Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Why We're Not "Trying For A Boy"

The questions are inevitable. We should all be used to them by now.

When you're single everyone wants to know why you're not dating. When you're dating they want to know why you're not married yet. As soon as you tie the knot, they want to know when babies are coming, and look out if this takes longer than people find reasonable. As soon as you have the first baby, and especially after he or she starts having birthdays, they want to know when the sibling will arrive. And so on...

I vividly remember the young anesthesiologist in the operating room when Anna was about to be born. It wasn't the guy who couldn't successfully administer the spinal block, nor the guy who came to relieve him and give me the epidural. It was the guy who was up near my head during the whole surgery, watching my blood pressure and vitals. Needless to say, after all the (painful) drama surrounding the failed spinal block I was not exactly in a relaxed state! But bless his heart, he was trying to make conversation and trying to take my mind off of things. He asked if this would be my first baby and I told him I had a 2-year-old daughter. Did we know the new baby's gender? Yes, another girl, I said. His immediate reaction was my new favorite question (not): Are you going to try for a boy?

I looked up at him incredulously and managed a chuckle, telling him I was pretty positive this was it for me. It was such a ridiculous time to ask such a question that I even heard my doctor laughing from the other side of the drape.

That wasn't the only time we've heard the question. Really, I do know that most of the time people don't mean to offend or be rude or nosy. But I can't help but wonder sometimes whether people actually think about these questions or what they may imply? To me, whether the following things are all intentional or not, the "try for a boy" question implies:

1. That we aren't satisfied with two girls.
Sometimes I want to shout it from the rooftops -- We are completely satisfied with two daughters! Both my husband and I are extremely grateful that God gave us children at all. We think parenting two daughters is an honor and a privilege. Their relationship with each other as sisters delights us on a daily basis. Even though we long ago imagined ourselves with girls, this does not mean we wouldn't have been equally grateful for or satisfied with boys. Children are a blessing! When you've been through the valley to get to your children, you don't sit around wishing that God had given you a different kind. You thank him daily for remembering you, for answering your heartfelt prayers, and for giving you your heart's desire. Our girls are precious and silly and hilarious and beautiful and fun! They are full of joy and full of life, and sometimes when I look at them I see a lifetime of sharing special moments with them as my daughters and my friends. And oh, when I see the sweet and special relationship they have with their daddy, it melts my heart.

2. That we're missing out on the ideal family by not having children of both genders.
I think there are some people out there who really think every man should have a son. That if he doesn't, he's missing out on a special bond. I personally think that's ridiculous. One family member who likes to joke around even suggested that my husband wasn't "manly" enough to produce boys. WOW. That may be the dumbest "joke" I've ever heard. Long before we ever had children, my husband and I had conversations about all the fun things he'd love to do with his daughter or son. And guess what? They were the exact same things. Who cares if you're playing with tea sets or trucks? The memories we've made as a family watching movies together, going to the zoo or the park, playing outside, having tickle fights, and going for ice cream would look much the same if we had girls, boys, or both. Those are the things that matter, not whether their rooms have pink curtains or blue ones. It makes my heart soar that I have a husband who cherishes his girls. Friends, there is nothing in the world more "manly" to me than a man who is secure enough in his masculinity to have a tea party and play with dolls with his daughters.
We've all heard that singsong response that people give sometimes when they have a boy and a girl: "One of each! Now our family is complete!" I'm here to tell you that MINE IS TOO. God completed his plan for our family when he gave us our two daughters.

3. That having children is easy or that it's all about getting the children we want.
I don't mind one bit when a friend asks whether or not we might try to have another baby. Someone who cares about me and my family, who knows a little (or a lot) about what we've been through, is certainly welcome to ask me about my family's future plans. But I have a hard time when it comes from an acquaintance who just wants to be nosy, or if it's phrased like having another child is just a walk in the park. I understand that it is, for some. But for so many it's not, and not only is it difficult, it's also painful to talk about sometimes. We don't all have the privilege of deciding exactly how many children we want and then going on with our lives, sitting back and watching it all fall into place with relative ease and convenience. I'm always tempted to respond to the question with either "None of your business" or giving the whole, long story of our struggle with infertility and miscarriage and everything it took to get to where we are. We fought hard to get here.
I'll admit, it gets under my skin when I hear others go on and on about their preferences when it comes to having children. Is that really what it's all about? I understand having a dream of one day having a daughter or son, specifically. I totally get that. But I believe that the decision rests with our Creator and that he alone designs each and every family as he sees fit. It's up to us to be the best parents we can be to the children he gives us (and in whatever way, by adoption or biologically). Each family is different and unique and special, and that's what makes it all so great. Of course, during the twelve years that my husband and I were married without children, we considered ourselves a family then, too. Families without children are just as special.

Believe me, I love little boys! I have nephews who are so dear to my heart that it feels like they came from my own body. Little boys are wonderful and I'm so glad to have some really special ones in my life. But God gave us wonderful, special girls. We love them with all of our hearts. We feel no need to "try for a boy." We are done, but even if we decided to have a third child, we'd be perfectly happy with a boy OR another girl.

We are content and satisfied. We have two girls. And we are complete.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014


I had my first anxiety attack on the night I brought my first baby home from the hospital.

I didn't know what it was at the time, but I most certainly knew something was wrong. We'd waited so long for that moment. I wish I could write that all I felt at that time was pure, unadulterated joy and relief. And oh, I did feel that! I couldn't believe all that had transpired in the days just prior. After losing six babies to miscarriage, we'd seen the face of our seventh baby. She'd been born plump and healthy and beautiful, and we'd actually brought her home. She was ours to keep! It was unbelievable and it was wonderful.

The circumstances surrounding the release from the hospital weren't perfectly smooth. We had a few hiccups as we were getting ready to head home that late September day in 2010. After a three-day stay following my c-section delivery, we were ready to head home but Lily had jaundice. Even after I was released, we were waiting on one more bilirubin test that wouldn't happen until 5 PM. The doctor came in the room a few hours later to tell me her numbers were still high, but they would let us take her home if we took her in to the clinic over the weekend (it was a Friday evening) to have the test repeated. Of course we would do whatever we needed to do, including making sure she got some sunlight and was getting plenty to eat.

All that is to say, we made it home that Friday night with our baby girl, pulling into the driveway as a family of three after the sun had set. My mom and my sister were both there, so I knew we had lots of help. I remember things feeling a bit chaotic as it was so late in the day and I was nervous about keeping Lily's jaundice in check. If someone had asked if I felt absolutely frantic or anxious, I would have answered no.

It wasn't until later that night that I became aware of a problem. My chest felt tight and heavy. I had a hard time taking deep breaths. My heart was pounding. I knew I was exhausted and needed sleep. Those three nights in a busy hospital after major surgery, with nurses coming in to give medicine and check my vitals, plus breastfeeding a newborn baby every 2-3 hours had not left me feeling well-rested. But the more I tried to rest at home in my own bed, the more sleeping became impossible. I called my doctor's office and the on-call doctor called me back, but I didn't feel like she understood what I was saying or experiencing. It was one of the longest nights of my life. I don't mean to sound dramatic here, but I honestly thought I was dying.

Somehow I made it through the weekend. Lily's bilirubin count had gotten up to 16, but by Sunday we had some relief when the number started dropping. She was doing great. I was still struggling, but still I had no idea why. I had no appetite. Every evening that chest pain would return. I was getting only enough sleep to get by. I'd already quit taking my pain medicine for fear that it was contributing to the way I was feeling. My mom, sister, and husband were helping me take care of the baby, thankfully. By Monday morning I decided to go see my doctor. As soon as she looked at me, she told me to go over to the ER to get checked out. She said she'd call ahead and tell them I was coming. The chest pains had her concerned about a blood clot in my lungs. At the ER I had a CT scan and lots of blood work, and they had me see a cardiologist for an echocardiogram. It was a crazy few days, and what I remember most is how badly I hated being away from my sweet baby. But I knew that I had to rule out some of these things and try to feel better.

All of the tests I had came back clear, which was great news. I still had no idea what happened. It took about two weeks for me to feel remotely normal again. As time went on I began to wonder if it had been anxiety. I talked to a couple of friends who had struggled with anxiety/panic attacks before and things started making more sense to me. It's so hard to know, because it feels so scary. It most certainly does NOT feel like it's "all in your head." Once things settled down, I thought that feeling had gone away for good. I thought it was just a very strange thing that happened but was eventually overcome and eclipsed by the joy we felt in bringing our baby home. Life went on.

Fast forward a couple of years.

We found out we were expecting for the eighth time when Lily was only 18 months old. The fact that it happened again so quickly (relatively speaking -- it had taken us three years, and a grand total of nearly nine years all things considered, to get pregnant with Lily) was a surprise and a blessing. As is true with each and every pregnancy we've had, the early weeks and months were nerve-racking. On top of the endless worry and waiting and ultrasounds, there was also the melanoma that my dermatologist had discovered at the very beginning of the pregnancy. At 13 weeks I had surgery to remove the cancer from my arm. Strangely, I made it through all of that chaos, while also keeping up with a busy toddler, with no anxiety attacks. Truly, I still wasn't quite sure it was what I'd had back when Lily was born.

But as the time drew near for our second daughter to arrive, I began to feel some of the same things again. It wasn't as intense as I remembered, but it was starting to happen again intermittently. I talked to my OB/GYN at length about it, and told her I was worried that it was going to escalate after Anna was born like it had with Lily. I was trying to stay positive and hope that, with it being my second time, I could keep the anxious feelings at bay and just get through it.

I had my second c-section in late November of 2012. Again, we had a big, beautiful baby girl whom we were elated to meet. While the baby was fine, the delivery hadn't been completely problem-free. After countless (painful) attempts, the anesthesiologist never could get the spinal block to work. He finally left, frustrated, and with me in a puddle of tears, and called in a colleague to come give me an epidural. The experience was horrible, but I kept my eye on the prize. Soon the surgery was underway and in no time I heard those precious first cries. We enjoyed our first moments with baby Anna in the OR before she was taken to the nursery. Afterward, while I was in recovery and time went on and on, we finally begged the nurse to find out why they hadn't brought the baby back to us. She was doing okay, they said, but she had fluid in her lungs -- common for babies who aren't squeezed through the birth canal. Well, we knew she would be fine, but that's not to say we weren't worried. And of course we wanted to see her as soon as possible. But that didn't happen for seven more hours. Her breathing was still too rapid and her lungs were still full. They wanted to check her one last time and if she didn't "pass" she would spend the night in the NICU. Suddenly and rather abruptly, the nurse was wheeling her into my room and handing me my baby, telling me she had turned around quickly and was doing great. It was a huge answer to prayer and a big relief to finally hold her after such a long, long day.

The anesthesiologist (who by that time was not my favorite person) came to see me the next day to warn me that in some cases after a failed spinal block, the spinal fluid will leak and cause a severe headache. He said to let a nurse know if that happened to me and turned and walked out. It wasn't until the day after that when I began to feel like I had a sore neck. It felt like a pulled muscle, but as time went on the pain crept up into the back of my head. I spoke to some doctors about my options and decided that, rather than have another spinal procedure (the last thing in the world I wanted to do at that point) to fix the headache, I would just endure it. It wasn't great, but it at least felt manageable right then and there in the hospital. I went home and tolerated that horrible headache for a solid week. Fortunately, Anna was doing great. She had no jaundice and breastfeeding was going so well.

During those first few nights home, the anxiety attacks returned. I think they were tempered in a way by what I was experiencing with the spinal headache. I was in so much pain from that, that it kept me distracted from dwelling on the anxiety. I lost my appetite again and quit the pain meds early again, just like before. But every evening for the first week or so I was visited by that heaviness in my chest, inability to sleep, shortness of breath, and rapid heartbeat.

I know this is turning into a long story, but I wanted to revisit where it all started. It's hard -- as a person, as a woman, as a Christian, and as a mom -- to admit sometimes that we don't have it all together. I can only speculate why the births of both of my miracle babies brought so many different emotions. I expected the joy and the awe, but I never saw the panic and anxiety coming. I think part of it was the realization that we were finally seeing this dream come to fruition, and my fear that somehow we were going to mess it up or lose it. Maybe that doesn't make much sense but after being pregnant six times and losing all of those precious ones, I think there was a deep sense of fear lurking underneath all of that joy. I didn't want to come so close and watch it all slip away again.

I decided to write about all of this now because, over the past weekend, I was struck by two anxiety attacks. No, I'm not pregnant. I obviously didn't just bring home a new baby. I don't know exactly what caused it, but at least I know now what to call it. I know that, for me, I've come to recognize that there is a "perfect storm" of exhaustion, usually sickness, stress, and insomnia that will bring on the attack. After the double whammy last weekend, I talked to my family doctor about the whole thing. It felt good to finally have a doctor listen and understand what I was experiencing. She prescribed some medication that I can take when I feel the attacks coming on. Strangely enough, I think just knowing it's there in the medicine cabinet gives me some reassurance and makes me feel a bit calmer, which the doctor said actually happens more often than you'd think.

This whole thing is not something I've shared with many people. I guess I wanted to write about it here just to tell somebody, anybody: Hey, I don't have it all together!

Life gets complicated, times get hard, infertility is horrible, we fail, we suffer loss, we survive, our faith is tested, we overcome, sometimes our dreams come true, miracles happen, parenthood is tough, sometimes we feel out of control, and life remains challenging, and we don't have it all together. And it's okay. It's okay to admit it and ask for help. That has been difficult for me to realize. I've already been surprised by the number of friends and family members, out of the very few I've talked to about this, who have struggled with some similar issues. It always helps to know we aren't alone in our struggles. As always, thanks for letting me share and thank you for continuing to read.

Friday, January 31, 2014

Doing The Hard Things

The first month of the new year is winding down, friends. It was my birthday month as well. Last Saturday I turned 37 and it has me reflecting on some things, as my birthday usually does these days.

There are a few characteristics that I've never felt like I've really been able to claim. Can you relate? For example, I've never felt super independent. I'm a younger sister who was always very close to her older sister. We shared most things, including a bedroom (and a bed!), until she left for college. Two years later, I followed her to the same university where we were roommates for a year before she got married. The next year, my Sophomore year of college, is the only year of my entire life that I've ever lived alone. During that year I had a private dorm room on campus (which was like being alone, yet not). The year after that, I lived in the home of a dear family who treated me like one of their own. And by the time my senior year arrived, I was married to my husband. We've now been married for 15 years.

I know that being independent doesn't entirely mean living alone, but it's just not a way I would describe myself. I'm most comfortable with someone close to me, looking out for me in a way. I admire those who can get out there and make a new path all on their own. But I feel much safer and happier walking a well-trodden one with someone I love and trust walking with me. Okay, in front of me... so I'll know where to go.

And I guess that's part of the reason that I have, at times, felt weak. Certain events in my life, though, have served to toughen me up and ultimately made me realize that I was stronger than I thought. Coming from a broken home where we didn't have a whole lot of money, and the kinds of issues my sister and I had to face from a very young age is one of those events.

The other big one that stands out in my mind is infertility.

It feels like I've had to fight hard for the life that I have today. I know, nobody ever promised it would be easy. I realize that, and it's okay. I'm not bitter about it. But I'm not ashamed to say this:
I'm proud of the fact that I've learned how to do some hard things.

You should know that I have a hard time complimenting myself. I don't mean that I normally have a lot of self-pity or low self-esteem, but that I am my own harshest critic. I have difficulty acknowledging when I've done well, as well as forgiving myself when I make stupid mistakes, and I replay the dumb things I say and do every night in my mind before I go to sleep. Let's just say, sometimes it takes me a really long time to go to sleep! I realize this about myself -- I worry and I regret much more than I should.

My point is, I've learned that I CAN do the hard things. There's something about that statement that I find empowering. This baby sister, follower, scrawny little child from a tiny town in southern Louisiana, whose childhood was tough and who learned how to do without, who is more comfortable reading about adventure than experiencing it, who always felt awkward and who never knew what a happy, healthy marriage looked like, who was told she'd never realize her dream of having children, somehow (by the grace of God)... grew up, left home, went to college, got married to an amazing, godly man, survived nearly nine years of infertility and recurrent miscarriage, and had two beautiful daughters. That was me! I actually DID THAT. I haven't done anything that would be earth-shattering to most people, but they've been huge accomplishments to me.

Do I sometimes wish it hadn't been so dang hard? YES. I often wish that, even though I know that it taught me a whole lot -- so much more than I could have learned without having experienced it firsthand. (Allow me to say here that I'm fully aware of the many, many people who have had a way harder time than I could ever imagine. I'm not trying to make comparisons or dwell on which hardships are "worse," but only to reflect on my own experiences and how far the Lord has brought me personally.) I've realized that having things like this in my past that I've overcome have made me feel stronger. They've made me feel like I can accept and face a challenge head-on, knowing that I've made it through some tough things already.

I love this quote from William Barclay and I think I've shared it on this blog before, but it's worth repeating: The effect of testing rightly borne is strength to bear still more and to conquer in still harder battles. 
So, so true!

I don't write this to say that now I've entered into an easy time. No, in fact, I feel challenged more and more every single day because this parenting thing is HARD. More than ever before, I feel like daily I have to surrender and cry out to God for strength and wisdom and patience. I love my kids so much and I fought so hard to have them! I wouldn't change a thing and I'm forever grateful for these two lives entrusted to me, but that doesn't mean it's an easy job to wake up and do every day. I so badly want to do this job well, and I think that's partly what makes it such a challenge. I put pressure on myself to give it my best and I beat myself up when I fail. But, guess what? I know now that I can do the hard things.

One of my big challenges after I had Lily was breastfeeding. I won't give you all the gory details, but it started out rough. I knew, though, that it was something I really wanted to do. If it ultimately didn't work out, I knew it would be fine both for her and for me. I know that not everyone can or even wants to do it, and I pass no judgement on what anyone else decides to do, but I knew that I wanted to try. I had to set small goals for myself in the beginning, and it felt like a miracle every time they were reached and surpassed. I nursed Lily for 12 months, which was the highest goal I had set (in the beginning, not really believing I would ever get there). Just about two weeks ago I wrapped up 13 months of breastfeeding Anna. It was much easier for me the second time around (thank the Lord), but that's not to say it didn't have its own challenges. I bring this up as an example, though, because it was one of those events during which I had to keep reminding myself that I Can Do The Hard Things. Nursing a baby while running after, caring for, giving attention to, potty training, and generally keeping alive a toddler is a hard thing, and one I was admittedly not fully prepared for! But it was something I really wanted to do, and reminding myself that I had done hard things before truly did help me make it through.

Another reason I bring up breastfeeding is because weaning what I know will be my last baby is also a hard thing. While I'm secure and satisfied with my family, it's bittersweet to watch my youngest grow out of the baby stage. She's officially a toddler now, walking all over the house like she owns the place. :)
I know that watching my kids grow up is going to be extremely satisfying and extremely hard. Sometimes I think that those of us who had to fight extra hard to get our children find it so very difficult to watch them grow up. We try for so long and we wait so much, we suffer loss, we struggle while everyone around us has babies and more babies, and we pray our hearts out for our turn to have a baby -- and then they're not babies for long at all, are they? But I often remind myself that each new stage is sweet and beautiful, just as the last one was.

So here's to a new year, 2014.
Here's to turning one year older.
Here's to facing it all knowing that we can do the hard things, and knowing that it'll be worth it.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Three and One

Since 2013 is winding down, I thought it would be a good time to post an update about my girls. My, how they're growing, as little ones tend to do! We've been busy at our house with birthday season this Fall. Lily turned three in September, my hubby's birthday is in October, and Anna turned one in November - on Thanksgiving Day this year. It has been a crazy, fun, and special time!

It's hard to believe that Lily is three. She's truly a joy, this special girl. She's just the right mixture of silly and sweet, girlie and dainty but not at all a diva, clever and smart. She absolutely loves Peter Pan (the old Disney cartoon), so that's what we did for her party theme. In fact, it also provided the theme for our whole family's Halloween costumes this year (more on that later).

Here are a few pictures from her Neverland-themed party in September:

Next came October, and we continued the Peter Pan theme with our costumes. Lily wanted to be Captain Hook (love her imagination!), so we dressed Anna up as Smee. Their daddy was Peter Pan, and I was Wendy. We had a blast!

November was a special month, as it was Anna's first Thanksgiving and her first birthday, all on the same day. Anna is a little Mommy's girl (quite a change from her big sis). She loves music, loves to dance, and loves to eat. She adds so much joy to our family!

We chose a theme of butterflies and pinwheels for her big day. Here are a few photos from her party:

It has been a fun year of firsts for Anna. She is quite a bundle of energy! Having two little ones close together is fun, but it's also more challenging than I ever imagined. Of course, we're still joyful every day for the opportunity to be parents to these two precious gifts.

To wrap up, here's a collage of all of Anna's month-by-month pictures to show how much she has grown and changed:

What a year it has been! I hope this time of year finds you counting your blessings as well, as you celebrate the holiday season with family and friends.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Beauty For Ashes

Writing about the babies we lost helps me to deal with the continued grief that is always there. There are things, like the passing of time, lessons learned, and the births of my daughters, that have helped to ease the burden of those losses, but nothing can ever take the pain or the memories away. And I've come to terms with that. Remembering them is important to me, and the process of giving each of them names has been part of my healing process as well.

Revisiting those experiences, one by one, felt like something I needed to do. Recurrent pregnancy loss has been a huge part of my life. I've been married to my husband for 15 years, more than half of which were nearly consumed by miscarriage and infertility. There was a lot of pain there, but we've come a long way. For that, I am thankful. And I'm constantly amazed and grateful that, by the grace of God, our story didn't end there.

After we lost little Aaron Joseph, our sixth baby, we experienced a new form of anguish: unexplained infertility. The weeks and months and, eventually, three years went by with no changes. After six pregnancies in six years, it seemed there might be no more chances. While we had some renewed hope and a new doctor, we still didn't know exactly why the first six pregnancies had ended too early. I wanted another chance. I hoped and prayed for another chance. But I was also terrified. Those three quiet years gave me some perspective. The fog had cleared a little bit and enough time had passed for me to realize that I never wanted to go back to that horror again. I knew, however, that it was a risk we'd have to take if we were ever going to see that dream realized and that longing fulfilled.

Above all I always trusted that my God was in control, even when my circumstances felt totally out of control. He's in the miracle business. That's what He does! Beauty for ashes; joy instead of mourning; praise instead of despair. (Isaiah 61:3)

He had something wonderful in store, and it was just around the corner. I'm just thankful that I held on for it.

Twelve years after we were married, nine years after we started trying to conceive, and eight years after the first positive pregnancy test, we finally looked upon the face of our daughter.

Two years and two months later, we held another daughter in our arms.

I don't know why it all happened the way that it did. I don't know why there was so much pain before the beauty, but I suppose that's what makes it all the more beautiful.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Aaron Joseph

This is the sixth and final post in the series I've been writing about the babies we miscarried. The time felt right to give them all names and to revisit the experience one by one, as a way of remembering and as a memorial. I appreciate the opportunity to use this blog as a step in the healing process, and I'm grateful to those who have faithfully read along, commented, encouraged, and prayed. These precious ones will always be part of our lives. I'm honored to call them by name.
Emily Grace, Callie Elizabeth, Luke Daniel, Adam Louis, Agnes Faith, and Aaron Joseph

Just four months after we lost our fifth baby, I discovered I was pregnant for the sixth time on December 11, 2006. It was really soon but we felt like we surely must be close. We'd had dozens of tests run, discovered a uterine septum and had surgery to correct it, and were planning to try the progesterone supplements and blood thinners again. Since our specialist was an hour's drive away, we were working with my local OB/GYN for lab work and treatment in the early stages of the pregnancy.

Pregnancy number six would be another roller coaster ride. We spent a long time with things up in the air, not knowing whether it was going to work out or not. It was hard and it was emotionally exhausting. And it was all happening right around the holidays, which seemed to make it harder.

Early signs showed that the pregnancy was going well. The first HCG results were higher than my previous pregnancy, and the progesterone was high. I started the nightly Lovenox injections in my stomach right away. A week later, on December 18, the HCG was rising as it should be. We scheduled an ultrasound at a local imaging center on December 21 but were only able to see a gestational sac. It was a start, but we had to leave that day knowing we would spend the Christmas holiday with the big question hanging over our heads. Oh, how we'd been hoping to spend Christmas with the knowledge that our baby was okay and growing.

We decided to go ahead with our travel plans. Spending that time surrounded by our family seemed like a much better idea than staying home alone and worrying. We packed up a basket full of injections, put the progesterone suppositories on ice, and headed for Louisiana and the comfort of home and family. As soon as we got back home and the office was open, I called to schedule more blood work on January 2, 2007. HCG came back: 95,000! After a week and a half of waiting, it was wonderful news! We planned for an ultrasound and the doctor told us that we should be able to get a look at our baby with numbers that high. We knew better than to let ourselves start celebrating but we felt sure that we would at least have an answer, one way or the other.

The ultrasound on January 4 didn't go as we hoped. There was a yolk sac this time but still no growing baby. We knew it wasn't good but we continued to hope and pray for our miracle. Later that evening I had a little bit of bleeding. My heart dropped into my stomach as I thought it was the end. To my surprise, though, the bleeding tapered off and then quit. I had another lab appointment on January 9 to be sure the numbers were still rising. They were. It was ultrasound time again. It had now been a month of injections, desperate prayers, and worry. And hope. Always hope.

We returned to the imaging center on January 15. At ten weeks along we knew we should be seeing our baby. As soon as the image of the yolk sac was visible on the screen, we could see that there was still no growth. No flickering heartbeat. Just an empty sac. This pregnancy had been a blighted ovum, which is when a fertilized egg implants but doesn't develop into an embryo. Conception occurs and your body prepares for pregnancy, but the yolk sac remains empty and the baby does not grow.

 I had a D&C on January 22, 2007. It was three days before my 30th birthday. There was no party, no big celebration. My sweet husband had arranged for many of my friends and family to send special cards and letters, which he gave to me in a big bag on my birthday. My mom came and made my favorite cake: chocolate with chocolate icing. We spent a quiet day at home as I recovered.

In a way, after six times, I'd gotten used to dealing with the tough news and even the surgery and recovery. But you never ever get used to the pain and devastation of loss. Each and every time brought such overwhelming sadness and disappointment. And guilt. You name it. There were so many emotions and unanswered questions. We had to accept that we would probably never have those answers this side of heaven. Our specialist told us with regret that even she didn't know what else she could do to help us. We knew we'd reached the end of the road with her. The call came from the OB/GYN who told us she didn't think we'd ever have a baby. I felt like I'd hit rock bottom.

There's a familiar expression that I think applies here: "Don't put a period where God has put a comma." That's how I felt. I wanted a second opinion. And honestly, if another doctor looked at me and said no, and if we felt God leading us to stop, then we knew we'd need to find the strength to put it all to rest. But I just couldn't let go until I knew for sure. One thing was certain that even I in my weakest times never doubted, though. We were going to be parents. We just didn't know yet if our family would grow through a successful pregnancy or through the gift of adoption.

The weeks and months (and eventually, years) that followed were hard. We found a new doctor in the big city and had our first visit with him on July 16, 2007. For the first time we truly felt that we'd found a doctor who had the knowledge and experience to help us. The best part was that even after all he knew about our history, he didn't think we were a hopeless case. After six pregnancies and six miscarriages in six years, we had hope again. And it would keep us going as we faced something we didn't expect -- three years of infertility. But that's a story for another day.

I love the name we've chosen for our sixth baby. Aaron is a boy name that we've both loved for years. Joseph is my father-in-law's middle name, and was also my maternal grandfather's middle name. While getting ready to write this post I looked up the meanings of these two names we'd already picked, and what I read confirmed that they were right. It's one of those things that forms a lump in my throat and brings tears to my eyes.

Aaron means "mountain of strength."
Joseph means "God shall add."

This pregnancy holds a lot of meaning for me. Looking back at it now I can see that it was in some ways both the end and the beginning. Of course I didn't know it at the time, but praise the Lord, it was our last miscarriage. It was the end of a very long and painful chapter in our lives. But it was the start of a new decade of my life -- my thirties -- and while one chapter (well, it felt like an entire book) was closed, another was opened. I can look back on it years later and remember the sorrow I felt while at the same time appreciating that the old was gone and we were right on the edge of a new, fresh start. There were two beautiful miracles right around the corner. God shall add. And He had been my mountain of strength.

Aaron Joseph,
We had so much hope for you, precious boy, but we know that you are safe with Jesus right along with your brothers and sisters. Thank you for keeping hope alive within us and for showing us that the Lord would be our mountain of strength. We love you and miss you so, so much.
Love, Mommy

Monday, November 11, 2013

Agnes Faith

This is the fifth post in a series about our babies in heaven, all miscarried in the first trimester. The first four can be found here: Emily Grace, Callie Elizabeth, Luke Daniel, Adam Louis. Thank you for remembering them with me.

Every single loss is hard. Each one broke our hearts. It took a while for us to pick up the pieces after we lost our fourth baby. We thought surely, after finding out about the uterine septum and having it removed, we had figured things out and would be bringing home our baby. Instead we had another unfulfilled due date, in February 2006.

After the miscarriage we'd kept ourselves from the doctor visits. We didn't return until February, seven months later, for a consultation. Our doctor gave us a few suggestions that we could look into. It was good to have options, but it definitely felt a lot like grasping at straws. Try seeing a urologist for further sperm testing. Talk to a high-risk pregnancy doctor. Consult with a geneticist. Have lots and lots more blood work. (It's a good thing I'm not afraid of needles.)

My husband saw the urologist and was tested for sperm fragmentation. That turned out fine. No worries there. The high-risk pregnancy doc did some tests and thought we could try using blood thinners with the next pregnancy. My doctor was on board with this and we were willing to try it. The geneticist, after looking over all of our history, determined that she didn't think a healthy, full-term pregnancy was completely out of the question for us. Although we knew these were all just ideas and medical opinions, that was particularly nice to hear since our former OB/GYN would later call me on the phone and tell me that she thought I had a genetic problem that would prevent me from ever having a biological child. Wow. Talk about having the breath knocked out of you. Looking back I realize what an inappropriate opinion that was to give a patient, over the phone, when you aren't even qualified as an infertility specialist. Some days it truly felt like everything was working against us.

We knew the odds didn't look good. But we weren't ready to give up yet. There were many, many days when I thought about it. I felt incredibly weak. I was tired and discouraged, and depressed. It became increasingly harder for me to go anywhere and to face all of the questions about why we didn't have any children and what we were doing about it. Everyone had an opinion, a suggestion, and just the right answer for what we should be doing. They said we weren't thinking positively enough, we were worrying too much, we needed to take a break and relax. They said that this was all happening for a reason and that God wouldn't give me more than I could handle. And I began to hate hearing all of it. All of those words made us feel like we were doing something wrong; like it was my fault that our children couldn't survive in my womb. Or that God was trying to teach me a really hard lesson that I was apparently too dumb or had too little faith to grasp.

And so I started keeping it all inside and sharing as little information as possible with those people I knew didn't really care and were just curious. I stopped going to baby showers because it was just too hard. Even going to church was becoming almost unbearable. While I never turned my back on God, I definitely began to question His plan and wonder why this was happening to us, and why it happens to anyone at all.

Even in this state of mind, though, there was a determination inside of me. The desire to be a mother had grown, moving me forward and helping me to take another step, even if it felt small. I had a husband beside me who never gave up hope and always believed that we would have children. And through all of it, God really was teaching me new things about my weakness and His strength. He was teaching me about waiting and trusting and resting and hoping, and above all, about realizing that I serve a God who is infinitely bigger than my circumstances, my fears, and even infertility and miscarriage.

And so, after a new round of tests that revealed no obvious problem but with a few new options to try, we found out about our fifth pregnancy on July 27, 2006. With this pregnancy I began using daily Lovenox (blood thinner) injections in my stomach. Even with no fear of needles, it was a hard thing for me to get used to at first but became a bit easier as time went on. A blood test confirmed the pregnancy and we were back to waiting and hoping for good news. A few days later things were looking pretty good. The HCG levels were rising and progesterone looked good.

We were feeling confident. So much so that we made the (just over 2 hour) drive to Louisiana to celebrate my mom's birthday on August 6th. On Monday the 7th I went for more lab work. I felt hopeful as I waited to hear more good news, but it was not to be. The call would come later the next day, but before the phone ever rang I already knew. I woke up the morning of August 8, 2006 with cramps and bleeding, knowing I was losing the baby. I had been only about 6 weeks along.

It surprises me today to read what I wrote in my journal in the days after our fifth miscarriage. Somewhere inside I still believed it would happen and knew at that point that we would give it at least one more try. It might sound crazy but we suddenly had the feeling that we were getting closer. At that point it felt like we'd been climbing the mountain for so long that we must be near the top, even though we still couldn't see it. We had to be closer.

We've named this sweet baby Agnes Faith.

I know that Agnes isn't exactly a trendy name these days. While I consider it a classic, it's not one of those that is enjoying a big comeback. It was, however, my great-grandmother's name, and she was truly a treasure. She was the most precious, sweet, kind, gentle, French-speaking old Cajun lady that you could ever imagine, and we all adored her. My mom was particularly close to her grandmother, and Mom was always so pleased to have Granny's name, Agnes, as her middle name.

August 8th, the day I miscarried, was Granny's birthday. She passed away in 1999, but I have so many fond memories of her. There were exactly 101 years separating my Granny and my little Agnes. I'm incredibly honored to name my daughter after her and after my sweet mom as well.

My mom is amazing and has been such a huge supporter and great influence in my life, teaching me about faith and modeling the kind of mother I always hoped to be. When I think of the name Agnes, I have two wonderful and strong women who immediately come to mind. I like to think my sweet little Agnes would have followed in their footsteps.

Her middle name is pretty self-explanatory. Faith. It's something I can't imagine my life without and it's the number one thing that helped me through this struggle. Without my faith in God I don't want to imagine where I'd be today.

Agnes Faith,
Oh sweet girl, your name is very special to us and we love imagining what kind of woman you might have grown up to be. We miss you, sweet one, and love you so much! I can't wait to wrap my arms around you.
Love, Mommy