Every morning in bed, I curve my palms around the little hard globe of my lower belly. Good morning, I think, smiling at the strangeness of this new part of me, wondering what else will have changed, grown, stretched overnight. On the scale and in the mirror, I take stock of these changes, still mostly unnoticeable to anyone besides Adrian and me. But something invisible has also changed, something no one would know but me: I'm a mother now.
I've been pretty public about our (my) struggles to conceive. (You can read here and here, as well as under the Health category of this blog.) As a writer, that's how I process my experiences. As a woman, I wanted other women to know they're not alone. There's a silence and shame around infertility that, in my small way, I wanted to break. Not everyone needs to talk about it, but it was important to me that people knew they could. And I was honored and surprised and saddened by the number of women who reached out to me with their own stories, their own struggles, some of which have found happy outcomes by now and others of which are ongoing. To these women, those who are caught off guard and gut-punched by sonograms and announcement photos in their newsfeed, I want to say: I see you. And you may not want to read this now, or ever, and that's okay. Take care of yourselves the way only you know how, and know that you're still not alone.
By the time we got the news, I'd been on a ketogenic diet for five months. I'd mastered the damn thing. I'd done two rounds of the fertility drug Clomid, which resulted in a large, painful cyst on my ovary and dozens more small ones; one round of the fertility drug Letrozole, along with an HCG injection I gave myself in the stomach to trigger ovulation; and I'd been on and off the diabetes drug Metformin, which ripped my stomach to shreds. The next step was going to be an IUI, since my specialist (whom I loved; I highly recommend Dr. Ursula Balthazar at RMA of Texas if you live in San Antonio) had told us we only had a 2-3% chance of conceiving through timed intercourse with fertility medication. The only thing left to do was wait for my period to start.
Only it didn't. And it didn't feel like it was coming. At first I was excited. "No symptoms!" I noted in my period tracker app--another sign that keto was working. Then the predicted start date came and went, disappointing since my erratic cycle had been regulating itself of late. I took four tests in the nine days past my missed period; all came back negative.
My appointment for a baseline ultrasound for IUI was dependent on starting my period, but when I told my nurse, Lisa, what was happening, she told me to come in anyway. They'd do the ultrasound and determine whether my period was coming soon, or whether we'd have to induce with progesterone. I'd taken progesterone before and hated it; the idea of needing to take it again just to bring on my period, which had never simply skipped before, was frustrating and depressing. What was my screwed up body doing now?!
Adrian and I went in for the ultrasound that morning, and Dr. Balthazar told me it looked like my period would be starting soon, but she wanted to check progesterone levels to make sure. They told me they'd call that afternoon with the results of the blood test.
Adrian and I went to breakfast, but the whole time I felt tears in my throat. "I've been doing everything," I told him. "Everything! And now this? What's the point? What am I even doing this stupid diet for?" I looked down at my plate, a sandwich I'd ordered without bread, with salad on the side instead of fries. "I just need something good to happen."
We went home, and instead of going to work, I decided to avoid feeling sorry for myself by taking a nap. I'd been sleeping poorly and was exhausted.
I woke up to my phone ringing: it was Lisa, my nurse. We were heading down to Laredo that day for my brother-in-law's birthday, and Adrian was in the closet, packing. This was also only two weeks after my agent had submitted my book to publishers, so any time the phone rang, I jumped. Adrian and I were both waiting, hoping, for that call to come in--the one telling me my book had sold. So when I answered, Adrian thought it was my agent.
"So we checked your progesterone levels," Lisa said, "and they look good."
"Oh, good!" I said, relieved at this little bit of good news. Adrian looked at me from the closet. At the small jump of happiness in my voice, he thought my agent had told me someone had made an offer.
"We also decided at the last minute to check for the pregnancy hormone . . ." Lisa said.
My heart hitched. "And?" I said. Adrian was staring at me. Multiple offers? he thought. Or maybe a really good one?
"And . . ." I could hear the smile in her voice. "You're pregnant!"
"WHAT?" I shouted. In the closet, Adrian's eyes went wide. Six figures?!
"You're pregnant!" Lisa said again, laughing. "But I do want to caution you . . . your HCG numbers are really low, only thirteen. Sometimes, when they're this low, it's not going to be a viable pregnancy. We want you to come in on Monday to test again, and we want to see them at least double by then. But for now . . . yes, you're pregnant."
"Oh, my God," I said, sobbing and trembling. "I can't believe it. I don't even know what to say. Thank you so much." Adrian's bag lay forgotten at his feet. A million?!
"Okay," Lisa said, laughing again. "Have a great weekend, and come in first thing Monday morning."
"Thank you," I gurgled. "Thank you."
When I hung up, Adrian came to the edge of the bed where I was shaking and crying. He looked at me expectantly, eyes still wide, a questioning smile on his face.
"I'm p-p-pregnant," I laugh-sobbed.
For a second, he just looked at me blankly. Then he took me into his arms, and I could feel that he'd started shaking, too. I cried against his shoulder while he said, "What? What? How?"
I laughed and pulled away, wiping at my face with hands I couldn't quite control. "I guess I ovulated!" I said. "Without medication. The stupid diet actually worked!"
Adrian was grinning in disbelief, shaking his head. "You said you needed something good to happen," he said finally, kissing me. "Here it is."
Teary, in shock, minutes after the "You're pregnant" phone call
We told my family that day. After all, it was a birthday weekend, and they would know the second I declined a glass of wine. (Hell, they would know any time I declined a glass of wine.) All weekend, I rolled the words through my mind: I'm pregnant. It didn't feel real. It didn't feel possible. I felt like I was lying to everyone, including myself. The truth is, I hadn't thought the IUI would work; it only increased our chances to 10%, after all. We already had all the IVF paperwork. I was convinced that would be our next step, and if that didn't work, we'd need to re-open the adoption conversation. Or maybe not. After all, Adrian and I liked our freedoms: motorcycle rides, adventure trips, vacations; splurging on an expensive birthday dinner. I liked my naps and SVU marathons and long, quiet, solitary days of writing. Would it really be so bad if this didn't happen for us? I was more mentally and emotionally prepared for that outcome than this surprise alternative, this new life hidden beneath my flat belly (thanks, keto), barely the size of a poppyseed.
And yet, I couldn't get too attached. I kept replaying Lisa's words and, moreover, her cautionary tone. One terrifying Google search assured me that my young pregnancy was doomed to end soon. No happy endings began with 13.
On Monday, though, that 13 had risen to 66, significantly higher than the 40 for which the doctors had hoped. But when Lisa called with the good news, she also said that they'd checked my thyroid as a matter of course, and diagnosed me with pregnancy hypothyroidism. Some of the mild symptoms include fatigue, hair loss, and constantly feeling cold, all of which I had. But hypothyroidism can have devastating effects on a pregnancy, increasing chances of miscarriage, stillbirth, and congenital heart issues for baby and mother. She called in a prescription and told me to begin taking it the next morning.
Despite the objectively low chances for a successful pregnancy, at some point I started to feel a sense of confidence in my poppyseed. "I know I shouldn't say this," I told Adrian, "but I really think it's going to stick."
"I think so, too," he said. "With you as its mom, it's got to be strong." (Cue the tears.)
I went in for blood work every two or three days for the next two weeks, until my little 13 had turned into 2,200.
"Congratulations!" Lisa said when she called. "No more blood work. You're truly, officially pregnant."
But how pregnant? It was impossible to tell when I'd ovulated, so Dr. Balthazar said we'd let the baby tell us on my first ultrasound.
"Six weeks, one day," she pronounced, three weeks after the initial phone call. She smiled with genuine happiness. "Growing perfectly. Oh, it's beautiful!"
We stared at the sonogram, at this little line of white against the black, only the size of a grain of rice and already stubborn as hell.
And now I'm (almost) 15 weeks pregnant, "graduated" (sadly) from Dr. Balthazar to a normal, low-risk OB-GYN. On my last ultrasound, we could see the closed lids of the baby's eyes. We could see the profile of a nose, the curve of lips. Already, I think I see Adrian in the baby's face, crazy as that may sound. At night, when I'm relaxed in bed, I'm starting to feel flutters that I like to think are the baby bending newly mobile elbows, opening and closing flower-like hands. In the morning, I cup my palms around my lower belly as if it's a crystal ball, as if I can divine the future through its curve.
I've been incredibly lucky. I had no morning sickness in the first trimester, except for mild nausea when I was hungry, which was astonishingly often, even for me. I've still been able to work out four or five times a week, and I'm plugging away at my second novel, hoping to deliver it to my agent by April 11, the baby's due date. (I've also taken on additional freelance projects, and we're building a house--no pressure, no stress.) And Adrian has been wonderful. He's cooked dinner nearly every night since I'm usually too tired and too grossed out by strong smells and the sight of raw meat. Laundry was never my forte, but for some reason now it seems like a Herculean task, which Adrian has taken on valiantly, trooping overflowing baskets up and down the stairs. He tells me I'm doing great, which makes me cry because other than working and dragging my ass to exercise, I'm mostly lying in bed watching Law and Order and how hard is that? Plus, he booked a surprise birthday trip to Hawaii (don't get me started on trying on bathing suits right now), so what I'm saying, ladies, is get you a man who'll say you don't look like a sausage in a one-piece at 15 weeks pregnant. (I love you, Adrian.)
This isn't a happy ending, though. Because nothing is ending. Everything's just changing. Happily, happily changing.