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Out from the shadows

A Whistler woman’s story of love and pregnancy loss

In 2017, I fell in love. I felt I had found the yin to my yang. A year later, we realized we both wanted children and there was no time like the present to start trying. It never occurred to me that I could have any fertility issues because my entire life I have been programmed to think that women who have unprotected sex get pregnant instantly and it’s as easy as that. So we started on the road towards parenthood, hopeful and excited. 

In March 2019, I was getting ready for a trip to Denver to visit my sister when I realized I was late. I took a test and was shocked to discover I was pregnant. After almost a year of trying, we were overjoyed that luck had finally come our way. Even though our doctor had advised us it could take a year for the average couple to become pregnant, it still felt like ages.  

The next day I flew to Denver to spend a week with my sister. The trip was beautiful and I was especially happy with the thought of the tiny life growing inside me.  Every move I made, every decision I faced, I now felt like I was making it all for the person I was creating. I finally had those butterflies that my friends who have had children talked about. 

The night before I was supposed to fly back to Canada, I started to have extreme pain in my abdomen. We made the decision to go to the hospital late that night. Shortly after we arrived, I was given the news that I had an ectopic pregnancy. This is where the embryo starts to develop in the fallopian tube. Ectopic pregnancies are excruciatingly painful and can be fatal. This didn’t feel real, I felt like I was having an out-of-body experience. I remember hearing about ectopic pregnancies through friends, but I thought the chances of it happening to me were very low. I thought it all must be a horrible dream I would wake up from it.  

I spent the night in the hospital with my sister by my side and, on April 7, I had surgery to have my left fallopian tube removed. I was devastated but glad I had my sister, my best friend, there with me. 

The next day, I was cleared by the doctor to fly back to Canada. Since my fiancé couldn’t make it, I had made the trip alone. My sister and I said a very tearful goodbye and I was put in a wheelchair to be carted away. I was allowed on the plane before the other passengers, and after moving from one wheelchair to another, the bandages on my stomach became exposed. I remember seeing the pity in some of the passengers’ eyes. 

While sitting on the plane, trying to get comfortable, I could overhear the flight attendant talking about me. It made me feel so worthless, that I could just be the subject of someone’s gossip without any consideration for my feelings. I had just experienced this major loss and I was on display for the world to see, bloody bandages and all. 

After landing in Vancouver, I was trying to get off the plane when the flight attendant asked me what happened, so I told her. “I knew it,” she responded, like she had just won a bet with the other stewards. At this point, I felt utterly defeated. I just wanted to make it to the end of the gate so I could see my fiancé and feel safe. They put me in the cart and off we went. They helped me collect my bags but there were no wheelchairs available, so I hobbled out of baggage claim into a sea of new people to stare and judge me while I pushed my baggage cart. I finally saw him and collapsed. I just wanted to go home. 

Once back home, the wave of anxiety hit me like a ton of bricks. The road to recovery was not going to be an easy one I couldn’t help but think of how much I had failed myself, my fiancé and the baby I had been growing. After almost a year of trying, I was repaid with heartache. It didn’t seem fair, but I wasn’t going to let it deter me from my goal of motherhood. 

Throughout this time, many people offered me their condolences, deciding it was a good time to give me their “advice.” 

“Just relax and it will happen for you,” they’d say. Or comments about how they “just had to think about getting pregnant and it happened,” not knowing that every word was like a dagger in my heart. 

While my body recovered, my fiancé and I decided to get married, and on Sept. 5, 2019, we tied the knot. Shortly after, we decided it was time to put our efforts into trying for a baby again. 

I had done some research, talked to my doctors and made the decision to try in vitro fertilization (IVF), knowing it would not be an easy journey with only one fallopian tube and the looming fear of another ectopic pregnancy weighing on me.

IVF involves taking the woman’s eggs, combining them with the sperm in a petri dish to make an embryo, and transferring it into the woman’s uterus. Easy, right? No. In order to maximize the amount of eggs, you have to inject yourself with hormones every single day, in my case, three times a day to start, then four times towards the end, for 10 days straight. It’s also very expensive and there are no guarantees it will work. 

They then “harvest” you and get out as many eggs as possible. I won’t go into the details but I am sure you can imagine how uncomfortable that is. The recovery is no cakewalk either. 

The spike in hormones afterwards makes you feel like you’re going crazy and it’s worsened by the feeling that something that comes so easy to most women is such a struggle for you. Why me? Why had my body chosen to fail me? Aren’t women made to bear children? At least that’s what we are taught from a young age and I couldn’t help but feel this was a lie society has been feeding us all these years. Why was it such a struggle for me but my best friend, same age, same everything essentially, could get pregnant the first time she tried? I wanted to feel happy for these milestones my friends were going through but here I was, stabbing myself four times a day to get in the running. I found myself falling deeper into this pit of sorrow and self-pity. But I knew I would keep going, that I wouldn’t let this unexplained infertility get the best of me. 

Five days later, I was told that I had 16 healthy embryos ready for transfer. I decided to go with a fresh transfer (you can choose to freeze the embryos for a month to maximize your chances of “latching”) as my husband and I were ready to become parents and the doctors told us, we had a very good chance it would work. 

I was supposed to wait the two weeks for a blood test, but I cheated and took a test (or five) as soon as I could. I was pregnant! I went to all the appointments and did all the scans. I had a healthy little boy growing away. 

I was on Cloud 9 and even the pandemic could not interrupt our joy. I bought the stroller, the car seat, accepted gifts from friends, and started to think about the nursery. I came into the second trimester with confidence and hope for the future. 

Towards the end of May, my husband and I went up to the cottage for a beautiful weekend. The night we got there, I noticed I had some bleeding. Of course, I freaked out. I called the emergency OBGYN and he told me that this can be normal and if it wasn’t a lot of bleeding, then I should be OK. Some of the women at my cottage told me they had similar situations when they went through their pregnancy. This put me at ease and I relaxed. The bleeding subsided. 

Then, on Sunday night, I woke with more bleeding and this time it was worse. I called the emergency nurse and she said to go first thing to the emergency for an ultrasound. At 8 a.m. when the emergency opened, my husband and I were first in line. The nurse came in with the Doppler and tried to find the heartbeat. No luck. She reassured me that the baby could be in a position where I wouldn’t be able to hear it. 

When I went for the ultrasound, my husband and I were in this dark little room and I couldn’t see the screen. It felt like an eternity while I waited for the tech to tell us everything was fine and the bleeding was normal. That moment never came. 

“I’m sorry,” the tech said. Those are the only words I remember. I screamed, I cried, I felt like a part of me was dying because, essentially, it did. My husband held me and we cried for the next few hours while the doctors told us what we had to do next. My best friends tried calling and I couldn’t bring myself to answer. I just wanted to crawl into a hole and shut out the world. This had to be a nightmare, I thought. Nothing felt real. I can’t find the words to express such a horrific pain. As I sit here and write this, my tears covering the keyboard, I can still feel the pain course through my body.  I was truly done at that point. It felt like this whole infertility situation had gotten the best of me. It had won.  

That was on a Monday. I had to carry my son in me until that Friday when I could get a dilation and evacuation, a surgical procedure that takes place after the second trimester of pregnancy where the patient’s cervix is dilated and suction is used to remove the fetus.

That was the worst week of my life. I couldn’t think, I couldn’t feel. It was as if a part of my soul had died. How had this happened? I had felt him growing inside me and now I had to sit here for five days knowing he was no longer alive. I clutched my stomach every day trying to wake him up, trying to wake myself up. He couldn’t be gone. I didn’t deserve this. Why did the universe hate me? 

On Thursday, my husband and I went to Vancouver to stay the night since the procedure was early the next morning. To add insult to injury, I had to have spacers inserted into my cervix to maximize dilation. That was the worst pain I had ever felt. I couldn’t walk more than two steps without laying down and nearly passing out. 

That night, I didn’t want to fall asleep. I clutched my belly and cried for hours knowing it was the last night I was going to spend with my son. I knew he wasn’t there anymore, but I couldn’t come to grips with that reality. I was supposed to be a mother in four more months, but here I was, in a hotel, waiting to wake up in the morning to have my baby removed from me. 

The next day I went to the hospital and we were lucky enough that my husband could come into the room with me. They gave me seven different types of medication and I happily accepted them, as I did not want to feel anymore. They carted me away and I remember feeling pressure and then waking up empty. Actually, empty doesn’t do justice to how I felt. 

I spent the next two weeks self-medicating and trying to gain the strength to do normal everyday things. My body thought I had given birth so I started to lactate a few days after the procedure. A true kick while I was down. I realized this recovery was going to be a lot worse than the one after the ectopic. 

I slowly started to feel human again after going on some hikes, seeing friends, talking through what happened, and going back to work a few days a week.  The support my husband and I received from friends, family and the community was amazing. Every day we received flowers and gifts showing we were in a lot of people’s thoughts. It truly helped us move forward and I am forever grateful for all of it.

I spent the summer recovering and enjoying wine again. This time, no one gave me their advice; no one really knew what to say. I could see the pity in their eyes. I could feel myself retreating from the people around me, not wanting to do normal things, like take a picture with my sister or laugh at the joke everyone else was laughing at. Everything felt so inconsequential and I started to grow angry and separated from the rest of my friends and family. 

By September, I decided to hop back on the horse and go for a second round of IVF. I already had the embryos ready to go, so after a few injections and weeks of hormones, I went for an embryo transfer. This time, because I had had two significant losses, I decided to put two embryos in, in the hopes of having twins. My thought process was that I could get two kids out of one pregnancy and would not ever have to go through IVF again. I was advised of the risks of premature birth and how hard the pregnancy could be, but I went for it anyways. 

Six weeks later, I was given the news that both embryos latched and I was going to have twins. I was so excited; finally, the universe had dealt cards in my favour. I was ready and wanted this more than anything. People kept telling I didn’t want twins, but I wasn’t going to let that negative energy into my life. 

Because I was having twins and was now considered high-risk, I was to receive ultrasounds every few weeks rather than the three or four a normal pregnancy would receive in the entire nine months. 

In the ninth week of ultrasounds, I found out I lost one of the twins. All the feelings from the past came flooding back. I was certain I was going to lose the other baby. I retreated into my hole. How was my body continuing to give up on me? I pictured the smug looks on the faces of the people who told me trying for twins was a bad idea. The pressure of society telling me I wasn’t a real woman came flooding in and I couldn’t escape it. I was trying to be joyous of the life still inside me, but the guilt of losing another one was overwhelming.

The next few months, I was angry and grumpy towards everyone. I wouldn’t let my guard down. I wouldn’t let myself be hurt again. But this baby was a strong one and kept surprising me with her growth. I went into every ultrasound expecting the worst, but there she was, kicking and waving to us as if she was trying to tell me she was here to stay. 

As I sit here writing this, 24 weeks pregnant, I still worry that I am going to lose this baby, but I am further along than before and I can feel our little girl move and groove inside me. The realization that anything can happen at any time is certainly not lost on me, but I have started to do normal pregnant women stuff and think positively.  

I have realized that women who go through miscarriages or have other fertility issues mostly suffer alone and in private. At first, I didn’t understand why. But now I do. We have been taught that a woman’s primary function is to be a mother. To grow up, get married and have families. We are told that once you get off birth control, pregnancy will come with no problems. In turn, when we have fertility issues or experience loss, we feel shame, because that’s what we’ve been conditioned to feel. Put on a happy face and smile pretty. Don’t ever talk about it because you don’t want anyone to know you can’t do the job your body was supposedly made to do. 

I’m sharing my story because since posting about it on social media, I have heard stories from many other women who have gone through loss like mine, when I had no idea they had. 

I see so many women who aren’t ready to have children (some are never ready and choose not to and that’s perfectly OK, too) when they’re in their younger years. They don’t tell you the challenges you could face as you get older and the struggles infertility can bring. We need to make these things OK to talk about, to remove the shame. 

I have learned through all of this that feeling this pain, this grief is natural. It’s OK not to feel OK. Women are so often trained to just grin and bear it, but when it comes to such immense loss, it’s OK to lose yourself, to cry, to scream and let your guard down. 

I hope my story can reach at least one woman out there, so she realizes she is not alone and that I, at least, am here for her. 

‘It’s not anyone’s fault’  

Whistler Community Services Society’s (WCSS) executive director Jackie Dickinson remembers the moment several years ago when a local woman approached her to talk about the non-profit’s popular Birth, Baby & Beyond program for new parents.  

The mother said she would really like to attend the program, which was developed to support parents through the post-partum period and provide a forum to share in the joys and challenges of raising a newborn, but, after losing her baby, she felt like “this isn’t a place for me—but it should be.” 

That small but significant moment of vulnerability made a distinct impression on Dickinson. 

“It really impacted me and made me realize, first of all, that that mom should always feel welcome to the group. She is a mother,” Dickinson, herself a mother of two, says. “And secondly, that there is a group here that do not feel visible, that do not feel as if they belong, and we have a responsibility as an organization to connect with people and say, ‘What is it you need?’” 

It was through stories like this, stories that too often get left behind closed doors, that led WCSS to develop its Pregnancy & Infant Loss program, which typically takes places two or three times a year over six weeks, led by local doula Carla Royal and clinical counsellor Greg McDonnell. 

“It was through our conversations and a great deal of advocacy from local families that had experienced loss that we developed the program,” Dickinson says. “We felt it was really important to integrate a clinical counsellor to support and create a sense of community for these families through a support group program, because a lot of times people feel as if what they’re experiencing is solely their own or that there isn’t a language or conversation to support people [discussing] it. There’s a lot of stigma around it.” 

There has been plenty of ink spilled over the baby boom Whistler experienced in 2013—Dickinson says there were more than 100 babies born that year alone, including her firstborn—which helped provide new parents a built-in support group. But when that joyous milestone turns to tragedy, support can be much harder to find. “There’s so much focus on the celebratory nature of becoming pregnant that we tend to not provide enough space [to acknowledge] that experience is not shared by everyone,” says Dickinson. 

“I do think for a lot of families, they feel somewhat responsible, so there is a lot of shame and blame in that. Really, as part of the process of healing that we’ve encouraged people to be a part of is to work through a lot of those conversations within partnerships, with clinical counsellors, with speaking about it to other people. It’s not anyone’s fault.” 

What’s more is, because expectant parents often have to travel to Squamish or Vancouver to give birth, when pregnancy or infant loss happens, the support services provided typically originate in those communities, further adding to the sense of isolation families already feel. 

“For some of those families, they went down to Vancouver hoping to give birth to a child and they drove back to Whistler with an empty car seat,” says Dickinson. “We have a responsibility here to remind them this is their home, so those services should support that.” 

Registration for the Pregnancy & Infant Loss program is available at mywcss.org/mental-and-emotional-health/pregnancy-infant-loss. Specific dates for upcoming programs will be released in the spring. - Brandon Barrett