By Gabrielle. Natural Bamboo Knottie on Big Cartel.
I’ve read Kelly’s birth story so many times, and my reaction is always the same: How in the world did she do it? There was her grueling process to become pregnant, the out-of-this-world reward, a low so devastating it’s difficult to even imagine, a fight to go on and stay strong, and an ending so sad yet so wonderful at the very same time.
Yes, it’s difficult to even imagine, but I know hers is one of those stories that makes us better afterwards. Kelly and her husband and their babies all remind me that life is so fragile, so achingly beautiful, and doesn’t make sense some of the time. Friends, please take time with Kelly’s story. I hope it nudges you to view your day a little differently, as it did mine. Welcome, Kelly.
Q: Tell us a little about you pre-pregnancy: what your life was like pre-Zoe and a little about the struggles you endured in conceiving.
A: Pre-pregnancy life was great until my husband Jeff and I started trying to get pregnant. We traveled, flipped a house, built a house, saw concerts, got engaged in our favorite city of New Orleans, worked for the same company, and were happy. I even wondered if I wanted children because things were great as it was!
After a year of loosely trying to conceive, I started to get frustrated and really wanted to get pregnant. I started working with OB/Gyn who immediately put me on a fertility drug to help me ovulate more eggs. This drug made me feel crazy! I did some very uncharacteristic things like throwing a temper tantrum when my husband would not stop playing the guitar one night?! Nothing happened. We then began some tests with no conclusive evidence of what might be the problem.
This was nearly two years of trying with no baby, and depression, anger, and jealousy set in around this time. Everyone was having babies but us. I isolated myself from everyone but my husband. Jealously is a horrible feeling to have towards people you love, but I could not seem to help it, no matter how I tried. I found an infertility support group that made me feel less alone.
If that is one piece of advice I could give to couples struggling with infertility is to see a specialist right away. I know we wasted precious time working with my OB; they just are not experts in infertility. With our new doctor I was so optimistic we would get pregnant right away. I remember our doctor going over a list options on a piece of paper for treatments and I was sure we would only need to try the least expensive, least invasive and I would be pregnant! But I was diagnosed with unexplained infertility, which was so frustrating. I just wanted an answer even if it was bad one!
We spent two years with this doctor trying many different treatments while taking time off every now and then. During this trying and failing time period I had an adverse reaction to my first IVF cycle and was hospitalized for six days. My infertility support group, an infertility counselor, and my husband really helped me get through this dark time. I eventually got pregnant with IVF on our second frozen transfer. This means they transferred our embryo from a frozen state into me. My first pregnancy resulted in a miscarriage. The second IVF we found out on February 14, 2011 that we were pregnant!
Q: Did you have pre-conceived notions about how your pregnancy would progress? Were you disappointed in your struggle? Disappointed in your body?
A: I was so angry at my body and so envious of those around me who got pregnant so easily – so jealous I could sometimes not think clearly! I wanted people to feel pain like me. I was so confused because my fertility counselor and support group told me what I was feeling was normal, but those closest to me kept telling me to get over the jealously and and bitterness. They could not understand me. I felt alone even from my husband at times.
Q: Describe the moment you learned you were pregnant. Twins! What were your dreams like for two babies?
A: I learned I was pregnant on Valentine’s Day! I could not bear to hear more bad news so I asked my husband to call for my blood test results. We were working for the same company at the time and he came to my desk with a piece of paper which he had taken notes on from the nurse. He told me we were pregnant and my numbers from my blood work were high enough to be supporting multiples. What?! We did put three embryos in, which made us nervous, but we knew there would be a higher chance for success of getting pregnant this way.
We went and had lunch and could not stop smiling. It was finally our turn to be parents! After two weeks of waiting for our first ultrasound, the day came to find out how many babies we were having. Our fertility doctor confirmed there were two separate embryos with heartbeats. To hear that sound of those heartbeats was one of the most joyous moments of my life. I was crying and laughing so hard at the same time. I remember the doctor telling me to stop laughing because my uterus was bouncing all around and she could not do her work accurately.
We felt like having twins was our reward for all those years of suffering. I felt like I had won the lottery!
Q: What were your favorite cravings? What part of being pregnant just made you thrilled in those early days?
A: My early days of pregnancy were filled with horrible morning and all day sickness. Apparently, having twins means having double the pregnancy hormones. So I spent a lot of time throwing up in the first trimester! My husband could not even cook in the house because any kind of smell made me sick. My doctors even put me on medication to help with the vomiting. But I was so happy to be pregnant!
Q: Tell us about the moment you learned that one of your babies would not live. Had you told family and friends already? How did you deal with sharing this devastating news with everyone who knew?
A: We were monitored more with our twins than a singleton pregnancy. I was having an ultrasound at seventeen weeks, and the technician started with Baby A, who was doing great! When the technician moved on to Baby B, I sensed that something was wrong immediately. I absolutely knew that we were in trouble.
The doctor said the fluid was low in the sac around Baby B. He said it was concerning but could not or would not offer any reasons why, and recommended us getting seen by the High Risk Perinatal Clinic right away. Our new doctors confirmed that the fluid was extremely low but did not know why yet, and at twenty weeks they would be able to see more on an ultrasound. Twenty weeks came and it was confirmed that Baby B had a condition called Bilateral Renal Agenesis. This means that our baby did not develop renal arteries which develop kidneys, which then develop the bladder.
And then they mentioned that this condition is not compatible with life.
Hearing that my child would not survive outside the womb was an out of body experience. I was hysterically crying. It was a hot day and I had just come from a successful meeting at work and now my one of my babies was going to die. It was the worst moment of my life to date. I know you might be thinking the moment my baby died was worse, but this day was the worst.
We called our parents. We asked a few close friends to spread the word so we did not have to. My first reactionary emotions were that I did not want to name this baby, meet the baby, or have any connection. Maybe it was to protect myself or because I did not want to believe it. After all that we had been through to get pregnant, how could the universe be so cruel?
Q: Was there ever a moment when you forgot you were pregnant with twins? I mean, did your mind try to protect you by focusing on your healthy baby? Or, were you always aware of the loss even with the knowledge of the joy? How did you juggle those emotions?
A: Being twenty weeks pregnant meant I had to carry on with this pregnancy because we had a healthy twin baby girl. I began to operate in a fight mode of getting through this pregnancy. There were many risks to overcome. One of them was that our Baby B needed to stay alive in the womb so that it did not jeopardize our daughter arriving too early.
In order to work towards this we spent so much time creating a birth plan that included neonatologists, genetic counselors, social workers, and so on. I started to learn more about what the birth might entail, and I started to become calmer and not as angry. I was able to have some control over some things like the birth plan, when so much was out of my control. My thoughts and emotions always felt bittersweet. I never forgot what was happening to my precious baby and how I had to fight for my healthy baby. I really stuffed away much of the sadness and anger because I just had to survive.
Q: What do you remember most about delivery? That moment that still feels clear today? How different was your actual delivery from than the one you imagined you would experience?
A: I made it to 36.5 weeks when my water broke. I was so calm. I knew I would have to have a C-Section at this point because the babies were breach. This was disappointing to me and our team of doctors, because having a C-section meant that I would be medicated and not fully aware of what was going on.
We had a plan and wonderful nurse by our side that spent so much time with us during the pregnancy. We also had an organization called Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep to take pictures of our babies. Family was on their way to the hospital. The babies were born at 11:11am, and all at once our healthy daughter Zoe and our son Judah were here. They were rushed off because Judah needed to be administered some medication to assure he would not suffer, and Zoe was early so they had to assess that she was okay. It did not feel intimate at all. It was cold, loud, and noisy.
I finally got to hold them lying on a table with my arms restrained. So many nurses were crying. This is not what I had imagined. I knew time with Judah was going to be short because we were warned throughout the pregnancy, but I didn’t realize how sad the moment would be. It is an unimagined pain and joy.
My priority was to spend time with Judah, yet Zoe needed me; I had to start nursing and bonding with her, but I felt so guilty when Judah was alone at times. Much of it is a blur because I was so foggy from all the medications, and this is really something I still cannot let go. I feel cheated of those memories. Sure I have videos and photos, but I don’t really remember.
Q: Afterwards, you experienced PTSD. Tell us how that felt, and how you healed. Two years out, has the sadness eased?
A: Within about five days of returning home, I began having feelings I had never felt before. I could not sleep, and was actually afraid of when nighttime came around. I could not shake this panicked feeling and irrational fears. I did not feel safe, but could not explain why. My husband always had made me feel safe, and even he could not help. No one could calm me down. I would ask my mom to come over to lay with me until I fell asleep, but I could not sleep. I asked to go back to the hospital. I wanted to go back there so badly. I tried convincing my husband I needed to go back. I was so scared because I did not know what was wrong with me.
I got access to a psychiatrist very quickly who diagnosed me with PSTD. It made sense, as I had just went through something so brutally traumatic. The psychiatrist explained what was happening to me and put words to my feelings. I was prescribed medication to take to calm me down if I felt these feelings coming on, and we also had to create a plan to get sleep: sleeplessness perpetuates the PTSD.
It was a long first few months. I honestly think back and wonder who that woman was that just went through that experience because it could really be me? Time has really helped the intensity subside. We have some family rituals to honor our son and celebrate him. He is a hero in our eyes by helping Zoe get to our arms safely.
And being a mom to Zoe is the best healing…
Q: What’s the one piece of comfort you received during your birth process that stuck with you?
A: One piece of comfort I hold is that I feel like I have a new set of lenses looking at life. I am less judgmental and very present. I feel that is a gift.
Q: Please finish the sentence: To me, the best thing about becoming and being a mom is…
A: …fulfilling every dream I had about becoming a mother during those years of trying to conceive. I read this after having our babies and it resonates with me every day that being a parent is “deciding forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body.” I love Zoe so much that is like an extension of me living outside of me.
Oh, Kelly. Judah is a hero. A guardian of the highest order. Zoe is lucky to have had him, you were fortunate to know him if only too briefly, and we’re grateful to you for sharing his story with us. I can’t fathom the fighting emotions of grieving and loving so profoundly at the same time. I think you’re a hero, too. Thank you from my heart for sharing yourself with us.