Christine suffered multiple miscarriages all in a span of one year. She and her husband were diagnosed with ‘Unexplained Fertility’, thus leading to rounds of IVF in hopes of conceiving and having a healthy pregnancy. Despite many setbacks, they continue to pray and remain hopeful for blessings to come.
Infertility and Miscarriage
It took me a very long time to write this; Partly because the memory is painful and partly because the topics of infertility and miscarriage are so rarely talked about. Once I start talking about it, most people don’t know how to react or respond. The last thing I want is for people to treat my husband and I differently – with pity, or concealing their joy at their own pregnancies or children.
However, these topics are important to me.
Before I was diagnosed as having “unexplained infertility”, these issues were just something that happened to other people. They never seemed real to me. We hear of them, but no one really talks about them.
After slightly more than 2 years of trying to conceive, my husband and I decided to undergo IVF. We were very unknowledgeable about the whole process. Unlike (most) people, we didn’t research to death the process. We were unaware of ways that could improve our chances of success. There was the mistaken impression that the process would succeed, give or take a few (at most maybe 2?) failures.
We were wrong.
One Year of IVF
In a span of a year, I had 1 fresh cycle of IVF and 4 frozen transfers, i.e. a total of 5 transfers. Each time, I had 2 embryos transferred.
Out of the 5 transfers, 2 failed because the embryos failed to implant and the other 3 resulted in miscarriages. My first miscarriage was at week 10 (1 October 2018). It was induced because the embryo failed to grow and lost its heartbeat. My second was in week 4.5 (29 March 2019). I miscarried naturally. And again, I miscarried naturally at week 7 (24 September 2019) for the third time.
The First Time
Before the first miscarriage last year, the thought of losing a child never crossed our minds. That wouldn’t happen to us; that was for someone else. We were still quite optimistic even though our first scan had the doctor saying that the growth was not ideal for a fetus of that particular age. We prayed hard as the weeks went by but there was little growth. As long as there was a heartbeat, undoubtedly very weak, we still clung onto hope. We were, perhaps, on hindsight, overly optimistic.
Having hope isn’t a bad thing. However, it made the miscarriage harder to accept when we were given the confirmation that the fetus no longer had a heartbeat. We had to induce the miscarriage as it wasn’t happening naturally.
We cried bitter tears. Not only was this was a loss of a potential baby that we had tried so long and so hard for; We had pinned our hopes on medical technology to cure our problem and it seemed like it had worked.
Questioning God; Seeking Comfort
In the weeks that followed, we questioned God’s will. Surely if He was sovereign and all-powerful, He could have intervened. Why allow me to fall pregnant only to take the fetus away? What was the purpose? Had we done wicked things that saw our child being punished for our sins?
There was no answer.
I found solace in the fact that there had to be a plan. We simply had to trust that God’s plan was perfect. Even if there were no answers, we simply had to trust. If we couldn’t trust in that, then there was no point in believing in God. It was difficult. And maybe I didn’t really believe that there was a plan. Perhaps I was just trying to comfort myself.
Some days I would be perfectly fine. Some days I would read something online that triggered me and caused me to cry. And some days, it felt like my experience of being pregnant and losing the fetus was a bad dream.
I threw my focus to doing another embryo transfer. I thought that having another child, even though not to “replace” the one I had lost, would help. Looking back, this wasn’t the answer to our pain.
More Disappointment; More Loss
The next embryo transfer failed to implant. Once again, we were devastated. You have to understand that the doctor had transferred 2 fertilised embryos into me. A lot of the “work” had already been done! My previous transfer had been successful! Why not this one?!
To cope with the news, we made plans for yet another transfer and were successful once again in March 2019.
I worried that I would miscarry again. At the same time, I thought, how likely is it that I would have a second miscarriage? The odds should be in my favour of a live birth.
The second miscarriage happened quickly. There was fresh blood one day, and I started to cramp very mildly. An hour or so later, I bled out the fetus. I guess because it was such an early pregnancy, it felt nothing worse than a period. Physically I was okay. Emotionally, I couldn’t believe it happened to me again.
Strangely enough, I didn’t feel as awful as I had during the first miscarriage. Maybe it was because I miscarried very soon after finding out I was pregnant. As such, perhaps I didn’t have much attachment to this fetus? Maybe it was because I was trying to protect my heart and so “fooled” myself into being okay? I wasn’t sure but I told myself this to ease the pain of yet another loss.
We gave ourselves some time off from another transfer – mostly because I was sick of experiencing failures and the timing wasn’t great with my work schedule.
In July 2019, another transfer failed.
The Last Two
We proceeded to transfer our last 2 embryos in August 2019. By this time, we had muted hopes and contained expectations. Our doctor also warned us that this batch of embryos could be of poor quality; thereby explaining the past failed implantations and the miscarriages. We guarded our hearts – learning from our past experiences, we hoped for the best and prepared for the worst (which although difficult, is one of the best things to do).
We were ecstatic when the blood test results came back positive and showed good HCG numbers. However, my constant spotting / light bleeding plagued most of the pregnancy. I was constantly on bed rest and working hard to minimise my movement. I found it hard to enjoy the pregnancy. My morning sickness started early at week 4 day 2 and I felt nauseous constantly.
Touch and Go
At the first scan at 6 weeks, the doctor saw 2 sacs. Both embryos had implanted but 1 sac was so tiny that the doctor said it would not survive. That explained the early morning sickness and perhaps the spotting. More worrying, no heartbeat was detected for the second embryo. At 6 weeks, there should have been one.
A lot of well meaning people tried to comfort me by saying that it could be too early. Many told me that they only heard a heartbeat at x and y week. I wondered if that was really the case because in an IVF pregnancy, dating a pregnancy is very precise. You know exactly when “ovulation” occurred and exactly how far along you should be. For those with natural pregnancies, dating can be imprecise and one could be further / less far along than initially suspected – hence, a “later” heartbeat.
At the end of the day, we knew we could only wait for the next appointment scheduled a week later. We asked many of our church friends to intercede for us. I told myself I wouldn’t be able to survive a third miscarriage. God simply had to intervene. This would be my miraculous testimony.
Flutters of Hope
At the second scan at about 7 weeks, we heard a heartbeat. I remember hearing the beating rhythm and feeling so thankful. Then I saw the measurements. The fetus was measuring half a week to a week behind. By the time of this pregnancy, I had googled IVF to death, and was way more knowledgeable about a ton of things. I now knew the precision in dating an IVF pregnancy and that the fetus should have been bigger.
I was cautious but I told myself to be thankful for little victories. Maybe this fetus was just a little slower.
An hour or so later, I was cramping badly. The cramps lasted for about 5 hours until I gave in and took a Panadol. I remember falling into an uneasy sleep and then waking up early to head to the clinic. I remember telling my husband that with the amount of cramping, it would be a miracle if the fetus still lived.
The scan showed the fetus, still with a beating heart. We were relieved.
But there were signs of a threatened miscarriage. There was reddish bleeding and more bad cramps.
At around 4pm the same day, I miscarried for the third time. It was also, like the second miscarriage, relatively quick. The doctor did another scan and confirmed that my body had cleared out most of the tissue. He told me to rest. He added that the embryo was probably of poor quality (it was from the same batch of embryos that did not yield positive results); that a miscarriage was the body’s way of getting rid of what wasn’t viable.
As we waited for the doctor to do the scan, my heart and mind were numb. All I could think of was “Another one gone”. My movements felt mechanical. It was as though someone else was experiencing all this and I was a spectator to someone’s rather sad story.
Breaking the News
Over the next few days, we broke the news to the people who had prayed for us and those who knew we had conceived. We received an outpouring of sympathy and kind words but mostly, a lot of people just didn’t know what to say to us.
I knew they wanted to comfort us but were faced with the loss of what to say. A lot of things that were said ended up, unintentionally, hurting us.
To be honest, I wasn’t expecting things to be said. I just wanted people to know (as an update) because they were praying for us or were made aware of the situation.
What I Needed
If you really asked me what I needed, I needed God’s answer to why all this was happening. But I also knew that an answer was not likely to be forthcoming. I mean this in the sense that there would be no direct explanation from God. Instead, I told myself He was just calling me to trust in Him and in His plan for me. Maybe that’s all the answer I would get.
I needed my family and friends to just be there for me. No words were necessary. I simply needed to be treated normally, without pity or with them on eggshells. My descriptor is not “infertile” or “multiple miscarriage-r”.
Most importantly, through this journey of infertility and multiple pregnancy losses, I needed my husband. And he has been there with me each step of the way. This has been, and still is, an emotionally trying journey. Instead of blaming each other or turning away from each other, we found strength and comfort from our relationship to get through each day.
Every time I feel ashamed and useless over my body not being able to perform a function that most women can effortlessly perform; or cry because this journey is not something I asked for; or aggravate over why it is just SO DIFFICULT, my husband reminds me that he loves me whether or not we have children and that we are doing all we can. I am thankful that God gave me this man to walk this journey with me.
Trusting in the Process
Some days we are okay, some days we are not. I think that’s okay as long as we do not let our grief overwhelm us.
We find our own ways of coping. For example, you notice I use words like “fetus” and “embryo”. It is not because I am heartless, but because it helps make the grief just a little bit less compared to thinking of a lost baby or child.
We trust that God has His perfect plan for us and will, in His time, reveal the same to us.
We won’t forget what we’ve lost but we can certainly move forward.
Christine continues to remain hopeful in conceiving and having a healthy pregnancy. She is currently taking a break from the rigour of IVF. In the meantime, she and her husband are seeking support from Traditional Chinese Medicine to strengthen their constituencies and perhaps allow for a natural conception. They continue to trust in God’s plan as they go through this journey together.