Our Trip to Mars

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)
  • Weight Gain
  • 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
  • Weakness
  • Blurred Vision
  • Difficulty Concentrating

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.

We miss you, Mars. Every single day.

Love, your moms.

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