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

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Adam Louis

This is the fourth of six posts I'm writing about our babies in heaven. Thank you for continuing to remember them with me as we go through the process of naming each of them. They are all loved and missed! You can find the previous three posts here: Emily Grace, Callie Elizabeth, and Luke Daniel.

The year 2004 had brought our third miscarriage in three years. It felt like we'd been through so much, but we had no idea what was still to come. Our fourth pregnancy would be one of the most difficult and darkest times we would face. (And I'm sure this post will be a long one as there are a lot more details about this pregnancy. Thanks in advance for sticking with me.)

While we had begun some initial testing, it was at this point that we realized it was time to really investigate what might be going wrong. The first step was exploratory surgery, which we scheduled with our specialist on November 12. During the hysteroscopy, the doctor could not see both of my fallopian tubes at the same time with the scope, suggesting that my uterus had a different shape or an obstruction.

The next step was an MRI and and IVP test, which we scheduled for December 2. The tests came back showing the better of the two scenarios that the doctor suspected -- I had a septum (like a wall) dividing my uterus. She told us it's a congenital deformity and that it was likely to be the cause of my miscarriages, considering it can create concave areas in the uterus, making it difficult for a baby to grow. The really good news was that it could be corrected with outpatient surgery.

I wasn't excited about hearing that news, but it definitely gave us something to hold on to. This could be the answer! Maybe we finally had a REASON, medically speaking. We started 2005 with a renewed hope and on January 21, just a few days before my 28th birthday, I had surgery to remove the uterine septum. The doctor also looked for endometriosis, which she didn't find. We felt like we were in good shape to start trying again after some time to heal. I didn't have a regular cycle until March, and then I decided to have my wisdom teeth pulled in April. After all of that was done we were ready.

The positive pregnancy test came on June 9, 2005. It was the start of a roller coaster of emotions, with the biggest ups and downs we had experienced yet. I had still been using the progesterone and following the routine that I explained in my last post, so on day 30 I took a home test. It was negative. It was my fourth time around, though, and I had a feeling otherwise. Four days later I took another one. Positive. I went that same day for blood work. HCG 1266 and progesterone 41. Great news, they said. Things looked promising.

We went in for the first ultrasound on June 20 but saw only a gestational sac. This did not devastate us. We still felt very positive and thought we needed to give it some more time. When we saw the doctor that day, though, we were surprised (unpleasantly so) to discover two things: first, our regular doctor was gone. She wasn't working there anymore and we did not like this new doctor. Second, the new doctor (whose bedside manner was lacking all sensitivity) abruptly told us that the sac looked too large and the numbers were too high. She didn't think the pregnancy would last.

Folks, I don't need a doctor to coddle me or try to make me think things are okay when they're not. But her delivery was awful. I had more blood drawn and we left feeling frustrated, confused, and lost. We had a real connection with the other doctor and she was gone. We went there that day thinking our baby was okay and left thinking we'd lost another one. The news came that night: my HCG and progesterone were still looking very good. We scheduled another ultrasound. In the meantime, we decided to try calling our other doctor, the one who had left. We felt funny about calling her at home but we were so unsettled and didn't know where else to turn. She answered, and she was totally great about it. Even better, she told us she had moved to an office in Houston and that we could follow her there if it was what we wanted. It was.

We kept the ultrasound appointment that we'd already made (June 27), and we went in praying that we would see a yolk sac this time. We did! We were relieved... until Dr Doom came in to tell us again that it wasn't going to work. I know that a big part of the anger and frustration we felt at that time was out of sheer denial, or refusal to accept more bad news. We weren't doubting the doctor's ability to do her job, but we couldn't understand why she did not seem willing to let us have an ounce of hope. Things WERE progressing, and until they weren't, we were going to have some HOPE. After some persuading, she agreed to do another ultrasound in two weeks.

July 11 finally arrived. We had prayed our hearts out. We'd even decided to tell our church family this time so they could be praying with us. And after all that hoping and all that praying, there it was: a heartbeat. Our baby looked amazing. There was the little head, the body, and the arm and leg buds! The baby was measuring 8 weeks, 2 days, and even the doubting doctor seemed surprised. She said that aside from a bit of a fast heart rate, the baby looked fine. Today as I write this eight years later, I'm looking at the cherished ultrasound pictures, paperclipped in my journal, of that sweet little baby. He was our dream come true. Our hearts were so full of love for that miracle.

After that visit, we made the decision to make our next appointment with the doctor with whom we felt more comfortable. Even if the news was going to be bad, we preferred to hear it from her. We informed the doctor and had our records transferred to the new office. A week later, on July 18, we made the hour-long drive to the see our old doctor. We were excited to have the ultrasound and get another look at our growing baby. And the baby HAD grown, measuring 9 weeks. And there were the chambers of the heart... but the heart wasn't beating. We saw it as plainly as she did. Our doctor was surprised. We were shocked. It had been only a week -- just 7 days -- since we'd seen the heartbeat, and our baby had died.

After we talked to the doctor for a little while, she checked again just to be sure of what we saw. I appreciate that she did that for us, but we knew it was over. It felt like she was giving us a moment to say goodbye as we took one last long look at the screen. She asked me if we wanted her to print a picture and I said yes. I have that picture here with me now, too, that last precious image of our baby. He looks perfect to me, even though I know his heart wasn't beating and his soul was in heaven. It breaks my heart to see it, but I'm grateful to have it.

Every loss is hard. This one was particularly hard for us. We felt more heartbroken than ever. There had been so much hope and so many prayers -- so many of them answered in those 9 weeks. We were learning to trust a God who loves us and cares about us, and who sees the bigger picture and knows all of the answers to our questions.

I'm thankful that we got to spend as much time carrying this child as we did. We got to see him on an ultrasound screen more times than we had with any other pregnancy. We watched him grow and saw that flickering heartbeat, reassuring us that he was here and he was real. He had lived longer than any of our other babies had to date. And I'm thankful that we got to stick with a doctor who was sensitive and considerate of our needs during that time. On the day of the D&C, she invited us to her office to do a final ultrasound so we could be certain. Again, I know she did that just for us. There was no lingering look this time, and she did that for our benefit, too. Even though I know he'd already gone to heaven by then, we said goodbye to our fourth baby on July 22, 2005.

We've named our second son Adam Louis.
Adam is a name I've come to love in recent years. I considered it for Anna if she'd been a boy. The last name Adams is a family name on my mom's side. Louis is my husband's middle name, and had been his paternal grandfather's middle name as well. Of course I love having a son named after both of them, and I also really like that Louis is a French name. It reflects our heritage and is part of our home state, Louisiana's, name, too. Louis means "famous warrior," and we certainly felt that our little guy was a fighter. Our Adam Louis's name was chosen with lots of love and from a long line of family names from both sides of our family.

Adam Louis,
Your daddy and I are so grateful for the time we got to spend with you. We never got to hold you, but we knew you and loved you so much while we prayed and hoped for you for nine weeks. Thank you for giving us that hope and for teaching us to keep holding on, no matter what. You were worth it! We love you and can't wait to see you again one day.
Love, Mommy