Trying to conceive after loss - Where the F@$k is our rainbow?!
Trying to conceive (TTC) after loss is a whole new ballgame. I think its only right that I back track this slightly to July 2019 when I decided to come off the pill, we weren’t planning on ‘trying’ until 2020 but I had read lots about the pill and felt like it was the right time to come off it and hopefully get my cycles back regular. I bought a basal body temperature (BBT) mainly because it was one that learned your individual cycles and then gave you green (not fertile), yellow (fluctuating/potentially fertile) & red (fertile) days. I thought great, we can just be careful near the red and yellow days and green days we were safe. My cycles obviously didn’t come back regular, I’d been on the pill for so many years I couldn’t even remember what my periods were like beforehand. So October 2019 came round, I was in my second cycle after stopping the pill, taking my fancy temperatures (but not really having any clue about what they meant beyond the flashing traffic light system colours it gave me) and just going about daily life.
As the end of October drew closer and November came into view I started feeling extremely hormonal, I was crying constantly at the weirdest things, I felt sad and lost and I didn’t know what the hell was happening to me, I had to have some time off work because I genuinely struggled to cope day to day. Not for one minute did I consider that I could be pregnant (why you ask me, I honestly haven’t got a clue… you would have thought that combined with my boobs growing and sore nipples I would have clicked on.. I may as well have had a ‘BETH YOU ARE PREGNANT’ sign stuck to me but I was completely oblivious). I just put it all down to coming off the pill, I’d gained some weight and my cycles were irregular. So as we went into the second week of November, I woke up one morning and took my temperature to find all three lights flashing glaring back at me…confused, I opened the app and as I synced the device it showed on screen ‘probably pregnant’… ‘probably not’ was the first thought that went through my head. But surely enough one quick trip to the supermarket later and a two extremely dark lines looking back at me confirmed that yes, I was indeed pregnant. That tiny little egg turned out to be our beautiful boy Clay.
So as you can see, our TTC journey to having Clay wasn’t really a journey at all. I was one of those annoying people who got pregnant when they weren’t even trying. Eurgh, even I want to give October 2019 Beth an eye roll. There’s of course nothing wrong with getting pregnant without actually actively trying, bloody hell I wish it was that easy, but I think it’s the naivety that goes with that. So after Clay died, I’m not ashamed to admit that my thoughts turned to having another baby pretty quickly. Not to replace Clay, never to replace Clay. Clay is irreplaceable, no matter how many children we go on to (hopefully) have there will always be a seat missing at the table. The only way I can explain the yearning for another baby is our hearts are full of love for Clay but it has no where to go, our arms are heavy and empty and I hope a baby that we get to bring home will be somebody to channel all the love we have to give and fill our empty arms.
I was so annoyed that I’d had to ‘have’ a C-section, cursing myself for not manging to push Clay out on my own, feeling like I was a failure and on top of that it meant they advised waiting 6 months before trying to conceive again. 6 months felt like a lifetime away, I cannot tell you how many google searches I did and how deep I got into mumsnet to try and find people that had conceived before the ‘safe zone’ 6 month mark. We personally made the decision to stop being careful about 3 months or so after Clay had died and we were extremely fortunate that I got pregnant with our little bean that first cycle. Heartbreakingly, our cautious excitment and dreams didn't last long as I miscarried at home on 15th December. You can read more on my thoughts after my miscarriage here
So, heartbroken and lost we went into the New Year. I couldn't stop wondering why us, why Clay and now why little bean. Surely losing Clay was enough shit to deal with without a miscarriage as well? But to be honest, because we were still in the early stages of grieving Clay, the miscarriage didn't effect me as much as it would have done if it happened before Clay I don't think. I couldn't be more upset than I already was so it just got washed away into all the grief I was channeling for Clay.
I was determined to get back to TTC as soon as my first period arrived after my miscarriage. By this point I had started to research every thing possible to do with fertility and TTC. I’d bought the book “taking charge of your fertility”, I was taking my BBT, monitoring my mucus (yum), peeing on ovulation sticks, reading up about all the different vitamins to take to help with fertility, I started doing caster oil packs in the first half of my cycle to improve blood flow and I read it could also help with my c-section scarring - I've not done this for a few cycles now but I did find them relaxing if nothing else. I had a shorter luteal phase so I was determined to try and increase that to hopefully help with implantation. I did manage to do this and have gone from a approx 10-11 day luteal phase to a 13-14 days. I think mainly from my cycle balance tincture I was taking, my acupuncturist appointments and probably my body just settling back into a normal pattern after Clay and my miscarriage. I even wore socks to bed after ovulation (warm feet, warm uterus apparently), you name it, I've probably given it a go! My main problem I think is that I'm a planner, I like being organised and knowing what's happening when and unfortunately trying for a baby isn't something you can always plan like that.
At the start of March I took a pregnancy test one evening to see a very faint second line looking back at me, I was so excited. But then my period arrived two days later, it was really faint and wasn't on any tests the next day so I think it was a false positive or a bad indent line (first response give such bad indent lines its crazy... still have a packet of them in the cupboard at all times though!). Since then I've personally tried not to test too early as for me I just find it a bit too stressful. I have friends though who test from 8-9dpo (days past ovulation) as they find that it helps with their anxiety so everybody is definitely different. I do wonder why they call it the 2 week wait though when we all know we start testing at the VERY latest around 11-12dpo! I suppose the 11-12 day wait isn’t as catchy.
As the middle of May started to come round, and I'm into my fourth or fifth cycle since my miscarriage I can remember feeling so disheartened and down. I had set myself a little target (wouldn't recommend doing this!) that I wanted to have a baby at home for this Christmas, the thought of another baby-less Christmas really sat heavy on my chest. So as we were now into May I knew my chances of bringing a baby home this year were gone and I'd just naively thought I would be pregnant by then. I think probably because of how quickly (and lucky) we were to get caught with both Clay and little bean. At easter, I even saved a mini egg Easter egg in the cupboard for when I found out I was pregnant as a little treat to myself because Easter egg chocolate is just something else isn't it? sadly that Easter egg is still in the cupboard untouched.
I decided to book a fertility assessment, and my acupuncturist (who specialises in fertility - I go to her for both helping with my grief and for fertility and I absolutely love it) had noticed that my luteal phase temperatures were on the lower side (your BBT increases after you’ve ovulated - before ovulation they are usually around 36-36.2 degrees Celsius and afterwards they are usually between 36.4-36.7). I had noticed this too and had read it could be linked to having an under active thyroid amongst other reasons. So I had a blood test and the results showed I had sub-clinical hypothyroidism and also Hashimoto's disease. YAY! Hashimoto's disease is basically an autoimmune disease that creates antibodies that attack your thyroid gland (not ideal), if your T4 is low then your TSH (thyroid stimulation hormone) tries its best to make more TSH to increase your low T4 but because the Hashimoto’s is attacking the thyroid it doesn’t really have much chance. This means you end up with low T4 and high TSH. Hashimoto's disease once you have it is incurable but can be put into remission. I never knew how important your thyroid gland was in making (and maintaining) a baby and pregnancy! I started thyroid medication straight away and read so much online about hypothyroidism and pregnancy. I was gutted that I had this new prognosis, I had a good cry about it but I also knew I was 'lucky' to have found something that might be stopping me getting pregnant. I know from friends and reading online how many people are told that all their tests are in range and that everything seems 'fine' which I can imagine is so difficult to deal with.
I really wish I had loads of tips on how to make TTC after loss easier. But I'm not sure if I do. Because it is difficult, stressful, heartbreaking, all consuming and it feels never ending. TTC when grieving is also really hard and not talked about enough, you don’t know when the next grief wave will hit and it’s bound to hit simultaneously with your fertile window! I’ve had to accept that if and when that happens that our grief comes first, but then I end up beating myself up about not “trying hard enough” or “missing our chance”, it’s a vicious cycle. I promise you are never alone, even though it can feel like it. I say that being only 9-10 months into TTC after Clay (if I include my miscarriage in that time period). I know that's not that long of a time in the TTC world and I know that some of my thoughts may overlap into those who struggle with TTC in general and not just after loss.
I would say is if you have a friend (or friends) who are on a similar journey that you can confined in and talk about TTC with then that does make a huge difference. It validates your feelings, makes you feel like you aren't going completely insane when you've just checked the bin for the fourth time to see if a second line on the pregnancy test has miraculously appeared, should there be a time cap on how long after you take a pregnancy test you stop staring at it? or looking at it under different lights because THAT must be the issue. Another 'tip' I would say would be to just do whatever works for you. If that's tracking everything possible as it helps with your anxieties (like me), then do just that. If somebody suggests you need to just relax or you need to do less/track less and then you'll 'just get pregnant' you can tell them (politely of course) to fuck off. I'm sure that 'relaxing' may help slightly but how can you relax when its all you want? My doctor told me I just need a little patience, I've asked if I can have that in prescription form but unfortunately that doesn't exist (yet?). On the other hand if tracking and peeing on sticks makes you feel more stressed then don't do them (however I would suggest keeping an eye on your cervical mucus as that can tell you so much!). Trying to not forget that you can still have a life whilst you are TTC is so important. The amount of times I've not done something or been reluctant to book something because we're TTC is crazy. It's so easy to get caught up in it all and forget to actually try and live at the same time.
I think my desperateness in TTC definitely comes from Clay being taken away from us when he shouldn't have been. Whenever my period arrives I am so upset because I am not pregnant, but I also find myself so angry because we shouldn't even be in this place of needing to TTC yet because we should be enjoying Clay and everything that comes with being first time parents. I know a lot of people probably wonder how you can pick yourself up and try again after your baby dies. I'm here to tell you, it is not a walk in the park. We decided pretty early on that we would never be ready to lose another baby again, you can never prepare yourself for that. So if we waited until we were 'ready' who knows how long we would be waiting. For us, we just had to dive in head first, hold onto hope that next time might be a different outcome and that once we get a take home baby all the worries and heartache that comes with TTC will be worth it. I think I’ll wrap this blog up here as I could go on forever and your eyes are probably starting to go square.
But to finish, to reference some lyrics from Clay's funeral song by Lord Huron;
I had all and then most of you,
Some and now none of you
Take me back to the night we met
Clay made us parents, he will always be our first born and I would give anything to go back to the night we met for one more cuddle. But Clay also showed us how much we actually wanted and yearned to be parents, who know's because of Clay they'll hopefully be even more mini Wankiewicz's running around eventually than we originally had planned because he showed us the love that having a baby brings. The fact we had all of Clay and then none of him in the blink of an eye I know will make the baby we do get to bring home so special. I so wish Clay could be at home with us and I'll never stop wishing or hoping that, that could to be the case, but I like to think he's up there choosing his siblings and sending them to us at his own pace, maybe he just wants to be an only child for a while longer yet. But anytime now would be delightful Clay bear.