I wrote here about the storms that preceded our rainbow, Violet Angeline, but those miscarriages were not the only bumps in the road to bringing our dream of another child- our daughter- to life.
Brad held my hand through several doctor’s visits, fertility consultations, tests done on me, tests done to him, and finally through fertility treatments themselves. The side effects were unpleasant, the bi-weekly blood draws were disheartening, and I often found myself quietly sitting in waiting rooms full of pregnant women; forcing myself to smile and congratulate them while urging myself not to allow my hurt to show.
November 2014 came, Brad received a prestigious award for his work in law enforcement and at the same time was offered an amazing job opportunity in our home state. We were moving back to family and old friends. It was an exciting time that grew a little dimmer when I was notified that my most recent blood draw said that it was next to impossible that I conceived. We tried to focus on what was good in our lives and started seeking fertility specialists in the new location.
Then, while Brad was traveling to take his psych test for his new department, I woke up one morning just knowing that I was pregnant despite what my doctor told me. I took a test and instantly two beautiful and bold lines appeared. December 3, 2014 I documented Marshall’s day on our blog (you can read it here) all the while I was beaming behind the camera and holding a little secret in my heart. Brad was deliriously happy when I texted him the picture. And I swore Marshall to secrecy as he accompanied me to blood testing that same day, mere hours after getting the positive test.
Pregnancy after loss is terrifying. Every trip to the restroom brings a crippling fear of finding blood again. It is a balance of complete joy and trepidation. On December 18th I wrote about a party at the police station before our big move. What I didn’t tell you is that I didn’t actually go with Marshall and Brad to the party. No, I intended to, but as we drove to city hall I received a phone call from my doctor. He told me to immediately go to my pharmacy and pick up the prescription he called in for me. My progesterone levels have dropped dangerously low, I was pregnant with a healthy baby but my body wasn’t recognizing that and would soon self-abort the baby if we didn’t get my progesterone levels up as soon as possible.
So as the boys smiled for pictures, celebrating with the officers that we counted as family at the city hall, I was next door at the pharmacy parking lot in tears. Waiting for my prescription to be filled and praying that it wasn’t too late; blaming myself for yet another failed dream of expanding our family.
As much as I hate my body, my health, for losing the babies that came before- this time it came through for me. I responded wonderfully to the medication combination and my levels rose, keeping the baby safely within.
We made the big move a few states away and eagerly awaited the first appointment to hear the heartbeat. This is one of the most nerve-racking parts of pregnancy after loss. My nurse was shocked when she took my blood pressure and heart rate, both were through the roof, but on the outside I seemed cool as a cucumber. My losses and fertility appointments trained me well on appearing relaxed when I was internally panicking.
What if there is no heartbeat? What if the progesterone made me keep a dead baby? What if I’m not meant to have another child? Did I do the right thing by doing fertility treatments, or is my body a death sentence? “Are you ready, Melissa?” My doctor gently asked as she readied the ultrasound machine. I smiled and nodded, not able to make a sound but grateful for her pulling me out of the rabbit hole that is my anxiety.
Brad held my hand tight, quietly holding up his phone to record, ever the optimist. There on the black and white screen flickered a beautiful heartbeat and our second child. Silent tears rolled down my face, I assured my doctor that they were the happiest of tears. She let me watch this little miracle longer than she usually does for other patients, herself having a previous miscarriage; her healing heart recognized mine.
The relief was overwhelming but short-lived. Only a few weeks later Brad needed to leave for a sort of boot camp for his new department. He had to live on a military base for 16 weeks, getting less than 48 hours at home with us on the weekends. While he was gone he was not allowed any contact with us; upon arriving to the base every Sunday he would turn in his phone to the “pushers” (think drill sergeants). He had no access to Internet or email, it was essentially black out communication.
Through my pregnancy with Marshall, the failed pregnancies, and fertility appointments- Brad was with me every step of the way. He went to every. single. appointment. Now I was left to go to appointments without him, bringing Marshall along since I didn’t have anyone to watch him during these midday weekday appointments. I missed Brad terribly and could hardly wait to tell him about how the appointments went. He would tell me how disheartened he would be on the days he knew I had an appointment, how he would see the time and think about me alone in the office, how much he wished he could be with us and hear the baby’s heartbeat too. It was hard but manageable. We set our focus on our anatomy scan, excited to find out gender and get a confirmation that the baby was indeed healthy.
The date in mid-March finally arrived, Marshall and I went into the dark room of the radiology department. I gave Marshall a chocolate milk so he would sit quietly as the sonographer went to work. She chatted with me happily and immediately pointed to the screen “did you want to find out gender?!” I said we absolutely did and she told me it was a girl. Tears filled my eyes as my intuition was correct and I told her that this little girl would be named Violet Angeline.
I couldn’t wait to tell Brad that he was going to have a daughter and . . . why is it so quiet? The sonographer who was just happily talking to me about her own children fell deathly silent. I know this silence, I panicked “Is something wrong?” I had to break up the quiet.
“I’m sorry, Mrs. Dingman, I can’t really say anything about the ultrasounds until the radiologist looks at them.” I know that, I also know that is usually code for something is wrong, but then she said “Are you going to see your doctor after this?” That’s when my heart really dropped. When the sonographer wants you to see your doctor right away . . . it’s never bode well for me at least.
I smiled, I focused on this gorgeous baby kicking happily and sucking her thumb, and I begged her to stay. Begged her to be healthy. I will not let this or anything stop me from being excited for Vi; this will not stop me from loving her.
Marshall was excited that he was having a sister and he insisted we call Auntie (my sister) to tell her we saw the baby. I was driving back from the ultrasound, talking to my sister, when my phone beeped. My doctor was calling me and I was barely down the road from the hospital, my hands shook as I switched over the call.
“I’m sorry Melissa…” My doctor proceeded to tell me I would now have to see a perinatologist an hour and a half away. They couldn’t find my baby’s kidneys and her bowels were echogenic- essentially full of blood. This could mean my baby has Down Syndrome, a different chromosomal abnormality perhaps, need surgery after birth, or just not be compatible with life altogether. I pulled the car over to the side of the road and sobbed. I felt so alone. I immediately decided I would not and could not tell anyone about this news- not until Brad could know. But should I tell him? Is it fair for me to put this worry on him when he is already in the very stressful environment of boot camp?
I decided I could be strong. I decided I was doing the appointments alone, I could do this alone. I instead readied a gender announcement for Marshall to tell his papa we were having a girl. Because we were having a girl, I would bring her here come hell or high water. I would not fail Violet, I would not fail my husband, I would not fail Marshall. I would not fail myself.
Marshall was surrounded by pink balloons, dressed like his dad’s new uniform, presenting pink sprinkle donuts and a sign proclaiming “I’ve got your six with watching over BABY SIS!” He still screamed “IT’S A BOY!” when he saw his papa, we laughed, and Brad beamed over the announcement. Happy and blissfully unaware of my upcoming emergency appointment.
I tried my best to make these appointments fun and light-hearted for Marshall. I dressed him in his doctor outfit and he would wave to all those we passed in the hallways of the hospital as if he were on parade.
I was thankful that he was too young to understand the terms like “fetal demise”. I was grateful to the nurses who understood I had no option but to bring him and would tell him he was now officially a doctor there, they paid him in stickers and hugs. I posted his doctor picture on my Facebook gushing over my son, what I didn’t tell you is that I was trying my best to prepare myself for the possibility of mourning my daughter.
The appointment took a bigger toll on me than I anticipated. I was not strong enough to go through this silently on my own. My husband and I are a team, I cannot possibly do this alone. So I broke down and told him. I cried and apologized to him, he cried and told me we would be okay, begging me to stop beating myself up; that I wasn’t a failure.
We told very few people about the concerns with our daughter. To those we did tell, we downplayed. We wanted our daughter to be celebrated and for people to speak about her with a smile- we needed that. So we kept our heads down and hoped for the best, quietly hoping for everything to be fine. My mother-in-law was kind enough to take time off work for my perinatologist appointment to watch Marshall.
Brad’s pushers were made aware of the situation and were incredibly kind to me. They emailed me regularly for updates and made sure to give Brad his phone to make special 5 minute phone calls home once or twice.
Eventually the perinatologist found Vi’s small kidneys, and a wave of relief came with it. She would now likely survive to- and after- delivery. But her bowels were still full of blood, we were to prepare for her to possibly have a chromosomal abnormality or maybe need surgery after delivery.
Our pregnancy with Violet was fraught with worry from the first blood draw of the first day. She grew in her own way and on her own time. What I didn’t tell you is that I spent a good deal of that time worrying, crying, and alone. I showed you smiles and joy because that’s what I needed from you. I needed her to be celebrated and loved.
And oh was her arrival joyous! Stay tuned tomorrow for her birth story.