Sunday, November 15, 2020

We're Having Another Baby: Pregnancy After Loss

 It was around this time last year that we excitedly told our families that we were expecting our first baby. Everything was going so well and both the baby and I were healthy and strong. We could never expect that a few months later, at the end of January, I would very suddenly go into labor and deliver our son at 20 weeks gestation. He had a heartbeat and lived for 5 short hours, the most excruciating 5 hours of our lives, as we waited for him to inevitably pass away. 

The weeks and months that followed were an incredible blur of grief like no other, physical and emotional healing, confusion about why this happened, and fear that I wouldn't be able to get pregnant again, or if I did, that I wouldn't be able to carry a baby to full term.  

Six weeks after giving birth I had a postpartum check up with my practitioner and we discussed when it would be possible to try again for another baby. She said that physically I was healthy and recovering well from giving birth and advised that we wait at least three months before trying again. She also suggested that I make an appointment with a maternal-fetal specialist who could hopefully give us more answers as to why this happened and advise us on the best path moving forward. Unfortunately, the day before my scheduled specialist appointment in March, we got a call that said all consult appointments were being pushed to July because of the Covid-19 outbreak so I wouldn't be seen unless I got pregnant before then. 

Having no concrete answers as to why I delivered our son prematurely coupled with our canceled appointment with the specialist made the thought of trying for another baby was very scary, particularly because much of what I researched had said that if you have had one premature delivery you are at an increased risk of having another. Still, in my mind, the thought of not trying for another baby because I was afraid of the future outcome was just too much to bare- we couldn't let fear dictate our decision to try again. Also, at 39 years old, I felt I didn't have the luxury of waiting too long before trying to get pregnant.

We waited three months, enough time for my cycles to get back to normal and to let my body heal, and then we tried again. To our astonishment, we were pregnant again on the first try! It felt like a miracle!

We shared the exciting news with our family and close friends pretty much right away but waited until I was much further along in the pregnancy before sharing anything on social media. I've gotten a lot of great questions about the pregnancy and the baby so I thought I'd answer some FAQs right here!

Q: How did you get pregnant so quickly?
 Did you use ovulation tracking apps or other resources to help you get pregnant?

Let me preface this response by saying that sometimes you can do all the 'right' things and life events still don't turn out how you hope or go as fast as you'd like. Losing our son after we got pregnant right away and had a perfectly healthy pregnancy up until he was born prematurely taught me that sometimes things happen for which there are absolutely no good reasons and that in the end, you can do everything 'right' and still have a horrible outcome...some things are just out of our control.

Having said that, in preparation for trying to conceive I tried to educate myself as best I could to increase our chances. I had always heard and read that it becomes increasingly difficult to get pregnant the older you are so I definitely had a good amount of fear and tried to have realistic expectations about how long it would take us to get pregnant. I didn't meet my husband until I was 37 (you can read about our love story here) and we got married when I was 38.5 years old so we pretty much started trying to conceive shortly after our wedding and my big move from Maine to Virginia. 

One of the best resources I have used to truly help with understanding how to best increase the chances of conceiving is the book Taking Charge of Your Fertility: The Definitive Guide to Natural Birth Control, Pregnancy Achievement, and Reproductive Health.  This book is awesome not only for trying to conceive but also just understanding how the female body works (so far beyond what was ever taught in any of the health classes I took), how to prevent getting pregnant, how to know if something is 'wrong' or out of whack physically, and preparing for menopause. 

What I found interesting in the book regarding trying to conceive is that many couples who think they have fertility issues are actually just timing sex incorrectly and therefore missing part or all of their fertile windows- who knew?! 

With help from the book and a free fertility charting app, I tracked my cycles and used inexpensive but effective ovulation test strips so I would know when I was about to ovulate. It can seem daunting to take your temperature every day (I used a basal body temp thermometer) and track information in an app, but I actually enjoyed learning more about how my body was functioning and it made me feel like I had some sense of control. 

Research indicates that eating well, maintaining a health body weight, limiting or eliminating alcohol and caffeine intake, avoiding smoking, and getting plenty of sleep can have an impact on fertility for both males and females. And of course, genetics and age, which are out of our control, can also play a role when trying to conceive. The book mentioned above discusses these factors as well. 

A few of my close friends have also tried acupuncture with a fertility specialist and have had positive outcomes after struggling to conceive. I can't speak to that experience but it might be worth looking into if you are having trouble. *Be sure to speak with your practitioner about various health concerns as I am not a doctor or medical expert. 

Q: How did you find out you were expecting again and what was your reaction?

Because I was tracking my cycles very closely I knew when I was ovulating and therefore knew roughly when I could start taking pregnancy tests. The ovulation tests I purchased also come with a bunch of inexpensive pregnancy test strips so I didn't feel bad taking a test each each around the time that I might possibly be pregnant. Two days after Mother's Day (which was so difficult to get through after losing our son and not knowing if we would be blessed with another baby), I took a pregnancy test even though I knew it may have been a bit too early in my cycle to get a positive result. I saw the very faintest shadow of a positive really didn't even look like a line but more of a slight discoloration almost invisible to the naked eye. I showed it to my husband and he couldn't see anything but I swore there was something there. So, I waited until later that day and took another test...sure enough, there was a very, very faint positive line!

Over the next couple of days I took more tests and the positive lines kept getting darker- a sign we were progressing in the right direction! I was so incredibly (but cautiously) excited and just really couldn't believe that I got pregnant again so quickly!

Q: When are you due? How far along are you?

I am just about 30 weeks along and am due in mid-January. 

Q: How have you been feeling both physically and emotionally? Sick at all? Are you constantly afraid you'll lose this baby, too?

I'm very thankful that with both pregnancies my first trimester symptoms were relatively mild compared to the stories I've heard from other women. I did have some nausea for several weeks early on, usually in the late afternoon and evening, but thankfully never bad enough to vomit. Eating crackers, almonds, and apples seemed to help as did anti-nausea candies which come in both ginger & peppermint flavors (I bought and ate both). 

Early on, and then again during late second trimester, I was incredibly tired as well. Luckily I'm not currently teaching or subbing and am thankful for the opportunity to rest whenever needed. Now that I've entered the third trimester, I'm definitely feeling aches and pains that come with carrying extra weight and have battled lower back/sciatica pain off and on throughout my pregnancy. 

Some days I feel amazing, other days I overdo it and need to slow myself down and rest (which is often tough as I'm always feeling the need to be productive and do projects around the house). I've had to remind myself that my main 'job' right now is stay healthy and carry this baby to term. 

Emotionally, I've certainly had moments of incredible fear, as can be expected after losing a baby the way we did, but I've really tried to remain calm and positive overall (peppered with bad days here and there), knowing that in the end so much is out of my control. I've also had moments of incredible sadness as certain events and milestones in this pregnancy remind me of the son we lost and I miss him all the time. It's certainly a crazy mixed-bag of emotions when you are so joyful about your current baby but so heartbroken over your first baby. I try to take each day as it comes, just so grateful for another day that our sweet baby is still safely inside my belly. 

Q: Have you had any strange food cravings or aversions?

During my first pregnancy I really craved BLT sandwiches and orange juice! I really haven't had any strong cravings during this pregnancy, however, I eat apples pretty much every single day. I would't say I crave them I just think they are a healthy was to keep hunger and nausea away. 

Q: Do you know the sex of the baby?

I had bloodwork taken for genetic testing around week 10 of this pregnancy so we did find out the sex of the baby shortly thereafter. There's a delicious wood-fired pizza bakery around the corner from my doctor's office so I asked my doctor to write down the sex in an envelope and then took it to the bakery on my way home. They were kind enough to bake a pepperoni letter into the pizza indicating the baby's sex so when I got home, my husband and I opened the box and found out what we are having (spoiler alert: IT'S, but we already knew that, ha ha). Our close friends and family know the sex of the baby but I think I'll wait until I share the nursery decor before sharing with everyone else. 

Q: Have you picked out a name?

We do have a name but will wait until baby is here before announcing to the world. Lets just say it was pretty difficult to find a name we both agreed on but eventually settled on something we both like so that's what we are going with!

Q: Have you started decorating the nursery? Theme? When do we get a nursery tour? Can we paint while pregnant?

Yes! I actually painted the room that will become the nursery before I got pregnant with this baby and before we knew the sex. I tend to gravitate toward neutral, calming colors and decor so I chose a paint color and furniture options that are gender neutral before adding some more colorful accessories. I still have a few projects left to tackle and then I will share the nursery along with whether we are expecting a boy or a girl! 

Pregnant women should avoid breathing toxic fumes so I have limited the types of projects and the types of paints I've used while pregnant. Chalk paint is a good option because it has very little odor as do paints labeled 'low VOC' so those are some of the materials I've painted with while pregnant. I also always have the windows open and a fan going and wear a ventilation mask while painting or sanding to limit breathing in anything potentially harmful.

Q: How has it been being pregnant during Covid? 

The most challenging part has been that my husband cannot come with me to any of my appointments or ultrasounds. It makes me sad that he can't be there to witness the ultrasounds in person or to be an extra set of ears when discussing important issues with my doctors. But, it is what it is, and thankfully (as of right now) he is allowed to be with me when I actually deliver the baby. 

We don't go very many places because we obviously don't want to risk exposure to Covid-19 so I have had a lot of time to rest (although sometimes, like many people, I go a bit stir crazy being home so much). It has been tough not being able to celebrate this baby in the way I would've liked with a traditional baby shower but we were able to have a small celebration here in Virginia and I celebrated with my Maine family and friends via Zoom. It's a scary time we are living in and I've really had to focus on remaining as calm and stress-free as I can for the good of the baby. 

Q: Do you have to do anything different this pregnancy because of your history? Are you considered high-risk?

I am considered high-risk simply because of my history of premature delivery. I switched to a maternal-fetal specialist practice that focuses on high-risk pregnancies and from about week 14-24 I had ultrasounds every two weeks to measure my cervix and to be monitored much more closely than during my first pregnancy. As per the recommendation of my doctor, I take a progesterone prescription every day as well as a baby aspirin in addition to the prenatal vitamins and extra folic acid I was already taking (*you should check with your doctor before taking any medications, over the counter or otherwise*). So far, every test they've done, every ultrasound, and all blood work has come back normal and I'm otherwise considered very healthy as is baby so it's sort of odd being considered high risk. I am thankful for the extra monitoring nonetheless. 

We have also decided to deliver this baby at a larger hospital than the one where we had our son as they have an OBGYN at the hospital at all times and have a really good NICU should our baby come early. This larger hospital is almost an hour away but we feel like it's the best option for us going forward. 

Q: What are your go-to dressy and casual pregnancy looks? Where do you shop for maternity clothes?

A silver lining to being pregnant during a pandemic is that I am home most of the time and therefore have not really had to buy a lot of maternity clothes. I've been living in leggings and tanks layered with tunics, open cardigans, and button-down tops that layer nicely over some basic pieces. I did shop at some local thrift stores during my first pregnancy to find some pieces that would work while pregnant and many of my non-maternity clothes have worked up until a few weeks ago when I started getting really big. 

I've purchased most maternity items from Target, Old Navy, Shein (really cute stuff that is super affordable), and Amazon. I've created an Amazon favorites list for maternity essentials and will plan to do a dedicated post on affordable maternity fashion at some point soon. 

Q: What's the coolest and most challenging thing about pregnancy? What makes you most excited about having a baby?

The coolest part of pregnancy is feeling the baby move and kick- it still just amazes me that there's a little human in there! I felt true kicks for the first time at 21 weeks (I'd been feeling little flutters here and there before that point which I assumed was baby but was waiting for the moment when I knew for sure it was a baby kick). I never got to feel true baby kicks with our son so I will never take this experience for granted.

I can't move around and do all the projects I'd like to accomplish because being pregnant and high-risk means I have physical limitations and that has been pretty challenging. 

I am super excited to see what this baby looks like and also just to experience the world through a child's eyes. I look forward to starting new family traditions and seeing the joy and excitement of our child through the holidays. 

(Last Two Photos: Annie Immello Photography)

Although we don't know what exactly lies ahead, we are so excited, hopeful, and thankful to have been given another opportunity to be parents. Thank you to the countless number of people who have offered kind words, congratulations, and well wishes as we look forward to the arrival of our sweet baby!

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