Every pregnancy is different.
I can’t think of a bigger understatement.
Oscar :: My first pregnancy was confirmed on a fall afternoon, a month into my second year of college. Even though I was 19, and this pregnancy wasn’t planned, there wasn’t a single moment that I considered anything other than having the baby. While I was not looking forward to telling my parents, nor to their reaction, I went to a high school where it wasn’t uncommon for girls my age to begin having kids before they were 20. Becoming a mom and going to school seemed manageable. I told my parents early enough, but we didn’t tell anyone else for awhile. At this point, I still had my athletic, high-school body and no one in my extended family knew I was pregnant until I started showing around the sixth month. As a result, I never felt like “the pregnant girl” on campus, but I definitely had a different experience than most. I didn’t make a single friend as an undergrad and spent all my time working at two on-campus jobs to save money. Oscar was born more than a month early, on the bathroom floor of my college apartment in mid-April. My $6.50/hour on-campus jobs offered no vacation or sick time so maternity leave was out of the question. I was back to work a week after Oscar was born and made arrangements to turn in my homework, papers, and take finals. I spent the summer working full-time on campus so I could afford a babysitter so I could continue going to school in the fall. I did return in the fall, and the rest is history. Oscar was my inspiration to finish my undergrad (which I did in 3 ½ years) and I earned my master’s degree immediately afterwards.
Fast forward twelve years.
Loss #1 :: My husband and I were married at sunset on a beach in Puerto Rico, in front of Oscar, our parents, and about 20 of our family members and friends. Our destination wedding was the best 10 days of our lives. It was amazing, full of memories to last a lifetime, and even resulted in a honeymoon baby. We couldn’t wait to tell the world that we were adding to our family. Little did we know, that our excitement would turn to devastation so quickly. It was a Thursday, and I was at work at the university when I noticed the bleeding. I packed up my things and headed to the doctor’s office, telling myself everything would be alright. The urgent care doctor used words I had never heard before and ordered an emergency ultrasound. I couldn’t understand what he was saying but didn’t really mind; I kept telling myself everything would be alright. The ultrasound told us a different story. Everything was not going to be alright. At that moment, I was welcomed into a club I never wanted to be part of. I felt heartbreak, nausea, anger, shock, numbness, and wanted to cry so hard and so loudly that someone would feel bad enough for me and make everything better. They said everything would pass on its own, the next few days and it did. Life went on, but this was a brutal weekend. My stomach hurt, my cheeks burned from the tears and everytime I went to the bathroom, there was more blood. It went on for days. It was a constant reminder full of the worst feelings…..that I did something wrong….that I deserved this…..that my husband would hate me….that I’d have to tell Oscar and see his reaction. Our little family had never known a loss like this and had no clue how we would get over it. We had so much love to give and now, no baby to give it to. We had a hole that we couldn’t fill, but that weekend we did add to our family. We rescued a little beagle dog we named Abbie.
Loss #2 :: A few months later, we nervously celebrated another positive pregnancy test. The days were long, but we made it past the 6 week mark, then the 7 week mark, then the 8 week mark. I was terrified every time I went to the bathroom there would be blood, but there wasn’t. I felt like we were in the clear. We had an ultrasound scheduled and were going to lay eyes on Baby H. Or so we thought……The ultrasound confirmed there was a pregnancy, but there was no fetal pole….potentially a blighted ovum….Someone tried to explain what that meant but I couldn’t pay attention. My eyes were brimming with tears, my face was throbbing, and I was holding my breath wondering “Why me? Why us? Why again? What did we do to deserve this?” The plan was to take a look in a week and see if we could see a baby. The doctors said if my pregnancy wasn’t as far along as I thought, we’d see something the following week. I’m a numbers person. I knew when we conceived; I knew all the details of my cycle. I knew. I knew there wouldn’t be a baby. What a horrible week — when you know something terrible is happening and you can’t do anything about it. What a cruel joke to be pregnant, and to have endured all the symptoms for two months, but for there to be no baby. How horrible to have to tell our family again, about our loss. How unbearably sad to have a family member’s baby shower to attend that weekend. I remember my aunt greeting me as we pulled into the banquet hall parking lot, asking how I was feeling and I remember collapsing in my aunt’s arms because I couldn’t say the words out loud. I remember crying so hard and knowing I didn’t want to do anything other than lie on the ground in the parking lot until I felt better. I remember hearing that I needed to have a D&C. I remember refusing to get into the car to go to the hospital. If I didn’t go, it wouldn’t be true, I rationalized. I remember crying the whole time. Once it was over, I remember a nurse pushing me in a wheelchair to get into our car and how empty and hopeless I felt. I spent weeks laying on the couch crying and staring at the lights on the Christmas tree. I wasn’t motivated to go back to work. I felt like my life was out of control. Thank goodness I had so much vacation and sick time built up. During this time I decided to channel my energy into a job search and hoped I’d find purpose with a new career opportunity.
Michael :: It was a new year and things were starting to look up. I was offered a position at Launch Digital Marketing/Dealer Inspire in January 2013. I barely made it through the holidays, but the prospect of this opportunity (and the required assignment I was asked to do as part of the interview process) gave me something to focus on besides my agony. I had so much to learn and nothing standing in my way. In early 2013, my husband also secured a better position with great benefits, so we bought our first home together and tried our hand again at having a baby. The positive pregnancy test appeared right away and this time my doctor labeled me high-risk and started me on progesterone for the first trimester to give our baby the best chance possible. We laid eyes on our baby for the first time during an ultrasound during the 9th week. My husband’s tears of joy meant everything in the world to me. But I was terrified. Every minute of every day I was terrified. Every day I read the pregnancy apps and knew what was happening to my body and how the baby was developing. My husband took such good care of me and didn’t want me to do anything that might stress me out or hurt the baby. We went for an elective ultrasound at week 15 to find out the gender and learned we were having a boy. A boy! I was ecstatic. Life was great. Everything was looking good. We had a name picked out and we shared it with everyone. Our parents were overjoyed. Oscar was thrilled and both of our careers were in good places. But I was still terrified every minute of every day that something terrible was going to happen. Every stomach cramp, every back ache, every pothole in the ground that we drove over, etc. I was terrified. This pregnancy felt like it lasted a lifetime. Michael was born even earlier than Oscar was, but at least we were at the hospital. He was rushed to the NICU but came home a week later in great health.
Scarlett :: While my pregnancy with Mikey felt like it lasted years, I had the opposite experience with my next pregnancy. Our positive pregnancy test with Scarlett coincided with Michael’s first birthday and we were on cloud nine. We first heard this baby’s heartbeat on Christmas Eve and were bursting at the seams to share the news with our families. I had a new doctor who was very curious why I kept having premature babies. She ordered a few different tests, labeled me high-risk, and we came up with a plan to get weekly progesterone injections from week 18 until week 36 with the hope that we’d prolong this pregnancy. Weekly shots with a medicine that burned like hell were not my cup of tea. But I told myself that I’d get a shot every hour if I had to, to avoid having another baby in the NICU. During our elective ultrasound at week 15, we learned that this baby was a girl. I was hoping for a girl, but never really thought it’d be possible. The “it’s a girl!” news was confirmed at week 20 and in subsequent ultrasounds. This pregnancy flew by, in part, because of the timing (it was baseball season afterall) and because I had a 1 year old. Other than an occasional nightmare that she was really a he, the weeks flew by without event. Scarlett also has a crazy birth story but she cooked longer than both boys and was able to go home with me when I left the hospital.
Baby Girl Helgesen :: We weren’t sure if we would have another child after Scarlett. Mikey and Scarlett are 19 months apart and while we know their proximity in age will make for such a close bond, these days are anything but easy. In fact, most of the time life with these two littles is a chaotic blur. My husband and I thought about it long and hard and decided that as long as we gave ourselves enough time between Scarlett and new baby, we were up for the adventure of a fourth child. We have too much love to give and felt like we weren’t done. Being up for an adventure and jumping in is one thing. Living with your decision and having faith that you made a good decision is another. I was sick all summer. I had poison ivy that was undiagnosed and untreated for weeks, and then after we figured it out, I got exposed again. By this point, I had gone weeks without sleeping more than a single sleep cycle per night. (How similar to life with a newborn!) Finally diagnosed, before a treatment plan was outlined, I asked the doctor for a pregnancy test. I knew I was pregnant but he didn’t. Bye bye poison ivy and hello to a whole new fear of being outdoors. I decided to keep the news of this pregnancy to myself for awhile. I waited 2 weeks to tell my husband. We waited a few more weeks to tell our parents and Oscar. I didn’t tell my coworkers until I was 5 months pregnant. The fact that this is my last pregnancy is with me always. I know there will be days that I miss being pregnant, so I try not to wish these days away too quickly, but oh my word, this is so. very. trying. During this pregnancy I am suffering from depression. I’m old and tired. I have a moody teenager at home and two whiny toddlers. It’s the middle of winter and we go days without seeing the sun. My downs get the best of me most days, but especially on the weekends. Luckily it’s almost over and my logical self can overpower my emotional self – even if it takes a whole weekend. The timing of this baby was so well planned from every angle, yet I ask myself “What were we thinking?” and wonder “How will we ever do this?” several times a day. While I count down the days of my pregnancy, and I long for the return of “not-pregnant me”, I am scared. Previously, my scared feelings were restricted to “while I was pregnant” and maintaining a healthy pregnancy. I know pregnancy is no longer than 40 weeks (36 in my case) and I can count down from there and wait it out. I know I can manage enough inner strength if there’s a definite timeline. While this last pregnancy has had brief scares, and furthermore, depression, this one is full of fear of life after pregnancy. How will I manage? Will things get back to normal? Once I get back on my medicine and feel like Katie again, will the depression go away? Will I have energy? Every pregnancy is different. And this is my last one. I take it day by day and look forward to meeting my daughter. She has invaded my rib cage and sits on my bladder, stomach and spine, but I love the sound of her heart tones. Her kicks make me smile and she fills me with HOPE.
Every pregnancy is different. Wildly different. Whether my pregnancies were planned or unplanned, whether they ended with life or loss, one thing is certain — I would not be the person I am today if I wasn’t a mom.