My piece on Cosmo.com about a big life change:
Unlike most people in my social network, when I was pregnant, I did not share the obligatory ultrasound at the end of the first trimester, or a picture of my husband and my shoes with baby ones in the middle, or make a “reveal” video. I didn’t do all of those things because until this child was safely in my arms after delivery, I was never so comfortable to think that she would definitely arrive.
In fact, the first time I’m publicly sharing the news of my little girl’s arrival is right at this moment.
This hesitation was not born of irrational fear or superstition or religious conviction, but of learned experience that not all fetuses who make it past the first trimester will actually be born. The choice also came from a deep sensitivity to the pain that those happy announcement posts cause to women (and men) who are desperate to get pregnant and have a child but spend months and years and untold thousands of dollars “trying.” Our pregnancy journey was too complicated to announce in a photo post or 140 character tweet, but I realize that means I was also part of the problem. In our hyper-curated social media lives, the stories of months of negative pregnancy tests, miscarriages, fetal health problems, or daily IVF injections seem to be missing from the scrolls of posts. But it doesn’t mean they are not there.
The data suggests that around 20 percent of known pregnancies end in miscarriage (with 1 in 160 ending in stillbirth or miscarriage after 20 weeks of gestation) and that around 1 out of 8 couples struggle with infertility. I can assure you that in my Facebook feed of thirty-somethings, there is nowhere near that percentage of mentions of difficulty in conceiving. Good friends who I know have issues only share the eventual happy ultrasound announcements, maybe with a quick mention of “at long last”. Even among my closest girl friends, I only found out about most of their first trimester miscarriages well after the fact.
In a more honest and caring social media universe, people might post about pregnancy loss and get support and sympathy. With a more open dialogue about unexplained miscarriage and infertility, women (and men) might demand more answers for why things don’t always go according to our hopes and plans.
For my own part, I didn’t post anything about our first pregnancy in 2014 and I didn’t allow photos of my growing belly on my timeline. With the weight of a mysterious, at least five-generation issue in my maternal lineage that caused unexplained male fetal death around mid-pregnancy, I took an early blood test at twelve weeks to determine the baby’s gender and chromosomal information. The nurse revealed on the phone, with an unintentionally-joyful ignorance, that the baby was a “healthy” boy. That night, I mourned the lost dream of a potential daughter and cried in fear of facing what my Mom did four times: a mid-pregnancy male stillbirth. A few days later, my husband left on a military deployment and I demanded weekly second trimester heartbeat checks or ultrasounds so I could either be reassured or know right away when the inevitable happened.
At my 20-week anatomy scan, in the perinatal unit of my hospital’s labor and delivery wing, I asked the nurse to show me the heart first. She refused, and silently took measurements of the baby’s head for a few minutes before moving the wand toward the tiny chest. Upon seeing the obviously still four chambers, I said matter-of-factly: “that heart’s not beating.” She replied: “No, I’m sorry” but then proceed to continue the scan until I demanded she stop and get the doctor. I was given the option to leave the hospital — visibly pregnant with a now-dead baby — and come back for an evacuation procedure a few days later, or get induced into labor right then. I chose to stay for labor, my parents jumping on a plane from across the country to be there for me with my husband overseas. After 19 hours of unproductive labor, I had the evacuation procedure after all.
The journey to parenthood continued over the last two and half years to include six punishing rounds of non-pregnancy-yielding IVF (paid for out-of-pocket since TRICARE, our nation’s military health insurance, doesn’t cover “non-coital reproductive assistance”), pushing for a genetic study to understand the cause of male fetal death in my family, and getting the answer that we carry a rare X-chromosome autoimmune disorder that kills males who inherit it (called IPEX Syndrome, a recently discovered cause of male stillbirth). Ultimately, we found a lab that could test the DNA from the male embryos we had made through IVF for IPEX. We learned in September 2016, that miraculously, three of the four otherwise “healthy” male embryos we had didn’t inherit the killer gene. We thought that, finally, there was a light at the end of the dark tunnel. My husband returned from another deployment in time to plan an IVF implantation and we were hopeful despite years of disappointment, to finally get pregnant and hold a live baby in our arms.
Amazingly, though, this baby who I am finally holding in my arms today, had a different plan. She was conceived as she is being announced — the old fashioned way — before we could get started on our shots for the IVF implantation. Just as before, the positive pregnancy test was only a piece of the story. But this time, at the end of the first trimester, the same nurse called with news that we had made a healthy baby girl. No doubt a cause of great joy for us, and hopefully, a source of tangible optimism for others still in the struggle. I know the pain that baby announcements can instigate for some people, and I don’t begrudge anyone their sadness; I understand it.
As thrilled as I am, I couldn’t just announce this happy moment without the true story of how we got here. I know that announcements like these can cause pain for some people and I don’t forget what that feels like. Maybe with more stories like ours shared — the truth of birth announcements when the process doesn’t go according to Facebook shareable plans — we can open up more honest discussions of conception and birth beyond 140 characters.
Originally Published on cosmopolitan.com