My four-year-old is stoked for Christmas this year. She is completely enthralled in the magic of a season that is supposed to sparkle. Rightly so, she also thinks it is a good time to ask for what she really wants — and today, on this bright December morning, she is repeatedly saying, “Hey Mama, can you grow me a baby sister?”
The horrible irony is that as she is making this request, I am waiting to miscarry a baby girl.
Fertility issues are a special kind of torment that can last for years. They don’t stop for birthdays, work meetings, ill loved ones, and they certainly don’t give a damn that they get woven into the holidays. My personal story can actually be sung to the tune of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” as follows, in order of horror: When I tried to grow a baby the universe gave to me one miscarriage, one miracle daughter (obviously not a horror), one ruptured ectopic, two more miscarriages, and a failed IVF transfer that I will miscarry.
What kind of sicko puts their losses to a Christmas tune? However, as I stare into the innocent doe eyes of my miracle baby girl and try to explain why I can’t grow a sibling, I have to do something to distract myself (A.K.A., try to prevent myself from shattering into a million tiny pieces as I wait for my body to recognize that this baby girl inside me won’t last).
The question comes again, “How about Monday, Mama? Can you grow a baby on that day?” She’s using one of her tactics of being more specific to get what she wants, because maybe somehow Mommy didn’t understand the first time.
“Mommy is trying really hard, Honey. But it’s a little difficult.”
“I don’t know, baby, but just know I really want to.”
“Well, I will be a great big sister! I can burp her, feed her, tell you when she cries, tuck her in…”
She keeps excitedly listing all the ways she will be a part of her little sister’s life as I choke back tears. I make eye contact with my husband who reassuringly has his hand on my back and I ask him, “Why?”
I know it may seem that he should field the questions, and he can, but it doesn’t matter. She wants to hear it from Mama; she needs me to be the one to confirm whatever is going on in her world. Because that is what mothers do—we provide the structure for our family, we are the foundation on which the love is built, and our arms are the first home our children seek out with purpose. So why does my body, my home, feel so broken?
I mentioned in my Christmas jingle that I had a ruptured ectopic. That means what otherwise may have been a perfectly normal embryo implanted in my fallopian tube instead of my uterus. The embryo continued to grow, rupturing my tube. It resulted in internal bleeding and emergency surgery. It is very rare, it can be deadly, and I am lucky it was caught. Since the universe wants to ensure I never, ever forget the physical and mental trauma, it also means that I am at greater risk for it happening again. Therefore, any time I get pregnant, which has been three times since then, I am a ticking time bomb, a prisoner of my own body as I watch the minutes, hours, and days, go by until a sonogram confirms the location. Here’s the star on top of the tree, they don’t know why! Hooray! Another thing to fuel my anxiety-laden dreams! Maybe the chorus should be ‘’…and a lifetime of working through PTSD.”
The two pregnancies prior to this one luckily implanted in the correct spot, but didn’t continue to grow. My husband and I decided to try IVF and had the embryos genetically tested. We got two chromosomally-normal embryos, one of each gender, both recommended for a transfer. I have the best sister, and I wanted my daughter to have a chance to have the same, so we asked to have the girl transferred. I thought we were golden, and here I am again, on the other end of an “I’m sorry” phone call from a medical professional. Here I am again at the kitchen table, having to tell my sweet husband — who is the most incredible father — that another opportunity to grow our family has ended. Telling excited grandparents that I lost another grandchild. Telling my boss I may need some time off.
So, as I wait to see if it is ectopic, if I will miscarry on my own, or if I will need medical intervention to officially end the pregnancy, I am relying on my village and every resource I have. It runs the gamut from enacting every coping skill taught to me by my life-saving therapist, texting with every friend and family member that checks in, and apparently rewriting timeless Christmas carols. It is taking everything I have, but I am choosing to march on, choosing to believe the holiday sparkle will return. I want to tell my daughter, Mommy tried everything she could.
Chrissy Teigen recently shared a quote on her social media accounts by Hannah Gadsby, “There is nothing stronger than a broken woman who rebuilds herself,” and I couldn’t agree more. I’ll pick myself up, continue to try to be the best mother I can be, and if that means turning a story of loss into a Christmas tune, then so be it. Who knows, maybe next year I can say “On the first day of Christmas the universe gave to me, another healthy baby.” It is the season of miracles after all, isn’t it?