Saturday, January 2, 2010

A year in reflection

Nothing prepared her for 2009, but this year is looking a lot brighter

As a new year begins, I thought I’d tell my readers a story of loss, grief, sacrifice, hope, joy and love.
It’s a story of a woman not unlike my readers - a woman who spent most of her twenties enjoying life, travelling and working.
By the time her biological clock started ticking just before she turned 30, she was happily married and deep into domestic bliss, paying a mortgage and spending more time at home. The next most obvious step was to have children.
Within three months of trying to conceive, she had fallen pregnant, and nine months later had a baby girl. The pregnancy was a little rocky, but the birth went smoothly and she realised that becoming a mother was her greatest achievement in life.
She loved every minute of motherhood, from changing nappies, to making pureed food to rocking her daughter to sleep in the midnight hours.
It wasn’t easy, and she faced many challenges, but her mother’s instincts and absolute devotion to her child meant that she could always smile at the end of the day, and appreciate the young family that now surrounded her.
A few months before her daughter’s second birthday, she and her husband decided it was time to try for another baby.

She had it all planned out: when she would fall pregnant, when the baby would be due and what age gap she wanted between her children.
When a few months passed and she still wasn’t pregnant, she tried not to worry too much and figured that it must be because she’s now in her thirties, and that it will happen soon enough.
By this time a number of her friends had announced they were pregnant with their second children. She was thrilled by this news, because she thought it won’t be long now and she’ll be joining them.
A year passed, more friends had their second baby (one even announced she was pregnant with her third) yet that positive pregnancy test eluded her.
She was working long hours, was highly stressed about work, and now stressed about secondary infertility.
Once you’ve been trying for one year unsuccessfully, you’re classed as infertile and it was like a knife to the heart.
How could they have fallen pregnant so easily with the first and not so this time around?
She and her husband visited a fertility specialist who did some tests, which came back all clear, but then pushed them down the road to IVF.
She was distressed, and started seeing a psychologist as she felt she was spiralling into depression and she could no longer breathe. She felt so angry at people who said “don’t worry, it’ll happen” or “just relax” for they had no idea the anguish she faced. When you make the decision to have a child and that decision is taken away from you, it is both frustrating and devastating.
They decided against artificial conception, and to keep trying on their own.
Keeping an open mind, she tried Chinese herbs and acupuncture for three months, was feeling far less stressed after dropping her work hours, went on a relaxing holiday and at long last fell pregnant.
Her joy was overwhelming and she was shouting to the rooftops “at last we did it!”
But her joy was short because an early scan showed the baby had died.
At 10 weeks, she had a D&C, and it was the worst day of her life.
She never expected to have a miscarriage and her grief was all-consuming, compounded by aches and pains following the procedure.
She could not understand why everyone around her was able to “plan” their families just as they wanted, and now that she was pregnant, she lost her baby.
Her friends and colleagues were incredibly supportive and understanding, but some people were insensitive and made her angry.
They would say all the wrong things like “it’s nature’s way”, “it’s meant to be”, or worse “don’t worry, you’ll have another one” which makes the lost child seem insignificant.
She avoided anyone who ignored that fact that she had carried a little baby, and she surrounded herself only with friends and family who acknowledged her grief and her pain.
What started as a good year had turned into a nightmare.
Things went from bad to worse particularly with her health and finances, but by October she decided it was time to start thinking positively again especially for the sake of her first born child, who was now approaching her fourth birthday and feeling the effects of a cranky mummy.
Just before they reached the two year anniversary of trying to conceive, she was shocked to discover she had fallen pregnant.
Instead of joy, she faced fear. Once a woman has lost a child, they never lose the fear of losing another.
But she is so grateful and feels like the luckiest woman in the world. She now understands what it must be like for women who cannot have children.
Every month she spent hoping, she was crushed with grief at another chance gone. She will never again ask a woman “when will you be having children?” because the truth could be worse than you imagine.
I tell you this story because it’s not about a stranger, it’s about me, and I’m thrilled to have reached the second trimester.
This time next year, when we reflect on the year that’s gone by, and have positive hopes for the one to come, I’m hoping I’ll have a baby in my arms and nothing in this world can beat that.


Anonymous said...

Dear Shannon,
Thank you for sharing your story with us. It mimics my own life exactly, only I was in my 20’s when I had difficulty conceiving a second child. Our daughter was four when our son was born, and despite the angst at the time (a miscarriage and the fear that we would never have a second child), it all worked out well in the end. Although I wasn’t able to choose the age difference between our children, I learned to really love the four year gap. While our first was in school all day, I had a newborn to devote my time to, and when she came home from school, it was a joy to hear of her ‘grown-up’ adventures.

Now it is many years later and our daughter has experienced a similar history. She wanted a two year age difference between her daughter and a second baby, but that didn’t work out. They persevered and are now expecting their second without having to resort to IVF. Like you, my heart goes out to all parents who want children and have difficulty conceiving. By the way, as I followed your parenting column, I often wondered why you didn’t seem to want a second child. I’m glad I didn’t ask! You taught me how rude and insensitive that would have been.
Sally McDonald
Port Douglas

Shannon said...

Thank you Sally for your kind words, and I think your story, and that of your daughter are inspirational for other women too.

It probably does seem odd that I've been writing about parenting for more than two years now and have only one child, but I have come to believe that it doesn't matter if you have one or 10... parenting is as unique as each child we create, so I don't believe anyone can truly call themselves an "expert" on the subject.

I am also looking forward to a four year age gap as I have seen other mothers struggling with two under two, or three under three! Their attention is so divided and I often think that perhaps it was a blessing for my daughter that she has had so much time as an only child. Although I won't know of the challenges, or the fun, of having kids close in age (unless I get a surprise bundle in 2011 or 2012!) I can certainly appreciate the time I will have with baby #2.

I really appreciate your comments, and thank you for reading!
Shannon : )

Anonymous said...

Having been married for many years and having been unsuccessful at three IVF attempts and a miscarriage I could relate to your article in more ways than one. It was refreshing to read about your honest feelings and experiences, that for many women they simply could not understand or relate to.
I still struggle when I see young girls with babies in prams, women with 5 children and expecting another, children being yelled at by stressed parents in public and how many times have I heard of couples just married pregnant on their first attempt!
Luckily for my my husband and I we have friends and family with young children and we often have sleep overs, visit the skate park and engage in all the fun things that children like to do, and it works the other way as we show the children experiences that we like to do eg we take them four wheel driving and they get so much out of the bush experience that the city simply can not provide.
Yes it is frustrating trying to become pregnant, it is a bit like a vicious cycle, every month you think there is a glimmer of hope and then it is followed days later by the p word.
I try and believe that it will happen, perhaps the timing is simply not right. I am far more relaxed about it all now, I don't let it take over my life, I try and enjoy the here and now and I often spare a thought for my husband. He has qualities that any child would be proud to have in a dad, he is never too busy to spend the time with our friend's children and our situation must irk him as much as it does me.
Thanks again for sharing such a personal story.

Anonymous said...

Hi Shannon,

A friend who knows of my struggle to have children asked me to read your article. I have to say it sent me on an emotional roller coaster, but after reading it, I certainly felt less alone and more hopeful than ever.

Here is my story:
In my 20's I was consumed with my career, and as my parents did not start having children until they were 35, I had always felt I had plenty of time. When a medical exam uncovered the fact my husband was unable to contribute to us having children, my maternity clock suddenly clicked on. We considered heading down the IVF avenue, but alas the marriage failed.
I was soon lucky enough to meet a wonderful man who I then married. After a few years together, moving countries, jobs and homes, we decided it was time for children. Three years later, we were still at the same place, not for lack of trying. After a battery of tests for both of us, there seemed to be no reason why. With my 40 birthday only a few years away, we decided to head down the IVF path. After 2 attempts at IUI and then 3 at IVF, we were pregnant!!! Eventhough the drugs made me sick every morning, every time I looked at the bottom of the bucket I thought at least it means I am still pregnant!! Today, we have a beautiful daughter Madeline. While I was breastfeeding Madeline, just after speaking to the doctor about starting the IVF journey again, surprise! We had our first spontaneous pregnancy. We were ecstatic! I was so proud that we were able to manage it without any outside interference. Unfortunately after a few negative test results, we found our child was very sick. The pregnancy ended at 14 weeks.
Now, here I was someone who looked around wistfully at all the lucky pregnant women (and don't there always seem to be a ton about)before we conceived the first time. Yet, here I was struck with agonising pain every time I saw a beautiful pregnant belly. Going to mother's group became painful. Particularly with my experience of insensitive pregnant mums who would email their healthy scans and talk about their counts and belly endlessly. Seeing my friend's pregnancy continue(due just days before me) was mixed with joy for her and such sadness for my husband and I. I knew I should be so thankful for having little Madeline (and I am), but I felt and still feel such desire to give her a sibling. After seeing a psychologist, it has now been 8 months since our loss and we are trying again. With embryos still in storage, we have decided to go back to IVF with my 40th birthday just past. We realise the journey ahead is going to have its lumps and bumps, but we are happy to be starting again. Unfortunately we realise too if we are lucky enough to get pregnant, that overwhelming joy will be mixed with anxiety and caution until we hold a healthy, happy baby in our arms again. Hopefully that baby will be ours.
Thank you for sharing your stories.
Sunshine Coast

Shannon said...

Hi Laura,
Thank you for sharing your story. It is very touching and I really feel for you. I truly hope you have success with your journey back to IVF. It seems so absurd that women who have a huge amount of love and nurturing to give to a baby, have the hardest time getting pregnant.
Best wishes to you and your family of three... hopefully you will be a family of four soon!

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