Miracle Baby’s birth story

Ten short weeks ago, we welcomed our miracle donor egg IVF baby. I’m told that the first few weeks with a newborn are always a blur. In our case, this was compounded by Miracle Baby’s (MB) traumatic hospitalization at two days old and subsequent Hirschsprung’s disease diagnosis. All of this means that the actual story of her arrival has more-or-less been ignored.

So before all of the details fade into the haze of my sleep-deprived brain, here is the story of her long-awaited birth.

An easy start

I was 41 weeks and 4 days pregnant when I went into labor. Being 11 days overdue, I had already tried pretty much every old wive’s tale you could think of to get things going. So when I started noticing a pattern to my cramps around 4pm — a few hours after I’d had a second membrane sweep — I was definitely more than ready.

The contractions ramped up quite quickly from ~15 minutes apart to ~3 minutes apart. Nevertheless, those first few hours were actually almost pleasant. I was sitting on my birthing ball, leaning on the windowsill near the open window and watching rain fall softly through the twilight and onto the canal below. I would moan through the contractions and my husband would apply counter pressure to my back. When the midwife arrived at 10pm to check me, she reported that I had progressed to 3cm dilated, and that she would be back in 3 hours. We were like ‘We’ve totally got this!’

Spoiler: We did not.

Almost as soon as the midwife left, it became clear that it would not be as straightforward as we assumed. I was having intense pain in my lower back, which our doula told me was ‘back labor’. Worse than that, in what should have been the rest period between contractions, I was having…more contractions. This fun little phenomenon is known as ‘double contractions’, or ‘coupling’, and as I was counting on using the breaks between contractions to get me through the pain, it was a total mindf@&$.

The almost continuous contractions meant that it took 30 minutes just to get me down one flight of stairs (scooting one stair at a time on my butt), where I had a romantic vision of laboring in the shower in a recently purchased bikini top (Americans are prudish, recall). After instead crawling into the shower buck naked and spending several hours crying in agony on a footstool, it then took another 10 minutes to transition me the 10 steps to the bedroom. When the midwife finally returned after 3 years* and reported that I was still only 3cm dilated, I threw my idea of a water birth out the window and immediately requested an epidural.

The hospital portion

The midwife got us a room in the nearby hospital, and our caravan of cars set off through the rain (or so I’m told — I wasn’t very observant at that point). After arriving, it took ages before I was prepped and ready for the epidural. They say real labor isn’t like the movies, but I was definitely that crazed woman clutching the rails of the hospital bed with white knuckles and yelling ‘How long until the doctor gets here?!’

The epidural was a huge help. HUGE. Really cannot stress that enough. Everyone’s always warning you, ‘An epidural can slow down labor!’, and I just have to say that a slower labor is exactly what I needed at that point. When it finally kicked in, I could breath again. Make jokes with my husband. I even ate a sandwich. Sure, they had to give me a little boost of hormones to try to get the contractions going again, but once they did, I didn’t notice the back labor or the double contractions. And those last 12 hours were infinitely easier than the first 12.

In summary — Epidural: 5/5 stars. Would definitely recommend.

Pushing

The nurses weren’t happy with how MB’s heart rate was dropping (and staying) low during contractions, or how she’d pooped in the amniotic fluid**, so they drew some blood from her head to do a stress test before they would let me push. Thankfully it came back ok, so at 2:30pm on my 12th day overdue, my husband put on my ‘Birth: Energetic’ playlist*** and away we went.

Pushing was predictably intense, with a lot of yelling from both me and my husband. My yelling was from the sheer exertion of bearing down with everything I had, and his yelling included encouraging phrases like: ‘IF I DON’T SEE POOP, I’M GOING TO BE DISAPPOINTED!!’**** At one point between pushing contractions, I even wailed ‘WHY DIDN’T WE JUST ADOPT?!’ (which — like any good insider joke — is something only infertile people are allowed to say about themselves).

After an hour of pushing, they threatened me with an episiotomy and vacuum pump. That was apparently all I needed to hear, because soon after, I started to make real progress. Twenty minutes and three second-degree tears later, our Miracle Baby entered this world. And I’ll tell you what: she is absolutely perfect.

xx

* This is not a typo. Special relativity teaches us that time is relative, and those 3 hours felt like eons.

** MB’s apparent ability to poop was one thing that complicated her Hirschsprung’s disease diagnosis, which essentially means she can’t poop (enough) on her own.

*** In contrast to the ‘Birth: Mellow’ playlist that we’d had playing during the rest of the labor, my ‘Energetic’ playlist featured a lot of early 2000’s screaming punk (much to the amusement of the Dutch nurses).

**** We’d given permission for a young male intern to observe, and between all of the yelling and the blood/tearing that occurred, I think the poor dear was traumatized.

A different kind of two-week-wait

Trigger warning: This post discusses a positive pregnancy test, which means that I’m now one of those annoying ‘pregnancy bloggers’ I used to avoid like the plague. My sincere apologies.

You’d think that after finally receiving our first ever positive pregnancy test, the anxiety would have subsided. After all, this is what we’ve been working toward all these years, right??

Wrong — what we’ve been working toward is a fully formed, living and breathing baby, and we’re still quite a ways from having that in the bag.

I’m not complaining, of course — a positive test is the first necessary step, and it’s one that eluded us cycle and after for >60 months (not that I’ve been counting). But after working so hard for it, and waiting for so long, the very real possibility of a miscarriage has not escaped my notice.

I realize, of course, that the odds are in our favor — which is definitely the first time I’ve been able to say that in this whole painful process. But while being a member of the online infertility community has been a HUGE support, I think I may have finally discovered one downside. In particular, seeing daily posts from other women having trouble getting (or staying) pregnant has given me a heightened awareness of everything — and I mean everything — that can possibly go wrong*. (Having severe cramps in the middle of the night on Wednesday didn’t help either.)

2nd blood test (‘beta’)

Luckily, one good thing about getting pregnant through (donor egg) IVF is that we’ll be followed fairly closely through the process. Our mythical Big Fat Positive (BFP) was originally confirmed via an HCG blood test (‘beta’) over a week ago now, and last week we had a second beta to see how things were coming along.

In a normal pregnancy, the level of HCG in the blood should double approximately every ~48 hours. With an initial beta of 160, and a second beta scheduled for 6 days later, I was therefore hoping for a number greater than 1,280. From the amount of dizziness I was experiencing, and from peeing on sticks like a madwoman, I was pretty sure my HCG was rising — I just didn’t know by how much.

Have you ever waited to hear if the only pregnancy you’ve ever achieved — a pregnancy which took multiple years and donated genetic material — was still viable? I can tell you that it’s not completely stress-free, no matter how much you want to ‘Just enjoy it!’. After a tense day of glaring at my silent phone, and multiple communication issues between my local clinic and Ghent (one involving a fax machine, because apparently it’s 1995…), I finally got word from the nurse: My second beta came back at 4,815. I’m definitely still pregnant – or at least I was as of last Thursday!

Another two-week-wait

What they don’t tell you is that after you get pregnant, the two-week waits don’t go away — they just change into a different form. Now that the clinic is satisfied with my HCG level, our next step is a 7-week ultrasound. That means another two-week-wait, which I’m finding nearly as nerve-wracking as the first one.

Part of the problem is that ever since that bout of bad cramps last week (which were the night before my 2nd beta), the dizziness I experienced in the first few days has mostly gone away. Since that was really my only symptom, that means that I no longer feel particularly pregnant. I’m really hoping that it’s just the normal ebb and flow of symptoms, but it’s hard to know so many women who have experienced losses and not be a little paranoid. I may come to regret having said this, but right now, I would really kill for some morning sickness.

xx

*For example, if you are in the very early stages of pregnancy, I highly recommend NOT — under any circumstances — googling ‘blighted ovum’.

The outcome of embryo transfer attempt #6 is…

I often plan my posts several days in advance in my head, but I’m not really sure how to begin this one. Ever since my last post about our 6th embryo transfer attempt, I had been planning to start this post with an analogy between an infertility ‘journey’ and being stuck on the side of the freeway in a broken-down bus next to a smelly drunk guy. But then my blood test results came back, and now I’m not really sure that’s accurate anymore*…

Because I’m pregnant.

I’m freaking PREGNANT, guys. After >5 years trying, 6 embryo transfer attempts, and our 3rd attempt with our friend Marie’s donated eggs.

I found out on the train to a marathon five-hour work meeting. The local clinic where I had my blood drawn earlier that morning was supposed to fax my results to Ghent, who would then call my husband so that I wouldn’t receive bad news during work. When I saw my phone light up with our local clinic’s number, I therefore thought ‘Maybe they’re calling me because it’s actually good news?!’ In retrospect, I think I hadn’t properly communicated to the local clinic not to call me as well, so I narrowly avoided what would have been a five-hour nightmare.

Did this two-week-wait feel any different?

The classic question that any woman undergoing a two-week wait (2ww) wants answered is: Did this 2ww feel any different than those that resulted in a negative? Now that I’ve actually experienced a successful cycle, I can say that the answer is (for me): not really. The progesterone side effects always hit me hard, and this 2ww was no different. I had the same cramping, bloating, and backache that I’ve become accustomed to during our failed cycles, and my husband can attest that I was equally delightful company (i.e., super moody).

I also didn’t have any of the early symptoms you read about if you scour the 2ww forums: boobs weren’t the slightest bit sore even after being prodded from every conceivable angle, and I definitely didn’t ‘just feel’ pregnant. What I felt like was a woman on a sh*tload of hormones who desperately wanted the 2ww to be over.

That’s not to say that there weren’t a few possible signs this cycle. The day before my blood test, I started feeling sort of dizzy/drunk during the departmental colloquium (which I was definitely not drinking during) and had to leave work early. I was also absolutely freezing. Then when I was lying down at home, I sneezed, and every muscle in my abdomen cramped up in unison for about 3 seconds.

While these things did strike me as sort of odd, literally every past cycle has resulted in at least one new ‘symptom’ as well, and they clearly never resulted in a positive. My coldness this round could easily be explained by the frigid weather, and if you google progesterone side effects, dizziness and cramps are two of the main offenders. What’s more — these ‘symptoms’ (which I dismissed anyway) only presented themselves the very last day before my blood test. So in summary, if you don’t feel any different after your transfer, don’t automatically assume you’re out.

What happens now?

I’m technically only 4 weeks pregnant, so it’s still very early days. Our clinic told me that around 1/3 of such pregnancies end in miscarriage, which is an uncomfortably high number. And while I’d like to think that the universe wouldn’t be that cruel after such a long struggle already, I have definitely seen it happen.

Thankfully, the dizziness/drunk feeling has stuck around and even increased, which, at least at this point, I find very reassuring. I think it might just be low blood pressure, but it’s like I can literally feel my hormone levels increasing. I have another blood test to officially check my progress this coming Thursday, so we’ll be on pins and needles until then.

In the meantime, I made my husband go buy an at-home urine test so I could see it with my own eyes. So here it is, ladies and gentlemen: our first ever Big Fat Positive.

xx

*This is not to say that the bus-trip-from-hell analogy itself no longer applies. It’s just that the bus driver has finally gotten the engine to start, and the smelly drunk guy seems to have temporarily locked himself in the bathroom.