IT HAPPENED TO ME: My Wife's Ectopic Pregnancy Taught Me to Be Optimistic

I've had to admit to myself that I'm not prepared for another loss, more complications, or motherhood. And it's completely liberating.
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Publish date:
December 9, 2015
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pregnancy, loss, artificial insemination, families, family planning, ectopic pregnancy

My wife and I adore preparedness. Every decision we make as a couple is carefully measured, discussed, obsessed-over, fought-about, and discussed some more.

For two women in our late 20s, we are decidedly not impulsive. This trait carried over to our foray into family-building. I wanted to be mentally ready for any and all challenges, obstacles and disappointments.

I know what you're thinking: Of course you can't completely prepare for children. Anyone who knows a parent has heard that rhetoric. And in fact, our one attempt at getting pregnant has forced me to admit that there are some things for which you cannot prepare even a little.

Here's a brief breakdown of how the process leading up to our first insemination went:

  1. We both confess to wanting a baby. I cry.
  2. We decide she will carry. I am more relieved than I've ever been about anything. No joke. I cry again.
  3. We research donors through the most respectable-looking bank. Lists are made, remade. We discuss, discuss, discuss. Finally we settle on one. He has a big nose, just like me. I cry.
  4. We research various insemination options and settle on IUI. We find a doctor who will perform the insemination. (As if I would spend thousands of dollars on man juice only to turn it into a do-it-yourself-at-home project!)
  5. We buy ovulation kits. Holy crap. My wife essentially peed on 80 bucks just figuring out her cycle.
  6. My wife tests religiously during the month of insemination until we are pretty sure she's going to ovulate within the next 12 hours. I cry.
  7. We go to the clinic the next morning. The insemination takes very little time. As soon as I think the nurse has left for good, I start ugly crying. I'm absolutely overcome. The doctor comes back into the room, having forgotten something. She looks amused and touched. I'm pretty embarrassed.

Throughout this process, I had been coaching myself: Do NOT be disappointed if it doesn't take. It may not take this time, or next time. Hell, we could be at this for months. It's not unheard of.

I also told myself not to be tempted to test early and not to interpret every feeling my wife reported as a sign of pregnancy. I wanted so badly to be prepared for a disappointment.

A few days after the insemination, we were at home, and I jokingly asked if my wife felt pregnant. She laughed, told me that she kind of did, and described what she felt.

Approaching the two-week mark (testing day!) my wife reported nausea. I wanted to squash the fluttering hope in my chest, but couldn't. The very next day she said the nausea was gone, and she felt normal.

We tested a day-and-a-half early. Negative.

We tested the next day. Negative.

She got a blood test at the clinic the following day (they want to make sure you're not pregnant before you try again). Extremely faint positive.

Pregnancy tests detect HCG, which is the hormone released as the pregnancy commences. Your levels rapidly rise in the first few weeks of pregnancy. At this point, it should have been at least in the hundreds, if not thousands. It was 5.

The doctor explained that it was likely a chemical pregnancy (extremely early miscarriage).

When I shared this information, both my sister and my coworker remarked that they had had the same experience; both had ended up being pregnant. I held on to this ray of hope even as I admonished myself for being foolish enough to hope.

We tested again days later to find that the levels had inched up to 7. A spike is normal, we were told, before the pregnancy vacates the body. The rise was not rapid enough for a viable pregnancy. We were to come in for another test if my wife did not get her period on time, but she did.

We were devastated, and I was angry to be so devastated. Hadn't I tried so hard not to get my hopes up?

A week later, my wife began testing for ovulation again. She was getting really strange results and having odd symptoms. She called the clinic and went in for yet another blood test. Her HCG level had risen.

At this point, I had a suspicion about what was happening, but also a tiny and illogical voice in my head screaming that maybe, maybe she was really pregnant after all. I suppressed the unlikely hope that sprang to life, trying instead to expect the worst when I accompanied my wife to an ultrasound the next day.

We watched the screen while the technician worked. She barely said a word. Then she was using the computer mouse to measure something, bright green line for length and bright blue for width.

Then she typed what I had been dreading seeing: "Right Fallopian."

An ectopic pregnancy is so much more emotional than I could have imagined. You see your developing baby on a screen and have to choose whether to and in which way to take away their life.

They gave my wife an injection of methotrexate. I will never be able to forget the pure guilt and sorrow in her eyes and in my own heart when we went in that day. I remember hoping I never had to make a decision like that again. Preparedness be damned.

As it turns out, I would make the decision again, eight days later, when the first dose was ineffective. It was our fifth wedding anniversary.

I tried to use reason to quell the guilt and devastation that I felt. He never would have survived. He probably didn't even have a heartbeat yet. He would have killed your wife.

Instead of our baby, I tried to see him as having been a mere cluster of cells, as I've heard many people refer to when talking about an early loss.

Reason be damned: I was heartbroken.

As I write this, the ordeal has been over for less than a week. I am still reeling, listless, and sad. But there is certainly one thing I am not: I am not prepared. I'm not prepared to try again. I'm not prepared to experience another loss, more complications, or motherhood in general. I am not prepared at all, and it is completely liberating.

I thought I was protecting myself from pain when really I was being pessimistic and cowardly. Did low expectations make this experience any easier? No. Did suppressing my hopes really make them disappear? No.

We get to try again in a couple of months, and you know what? I'm going to get my hopes up. I'm going to be optimistic. I am going to greet whatever happens with the full depth of emotion inside of me.

I want this more than anything in the world, and no amount of bracing myself will make the ride any smoother.