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  • Elle Sten

The road to two

Updated: Oct 3, 2022

Reflecting on the journey getting here, celebrating the first year of my second and third with my first.


It's a rush, peeing on a stick. Those moments before the lines or plus sign or words appear feel like an eternity with every hair on your body standing on edge and anxiety peaking. Every other time I had hoped for a negative. This was the very first time I'd hoped for a positive. Two lines means yes.


Last month was the first we began trying. I didn't test, but my period showed up right on time. Despite avoiding alcohol, eating healthy and avoiding deli meat or anything dangerous for pregnant women. I pretended like I was. When aunt flo showed I decided it wasn't realistic to do that again. Who knows how long it would take us to conceive?

Perhaps out of rebellion or in order to "tempt" a positive, somehow the month following was a little crazy. I went out with friends and had an uncharacteristic wild night of drinks, followed by wine tasting the next day. The following weekend we went away and I had my share of cocktails while bar hopping, then had friends over for another wild night on the long weekend. I had suppressed the sore boobs for the week leading up to the weekend. After all, I didn't get pregnant our first attempt, so therefore it'll take me at least a year. I didn't want to admit to trying to conceive because that would lead to stress and disappointment, so I refused to start prenatals. Though I did lay upside down after each attempt. That was indeed trying.


When Tuesday rolled around and the week began, I decided two days late was enough reason to test. Just in case, I decided to film my reaction. When the two lines appeared I shouted "Shit! Shit shit!" It was real this time. I recorded a video after my reaction for the baby. I started speaking to it singing to it and planning the dates. I signed up for every pregnancy related app and email site. I pinned December baby outfits, creative announcements. A newborn before Christmas. How sweet!


I then went to the store to find "Dad's" rootbeer with no luck. I did however stock up on orange juice, spinach, prenatals for the folate. And a few more pregnancy tests just to be sure. All of which confirmed, but all faint positives. I then waited for my husband who had been asking all day if I'd tested but I dodged until he got home. I sneakily recorded his reaction as he walked in the door and asked me. A beautiful moment as we both teared up and hugged as I told him it was positive.


I educated myself over everything pregnancy related that I possibly could over the next few weeks. I had never been so on edge and scared and sick to my stomach. What if something happens first? What if nothing happens and I have to give birth? Terrified and trying to lean on God but in such a mental state of panic all the time. I eagerly awaited morning sickness.


Easter was on April first that year. I'd be seeing my family but decided April Fool's Day was not the day I wanted to announce my first pregnancy. I hid it and carefully avoided all the dangerous food and drink. I almost gave in and told my mom but didn't. I decided Mother's Day, the next time I'd see my family would be nice to reveal. I'd find a card that said "grandma" and let her connect the dots.


Seven weeks in. I'd thought I'd experience morning sickness now but figured I was one of the lucky ones. We went about our lives in a state of bliss and excitement to be parents. I cradled my belly and took bump pics looking for any sign of an emerging belly. I prayed all day and sang to my baby. That weekend we went to dinner. The kids menu was called "little buffalos" and we smiled and talked about how we couldn't wait to bring our little buffalo. We were seated near a baby in a car seat and smiled at the parents knowing that would be us soon.


Later we got home and went about our separate activities. I went to the bathroom and froze-- was that blood? I checked again and again, nothing. I screamed for my husband and made him look. "There's a scratch on your thigh that's all there is!" Thank God. Relief flooded in. I managed to sleep but was still in a heightened state.


The following morning, I had more blood. Just a spot. Later another little spot. I called the doctor. "If it's continuing like that, go in to emergency services."

I waited. Going in would be admitting there was something wrong. Not with my baby. We went about the day until I had to go into the grocery store bathroom. This time, a substantial amount. We drove to the ER.


For some reason it was packed on a weekday evening. I used the bathroom there three times and had blood each time. Finally called in, waited for an ultrasound. The whole ordeal took 5 hours before getting answers. I'll never forget the ultrasound tech, sweet and positive. "Look there it is so tiny tiny!"

So there's the baby. And I'm carrying. Tiny in a good cute way.

Until the doctor came in. "So according to your dates you're about 7 1/2 weeks along. I'd expect it to be bigger by now. I'd expect to see a fetal pole by this point. I don't know if it just stopped growing. Follow up with your O.B." And was given paperwork for a threatened miscarriage. So bad. Maybe. I poured over the list. No sex, bed rest, no caffeine. I can change this course I thought. If I do these things.


We got in the car and sobbed and prayed. The following day, the bleeding stopped. Not even a spot. I followed the guidelines. I prayed and waited.


On Monday the 17th we had my first prenatal appointment. Nervous and worried. I got to see the little baby again. Small for dates, but I could just be off on mine. And there was a fetal pole! A tiny little flicker. Not enough to confirm cardiac activity, yet, so I'd come back. I asked about progesterone. Could I maintain this pregnancy? I was denied, that's only given for multiple miscarriages in a row.


With an appointment scheduled, we set off hopeful. "This is the best news! You don't have anything to worry about!" My husband said.


The following day I had a nagging crampy feel. Like the kind a day ahead of a period. Not the sharp painful kind described with a miscarriage. Just present and pulling at me but barely noticeable. I did however have extreme fatigue. Like sheer exhaustion couldn't think. I went about the day, making dinner, watching our show and going to bed. I couldn't get comfortable because I had the incessant need to pee.


I peed twice and still had to go. I got up a third time to pee. And that's when it all happened. Or ended. I peed and everything poured from me. Blood. Clots. Tissue. All of it at once. The baby was too small for me to see. I just screamed for my husband. He just helplessly watched. It was gruesome. It was horrific. It was devastating. There was no question now.


When it finally stopped, we just hugged and sobbed. Sat on the bed. Just whole bodies heaving in sobs. I then called by OB office, though it was nearly midnight. They advised me to go in.


We drove in silence. Except for me saying "maybe it's just my fibroid that got disturbed."


"Honey..."


At the ER triage, thankfully an empty waiting room.


"So you're pregnant?"


"Not anymore."


"How far along are you?"


"8 and a half weeks."


The doctor, "so this is a threatened miscarriage."


No. That was last week. This is the real thing.


The same ultrasound tech. This time silent with a grave look on her face.


There's the doctor again. "So it's pretty much what we thought. I think you knew. Everyone's aunt sister mom has had a miscarriage and goes on to have two three four five kids."


But I wanted this baby.


Then it was just tunnel vision to the car. "Have a better night," called one of the male med techs, sadly.


Finally alone with my husband again I could breakdown again.


The months that followed were sorrowful with glimmers of hope here and there. Coupled with blaming myself and wondering. Was it the drinking? I should've stopped altogether. I should've started prenatals sooner. It was May. We would take the summer and try again after it. Many days spent in bed sobbing alone. Many solo drives crying and crying out to God "why?" and "Please God give me a child!" I thought the threatened miscarriage would be enough. I'd get through it have the baby healthy and sing his praises of my experience.


In August, the pregnancy announcements began to pour in. Everyone I'd ever known of childbearing age seemed to be pregnant. And sharing publicly before 13 weeks! We took the planned trip with my in laws. I was going to tell them then. It would've been in the second trimester. We left the day before my brother and sister in law arrived. I got a call the next day "Guess what? They're having a baby!"

I was happy for them. But it stung extra.


September we decided would be the last month before we began trying. October 6th I would ovulate. The last week in September I bleached my hair. Can't do that while pregnant! I stopped using single using aluminum cans or bottles, anything that could disrupt hormones. I stopped drinking anything two full weeks before my cycle would start. I just wanted any control over something that was not (really) in my power.


The last weekend before ovulation we went to the lemon fest, a mystery shop at a high end restaurant, and a souvenir shop. The shop was getting rid of kid sized mugs with names on them with a sharpie-written sign atop the spinning display rack that said "free, please take." I looked for some of our planned kids names, and found Jack. We took our free memento and left, my token of hope that I would hide away.


I found out I was pregnant October 22nd. This time my husband was with me. I bought the test along with a bag of folate-rich spinach this time because I was two days late. When the word "yes" appeared (I sprung for the expensive digital test this time), we wept and said yay! This time, full of hope.


My pregnancy was smooth and perfect. I used progesterone cream after my doctor refused to prescribe it. I applied it to my inner wrists twice a day, carefully measured. The only time I ever saw a spot of blood all pregnancy was at the end of my 16th week as I was weaning off the cream.


We excitedly announced, revealed the gender, bought maternity products and baby boy clothes. It was living in bliss with reasonable assurance. Taking the baby prep classes was so exciting. Still, many triggers throughout. I was able to celebrate more as all the babies from the August announcements arrived. I'd get my turn.


I still existed in a heightened state of anxiety. I still had a degree of disconnect feeling like this could end at any moment. I'd rush to the bathroom to check for blood almost compulsively. My blood pressure began to rise and remained high all pregnancy. At 35 weeks I began to need twice-weekly non stress testing. I laid back with the big straps around my belly. Waiting for kicks and movement. Only once was there a worry about movement, but it turned out to be a sleeping pattern that quickly improved.


Still, I had to be induced at 38 weeks. I remember seeing the missed call and voicemail that a bed was ready for me to begin induction. I listened to the message and threw up and began to panic as I showered and packed a bag.


Induction was a long, slow, and painful process. It was Saturday evening when I began Cervadil. The second round twelve hours later, the third twelve after that. Nothing budged. Still less than 3 cm dilated. I was frustrated with my body. Stressed by the family who came for the birth waiting in the waiting room. Simultaneously glad they were there but annoyed by the pressure. They had hotels and reservations and some of them work to worry about.


I got the epidural placed after 48 hours of no progress. This was at the recommendation of the doctor to ease the pain of the balloon insertion. I was only right at 38 weeks and this baby wasn't ready. I was frustrated by my stress during pregnancy that gave me high blood pressure reads.


Every time the doctor entered I began shaking with nerves. This is it. Or I'm going to need a c-section. Finally, the third full day they broke my water. This was the last ditch effort before declaring it a failed induction. I now had 24 hours to give birth or they'd cut me open. Thankfully, that got the ball rolling. Unthankfully the epidural had now worn off. I felt nearly blinding pain as my cervix finally cooperated and began to dilate like crazy. In under 3 hours I went from a 4 to a 9.5. Everything hurt. I couldn't see or think. I hadn't closed my eyes in three days.


Finally, it was time to push. I pushed for two hours and 15 minutes. At the very very end, I heard the nurse say "not tracking baby's heart rate." I then saw black. My husband tells me they were scrambling to prep for an episiotomy. I didn't hear anything or see anything, just complete laser focus on getting this baby out. I heard "there's the head" and then felt a whoosh.


There was nothing but silence, I remember my husband's face and smile and look encouraging me to smile. The baby wasn't crying, awake, but stark white feet and hands. They had my husband cut the cord briefly put him on my chest then took him to give him air and clear his airways. I only heard a few grunts, and they took him off to the NICU.


My husband went with the team and baby. Then it was just two nurses, the doctor and I. I remember them measuring the blood and placenta. My uterus wasn't contracting properly, so she gave me a pill to chew and swallow. The doctor compressed my belly. There was a lot of bleeding. Once that got under control and I was stitched up I cried "please God I just want my baby." The doctor tried to comfort me vouching for the NICU and how it's good they're there, he's been in places where they don't have that and it wasn't good. It had the opposite effect.


I suppose that inspired him to go to the NICU because my husband told him the doctor was trying to convince him to go see me. He said he couldn't leave the baby.


When I was finally detached from everything, the nurse said "normally I'd never allow this but we'll get you ready to go to the NICU."


I tried to stand and was weak. I told her I was light headed and she told me I lost a lot of blood for a vaginal birth. It took a few tries, some steps, and a padsicle and diaper to get to the wheelchair.


There, in the NICU with my grey fuzzy blanket from home draped across my lap and no color in my face, I got to meet the most beautiful boy. I held him and said "hi precious!" And saw him look up at me through my tears. I kept looking at my husband for his reaction-- beaming.


We had to speak to the pediatric doctor for the baby. We could opt to check his cord gasses but because his color, temp, and blood sugar were all good we didn't need it. He said because there was some blood when they broke my water I could've had a small placental abruption. That flagged me because I had been telling the nurses I had a lot of blood and they insisted it was just an irritated cervix from all the induction measures.


That evening after all the family left, my boy lay bundled. He was sleepy. I heard all the other babies cry in rooms near us but not him. He was here, safe. My mind would not accept it. I thought any moment he would crash. I would lose him to SIDS. Something was wrong. I lived in this mental state for about six months. Unable to connect and fully realize he was here and mine. I struggled to feed. I had so much anger that my moment in the delivery room didn't look how I'd planned. I didn't get the skin to skin. How could I ever successfully feed? A tongue tie correction and two months of lactation appointments finally allowed me to.


After him I began a weight loss journey. About 8 months in I reached goal, and came alive. All inklings of PPD were gone, and every day I felt amazing. We had fun, we were bonded, I was alive! Then the world shut down a week later. We were isolated but turned it into an experience. I worried about him socially missing out, but we made the most of every second.


The pandemic droned on and closures lasted all summer. We decided it was time for a sibling. I prayed every day for another healthy baby and secretly for a girl. Just like before, I made my plan to stop consuming any alcohol weeks before my cycle. I was nervous for secondary infertility this time and the guilt of not being able to give Jack a sibling.


The morning of Halloween, two days late again I stood with the stick in my hand. It was kind of in secret because while we were trying I didn't expect a first cycle again. As the lines appeared I shrieked and planned to tell my husband when he got home from work. Revealing it with a "trick-or-treat" as he walked in the door. He was excited.


This time, the morning sickness was intense and hit me like a ton of bricks a week after the positive test. I was violently ill every day. My one-year-old would imitate me throwing up into the toilet. He'd open the lid and cough then laugh at my plight.


At 9 weeks after a particularly rough bought of morning sickness, I lay on the couch with my son playing a video game. This was our ritual until I felt better to start our day. I reached down because I felt some wetness and saw the most heart plummeting thing: blood. I ran to the bathroom and confirmed, lots of blood. Clotted blood. Dark blood.


Shaking, I called my husband crying. He called his coworker back in one minute after clocking in and headed home so I could go to the ER. I prayed to not be ectopic and to not be miscarrying again. More blood followed as I awaited. I packed a lunch for my son and water and milk for the car.


When my husband arrived we embraced and cried together. "This was Jack's sibling" I sobbed. He hugged me tighter.


We arrived to a moderately busy ER. Well, I did. Covid and restrictions were in full swing. They waited in the car. "Go to a park" I insisted.


"I'm not leaving you."


Went through the motions again. Triage. Pee in a cup, more blood. I got called back to my room right as the lullaby bells rang. Instant flood of tears. Yes, I had my chance to puh the button. Now it stung. Someone was celebrating theirs as I lost mine.


I explained my symptoms in the room. Everyone was very kind and compassionate. I waited an eternity for the ultrasound. The silent ultrasound tech took detailed images of every aspect of my uterus. It was long and quiet. I didn't dare ask. I didn't dare look at her expression.


After what felt like an hour from the ultrasound the doctor came back in.


"So, it's what I thought."


Terminology almost verbatim to when this happened before.


"There's a small bleed between the uterus and where the placenta attaches. This happens when it's forming and usually goes away."


I nearly jumped out of the bed. If I wasn't attached to an IV I would have. I shot straight up.


"There's a baby?! And a heartbeat?"


"Oh yeah strong heartbeat, baby looks a few days ahead of what you were thinking."


Through tears of joy I called my husband. I still had to treat it as a threatened miscarriage, take it easy and pray as I bled on and off the next few weeks.


My nuchal screen showed normal development, no more bleed and good growth. My NIPT test confirmed low chances of abnormalities and a girl!


Still panicking here and there, it was an otherwise smooth rest of pregnancy.


I again had to undergo nonstress testing and had to be induced, lower urgency than last time.


The day before my 39th week I went in to check fluid levels. Scrolling my phone waiting for the doctor she came in.


"They're too low."


"They are?"


"Yeah there's not enough amniotic fluid. You'll need to be induced."


"Okay. I'm on the list for when they have a bed next."


"No, go over and tell them I sent you."


"Oh, now?!"


I hopped up and frantically called to make arrangements.


Contractions began in triage on their own. My husband arrived with family watching our son just as I got into the room. The IV took 8 tries to place, but that would turn out to be the worst part of this experience.


I got the balloon placed without meds this time. Contractions then began in full force. The balloon put so much pressure on my back as my whole back contracted and contorted in pain. It was clear this was progressing, I asked for an epidural. And food and a shower.


My requests were all granted within the hour. I ate a full meal between contractions. Showered hunched and clutching the sides of the tub. Had the epidural placed by a much nicer anesthesiologist who was gentle and explained things this time.


I then rested. I laid on my back with a glow lamp shining that one of the nurses brought. I thought about my son and how I wished to see him again.


About 2 am I started shaking. The nurse saw me and said I was getting close. I insisted it was just the epidural. She said let's check and sure enough I was at a 10.


The baby needed to get into position however so I was put into a chair position to "labor down" for a bit. Then I pushed for 20 minutes and was given about 40 to rest.


The nurses and doctors came in, it must've been an uncharacteristically slow night because everyone wanted to be in my room.


The baby's heartbeat became erratic and I started to panic. They told me I need to focus and I had to get the baby out now. It was less than 10 minutes of pushing and they said "get ready to meet your baby!"


There she was, pink and slimy and crying! Screaming with tenacity. I got to hold her for a bit after my husband cut the cord, and she needed just a bit of suction.


I beamed down at her as I noticed her dimple and perfectly round face. She had darker eyes than her brother and golden hair that stood on end. It was magical. I had energy and I was present the whole birth.


Feeding her and getting milk to come in was much easier. She refused a bottle or pacifier preferring only the breast. All the time. This made her much clingier than her brother. Never letting anyone else hold her, not even her dad. The whole year actually. Mentally, her first year was much more challenging even without the hurdles of early PPD and feeding struggles.


I felt like any inkling of my "light" didn't come back until her 13th month. She became almost instantly more chill. Her year was marked with so many random bouts of depression and inability to lose weight. With no time to workout or thrive in any roving 24 hour period, this was hardly surprising but incredibly difficult.


I did gain many more mom friends in her first year and post-Covid. The socialization, support, and activities was a balm for lost time.


While her birth was a dream (food, shower, epidural, quick push, healthy baby), the year has really pushed us towards no more kids. We'll see what the next few hold, but I'm enjoying the here and now, finally.


Be well,


Elle.









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