A Little Thing Called Hope

http://ciderandfaun.blogspot.com/2011/02/hope-grace.html

“The very least you can do in your life is to figure out what you hope for. And the most you can do is live inside that hope.”
–Barbara Kingsolver

It’s been two months since I wrote, friends, and I’m not sure where to begin. My last post was about the death of my mother, which is an event that I continue to process. I feel a lot of relief that the hard part, the end of her life, the suffering is over. And I feel sad that she’s gone, whenever I realize it, because I seem to realize it again and again. I think on the one hand, I just don’t want to believe it. But on the other hand, she had been gone a long time already. The person I knew as my mom was taken by Alzheimer’s long before she died. Now, I am free to remember her as she was before. And I do feel her presence, all the time. My last thought here: the dying is so much harder than the death itself.

There are some other things happening in my life as well. Yes, my life, that continues onward, hopefully for a long, long time. The biggest news….I am pregnant! I am at almost 15 weeks now, and this is probably the main reason I haven’t been writing, because I have been sick and tired and tired and sick. Besides working and parenting, I just want to read or watch movies, anything to comfort me and take my mind off feeling like shit. So far, the prenatal appointments have been good. Strong heartbeat, low chance of genetic problems according to the first screening and NT scan. It has been such a scary ride for me due to my past miscarriage and subsequent partial molar pregnancy. I rented a Doppler so I can reassure myself at home between doctor appointments. I have used it twice so far, and have heard a heart rate of 150 both times.

The other big news has to do with my partner. Danny has a condition called retinitis pigmentosa. This condition affects his vision. He has always been night blind, and when I say this, I mean he is truly blind if he does not have good lighting. It also affects peripheral vision. People with RP get tunnel vision that gradually gets more and more narrow, depending on that person’s progression. For Danny, it has always been a struggle, as he needs a guide at night. He can never drive or go out alone after dark. In the winter months, he has to work short days in order to make it home before dark. He has been lucky for a long time, because his vision has seemed to be relatively stable rather than getting progressively worse. However in the last few years, his eyes have been shifting, but we mainly attributed this to him being in his 40’s and needing reading glasses. Then, in the last few months, he started getting blurred vision that’s been making it hard for him to function at work. Uh-oh.

This is the life of my little family for the last few months. In June, Danny started feeling the shift in his vision. It freaked him out, but he did not tell me what was going on for a couple of months! He thought maybe his eyes were tired, or he needed a new prescription, but nothing was helping. In July, I found out I was pregnant. It was such a surprise, because we hadn’t started trying yet. My mom was on her deathbed, and we were gun-shy after the last pregnancy losses. One week later, my mom died. There was the grief that hit like a tidal wave and the burial and the memorial and the gradually worsening morning sickness. Danny stepped up as the main care provider for our 4-year-old son.

About a month ago, Danny finally shared with me what was going on with his vision. We started researching, and found that people have actually been treating his very condition since the ’80’s with something called micro-acupuncture. They stick needles into one’s hands and the soles on one’s feet. I felt like kicking us for not learning about this sooner. A crazy synchronicity: Danny has always been into astrology. Years and years ago, his astrologer told him that traditional chinese medicine would help him with his eyes. Acupuncture comes from traditional chinese medicine, so go figure!

To make a long story short, we have traveled across the country to work with one of the handful of people who offers this treatment. We chose the man who has been doing it for the longest, and has trained several others. It is a shitload of cash, but we figure if it helps, it’s priceless. On the first day, Danny underwent vision tests for acuity and visual field. Then he had two days of treatment, with five sessions each day. Today was day 3. He had to do the vision tests again this morning to see if he is a responder to this treatment. With no improvement he would be sent home. To our elation, there was improvement! So, we will be here for two weeks to continue the intensive treatment.

It’s not a cure, but it can get him some acuity and peripheral vision back, and halt the progression of the RP. Danny is noticing the changes. Colors are looking brighter and everything is looking sharper. Hopefully, he will be able to continue driving and working on a computer, so he can keep his job. This is a miracle for us. Western doctors will simply tell you that there is no cure, you will eventually most likely be (at least legally) blind, and it is a good idea to learn Braille.

The town we were initially going to come stay in for this treatment was called Mt. Hope. The doctor moved to a new town down the road this week, but the vacation rental we found is on, can you guess, Hope Court. Sometimes, hope is a really hard thing to have, when you have been struck with the cruel limitations that are so very real in this life. I’m not saying I don’t have faith. Even when life hands me a bitter pill, I try to understand the lesson, and I am usually able to somewhat sweeten the bitterness with acceptance. At least, so far. One never knows what catastrophe may be around the corner.

But that’s the thing: one never knows what beautiful spirit-fulfilling blessing may be around the corner either. One just never knows. Right now, I am daring myself to hope. We are daring ourselves to hope. Our tears are out of gratitude rather than despair. I am not of a Christian faith, but as you know if you follow my blog, I am a spiritual person. Maybe it is that we are currently in the South, where there is a church on every corner I swear, and probably it is because we are seeing the possibility of the miracle of answered prayers in our lives right now, but I find myself wanting to run to the nearest hillside and yell out at the top of my lungs, “Praise the Lord!!!”

 

 

The Body Fails Us

Image

First your mind, then your body. Bit by bit, painfully gradually, faculty by faculty lost forever. I watched as everything faded until you were a mere shell of your body, limited to laying in bed, being spoon-fed, washed and changed by a husband who adored you until the very end.

I remember not long ago, you sang, “Da-da-doo-da-da,” with a smile on your face, playing a creepy crawly finger game with my three year old son, your grandson. He laughed, delighted in it, loving it. Loving you. We all do.

That’s why, three weeks ago, we decided to let you go. It was your request, before the disease hit, back when you worked at the old folks home, feeding people who no longer wanted to be fed. “If I ever get to a point where I can’t feed myself, don’t feed me,” you told us emphatically. We did feed you, for a long time, until we faced the fact that you weren’t going to get any better.

You had already lost most muscle tone, were constantly curled up in a fetal position. Retraction, the hospice visitors called it. Battling ongoing seeping wounds—bedsores, fever sores, not-getting-better sores.

For three painful weeks, we took turns sitting vigil with you, holding hands, rubbing your head, reading, talking to you. I told you how much I love you, how you gave me the greatest gift of all—life. I hope you heard. I hope you understood.

They started chopping the towering eucalyptus trees in the green space surrounding your back yard, making way for development. You sank deeper and deeper towards death.

“She’s going down with the trees,” my sister said.

Your husband leaked tears day in and out, falling into pieces and grabbing on for an anchor as he washed your hair, your body. Some days he felt too guilty to eat, wanted to join you in your fast.

As you faded into dreamland, a skeleton emerged, a husk that once housed your luminous warmth. The displaced birds crowded your back yard fence. A hawk visited one day, cawing and cawing for home.

Your cousin went on a shamanic journey and found you. “Get me out of here,” you demanded of her.

Yesterday you went.

Today we bathed you, anointed you in oils, and covered you with rose petals. We stood in a circle around the vacuum of your body and wept.

“Mommy, mommy,” I want to curl into a ball, and scream. Devastation of the severance of that primal bond. The first connection to this world—gone.

You are in a better place now. That is a cliché for a reason, because  it’s true. Your suffering is over. No more debilitated mind, no more failing body. Your spirit was displaced, flying in circles while your body anguished. Now you are home, in a place that can never be chopped down.

There is no tree. There is no nest. There is no body. There is no you.

Yet you are all around us.

No More Time to Bide Time

I have exceptionally good news: I just passed my second licensing exam. which means that I am now a licensed clinical social worker! 

This means I can immediately get a raise in my current job, but what it really means is that I can gradually LEAVE my current job and move into private practice. This is a huge deal, because I have been working towards this since forever ago. There was the undergraduate degree, then the graduate degree, then the 3200 supervised hours to collect, then the pre-licensure coursework, then the mountain of paperwork to apply as a candidate for the tests, then the months of intensive studying and the ocean of anxiety that I almost drowned in while prepping for the first test, then a repeat for the second test. Needless to say, I am giving myself a huge pat on the back right now.

Being done with this process though, brings me back to another part of my life that I have been studiously avoiding for, say, the last nine months. That part would be the question of trying for another child.

As soon as I gave birth to my son, I decided I wanted to do it again. I loved the birthing process, the unbelievably soft skin of my newborn and the surprising fierceness of my immediate love for him. Each time I have ever asked my now almost 4-year-old son if he’d like a little brother or sister, his answer is an enthusiastic yes. My husband, a little less enthusiastic, but he’s willing to give it a go.

If you have been following my blog for a while, you know about the miscarriages I experienced last year, as well as the partial molar pregnancy that shook me to my core. After all this, I wondered if I had the courage to try to get pregnant again. After mulling it over for a while, I decided to focus on getting this licensing process out of the way, and then try one more time.

The time is here to try. I am standing at the edge of a precipice, and I am suddenly unsure about taking the next step. Fear and grief blind me from seeing the answer when I ask myself and God if another child is in the cards for me. I am so afraid to try again and I am terrified to hope for this. Forget believing in it. 

And then I take a step back and loosen my white-knuckled grip. And maybe I am starting to get some perspective here. The thing is, what this all comes down to is lack of control. I can attempt to get pregnant. I can take care of my body and do all those things one can do to encourage fertility, but that’s it. Beyond that, it’s fate, God’s will, or a roll of the dice; whichever you believe in. I can only do what I can do, and then it is out of my hands. And I need to be OK with that. I just need to be okay. 

To be all right with grief. To know I may get pregnant and fall in love with the teeny life inside of me, and then it may stop growing. And this might happen right around the time my mom decides to go, because my mom now has hospice in her life, so it won’t be long now.  So one way or another, grief is going to get me.

I think I might be okay, because the thing is that the wheel turns and we eventually lose everything in life. That is the human experience, to believe in the illusion that anything is ours to have to lose in the first place.

Here I am at the precipice. And the time is now or never. I think I can be courageous now. I can stand with my hands open and empty. Gaze into the infinite. Breathe…and take that last step into the abyss. 

My mom is dying of Alzheimer’s

She was diagnosed six years ago, at the age of 62. It started with having problems filling out her charting at the rehab center where she worked as an occupational therapist. Her boss asked my stepdad if something was wrong with her, and the diagnostic process began. I attended the appointment with the cognitive psychologist. He led her through a battery of tests, including one where he asked her to do things like, “Touch your right hand to your left elbow.” By this time, she was already unable to follow the command. I went numb as the nice psychologist reported that she had “probable Alzheimer’s,” and then suggested that we get busy with Power of Attorney, advanced directives, and so on.

She went quite downhill quickly after the diagnosis. Something happened with her balance, and she started falling at times (later, we found out that the falls were linked to low blood pressure, and they disappeared with licorice). She drew inward, and more frail. Then, she stabilized.

I was scared as hell. It is hard to describe the feeling of impending loss of a parent. Can anyone help me here? It was as if my security, my solid base was ripped out from beneath me, leaving a big, gaping hole of nothingness…the void. I spent time with her that spring, recording an oral history. She was forgetting some things, but could still remember a lot. She drove for a few more years, until she was refused a renewal due to her diagnosis.

Image

Here she is in the earlier days, with her ever adoring husband.

You will see that in every picture I post, my stepdad Charles is by her side. He has been an amazingly devoted caregiver, an angel in the form of a man. They married in 1994, and had 12 happy years together before my mom’s diagnosis. Day by day, he has survived and taken into stride each gradual loss.

It hurts me to know that my son will not remember his grandma. He loves her now, and isn’t even fazed by the fact that she often scolds him. It’s funny, but the only coherent things I have heard her say anytime lately are things like, “No, little guy, let’s not do that,” and, “Let’s be quiet little guy.”

Image

Image

This was 2.5 years ago. My mom appreciating her grandson.

My mom and stepdad came to my house hours after the birth of my son. We had champagne and cake to celebrate. This was three years into my mom’s Alzheimer’s. She was glowing and exuberant about meeting her grandson, and she sat next to me on the bed, stroking his cheek while he breastfed. At one point, she turned to me and asked, “Who’s this little guy?”

Over those next few months, we did a lot of hiking with my mom and stepdad. We would put Gavin in the carrier, and take long walks through the hills outside of the city. Really good times. Superb memories. Eventually, my mom stopped being comfortable climbing steep hills. She started to lean over as if to crawl. Then, any kind of ground that was not completely smooth and level became too much, so hikes were out, but we still took nice walks around the neighborhood. The walks became shorter and shorter. As of this week, my mom can no longer walk.

Image

Hikes in the hills and trees

Image

We had fun.

Image

 In the last year, the disease has progressed to advances stages. She is completely dependent on diapers now, and her leg muscles have atrophied. She can still talk, but very rarely makes any sense at all, and her words are starting to slur at times. A couple of weeks ago, she came down with a stomach flu, and grew weaker. Though the stomach flu resolved itself, the weakness did not. Charles ordered a wheelchair this week, and they are now getting visits from home nurses, health aids, and a social worker.

My mom stopped eating solid foods a few days ago, and is not drinking a whole lot either. Charles insists that she is giving up, and I believe him. She has been talking for a long time about not wanting to live anymore. She is skin and bones. A week ago, she was walking, though somewhat off balance. Three days ago, she was sitting on the edge of her bed, trying with all of her might to stand up. Her legs eventually gave out, and her body slid from the bed to the floor. Today, she is not even sitting up, and spends the day drifting in and out of consciousness.

Her eyes are usually glazed over and dull, except for those moments when she visits this world, and gifts me with a smile and loving gaze. Her cheeks are sunken in and her jowls hang limply. Moods pass over her face like weather in the tropics. For a moment, she smiles. A moment later, she tears up with a look of devastation. Then she gets agitated and defensive (although that is coming less and less with a weakening of her strength). It is only a matter of time now.

I feel incredibly grateful that my family is in agreement not to prolong her life by artificial means (feeding machines, antibiotics, etc.). We are staring down the bullet hole of her death, and are supporting one another. I am hopeful and terrified about my mom dying. Hopeful, because it will mean an end to her suffering, and an end to the immense burden on my stepdad (though he consistently claims to undertake it joyfully). Terrified, because it means I will no longer see her smiling face, hear her voice, or see the light in her eyes. I know the grief will overwhelm me when the reality of her being physically gone hits me. I think I will miss her voice most of all.

Image

This is how I will remember my mom, laughing.

I think losing a parent is like any major rite of passage into the unknown. Before it happens, you cannot even imagine it. You don’t even let your mind go there out of fear. Over time though, you get more and more used to the idea. Like labor, it builds up, until you get closer and closer to the edge of that cliff. It is so painful, but not more than you can bear, and the progression feels natural, like there is no other way. It is all as it should be. Just surrender, and trust. I felt this way when my son was coming into the world. Now, I feel this way as my mom is exiting. Hopefully, I will feel a similar peace when it is my turn to cross to the other side, as well.

Image

Muddling Through

I haven’t been feeling so inspired to write lately, or in fact, to do anything much beyond my basic daily tasks. I work and care for my son and cook and shop and do basic clean-up. My clean laundry has been sitting for days, unfolded. My plants look very thirsty. I see clutter everywhere I look, and I keep on “shoulding” on myself.

Let me try to break this down.

Ten days after my miscarriage and D&C, I went to my OB for the follow-up appointment. I sat on the table, stripped from the waist down, trying to cover myself with the large paper towel, and the doctor walked in.

She handed a piece of paper to me, and said, without looking at me, “I’m giving you a copy of this lab report because I want you to understand. It looks like you had a very rare kind of pregnancy that can become cancer.”

Adrenaline shot to my head. I stared at the report in my hand, trying and failing to make sense of the medical jargon, while the doctor droned on about weekly blood tests and Hcg levels. I asked her a question, I don’t even remember what it was, and she said, “That’s what I was just trying to tell you.”

“I can’t hear you right now!” I answered.

I got through the appointment after coming to understand that I had a partial molar pregnancy, which means that two sperm fertilized my one egg. As far as I understand from the research I’ve done, the embryo forms but cannot survive, and the placental tissue grows too much, like a tumor. The D&C probably got it all out of me, but maybe not, and if not, it can continue to grow and has a very low risk of spreading to other parts of my body and/or turning into cancer. If my Hcg levels don’t go down in a timely manner, they will want me to do chemo as a precaution. I drove to work after my appointment in shock, my life reeling before my eyes, the realization that I am not immune.

What the fuck?

I never signed up for this when I decided to try for another baby.

I have to get weekly blood draws until my Hcg hormone levels go drop below 10. The placental tissue creates the Hcg, so having it in my system means the tissue continues to grow. The first test showed a level of 2355. My OB was worried about this, which of course worried me. (However, she knows next to nothing about this condition. Because it is so rare, most OBs have never dealt with it. I am now also being followed by an gynecological oncologist.)

After the miscarriage, we sprung for tickets to Maui, desperate for some down time and healing warm ocean waters. With this news, though, I wondered if I should even leave town. I read online about women heavily bleeding, having to get second D&Cs. The day after my first blood draw, I felt pregnancy symptoms again: a little spaced out, dizzy, nauseous. Not a good sign.

I decided to go back in for another blood draw three days after my first one, two days before our flight for Hawaii. My anxiety was up to the ceiling. It flowed down in relief when I heard back from my OB that the levels had dropped to 945.

We went to Maui, and it was heavenly. We swam daily. My little guy had so much fun in the water and the sand. I sat outside and meditated to the sound of the waves a a lot of the evenings. We enjoyed it so much that we missed our flight home, but that’s another story.

I resisted the next blood draw for a few days after arriving home, but I finally did it last Friday, and got the news Tuesday. My levels dropped to 45! Hopefully, they will continue to drop, and I will not have to get any chemo. And I will not die. Yet. Hopefully.

I’ve been a bit of a mess, honestly. I am functioning, but I feel kind of like I am unraveling. I feel old, haggard, burnt out. I’m anxious about everything. I think I should be doing so much, but feel like doing nothing. I’m angry. I’m sad. I don’t trust my ovaries anymore.

Every time I think about having another child, an edge of desperation and a huge wave of heaviness cloud my thoughts. I am beginning to ponder having no more children, and this depresses me. I have three siblings and am so grateful. As my parents age, it is hard for me to imagine how hard it would be to care for them without my sibling’s help. I don’t want to put all of that weight on one son, or deprive him of sibling love. When I think about trying to get pregnant again, I am very unsure. I have to wait for a few months after my Hcg levels drop all the way down to even try. And then, if and when I do get pregnant, I’ll be sick. I am a very nauseous pregnant person. No fun. Especially after going through this twice for several weeks with the result being miscarriage. And I will be so incredibly afraid of miscarrying again, or having another one of these types of pregnancies. I just don’t know if I have it in me. And then I think of adopting, and can’t seem to garner the energy to jump through whatever hoops I’ll need to jump through. Plus, I will need to get my husband to agree with me, and he’s been a little hot and cold on that option.

It’s all too confusing. So, I just put it out of my head, and muddle on. The days are getting shorter. Loss is a major theme in my life right now.

At least I am still dancing.

Innocence meets reality

“The only things worth living for are innocence and magic.”   ~David Gray

This weekend, we went apple picking. As we left the house, I pointed out the leaves falling from our Catalpa tree, and Gavin said, “The leaves are falling because it’s Fall!” And I told him we were going apple picking because it’s Fall, too.We drove up the coast, and then 4 miles inland into the beautiful, rolling farmland hills.

The weather was perfect, and Gavin filled up his canvas Sesame Street bag excitedly. It was his first time picking apples, and he was overjoyed that he could reach them, from the dwarf trees. D, Gavin, and I tested the apples as we picked, passing them around our circle of three. They were delicious, perfectly crisp, and sweet with just the right amount of tartness.

The afternoon was pure bliss. In moments like these, I can see through my son’s three year-old eyes the wonderment of something so simple. The unfiltered joy of biting into a freshly picked apple on a beautiful Autumn afternoon. Because he is so innocent, he still sees the magic in everything. He reminds me of it, too.                                                  Image

Sunday night, we were driving home, and the full moon had just risen, and it hovered low in the sky, big and shining brightly. Gavin was sleep deprived, ready for bed, and started whining about being in the car seat. We distracted him by pointing to the moon, and telling him to watch and see if it followed us home.

We turned a corner, and Gavin spied the moon up there, still in his sight. “It is following us!” he yelled in excitement. The rest of the way home, he avidly looked in all directions every time we turned, and he kept a running broadcast. “It’s not there! It’s not following us. There the’s moon! It is following us!”

There is something so precious about this age, this beginning to understand, but everything is so new, and there are no mental files, no past references to sift through to make sense of something new.

He has such a zest for life, and eagerness to learn, to understand, to experience. And complete trust, or a lack of fear.

I miss this in my life. I can remember feeling like this in my late teens, maybe into my early twenties. I wasn’t as naive as a three year-old, of course, but, I had this sense that there was pain and there was suffering “out there,” while my family and I were in some kind of a bubble. We were blessed. Tragedy could not touch us. I still felt immortal, almost. I knew that death would affect me at some point, but that point was far, far way, so far that it wasn’t real.

It’s real, now. It became real to me when my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s at the young age of 62. She will turn 68 next month, and I am slowly watching her lose all of her faculties, one by one. I see my mother shrinking away. She is a tiny, minuscule speck of the lively woman she once was.

I miss that feeling that nothing can touch me. I miss the innocence I had around pregnancy and childbirth, just a year ago, when I started trying for Baby #2, with a deep trust in my body’s ability to grow a baby successfully, before I experienced the miscarriages and all of the complications that continue to accompany them.

What I don’t miss is the illusion of immortality. I am beginning to really grasp my mortality, and it makes me more alive. It makes me more like my son: appreciating every moment, eager to learn and experience, in awe, seeing the magic in “simple” things. It is scary to face death, more terrifying than anything, but so incredibly deeply grounding. It is so bitter, but then the flavor kind of grows on you, because it is medicine.

And, really, we have no choice, so we might as well embrace it.

Image

Ok, here it goes (long and graphic post)

I’ve been debating a whole lot about how personal I want to get with this blog. I recently went through something hard and terrifying. I am usually a pretty private person. I share with my family and close friends to meet my need for support, but don’t like all of my not-so-close friends and acquaintances to know all about my life. This is the thing: If I share about a personal loss on, say, Facebook, I may have people I know approach me and offer condolences in my day-to-day life, and sometimes I don’t want these sympathies, especially if I am having a happy moment with the loss nowhere in mind. I don’t always want to focus on loss, and I don’t want to suddenly break down in tears at work, or at the grocery store, in front of someone I don’t know and trust deeply.

However, I have not yet shared this blog on Facebook. I haven’t sent mass emails announcing its existence. And, my intentions are to heal myself and help others to heal along the way, and I am realizing that writing is a very healing catharsis for me, and reading others’ writing about painful things they have undergone is also something that is very healing for me. So, if I want to heal and help others to heal as well, it only makes sense for me to share. And, if I someday decide to share this blog with a huge audience of all of my acquaintances, I can decide then whether or not to delete the very personal posts.

So here it is: I am recovering from a miscarriage with complications. It was my second miscarriage this year.

I have a healthy 3-year-old. He was my first attempt at pregnancy and childbirth, and the attempt was absolutely successful. I conceived easily, had no complications during pregnancy, and had what my midwife announced “a perfect birth,” in the privacy of my own home, with amazing support. The moment I birthed my son was unequivocally the happiest moment of my life. The next morning, I decided I wanted to do it again. We waited awhile, though, because my partner is completely night blind, meaning he is unable to be very involved with the bedtime routine or do much nighttime parenting. We waited for our son to be sleeping well at night.

I finally got my IUD removed last October. Again, I conceived easily. I tested positive for pregnancy right around the New Year. February 28th, I went in for my first ultrasound, and there was no heartbeat. Needless to say, I was completely devastated. I went in for a D&C the same day, and recovered quickly physically. I am still recovering emotionally.

After this loss, we waited a few months. We had a busy, social spring and summer. We completely appreciated our son. He had his 3rd birthday in July. We tried again for another baby, and again, I conceived easily. In mid-August, I tested positive. This time, I was happy, yes, but in a cautious way. I didn’t tell anyone about the pregnancy this time, because one of the hardest parts about miscarriage last time was giving everyone the bad news.

This time, I made sure to get an earlier ultrasound. I made a doctor’s appointment for eight weeks, and sloughed through the next weeks, sick and tired, exhausted and constantly nauseous. My partner, D, stepped up in parenting and cooking, working and running this household like a madman. I just worked as I was able, ate as I was able, did not cook, as I was not able to, and parented the best I could. I really missed mornings with my son.

Finally, September 10 rolled around, and it was time to see the doctor. I expected to just get a pelvic exam and a Pap, along with a chat with the doctor, and then to schedule an ultrasound for later in the week. So, D went to work as usual, but promised to be there for the ultrasound. I went in, did the pee test, and talked with the doctor as expected. She did a pelvic exam, and told me that my uterus definitely felt pregnant. Then, to my surprise, she pulled out a little hand-held Ultrasound machine, and asked if I wanted to “take a peek.” Of course, I said yes. How could I not? This machine was for trans-abdominal ultrasounds, which aren’t necessarily accurate so early in pregnancy. The doctor placed it on my belly, and showed me the little screen. I watched as she located a sac, but it was small, and there was nothing visible inside. She told me that it looked like a five-week sac, so my dates may be off, or (with my prompting) maybe it stopped developing at five weeks. She also said that the machine might not be accurate. She advised me to blood test that day and two days later, so they could see if my hormone levels were rising, and she scheduled me for a trans-vaginal ultrasound three days later.

I called D as soon as I left the office, and sat in my car on the phone and bawled. I was there just six months ago, in my car sobbing, and it was happening all over again. I told D that I knew for sure that my dates were not off, so there was no other explanation except that the embryo just didn’t develop, exactly like last time.

I went home and researched. I saw a lot of people talking about retroverted uteruses (which I have). Apparently, it is really hard to get an accurate trans-abdominal ultrasound before 12 weeks when your uterus tilts back. This did give me a little bit of hope, but at this point I was really afraid to hope. So was D. We passed through the next three days like zombies. On the day of my ultrasound appointment, I told D that I felt like an animal going in for slaughter.

You already know what happened when I got there, on September 13. The ultrasound technician located the pregnancy in my uterus. This time, the embryo measured in as 7 weeks, 3 days. There was a yolk sac, and there was no heartbeat. She gently informed me that my pregnancy stopped developing a week earlier. I asked if there was any way she couldn’t see the heartbeat because my uterus is tilted. She answered that with this kind of ultrasound, she had a very good view of the pregnancy, and that the heartbeat would be very obvious. a lack of heartbeat on an embryo this size means the pregnancy will not continue. She also told us that people don’t realize that this happens in a third of all pregnancies.

Next we spoke with the doctor, who told us that most miscarriages she sees are related to age. I am 36 now, and D is 48. Our doctor told us that she didn’t marry until age 36, and she suffered five miscarriages before birthing two children. Later, I read that, after age 35, chances of miscarriage go up to 25%, and if your partner is 40 or older and you are over 35, this actually doubles the risk of miscarriage. So ladies, take my advice, don’t wait. You will never feel like you are ready. There is no perfect time to get pregnant. Seriously. Take it from someone who waited too long.

The doctor then gave us our options, which included waiting for a natural miscarriage or scheduling a D&C. Having gone through the D&C last time, I really wanted to let it happen naturally this time. This was partly because I read that D&C’s can increase the risk of further miscarriages due to scarring, and partly because I tend to like to do things the natural way, when and if possible. I asked the doctor if there was something I could take to make it happen sooner, though, because my last pregnancy stopped developing at seven weeks, and I did not know or have any signs of miscarriage until the ultrasound I got at 12 weeks. My hormone levels were still actually high at this time, and I did not want to go through another month of feeling sick for nothing. The doctor talked to me about RU-486, but told me I would have to schedule a consultation with another doctor to get it.

That was Thursday. The following Tuesday, I went back in for the consultation. The doctor gave me RU-486, which blocks the hormones that are needed to sustain the pregnancy from entering the placenta. Normally, two days later, women take misoprostol to induce contractions. I told the doctor I did not want to take misoprostol, as I took it in my twenties (to end an unwanted pregnancy), and got horribly sick, with vomiting and diarrhea and labor-like cramps that I had to simply endure as I vomited any painkillers I tried to ingest. The doctor listened to my story, and basically told me that following RU-486 with misoprostol is the normal protocol and her recommendation, but I could do what I wanted in the privacy of my own home. She gave me the RU-486 in her office, and I swallowed them, and she wrote me a prescription for misoprostol, which I did not pick up.

Over the next few days, I had some mild cramps and spotting, as well as stronger nausea. I didn’t work much at all, as I felt too ill.  Friday, I got acupuncture to reduce nausea and induce bleeding. I slept a lot, and tried to tell my body what it needed to do. I prayed for it all to go smoothly, and for it to happen soon, so that I could just feel normal again.

I sometimes had thoughts that I may be headed for a nightmarish adventure because of the risk I was taking to do this at home, but mostly I just tried to ignore those thoughts.

By Saturday, I was feeling a little better, and we decided to go for a hike in the woods, as I figured moving and walking may help to bring on the bleeding. However, on the drive to the hiking trail, I suddenly felt a small cramp followed by a gush of blood. I put my hand between my legs, and it was immediately covered in blood. This was at 1:15 in the afternoon. I told D I was bleeding, and that I needed to go home. I sat on his sweatshirt as more gushes of blood came on. Luckily, I got through most of the 10-minute car ride with no more bleeding. As we pulled up to our house though, I felt more gushes, which drenched the sweatshirt I was sitting on. D went inside and grabbed me a towel, and I went straight for the toilet. I told him to take our son out for a while, so I could get situated. Mainly, I was just really happy that it was all going to be over soon.

A half an hour later, I started to worry. The gushes of blood were coming quickly and heavily. I had made it to the upstairs bathroom, but didn’t know if I could make it to my bed, or even if I could lie in my bed without soaking through the entire mattress. I thought back to friends’ stories of miscarriage. I remembered one close friend telling me about miscarrying on an airplane. I didn’t see how that was possible to be anywhere but on the toilet with the amount of blood I was losing. I wondered what was normal. I convinced myself this was normal, because I didn’t want to think of the alternative, which meant heading the to ER. I got dizzy, then. I lay on the bathroom floor on top of a towel until the feeling that I was going to pass out went away. I called D and told him to come home, now. I called the on-call doctor, and explained all of my symptoms. She told me I shouldn’t soak more than two pads for more than two hours, and said other stuff about getting dizzy, which was confusing. Something about how I may feel dizzy, but if I was getting dizzy from sitting up, I should head to the ER. I had that dizzy spell, but it wasn’t because I sat up. It just happened. She recommended I take the misoprostol, and said it may help my body efficiently expel the pregnancy. I didn’t have it, though, because I never picked it up because I had no intention of taking it.

Time passed, and I kept bleeding. I had two more dizzy spells. I wasn’t sure how many pads I was soaking, because I was often on the toilet. For sure, though, one or two of those gushes was soaking way through a pad, as well as my underwear. D put our son down for a nap, which he didn’t like, because I am usually the one to do it. As I sat through another dizzy spell on the toilet, I heard him yelling, “Mommy! Mommy!” and crying, and I felt like I was getting further and further into a haze, and he was yelling for me to come back to this plane, and I wasn’t sure I was going to make it.

I prayed and prayed. I made it to my bed and lay down. It did seem like the gushes were coming less often, so that gave me hope. I kept passing blood clots and tissue, so I figured my body was successfully passing the pregnancy. D sat next to me throughout, distracting me by reading the news from his IPad. We called my sister to come and help with our son. She made me some raspberry leaf tea, and played with my son when he woke up. We decided to call our midwife, to see if and when we should head into the ER. She said that people are often surprised and overwhelmed by the amount of blood involved in miscarriages, and that it was viable for me to do this at home, as long as I don’t pass out or soak more than two pads in a half hour. I told her that it seemed to be slowing down, but that I had soaked that much earlier on. She said it was okay to bleed that much during the peak of a miscarriage, but that it should slow down after. I told her that I had felt like I was going to pass out a couple of times, but didn’t, and she said she knew that I had a history of anemia, and it was okay to get dizzy, but not to pass out. I had another dizzy spell while I was talking to her, so I passed the phone to D. She told him to get some nourishment into me quickly, and to call her back in an hour.

I stayed lying on my side, and D went to the grocery store. I felt some bleeding, but not like before. I felt exhausted, but not like I was going to pass out. It seemed to be coming to an end. D came home and made me a banana smoothie. I drank it and felt better. I got up to check my pad right before it was time to call our midwife again. It was soaked through, as were my underwear. I sat on the toilet, and a big clump of tissue passed. I lay back down, and still felt like it was about over. We called our midwife, and she said I sounded a lot stronger. We decided that tissue I just passed was probably the end of it, as the bleeding was slowing, and I felt like it had shifted. She told me I needed to go into the hospital if I kept bleeding heavily, but if I kept slowing down, it was okay to stay home. I stayed lying down and sipped my smoothie.

A little while later, maybe another half hour or so, I felt another dizzy spell come on, and felt nauseous. I had already vomited once early on, and thought I might be about to again. I coughed out a kind of stomach heave, and felt myself pass a bunch of blood right then. Then another bunch of blood passed immediately after. I told D I needed to go to the hospital, as this was not okay, and that I could not walk to the car and may fill the car with blood if I did. He called the midwife once more and she confirmed we needed to call 911 at this point. We told my sister we were calling, and she hightailed it out of there with my son, so he wouldn’t have to see me being carried out on a stretcher.

The ambulance arrived almost immediately, and before I knew it, five young men in uniform filled my bedroom, while I lay there, clad in a camisole and underwear soaked through in blood. Awkward, anyone?

I blinked and said, “There are a lot of you.” They asked me all the normal questions and debated how to get me down out narrow steep stairway and into the ambulance. When I told them my name (which is Leilani), one of them remarked excitedly that this is what he is going to name his daughter, who will be born in one month. “Sweet!” I said, really happy for him, to be a parent, even as I was losing my second pregnancy.

Ultimately, they gave me some padding to put between my legs, and had me scoot onto a tarp-like spread with handles so that could carry me down the stairs. I sat up with my knees pulled into my chest. It was really hard for me to sit up because I was so weak at this point, and as they carried me down the stairs, I felt blood gushing out of me and soaking my feet. As they carried me out the front door and into the street and I continued to answer their questions, I looked up and saw a group of guys gawking. See, we live at the border of a residential and business districts. Right across the street from our house is a parking lot adjacent to a popular taqueria, and it was dinnertime. Luckily, I was soon ensconced in the ambulance. D rode up front, so he was thankfully next to me every step of the way.

“Have you ever been in an ambulance?” asked one of the EMTs.

“No,” I answered. “This is an adventure, for sure.”

He laughed. “Welcome to our office.”

They then got an IV into my arm, which was not easy, because all of my normally “really good veins (as I have always been told by doctors)” had gone into hibernation. They checked my blood pressure, which was low, and my pulse, which was high. I had another dizzy spell, but made it through, and we arrived at the hospital. I kept gushing blood throughout.

In the ER, they moved me onto another table, continued to check my vitals, gave me more fluid, and ordered blood transfusions. This chunk of time is the haziest in my memory. I just know the nurse said that I was fine as long as my blood pressure stayed in the 90s. Various people kept poking me, to put in another IV and draw blood to test my blood count. I managed to crack a joke at one point. One nurse asked me my pain level on a scale of 1 to 10 right as another nurse poked me with a needle, and I said, “Well, with that needle she’s poking into me…” and they all laughed. I even managed some conversation with the EMT intern, asking him about his program.

Then, D and I were left alone in the room for a few minutes. The blood pressure machine was running automatically every few minutes, and while we were alone, it showed my blood pressure had dropped in the 50’s, something like 59 over 37. The machine started beeping and didn’t stop. D told me to press the call button. I was having another dizzy spell. I pressed the button as he ran into the hallway for help. I felt weaker than ever. The EMT intern ran in and started messing with cords and shook my shoulder. I was not passed out, but felt like I was fading. I made it though the dizzy spell and the nurse came back in. My BP had gone up a little bit. The doctor came in and started looking at my eyes. I asked if I was going to be okay, and they told me I was weak from losing a lot of blood, and my pulse had slowed down (which they called bradycardia), but I was now stable, and that I would be feeling better shortly.

Soon after, the blood arrived. They pumped it into me at a rate of six minutes per unit, which made me really cold, as my veins were filled with someone else’s cold, refrigerated blood. Any other time, I may have been worried about contamination from transfusions, but at this point, I just wanted to feel better and accepted it without hesitation. Another doctor came in then to do a pelvic exam, and my legs shook as he performed it, and my teeth chattered due to the cold blood. As he pushed on my abdomen, I felt more blood gushing out. He had been talking about an ultrasound, but it was decided at this point I would go straight in for a D&C to stop the bleeding.

The OB-GYN then came in and introduced herself. She reserved me a room in the postpartum area, and soon after I was wheeled in for surgery. D stayed next to me until then, when they directed him to the waiting area. I met the anesthesiologist, who was the same one who treated me in February for my last D&C. I told him I remembered him, and everyone laughed, before telling me it wasn’t fair that I had to go through two of these in the same year. I agreed. They decided not to put me under, as I did not have an empty stomach (I think it was about 9PM by then). He told me he’d give me local anesthesia and I would be conscious, but probably would not remember anything. He then told me he was putting some Valium into my IV to relax me, and the next thing I remember is being told it was over.

The OB-GYN told me that there had actually been about 80% of the pregnancy tissue inside of me despite all of that bleeding; my body had not wanted to let it go. So much for doing it naturally, in the privacy of my own home, huh?

Everything went smoothly from then on. I spent the night in the hospital so they could continue to observe me. The bed was uncomfortable and I did not sleep well. Despite everything that had happened, I did not experience much pain, so did not take any painkillers throughout except the local anesthetic for the D&C, so I was pretty clear-headed. In the morning, I still felt very weak, and my blood count was still down at 23. The doctor told me I could go home, but would be very weak for 4-6 weeks, or I could receive more blood transfusions, which would help me feel stronger faster. I decided to go for the blood, as I felt very weak, and I spent a very boring and confining day in the hospital, handcuffed to the IV. The blood came into my body much more slowly this time, at a rate of one unit per 2 hours.

They eventually released me at 7PM, with a blood count of 27. I could stand up and walk around without feeling incredibly dizzy by then. My sister picked us up, and I was joyfully reunited with my little boy, who had spent a fun weekend with his Auntie Hanna, whom he loves. This is the first time I was away from him for that long, and now I am determined to go away for a fun weekend with D.

That was last night, and today we had a nice, slow day of recovery. I’ve been tired, but a superfood smoothie and a chai infused with espresso helped a bit. D stayed home from work for most of the day, so I slept in nice and late. My little boy just woke up from his nap, and we are cuddled in bed watching Elmo.

I’ve been crying intermittently throughout the day, and D has shared with me how stricken he was when my BP dropped so low. He was so afraid they were going to lose me. I am so thankful for modern medicine; I would have most likely died without it.

Pregnancy is scary business. The gates of life and the gates of death are one and the same.

At this point, I don’t know if I want to try again. I am seriously considering adoption. I felt so relieved when considering this option the other day; the idea of having another baby without having to go through pregnancy again is very enticing. But, there’s that other stubborn part of me that wants to try one more time, to make another one of my own flesh and blood. I just don’t know right now.

I am also so, so thankful for my life and my health and my man and my beautiful, amazing son, and the miracle that I did successfully conceive and birth before all of this disappointing heartbreak. Life is such a gift, every moment of it, and I am very painfully aware of that right now.