at Oktoberfest in Fredericksburg, Texas. But I felt almost nothing – I was still grieving that baby I had carried for 11 weeks.
Trusting My Gut about Secondary Infertility
By this point, I knew that something was “off” with my body. I’ve always been pretty in tune with the unique hormone cocktail that rules my body’s fluctuations, perhaps even to a fault. Something I couldn’t pinpoint was definitely up. I knew I wasn’t going to successfully have another baby without some intervention, but I doubted it had much to do with stress.
I had downloaded an app called Fertility Friend and had been taking my basal body temperature daily. This data gave my doctor some clues about what might be going on hormonally. He agreed to do everything possible to help me conceive BEFORE it had been a year of trying.
I know lots of doctors say they won’t test you for anything until you’ve been trying to conceive for a year, but I think most doctors can be swayed to act sooner if you provide hard data, and basal body temperatures can provide that for you. I’ve always found comfort in more information rather than less, so I don’t think it increased my stress levels. If anything, it gave me something to do during the wait.
I had this sense that time wasn’t on our side. I’m normally pretty optimistic, but for some reason, I just felt that things weren’t good.
The HSG Test
We did some testing. First I had an HSG, which came back totally normal. It was miserable, though. I had to lie down while they injected dye into my uterus. A normal result shows dye spilling out the ends of the fallopian tubes on the ultrasound. Sure enough, mine behaved as normal, but the pain as the dye tried to move through my left fallopian tube was toe-curling. I was gripping the table in extreme discomfort. My doctor explained that this procedure often resulted in pregnancy soon after because the dye behaves like a broom dusting out the dark corners of the female reproductive system. Gross. It didn’t work for me.
Fertility Blood Tests
The blood tests were obviously much easier. My FSH and estradiol levels came back textbook perfect, which surprised me. What could possibly be wrong? I really didn’t want to be told that we weren’t conceiving because of “stress” because I wasn’t sure how to treat that. Besides, despite everything going on in my head, I didn’t feel any physiological symptoms of stress.
Ultimately, a blood test called the AMH (Anti-Mullerian Hormone) offered some insight. My test results came back at a .8, and anything below a 1.0 indicates diminished ovarian reserve and early loss of fertility. I was only 32, but this test suggested my fertility was closer to that of a 40 year old.
Antral Follicle Count Test (AFC)
An ultrasound of my ovaries (an Antral Follicle Count test) confirmed what the blood test showed – declining ovarian reserve. I only had about 5-7 antral follicles between both ovaries, and for a 32 year old woman, having approximately 18 antral follicles would put me in the 50th percentile. The worst part is that women with low ovarian reserve don’t typically respond well to IVF. I was afraid of the next step, because it seemed that IVF might be an unwise gamble. I remember being completely shocked to be in this situation, because we conceived both Turkey Burger and the baby we miscarried within three months. How could things have turned so quickly?
Clomid is a Bee-otch
My doctor started me on an entry-level fertility drug called Clomid, which I couldn’t take for more than 4 months due to the increased risk of ovarian cancer. I couldn’t tell the Clomid was doing anything for me, and with every new cycle, I became increasingly worried. However, the fourth cycle on Clomid felt different than the previous three. And by different, I mean completely miserable. I was nauseated, exhausted, in pain, and ready to give up on Clomid anyway. Imagine my surprise when I peed on a stick, and there it was – two pink lines. Not super bright, but there anyway. I felt nothing but numb when the lines popped up, but fear began rolling in over the next few days as hope slowly rose within me.
Obsessing Over Phone Calls
Because I already had two miscarriages, they asked me to come in for Beta testing. An HCG level should double every 48-72 hours if the pregnancy is viable. I waited on pins and needles, and those stupid nurses (lovely women, I’m sure) called me at 4:55 that day, only to reveal bad news. My doubling rate was more like 90 hours. This didn’t look good, and I spent the evening and next couple of days fending off tears. They suggested that if I was still pregnant come Monday morning, I should return for a re-draw.
I did as I was told and returned for another stick. And then I waited another agonizing 48 hours. This time, they called back at 4:55 again and said my doubling rate had increased to 72 hours. The nurse wondered if this baby might just be a slow starter. I came back a third time, another 48 hours later. This time, the doubling rate was 36 hours. We were in business, but I was told to remain cautiously optimistic. Fairly often, slow starters don’t make it to the 8 week ultrasound.
Hallelujah! There’s a Rainbow Baby on the Screen!
But we made it to the 8 week ultrasound without any bleeding and even a bit of morning sickness, and that little beating heart on the screen took my breath away. This baby was real. This pregnancy was starting to mimic Turkey Burger’s, and that brought me reassurance. I was scheduled a follow up ultrasound for 11 weeks, just for my piece of mind. Sure enough, Chicken Patty was in there bouncing away with a solid, steady heartbeat. I finally relaxed a bit, and so did the doctor. At this point in my motherhood journey, I could have NEVER predicted that we would someday have a surprise third baby join the family.
Do you have experience with miscarriage or secondary infertility? Leave a word of encouragement in the comments for some other mama who is feeling lost and alone.