It’s been 9 days since we lost our baby Mars. In those 9 days I’ve experienced just about every emotion I’d imagine exists. My body’s crumbled in ways I didn’t think were possible. And my mind has gotten lost in the darkest tunnels I’ve ever known.
So how am I? Really? It’s a strange combination of extreme emotional turmoil and bone-crushing physical pain. I’ll try to put it into words.
I’d say what I’ve felt these past 9 days can be described best as a “bone-crushing pain.” The kind you feel in your chest like a heavy weight begging you to stop breathing. The kind that lives in your bones and makes everything ache so you resort to laying in bed until the ache lets up. But, the ache doesn’t let up, it just manifests.
The physical pain from the procedure has nothing on the physical pain from the grief, that’s all I can really say when comparing the two. The procedure to remove Mars was quick, the pain afterwards lasted a few days. But, the emotional pain has been hitting me full force. It’s hit me so bad some days that I’ve screamed “I don’t want to live in a world without our baby.” I know though, that I need to continue on living, in honour of Mars, and in honour of myself and my family, friends and everyone who’s pushed for us.
I went through periods of 3 days at a time where I didn’t sleep. My doctor said it was likely due to hormonal shifts.While my therapist said “Of course you can’t sleep, the last time you went to sleep you were pregnant, and when you woke up you didn’t have your baby.” I think both are true, and both are heartbreaking.
I found maybe 2-3 hours a night where pure exhaustion would knock me out. I became so sleep deprived I got physically ill, I started hallucinating and swore there were people in our house. This is the raw, unfiltered side of grief, of sleep deprivation, of miscarriage. My doctor ended up prescribing me sleeping pills which I have yet to try. I’m hopeful I won’t need them, but glad I have them incase I do.
I think the hardest part of my week was the moments when I’d forget what had happened. I’d be outside, the warm air against my cheeks. I’d be playing with my dog and laughing while drinking a glass of wine on the deck and suddenly the sinking feeling would hit and I’d remember Mars, and how much I missed them, how much I loved them already. And in an instant, my happiness would turn to pure panic.
I’m still learning how to find happiness after this. I know it’s possible, and I know I’ll find it. I just need to keep going. Some days are harder to keep going than others, but today I’m choosing to find happiness for Mars.
I sit here at 3:58 the day before I plan to launch Undertow. I’ve spent the last 2 years writing, cutting, illustrating, editing, dreaming.
I’ve had doubts: “Can I do this?” “Will people like it?” And, I’ve had determination: “I know these words need to be heard.”
Undertow is so different than Waves. Waves was a ripple in the ocean on a calm day. Waves was beautiful, and angelic. Undertow is intense, it is powerful, it is hopeful and strong. I remember when I released Waves I was terrified, it was my first time sharing my writing on a large scale, and I was so afraid that people wouldn’t like it, or would hold my words against me somehow. But now, now I truly don’t care. And, I don’t say that in a way that means I don’t care about my supporters. I mean, I don’t care if people like it, because I like it. I believe in it. And, I know, the right people will hold this book and feel at home.
I’ve decided to stay with the ocean theme, because it’s one of the only places I’ve ever felt 100% at peace. It’s a place that means so much to me, and I will continue to dedicate my books to the ocean for as long as it feels right to do so.
It took me a while to decide on the title“Undertow.” At first I considered “Riptide” and then realized Vance Joy’s song would literally flood any millennials mind when they read it. I considered “Shipwreck” and “Shoreline” and basically every other ocean word. But none of them fully encapsulated what I think Undertow is.
And now, here I am, completely in awe that the experience of creating Undertow is coming to a close. I’ve come to realize, I don’t think I’ll ever stop writing. Each book I write holds so much, and if it can be a vehicle to help another person feel less alone in the weight of the ocean, that’s all I can really hope for.
I love you all, I wish I could do another book release party, but I know we’ll all celebrate in our own ways together. I’ve launched an online store where you can purchase Undertow, and feel free to use the discount code PRE15 at checkout for a pre-order 15% off. Printing is set to be finished in November, and shipping will occur in December (Aiming for before Christmas). It’s unexpected if COVID19 will cause shipping delays at that time, but rest assured I will do everything in my power to get Undertow into your hands before Christmas.
If you have any questions about Undertow, when shipping will occur, or any other questions for me, feel free to reach out!
1 month since losing you. 1 month of pure terror. 1 month of staring depression in the face and choosing to survive. 1 month of waking up and remembering you’re gone. 1 month I wish I could forget. 1 month without you.
Today marks 1 month since we lost our baby, Mars. In that month, we’ve experienced every single emotion on the spectrum, and have had to find strength in a place where strength is almost impossible to find. I’m not going to lie and say it’s gotten easier- it hasn’t. But, through the suffering I have found ways to let the light in, and have made a conscious decision to live my best life in honor of Mars.
That doesn’t mean I don’t cry into my pillow, in the shower, whenever I see a pregnant person or whenever I remember how it felt to carry our baby. It just means the suffering doesn’t consume me (most days).
To celebrate surviving a month without Mars, and to raise awareness on what actually happens during/after miscarriage, I’m doing a Q&A. Thank you to everyone who submitted questions, I’ll answer them the best I possibly can 🙂
What do you do to keep yourself busy/cope with the loss of Mars?
This is such a great question. Especially during Covid/lockdowns, distractions have been hard to find. I was having a conversation with my mom the other day and we were saying how in normal days, if someone went through a miscarriage, they may enjoy going to a spa, getting their hair done, and seeing friends in person. But, when you consider that we can’t do any of those things right now, I’ve had to get crafty in how I keep myself busy.
Here are the things I’ve done to keep busy, and cope with the loss.
– Read. A lovely friend of mine dropped off a stack of books I’ve been working my way through. I used to primarily read non-fiction, but now I’m enjoying the escape of fiction, how you can transport into another life by simply turning a page. I’ve read a few books I really enjoyed that I’ll link at the end of the blog post. I’ve also set a goal to read 12 books in 2021. – Walk. Someone a lot of people don’t know about miscarriage is that depending on whether you have surgery or not, the doctors suggest 4-6 weeks of “pelvic rest” which is essentially no exercise that engages the pelvis/core. So, all I’ve been able to do is walk, and it’s been a lifeline. – Write. The thing I love about writing, is no one can take it away from me. Not a pandemic, or a lockdown or a miscarriage. I’ve been blogging and writing in my journal to process what’s happened. I plan to continue using Mars as a motivation to engage in creativity. – Connect. I can’t even put into words how important connection has been for me during this time. I’ve connected with folks over Instagram and Facebook who have been through similar experiences or who simply want to extend a hand to help me through this. Now, the thing about connection, is you have to ask for it. You can’t expect people to know you want it. I’ve been open with our loss on Instagram and Facebook which has opened the door for folks to connect with me. This has been so, so valuable. Thank you to anyone who has reached out to me, had 1 Facebook am conversations, or has offered support in any way.
What is the best advice you can give someone suffering through a miscarriage?
Oh gosh, where to begin… I think the best advice I could give to someone suffering through a miscarriage is to listen to their body, connect with their body, and let yourself feel what you feel. If you need to cry into your pillow for 2 hours straight- do it. If you need to scream in an empty field until your throat burns- do it. If you need to isolate for a week straight and not talk to anyone- do it. You know what you need, deep down, and no one can tell you how you cope with your loss isn’t valid. Only you know what feels right.
Have you had any unexpected feelings since losing Mars?
I have. Many, actually. One that stands out is gratitude. I didn’t expect to EVER feel thankful for this experience. In my darkest days I literally wanted to die because our baby did. But, as the days pass, and as I engage in healing and actively seek out support (via therapy, connecting with others and connecting with nature) I have found a way to be thankful for this experience.
Not to say I am thankful Mars died. I’m not, and I will never ever be thankful for that. But, I am thankful for the platform this gave me to advocate for folks who have experienced miscarriage and didn’t have the resources to advocate for themselves. This experience has allowed me to speak out and make noise about something that is usually experienced in silence and solitude.
I am thankful for the strength Mars has given me. But god, do I miss them.
When will you try again (to conceive)? Do you think you’ll ever be ready?
Short answer, I don’t think we’ll ever be ready. But, that doesn’t mean we won’t try again.
Long answer, we don’t know when we’ll try again. The newly imposed Covid lockdown measures prohibit non-essential travel, and our donor lives out of province…. so we kind of have to wait and see when the lockdown lets up.
We’re also being careful not to rush to try again until we both feel we have fully processed the loss and feel emotionally, and physically strong enough to try again. Speaking for myself (not my partner), I can say I don’t feel physically or emotionally ready yet. So, even if there weren’t a lockdown, we’d be waiting. I’m also aware that I don’t think you can ever feel ready after something like this happens… I imagine when we start trying again I’ll be flooded with memories of losing Mars, fear of it happening again, and maybe an ounce of guilt. I feel like trying again means we’re moving on from Mars, but I know it doesn’t. It just means we’re moving on, with Mars in our hearts.
If I had to guess when we’ll try again, I’d say maybe Summer or Fall of this year. But, who knows. Only time will tell.
Can you link products you use to pamper yourself after losing Mars?
An advocate, Zoe Clark-Coates, who also writes books on baby loss and grief have also been super helpful. Her Instagram posts have also helped me immensely. Her website offers a bio as well as all of her books (which can also be purchased on Amazon, and some are also at Chapters/Indigo).
What are some physical symptoms after miscarriage that you didn’t expect?
So many. I’m not going to go into depth on explaining them, as they are fairly self explanatory. A list of unexpected physical symptoms I’ve experienced after miscarriage are:
Acne (face, chest, back)
Weight Gain – like my body doesn’t realize the baby’s gone.
Insomnia (this isn’t entirely physical, but was caused likely by the hormonal shifts so I think it’s physical personally) – I kid you not, the week after miscarriage I literally slept maybe 2 hours per night and experienced a sleep-deprivation induced psychosis. I hallucinated and saw ghosts/people in our house. It was the scariest experience. Luckily, the insomnia only lasted about a week.
Pain. Even a month after the D&C surgery, I experience pain in my womb. I’m not sure if it’s psycho-somatic, or if it’s just my uterus continuing to heal. But it’s a painful reminder.
Bleeding. For me, this only lasted about a week. But for some folks it can last longer.
Can you elaborate on going through the conceiving and miscarriage process as someone with PCOS?
Ah, so this question could be an entire blog post itself. But, I’ll speak to my experience here, and will likely elaborate further in the future.
I was diagnosed with PCOS in my early teens and have always had irregular periods. I’ve found that in different stages of my life, my PCOS symptoms get better, or worse. Since the Pandemic hit, my symptoms have worsened due to stress. My body actually stopped ovulating on it’s own, so I was prescribed Letrozole, which I used to induce ovulation, and conceive.
I’d say the biggest hurdle for me, was realizing that I wasn’t ovulating. Even if you don’t ovulate, you may have high LH surges (which stimulate ovulation to occur) but despite my high LH levels, ovulation wasn’t happening. It wasn’t until I was monitored by the fertility clinic that we discovered I wasn’t ovulating (this is done through blood tests and ultrasounds).
I guess, my biggest piece of advice if you want to conceive as someone who has PCOS is to educate yourself as much as you can. I found this book helpful (to understand PCOS, not to reverse it). Additionally, I’d say get in touch with a fertility clinic or specialist as soon as you decide you want to start a family, as it can be a lengthy process to figure out a treatment plan that works for your body.
In terms of miscarrying with PCOS, I’m not sure if it’s different from miscarrying without PCOS. But, I do know I likely won’t ovulate/get a period without using progesterone pills and Letrozole. The progesterone pills are taken for 7-10 days and then stopped, which forces your body to have a period. Then, Letrozole is taken on cycle days 3-7 to induce ovulation (which occurs around cycle day 15-17 for me).
In short, PCOS complicates every aspect of conceiving. I wish I could provide more information, but I’m still learning about it too. ❤
I hope these questions and answers can help someone else struggling.
Yesterday was Easter. The weekend that normally is full of multiple family gatherings, an oversupply of Easter Dinners and Easter egg hunts was already different because of Covid. This year was quiet. Eerily so. But, what I didn’t realize is holidays after loss hurt.
Logging into Facebook and seeing pregnancy announcements, little ones searching for chocolate eggs and babies experiencing their first Easter was more difficult than I had anticipated. It was a harsh reminder of what we lost, and what we are missing out on. Social media has a sneaky way of doing that eh? Tricking us into thinking everyone else is happier than we are. Except this year, I could guarantee they were.
The thing about miscarriage, is for the time afterwards, you’re constantly thinking in “ifs.” If we hadn’t lost our baby we may have done an Easter announcement too. If we hadn’t lost our baby we’d be celebrating Easter together with warm hearts knowing it would be our last Easter with just the two of us. If we didn’t lose our baby, the holidays wouldn’t hurt.
I don’t know when the holidays will stop hurting. I imagine every milestone without our baby will always hurt, and that we’ll just get more used to holding the pain. I feel like my arms are so heavy from all the hurt I’ve been holding. I’m hopeful as each holiday comes and goes we can honor Mars somehow. Though we didn’t on Easter, I plan to buy an ornament for them for Christmas. By still including Mars in our lives somehow, I find it lessens the agony of the fact that they aren’t here anymore.
It’s been three weeks since losing Mars and life has felt a little dark lately. Like each day drags by, and then it happens all over again and in my darkest times I think “What’s the point of it all?” I know this is the grief talking, and I know over time I’ll find purpose again. But, for now, it’s really hard.
I’m finding moments that don’t hurt, where I’ll feel the sun on my skin and I’ll forget these past few months even happened. These moments are beautiful, angelic, blissful. But, they’re followed by the crashing reality that the last few moments did happen, and not only did they happen, they crushed our world.
I finally got a formal diagnosis from a psychiatrist which confirmed what I already knew, that I have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder [PTSD.] I’ve struggled with the side affects of PTSD for my entire adult life, and only now have I gotten a formal diagnosis. I finally feel heard, and hopeful that I can use therapy to work through this.
I’ve been struggling with nightmares which my doctor says is likely related to the trauma of my miscarriage. I wake up in cold sweats, heart pounding, feeling like I’m going to be sick, legs shaking. I still have pain where my baby used to live. I still clench my stomach and cry and scream into pillows just wishing we could rewind somehow.
But, I also have been waking up each day and have gotten out of bed for three weeks since losing Mars. I’m still surviving. I’m still going to therapy and blogging and finding small sparks of happiness when I can. I know Mars would want that for me.
So when people ask me how I’m doing, if I’m honest, I’m surviving.
It’s been 2 weeks since we lost you. 2 weeks since you’ve been outside of my body and it still feels surreal. They say grief gets easier with time, and I don’t necessarily agree. I think it just gets further away, smaller, harder to see. But when you lose a baby, it’s almost like you don’t want that to happen…like you want them to stay as big as possible, to take up as much room as possible. Because that’s the closest you’ll ever get to having them here.
I’d be lying if I said it’s gotten easier. It hasn’t. Grief has a way of shape shifting as time passes. When we first lost you our grief was a hurricane, now it’s a broken tap dripping constantly. Both demand attention, but only the people living with the dripping tap understand it’s enormity- the attention it demands.
Through my healing, I’ve found a few things that have helped me feel either closer to Mars (our lost baby), or feel closer to myself. I’m going to outline those in hopes that they can help someone else.
Therapy. Seriously- go to therapy if you can. I found a really wonderful therapist in Ottawa who specializes in everything relating to pregnancy, birth trauma, postpartum and loss. I’ve been seeing her once/week since we lost our baby and she’s been a lifeline for me. I usually sob through our sessions, but she ensures the space feels safe enough to do so. She has helped me connect with Mars, and myself and has given me hope to carry on. If anyone is looking for a phenomenal therapist here’s her contact @Empowered Counselling.
Something to honor our baby. I knew I needed something tangible to hold when Mars left us. At first I debated sleeping with the single outfit we purchased when we found out we were pregnant, but that hurt way too much. Later I found this lovely jewelry shop called Rightly Royce (After their little one) run by a couple who lost their sweet boy when he was under 3 years old. They used his legacy to help other grieving parents with their beautiful jewelry. The jewelry is primarily initial or name necklaces, but they’re always coming out with new products as well. Here’s their online shop.
Community Support. We have been so blessed with the outpouring of support from our friends, family and even strangers. Our friend started a Gofundme for us to help with costs so we can try again to start a family when we’re ready and it’s almost hit 4k! We can’t even express our gratitude, just know we’ve shed so many tears from the kindness we’ve been shown.
Through our mourning, I was also made aware of this amazing mama who suffered loss of her baby girl, Lily, and has spent her time helping other couples who have struggled as well. She delivers grief support boxes to couples grieving their babies. I was so amazed by the initiative and thoughtfulness of the box. It came complete with a personalized card and grief journals for myself and my partner, flower seeds, gardening gloves, a tiny wooden angel, a handmade candle and so much more. If you’d like to learn more about Lily’s Purpose and how you can help check her site here.
Put away triggering items. Something that was hard about losing our baby was the fact that our home was fully prepared to learn how to welcome them into our world. Pregnancy and parenting books overflowed on my nightstand. Prenatal vitamins sat on our counter. The single outfit we bought laid perfectly on the bed in the room that would have been theirs. Ultrasound photos were propped proudly. This was the hardest thing that I did in order to heal- I put all the items away. I gathered the books, the vitamins, the outfit, the ultrasound photo’s in shaking arms. I put them in the room that would have been Mars’. I cried remembering how hopeful I felt when we found out we were expecting. I closed the door to the room not knowing when I’d feel that sense of hope again, if ever.
Create a memory box. A week after placing all the items in the room that would have been Mars’, I retrieved a few of the most important items and took them to my office. I sat with them, held them, smelled them, cried over them. I took the outfit, the ultrasound photo’s and one of the many pregnancy tests and placed them in a suitcase box I purchased just for this. I wanted to have a spot where I could remember Mars. I wanted to have all of our most important memories in a single place so I could open it when I needed to feel closer to them. I strongly encourage anyone who’s experienced loss to consider trying this, too. It feels cathartic and comforting to know our memories are safe in the box and that I can open it whenever I need to.
I hope this post can help someone else navigating their way through the murky waters of grief.
Note: this is based off my personal experience, as that is the only one I can speak to. I’ve had many folks reach out to me with their stories, and they all differ. But one thing I’ve noticed that occurs across the board is trauma. So, while you read this, remember that miscarriages are traumatic. Be kind to folks you know who have experienced them.
1. Your baby may stay in your womb, lifeless, before your body gets the hint to dispel it. This is technically known as a missed miscarriage. But, in my case, my body got the clue about two weeks after the baby’s heart stopped beating. So technically, I’m not sure it can be considered a missed miscarriage.
Carrying our lifeless baby for the week before I could get in for aD&C surgery(where they essentially remove the baby, and any tissue related to the baby from your uterus) was the worst emotional pain I’ve ever experience. I kept resting my hand on my belly to protect a baby that couldn’t be protected any longer.
My mind knew it was no longer carrying a baby full of life, and it felt like my womb had become a tomb that I couldn’t escape. In all honesty, I felt like a walking graveyard. But my body, oh my body just didn’t get the clue. I’d wake up swearing I felt movement, swearing the ultrasound technician made a mistake. I’d ask my wife over and over again “You didn’t see a heartbeat right?” My mind and body were at war, one knowing our baby was no longer with us, and one swearing they were. It’s hard to convince your body that the baby you’re carrying is lifeless.
2. You may have to wait weeks before you can get surgery to remove your baby. I had to search actively for 2 days (while grieving the news that our baby had passed) to find an OB that could fit me in within a week. The rest of the clinics and OB’s I contacted (keep in mind, I contacted them. My midwives were less than helpful in the situation, and I couldn’t help but feel like they cared more about the babies that were healthy, than ours that was gone), only had appointments booking out 2 weeks minimum.
I couldn’t bare the thought of carrying our lifeless baby for another two weeks, and the thought of it made me physically and mentally ill. So, we booked a D&C surgery with a lovely OB exactly 6 days after we found out our baby had passed.
3. Even if you book a D&C surgery, your body may still miscarry “naturally.” We booked our D&C for Monday, March 15th. But, on the Saturday I started bleeding. It wasn’t heavy, but it was enough for me to know my body was soon going to naturally miscarry and that I’d need the D&C ASAP to avoid that.
I chose to have a D&C because of the pure trauma we experienced for 4 weeks knowing our baby wasn’t going to make it, plus the 1 week carrying our baby after they passed. I couldn’t handle the thought of bleeding out in our bathroom, in our home- our safe space. I couldn’t handle the image of flushing our baby’s remains down the toilet. I just couldn’t.
So, we went to Emerge, shaky and hopeful they would take mercy on us and do an emergency D&C. They typically only will if you’re hemorrhaging, which I was not, but I was visibly unstable and needed this for my mental health.
I remember the doctor came into the room, saw my wife and I (luckily they let her accompany me for this emergency room visit after she advocated for us), he looked at us with cold eyes and stated it wasn’t an emergency, so we’d have to wait for our appointment on Monday.
I lost it- started shaking and crying and picturing our baby in the toilet, blood on my hands, unbearable pain. I asked him “At what point does this become a mental health emergency?” Without the surgery, I was afraid I would go into a dark place that I wouldn’t return from. He calmly stated “If it’s a mental health emergency, you should go to the Royal, or emerge and let them know.”
He didn’t ask if I was actively suicidal, didn’t ask if I had a safety plan, didn’t ask follow up questions relating to my mental health. If he had asked, maybe he would have pushed for us to get the surgery sooner- maybe not. All I know, is that day, I lost faith in humanity, lost belief that people genuinely care for others. Little did I know, my faith in humanity would return.
4. Miscarrying naturally is traumatic. I continued bleeding lightly from our ER visit on Saturday all the way until our scheduled surgery on Monday. Monday morning I woke up and the bleeding was heavier, the cramps were getting progressively worse. I went to sleep, hoping it would help pass the time and the pain before my appointment at 1:15 pm.
When we arrived at the hospital, I had no idea what to expect. I said goodbye to my wife as she had to wait in the car, not knowing what to expect. I sat in the waiting room for the nurses to bring me into the operating room. To my surprise, it would be 3 more hours before the surgery was performed.
The cramping was getting worse, I could barely stand and was asked to put on a gown and remove my clothes. I did, and then was helped onto a hospital bed where I lay in utter pain and terror for the next 3 hours.
I can’t explain the pain to you, other than to say that it came in waves and knocked me down each time. At the worst of the pain, I was convulsing, rocking back and forth, losing consciousness and having trouble breathing. The pain was quite literally overtaking my will to continue living. My blood pressure started dropping and my lips were turning blue. I remember screaming out “Please, I need to push something out.” That request was ignored, and I laid in the hospital bed in and out of consciousness for another hour.
The nurses were kind, bringing warm blankets to put on my stomach, and cool clothes for my forehead and back (I was drenched in sweat so these were a god send). They held my hand, and assured me it would be over soon. They gave me Ativan to help my body calm down, but nothing worked. With gentle hands I reached for a nurse and begged her “please, put me out.”
5. The D&C surgery is less scary than I expected. When they finally wheeled me into the operating room I was so thankful that soon the pain would be over. The doctor performing my surgery had the kindest eyes I’ve ever seen. I remember she looked into my eyes before the surgery when I asked her why the pain was so bad, and she said “Because your body is pushing out clots, you’re miscarrying, but it will be over soon.”
When I was in the operating room, right before they put me under anesthesia, the nurses, doctor and the anesthesiologist all held my hands while I cried, and mourned our baby. A collective group of women holding my pain with me, knowing damn well how heavy that pain is. This moment is forever etched in my memory and I am thankful to have experienced it.
When I woke up, I was freezing, but was covered in warm blankets. I looked around, searching for a baby. Until I realized, I hadn’t given birth, I had experienced loss. My body started shaking again- processing the trauma. A nurse came over, told me the surgery went well and that I could go home now. She helped me into my coat, and wheeled me down to the main entrance where my wife was waiting, patiently, unaware of anything I had just experienced.
After the surgery:
I remember the car ride home, I stared out the window, at horses and farm houses and I imagined a life where we had our baby in our arms, instead of in our hearts. I imagined what their laugh would have sounded like, their cry, their vice. I imagined what the look in their eyes would have felt like, if they would have looked like me, or if they would have dark hair. I imagined a life that wasn’t our reality and wished I could live there instead. But I knew damn well, we had to face this.
So I told my wife everything, slowly (as I was still loopy from the anesthesia), tears calmly fell from my eyes as I recalled the pain, the pain, the pain.
When we got home, she tucked me into bed, because all I wanted was rest. My body felt like it had run a marathon that it spent years training for, only to not receive a metal. I slept, feeling hollow, empty and alone. I don’t know if I’ve truly woken up.
We flew to Halifax on January 6th, 2021 full of dreams for a better year. I felt it in my bones that 2021 was going to be a year of purpose, of growth, of life, of hope.
We had spent the last 2 years going through infertility. For anyone who hasn’t experienced infertility- it looks different for every person who goes through it. There are millions of ways your body may be unable to conceive. And each of those ways has an emotional, physical and psychological toll.
After a family doctor referral, we started off in 2018 at the fertility clinic, unsure of what our journey would look like- we were eternally hopeful. I went through baseline testing which includes blood tests to test hormone levels, ultrasounds to check ovaries, uterus (and whatever else is in there), and a tubal flush. Tubal flushing is when a doctor uses a liquid medium to pass fluid under pressure through the fallopian tubes to ensure that these structures are open or patent. A hysterosalpingogram (known as an HSG) is a form of X-ray that can be used to document tubal flushing.
I actually went through all the baseline testing twice, once per year as my symptoms began to change and we took a short hiatus from fertility in 2019 after our selected known donor (A known sperm donor is a friend, family member or someone you have met on a sperm donor website who is willing to donate their sperm to help you become pregnant) had changed his mind due to personal reasons which we totally could understand. Asking someone to donate their sperm and have no or limited involvement with the child is a huge ask, and we were just thankful to have a friend offer at the time.
Fast forward to 2020- we have completed all baseline testing and have been informed I have PCOS which we already assumed based on the following symptoms I experience:
irregular periods (sometimes as few as 2-3 per year)
Elevated “Male” hormones (which we determined through blood testing)
Excess body hair
I’ve experienced the symptoms of PCOS since I was a teenager, though there have been periods where the symptoms were far more manageable than they have been the past few years.
In the summer of 2020, we had a family member offer to be our new known donor, and we were ecstatic. We’ve known since the beginning of our journey that we prefer to use a known donor vs. purchasing sperm through a sperm bank. This is a decision personal to each couple. For us, we liked the idea of knowing the person the child would be a part of, we liked the transparency of it, and that the donor could be a part of the child’s life (in more of an uncle role).
We drafted a formal legal agreement, which had the donor agree to causes such as having no parental rights. And, we thought the rest was easy! We were so wrong.
The summer of 2020 my health was in the worst shape it’s ever been. I was stress ridden from COVID19 anxiety, work stress, and the fear of not being able to conceive as I know PCOS can make it that much harder. I was getting periods, but they were light, which I didn’t think was a problem. I later learned the “periods” I was having were just Breakthrough Bleeding which is essentially spotting and can be caused when you don’t ovulate properly.
We had our donor visit us twice in the summer of 2020, and we drove to their city once. So a total of 3 tries, approximately 3-4k because we were able to drive instead of fly due to the city our donor lived in at the time. And, at this point, I wasn’t yet taking any fertility drugs.
The three tries (multiple tries per month) all failed. The ovulation predictor kits were inconclusive and showed I was highly fertile, but never at the “peak”. We were devastated and confused as why my body wasn’t working with us.
We returned to the fertility clinic and explained my new symptoms, and they determined with more testing including blood tests and ultrasounds at different points in my cycle, that I wasn’t ovulating, and likely hadn’t for the entire first 6 months of 2020. They said this may have been related to my existing PCOS and worsened by stress. We were so distraught, knowing we just spent money, time, our donors time, and so much hope only to be blind-sighted by my body.
I went through a really dark period of hating my body. I felt like it was failing me, like it was running on a completely alternate route than the one we were trying to drive down. There was such a disconnect between the family we wanted to create and the way my body was functioning. I just couldn’t understand it.
We spent the next few months trying to save money, and going through more testing. I made lifestyle changes, took supplements that were supposed to help, went for accupuncture and continued to wonder if we would ever get blessed with a baby.
In November of 2020 the fertility clinic perscribed me Letrozole to induce ovulation. They had me do a mock month where I took progesterone pills, and stopped them after 2 weeks which induced an actual period, then I took the Letrozole from cycle days 3-7 and then, went through 3 ultrasounds per week to see if my follicles were growing (if the follicles grow to a certain size, they burst to release the egg). Lucky for us, my follicles were growing and the Letrozole worked perfectly to induce ovulation. We were extactic as we felt we had a tiny ounce of hope.
I continued taking the Letrozole during the month of December, and it worked again which I confirmed using the Mira (this is a super fancy ovulation tracker and I recommend it to anyone who struggles with ovulation or tracking). The Letrozole gave me a slew of side affects which I was happy to try and ignore if it meant we may be able to start a family.
The side affects of Letrozole I experienced include:
Hot flushes/night sweats
Nausea/loss of appetite
It basically felt like I had a bad flu for 5 days of each month I took it. I had to take days off work, which added up quickly because of the previous days I had taken off for the large number of appointments. This is what so many people don’t know about infertility. It isn’t just the stress of not being able to have a baby, it’s the stress of time management, coordinating time off with work, financial hits such as paying for donor sperm/travel, and using all your sick days so quickly you have to resort to taking unpaid days frequently. Not to mention the difficulty of excelling and reaching your full potential at work because you’re basically living a double life.
But, I didn’t mind any of that, as long as it brought us one step closer to our baby. Which it did. In January of 2021, when we flew to Halifax (which had it’s own added anxiety due to COVID19), we got so lucky and conceived 7 days after we arrived. Though we didn’t know until nearly 3 weeks later.
I remember waking up one morning a few days before my expected period and I just knew. I felt off, but in a way I can’t put words to. I just felt different and I know it worked. I tip-toed into the bathroom at 5am and took a test. The line was faint, and I knew it could be faulty, but I trusted it and I trusted my gut.
This is the first test I took with shaking hands and teary cheeks.
The thing about infertility, is it tricks you into believing you can’t ever get pregnant, and that if you do, it won’t last. So over the following days I continued testing, to be certain.
Our excitement, joy, relief, hope had all been restored seeing those lines get darker over time. We felt positive this was our lucky shot. That all the struggles over the previous two years would be worth it. All the appointments, dept, tears, pain, anger, isolation, waiting- it was all so worth it now.
I fell asleep that week happily, resting my hand on my stomach where a new life was beginning. I woke up the same way, hand on stomach- hopeful.
But, things started to get suspicious the following week. I was going for HCG blood tests every 2-3 days to ensure my levels were rising appropriately. They’re supposed to double, and mine were just short of doubling. The doctor assured me this was likely going to be fine because they were almost the doubling, and were still rising.
I went to sleep with a heavy heart, as this was the first inkling in my heart that something may not be okay.
We flew home in early February, and the night before we flew home I cried and cried. I didn’t want to leave the city our donor was in, in fear that we would lose this baby and would need to try again. I had this unexplainable feeling in my bones. I just knew. At this point, I was around 5 weeks pregnant.
When we returned home, we were welcomed by the baby’s room. We placed the single item be purchased for our baby on the bed, and our pup even started to bond with baby.
2 days after we got home, I started experiencing really bad pain on my left side, and it radiated into my shoulder which is a symptom of ectopic pregnancy. I went to emerge, alone and waited for hours- afraid and in pain. After an ultrasound, they determined baby was in the right place- but that the sac was measuring behind. This was the first mention of a small sac, and I had no idea what it meant. They also determined the pain resulted from a ruptured cyst. I was just so thankful it didn’t impact our baby.
I returned home reassured that I had nothing to worry about. I had a blood level of 1,500 at 5 weeks 3 days when they tested it at the hospital and they assured me all was looking good. I got home late in the evening and collapsed on the couch, shaking.
The next week, we had our first official ultrasound around 6 weeks pregnant. The Ottawa Fertility Centre wouldn’t allow Al to join me. So I went in to see our baby alone. She waited in the car and prayed there would be a tiny heartbeat. I stared at the screen and saw that tiny flicker. I rushed out to the car with an ultrasound photo in hand and good news in my heart. We cried in the car with relief.
While we drove home, our doctor from the Fertility Centre called us, and we knew something was wrong. We spoke to him when we got home and he told us we were at risk of a miscarriage as the gestational sac was measuring nearly 2 weeks behind what it should be and had less than 3mm of a size in difference to the embryo. Essentially, if it didn’t grow, our baby wouldn’t be able to grow. This is called “Small Gestational Sac Syndrome” and occurs in %1.9 of pregnancies.
When we hung up the phone, our hearts shattered. I don’t think I’ve ever cried the way I did in the days following that phone call. I would wake up in low howling sobs. My body shook violently. My body felt like it was sinking. The only hope I had was that we were going to get weekly ultrasounds and blood tests to hopefully get answers.
The coming weeks didn’t provide any good news, only our worst fears. The sac continued to measure small from weeks 6-10. Each week, the space between Gestational Sac and Embryo/Fetus was even less and we knew our time with mars was limited.
At our 9 week ultrasound, I could see Mars was in trouble. There was no room for them to grow. I knew we were close to the end. All my pregnancy symptoms were gone, my HCG and progesterone had been dropping even though I was taking 400 mg of progesterone per day, thats 4 pills a day. I just could feel Mars leaving us. But, it was so nice to see them so clearly, arms, legs and chubby belly.
At 10 weeks and 2 days we were referred to a clinic that allowed partners to attend ultrasounds. I was so happy that Al would finally get to see our baby. I was praying in the days leading up to the ultrasound that Mars would still be alive, so Al could see their tiny heartbeat.
Al sat in the guest chair, I laid on the ultrasound bed, and we stared at the screen at our tiny Mars while the ultrasound technician appeared to be looking frantically for something, which I knew they wouldn’t find. “I can’t seem to find a heartbeat.” The words I had been waiting for, for weeks. The words I was hoping we would never hear. The words that broke us in two. The ultrasound technician asked us if we wanted a photo, and told us they were a 5$ charge. We said of course, and were thankful to have 1 final photo of our baby, who would have someday become our child, our pre-teen, our annoying teenager, our adult. You don’t just lose a baby, you lose everyone they could have been, you lose every memory that could have been made. Every holiday, every birthday with blown candles, every puddle stomping springtime walk, every first day of school, and graduation.
Based on the measurements, the baby likely passed away shortly after our 9 week ultrasound. This is the last bump photo I took, and I’m so glad I did now.
We walked to the front admin desk to pay for our photo, and they told us not to worry about it. The beginning of the kindness. Here’s our last photo of our baby, curled up and beautiful.
We walked back to our car silent, still wearing masks, staring straight ahead. One foot in front of another. I remember thinking “Just make it to the fucking car, don’t break down in the middle of the street, please.” And then I made it to the car, and I drove us home. I didn’t feel anything on the drive home besides anger. Anger that I couldn’t understand why this happened, how it happened, and why it happened to us.
When we got home, I sunk back into the same spot on the couch as I did after returning from the ER so many weeks before. I sobbed, and shook, as the reality sunk in that I was carrying my dead baby in my womb. And that I would need to figure out what to do next.
When I was discussing my missed miscarriage with a friend as I was feeling resentful of my body for not recognizing the baby had passed and doing what I wanted it to do (pass the baby) and she said to me “She’s (Mars) getting her last bits of snuggles in from her amazing mommy.” What a beautiful thought.
Let’s be real- 2020 was rough. I don’t know about you, but a the pandemic and change of lifestyle forced me to look inwards, and ask myself some hard questions. I spent a lot of the year ridden with anxiety, and a lot of the year growing in ways I didn’t think were possible.
But, here’s the thing about growth- it can be really, really painful, messy and turbulent. And, just when you think you’re done growing, life throws you another curveball and you’re forced to decide, do you sink or do you swim?
After an exceptionally wild year, here’s what I’ve learned.
You can only control what you can control: You can’t control a pandemic, or how fast it spreads. You can only control your own actions, beliefs and values.
Connection is a lifeline: If I would have imagined what would suck about a pandemic before I knew we’d live through one I likely would have thought “Oh yeah it would suck to stay home and not shop and travel.” But, while experiencing the pandemic I realized the only thing I truly, truly missed was connecting with people, in person. But, through the pandemic we all got creative with how we connect, and it further confirmed to me that connection is true magic.
Time doesn’t stop: Even if you so desperately want it to. Time continues to tick and you can either let it pass you by, or you can wake up and face it.
Your body has memories: When the pandemic hit, my body went into full blown fight of flight mode. Having experienced trauma in the past, as soon as I felt in danger (thanks social media for further perpetuating that), my body literally collapsed and I realized I had unprocessed trauma that was demanding to be felt.
Therapy is ESSENTIAL: I swear, I’ve never been so thankful for therapy before. My therapist helped me process the pandemic, and also helped me realize that despite the tragedy of it all, I’m not in danger if I’m taking proper precautions.
Goals will guide you: In the first half of 2020, I spent it fear ridden and panicked. But, in the second half, after a ton of therapy, I spent it editing and publishing my Poetry Book, Undertow. Having goals has allowed me to focus on something other than the state of the world. It has also allowed me to contribute to the world in a way that feels meaningful to me.
Substances won’t get rid of the pandemic: they’ll only make you feel less equipped to manage your feelings about it.
My dog is literally my best friend, ever.
Nature knows the way: In the earlier months of the pandemic, we sought out new nature trails, and tried to get into nature as much as possible. It was the single place I felt at peace, almost like the forrest knew more than we did about the future of the world. It was a strange comfort and I’m so thankful for the trees.
Checking in on loved ones is so important: I literally used to never call or text me extended family. Not because I don’t love them, but because we all were so busy in our lives filled with stupid shit we didn’t need to do. Now, I have tons of time to connect with family, and it feels good.
Slow the fuck down: I mean, really…did we all NEED to be living the fast paced lives we were living? Covid19 has really forced us all to slow down, and turn inward. What voids are we filling by constantly staying busy, being surrounded by people, buying shit we don’t need? I don’t know about you, but I’ve turned inward and have realized I don’t want to go back to my old life. I want to grow from this.
Your health is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING. If this means you lose friends because you’re not willing to party during the pandemic, so be it.
Kindness will save the world. Look around- there’s hate and judgement everywhere. But, there’s also been so much kindness. People helping strangers buy groceries, gifts and meals left on porches, dogs being walked when people are in quarantine. Kindness is what will get us through this.
Nurses, Doctors, Teachers, Paramedics and every other essential worker is a fucking hero. Words aren’t enough.
I didn’t edit this post, didn’t overthink it or tweak it. These are the things I’ve taken from 2020, though I could write an entirely different post on what I’ve learned from 2020 & facing infertility during it… Maybe next time.
Sending all of the love, health and care to everyone as we embark on 2021. I hope it’s kinder.
I know this year has been a shit storm of a year. And, I’m so proud of you for making it through.
I keep telling myself there are years we build, and there are years we break. This year, may be the hardest year of your life this far. It may be the year depression creeps inside your head, or the year you forget what a warm hug feels like. It may be the year you can’t remember the smell of your moms perfume, or the feeling of being surrounded by friends. This year may be the hardest year to get through.
This year, is the year we, globally, break.
We’ve witnessed so much sadness, so much heartbreak, so much illness and loneliness. We’ve been bombarded by social media updates, and covid case numbers, and new restrictions. We’ve had to adjust, quickly, to a life that makes our old life feel like decades in the past.
But, you’re surviving it. You’re waking up everyday and putting one foot in front of the other knowing damn well the day ahead might not be easy. You’re adapting to a life you probably thought was only a reality in your wildest imagination. And, above all, you’re here. I’m so fucking glad you’re here.
And, with breaking, comes building. This year we watched business recalibrate, and find success in ways they probably didn’t think were possible. We watched families drive by for birthdays, and video meets became our new way of hanging out. We survived school closures and lockdowns and essential item (Cough toilet paper Cough) shortages.
And, I know when this is over, whenever that may be- we will be stronger. And, I know, it sucks to have to break. But God, I also know how fucking strong we’re all becoming. Maybe these are the growing pains. I’m not trying to make light of the situation, because it fucking sucks- point blank. But, I am also trying to learn from it, somehow. Because I’ll be damned if I can’t take something positive from this and re-purpose it. I need to know 2020 had a purpose (besides ruining our lives).
Breaking hurts. And, it might hurt a bit longer. But, when you get overwhelmed by the brutal-ness of 2020- just remember:
“So far, you‘ve survived 100% of your worst days.
Take it 1 day at a time. We can do this, together.
I can’t believe it’s already almost September. I see little kiddos geared up in backpacks half their size and I find myself longing for childhood again- the simplicity of it all. When choosing your backpack was a decision that weighed heavily as school approached. When back to school shopping was your favourite time of the year.
I think we can all agree this year has been one of the most challenging years of our lives. It’s a year that has broken me, and has built me, 100 times over again. A year where I slipped so far from the person I used to be. I morphed into someone I didn’t like hated. Someone who lost their zest for life, their passion for writing, their ability to socialize without anxiety, their kindness, which quickly turned to fear, which turned to anger, and then sadness, so much sadness.
I think this year, for so many of us, was a year of loss. Loss of the plans we had for the year- all 2020 resolutions down the toilet.
I know so many couples who had to cancel or postpone weddings. Cancel trips. Re-evaluate their career choices. Leave work entirely. Take on the role of home-schooler. Work while caring for children full time. The challenges have been immense.
I think many of us had a hard time adjusting to the loss of normalcy we were used to- loss of the life we knew. The life before we were bombarded by COVID19 headlines on Facebook. Before we checked the Ontario infected cases when we woke up in the morning (Cue Anxiety). A life before we had to distance from people we love. The life before we feared being a carrier of the illness and unknowingly passing it on to our loved ones. A life before Covid is a life that feels so far away.
We are in the waste land. None of us have experienced this in our life times. So how are we supposed to know how to navigate it? With so much conflicting information in the news, no wonder people are struggling to follow the rules:
It’s safe to go to the store.NO Don’t go out unless you have to.You can hug people with a mask on. NO stay 6 feet away at all times. You caneat at a restaurant outside.NO don’t, under any circumstances, eat at a restaurant.
The contradicting information created a sort of tug of war in my mind. In the end, I decided for me, I believe the truth lies somewhere in the middle. It’s the line in the sand that we can’t step over.
With COVID-19, my anxiety sky rocketed. For anyone who’s experienced trauma, you may be familiar with the fight or flight response (heck even if you haven’t experienced trauma I think we’ve all felt this way at some point). When COVID19 hit, my body went back to a place I hoped I’d never have to re-visit. The haunted house on the corner of the street. The dark under the bed. I was brought back to a place of trauma, where my body only knows panic, only knows tension, only knows fight for your fucking life.
After months of high alert, my body was fatigued, my brain was muddled, and I couldn’t think clearly. I felt physically sick 90% of the time. I was so exhausted of being on high-alert. So, what do we do when we don’t want to feel? We escape. I escaped any way I could. I slept too much, or not enough. Ate to fill the loneliness. I drank until the wild in my mind would settle. I just couldn’t handle the noise anymore. I wanted quiet, and I was willing to abuse my body to get it.
That’s the funny thing about alcohol, it doesn’t feel bad for us. It tastes good. It makes us feel good. It’s a social experience. It doesn’t taste like poison. I mean fuck they market it for just about every activity. Having a BBQ? Beer. Going on a date night? Wine. Having a relaxing vacation? Cocktails. How was I supposed to know it was literally poisoning me? Oh, I know. By the fact that my body quite literally started rebelling. And when I couldn’t just have a glass of wine or 2. It was more regularly a bottle. And I’d pass out on the couch, waking up feeling sick and dazed. So, I searched for support.
My doctor told me the amount I was drinking was bordering on alcoholism.
My naturopath told me my reproductive system was shutting down.
My psychologist told me I was drinking when I was sad, not when I was happy.
When I finally took the time to sit with the discomfort. To sit with the noise inside my mind and check in with my body, I asked it “What the fuck do you want?!” And it replied “love.”
So, I searched for ways to show my body love. I saw my naturopath more regularly, who told me without pretty drastic lifestyle changes I will more than likely need fertility treatments in order to ever get pregnant. I remembered a phrase I used to tell myself when I was going through bouts of writers block caused by depression. “Nothing beautiful can grow here.” How can I expect a baby to grow inside my body when I’m addicted to pouring poison in it?
That was a moment of realization. A realization that even if life is hard, even if I’m living through a pandemic, even if I won’t be able to get pregnant easily- I can do hard things. Better yet, I can come out better from it. And also a realization, that I have a certain amount of control over the outcome. I can either sit and drink, or I can do the work.