Getting Pregnant and Staying Pregnant: Infertility and the High-Risk Pregnancy
by Norlisa Keffer
Getting pregnant is something that shouldn't be that hard, right? For those of us who have suffered from infertility, the journey to pregnancy can be one of the most devastating. With my husband Gordon and myself, it was three years of medications, surgeries, negative pregnancy tests, tears, and broken hearts while everyone around us was getting pregnant. We were hurt and embarrassed by questions such as: "Don’t you know how to 'do it?' No baby yet? What’s wrong with you?" When you're trying to get pregnant, the only thing you think about is getting pregnant, and you only see the obstacles that prevent you from achieving your dream.
When Gordon and I got married in August 1999, we wanted a honeymoon baby. However, the pregnancy didn't happen, and our long road to conception began. I was not ovulating. Gordon’s sperm count and motility were extremely low, and much of his sperm had abnormal morphology. Surgeries and oral medications failed. Gordon and I were at our lowest, suffered a crisis of faith and almost gave up hope. Our only chance of attaining pregnancy, Gordon's urologist told us, was to undergo in vitro fertilization (IVF) and intracytoplasmic sperm injection (ICSI).
As we went forward with the IVF, we were losing hope again: I developed an ovarian cyst, was diagnosed with chronic hypertension, and was told by an infertility specialist that my eggs looked "old" after egg retrieval.
Praying for a miracle and hoping against hope, our prayers were answered.
It still brings my husband and me to tears when we remember the phone call telling us our pregnancy test was positive. To this day, we are thankful beyond words.
Now, the worries of staying pregnant. Gordon and I were scared about anything going wrong, and I barely moved, afraid that I would make my baby "fall out." Seven and a half weeks into the pregnancy we had our last visit with the infertility doctor, where we were thrilled and pleasantly surprised by the news of a twin pregnancy. It was the most beautiful sight we had seen in our entire lives up to that point when we saw our babies and their heartbeats for the first time via ultrasound.
The difficult journey of infertility had ended and another had begun: that of a high-risk pregnancy. Having suffered through infertility beforehand makes you even more scared of having anything go wrong, because you have that fear that you may never get pregnant again. Going into a twin pregnancy with hypertension makes you high risk. Fears and "What if's?" dominate your thoughts. Although we were high-risk, a lot of the peace of mind that my husband and I got came from having the best maternal-fetal specialist available.
Transitioning to maternal-fetal medicine
Gordon and I loved Dr. Moore, my reproductive endocrinologist at the University of Washington Medical Center, but he didn't specialize in "keeping" me pregnant. Since we felt that we had the best infertility care with Dr. Moore, and since he knew how anxious we were about our pregnancy, we asked him who he would go to in our position. He referred us to a colleague of his, also at the U, Dr. Easterling. We figured that our best way to achieve success was to pray a lot and listen to Dr. E. Going to a high-risk OB is crucial to maintain that peace of mind throughout your pregnancy. I would highly recommend getting referrals from the infertility doctor whom you already trust, and researching which perinatologist is best for you. There are different ones out there to deal with different problems: genetic disorders, autoimmune disease, diabetes, and hypertension, to name a few. How fortunate for us to have found Dr. E, because he is an expert in hypertensive pregnancies and prevented me from getting preeclampsia while I was pregnant. Other tips:
Enjoy being pregnant
After my fourth month, I was on some form of bedrest at home. Bedrest is hard--you won't hear an argument from me there. But you will never have this opportunity again to enjoy these babies inside of you. Holding my belly, feeling my babies move, kick, and hiccup, and hearing their heartbeats during my clinic appointments kept me going. I knew that I was doing this for them, and that these five months of bedrest were nothing in the big scheme of things. The years I spent being infertile, fearful that I would never be pregnant and longing to feel these babies inside of me put these few months into perspective.
Our Miracle Pregnancy and Birth
Our pregnancy had many high-risk factors: chronic hypertension, multiple gestation, group beta strep, and gestational diabetes, but Dr. E made the pregnancy complication-free. Eight and a half months after almost losing hope, and having prayers answered, we were about to have them answered again. When my pregnancy hit 38 2/7 weeks, I was induced, and our twins entered the world healthy with loud cries. Our family had become a reality; words are inadequate to describe our joy.
Getting support at every stage, from the moment you suffer from infertility, to the moment you hold your baby in your arms, is crucial. Infertility support is just as important as high-risk support. What we did and what we recommend is to find support in others who have gone through the infertility and high-risk process, to help you hold onto your hopes and chase your dreams of having a family. It helps you and your husband realize that you’re not alone. Infertility will affect you for the rest of your life, even after you do get pregnant and give birth. You’ll always wish that you were that woman who got pregnant easily and found out “peeing on a stick” vs. doctors calling you after they put your child back into your uterus. In the large population of pregnant and expectant families, the previously infertile and high-risk pregnancies are a small community. But we’re large enough to make a difference, in supporting each other and helping others achieve good outcomes. Empower yourself: reading this magazine is a good start, look at the Sidelines website, talk to your Sidelines buddy to get the support you need.
The pain that you suffer with infertility and high-risk pregnancy make the joys of having your children just that much sweeter. It is much easier to count my blessings, enjoy my twins, and realize that their hugs, touches, and “I love you, mamas” are true miracles and gifts. Before when I would ask God “Why?!” today I say “Thank you!” I am thankful for having gone through infertility and my high-risk pregnancy. It has made me a stronger person and more appreciative, and I’ve grown closer to my husband, met some of my life’s most wonderful friends, and have become what I wanted to be my whole life, “mommy.” May you have a healthy pregnancy, and know that we are here on the Sidelines cheering you on.
Norlisa Keffer is a stay at home mom to 2 1/2 year old twins, Frankie and Sammy. She volunteers with Sidelines and on behalf of University of Washington Medicine's Division of Maternal-Fetal Medicine, and is on the Board for RESOLVE (National Infertility Association) of Washington State.
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