Falling & Rising

Despite my intentions to make this year my blogging comeback, I'm still not very consistent. But I haven't lost hope.

I've found that holding on to hope against the odds is one of my gifts. 

An almost obsessive concern with authenticity is another gift, but also a curse.

In the last couple of months, I've found it hard to blog because the one thing that's been on my mind the most is the one thing I wasn't ready to share just yet. And blogging about anything else seemed somehow false and trivial. But I think I'm ready now. 

Right around the end of September, I had been planning to share some wonderful news that I had been keeping to myself until I was more certain. I alluded to this pending announcement a couple of times, but I had to get through one final hurdle before the big reveal. 

I was pregnant, for the very first time EVER at age 39, after a 10-year struggle with infertility.

 7-week ultrasound

7-week ultrasound

My due date was April 2, which was perfect in so many ways, especially as news trickled in that others we care deeply about were expecting too. All the stars had finally aligned for me. I was exhausted and hormonal, but otherwise perfectly healthy. No morning sickness at all. My blood tests looked wonderful, and my ultrasounds with my fertility doctor at 7 weeks and 9 weeks looked perfect. I heard my baby's strong, steady heartbeat twice. And once I saw her wiggling around like crazy, even though I couldn't feel her yet.

At my 9-week appointment, when I was about to graduate to my regular OB, my fertility doctor calmed my anxiety and disbelief that this was really happening after a decade of hoping and praying. She told me that when things look this good at this point, and considering the particular IVF protocols we had followed, my chances of miscarriage were less than 5%. And I reminded myself of that fact often.

I had told just a few people, and of course my family all knew and were absolutely ecstatic for me, but I was waiting until after my first official OB appointment before making the big announcement on Facebook or here on my poor, neglected blog.

My doctor's earliest available appointment was when I was just shy of 13 weeks along, on the cusp of my second trimester. When that day finally arrived, Travis and I headed in to the office, list of questions in hand, excited to finally get the self-imposed stamp of approval I felt we needed before going public.

 9-week ultrasound

9-week ultrasound

As we sat in my new doctor's office, going over our list of questions and feeling thrilled that A) he assumed I was in my early 30s, and B) he never once uttered the words "advanced maternal age," he was paged for an imminent delivery. He apologized and said, "Let's do a quick ultrasound before I head down there, and then we can continue our conversation after I return. I'm sorry for the interruption." I didn't mind. The high prioritization of baby delivery is precisely what I'm looking for in an OB/GYN. 

I lay on the table, and he pressed the wand into my abdomen and paused. He readjusted, pressed harder, and paused again. And again.

He said some very direct but very kind words that I couldn't hear or accept in the moment.

On the monitor, I saw a perfectly still baby in profile, but that didn't sink in either. I just waited calmly for the second opinion with the more advanced ultrasound equipment. 

"I'm not going to panic yet," I said to Trav when we were alone in the room.

When the second ultrasound confirmed the first, and we heard the silent sonogram, I still didn't panic.

Instead, the truth sank into my chest like a terrible, dark weight. 

My first instinct was to run. I wanted to escape the grief, to leap over it and land in that place of acceptance and understanding that I hoped would be on the other side of this chasm. I ached for it all to make sense, right away. 

But there were things to get through first.

In the last weeks, which have now turned into months, there have been countless tears and countless prayers—some painful and pleading, some peaceful and grateful (much to my own surprise). There have been a lot of questions and a few answers. 

We did genetic testing on our baby, who was somewhere between the size of a Brussels sprout and a lemon, and everything came back normal. They can't test for everything, of course, but all of the most common things were ruled out. We were having a baby girl, just like Keira and I both thought. 

My fertility doctor also ordered an array of tests on me, because this is just so uncommon considering the particular facts of my situation. Everything came back normal. I don't have a blood clotting disorder. I don't have a "hostile uterus," whatever that means. I don't appear to have an incompetent cervix; even a couple of weeks after my baby died, my body was not ready to let go of this pregnancy.

The answers are: we just don't know. It may only happen 5% of the time after a picture-perfect 9-week ultrasound, but it still happens. To me, so far, it happens 100% of the time.

 ***

The day we got the news about our baby, I felt restless and impatient, on top of all of the other, weightier emotions. 

Trav would have done anything to ease my pain, and in hindsight I should have requested a red-eye to Hawaii. But instead I asked him to drive me up Little Cottonwood canyon to see the beautiful fall leaves and fill my lungs with fresh mountain air. 

The heaviness in my chest pressed harder the higher we climbed on the winding canyon road. I looked out my window at the dormant, barren trees, and the scattered remnants of glorious reds, oranges and yellows littering the ground. We had just missed Utah's very short window of brilliant canyon color, probably by no more than a few days. 

Of course, I thought bitterly. Of course.

We wondered if we should just turn around. We made it this far, I said, so we might as well complete the journey. We drove to the top, and then took the sharp left toward Guardsman's Pass, leaving the bleak, faded landscape behind us--all the more depressing considering how fiery and alive it must have been just days before.

We drove higher as the sun sank lower. And there, at the crest of the pass, were dozens of cars and dozens of cameras on tripods. They were trained east, toward the scenery in front of us, instead of west, the landscape we had just left. 

Ahead there was beauty.

Small patches of trees that seemed to be lit from within were still belting out the song of fall, still fighting off the encroaching grays and browns of winter.

I stood and stared, pulling deep breaths of solace into my soul. 

It was enough, in that moment, to carry me on for a few more hours. 

 ***

I wanted to wait and tell this story when I had a happy ending to share.

That's kind of how I approached it when Keira was born. I didn't share much publicly about my infertility journey until we were pretty darn close to having a successful adoption. I know how I crave a nice lovely bow wrapped around the end of a story. 

But I'm realizing it's important to tell our sad stories too, and to speak up when we're in the middle of the struggle. That small piece of wisdom came from Brene Brown's new book, Rising Strong, which could not have been released at a more perfect time. Next to my faith in my Savior, my caring family and my friends, and several addresses from the October LDS General Conference—which have brought me waves of peace and perspective that are still ebbing and flowing—this book has been a lifeline.

No one likes to talk about the messy middle of a story, even though that's where all the strength and growth happens that eventually carries you to the finish line. We only hear about the initial falling down and the eventual rising up, and we sweep that painful, scary, uncertain stuff under the rug. 

This is my messy middle. I'm glad I could keep it to myself for a little while, shared only with a small circle of family, friends and neighbors—many of whom were first tipped off by a very excited 5-year-old. But now that I've lived with it for a while, I'm okay to talk about it, even though I'm still waffling between grief and anger and denial and hope. 

Maybe seeing me be brave, fall flat on my face, and then pick myself back up, maybe that will give someone else courage too. 

It has taken incredible courage for me to grind away at this dream of growing my family, after so many years—to continue to put my heart and my hope on the line. I had to decide what kind of person I wanted to be. Did I want to resign myself to disappointment, take the safe path, and maybe always wonder "What if..."? Or did I want to risk big, throw that Hail Mary pass, and know that whatever happens, I gave it my all?

In the lives we imagine for ourselves, we all pick the second option. In reality, it's not so easy. I'm now finding out how much it hurts when the risk doesn't pay off.

But you know what? I'm still glad I tried. 

I liked being pregnant. 

I liked finding out that I can get pregnant. 

I liked the camaraderie I felt with other pregnant women.

I loved seeing the nurturing side of my husband, as he sheltered and cradled me in my despair.

I loved recognizing tender mercies from Heaven and sacred, undeniable answers to my prayers.

I loved the outpouring of kindness and compassion from those who knew of my loss. 

loved liked didn't mind finding out that I'm stronger than I thought I was.

***

I desperately wish things had turned out differently. In that parallel timeline where I'm still pregnant, we would have just announced our baby's gender, a few weeks before my brother and his wife did (they're having a boy). I would be showing now, like my neighbor is (they're having a girl). I would be posting pictures of baby clothes to Facebook, like Keira's birthmom is (they're having a girl). 

Instead, I'm trying to figure out what "rising strong" looks like for me. Trying to choose courage over comfort. Trying to feel grateful for the opportunity I have to choose and chase my dreams at all.

Trying, still, to hope.

Angie Lucas