A mutual friend tried setting me and my husband up, unsuccessfully, for months. I was eager to meet Scott, he on the other hand wanted nothing to do with the girl his friend was trying to set him up with! I am four years younger than Scott and he "only" dated older girls. He wouldn’t even give me a chance. Even with his friend saying “Trust me! Just go on one date!” Eventually, I got fed up with waiting and took Scott’s number from my friend's phone... then I texted him. After Scott angrily called our mutual friend and he assured him all he needed was one date with me, Scott replied to my message. We spent the next week talking about EVERYTHING. Then we finally had our first date and more than nine years later, I still like to remind him how he tried to pass me up!
A year into our relationship, at the age of 21, doctors told me that I would never get pregnant. They had spent two years trying to figure out why I had never menstruated. Countless tests, pills, specialists and no one could figure it out. Their diagnoses was just that I’d 'never' have children, but they couldn’t tell me exactly why I had these unexplained infertility issues.
Of all the specialists I’d seen, one finally sent me to a fertility specialist. We obviously weren’t ready to start a family then, but this specialist told me to check in with him once a year and that when we were ready, he’d do everything he could to help us have a family. The next 7 years were rocky for my reproductive health. I had been diagnosed with PCOS (which we later found out was a misdiagnosis), I had three surgeries to repair a ruptured ovary that occurred from a ruptured cysts, I was diagnosed with endometriosis and endosalipingosis, and I was put into a chemical menopause (and had awful side effects from the injections). Each time something new came up, I cried. I cried for the family that I’d never have, for the child that I’d never hold, for the part of my heart that would never be filled with a mothers love. Our fertility specialist tried his best to keep us optimistic, but when other doctors were telling me it would be impossible, it was hard to believe that he could help us.
We were married October 31st, 2015 and knew we had to start trying for a family right away. Our specialist told us there was no point in trying on our own, one thing was for sure; I would need medical intervention. So we started Clomid. And guess what? I ovulated! For the first time in my entire life! And for the first time on this journey, I had hope. However, those feelings of hope suddenly came crashing down.
Two days after I finished taking Clomid, I went for my cycle monitoring. The doctor called me that afternoon to tell me we had to cancel the cycle as things suddenly stopped progressing and we’d need to see him right away. I cried. I cried for days. I couldn’t help but think that all those doctors were right and my fertility specialist was just out of his mind.
I remember walking into that appointment with tears in my eyes. My hands were shaking. My heart was beating so fast. All the worst case scenarios were running through my head. When we walked into his office I just remember seeing him with this big smile on his face. I actually asked him why he was so happy!
He told me it was because he figured it out. He finally had the last piece to my puzzle and he finally had a real diagnosis for me. He said in his many years of practice, he only had one other case like mine (ONE!!!!), but he knew exactly how to help. I was diagnosed with Hypogonadotropic hypogonadism. Something was wrong with my pituitary gland. I don’t produce enough of the female sex hormones to have periods or to ovulate. On baseline, my estrogen was 3, my FSH was 2 and my LH was 0. The solution was easy; give me those hormones artificially! So we started a round of injections.
I conceived in our first month of injections. I did, however, lose the pregnancy in the fifth week due to a thin uterine lining. It was devastating and we mourned the pregnancy. Even though we had only known I was pregnant for a week, it meant so much to us that all the doctors all these years were wrong. It meant we were having a family when we never thought we could. It filled that hole in my heart that had grown so much over the years. It was the most magical week of our lives. I did dry my eyes eventually and focused on the positives; we did get pregnant so that meant we could get pregnant again.
On our third month, I had over-responsed to the medication. I developed a severe case of ovarian hyperstimultion. After that, our options became limited. We could either turn to IFV, egg donation, or try a whole new set of injections. Our specialist stressed how I could react to even these injections and my life could be at risk. We took a month to think about it and to give my body a break. I am the kind of person who has to try everything before giving up. I don’t want to live life with regrets. I need to know that I did my very best before calling it quits. So with all the risks in mind, I decided I wanted to give the injections just one more chance to work.
And I’m so glad I did for that’s the month we conceived our twins! We found out at 4 weeks that we were pregnant.
On my two-day repeat blood work, the numbers had more than doubled. They told me this was a great sign; I told my husband I thought we were having twins. By 5 weeks, morning sickness kicked in and by 7 weeks, I was diagnosed with HG. I again told my husband it was twins; I could only be this sick, this early on due to extra HCG hormones! My suspicions were confirmed at our first ultrasound at 7.5 weeks. We laughed. We cried. We panicked. We loved harder than we ever did before. We felt blessed.
The pregnancy was rocky. My cervix started thinning at 18 weeks and by 24 I was put on modified bed rest. At 22 weeks I was diagnosed with cholestasis and varicose veins in places you should NOT have varicose veins! Around 29 weeks Baby A had a dip in her amniotic fluid and dropped from the 50th percentile to the 19th percentile in growth so I started going for scans and NST’s three times a week. At 31 weeks, I started having swelling in my feet. Typical third trimester swelling they said. Two days later, the swelling was up to my ankles. They said it was normal. Two days after that, the swelling was up to my calves. It was at this appointment that my blood pressure finally decided to sky rocket (it had been absolutely normal up until this point). I was admitted that day and told I’d stay in hospital until I delivered in 6-7 weeks.
That night, the doctor on call came by my room to say hello. He said, “Hmm, you don’t look that sick to have +2 protein and high blood pressure!” He was such a jokester. I thanked him for the compliment. The next morning, at 8am he came into my room with two doctors and two nurses. He sat down on the couch and I just remember thinking “Oh boy, this can’t be good”. He said, “Remember how I told you that you didn’t look that sick? Well your blood work came back this morning and you’re very, very sick. We need to get those babies out right away”. He told me I had HELLP Syndrome. My kidneys and liver were starting to shut down. My platelets were 48,000. My pre-eclampsia suddenly became severe. It was a matter of life or death; we needed to deliver these babies.
After I made two very risky decisions regarding the surgery, we went ahead with a spinal c-section. I lost so much blood that I was on the verge of blacking out. I remember the room was spinning and the edges of my vision were starting to turn black. I fought my body to keep my eyes open. I didn’t want to miss one second of my babies fighting for their lives in the next room. I focused my eyes on the tv monitors in the ceiling and kept telling myself not to blink or I might not be able to open my eyes again.
Baby B was whisked off to the NICU as he needed help breathing. Baby A was strong enough to come see me in the recovery room. I reached into the incubator and put my finger in her hand and she grabbed so tightly.
I felt, and still do feel, so much guilt for not being able to carry them further but for a moment I felt like she was telling me that it was okay. I had to wait almost 36 hours to meet my son.
12 hours after the babies were born, my blood pressure rose dangerously high. I started having convulsions and was whisked away to ICU. They started me on a magnesium drip and I fought them hard; I didn’t want medication to get into my breast milk. The nurse told me that if I didn’t start the magnesium right away then I was going to die. The next 24 hours were scary, but I pulled through. I had too. I had to fight for my new family and for the chance to go meet my son.
They spent 33 days in the NICU. A number I am thankful wasn’t any larger. Those 33 days were so hard. Leaving a hospital after giving birth without a child in your arms just feels awful. Every time I left it felt as though I was leaving two thirds of my heart behind. The goodbyes never got easier; I thought that maybe they would.
But we got through that hurdle, too and on April 17th, they finally came home, together.
The first few weeks of motherhood are honestly a blur to me. I had an amazing support system from my parents and my husband (who is truly the best dad). I slept maybe 2 hours a night and it wasn’t even 2 straight hours! And during the day I worked on my masters degree. It was exhausting to say the least!
I didn’t expect to have the emotional struggle that I did surrounding the kids birth and their time in the NICU. It is something I’m still dealing with now. It is something I think about every day. I thought these feelings were normal. I thought it was normal to fixate on what happened. I’ve developed a lot of anxiety about leaving the kids and in the 15 months that they’ve been home, I’ve never left them for more than a few hours and certainly not overnight. I’ve gone out three times; two date nights and one girls night. And I only trust them to my husband and my parents. I know now that this stems from leaving them in the NICU for so long. And I know now that my fixation about their birth is PTSD. I wish I had gotten help for these things sooner.
I wish I had in the first few weeks of motherhood. It wouldn’t change the diagnosis, but it would have helped me to heal sooner. I wish I knew that there were other mental struggles other than PPD because I kept telling myself “I don’t have PPD so I don’t need help”. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago when a doctor told me I had PTSD that I realized there was more to post-partum mental health.
But now I do know. And now I can get the help I need to finally start healing.
*Sarah shared this story in 2018 - her twins are now 3 years old*
- Sarah - Mom of James & Emma - Ontario, Canada