Flashback Fridays

For today’s Flashback Friday I was going to post from last January about when everyone in our family got the flu since I’m currently batting a stomach bug.  But then I ran across this entry from March 4, 2011 and felt I should share this instead.  Because I’ve had the great joy to have so many new readers this year, I realized that many of you may not know about our infertility journey.  It was not as onerous as some friends I know, but it was one of our hardest times.  This entry, entitled Our Story: An Introduction, sets the stage.  If you’d like to read more, there is an Our Story category link at the right of this post that will take you to all the parts I’ve written thus far. I’m looking forward to the chapters of Our Story yet to come.  Here it is…..

I enjoy television. I don’t see much of it these days but I have three guilty pleasures. I DVR those three shows and watch them as time permits. One recently featured the leading couple struggling with infertility. As the lead character (let’s call her Meredith) and her best friend (let’s call her Cristina) visit, Cristina shares that she’s been asked by a friend to be her baby’s godmother. Meredith encourages Cristina throughout the day to decline to serve as the godmother. As the episode nears, Meredith stands in front of the newborn nursery and finally shares with her friend why she’s asking her to say no, “It just seems like if you agree to be the baby’s godmother, you’re saying that I’ll never have a baby of my own.”

Those words flattened me. Even though they are said by fictional characters, those words reflect a heartbreaking reality occurring in many lives tonight. And that sentiment, that aching and sadness, that feeling that you may never have children, was incredibly real in my life for years. Reading into everything that everyone says or does, feeling like any given action is a judgment on your own personal fertility struggles, happens.

And so it led me to think that maybe it’s time to share our story. I’ve hesitated for some time. Partly because it’s still fresh. And partly because I have friends whose infertility struggle ended differently than mine and they made the decision to either remain childless or to adopt. My story of miracles doesn’t at all diminish the miracles that God worked in their lives. They also are people of great faith and God had a different plan in mind.

So over the next few weeks, in addition to my ongoing random posting, I’ll share our story. I pray that it gives someone going through the same struggle hope. I pray it will serve solely as a testament to God’s faithfulness and miraculous power.

Our Story: Part 7 – 33 Weeks

I’ve taken a break from telling our story, mainly because the gut-wrenching portion of my tale had been told.  But on this Friday, two years ago, something very special happened which makes me want to finish our journey in writing. 

I last left off by sharing that our precious Dr. C found three heartbeats on that March 31st day much to all of our surprise.  The remaining six months are somewhat of a blur.  I ate religiously from a very specific list of foods with very specific vitamins and minerals.  The books said to gain weight early since the babies would come early and weight gain in the first two trimesters was key.  So ate I did.  For the first time in my life I was trying to make sure I got over 3,000 calories a day.  And I started wearing flats (which anyone who knows me knows I never go into the office in less than 3 inches).  People at the office started asking if I was pregnant in my NINTH week so I had to begin telling people at my firm several weeks before I had planned.  As you might imagine, news that I was carrying triplets was met with quite a spectrum of responses - we got everything from “you are so blessed,” to “I am so sorry.”  (I’m not kidding.)

Bray continued to process the news.  He struggled.  He worried – about everything.  I won’t attempt to tell his side of the story, but from my perspective, he really settled into the news and started getting excited after week 20.  At that point, I was still in very good health, the babies were all growing bigger than expected, and we’d discovered by then that there was a boy and a girl hanging out in utero (we didn’t find out about Mr. Sam, who at the time was Mr. Will, until several weeks later).  I was elated.  I decorated the nursery with reckless abandon in my long-planned Raggedy Ann & Andy theme (I’d collected items for the nursery for years).  Bray painted the room.  Bray built a bookshelf.  By week 24 he started driving me into work.  By week 26 I went on bedrest at home and worked from a hospital bed he set up in the den.  I went on strict bed rest by week 28 - bathroom breaks were my only reprieve and I continued expanding at a stunning rate.  I fell in the street going to the doctor for my bi-weekly check up about that time and wrenched the devil out of my ankle but fortunately did not break it and avoided having to be in a cast during a c-section. 

Then Monday of week 32 hit.  We were right on track.  We felt confident at this point, despite my unbelievable discomfort, that we would hit the 34 week mark we’d so prayed for during the pregnancy.  I had my check up and was resting at home when I got a call from the doctor.  I should be admitted immediately as my blood work showed pronounced preeclampsia.  I called Bray in tears and he rushed to pick me up.  They gave me steroid shots for the babies lungs and ran a lot more tests in the hospital.  The neonatologist came and told me everything that could go wrong with them coming this early.  Everyone prayed.  The next morning my blood work came back spotless. Perfect.  No preeclampsia.  They ran another slate of tests.  Wednesday morning my blood work came back spotless.  They released me.  Unfortunately, that was short-lived.

Apparently, while in the hospital, I had been exposed to and contracted swine flu or something similar.  By Thursday night I couldn’t breath or move and was rushed back to the hospital at 2 am.  Bray was a rock.  He never left my side.  I could handle everything only because he was there.  I had specialist care around the clock for two days – always told they could likely deliver the babies on a moments notice because infection was very difficult to manage pregnant.  I began to improve.  My church pastor came to pray.  Friends sent flowers and prayers and food.  I was admitted for the duration so that the babies could be monitored around the clock and I could have the bed rest enforced.  Monday of Week 33 came and went.  On Wednesday, they got some suspicious looking tests – preeclampsia again.  Thursday morning the tests started looking worse.  My amazing Dr. R, the perinatologist that my fertility doctor recommended, told us that if the results had not changed by Friday morning he would have to deliver the babies.  He took us in for an ultrasound and they all measured over 4 pounds, a strong sign he said.  We called our parents.  I told my dad I was pretty sure they wouldn’t deliver me on Friday, but he drove all night from Oklahoma anyways.  Mom camped out at the hospital.  Bray’s parents drove in from Louisiana.  Everyone waited for Friday’s results.

Our Story: Part 6, THREE

So there we were, that Saturday afternoon, finally pregnant.  Or so our three pregnancy tests said.  I wanted confirmation.  Real medical feedback.  So off I went Monday morning to get my blood work done with Dr. C.  They said they’d call back Monday afternoon.  I was in meetings but had my cell phone on vibrate because I did NOT want to miss that call.  My hCG levels were supposed to be between 50 and 100.  They called at 4:30 & I stepped outside to talk.  They said, “Well, Mrs. Vincent, you ARE pregnant.  Very pregnant.  Your hCG levels are 408.”  I was trying to process both pieces of news, “That’s high, right?,” I managed to respond.  “Yes, we think you’re having twins.  Or even triplets.”  The way this news came out in my head, I think there was a lot of other information provided, because I came home that night and told Bray that the odds somehow shook out like 65% twins, 25% triplets, 10% singleton.  I’m confident no one gave me numbers, but that is how I translated it.  We were both elated at the idea of having twins because it would mean our child would have a sibling which we so desperately wanted (and did not want to go through fertility treatments again).  Triplets never seemed real at that time.  {Plus, two of my friends who recently had undergone fertility treatments had twins.} 

For the next couple of weeks I had to go in every other day to make sure my hCG levels kept doubling.  So that Wednesday, they didn’t double.  I found this email I sent my college roommate, the only person I’d talked to through this whole process, and one of those who had so encouraged me during this struggle:

hey there, just a quick prayer request if you have time. we got the results of our second set of blood work today & the hcg levels did not double as they expected. the doctor actually believes this is good news, that it may indicate that initially all three embryos took hold and this reflects that one has now let go. i’m trying not to read anything more into it or spend all afternoon on the web deciphering what the implications are if your hcg levels don’t double. i go back friday & they expect them to double then. monday was 408. today was 640. still high (and still increasing). would you pray they see at least 1200 on friday? i’m perfectly happy with God choosing how many babies we’re supposed to have, but i do pray that the pregnancy progresses and stays healthy. you’re my only friend who knows, so i’d really appreciate help praying over these wee ones. thank you!”

Two days later, the Friday after the initial Monday test, this is what I wrote her:
Thank you for praying.  All week I’ve just been praying, “Trust in the Lord with all of your heart and lean NOT ON YOUR OWN understanding………”  The nurse said they wanted the level to be between 1200 & 1600 & it was 1400 – could you get anymore perfect?  Only if you’re God.  I’m just so happy and kept saying, I believe Father, please help my unbelief…….. I’m still human but this process is teaching me trust at each step.”

This process continued for a little over a week.  At 6 weeks I was allowed an ultrasound so we’d know for sure.  They wanted to schedule it for April 1st - I said, “No thanks, I’ll never believe if it’s an April Fool’s joke or not.”  So in we went on March 31st to have the very first ultrasound.  I still have the picture.  Dr. C had a place on the screen to put information for two babies in case it was in fact twins.  So off he goes, pressing that little wand down on my stomach like I’d seen a million times in movies.  He told us not to panic if we didn’t hear heartbeats, it was still early.  But then, thump thump thump, we heard a little heartbeat and saw it pulse on the fuzzy black and white screen.  We were both elated.  He kept moving that wand around to see what else was there before he started taking measurements.  When out of the blue he said, “Oh, there’s three.”  I have to tell you, my initial reaction was complete joy.  I had felt since the moment of the transfer that these were all mine.  I had never felt that with the prior transfers.  I just felt like they were all hanging in there.  But then I looked over and Bray went sheet white and put his head in his hands.  You could tell he was not only surprised but completely terrified over the news.  We finished the heartbeat listening and picture taking, and then Dr. C met with us in the adjacent room.  He could tell that Bray was not prepared for this news.  He asked us to consider reduction (one of several times this option was raised).  Bray and I had said from the beginning, when we knew this was even a remote possibility, we would rather have three than zero, and our faith would never allow us to mess around with what God chose to give us.  He gave us some additional information, statistics about multiple pregnancies (which weren’t pretty), and a referral to a high risk doctor.  We left the doctor’s office and drove to dinner (we don’t eat out much but now that I was on alert that I’d need a lot of calories, popcorn and cereal would not cut it).  I remember him looking completely overwhelmed and stressed out.  I was trying not to be overjoyed because clearly the prospect was frightening for him (it should have been more so for me).  I remember him saying, “I’m not upset.  I’m okay.  I’m just worried.  About the babies health.  About your health.  About the money….”  I called my parents that night to share the news.  He had to take a little longer, he couldn’t even talk about it for 24 hours. 

The next day, this is the email I sent to my sweet college roomie and our suitemate (who luckily lived nowhere near me and were Godly women I could trust to pray without anyone knowing the news which we weren’t ready to share yet):
“Ladies,

What a joy, and funny twist of events, that the two women I’m getting to share my early joys with this month are also those who I’ve known now for over 1/2 my life! I so appreciate your sweet prayers & excitement as I’ve been bursting to run the hall with the news. I have an update and a prayer request. We went to the doctor yesterday afternoon and the babies look good & are on target with those of a singleton. We got to hear their strong heartbeats, which is so incredible to me, since they’re not even 1/2 inch long yet. God’s miracles! You may have noticed the plural – the big surprise is that there were three sets of those strong heartbeats. I’m excited, but Bray is overwhelmed. So if I could ask for three prayers when you get time:

1. Bray – he’s so overwhelmed, he’s almost shut down. He’s worried about health, money, etc., all the things our strong provider husbands are supposed to be looking after. But I don’t want it to so consume him that we can’t enjoy the pregnancy.
2. The babies – right now they look good, though one is a couple of days behind the others, and one has a smaller sack that the others. I have to go in every week to be monitored and I’d just pray that they’d all stay equal in size and in their rooms.
3. My term – The doctors want to get me to 30 -32 weeks. Some triplets have even gone as far as 33 – 34. Obviously, the longer they cook, the healthier they are. My due date would have been Nov. 22nd & now the goal is to get me to the end of September. Pray that everything I do (nutrition, work, etc.) would all be focused on getting these babies to “term.”
I am excited. I’m reeling a little bit at the logistics but for right now I’m just going to enjoy God’s many blessings and trust Him to keep them in His care.
I cherish you both & thank you for sharing this with me,
Gindi”

Our Story: Part 5, Positive

This has been a rough week.  So more than ever, it’s so special for me to share this portion of our story.  Having recovered from the surgery and the holidays, we talked about what to do and agreed together that we would try ONE more round of IVF.  We met with Dr. C to pick a time for our final attempt.  We’d been incredibly fortunate to have insurance cover most of our previous treatments, but this one was fully out of pocket so we knew we’d walk away if the third time wasn’t the charm.  We also went on one last long weekend away – a romantic trip over Valentine’s Day to Santa Fe.  I had begun the medication earlier so I had to pack a bag full of medication and needles, but other than that it was another wonderful trip – one year after our trip to the Hill Country.

Once we returned, they scheduled the date for the egg retrieval.  My hormones, which had always been so consistent the previous rounds, were all over the map.  The doctor didn’t know what was going on, and mere days before the retrieval was scheduled, he told me he didn’t think they would be able to do it this round if things didn’t turn around.  I remember getting the news and driving to a Beth Moore Bible Study on The Inheritance crying the whole way.  While the music was playing, I knelt down at the altar at the front of the church and just cried out to God for Him to help.  To intervene.  And then Beth Moore was kneeling down with me, praying over me and for me, and I stood up remembering that He had a plan and I would trust Him to unfold it.

The next day, my hormone levels shot back up to where they were supposed to be.  They retrieved 15 eggs, over 10 of them fertilized, and on Day 5 we were back in for our final IVF transfer.  With our previous IVF attempts, we’d transferred three embryos for the fresh cycle, and four for the frozen cycle.  Dr. C was standing in front of us asking us to decide whether to transfer two or three.  The news on the embryos was very positive – they were “beautiful” he said.  If we transferred three, our chances of getting pregnant increased, but we had a 10% chance of twins and a 1% chance of triplets.  Bray and I looked at each other, even though we’d had these discussions before, and said we would rather have three than zero.  I remember those words.  The procedure was uneventful.  I returned home for a week of bed rest.  I couldn’t be too careful I decided and my doctor encouraged me taking the time off from work.

We transferred on a Saturday so we could take a pregnancy test a week later, March 14th.  I told the family we couldn’t test until Monday so we could sit with the results first.  Saturday morning, Bray drove out of town for a funeral but said he’d be back that afternoon.  Even he didn’t know I was scheduled for a blood test that morning.  I drove myself to the lab only to find they had never received the paperwork from the doctor.  Here I was on PINS AND NEEDLES and they couldn’t do a blood test (and they couldn’t reach my doctor on a Saturday).  So I drove to Walgreens and bought a box with two pregnancy tests.  I rushed home, went to the bathroom, and two minutes later two very clear lines appeared.  Doubting that it was real, an hour later I took the second test.  Two lines again.  I rummaged through my drawer and found an old digital pregnancy test.  I took it.  It said PREGNANT.  About that time, my doctor called to check on me.  He apologized for the lab paperwork not being ready and told me I could take a home pregnancy test.  I said, “I did.  I took three.”  (Little did I realize how ironic that would become.)  You could hear the disappointment in his voice when he said, “oh, and nothing?”  I said, “No, they all are positive.”  His demeanor immediately changed, and he proclaimed his happiness.  But I said, “How do I know they’re right?  How accurate is this?”  He was able to tell me they are very accurate and that you don’t have false positives.

Bray arrived home a couple of hours later.  I had boxed up a bib and a onesie, I had bought years before – one said, My other car seat is on a tractor, and the other simply said I love my daddy.  When he opened the present, he was the happiest I have ever seen him.  He too questioned whether or not we could rely on the tests; we’d been disappointed so many times. I informed him of Dr. C’s reassuring words – the test is positive, it means it’s positive.  I remember the words running through my head on a loop, like the news ticker on CNN, I am pregnant, I am pregnant, I am pregnant.

Our Story: Part 4, The Tumor Miracle

I closed Part 3 by saying we were done with treatments but promised our specialist we would come in for a final closing visit.  At that appointment in the summer of 2008, he suggested I undergo a procedure that would look more closely for endometriosis than the ultrasounds had before (there was no indication in my ultrasound over a year ago that I had anything to worry about).  This would require anaesthesia, but it would be an outpatient procedure so I could return home that evening.  He said that was the only thing left he could think to try since we’d undergone all the other testing.  I was hesitant, I mean we had already decided we were done, why would I want to take the risk of being under general anesthesia?  Bray and I talked about it, and finally agreed to do this one LAST thing.  I scheduled it for the end of October because I wanted to travel with Bray to Nashville for my 10 year law school reunion first. 

All our families knew was that we had not been successful with fertility treatments and we’d decided to stop them.  I really did not want to tell anyone about the procedure, but at the last minute I told my mom just in case something happened.  On the morning of October 29th, Bray drove me to the hospital for the early morning preparations.  I remember telling him that once they were in there, Dr. C might call him and ask for permission to cut me open if they found something (they were only doing two small laser inserts on either side of my uterus, no cutting).  I told him that he could agree to anything they asked for except removing my uterus – I did not want him holding the weight of that decision should it come to that.  This was very unexpected information for him, he didn’t realize the procedure could turn into more, but Dr. C forewarned us that morning “just in case.” 

Instead of waking up an hour later, I woke up several hours later in post-op recovery.  Bray and my mom were there.  Apparently, shortly after the procedure began, a nurse came in with a telephone and called Bray’s name.  Dr. C was on the other line and informed him they had found a tumor in the wall of my uterus and he needed permission to cut me open so he could cut the tumor out.  Needless to say (from all accounts I hear – obviously I wasn’t there), Bray was very upset and called his mom to update her on what was unfolding.  Who wants to hear two years into your marriage that your spouse has a tumor?

So Bray began telling me, in my groggy state, what had happened.  “They found endometriosis, but they also found a tumor.  They had to cut you open to get it out.  The doctor believes it’s benign but has sent it off to the lab.  You’ll have to stay in the hospital a few days to recover….”  Something along those lines, I still can’t remember much of that day. 

In the midst of all the pain as the day wore on, I do remember this.  I remember having the most amazingly supportive loving husband in the room with me, sleeping on the hospital couch next to my bed that night.  And I remember Dr. C walking into my hospital room that afternoon to check on me and give me a full report: (1) The tumor was benign, (2) Had I gotten pregnant with the previous IVF attempts, the tumor would have grown rapidly because of the hormones and would have caused me to miscarry, (3) There was widespread endometriosis, they had been able to remove it all, (4) We’re going to do everything we can now to make sure you have a little pumpkin next Halloween. 

I would have lost the baby.  We don’t always know why God does what He does, but He knows best.  How much worse would my heartache have been had we gone through all that and then had one or two or more miscarriages?  I have people close to me that have endured that heartache, and I don’t know why I was spared, but I do thank God every day that I was.  So I began to heal.  And we began to discuss whether we might try one more time.