One year ago today, I found out I was pregnant with this little guy:
It came as absolutely no surprise at all.
In fact, I was so sure the pregnancy test would be positive that morning that I’d prepared everything in advance. The house was clean (Well, as clean as a house can be when you’re in the middle of a kitchen/livingroom/hall renovation, that is – which is to say, “NOT VERY, but hey, I did my best!”), my blog posts for the week were written and scheduled, and my hospital bag was packed.
“Er, hospital bag, Amber? “I hear you say. “Bit early for that, dontchya think?”
Well, no, not really. Because, the thing is, I wasn’t sure I was pregnant because I had ome kind of psychic connection to the growing fetus, or even because I was so in-tune with my body that I’d picked up on some tiny little sign.
No, I was sure I was going to find out I was pregnant that morning because I’m a pessimist. And because I was TERRIFIED.
And, I mean, the pregnancy WAS planned, I hasten to add – so it wasn’t that I was terrified of having a baby. No, the baby was very much wanted. But, the fact was, just a few months earlier, I’d had an ectopic pregnancy, and two months before THAT, a miscarriage. Yeah, 2016 wasn’t exactly a great year for us, all things considered.
I knew the ectopic pregnancy had left me with an increased chance of another one, and the two losses combined, in such a short space of time, had left me absolutely convinced that I wouldn’t be able to have children, and that, each time I got pregnant, it would just be a repeat of one of those awful, traumatic experiences I’d had the year before. I also knew, however, that I tend to get pregnant pretty easily (I’m extremely lucky in that regard, I know: it was the “staying pregnant” bit that had so far eluded me…): each time we’d tried in the past, it had taken just two cycles, and even although I knew perfectly well that there are no guarantees, I was absolutely convinced it would be the same this time.
So, when I woke up early on that May morning last year, I lay there for over an hour, my stomach churning in fear, absolutely convinced of two things:
01. That I was about to find out I was pregnant.
02. That it would either be another ectopic, or another miscarriage.
Which is why I’d already packed a hospital bag: not so I could use it when I finally gave birth (I mean, I’m organised, but I’m not THAT organised), but because I was sure I’d soon be rushed to hospital with a ruptured Fallopian tube, or some other life-threatening pregnancy complication that I hadn’t even thought about yet. And I’d thought about a LOT, trust me.
I thought about all of those awful outcomes as I lay there in bed that morning, actually shaking with fear until Terry woke up. “Are you going to take the test, then?” he asked immediately.
“I don’t even need to,” I said mournfully (I mean, I do like a bit of drama…), “I already know what it’s going to say.”
Nevertheless, I had to know for certain, so I got out of bed and walked on shaky legs to the bathroom – where, just as I’d known it would, the pregnancy test gave me two thick blue lines, before I’d even finished using it.
Now, this in itself was kind of reassuring. When I had my ectopic, for instance, it had taken DAYS for me to get a positive result, and when it finally came, the second line was so faint I had to hold the test up to the light to even see it. I know it’s a mistake to read too much into the strength of the line on a pregnancy test, but all the same, the fact that this one had appeared so quickly, and was so strong, seemed like a good omen to me – purely because it was so different from my last experience.
“Told you so!” I said to Terry, emerging from the bathroom and handing him the test. And then we both just kind of sat there, looking at each other, like, “OH CRAP.”
It wasn’t anything like the movies. There was no joyful embrace, and no happy tears. (There WERE tears, though, I’ll say that much…) After all we’d been through, we were both too aware of all of the things that could possibly go wrong to allow ourselves to be happy: instead, Terry got out of bed, and went to call the hospital – which I’d been told to do as soon as I found out I was pregnant again, when I was discharged after my ectopic.
I’d assumed they’d want me to come in right away for blood tests, but actually, the nurse Terry spoke to (Who remembered us from the ectopic, and was touchingly excited for us) said it was really up to us. Yes, they could do blood tests in an attempt to establish if it was, indeed, another ectopic, but even if the blood tests indicated that it probably was, they wouldn’t be able to confirm it by ultrasound until 6 weeks – and did I REALLY want to spend the next two weeks knowing I was having another ectopic pregnancy, but not being able to do anything about it?
No, I did not.
So, deciding it was better to travel hopefully than to arrive, and that we’d only go in for tests if something happened to concern us, we threw on some clothes and drove the short distance to my parents’ house, to break the news.
This wasn’t how we wanted to do it, obviously. With my first two pregnancies, we’d had all kinds of ideas about cute ways to announce it, which we only wanted to do after the 12 week scan. Of course, both of those pregnancies had ended long before then, and there had been no way to hide what I was going through from my parents, so they’d known what was going on, and I figured it was best that they knew this time, too – just in case I needed the extra support.
Like Terry and I, my parents weren’t quite sure whether to be excited or terrified, so we sat chatting for a while, and then Terry and I came home to continue with our kitchen renovation, and anxiously wait for any sign that the pregnancy wasn’t going to last.
(This is what my hall looked like the week I found out I was pregnant…)
That sign came about 3 days later, when I started spotting. Now, I knew spotting is quite common in early pregnancy, and often means absolutely nothing at all. But I ALSO knew it had been the first sign of both the miscarriage and the ectopic, so when Terry called the hospital again to say that, actually, we thought we might quite like those blood tests now, I was pretty much resigned to the fact that the same thing was happening again – it was just a question of finding out WHICH of the two worst-case scenarios we were facing THIS time.
So, we drove to the hospital, where I had blood taken by Jill – the lovely nurse who’d helped me through both the miscarriage and ectopic, and who was thrilled to find out that we HAD decided to try again, even although, last time we’d seen her, I’d been pretty sure I wouldn’t dare.
“Now, remember,” Jill reminded us as she took some blood from me, “All this test will do is confirm that you’re pregnant: it’s the next one that’s the important one.”
For those who’ve never had to deal with this kind of thing, the blood test measures the level of HCG – the pregnancy hormone – in your blood. In a healthy pregnancy, that figure should roughly double every 48 hours, in the first few weeks: so the plan was to take blood that first day, just to get a starting figure, and then take more two days later, to see if the number had risen. Health professionals will tell you that the first test tells you nothing other than that you’re pregnant – very low HCG, for instance, doesn’t necessarily mean the pregnancy isn’t viable. With my ectopic, however, that’s EXACTLY what it had meant, so even although Jill reminded us again as we were leaving that we shouldn’t read too much into whatever result we got, we were both still pretty nervous as we waited for her phonecall, which we didn’t expect until the next morning.
Actually, though, Jill called at 6pm that night, having stayed late just to get my results back. (I’m actually in tears just remembering this…)
“I have some very good news for you,” were her opening words. “You know how I told you not to read too much into this result? Well, scratch that…”
The last time I’d been pregnant, my HCG levels had been so low that we’d known, right from the first blood test, that it probably wasn’t viable. This time, the opposite was true.
The levels were high. Like, REALLY high. High enough that the doctor who’d looked at the test result felt there wasn’t even much of a need for me to repeat it in 48 hours. “There’s no guarantee, of course,” Jill said, carefully, “But with this result, we think it’s highly unlikely to be another ectopic – we’re not concerned at all.”
OH. MY. GOD.
I was absolutely elated… for at least two hours.
Then my mind went into overdrive. My HCG wasn’t just high: it was REALLY high. What might that mean, I wondered?
“Maybe it’s twins!” suggested my mum, when I called her with the news. Curious, I decided to Google it. And this was a rookie mistake on my part, because what I discovered is that yes, high HCG IS linked to twins – but also to molar pregnancies.
Now, molar pregnancies are pretty rare, but they’re also – from what I’ve read – pretty horrific for the poor women who have to go through them, often requiring chemotherapy before they’re fully resolved. This would be an even worse outcome than the two I’d already been worried about – so, naturally, I became absolutely convinced that this was what we were now facing. “My body’s just going to cycle through every single terrible pregnancy-related outcome it can think of,” I told Terry tearfully. “I mean, I’ve had the miscarriage, I’ve had the ectopic – OF COURSE I’d have to have a molar next!”
I was so sure about this that I actually managed to convince Terry, too – and Terry isn’t normally susceptible to my doom-mongering, so I guess that shows you just how badly the previous two losses had affected us.
I spent two days convinced I had a molar pregnancy, then – and feeling even MORE scared than I had been already. Finally, we went back to the hospital for the second blood test (Which I’d decided to have, even although the doctor didn’t think it was necessary…), and settled in for another nerve-wracking wait.
I don’t think either of us slept much that night, and, the next morning, I got Terry to call Jill as soon as I knew she’d be in. (I had to get Terry to make all of these phonecalls, by the way, because I was too scared to do it myself. Yes, I know…)
“You know,” she said, when she picked up the phone, “As soon as I put the phone down when I gave you the first result, I kicked myself, because I knew Amber would Google it and think it was a molar pregnancy. But you can relax: it’s not!”
As I said, in a normal pregnancy, HCG will roughly double in 48 hours. With an ectopic, it won’t even come close to doubling (Or not in most cases, anyway – there are cases where it will increase normally, and still be ectopic), and in a molar pregnancy, it will likely triple – at least.
My HCG, meanwhile, had risen by exactly the amount it should have. And, said Jill, although it was high, it wasn’t unusually high – so I’d been worrying for absolutely no reason. Yay, me!
There was more good news, though: not only had the HCG levels increased as they should have, they were also now high enough to make it likely that the pregnancy could be detected on an ultrasound scan. “We’re not remotely worried,” Jill assured me – she knew me well by then, obviously – “But I can get you an appointment this morning, if you want to totally put your mind at rest?”
I very, very much DID.
So, later that morning, Terry and I drove back to the hospital, and, after another anxious wait, we were finally shown into the same scanning booth I’d had my miscarriage confirmed in, just a few months earlier.
The sonographer was Julie, who was to see me a few more times in the course of the pregnancy, and who was absolutely lovely. She seemed to understand exactly how nervous I was, so she did her best to calm me down as she applied the gel and ran the scanner over my belly.
“I THINK I can see something,” she said, finally. “But it’s SO tiny, I’d have to do an internal scan to be sure: it’s the only way to 100% rule out an ectopic.”
I REALLY didn’t want to have to have an internal scan. I’d had several with my previous pregnancies, and they’d been every bit as fun as they sound. But I was only in my 5th week of pregnancy at that point, and I knew it was the only way to know for sure where the pregnancy was, so I held Terry’s hand, and fought back tears while Julie turned back to her screen.
The next few minutes were some of the tensest of my life. But all of a sudden, Julie turned to face me, with a huge smile.
“I’VE FOUND IT!” she said, sounding so genuinely excited that it makes me cry to remember it. “It’s in the right place! And you know what? It’s really, really small, but I THINK I can even see a heartbeat…”
And that was the first time we saw the tiny little dot that would one day be Max.
“Isn’t it strange to think,” I said to Terry, as we drove away from the hospital, “That that tiny, flickering heartbeat we just saw might continue beating now for 80-odd years? That the tiny little dot on the screen could become our baby?”
And it did.
The little heart kept beating, the little dot kept growing – and now, one year later, here he is: a little boy who laughs and smiles, and is 100% perfect in every possible way.
Having Max was something I hadn’t dared to hope for – not on the day we found out I was pregnant, or in any of the eight months that followed. Although my pregnancy was totally straightforward physically, mentally it was the scariest thing I’ve ever done, and not until I heard that first cry in the operating theatre did I allow myself to relax and believe that it was all going to be OK, and that we were going to get an actual baby at the end of it. But, of course, here he is. And I always knew we’d love him – I loved him from the second I saw that little dot on the ultrasound screen – but I don’t think anything could prepare me for how MUCH. More than anything, I wish I could go back to that morning, one year ago today, and tell my pre-Max self that it was all going to be OK. I wish I could show her this photo and tell her about his smile, and the contented little sigh he makes when he’s just been fed and is about to fall asleep on her shoulder. I wish I could spare her the months of worry, and all of the seemingly endless fears about things that didn’t happen. Instead, though, I’ll just content myself with the fact that, although I didn’t know it then, I know all of that NOW. And every time I feel tired and overwhelmed, and like I just can’t cope with the many challenges that motherhood brings, I do my best to remember what it took to get here – and how very far we’ve come.
So, May 3rd this year will be a very, very different day from last year, in too many ways to count. (I mean, I have a kitchen floor, now, just for starters…) I suspect every May that follows will serve to dim the memory of last year just a little bit, which is why I wanted to write it all down, while it’s still fresh in mind. It was, after all, a day that changed my life completely, so while mine might not be the typical, happy “how we found out” story, at least it has a happy ending – and isn’t that all that really matters?