My One-Off Baby

When your first baby was a happy miracle do you keep trying to make lightning strike twice or do you quit while you're ahead with one baby?
Getting pregnant was a surprise for me. Not to say that the method was a surprise – but the time frame certainly was.

I had a series of events that made me believe I’d have a hard time getting pregnant. From a history of anorexia to a seemingly endless series of complications from a pubescent thyroid removal following a “you’re too young for this” cancer scare, I had several medical professionals gently tell me my chances weren’t great even as young as 15. I’d even had tests show I’d ceased ovulating during that time.

My endocrinologist gave me the speech of, “It doesn’t happen right away even for the healthiest of couples; I tell people to relax,” when I announced wanting to try at 26. My gynecologist hazarded a few months off of birth control to make sure my lining was as strong as it could be. My therapist shared her own years of trying to conceive, letting me know she’d be there for what I thought would be my inevitable struggle. Then we tried. And at roughly eight days post-ovulation, I had a resounding number of positive tests.

 

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We were stunned. First try?

Every doctor in my arsenal seemed surprised, too, and my endocrinologist even noted on the phone, “We’ll up your thyroid dose right away since women without thyroids have really unstable levels during pregnancy. Otherwise I’ll see you in two months… if you’re still pregnant.” (He did later apologize when I pointed out, “Wtf?”) But he wasn’t fully wrong – even perfectly healthy women get their thyroids checked during pregnancy now because doctors wised up and realized that everything from recurrent miscarriages to stillbirths was linked to thyroid problems, and sometimes those problems only arose during pregnancy for women. And here, I already HAD those problems!

Every morning was an anxious wake up to check my underwear; an obsession with the statistical drop of miscarriage rates each day. I didn’t even announce my pregnancy to any but my closest friends until I was roughly 17 weeks.

And, through an uncomplicated pregnancy and a surprisingly natural labor, we had our daughter a day or so after her expected due date.

Through the end of that pregnancy and the beginning of my daughter’s life, I relaxed somewhat. I realized I had maybe undermined myself – and my pregnancy – by being so anxious and convinced I was defective. And, since I’m also inherently Type A, I started planning our future with the knowledge of my new “skill” of baby making beyond just how good I was in the bedroom (which is good – right, honey?).

“Well, ideally I’d like our kids to be close together,” I thought. “Diapers and done. Siblings as friends. Raise them then back to my career so I don’t fall too behind in the workplace.”

 

Ahead of Schedule

Despite exclusively breastfeeding and preventative measures, I fell unexpectedly pregnant between 3 and 4 months after my daughter’s birth and overshot even my tentative family planning.

“Wow, we must really be fertile,” we said. I was calling it the “high school horror story” of getting pregnant even with some means of protection. My due date was literally a week after my daughter’s birthday.

Then at roughly 7-8 weeks, I miscarried. It was depressing, but mixed with the understanding that, “Well, this couldn’t have been a strong pregnancy – it had to have only been pre-ejaculate. Three months after a baby? This was a lightning strike.”

But it had only sealed my earlier plans – I wanted another baby. I wanted two under 2. I wanted my daughter to have a sibling close in age, and as I struggled with some very stressful job related issues after having returned to work, this “oops” pregnancy seemed like a sign. So, after even my endocrinologist encouraged I try again at 6 months postpartum because we showed such exceptional fertility, we tried again. And again, immediate pregnancy. Until a few days later I woke up bleeding.

 

Second Loss

“No, we actually tried this time,” I reasoned to the mythical fertility gods. I even kept popping positive tests until the bleeding stopped… but then the tests eventually started fading until I had several days of negatives. During that time I became obsessed with “vanishing twin syndrome” and read practically every post on every pregnancy forum that had the keywords “bleeding” and “still pregnant?” But eventually even my beta bloodwork came back negative – I had officially had yet another early loss. But the earliest of my early anxieties had come back to haunt me, after a period of time where I took for granted that my “exceptional fertility” existed alongside the specter of difficult-to-manage hypothyroidism.

 

Balancing Act

“Your levels are quite off,” my endocrinologist told me after we ran my bloodwork following the second loss.

He had lowered my high pregnancy dose after my daughter’s birth. What we had missed was the typical mood issues, tiredness, and hair loss that accompanies hypothyroidism also perfectly fell in line with postpartum symptoms – and we had just chalked all of it up to the latter.

But, those complications of hypothyroidism I alluded to earlier were in full swing again. My levels just weren’t making sense. I shouldn’t have gone so abnormal from my dose change.

“Let’s change your meds. I have another pill I’ve started using more with patients because it’s easier to tweak, and cheaper. Are you OK with this?” My endocrinologist asked.

This was always a crapshoot – we’d changed meds before. It often came with a six month ironing out period that usually left me in full “hypo” mode, complete with weight gain, cold intolerance, memory fog and depression. But I was already there, right? Luckily, the change didn’t result in too drastic of a hormone swing.

 

The Waiting Game

For those unfamiliar with thyroid treatment: it’s a waiting game. Between the metabolism and blood chemistry of the various thyroid drugs and your whole endocrine system, it takes an average of 4-6 weeks to notice any change from a dose tweak – and anywhere around 3 months to physically feel any difference. My “close in age” kids were drifting apart.

I had several months of incremental dose changes on the new pill before we were so close to perfect “TTC” levels that I thought it was almost redundant to check them. I’d been on the new drug more than half a year – I had to be fine.

Then I got a call from the endocrinologist’s office.

“Er, what dose are you on?” I was asked. I verified.

“We need to up your dose. Your TSH went up again.”

In fact, my TSH – or “thyroid stimulating hormone,” the most frequently screened level for thyroid function – had inexplicably gone to the worst hypothyroid levels I’d had since the med change.

“How?” I wondered idly. “We were so close to perfect just weeks ago. Shouldn’t I have been AT perfect now?”

 

One and Done? or Fading Plans

In the meantime, my plans seemed to be slipping away from me. People who had had babies after my daughter were now expecting – or even having – their second. The baby items I’d kept out for my planned “close in age” newborn were dusty, irrelevant paperweights. My daughter was verbal enough to even call the dog “brother” as we had jokingly referred to him, and I wondered if we had somehow cursed ourselves by doing this.

I also became faced with why I felt the desire to write this out – people don’t expect “trouble” once you’ve already had a kid.

We hadn’t actually had the years of infertility that many couples face when professing, “One and done.” We’d also been very open about wanting more than one child, particularly when I washed and neatly folded and labeled in boxes the clothes and goods of my daughter as “hand me downs.”

In-laws asked, more than once, when the next was coming. Well-meaning people joked, “She sure needs a brother,” or, “I sense a sister in her future!” I expressed the bittersweet affection of seeing a cousin’s baby mature out of infancy and was met with the response, “It’s so hard to see them grow when you know they’re your last. At least you’ll have more!”

Would I though?

Did I just get lucky?

After that doctor’s phone call, I started to face the heavy reality that my daughter was, maybe, a fluke. Yes, I could get pregnant easily. But I didn’t seem to keep them easily.

I know, even as I write this, that the inevitable thought of, “At least you have one baby,” is flitting through someone’s head. And I understand – I empathize with that yearning and honor that resentment and know that I am quite fortunate to have a healthy, living child when so many struggle to get even that. Yet I know there are others who must share this weird middle ground. And outsiders don’t seem to think there would be any trouble if you’re already holding a healthy child – you did it once, right?

I was surrounded by poster children of the opposite issue: women who had had years of infertility before multiple surprise pregnancies in a row. I’d had no trouble getting a kid and isn’t that half the battle? What could possibly be wrong now? Women have labor complications that can literally end in losses of their uterus or fallopian tubes. Some women would love a big family but just can’t afford it. Some lose their partners – whether from unexpected death to divorce after the incredibly hard year of new parenting. Others are so drained or fearful of a second kid following the special needs required of their first. Even if a family did only want one child, so what? Why are our reproductive lives so often up for question? Whether we choose to have a family and whatever size we choose – or don’t choose – for our family seems so unnecessary to scrutinize.

 

Can we just love what’s in front of us and go from there?

In the meantime, maybe I’ll give away all the baby clothes. If I’ve learned anything from the mom-o-sphere of the Internet, that’s the sure fire way to jinx yourself into another kid!

Related: Motherhood is a Verb
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