This is my story of pregnancy loss. For any women who have experienced this, I want to give you a heads up in case this brings up unexpected emotions.
Total miles: 16
Number of races: 1
Number of pregnancy losses: 1
We hadn't expected any of this. We figured it would take a good 6 months to get pregnant, but it happened after only two. I don't think I'll ever forget the morning I first took a pregnancy test, and then took another one because I couldn't believe my eyes. I don't think I'll ever forget the sleepy 'holy shit' look on my husband's face when I woke him up and showed him the results. It took a few days (and a few more pregnancy tests) for us to get a little excited. Sure, it was sooner than expected, but at 36 and 42, we both had fears we wouldn't be able to become parents, so we weren't going to dwell on less-than-ideal timing. It was hard to keep this kind of secret. We were excited, we were a mess, we were just trying to figure out what the hell we needed to do. I called to make an appointment with a new OB-GYN. Our first appointment was scheduled for October 9th.
As we waited, I downloaded apps. We named the growing cluster of cells Sprout. We made jokes about how we had to watch our language when the app told us he or she was developing ears. We talked about names, how in the world we were going to fit a baby into our little 2 bedroom house, looked at cribs and strollers online. I even bought a few maternity clothes, cuz they were on sale & super cheap. Why not, right? We plotted how we would hilariously surprise our family & closest friends with the news, and couldn't wait for their excited reactions. I tried to continue my running, having just started a marathon training plan 6 weeks before. My morning sickness wasn't too bad, but I was lacking the energy I really needed as long runs extended into the double digits. I modified the plan to target an upcoming half marathon, setting aside marathon goals. I bought boxes of Honey Stinger Waffles and Huma gels because I needed extra fuel during runs, and had a great 10 mile run (Sept 26th) where I fueled at 4 and 8 miles instead of the usual one hour into a run and then every 45 minutes after. I still felt like there was a chance I could PR in the half, assuming I could keep up my energy.
The spotting started. "It's normal," I told myself. "Very common." Then it got a little worse. And there were cramps. My best friend recommended calling the clinic, so they could get me in and see what was happening. I tried to reassure myself, but kept having a feeling that something wasn't quite right. I thought I was just freaking out, like many women in their first pregnancy. We went in, did the ultrasound, did blood tests, was told to not exercise (elliptical doesn't count, right?!?) and came back in for more blood tests two days later.
By the following Friday morning, the clinic had called. My hormone levels weren't increasing and they were worried that the tenderness on my right side might not be an irritated hip flexor but signs of a ruptured ectopic pregnancy. They told me to go to the emergency department. So, I went, making phone calls and disclosing a pregnancy status I wasn't prepared to because it was just easier to tell the truth about what was going on. My mom was immediately excited and it broke my heart to have to tell her "but …"
The Emergency Department: Part 1
The thing about the ED that is terribly misconstrued on TV is that there is often a little excitement, followed by a lot of waiting. I get triaged. I wait. I go back to a room, change into an ill-fitting gown, get blood drawn. I wait. A female doctor comes in to examine me. I wait. Sometimes I doze. The ultrasound tech wheels me to the basement for my second ultrasound in a week. I wait. And wait some more. My husband finally arrives. We wait some more. We get told they are waiting for radiology to interpret the ultrasound. We wait. When the doctor finally comes in, she says the pregnancy isn't viable. The ultrasound doesn't reveal anything, but my hormone levels are nowhere near what they should be. I'm surprised at how immediately the tears start to fall. I'm told my options, that I can wait and see what happens, but I'm a scientist and I know what the levels mean. There is no point in waiting.
Except I have to wait some more. Because they believe it's an ectopic pregnancy, the drug they give is a chemotherapeutic and administered through an injection that must be given by a certified nurse. They discharge us from the ED, take us to outpatient, and get us checked in there. Then we are taken to a waiting room. More waiting. It's torture at this point. My heart is broken and I can tell my husband's heart is also broken, but he's trying to be a rock for me. We are finally taken back and we wait some more. And some more. And some more, until I finally sigh and my husband asks if everything is all right. "No", I say rather loudly, "It isn't. I want to go home!" And then I burst into sobs. Nurses rush over, try to comfort me, try to explain why it's taking so long. I say it's not okay but I understand, and I keep sobbing. I'm honestly a little afraid I won't be able to stop. My husband holds me until it's finally time for the injections. I'm still sobbing and I sob through the whole thing. Two shots, one in each butt cheek. We have to sit and wait to ensure I don't have a reaction to the medication, and it's enough time where I am able to finally calm down. We go home and order Italian club sandwiches from our favorite pizza place because it's the only thing that sounds good to me. We sit and eat, both a little sad, both exhausted from the day. I can't wait to go to sleep, for the day to end. The sadness continues for a few days. The drug starts to take effect on Sunday. I buy more maxipads.
Tangent: Thank you, Always, for making your Infinity Pads with Flex Foam because they really are comfortable and reliable and every little bit helps in this experience.
I take Monday afternoon off from work. I feel fine but just don't want to be around anyone. Tuesday morning I feel remarkably better, productive at work and even have a chat with the clinic where I'm cleared to run! Things were looking up and then cramps started. I think, "This is gonna be rough." They get worse and worse until I'm sitting in my co-workers office saying, "I think I need to go home." At first I think I can drive, but then I realize I can't because it's taking all my energy & focus to not throw up. So I get a ride home, telling myself I don't need to call the doctor or go to the emergency room. But by the time my co-worker drops me off, I'm not okay. I stumble in, head straight for the couch and lie down. My husband calls the clinic and tries to explain what is going on while I decide if I want to lie down or sit by the toilet in case I throw up. The nurse practitioner tells me I have to go back to the ED. I say I don't want to go, or that if I have to go, I want to go to a different one. She insists to my husband I have to go back to the same hospital I was at before, otherwise my doctors can't follow me. I say I've never met any of the doctors, what do I care? "They don't even know my hair color," I tell him.
The Emergency Department: Part 2
I agree to go, only because my husband is worried and just wants to know that I'm okay. I also want to know that I'm okay, but I'd rather just to go the damn clinic and actually be seen by one of the doctors that is telling me to go to the ED. It's not that I don't understand why they made the recommendation that they did - what if I actually was bleeding internally? I mean, I wasn't. By the time we actually got to there, I was feeling better, and by the time I actually was triaged and taken by to the psych patient room (the only one that was available), I was telling the husband that if we left now, they probably wouldn't even charge me my copay. But no. More waiting. Another series of ultrasounds of my empty uterus. More blood tests. More waiting. The nurse seems convinced that I was downplaying my pain when I ranked it as a 7 on scale of 1-10. I mean, severe craps are really awful, but I probably would feel worse if I was bleeding internally, right? She tells me it's okay if it was a 10. While I'm getting my ultrasound, my husband tells them that I probably have a high pain tolerance since I have a bum hip and do distance running. I'm not quite sure that's true, but I stop arguing. Three hours later, I leave with a Gatorade and two prescriptions, one for the tamest of opioids and one for nausea in case either come back.
I spend the rest of the week in misery. I'm emotionally exhausted, and develop a migraine. The nausea comes back such that I can barely eat and the only thing that tastes good is the McDonald's vanilla milkshake the hubs brought me. It must have really perked me up because he brought me a large one the following day. There's another blood test, and another phone call from the clinic the following day. My hormone levels haven't dropped and they want me to come in for a fourth ultrasound. I only agree because I feel so awful that I figure I can get someone to give me something for this damn migraine. They are relieved because I may have told them it would take an act of God to get me to come back after that second ED experience. Guess God was listening.
A fourth ultrasound. The second it starts, I just start crying. Thankfully, she has the monitor that I can see turned off. I couldn't handle another image of nothingness. As the appointment goes on, I quietly cry. That's all I can do. I didn't really expect it to be so triggering, but it is. The ultrasound tech works as quickly as she can, helps me get off the table when it's over because I'm still bleeding and everything just feels gross. I get dressed and she gives me a hug before we leave the room. She tells me next time she sees me, she hopes any tears will be happy ones. I actually meet with a doctor. She walks in, introduces herself, tells me I'm famous in the office (great), and very matter-of-factly tells me I need a second dose of the drug. We go round in circles because I say I don't want it, so what are my options. Can I do another test on Monday, I ask. She asks what if it ruptures in the meantime or if Monday my hormone levels still haven't changed? I rub my face with my hands and just sigh.
"I would say this is a nightmare."
I cry some more, because I feel so out of control, like I have no agency in my own health care. Everything that has happened over the course of two weeks (which feels like two months, by the way) has involved me being told to do something. Come into the clinic. Go to the Emergency Department. No, you can't go to this hospital, you have to go to this one. Get blood tests. Come back to the clinic. More shots. All of this by people who are very capable, well-trained and smart, yes. But also people who don't even know me. It's a very odd and uncomfortable feeling and all I wanted was someone to recognized how fucked up this entire situation was.
In the end, I agreed, because I thought of my husband and that's what he would want me to do. If he had been in that office with me, he would have been begging me to just agree with the doctors because he just wants me to be okay, and not in the hospital for emergency surgery because an ectopic pregnancy ruptured. I go back to the hospital, because that damn certified nurse requirement for this drug. I wait something like 2 hours for the drug, because apparently they make it when it's ordered. Did I mention I still haven't stopped crying? The nurse promises me she will look into the protocols for this, because she's seen too many women in pain, just waiting. I tell her thank you. I hope she is able to make some sort of difference for the next woman that has to go through this. I finally get the shot, and go home. I had left at 11 that morning, and got home at 4:30.
October 14th - 30th
More blood tests to see if the second dose makes my hormone levels drop. I know that if they don't drop, it's either a third dose or surgery. Either option sounds miserable. The rebellious side of me plots what I'm going to say if there is no change in my levels. "Sorry, my husband and I have plans on Saturday. We could do Sunday." Turns out, no need for that. The second dose of the drug worked. Meanwhile, I'm also thinking about the half marathon I had planned is coming up that weekend. I know I can't run it, but try to find a way where I might. But even if I could finish, it would be so far off a PR that I decide to drop down to the 10k. I wonder if I can do a 10k, consider the 5k then stubbornly refuse to do that because I paid a damn $85 entry fee and I refuse to pay that much for a 5k. It's already too much for a 10k.
I take the 10K race and turn it into an interval workout. It's hilly, with nearly 5 miles of net climb before a descent. Even on my best day, it's a tough course. It's not my best day. I'm physically and emotionally exhausted, but I do my best. I have to walk some because I pushed too hard, but the downhill finish feels easy and relaxed. At this race, there is a gong you can ring if it's a PR. I tell myself I set a course PR, so I get to ring the gong. The truth is, I don't even really care if I PR'd or not. I finished that damn race and survived the nightmare that was the last 3 weeks and I'm ringing that gong. So, I ring it.
The clinic calls. My hormone levels are at zero. I'm officially no longer pregnant. It's a weird call to get. On the one hand, it's over. On the other hand, it's over. My husband is excited cuz that means we can be husband and wife again. I'm not sure how to feel. That weekend, we had planned to tell my family that we were pregnant. I still hadn't told my siblings what had actually been going on. Everyone else seems to be feeling relief that I'm not pregnant, but all I can think is,
"I'm not pregnant anymore."
As the days go on, it gets better. This week is hard, since it's the week we were supposed to be sharing happy news. Instead, I'm writing this post. I don't know how I'm supposed to feel, how I want to feel, or even exactly how I really do feel. I have good days and not so good days. In time, there will be more good days than not so good days, and eventually the not so good days will disappear. I'm meditating. I'm getting back on the roads, back to the weights, and back to yoga. And in time, hopefully, there will be another pregnancy with the ending we had originally hoped for.