Days of the Month

I bought a calendar for my office today. Here it is:

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It’s a necessity, really. Without going into too much detail, my work is deadline-based, and if I’ve got too many deadlines approaching at once, it ends very badly for myself and the people I’m working with. As the saying goes, you can have it good, fast, or cheap–pick two. So I fill out the calendar with due dates for various projects, and I color code them: pink for proposals, green for qualifications, teal for presentations, mauve for meetings, blue for holidays, purple for appointments, and orange for personal things (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.). I really like colors.

As I flipped through the calendar, I started vaguely thinking ahead, first about the immediate future and then about later days (because that’s how we look at time, in order, unless we’re writing science fiction, in which case, everything is made up and the points don’t matter).

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The immediate future is all medication, monitoring, retrievals, and (hopefully) transfers. I started my medications last night, and man, what an adventure. My computer wouldn’t turn on, and the site with injection instructions wouldn’t load on my phone, so I had to sit at Kyle’s computer with a bunch of syringes and needles and vials of medication while he messed around with my computer and made sure that Sam was sleeping comfortably. Last year, I didn’t have this problem, because I did so many IVF cycles in such a short window that I never unlearned the process of mixing medication, drawing it up, injecting it, and disposing of the waste.

This year, though, it’s been almost a year since the last time I did this, so I was sort of all thumbs. I got diluent all over the place by accidentally drawing too much air into a syringe, and then I don’t think I mixed one medication correctly. I dropped stuff all over the place, and by the time it was over, I just wanted a nap. That desire doubled about two hours later when the first hormone headache came on–not quite as bad as a migraine, but unpleasant nonetheless.

I’ve got a least another 10-12 days of this (leaning more towards 12; my doctor really likes to push me as far as she can when it comes to stims), if not another 18 (she talked about “coasting” me for a while to give eggs a better chance to develop without me developing OHSS again). At some point in there, I’ll take a trigger shot to tell my body to mature the eggs for retrieval, and 38 hours later, I’ll take a blissful nap and wake up to hopefully hear that they got a spider’s worth of mature eggs.

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(I refuse to put a picture of a bunch of baby spiders on here. You’re welcome)

Assuming I don’t develop OHSS again, and assuming that those eggs are mature and good, we’ll do a transfer five days later. We’re going to transfer two embryos this time because so far, we could’ve transferred every single embryo we’ve created at once and had exactly zero children. There’s a risk of twins, which I’m not thinking about right now (dear everyone who’s like “aw, I’d love to have twins”: ARE YOU CRAZY? I’d be fine if we had twins, but I’m definitely not actively desiring that), but I don’t think that risk is very big for us. Really, we’re just hedging our bets to try and get one.

So that takes us through the middle of August. In that time, I’ve got things to keep me occupied–date nights, wedding receptions, work meetings, the usual–but it’s not too busy. I don’t feel really stressed right now, which is a big difference between this cycle and the previous several. I hope it helps.

If this cycle works, my due date would be somewhere between April 24 and April 30. I thought about that and realized that if we went as late as we did with Sam, and my due date was April 30, the baby would be born on May 4, which is auspicious.

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(I’m not naming twins born on May 4 Luke and Leia, but I wish I could)

(and anyway, twins are always born early, so that wouldn’t happen)

(but can you imagine? They’d save the entire galaxy. I’d probably name them Mark and Carrie)

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(like as long as I’m not giving birth in an ice cream cone, I think things will go well)

So with that in mind, I kept flipping through the calendar, doing the mom thing of jotting down birthdays, vacations, anniversaries, and appointments. All the while, I was keeping track in my mind of potentially important dates.

Assuming a retrieval date on August 4, I’d have a transfer date of August 9.

They’d do a blood pregnancy test around August 19. I’d know that day if I was pregnant or not. I’ll probably know earlier because I’m impatient and will buy a bunch of pregnancy tests, maybe at the Dollar Store, and watch my HCG levels go down from the trigger and hopefully rebound.

They’d do an ultrasound to confirm the pregnancy, tell us if there’s one or two, somewhere around the first week of September. That will be the worst week, even if the pregnancy test is positive, because that’s when I’ll be afraid that we’ll see a repeat of what happened with Finley–a slow beating heart that eventually stops and disappears into nothing.

But maybe it won’t. They’ll transfer me to Dr. Solano then, and maybe I’ll have another ultrasound, and maybe I’ll see another little chicken hawk or two bouncing around inside of me like I’m the home of Cirque du Soleil now. That’d be the beginning of October, probably. I’d have a nuchal translucency scan around then, too, and I’ll want to do one of those blood tests to make sure everyone’s chromosomally okay. Maybe we’ll find out the gender(s) then. If we have two boys, I will feel a sense of panic because that’s three boys.

(also because we have plenty of girl names in mind but zero boy names)

Late October, when we go on vacation to Texas, I’ll be at the beginning of the second trimester and feeling great. We’ll get back, and I’ll count down until the end of November, when we’ll have the anatomy scan. If we don’t do the chromosome test, that’s when we’ll find out the gender(s). Hopefully, everything will measure alright and we’ll keep trucking along.

In February, I’ll have a maternity photo shoot. February is a good time to do a maternity photo shoot at a science museum, I think. I imagine standing underneath a giant T-Rex and feeling less than planetary compared to such a gargantuan lady.

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(needs more feathers, though)

The last month of pregnancy will be the worst, I’ll bet, because that’s how it was with Sam. I’ll be miserably rolling from place to place, tired and sore and cranky and ready for it to be over. And then it will be, and our family will grow again, and that will be awesome. I’ll be more prepared this time–every baby is different, but certain things are the same: the lack of sleep, the difficulty of the first couple of months, the gradual development of a routine, the way things eventually find an orbit and stay there for a while.

These dates might mean nothing, but they might mean something. We’ll see. In the meantime, it’s 200 units of Gonal F and 75 units of Menopur tonight and every night until my next monitoring on Monday.

A Clump of Cells

We all began as a clump of cells.

Or, really, just one cell, made from two. A sperm cell and an egg cell, each giving 50% of themselves to create a cell with a unique makeup… maybe not unique in all of history and prehistory, but unique in the here and now. The cell splits into two, then four, then eight, and so on. After five days, the cells with their own unique DNA number in the hundreds, divided into an inner cell mass and an outer layer. The inner cell mass will, assuming everything goes right, eventually become a human being with fingers and toes and lungs and a heart and a brain, and in the brain, a personality and memories and the ability to learn and think and grow.

And all just from a clump of cells.

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This is my clump of cells. We’re calling it Peanut.

Back in October, I did a round of IVF that went somewhat horribly awry. My RE decided, for reasons that I still haven’t figured out, to put me on really high doses of medication. It overstimulated my ovaries to the point that they were swollen to the size of apples rather than their usual almond size. I was in amazing pain; my organs had moved and shifted to make room for my giant ovaries, and in moving, they pressed up against my diaphragm and made it hard for me to take a deep breath. I looked like I was six months pregnant, when really, I hadn’t even conceived.

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At the end of that cycle, I was supposed to take a final shot, a trigger shot, to push the eggs that had been developing in my ridiculous ovaries into maturity so that they could be harvested and fertilized to create embryos.

The trouble was that in the days leading up to that trigger, I had to take another medication to prevent my ovaries from releasing the eggs too early and making the whole month a waste. That medication did its job too well, and when I took the trigger shot, it did nothing. I went under general anesthesia and woke up just a few minutes later to my doctor apologizing and saying we’d try again the next day, after I took a stronger trigger. That trigger worked, but we only retrieved a handful of eggs out of the 40+ follicles my ovaries had created. And of that handful, only two fertilized.

Two clumps of cells, that’s all. Transferring one at that point would’ve put me in a bad place, physically, so we froze them to transfer later. My family and I went to Disney World, we celebrated Christmas and the New Year. And then, in January, I started the process for a transfer cycle.

Comparatively, it was an easy process. Instead of taking shots every day, I took pills–just seven tiny pills daily, plus a pessary (that’s a suppository in the front!). The side effects were negligible: sore boobs, wonky emotions, minor cramping. After 20 days, I went to the clinic and sat around with my pants off for a while before going into a procedure room. They transferred one of the embryos, one with a perfect score of 4AA. Everything was “perfect.”

But then it wasn’t. The embryo stuck, but then one Thursday morning, I went to the bathroom and saw blood gushing out. A lot of blood. I called into work, called the doctor, and then went to lie down for a couple of hours. When I got up, I sat down on the toilet and heard a splash as a clot of blood and flesh the size of a lemon fell out of me. Tests the next day showed what I already knew: I’d miscarried my perfect embryo.

Ultimately, it was nothing I did or didn’t do. My doctor assured me of that much. My hormone levels were fine, and everything looked good. That particular clump of cells, that hope for a person, had something irreparably damaged about it. It wasn’t viable. And it was gone.

But we decided to try again, and that’s what happened today. Kyle and I left the house around 7 to get to our appointment at 8:45 (we had to drive through awful I-95 traffic, which anyone in Massachusetts can tell you is pure hell). I had a bunch of talismans for luck:

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Lucky nails with Carrie Fisher-style “fuck you” fingers (see how they sparkle).

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Lucky socks with Princess Leia on them.

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A lucky bottle of ranch dressing, an inside joke with some friends also on TTC journeys.

They didn’t make me sit around with my pants off this time; I just changed in a little bathroom and scooted out, awkwardly trying to maintain some dignity while wrapping an oversized paper towel around my midsection. I sat down on the edge of the bed and put my legs up in a pair of stirrups. The nurse squirted some jelly on my lower abdomen and pressed down, showing me and Kyle where my bladder and uterus were. The doctor cranked open the speculum and inserted a catheter to guide the thawed embryo (technically, a blastocyst) up into my uterine lining to implant.

Kyle was excited because he could actually pick out the catheter and embryo on the ultrasound this time, a white line and a bright flash, traveling along the line and into the uterus. Less than a minute later, it was done. I cleaned myself off and tried to exit the room with dignity, but managed to crash into a cart full of instruments on my way. And then we went home, and I took it easy, on doctor’s orders. I slept a lot, then quietly entertained myself until Kyle and Kat and Sam took me out for a belated Mother’s Day dinner.

I don’t know what the clump of cells is doing right now; with any luck, it’s hatching out of its protective casing and burrowing into the uterine lining. With any more luck, I’ll find out that I’m pregnant ten days from now (probably sooner; I’ll definitely be peeing on a stick before then). With the best luck of all, this pregnancy will actually stick, and I’ll be able to write about that journey here, too.

For now, though, I’m PUPO–pregnant until proven otherwise, and all thanks to a clump of cells.

Made of Love, Part 2

WARNING: This entry is about childbirth. If that squicks you in any way, shape, or form, don’t read it. You have been warned.

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(don’t complain to me if you read on and get grossed out)

When I gave birth to Sam, I hadn’t slept in close to 48 hours.

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Two nights before I gave birth to him, I didn’t sleep. I was contracting, on and off, and he was settled squarely between my hip bones, sending waves of pain through my body whenever I moved, no matter the position I was in. I was finally tired enough to ignore the pain by morning, but I couldn’t catch up on the lost sleep. Instead, I had to go to the hospital for a non-stress test, to make sure Sam was still alright and kicking, since I’d gone past my due date and since I’d noticed his activity had slowed in the last several days.

I drank a Dr. Pepper on the way in, and my mother drove me because I was exhausted and in pain.

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(you really do make the world taste better)

The non-stress test is kind of a silly thing. You get hooked up to a monitor that measures whenever the baby moves, and when you feel the baby move, you press a little button like you’re on a gameshow. They suggest you drink orange juice or some other sugary beverage beforehand to make sure that the baby is awake and kicking; I went with a Dr. Pepper and was about two seconds short of begging for a coffee (and I’m not usually a coffee drinker). That’s how tired I was.

After that, I staggered bleary-eyed to be weighed by a nurse who compared my weight on the scale with my weight the previous week. “Oh my,” she said, and I agreed.

In the doctor’s office, I sat patiently on the exam table with a paper sheet across my lap. My mother and I waited and waited and waited, and finally, almost an hour after we’d arrived, a harried doctor rushed in. She was the third or fourth I’d seen in the practice, and her name was Dr. Nabizdeh.

She was all apologies for her lateness and for not being Dr. Solano. “He’s in an emergency C-section right now,” she explained. Alright.

She looked over my numbers: my ridiculous ballooning of weight, my elevated blood pressure, my wonky liver enzyme levels. “Honestly…” she said, frowning. “…if you were my patient, I’d induce you today. You’re not in a bad place yet, but there are enough markers suggesting that you could be if we let you go much longer. And you’re already past your due date, so… let me give this information to Dr. Solano and see what he says, but my guess is that you’ll deliver today or tomorrow, one way or another.”

So I had to wait, but I called Kyle on the way home and told him the results. “So I should plan to leave work early?” he asked, his voice alight with hope.

“Maybe,” I answered.

I figured I’d get the evening, at least, and maybe be induced the following morning. With that in mind, I made plans for the rest of the day: I’d take a nap, have a hearty meal, try to sleep at night, and then go have a baby. It sounded so simple, and I smiled as I laid my head down on my tempurpedic pillow, relieved to finally be sleeping.

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Five minutes later, my phone rang. It was Dr. Solano, apologizing for not being at my appointment that day and giving me a new plan. “I don’t see a point in waiting anymore,” he said. “Come on in tonight, and we’ll induce you.”

“Any time or…?” I started to ask, trying desperately to hold onto the promise of a nap.

“The sooner the better,” was his response, and after he hung up, I let out a tired sob and called my mother.

About an hour later, we were back on our way to the hospital. Somehow, eight hours had passed, and it was rush hour. The roads between our apartment and the hospital were clogged, and though I was incredibly hungry, we didn’t want to risk even going through a drive through and finding ourselves stuck in worse traffic. It was only once I reached the hospital–my mom and Kat with me (the former drove, the latter was emotional support until Kyle managed to get through traffic)–that I realized how hungry I was and remembered that you’re not supposed to eat when you’re in labor.

(note: guidelines on not being allowed to eat have changed somewhat since Sam was born, and more hospitals and doctors now realize that maybe if you’re going to be pushing a human out of a hole the size of a kiwi, you should be allowed to eat something)

We broke a cardinal rule of D&D and split the party: Kat stayed with me as I filled out paperwork while my mom went to wait in line at the hospital’s Dunkin Donuts, praying that we could get me a quick meal before the induction officially began. No sooner had my mom left than Kyle arrived, breathless and harried, less than 45 minutes after I’d told him to leave work and come to the hospital.

He works an hour and a half away, and he had to fight I-95 traffic to get there. To this day, I don’t know how he managed it, and I don’t want to know.

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Anyway. A nurse brought a wheelchair in for me, and even though I didn’t technically need it, the idea of getting off my feet was too good to pass up. Kyle and Kat wheeled me down to my room, and my mom rushed in a few minutes before the nurse came in to give me my instructions. My mom carried with her a bacon, egg, and cheese wrap, and I ate that thing so fast I almost choked, trying to get it all down before the nurse came in, as if she would have scolded me for packing on the protein before an induction.

When Dr. Solano came in later, he explained how the induction would go. They’d get my labor started in earnest with something called a Foley catheter, a little balloon that they’d insert into my cervix and inflate to increase pressure and, hopefully, encourage me to start dilating. I’d keep the catheter in overnight and start pitocin in the morning, just to keep the labor moving along. With any luck, I’d deliver within 24 hours and not need to go in for a C-section.

He also explained my pain relief options to me. Now, I have nothing but respect for moms who do labor and delivery without meds, but as for me? Give me drugs. Now. That night, after I had the Foley catheter put in, I got narcotic pain relief to help me sleep, as an epidural at that point might have slowed down labor. Kyle and my mom stayed in the hospital with me, and both reported that the narcotics had the unexpected side effect of making it so that I “just would not shut up.”

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(Kyle and my mom to me at some point, probably)

I did not get any sleep that night. I don’t remember that night because I was on pain meds, but I did not sleep. Instead, I watched late night television while Kyle and my mom slept, occasionally waking them to tell them “something really important,” but I have no idea what that something ever was, if there was even something to begin with.

Morning came, and Dr. Solano came in to check me. I was now 4 cm dilated, up from the 1 cm I’d been when I came in. Progress! We’d start the pitocin around 8 or 9, he said, but that was also when his shift ended. Dr. Nabizdeh, whom I’d seen the day before, would be with me throughout the day and would likely be the one to deliver Sam. When she came in, I noticed she was wearing a Dr. Who pin, and everyone in the room had a cheerful chat about Dr. Who, Star Wars, and how we were all a bunch of nerds.

The crowd filed out for a bit, and I suddenly realized how hungry I was after making a bathroom trip. My nurse noticed my forlorn expression and asked what was the matter, and when I explained that I was hungry, she looked around furtively and dashed from the room. Moments later, she returned with toast and grape jelly, and I promise you, nothing has ever tasted better than that toast and grape jelly did; even as quickly as I ate, it was the nectar of the gods themselves.

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The toast came not a minute too soon; I’d just shoved the last bite in my mouth and swallowed when nurses and doctors all came in to check all my levels of everything and start me on a pitocin drip through the heparin lock I’d had since the night before. Pitocin, the synthetic form of oxytocin, would theoretically encourage my uterus to contract even more and progress my labor. My IV also delivered me a steady stream of saline and antibiotics, the latter to combat Group B strep, which I’d tested positive for a few weeks prior.

I wouldn’t say that I “held out” on getting an epidural for the next several hours; more accurately, even though I was definitely contracting, I didn’t really notice the contractions as they happened. They were twingey and uncomfortable, but I didn’t feel the all-encompassing pain that people claimed I’d feel while I was in labor. It’s the one thing in my life that’s made me the least bit grateful for the agonizing periods I’ve had since I was twelve: labor felt more “uncomfortable” than painful to me.

Still, I knew the bad stuff was coming, so around noon, I asked for an epidural. I figured I must be around 5 cm dilated by that point (I was 6), and my hospital suggests waiting until that point before getting an epidural put in. The anesthesiologist came down to my room pretty quickly, and my motley crew of baby watchers (my mom, my dad, and Kyle) were ushered out into the hall so that I could get my epidural in peace. The only non anesthesiologist in the room with me was the nurse, the same wonderful nurse who brought me toast with jelly earlier. She held my shoulders and let me put my head on hers while the anesthesiologist did the epidural.

If you’ve never had an epidural, here’s how it goes. First, you sit up, which is a fun adventure if you’re in a lot of pain and haven’t slept in what was now well over 36 hours. You sign some papers that you’re supposed to read, but let’s be real, at this point you’re not reading anything. Then you lean forward as much as you can with an eight pound baby still squashed up inside of you. And then you’re not allowed to move. You are still able to move, but if you do move, you run the risk of Bad Things like paralysis or a migraine.

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Which is why the nurse was there. I could hardly keep my head up, but she understood that and gave me a place to lean while the epidural was placed.

Anyway, once you’re stone still and curled up while sitting, the anesthesiologist paints your back with iodine, which is cold. Then they give you a numbing agent so that you don’t feel the enormous needle they’re about to stick into your back. The numbing agent doesn’t numb at first; it burns like they’ve just injected you with angry bees. You make a noise like “nnmgh!” but you don’t move because you don’t want to be paralyzed or get a migraine. When the bees have dispersed, they use a very long needle to create a portal to your spinal column, through your vertebrae. They put a tube through that portal, remove the needle, and start coating your spinal column with some magic potion that makes it feel like your legs don’t exist anymore. And then the whole portal area is covered with tape and life is good.

So I had my epidural. About an hour after that, my nurse came in and said, “we should probably give you a catheter.” I couldn’t feel anything below my waist, so I said, “Sure!” This experience was a lot less difficult than the epidural, but a lot more unnerving. After all, not many people are used to catheters by the time they’re 30, and having a tube full of warm pee taped to the inside of your leg is an interesting experience, to say the least.

Around this time, too, Dr. Nabizdeh decided that I should have my water broken. In came another nurse with what looked like a crochet hook in a plastic baggie. I didn’t feel it when she pierced the amniotic sac where Sam had lived for the past ten months, but I certainly felt the sudden splash of warm fluid all over the bed.

Sam seemed to feel it, too, because my water breaking was apparently just what my body needed to move into transition, when your body transitions from opening your cervix to pushing the baby down. My right side was perfectly fine with transition; my left side was not. Somehow, I’d gotten a lopsided epidural, and most of the happy funtimes magic formula was numbing my right side from the waist down, not my left side at all. For the first time, I felt labor pain, and with my nurse’s help, I turned on my side to try and encourage some of the epidural to cover that half of my body, too. Eventually, the nurse called the anesthesiologist again to get me topped off.

He came and topped me off not a moment too soon. Someone–I don’t know who it was, the transition pain was too all-consuming–remarked, “You know, I think she may just need to push.” My parents and Kyle had returned to the room by that point, but my parents had to leave again to await further news in the family area a few doors down. Kyle, meanwhile, was in charge of my push playlist and queued it up to the first song: the theme from Pacific Rim.

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(some people want peace and serenity while they deliver. I want to pretend I’m in a jaeger. DANANANA DA DA DA DA DA)

Here’s what I remember about pushing.

Kyle was on my right side, and an adorable young nurse resident was on my left. The resident looked like she was 16, and she was very well put together, but she also had spectacular bedside manner. She was as encouraging as Kyle and my other nurse (who looked to be in her 60s) were.

Dr. Nabizdeh came in early on and stayed throughout. She did not encourage in gentle terms. She encouraged in empowering terms. “You’re a TIGER!” she told me. “You are STRONG! You can DO THIS!”

I didn’t hear any of the music, but I know it affected me, because I was pumped.

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At some point, the “hold your breath and push for 10 seconds” routine made my lungs ask, “Why are you doing this to us?” When they did, I rasped, “I can’t–” towards anyone who would listen, trying to convey, “I can’t breathe, may I please have some oxygen or water or maybe take a two minute break?” Instead, rasping, “I can’t–” only resulted in more inspiring and empowering cheers from the nurses, doctor, and husband. “You can do this! You were made for this!” My lungs disagreed, but clearly I survived.

You’re only supposed to push on contractions, but that’s hilarious. The pressure Sam’s head put on the lower half of my body was ridiculous, like feeling the biggest shit of my life trying to come out (he’s just a little shit, after all). Whenever they told me to stop pushing, I was like, “Are you crazy? Do you feel this giant head in me? It needs to come out. It needs to come out right now.”

“Stronger” by Kanye West and Daft Punk was playing when Sam was actually born. We had high hopes for the “Imperial March” or just the main Star Wars theme, but “Stronger” it was.

And then I finally held him. My Sam. He was slimy and squirmy and crying and disgusting, but he was mine, and he calmed down as I helped the nurses rub his back to warm him up. These first moments with him are also a blur, but they’re a much less intense and happier blur. I felt so high, better than I’ve ever felt in my life. I’d ascribe some metaphysical meaning to this, but I know it was just my body releasing all of its feel-good chemicals, like oxytocin and serotonin and so on, in a celebration of this accomplishment. I grew a human, a whole human, with ten fingers and ten toes, a face so like his father’s, blue eyes that squinted at me, enormous hands and feet that didn’t stop moving for anything. I did that.

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I basked in the bliss. And then suddenly, Dr. Nabizdeh remarked from between my legs, “This is going to feel really weird, and I’m sorry,” and before I could respond, there was an adult human hand fumbling around inside my uterus. Apparently, my placenta had come out in chunks instead of one whole piece, and Dr. Nabizdeh wanted to make sure that the entire thing came out, that nothing was left behind to cause me to bleed out or have issues. And then it was over and done with, and it was just me, Sam, and Kyle, at long last.

Made of Love, Part 1

I am more than just the two of them. Everything they care about is what I am. I am their fury. I am their patience. I am a conversation. I am made of love.

This is the story of Sammy.

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I went to see my primary care doctor in March of 2013, at which point Kyle and I had been trying to get pregnant for roughly a year with no success. She’s a fantastic woman, round and soft and more like an aunt than a doctor. If you ever raise a concern, she’ll look into it; if she doesn’t know the answer, she’ll search until she finds it. She looks under unturned stones and around unexplored corners to make sure that she gives you the best possible treatment. As doctors go, she’s one in a million.

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(she’s not quite Four, but she’s pretty fantastic. Four for you, Dr. Dilley, you go, Dr. Dilley)

When she found out that I’d been trying to get pregnant without any luck, she immediately set up a referral to another doctor, a doctor whom I later found out was more interested in urology than in obstetrics. This doctor was not very good. She forgot things that I’d told her in the past and snapped at me when I corrected her. Under her guidance, the lab lost Kyle’s test results. She took one look at me, and without even testing me for anything, without having Kyle’s test results, she told me, “You need to lose weight or else you’ll never get pregnant. Lose 30 pounds and you’ll see results.”

The joke was on her, really. I’d just lost 30 pounds. I was primed to lose 30 more, but her words were a slap in the face. Without ever considering anything else about my health, she just decided that I couldn’t get pregnant because I had 30 extra pounds. It remained a constant thread throughout the next several months. No matter the test result, no matter the regularity of my ovulation, I couldn’t get pregnant because I was fat. That’s all there was to it.

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(I didn’t like her)

Eventually, her nurse stepped in. I call her Giselle the Fantastic, because she is. I was near tears when I called her to try and schedule another appointment, and she looked over my charts. I could almost hear her frowning. “Let me see if I can get her to write you a prescription for clomid. That’s the first step we always take, and if that doesn’t work, I’ll get her to give you a referral to a reproductive endocrinologist.”

I was still near tears, but now they were tears of relief. Giselle went over the possible side effects of clomid (mostly “you may have twins”), and I started my first month after my next period. I was monitored, and I ovulated that month, but no dice. I geared up for another month, prepared myself to be wracked with wild mood swings and acne and bloating and so many other symptoms. I tracked my ovulation as religiously as I had been for months, tackled Kyle when things seemed to be hopping, and prayed for the best.

A week after it seemed I’d ovulated, I noticed I was spotting. My heart sank, but then Giselle the Fantastic called again. “Why don’t we schedule that consult with a reproductive endocrinologist?” she said and mailed me an envelope of information. I received it a day later and enjoyed poring through it. I didn’t know what the future had in store for us, but even though I was sure I was about to get my period, I felt hopeful. Maybe we could finally have answers, finally have a child.

The next day, I bought a bottle of moscato, my favorite wine. Drinks had become a tradition over the last year, my primary solace in the roller coaster of trying to conceive. I’d get my period, feel sad, but then Kyle would take me out for dinner, and I’d get a drink of my choice. The blood orange martini at Uno’s was a favorite, as was the pink punk cosmopolitan at Friday’s. Failing all of those, or if we were in a tight spot, I’d buy a bottle of moscato and enjoy it until it ran dry. I’d placed this month’s bottle in the fridge, ready to crack into it as soon as my period started in earnest.

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The next day was Sunday, and Kyle and I were going to meet my parents for lunch, as we always did. I rolled out of bed around 9, early for me in those days of not having kids and not working, and staggered to the bathroom. It was nine days after I’d ovulated. I saw, as I went to sit down, a pregnancy test still sitting around from a month before. On a whim, I opened it, used it, barely expected anything.

And then promptly lost my shit when I saw two pink lines.

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From Kyle’s perspective, it was a slow, sleepy Sunday morning. He was making coffee. He heard me get up, heard some crinkling, and then heard a scream and what sounded like a dozen elephants as I charged towards where he stood in the kitchen, pee stick held aloft like the One Ring of Sauron. “I’m pregnant,” I said breathlessly.

The chemical pregnancy I’d had early in our journey had me wary. I spent the week peeing on more tests. The test line got progressively darker; by the end of the week, the tests were disgusting but the lines were beautifully dark pink. Kyle made me throw them away after the first ultrasound. He understood my need for reassurance, but his tolerance for things that have been peed on has limits.

The first ultrasound came after my first appointment with my obstetrician, Dr. Solano (whom I highly recommend for anyone in the central Massachusetts area). He was smiling and friendly, but he also was straightforward. He didn’t beat around the bush or sugarcoat anything, but at the same time, he was very reassuring. Over the next sevenish months, he kept me from losing my mind with terror over every little twinge and shiver.

And he scheduled the first ultrasound when I was nine weeks along. We’d been disappointed so many times that I half expected to see nothing there, not even an empty gestational sac, but delightfully, the opposite was true. Bouncing on the monitor was a definite fetus, with little limbs we could recognize and a big ol’ head. We thought it looked like the chickenhawk from Looney Tunes. It bounced and bounced, alive and with a heartbeat of 179 bpm. It was healthy, a healthy baby, one that we wouldn’t lose.

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As pregnancies go, mine was mostly uneventful. My tests all came back fine, and the only thing that went wrong happened at the very end of the pregnancy, when everything connected to my liver decided that it was time to rebel. I had a total of three ultrasounds–the initial, dating ultrasound; a nuchal translucency scan at 12 weeks; and the complete anatomy scan at 21 weeks. I relished in feeling Sam moving inside of me, even when I felt like an alien.

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(if you’ve never experienced this before, let me assure you that it feels exactly as weird as it looks like it feels)

He stayed put for a good long while, though, and showed no signs of wanting to leave by his due date of May 9. On May 12, I went in for a nonstress test to make sure he was still moving around healthily, along with a routine exam. Dr. Solano was performing an emergency C-section, so I spoke with another doctor, Dr. Nabizdeh (who was also wonderful, but has since moved away). She told me that between my elevated liver enzyme levels, my elevated blood pressure, and my concerns about Sam’s movement, they’d induce me either that day or the next. A couple of hours later, Dr. Solano made the final call and asked me to come in that night for an induction. It was finally time to meet my Sam.

More than a Handmaid

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Last night, after putting Sam to bed and catching up with Kyle and Kat about how their days went, I settled in to watch The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu. The Handmaid’s Tale is one of my alltime favorite books, not just from a feminist perspective (which is hugely important, and I’ll get to that in a bit), but because Margaret Atwood is a fantastic writer, the kind I dream of being. She has such a remarkable command of the English language, and her prose is rich and engrossing. The Handmaid’s Tale is one of those books that, even when you just read a chapter or two, makes you wonder what day it is when you finally put it down; you’re that pulled into the world.

The story, for the uninitiated, features a dystopian world in which the abuse of religion in a political setting has led to severe oppression of women, who are seen as nothing more than various appliances, their function delineated by their societal caste, and their caste determined by their age and whether or not they have functioning ovaries.

In other words: their worth is 100% determined by whether or not they can have children.

A lot of other factors go into how women are treated in this society, but it all revolves around their fertility and behavior. If you’re infertile (as many women in this society are; the society doesn’t allow for the possibility of male factor infertility, which is a contributing factor in roughly a third of all infertility cases), your behavior is everything. “Good” women might get to be Wives; “bad” women are designated as Unwomen and sent to the Colonies to clean up radioactive waste until they wither away and die.

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(I’m sorry, this isn’t funny at all, I’m a terrible person)

That said, a “bad” woman with functioning ovaries has a special role in this society, that of a Handmaid. The Handmaid’s only purpose in life is to conceive and bear children for Gilead’s high-powered men. She undergoes testing to monitor her menstrual cycle and, once a month, participates in a Ceremony, in which she lies on the Wife’s lap while her– well, let’s be honest. Her owner rapes her in the interest of conceiving a child. If she can’t conceive and deliver a living child over the course of two years, she’s assigned to another house. If she fails to conceive over the course of three separate assignments, she’s considered an Unwoman and goes where Unwomen go–to the Colonies, to die a slow, agonizing death.

It’s such a rich world, and I could honestly spend hours on end writing analyses of it, discussing it in its overall societal and historical context, marveling in horror that nothing that happens in the book hasn’t happened somewhere in our world at some point in history… but that’s been done. I wanted to talk about fertility and infertility and struggling to grieve my infertility as a feminist.

(yes, a super light topic for your Thursday; tune in next week when we discuss the nuances and nature of the soul and theories surrounding the nature of man based on readings from Plato and Aristotle that I will assign after class)

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Part of the truth that The Handmaid’s Tale is set to remind us of is that women are not their ability to conceive and carry children. Throughout the course of history, in various settings (see: Henry VIII and his six wives, a desperate bid for a male heir that saw his rotation of partners not as individuals but as potential brood mares), the lie that women are only as good as their ability to procreate has been told again and again and again. We are not our ability to conceive and carry children.

We’re not even our desire or lack thereof to conceive and carry children. I have a bunch of friends who are childfree by choice, including Kat the Fantastic. They don’t want to have kids now or ever; they’d have the whole system removed, if they could (admittedly, so would I, if that wouldn’t make it… yanno, impossible to have biological kids). Some of them talk about maybe eventually mentoring or adopting older children and teenagers about to age out of the system, but most of them are perfectly content to live their lives without ever raising a child, and that’s awesome.

So I believe all of that, wholeheartedly. I am not my ability to reproduce or my desire to reproduce or just the person who reproduced (though I’m happy to be that person). I’m so much more (writer with a wry sense of humor, imaginative gamer, traveler who wishes that traveling didn’t cost dollars, eventual collector of many cats, wife and friend). I’m aware of all that. I’m aware that I’m good at my job, and I’m aware of how frustrated I am by how much it defines me. I’m aware that I really love food, and I’m aware that I really love food way too much. I’m aware that I make things awkward in my house when I start singing along with Hamilton while wearing headphones and forgetting half the lyrics.

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(we get past about this point and I’m like “I can’t hear that fast.”)

I know who I am, and it’s so much more than a pair of ovaries that don’t know what they’re doing, than a uterus that’s an absolute asshole (how’s that for an anatomical conundrum), than wanting to give Sam a sibling or having wanted Sam in the first place. I know all of that.

But it doesn’t make it hurt any less.

I’ve been talking with Kat a lot lately about infertility. She’s childfree by choice, as I’ve mentioned before, and she doesn’t get the desire to have kids. I’ve ended up describing it a lot in terms of a good metaphor I’ve found: climbing Mount Everest.

Look, climbing Mount Everest is 100% not for everyone. For the life of me, I cannot imagine wanting to climb it instead of just reaching out of a helicopter and booping the peak during a fly-by. Training to climb the tallest peak in the world is beyond physically demanding, and even if you’re in peak physical health, the climb is dangerous and stressful. People die on that journey so regularly that the various corpses along the trail have become landmarks (if you have a strong stomach for that sort of thing, google “Green Boots”). I look at it, and I’m utterly grateful that climbing Mount Everest is not mandatory, because I will be A-okay my entire life without doing it.

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(pictured: not me)

But some people really want to climb Mount Everest, I mean really want to. They don’t just wake up one morning and say, “What-ho, I think I shall climb this mountain and be done in time for lunch.” They train for years, scaling the most dangerous peaks in the world to prepare for the climb. If and when they eventually get to Everest, they do everything they’ve trained to do, everything they’ve learned over years and years, sometimes even decades of practice.

And sometimes, they still don’t make it.

Sometimes, the weather is just too bad to attempt the climb. Sometimes, travel plans fall through and they can’t get to Nepal at all. Sometimes, they make it partway up the mountain but have to turn back. Worst case scenario, they become another body for future climbers to use as a landmark on their journey to the peak (but let’s hope that doesn’t happen). And holy crap, that must suck! These people put so much time, money, energy, and health into preparing to climb Mount Everest, and then something happens that prevents it from taking place.

(can you see where I’m going with this metaphor? Because if not, I don’t know how to help you, I’m sorry)

So in this context, it’d probably be something of a jerk move to tell someone who’s really wanted to climb Mount Everest and tried so hard and invested so much, “It’s alright, you don’t have to climb Mount Everest” or “you’re more than your mountain climbing.” Like yes, this is true, I get it and agree with it, but as the metaphorical climber, I really want to climb Mount Everest and I am extremely bummed that I can’t do it.

(I should emphasize again that you couldn’t get me to actually climb Mount Everest if you dragged me up there like some sort of freaky human backpack)

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(pictured: freaky human backpack)

It boils down to another one of those things that’s hard to navigate about infertility, especially looking at it from a feminist perspective. I’m 100% aware and understanding that even though a lot of my life is currently orbiting fertility treatments (largely by necessity), my ability to reproduce and my desire to reproduce are not the only things about me. I’m also aware that I can and do live a full and happy life without having another child; that if we go through all six cycles of IVF and every single frozen embryo we transfer is a dud and somehow we can’t adopt in the (sort of distant because adoption costs more dollars than we have) future, I’ll be okay. I’ll recenter myself and be alright.

But in the moment, I’m sad and frustrated and disappointed, and it honestly boils down to exactly that: having a child (another one) is something that I really want to do. I like being a mom; I like it a lot. It’s not all of who I am, but it’s something that I thoroughly enjoy, like I enjoy being a wife and a friend and a daughter and a sister and myself as not defined by any other human being. I don’t feel like my inability to conceive and carry a child means that I’m worth less as a person or worthless as a person; I know that it doesn’t.

It’s still frustrating, though. The whole world gives you messages of “you can do anything you set your mind to,” and “don’t let your dreams be dreams” and the truth of the matter ends up being that, no, you can’t necessarily do everything you want to, even if it’s something that doesn’t hurt anyone, even if it’s something that everyone should be able to do.

Getting back to The Handmaid’s Tale, and deviating slightly. It was interesting to me how viscerally the show portrayed the emotional toll of the infertility crisis that’s part of the background of the story (tl;dr – pollution and disease have resulted in plummeting birth rates, something that an Aunt–one of the women in charge of training Handmaids–blames on “sluts”). People can’t get pregnant or stay pregnant, and if they manage both of those things, the babies they have end up having such severe birth defects that they don’t survive. In one scene, the main character–Offred, then called June–has just given birth to her daughter. She makes her way to the nursery with her daughter and her daughter’s nurse and finds it empty, where it was full the night before. “Where are the other babies?” she asks, and the nurse sadly remarks, “Two are in the ICU, and the others are with God.”

Later, a woman–I like to think she was the mom of one of the babies that were with God–tries to steal June’s baby, killing the nurse and absconding with June’s daughter in her arms. The scene is fraught with screaming, June and her husband Luke screaming to get their child back; the baby screaming for her mother; the police screaming at the woman to get her under control; the woman screaming for her lost child.

As June goes into the hospital to give birth, protesters stand around the doorways, screaming and praying and doing general protest things. They’re all desperate to have children.

When June finds out that she’s pregnant, she speaks of it in hushed tones with her best friend Moira. Moira is thrilled for her, but June is having a hard time being excited because her chances of miscarrying or giving birth to a baby that eventually dies are so high.

Once the world goes to hell, June is renamed Offred and serves Commander Fred Waterford and his wife, Serena Joy. The show hasn’t quite gone there yet, but in the book, Serena is desperate to have a child, so desperate that she breaks the rules entirely and allows Offred to sleep with their driver and Guardian, Nick. Most of what we’ve seen so far in the show is subtler (and I haven’t seen the third episode yet–I started watching too late last night to finish all three, so I may miss the mark here); Serena doesn’t do anything yet that’s so desperate or insidious. But she’s still brokenhearted at the violation of her own life going on during the Ceremony, and she’s still feigning happiness when another Handmaid–Ofwarren, formerly known as Janine–gives birth.

And you know, I really appreciate all of those portrayals. No, that’s not a strong enough word. I love the way the show is treating this. If there’s any show in the world that could be called blatantly feminist, it’s The Handmaid’s Tale, and if there’s one single thing that anyone could take from the show (please, if you watch it, take more than one single thing from it), it’s that women are more than their ability to reproduce. But the show takes things a step further; it doesn’t just leave this idea of you are not your ovaries and uterus. It shows us that even when you know that, you can still feel pain at being unable to conceive and give birth and raise a child; and conversely, that just because you really want to have a kid doesn’t mean that you’re nothing but reproductive organs and a body that houses them.

(and because I love it, Tor.com has a really excellent review of the first three episodes here; be forewarned that this stuff is pretty brutal)

Here I Go Again

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This is my second FET cycle and my fifth overall ART cycle. (that’s frozen embryo transfer and assisted reproductive technology, for the uninitiated)

I got the go-ahead to start medications yesterday, so I’m currently on 1mg twice daily of estrogen and 81mg once daily of baby aspirin to keep me from getting blood clots (a serious risk when you start pumping your body full of estrogen). On May 1, I’ll be switching over to 2mg twice daily of estrogen (still just 81mg once daily of aspirin), and then on May 5, I’ll start taking 2mg three times daily of estrogen… and 81mg once daily of aspirin. On May 9, I go in for bloodwork and an ultrasound to make sure that my uterine lining is thickening the way it should be and that my body has enough hormones hanging out in it, and the next day, May 10, I start with my progesterone.

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(the progesterone is not a pill)

In theory, this all means that the embryo transfer will be on May 15, which is both earlier and later than I’d hoped. Thankfully, I’ll be insanely busy during that particular two week wait, since Kyle and I are taking Sam down to Texas for a long weekend between May 18 and 22, and travel always gets me running around like a chicken with my head cut off. I’m already anticipating the chaos of the week leading up to that trip: finishing last minute things at work, trying to make sure I’ve got enough cute and summery clothes for a weekend in Texas in May (which is like a weekend in Massachusetts in July, really), packing ALL the things, etc.

I’m trying not to get my hopes up, like I’d said before. It’s entirely possible, in fact based on all the available evidence, it’s likely that this transfer will end in a failure or a miscarriage or both at the same time. I’m trying not to get my hopes up, but I still keep finding myself imagining the good ending, the one where this pregnancy actually ends with a baby.

I imagine finally getting to announce a pregnancy to my family and friends, having no trouble keeping it hidden until whatever date Kyle and I agree on as an arbitrary “hey guess what, we’re finally knocked up” date. I imagine what our announcement will look like… maybe something simple like Sam reading a book about “how to be a big brother” or just wearing a T-shirt that says “big brother” on it. Maybe something like last time, something that employs Kyle and my design knowledge.

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(actual announcement when we were expecting Sam)

I imagine feeling movement for the first time, recognizing it as such before I recognized it with Sam. I imagine seeing a viable heartbeat fluttering away on the first ultrasound, the nuchal translucency scan, the anatomy scan. I imagine watching another baby kicking and arching and moving and alive, beautifully alive.

I imagine losing my feet, waddling about in absolute agony with a baby settled between my hips and not moving anywhere for the life of me or itself. I imagine being swollen like a sausage and being able to draw smiley faces in my swollen legs as I countdown the minutes to giving birth. I imagine making excuses for myself throughout the summer as morning sickness keeps me from enjoying company breakfasts and barbecues and much beyond a summer treat. I imagine how incredibly tired I’ll be for the first three months and the last three, how warm I’ll feel, how Kyle will inch away from me while we’re sleeping because I’ll be a little oven of a person.

I imagine the celebratory things that I usually think are way too twee for me but that I really want to embrace this time. I imagine having a wonderful maternity shoot with my friend Melanie (who took our wedding pictures and my maternity pictures with Sam AND Sam’s newborn pictures… what can I say, when you find the best photographer ever, you stick with her), and I imagine somehow managing to score a photoshoot at Boston’s Museum of Science. I’m pretty sure this can’t happen unless you pay them a hefty fee, but I still like the idea of a baby conceived through science being celebrated surrounded by science (ideal shots: me next to an oversized model of a pregnant mom, me among the planets in the solar system, me next to the giant model of a black widow spider looking sufficiently freaked out).

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(literally this but the size of a small dog)

I imagine, too, that I’ll give the whole thing a rainbow theme. In miscarriage and infant loss circles, a “rainbow baby” is any baby conceived and born after a loss–the rainbow after the storm. Kat thinks this whole idea is, frankly, silly, but I love it, maybe because it’s silly. I don’t want to do anything really elaborate–no flying with rainbows or running around naked surrounded by rainbows of tulle or anything like that. Maybe just a rainbow of paint or a rainbow in my hands. Something simple.

In the vein of twee things, I imagine doing a gender reveal. I know, I know, gender is a social construct and the genitalia of a fetus does not necessarily determine how said child will identify later in life and does not take into account intersex children and furthers the gender binary and so on. I still want to do it. I still want to go and get some balloons for Sam to discover in pink or blue. I still really hope for pink because my god, do I want to have a little girl. I’m still a little nervous about blue because I have no idea what I’d name another boy or if I could handle two little boys.

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(it is my understanding that the more boys you have, the more your life starts to resemble Malcolm in the Middle, and I’m just not cool enough to manage that)

I imagine celebrating in one more twee way: I want to have shirts for me and this imaginary baby that say something along the lines of “made with love and science.” I really want to honor that, the impact science has had on the creation and expansion of this family. It’s something to be celebrated, I feel; without science, there wouldn’t even be a me and Kyle, let alone a me and Kyle and Kat and Sam and maybe one more.

I imagine exhausting late pregnancy appointments, ignoring the number on the scale whenever I step on it, going and going and maybe having another induction or maybe needing a C-section or maybe delivering completely without intervention (except an epidural, I want like ten of those). And then I imagine actually holding this child that I’ve been trying SO HARD to conceive for the past two years and knowing that it’s all been worth it.

That’s what I imagine. And then I remind myself that it hasn’t happened and that the odds are not in my favor, so I should probably get back to work and planning Sam’s birthday and getting ready to head to Texas and things like that.

TTDTY: Gallbladder Edition

So one of the things I really wanted to do with this blog was to write a series of posts about things that nobody ever talks about regarding pregnancy, infertility, and childbirth. It’s always frustrated me that I can learn about all the ins and outs of reproduction and childrearing, but a lot of the apparently really common things I experienced are left out entirely; and so, I’m hoping to remedy that! This is

THINGS THEY DON’T TELL YOU: GALLBLADDER EDITION

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I first started noticing the pain about seven months into my pregnancy, around the time I went from looking pregnant to looking like I was dying to be asked if I was expecting twins, apparently. The pain situated itself in my right side, around the bottom of my ribcage. Googling told me that such pain is common in late pregnancy as your body parts shift to make room for the growing denizen in your uterus, so I didn’t worry about it too much.

But not worrying didn’t mean I didn’t suffer. For the last two months of my pregnancy, I just could not get comfortable, even beyond the usual late pregnancy misery. The pain showed up late at night, and I always figured that it was just Sam punching upwards or kicking my ribs or something along those lines. I expected it would go away after I gave birth.

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I ended up getting an induction at 40 weeks, 3 days, after noticing that Sam was moving less. I had a nonstress test the morning before my induction, and Sam passed with flying colors, but my liver enzyme levels were elevated, as was my blood pressure. My doctor didn’t see the point in waiting. “If we wait much longer, you may have to be induced anyway, so why risk it? Let’s take care of this now.” And so, Sam was born with just the right amount of fanfare and a labor that I’d describe as 99% perfect.

For the first several days after his birth, I was too tired to care about any discomfort I might have felt, either from my body putting itself back together or from trying to sleep in a hospital bed. Even when we got home, I functioned purely on survival mode for a month, sleeping when I could and not really noticing any discomfort beyond what seemed entirely normal to me. I couldn’t tell you, honestly, if the pain was still there in those days and even weeks. I was out of my head with busyness.

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By a month in, Kyle and I had worked out something of a schedule, and things were settling into a new normal. His parents were up visiting from Texas, meeting their grandson for the first time, and things seemed to be going pretty well. One night, Kyle made dinner for all of us–his most delicious, caloric, cholesterol-laden dish, taco pizza.

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(not exactly this,  but close)

As usual, the pizza was delicious, but that night, the pain showed up in my back again, the same spot as before. I assumed that it was just my body shifting back into its pre-baby position, but MAN did it hurt. And nothing touched the pain! I took extra-strength Tylenol and Aleve; I alternated between ice packs and heating pads; I slept on the couch watching a Robin Williams marathon so that I wouldn’t wake Kyle or the baby with my writhing. Finally, around 4 in the morning, the agony subsided and I fell into an exhausted sleep.

When I had a free moment the next day, I googled again. Once again, the results led me to believe that what I’d experienced was normal, that my body was just shifting back into place, that the pain would eventually subside.

The pain came again, shortly before my six week postpartum visit, and I brought it up with the doctor I saw–not my usual doctor, who was on paternity leave, but the doctor who delivered Sam. She told me it was perfectly normal and that some people kept having pain until at least six months postpartum. She said that I should notice the pain diminishing over time, and that it should be gone by that fall. That didn’t sound fun, but I still took her at her word and went home, preparing for more agony.

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And sure enough, it came. It came twice more, the second time by far the most incredible pain I’ve ever experienced, including childbirth. That second time, around Sam’s third month of life, I’d spent the day in Newport with my family and enjoyed a dinner of pasta with alfredo sauce. Kyle and I took shifts during the night watching Sam, so that we could each get a good ~5 hours of uninterrupted sleep; I’d been sleeping during Kyle’s shift for about two hours when the pain hit. It started out as the usual discomfort around my right floating rib, but it quickly became something far worse. I felt the desperate need to evacuate everything in my body and made multiple trips to the toilet. I couldn’t lie down. I couldn’t stand up. I was in more pain than I’d ever experienced in my life.

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Around five or six in the morning, it started to subside, but I’d had enough. Kyle and I called my mother, and she came to the house to watch Sam; as soon as she arrived, we drove to our local urgent care clinic, and I had the first appointment of the morning.

I told the doctor about the pain, how long I’d been experiencing it, when it began, and so on. He sent me down for X-rays, just in case, but added that it sounded to him like I had a nasty case of gallstones and set up an appointment for me to get an ultrasound later that week for confirmation. Sure enough, lying in the same room where I’d learned that Sam was a boy, I learned that I had gallstones, hundreds of tiny ones that kept getting clogged in the duct that led to my liver. Those stones getting clogged caused the agony I’d felt; the ultrasound technician remarked that plenty of people thought they were having a heart attack when they got gallstones. I believed her.

Here was the funny thing, though: everyone who found out that I’d been pregnant before getting gallstones seemed unsurprised. “That’ll do it,” said the doctor, the ultrasound tech, the surgeon, the nurse who took my blood a week before surgery, the OR nurses who took care of me before and after the operation. As it turns out, pregnancy frequently causes gallstones–something about the excess estrogen in the bloodstream. Gallstones can cause elevated liver enzyme levels–something my obstetrician had suspected were caused by intrahepatic cholestasis of pregnancy–and it’s entirely possible they were causing me that pain and discomfort even before Sam was born.

And I had no idea! None of the websites or books I read ever mentioned anything about gallstones as something that could happen during or after pregnancy, even though they’re incredibly common. It was just so weird to me, and I wish I’d known about their likelihood beforehand. I might have been a little more mindful of my pain and a little less likely to dismiss it as “just normal pregnancy discomfort.”

I really have no idea how to wrap this up except by saying that if you have a gallbladder and have recently been pregnant, be mindful of any pain or discomfort you experience, and don’t write it off as “just postpartum pain.” If you’re experiencing pain that wakes you up, that keeps you from sleeping, that won’t go away no matter what you do, call your doctor and insist that they take you seriously. Nobody should live in pain if they don’t have to.