Today, I accomplished something that seemed like it would be an unobtainable goal: our baby has officially reached the point where he is full term! I am still three weeks away from my due date, but this is a huge milestone given the circumstances of my pregnancy journey. My pregnancy and our journey to become parents has been quite unusual, and definitely not easy. I originally wasn’t going to blog about all the details of our journey since it is so personal, but I have decided that our story is such an amazing testament to the power of prayer and faith in Christ that it is definitely worth sharing. You can read my initial post from earlier in my pregnancy here.
As I mentioned in my previous post, we never expected that we would be able to have children of our own. It was an issue that we discussed at great length with each other and our priest before we got married. We had come to terms with it, but always still had hope that somehow, God would allow us to have a baby. I have dealt with issues with my ovaries for most of my life. We did not realize however that I had a number of other issues other than just my problems with my ovaries that would make it even more difficult for us to have a child.
To fully tell the story of our journey, I will begin in February 2011, just before our wedding. Before our wedding, I was under some pretty extreme stress between planning the wedding, stress from work, and the huge stress of finding out that my grandmother whom I was very close to was dying of cancer. We moved our wedding date up in the hopes that she would be able to attend. The stress of it all gave me some of the worst cysts on my ovaries that I had ever had. The pain was unbearable, and my abdomen was extremely swollen. I was so swollen that my wedding dress that had been custom made to my measurements barely even fit. My grandma knew how much pain I had been in, but I didn’t tell anyone else about it since everyone was so upset. The last night that she was alive, the cysts ruptured and I had to go across town to my own hospital.
While I was in the emergency room, the doctors there started discussing my options with me. The type of cysts that I have gotten are not your average fluid filled ovarian cysts. Mine shouldn’t even really be called cysts since they have usually been filled with black tissue, and I have constantly been checked to see if the masses are cancerous. The doctors in the ER suspected that these particular cysts may have been cancerous, and I was extremely lucky that my body expelled them on its own. Since I have had so many trips to the ER over the years, with increasingly dangerous symptoms, the doctors wanted to remove my ovaries that night in the hospital. I was hysterical…that was exactly what I had been trying to avoid for years. I certainly did not want to remove any chance of us having a baby just days before our wedding. I declined the surgery and told the doctors that I would rather deal with the internal bleeding and address the issue after our wedding.
The doctor did recommend that if I was choosing to decline the surgery, that we put some serious thought into how we can lower my stress level in the hopes of lessening the chances of this happening again. About a month after our wedding, I was having a conversation with my boss about how they were planning to significantly increase my already insane workload. I was already working an average of 60 hours a week, and if I was going to have to work more, I better be getting a raise. I was told that since it was “so inconvenient” that I had taken vacation time for days all in the same week (for my hospital trip, my grandmother’s funeral, and our wedding…all in the same week), I would not be eligible for a raise any time soon. I went home, discussed this ridiculous situation with my husband, and we decided that it was best for me to quit and pursue starting my own photography business.
The day before I gave my two week notice at my job, I realized that I had just gotten pregnant. My husband and I were excited beyond belief. Unfortunately, a couple of months later, I lost the baby. That started a sequence of miscarriages that we did not understand. If my barrier to becoming a mom was with my non-ovulating ovaries, this didn’t make sense. For the first time in my life, I was ovulating, but there must have been something else wrong as well.
In February 2012, after almost a year of heartbreaking loss, I went to see my doctor again, and he flippantly made a comment like, “Oh you know about your blah blah blah uterus right?” I was in complete shock. No one had ever told me that there was anything wrong with my uterus, but there it was in my chart. Apparently it had been noted that I had a birth defect with my uterus during one of my routine screenings for my ovaries. He never mentioned anything at any of my previous appointments when I told him that we were trying to have a baby! He said that he figured I knew. Since I was so upset, the doctor then ordered a procedure called an HSG so we could find out more information about exactly how bad my uterus was, and to see if it could be surgically corrected so that I would be able to carry a pregnancy to full term.
February 14, 2012 – I went in for my HSG. It was one of the most painful experiences of my entire life. The doctor performing the test kept complaining that my cervix was “misbehaving” and he had to keep redoing the clamp to hold it in place. The clamp was metal and had teeth, and it was extremely painful to have that thing put on over and over with no anesthesia or pain killers. It felt like some kind of medieval torture device. I was then filled with a contrast fluid for the x-ray, which the doctor inserted way too much way too quickly. The pain got so bad that I almost lost consciousness and my heart rate started getting dangerously low. The nurses ran to the waiting room to get my poor husband and tell him he needed to come in because they were having problems stabilizing my heart rate. What a wonderful Valentine’s Day.
After the procedure, I was told to follow up with my regular ob-gyn if I had any pain past the first day or swelling. I was in extreme pain for over three weeks following the HSG, and the contrast fluid was not leaving my body. I kept calling my doctor’s office to try to be seen, but they wouldn’t give me an appointment. Apparently the doctor was dealing with his own health issues and could not be bothered. Not even his partner would see me. I tried going to the urgent care clinic, the ER, and my regular primary care doctor, but they all said it was beyond their scope of knowledge and I really needed to be seen by my ob-gyn. Since I couldn’t get an appointment at my ob-gyn, I requested my medical records so that I could find a new ob-gyn. That was a huge battle, and finally over a month later, I was able to get my records.
When I finally received my medical records from that horrible office, it was an extremely emotional experience. Apparently there was a lot more wrong with me that no one had ever told me. All I ever knew about were the problems with my ovaries. Besides the ovarian growths and the defect with my uterus, there were also a list of additional problems that I found in my chart. For example, one of my ovaries had been through so much trauma through the years that there was only half of it remaining. Apparently I had also been suffering from uterine fibroids for years (funny no one ever mentioned that to me, despite all my complaints of seriously painful periods and heavy bleeding). I did however, finally get the answer about what was wrong with my uterus. I have a t-shaped uterus that was extremely small. The doctor had originally thought there was a thin membrane causing the odd shape, which could be easily removed if that were the case. Unfortunately, my problem was completely different, and my uterus was way too small to be eligible for any kind of reconstructive surgery.
My husband and I had made the decision that we would only be shooting one wedding in the 2012 season, to better allow a big block of time for me to get the reconstructive surgery and recover. Once I started seeing a new ob-gyn and realized that surgery would not be an option, I started a month long series of infertility testing to get more information. At this point, my miscarriage count was rapidly climbing and we were hoping for any additional information that could help us.
In the middle of the infertility testing, I got pregnant again, this time with the baby that is now full term. The new doctors immediately told me to limit my physical activity and that I should not be lifting anything heavy. Those restrictions made photoshoots pretty close to impossible, so it ended up being a good thing that we had kept our shooting schedule mostly empty! It was suspected that the severe concussions I had in high school from cheerleading accidents may have done some damage to my pituitary gland, preventing my body from adequately producing enough pregnancy hormones, so I was started on a round of hormone supplements for the first trimester.
For many women, the first trimester of pregnancy is the most difficult. I only wish that had been the most difficult part of my pregnancy! It was not easy at the time though. It was the hottest summer on record here in Southern California, and the hormone supplements were giving me crazy hot flashes. Our new house only had an air conditioner wall unit in the living room, which was not powerful enough to cool down a room of that size. My husband was gone most of the summer working on fixing up our house in Texas to put on the market since the lease had been unexpectedly broken. Trying to tell your husband that you are dying of the heat when you are 5 miles from the ocean in California and he is working like crazy in the Texas summer heat does not sound very convincing. When he finally got back home, he realized that I wasn’t exaggerating…and quickly got me a portable AC unit.
Once most women get past the first trimester, they are excited because they are past the “danger zone”. Unfortunately, I found out from the new doctors that for me, the second and third trimesters were going to be even more risky with a t-shaped uterus. Since my uterus was starting out so small, it would be very difficult for it to stretch adequately to sustain a pregnancy to full term. In addition, the type of tissue that a t-shaped uterus generally is made of is usually not as stretchy or elastic as a regular uterus. The doctor explained to me that it often reaches its stretching limit early, and starts snapping back like a rubber band pulled too far. I was going to have to be even more cautious throughout my second and third trimesters, which was really scary.
While my husband was gone on yet another trip trying to deal with that house in Texas, things got a little overwhelming around week 17. We had been having problems with getting the city to come do a bulky item pickup for some of the items that the previous owners had left in the yard. Someone from the city sent me an email that they were coming to pick up the items the following day, and this was our last chance to have them picked up. I frantically dragged the broken furniture out to the curb by myself since my husband was gone. Not long after, I started noticing that I was leaking amniotic fluid. I had to go to the ER to try to have labor stopped. The contractions stopped, and I was eventually able to go home. The stupid bulky item pickup email turned out to be a mistake…they never came until the actual day we had scheduled, once my husband would be home.
After that trip to the ER, I followed up with my ob-gyn, and the amniotic fluid levels were getting really low. It was the scariest thing ever. In all of the previous ultrasounds, the baby was moving pretty much non-stop. However, that day, he was just lying there, barely moving, with not much fluid around him. I was put on bed rest, and did everything I could to drink tons of water to try to regenerate the fluid. Within a few days, when I went to the high risk doctor, the leak had amazingly healed and the fluid was starting to regenerate. The only thing I can account this to is that the Lord had his hand on the situation and was listening to our prayers. If the baby had been born then, he would have had such a small chance of survival.
I spent the rest of my second trimester on modified bed rest, which can be quite boring. For the first half of my pregnancy, I was so concerned that my uterus wouldn’t be able to stretch adequately to give the baby room. Around the 20 week mark, it finally started to stretch out quite a bit, which was when the excruciating pain began. Since my uterus is not stretchy like a normal one, every time it stretched to give the baby more room, I definitely felt the stretching. The best way I can describe it is like a muscle that has been strained and slightly torn, that you still keep using. It reminded me of the pain of when I kept doing ballet for months, despite a tear in a muscle in my leg. Each time it stretches, the pain gets a little bit worse, and there never seems to be a break from the pain. In addition, the baby was starting to discover the areas at the top of my uterus, the parts that shouldn’t be there and are definitely not useful – the top of the “T”. I started feeling his little head trying to explore those areas, and I seriously thought he was going to rupture my uterus. The pain was more excruciating than I can possibly describe.
Once the pain really started getting intense, I started having problems with my heart rate randomly going through the roof. I have always been very active and in shape, and my normal resting pulse has always been around 60 bpm. Suddenly, my resting pulse started averaging between 100-125. The doctor said this was normal for my situation, given the lack of activity and all of the constant pain.
Around 30 weeks, I started getting really stressed out and frustrated once I started reading some of the feedback people were leaving after viewing the Texas house. We still haven’t been able to get the house sold, and have even lowered the price to far below the appraised value of the house. Since the house was originally intended to be a rent-to-own situation for my husband’s siblings, there was never the intention of trying to make money off the house. At this point, we are just trying to get rid of the house and break even or minimize our losses. When I read that person after person was going in and saying that they felt that the house was overpriced, I started getting really upset. The stress of all of this sent me into pre-term labor again.
This time, since I was past 20 weeks, I was admitted into the Labor & Delivery ward instead of the emergency room. My husband and I let them know that I have been having some issues with my heart rate recently, and I received an injection of medication to stop the progression of the contractions. The medication made my heart rate speed up even more, and I felt horrible. It did however stop the progression of labor which was the main goal. While in the hospital, they let me know that I also have an incompetent cervix. We suspected this might be the case, but hadn’t seen signs of any major problems until now. Just a couple of hours of contractions had left me 50% effaced already. After leaving the hospital, I found out how dangerous the medication that they gave me can be, and that it is not even FDA approved anymore for stopping labor since too many women have died from heart attacks after taking it. After that trip to the hospital, I had severe chest pains for days. From this point on, my doctor put me on strict bed rest, meaning I needed to be lying down flat most of the day, and can only leave the house for my doctor’s appointments. He also put me back on the hormone supplements, to try to add some strength to my cervix. I was also given the added restrictions of no caffeine at all, not even from chocolate, and very limited sugar, in an effort to keep my heart rate down.
At this point, we started trying to make a decision about what we would do if I went into pre-term labor again. I want to do anything I can to make sure that the baby is born healthy and does not have to be put in an incubator in the NICU. However, if going to any extreme to prevent that would put me at further risk for having a heart attack, that would be a scary decision that we would have to make. There were a few more days when I started noticing that the contractions I had were progressing and becoming longer, more intense, and closer together (not typical for false labor or Braxton-Hicks contractions). Somehow, through prayer and my own mental determination, I was able to get these contractions to stop on their own without any more trips to the hospital. At this point, the doctor had given me the possibly unlikely goal of trying to get the baby to at least 6 pounds, since that would probably be the maximum my uterus would be able to handle, and it would be extremely unlikely that I would be able to make it to full term.
After a few weeks of strict bed rest, I started noticing that things were not feeling right in my hip joint and my pelvic bone area. Then one night, one wrong shift in bed and I felt the most excruciating pain I have ever felt in my life. I have had problems with my joints and bones hyperextending all my life, thanks to a genetically inherited trait. I have broken and dislocated many bones in my life, and the pain I was currently experiencing was worse than when I danced with a broken bone in my foot, sparred in karate with a fractured elbow, or any of the other crazy things I used to do when I was younger and refused to acknowledge my injuries. I started to black out from the pain. After some research, it appeared that I had started developing something called symphysis pubis dysfunction, or SPD. With the weakening and deterioration of my muscles, combined with my natural tendency to hyperextend, and the pregnancy hormones that relax the ligaments, my body was now struggling to support the weight of the baby. The doctor said that since the baby’s very large head (his head has been measuring in the 99th percentile) was pushing on my small bones (I am very petite…just over 5 feet tall, and my pre-pregnancy weight was around 100 pounds). He anticipated that the pain will most likely only get worse as the baby grows. I have gotten to the point now where I need a cane to help me get out of bed and to the restroom or kitchen. Some days, my hip has popped in and out of socket. The only upside is that the bone pain is so severe that I now no longer notice any pain in my uterus.
I am praying that this SPD issue will heal up after I am no longer pregnant. There is a good possibility that the pain and lack of mobility may continue even after the baby is born. I read that sometimes it takes an average of 6 years to recover fully. We are really hoping that will not be the case. If I am still in pain after the pregnancy, we will have to make the unpleasant decision to refocus the photography business toward portrait sessions only, and discontinue booking weddings for the time being. We will both be really sad if that is the case. However, if by some chance I am able to get pregnant successfully again, we know that we won’t be able to shoot any weddings during that time period anyway.
In an effort to try to keep my heart rate under control, I started trying to focus a lot on keeping myself calm, and practicing my breathing techniques from our Lamaze class. I had temporarily stopped taking my DHA supplements because my acid reflux was getting worse as the pregnancy progressed, but I decided to start taking them again for the health of my heart. After a few weeks of increased prayer and meditation time, deep breathing exercizes, the DHA supplements, and no chocolate/limited sugar, my heart rate started going down into a little less dangerous of a zone. I wasn’t drinking any caffeine before this point, but giving up chocolate while pregnant is a huge sacrifice!
Fast forward to today…and I have somehow miraculously made it all the way to 37 weeks! The baby is now full term, and I am still pregnant! It has been an incredibly emotional and painful journey. It has been challenging trying to understand why I have had so many unusual problems with my pregnancy. A t-shaped uterus was usually caused by drug exposure to something called DES, which was banned in the 70s. Since I was born after that, and I was my mom’s first pregnancy, we know that was definitely not the cause of my condition. We even know that neither of my grandmothers used DES, so it was just one of those fluke congenital abnormalities. It has been hard because there are so few success stories for women with a uterine abnormality in general, and in particular for women with a t-shaped uterus. I wanted to share my story to help give others hope that with prayer and strength, anything really is possible, even if medical statistics say otherwise.
If I hadn’t been able to get pregnant naturally, we wouldn’t have been able to even pursue any more drastic measures to get pregnant (not to mention our ethical reservations about some of the more extreme methods of conception). With my problems with my ovaries, I am not a candidate for any kind of egg extraction. With my problems with my uterus, I am not a good candidate for using any fertility drugs or IVF since setting myself up for possible pregnancy with multiples greatly increases the odds of uterine rupture with a t-shaped uterus.
We are grateful beyond words that I have made it this far. Throughout the entire journey, I have prayed daily, thanking Jesus for the fact that I am pregnant at all. I have tried to view my pain and suffering as my cross to bear, and offer up my pain as part of my prayer petition for a healthy baby. As much as the pain I have had through the past 6 months is nothing like anything I have ever experienced in my life, I know it cannot compare to the pain Jesus suffered on the road to the crucifixion.
As I have sat and laid in bed for the past six months, I spent a lot of time knitting little hats and blankets for the baby, and reflecting on reading the Bible and praying the Rosary. There were two Bible passages in particular that spoke to me the most, “I prayed for this child, and the Lord granted my request.” 1 Samuel 2:27 and “You formed my inmost being; you knit me in my mother’s womb.” Psalm 139:13. I tried to stay positive knowing that while I felt completely helpless and laid up, and all I could do was knit some little hats, the Lord was busy handling the important details: knitting together our healthy little baby. I designed artwork around both of these passages and have hung them on the wall in the baby’s room.
I have the doctor’s approval to go off my hormone supplements and start trying to walk around again at the end of this week. We will be hoping and praying for a safe and easy delivery sometime soon.
In a post coming soon, I will go into some of the other issues we have dealt with during the pregnancy, in specific, learning to deal with the judgmental and insensitive comments I have gotten from so many people once they have heard that I have been having a “troubled pregnancy”. I have had to learn to find more strength within myself than I ever knew I had. This journey also reinforced for us how important our faith in the Lord is to us. I am looking forward to finally being able to go back to church again this weekend!
A side note to the photo above…with my husband and I both being photographers, we originally had so many amazing ideas for what we wanted for my maternity photos. Earlier in my pregnancy, we put off taking any pictures since it took so long for my uterus to be able to stretch to the point where I “looked pregnant”. However, once I was actually obviously pregnant, I was no longer able to leave the house for a photoshoot. We kept putting off taking pictures, hoping that I would be able to get off of the bed rest conditions and go do a real shoot somewhere nearby. Since that never happened, I told my husband that he should document the reality of my pregnancy…me curled up in bed with our four furry kids, who have been awesome at keeping me company through the whole process. The rest of the pictures from the shoot will be coming soon to our photography blog. We are hoping to get a few standing pictures outdoors this weekend, but it will all depend on how I feel. Photos with a cane are not very glamorous.