Keeping Mum - 14 years of Pregnancy loss, Failed IVF, and Three Natural Rainbow Babies
Trigger Warning: This blog post discusses sensitive topics related to pregnancy loss and infertility and describes details of miscarriages, IVF, D&Cs, pregnancy terminations for medical reasons, chromosomal abnormalities, and live births.
For as long as I can remember, all I ever wanted was to be a mum. From the age of 4 years old, I was role playing mother-baby games with my younger sisters or with my dolls. I would delight in dressing my dolls, pushing them around in their doll prams, and daydreaming of the day that I would get to be a real mum with real babies when I was ‘all grown up’. This maternal desire never waned, and whilst my career aspirations changed and evolved throughout my childhood and adolescent years, the one constant that I knew I wanted to be when I grew up was ‘Mum’.
My husband and I were lucky enough to first fall pregnant when we were 24 years old. We were ecstatic and straight away started talking baby names, whether the baby might be a boy or a girl, and envisaging what our future would look like as a family of three. I spent the night before our first scan excitedly googling scan pictures to get an idea of what we might see – I was amazed that we should be able to see the heartbeat and little limbs already! When we arrived at our scan, we were led into a dark little scan room and I laid down on the bed.
Fertility struggles is not something that you necessarily give much thought to. Of course, you know that conceiving is not easy for everyone, but infertility is something that happens to other people. Not you. Right? Unfortunately, the sad reality is that infertility is incredibly common; and miscarriages are so common that around 1 in 4 pregnancies will sadly end in miscarriage - the loss of a pregnancy before 20 weeks gestation. It is estimated that around 285 miscarriages occur every day in Australia. That means that in Australia, every 5 minutes someone experiences a miscarriage. Let that sink in for a moment. 285 miscarriages every day. One every 5 minutes.
But I didn’t know any of those statistics on that day.
On that day, as I laid there in the dark whilst the sonographer rubbed the ultrasound wand over my stomach, all I could think about was the excitement of seeing our baby for the very first time.
“I’m sorry. There’s no heartbeat.” Five words. Five words that you never want to hear. Five words that completely crush your dreams.
I was the 1 in 4.
We were devastated and couldn’t believe that we could be so unlucky. Our precious baby was gone. What followed was a blur of appointments, pamphlets, and platitudes of ‘you’re both young, you can try again’, and ‘it was just bad luck’.
We were lucky enough to fall pregnant again. Whilst there was a lingering fear at the back of my mind about another miscarriage, I thought there was no way we could be that unlucky twice. At our first scan, I felt sick with nerves. This time, however, to our absolute delight the ultrasound screen was filled with our tiny wriggly baby with a tiny flickering heartbeat. But just a few weeks later – and in a cruel twist of fate, on Mother’s Day of all days – I devastatingly miscarried that precious babe. We were completely crushed. I started to fear that I may never get to be a mum, something that I had desperately wanted my entire life.
We luckily fell pregnant for a third time. I remember feeling like I was holding my breath for the entire first trimester, in fear of miscarrying again. I remember the sheer terror of the first trimester scans, dreading being told bad news again. I remember bracing myself every time I went to the bathroom, terrified of finding blood. Pregnancy after miscarriage is no easy feat and I knew that after two losses, pregnancy for me would never be the care-free, joyful experience that it might have once been.
After what felt like a very long 9 months, Pregnancy #3 was thankfully healthy and resulted in our beautiful rainbow daughter who was born healthy and happy on a sunny summer’s Thursday in Germany. The term ‘rainbow baby’ refers to a baby born after a miscarriage or pregnancy loss to signify the happy rainbow after a dark storm.
The following year, we started trying for Baby #2. What followed was a long, hard road of miscarriage, after miscarriage, after miscarriage. Each new positive pregnancy test was met with excitement and optimism, only to lose that precious baby weeks, or months, later. Some miscarriages happened at home, others I needed to have a D&C (Dilation and Curettage – a surgical procedure to remove a baby who has sadly passed away), and some miscarriages resulted in complications where I had to be rushed to hospital in an ambulance for emergency surgery. Recurrent miscarriage is defined as 3 or more miscarriages in a row. Around 1-2% of women experience recurrent miscarriage.
I was now the 1-2%.
We pursued recurrent miscarriage investigations and embarked on a whirlwind path of medical appointments, blood tests, investigative ultrasounds, biopsies, and other invasive procedures, desperately hoping for answers. One-by-one, our test results came back as being perfect. All except one. We finally had our answer.
I was diagnosed with a Balanced Robertsonian Translocation of chromosomes 13 and 14. In layman’s terms, one of my chromosome 13s has attached to one of my chromosome 14s which results in some of my eggs being chromosomally abnormal whilst other eggs will be perfectly chromosomally normal. My chromosomally normal eggs could produce healthy babies, whereas my chromosomally abnormal eggs would end in miscarriage, stillbirth, or infant death. Approximately 1 in 1000 babies are born with a Robertsonian Translocation.
I was the 1 in 1000.
I was equally devastated and relieved by the diagnosis. Devastated to have something ‘wrong’ with me. Relieved to finally have an answer as to why I kept losing our babies. The good news was that we could pursue IVF with genetic testing on our embryos to find the chromosomally normal embryos. We willingly dove straight in to IVF to hopefully avoid any further miscarriages and heartache.
What followed was months and months of IVF treatment. Dozens of blood tests, injections, needles, medications, specialist appointments, ultrasounds, surgical procedures, and uncomfortable side effects. I felt like a human pin cushion, my abdomen and arms were covered in bruises. We endured 3 long rounds of IVF and were thrilled that 4 of our precious embryos were chromosomally healthy. Over the coming months, we transferred each healthy embryo, one-by-one, into my uterus. And disappointingly, each healthy embryo, one-by-one, failed.
Disheartened, we went back to trying naturally. What followed were more devastating miscarriages. Pregnancy #8 was our hardest loss yet. In 2015, our daughter was looking perfect on scans and we excitedly watched my stomach grow. We finally made it into the second trimester, only to have our dreams crushed once again when our genetic testing revealed that our precious baby had fatal chromosomal abnormalities that would result in fetal demise, either in utero or soon after birth. There are no words to describe how devastated we were. We were faced with the most difficult decision we’ve ever had to make, and at 14 weeks, we heartbreakingly had to end the pregnancy.
After months of grieving and healing, we tried again. And again. Thankfully, Pregnancy #10 was finally another healthy pregnancy and we were ecstatic when our second beautiful rainbow daughter was born healthy and happy on a sunny spring Friday in England. It had taken 4 long, heartbreaking years of loss to have her.
Eventually, we wanted to try to add to our family one last time. The next several years brought us another soul-destroying journey of miscarriage, after miscarriage, after miscarriage. 11 more heartbreaking miscarriages, in fact. More pregnancies of fearing finding blood during each trip to the bathroom. More pregnancies of being too scared to venture too far from home. More pregnancies of being equally cautiously optimistic yet terrified of having scans. More pregnancies of desperately waiting and hoping for good news.
In 2021, Pregnancy #16 was unbelievably another second trimester loss. Just like our previous second trimester loss, I had anxiously waited as the weeks passed by, watching my stomach grow, and seeing our daughter develop on ultrasounds. We made it into second trimester only to have our world come crashing down yet again when genetic testing revealed that our baby had fatal chromosomal abnormalities again and wouldn’t survive. I was grief-stricken. Once again, at 14 weeks, we had to make the devastating decision to end our pregnancy.
Despondent, we kept trying for Baby #3 and kept suffering miscarriage after miscarriage. Then finally, Pregnancy #22, to our great relief and joy, was another healthy baby and our beautiful rainbow son was born healthy and happy on a cool winter’s Wednesday in Australia. We couldn’t believe we could be lucky enough to be blessed with a third healthy baby.
14 years. 22 pregnancies. 19 miscarriages. Failed IVF. Two daughters lost in second trimester. So much heartache and countless tears shed. But ultimately, my fertility path led me to my 3 beautiful rainbow babies and I couldn’t be more blessed to be their mum. And to that little girl role-playing mother-baby games with her little sisters and her dolls – never give up on your dream.
My heart goes out to those who may still be on their infertility journey, those who may be suffering loss and heartache. Please know that you are not alone.
For miscarriage information and support:
Image taken by Lavender Lane Photography