Jax turns 8 today. I dropped dinosaur cupcakes off with the kids at preschool so Jax’s teacher can celebrate in her class. She just so happens to teach Gray’s class this year, too. In an hour we’ll pick them up and head out to the Natural History Museum in Los Angeles., as we do, and then meet our family at Ruby’s in Orange to celebrate our little man.
This year, I want to share about the day he was born. On January 28 of 2008, I left my job at Aurora Loan Services/Lehman Brothers early after receiving a phone call from my wife saying she being admitted at Long Beach Memorial. At 5 p.m. doctors induced her. Twenty-five hours later, at 6:17 p.m. the next day, I stood behind my wife’s right shoulder, holding a video camera, and watched the doctor hold up our first child.
“HOLY CRAP IT’S A BOY!” I shouted. We didn’t know the sex. Well, my wife did, because it happened upon her at an obstetrician appointment a week before, but I didn’t know that until later. I thought for sure it was a girl. I was pleasantly surprised that it was, indeed, a boy.
Jax was eight pounds, six ounces and 22 inches long. He had no hair. And he was gorgeous.
But let’s back up a bit. My wife was in labor for 25 hours. Twenty-five! Little man did not want to come out. I slept in a chair at her bed side that only a 4×4 would find comfortable. Nurses kept us awake every couple of hours. We watched so many episodes of Law & Order that, to this day, that trade mark “Dun Dun” sound gives me the willies.
Jax’s big ‘ol head caused some issues at delivery, enough that the doctor had to cut my wife open to make the hole bigger (episiotomy). Then the doctor had to use a vacuum to help suck him out, which left an abrasion on the side Jax’s head. Clearly, this wasn’t an easy delivery.
Once the nurses took Jax to the nursery I joined my friends and some family in the cafeteria to mingle, enjoy the moment, and relax that it was over. But it wasn’t. While I was down in the basement, the doctor had sewn my wife back together and loaded her up on pain medication. She’s very sensitive when it comes to the meds, or the amount of pain makes her sick. Either way, she started to vomit. And it wouldn’t stop. The doctor was gone and our nurse froze. She didn’t know what to do. The vomiting tore my wife’s stitches and she started hemorrhaging.
I ended up at home that night. I took my friend Munky home, as he stayed at the hospital with us and wanted to make sure I got home safely. I have this thing where I tend to doze off if I’m driving for more than 30 minutes and exhausted. It never hit me how serious my wife’s condition was. Or else I would’ve stayed.
She lost enough blood that she had two blood transfusions. She stayed two more nights in the hospital to recover, and then the hospital discharged her and Jax.
Remember that scene at the end of Knocked Up, when Seth Rogen’s character, a new dad, is driving his newborn and baby mama home from the hospital at about 15 miles an hour and backing up a stretch of road, what appears to be Malibu? That was me driving Jax and my wife home from the hospital. I hesitated pressing the gas. My palms sweat. My stomach was sick. I thought that driving over 20 mph was surely going result in my Chrysler 300C smashed in to a concrete overhang on the 710 freeway.
It was the happiest time of our lives. That’s not to say we don’t absolutely love the twins – they’re the reason I’m still alive. But it’s different having the first-born. All of our energy and love and attention was able to go to just him. And he was so wanted.
As I type this I’m watching a video that my wife’s brother made for Jax’s first remembrance (you can watch below). My heart hurts so much. Andddddd shit, now the Ronan song is on. I’m a mess! I just want my little man.
My wife is pregnant, 12 weeks along. We are excited, cautiously hopeful and scared of another loss. How’d we get here and why are we putting ourselves through this again? I can try to explain. But let’s take it way back, first.
The First Miscarriage
“Smile,” the doctor enthusiastically coached. My pants rested around my ankles as my forearms supported me on the examining table. I’m 28-fucking-years-old and I’m already having a lubed-up index finger patrol my rectum for my prostate. I walked into the urologist’s office anticipating an infertility exam and exited wishing he at least bought me dinner first.
My wife and I tried for a year to conceive. Her OB/GYN directed her to a fertility doctor for testing, first. Everything came back normal, which meant it was time for me to be tested. Along with the prostate exam and junk test the urologist conducted, a semenalysis provided raw data for our fertility clinic.
It turns out I was generally healthy. My testosterone, however, tested severely low and my sperm liked to swim about in circles or something. So we began fertility treatments. After several months of me supplying goo – as one of the nurses called it – and the wife’s use of Clomid – the “goodoo” magic worked.
The next 16 weeks were filled with joy, bliss and walking on cotton candy clouds. While it took us over a year and mad science for my wife to get pregnant, she was treating crack babies in Long Beach as a registered nurse for parents living on welfare with four other kids. But for us, it finally happened. We announced the news with friends and family and eagerly awaited the January 1 due date.
Cue the record scratch.
The wife called me at work after a check-up with the OB/GYN. The doctor couldn’t find a heartbeat. He sent her to the hospital for an ultrasound which confirmed there wasn’t a heartbeat. Our baby was dead. A couple of days later the wife underwent a D&E procedure at a Los Angeles clinic. We elected to run tests to determine the sex and cause of death. It was a girl, but no dice on the cause of death. The clinic was kind enough to send us home with footprints of the fetus the doctor extracted while performing the procedure.
We named her Presley Kaelyn. We eventually both had her foot prints tattooed on our arms, and I added “Loved Forever”.
We cried a lot over the next few weeks. I mean, a whole lot. Why did this happen? How? We cleared the 12-week danger zone. This isn’t supposed to happen.
It was the summer, and I eventually ramped up my social calendar to get my mind off of things. My wife, however, dealt differently. There were nights I’d find her crying on the floor of the bathroom. Our souls ached. Caring for babies of 14-year-old moms and meth addicts reminded her every night that life isn’t fair.
She told me months later how much it bothered her that I was going out and trying to distract myself while she just wanted to withdraw and hang out with the pain. She didn’t understand that I was just as distraught as she was. I cried. I was mad. But I had to get out of that house so that it didn’t become anything worse than that.
Eventually the fertility doc allowed us to start trying again. It was like ripping open a healing wound, peeing inside of it and then punching it for good measure. Month after month an early period, too many produced eggs at once or cysts cock-blocking our chance for conception dashed our hopes of another pregnancy.
The Next Three Miscarriages
A fertility clinic helped create Jax and the twins – artificial insemination and in vitro fertilization, respectively. Since Jax died in June of 2012, my wife’s been pregnant three times, all naturally. Something we couldn’t imagine being possible. And something we didn’t knowingly try for.
On July 31 of 2013, just after lunch, my wife text me a photo of a positive pregnancy test and wrote “So this happened :/”. You’d think we’d be ecstatic, right? We were done having kids. We sold off everything but a breast pump and a pack-and play. I suppose the magic of Chicago on our tenth wedding anniversary didn’t care much about our plans.
We’ve heard and read that the second year after losing a child is often harder than the first. That sounds impossible. But most of the support received in the months after the death has now moved on. They have lives to live. We are still stuck. The loneliness is harder. All of the firsts – first Halloween, Christmas, birthday, memorial – have passed. All that’s left is our broken hearts.
After Jax’s memorial service we felt the beginning of that rough second year.
But this pregnancy changed that. We felt hope for the first time. This baby was going to keep that second year from being worse. The baby embodied life after all we had known for a year was death.
It’s a gift from God. We thought it. The few people we told thought it. Everything’s going to be okay, because this is from God.
Neither of us could bury our fear completely. Fear of something bad happening. We lost Presley. Then Jax tragically left us. There’s no way this will end badly. Right?
Well it did, at seven weeks gestation. Our hope evaporated. It all felt like a giant tease. A cruel trick. I kept asking myself why God would have us get pregnant naturally after years of not being able to only to go through yet another loss. F Him.
After a second miscarriage in April of 2014 we discovered my wife carried gene mutation methylenetetrahydrofolate reductase (MTHFR). One side effect of this gene is elevated homocysteine levels, which increases the risk for blood clots. Our best guess to this miscarriage was a blood clot, based on ultrasounds viewed at emergency room and in the OB’s office. Remember this, as it’s a key piece of our staying pregnant puzzle.
On January 21 of 2015 I wrote about a stupid pigeon that decided to crap all over, and then die on, our front porch.
A new beginning, a fresh start. We could use those. And from this website:
Dead bird in the yard or on the highway – if you’ve seen a dead bird in the road or perhaps you accidentally hit a bird on the road, this usually feels like a bad sign. Actually death is typically a good sign showing us that an end to turmoil or pain is ending. This doesn’t necessarily mean physical death, just a metaphorical death. Perhaps you’re going through heartache of a break-up, perhaps you are struggling to find a job…this dead bird marks the end to your search and struggle. A new beginning is just around the corner.
An end to turmoil or pain is ending. The end of our search and struggle. I think we can use that. And here I was, thinking the only gift that pigeon left us was white polka dots of crap on our porch.
When I wrote that, we knew my wife was pregnant again. I legit thought this was a sign. A month later was her third miscarriage. I’ve stopped believing in signs. It was supposed to be our last try. I told her three strikes and we’re out, because I’m such a baseball dork. Let’s stop the anguish. No more losses, if we can control it. No more pain.
My wife’s obstetrician recommended we genetically test the frozen embryos left over from the IVF that produced the twins. The thought being that we can pull the genetically normal embryos, do an embryo transfer and, along with treating the blood clotting issue, limit the risk of future miscarriages. Always the suckers thirsting for hope, we had the embryos tested. Except that after the defrost, only three of the seven embryos survived, and of those three, none of the embryos were genetically normal.
What’s wrong with us? How lucky did we get that Jax, Gray and Ellie even happened for us? It seems odds are stacked against us when it comes to creating normally genetic life.
But we weren’t done. Call it perseverance, but you’d be wrong. We’re just tormented souls with a burning want to extend our family. Our fertility doctor said the next option would be a fresh round of IVF. F that, I thought – too much money.
Yet after testing, semen deposits, more genetic testing, three shots for egg retrieval, multiple ultrasounds and the egg retrieval itself, we were left with two genetically normal embryos. So far the transfer of one embryo has held up (the other is frozen).
My wife was giving herself three shots a day – two in the stomach (Lovenox for blood thinning to decrease risks of a blood clot) and one in the upper tush (Progesterone). Her belly looks like photos of galaxies far, far away – a mesmerizing mixture of purples, blue and pink in disjointed shapes. And because of that pesky MTHFR gene mutation, she’ll be shooting up the belly another month after the baby comes.
The Fear is Real
Early in the pregnancy, my wife noticed some blood. It was more than spotting, but less than a period. I panicked. Again, really? This early? I tried not to let her see my fear. It was 10:30 at night. I couldn’t fall back asleep. I searched her weeks of gestation online, read a bunch of pregnancy forums where women post about their own experiences (I sadly know what DH means now – dear husband) and concluded that this is a pretty common thing for women. While it was more than just spotting, absent pain in the abdomen, everything could still seem normal. Now, I’m not a super optimistic guy. Especially after the past three years. But I tried to be that rock for my wife. Mr. “Everything is going to be okay” guy. Positive thoughts. The next day she went to fertility clinic, a heart beat was found and everything appeared normal.
But fuuuuuuucccccc…that fear. It just doesn’t go away.
Every doctor appointment messes with my nerves. Once, my wife was late to an appointment with the fertility clinic due to brutal traffic. Then the office was slow seeing her. From my desk at work I checked my phone every five minutes. If there wasn’t a text, I’d open up iMessages to see if she was at least typing something. She wasn’t. It was hard to breathe. The anxiety manifested itself physically. I was freaking out. She finally texted that everything was looking good, but that thirty minutes of anticipation took six months off my life span.
Every time she goes to the bathroom I push down expectations of her walking out of the bathroom crying.
Slowly, after each positive ultrasound and blood test and doctor’s appointment, we grow more hopeful that she’ll see this pregnancy through to the end. Our excitement continues to build. My wife found a stroller on sale at Babies ‘R Us last weekend. She thinks buying anything baby related is a curse. But either the clearance item was too good to pass up (it was over $100 regular price), or she’s genuinely feeling good about this pregnancy. I think it’s a bit of column a, a bit of column b.
Ellie & Gray
On a random week night a few weeks ago, before Christmas, we were going to tell Ellie and Gray about the pregnancy. When I got home from work, my wife said she was bleeding a bit, and that we should wait. I agreed. Fifteen minutes later, things changed.
Ellie was sitting on the couch next to me and wanted to show me a photo on my wife’s phone from earlier in the day. I unlocked it for her, she swiped through and showed me the photos. My wife sat down on the couch next to us a few minutes later, and we talked a bit.
“Is this a baby?” Ellie asked. She held up the phone with an ultrasound my wife texted to her mom earlier in the week.
I looked at my wife with an oh-shit look.
“What do you think it is?” I replied to Ellie.
Gray, who was playing with toys on the floor ten feet away, ran over to look. He couldn’t make out the ultrasound.
“A baby,” Ellie answered.
“We’re having a BABY?!?!” Gray shrilled. I teared up. His reaction was beautiful. He was genuinely so excited.
I told them that we were. After they soaked it up for a few minutes, my warning message followed. I explained how it will take a long time for the baby to grow and be born, and that we’ll have to pray every day to God that the baby and mommy can be healthy, and that it could die, like the others. I encouraged them to help mommy while she’s pregnant to keep her and the baby safe.
Later that night Ellie sat on the couch next to my wife.
“I don’t want this baby to die,” she said.
Neither do I, hun. Neither do I.
As of yesterday, our baby is the size of a plum. Ellie constantly asks how big the baby is, so we use a website that compares the size to a fruit to help the kids get a better grasp of the growth.
Our family would appreciate all prayers, positive thoughts and good ju-ju you can send our way over the next six months. Hopefully we’ll be introducing y’all to the little alien at the end of July.