Acrylic painting "Love at first....at Last" by Julianza Shavin
This memoir is the story of the miraculous birth of my youngest child, born in my mid-forties, after I suffered three miscarriages. Inspirational in regards to perseverance.
AGAINST THE ODDS
For nearly half a century, I believed in statistics. Weighing the odds determined whether to hope or risk, when to go to the trouble, take the time, spend the money, speak the mind, and, of course, when to accept what cannot be changed: to withdraw from battle, re-adjust the psyche, relinquish the pursuit of even the most obstinate dreams.
By the year 1998, at age 45, I had borne a daughter, who was then eleven, but had miscarried thrice afterwards: in 1989, 1991, and 1994. We longed for a second baby. But along with one child, we also had something else: a decade-long war with a mysterious auto-immune illness. Many hopes had already been smitten, so very much already sacrificed to that exacting altar: my career and musical avocations, some of our skeptical "friends" and family, and even our home (we were advised by doctors to move to a different geographical area: arid, with fewer allergens, and less polluted). Thus, with infertility, we were already fighting, albeit perpetually (if not psychotically) hopeful, both about my health, and our desperately-desired second child. We were ferociously determined not to succumb to the death of this desire. We would have the family we wanted.
On the heels of the last miscarriage (which happened even after moving), I began to suspect that my immune system’s overreaction to everything was related to chronic rejection of a fetus. One spring day, after 5 years of trying and 4 of giving up, I resolutely marched into my doctor’s office. I had recently read an article supporting my theory, and which said that pregnancies could be saved through the use of intravenous gamma globulin. Would he take me on? He replied that, given my general history, my obstetrical history, and, not the least, my age, I had but two chances of success: a surrogate mother (my egg or hers); or my carrying another's egg, with the use of the outrageously expensive GG therapy. Without these, he said, and most likely with, our chances were virtually zero.
But there was a preliminary hurdle. This doctor, one of only a few fertility experts in the city, refused me Clomid, an ovulation-regulating drug, innocuous if used fewer than six months. Then my phone calls were going unanswered for a few months (and the biological clock was chiming, if not screeching!), and finally I was informed that I was "trying to have too big a hand in my own medical treatment." I was apparently messing with ego: they were not really sold on the cutting-edge GG therapy, while conceding it sounded reasonable. With precious time's passing, every second seemed a geometric progression to failure. I went to a different doctor, who prescribed the drug, and I became pregnant the first try. We were ebullient! I then returned to doctor no. 1, the specialist, happy as the most joyous of larks. But my singing would become very stressed.
Right at this time, my very elderly, disabled dog had to be euthanized. There was no saving her but I could not imagine life without her; she had been with me through so much – I could not absorb another loss. We all (unwisely for me) walked her up and down a ramp for six weeks, helped her in and out of her doggy wheelchair, and cleaned up after her once complete immobility set in. I had considered having her put down before it was an absolute necessity, to protect the fragile pregnancy, but could not seem to trade a life for a life – even though she had such a small window of time left. Convinced miscarriage was inevitable, I could not live with terminating my canine "baby" prematurely.
One Tuesday, I returned home after viewing, via special ultrasound, the incredible beating of a minuscule embryonic heart! In a mixed state of intense elation and foreboding, I lay with my suffering dog, stroking her soft thick fur, rubbing the useless limbs, and sprinkling a kiss now and then on the snout that now refused sustenance, myself suspended in a contemplation of the mysteries of life and death, of bliss and despair. I knew that after the euthanasia, the embryonic heart, and then mine, or vice versa, would surely break. Gentle, sweet Whiskers died peacefully, with a house-call, a tranquilizer and the vet's miracle drug, her doggie-spirit hovering for eight hours near our bed, before my husband buried her twenty feet from the bedroom window.
A few days later, I did not want the doctor to be the harbinger of unbearable, news, so instead, I told him: it was all over; I sensed it; a mother knows. With dread, my husband and I proceeded into the exam room and ... again saw the persistent motion of a determined, infinitesimal heart. A mother might (if rarely) not know!
Yet, shortly thereafter, we were informed that the "numbers didn’t look good," which meant that the cells were not replicating at the rate they should be. This was the exact message delivered days preceding the previous miscarriage, by then, a collective trauma so devastating, I spent a month in the basement on a bed, with no light or company, stomach gently rounded, its precious parcel dead. Deja-vu chilled me senseless.
And then, inexplicably -- the numbers picked up! At eight weeks' gestation, I had to see a substitute doctor, who absolutely denied the gamma globulin theory. Thus, my husband and I had to call hospitals and clinics ourselves. But as lay-persons we could get no answers. Eventually we located some GG, but all was in reserve. I persevered, explained my situation; it was shipped immediately. However, as it happened, it was for intramuscular use, not intravenous, and would be of no avail whatever in my case. There was no other kind we could get. I was devastated. It was an enormous task (and more stress) to recover the cost (one month’s dosage), as we had to find a hospital interested in purchasing it from us.
I experienced increasing insomnia (which would cause heart palpitations each following day) -- I had to take medication to sleep, and was in a "Catch-22" dilemma: the palpitations vs. medication passing the barrier to the unborn. Living at a high altitude (itself correlated with higher rates of miscarriage), I worried about oxygen bio-availability in terms of the pounding; I opted for the medication. I read other statistics: slightly underweight women miscarried more. That, too, described me. Apnea attacks, which I had not had in over a year, resumed: did the baby stop breathing? I did. Yet these various anxieties were nothing like the next occurrence: spotting: a visage like a knife to the heart, a tiny, stultifying horror. Off to the hospital we went, on several occasions, but, incredibly, the tests came back as insignificant.
For the second and third trimesters, patients are sent to a different, high-risk obstetrician. At one visit, there was no heartbeat. Nothing. Although it turned out to be a malfunction of the machine, that tiny distance from one machine to another was a walk along the surreal plank that time is: a seeming eternity that, in "reality," stands stock-still. The doctor informed me I had to learn to contain my hysteria or the worst could happen. How simple it sounded... coming from the kindest of men, but from a person who had never himself carried within his very belly, or lost, the living tissue of a heart’s most profound desire!
I went on, unbelievably, to carry a "textbook pregnancy." Each and every visit, my husband shook out a newspaper and began reading, as if he were some tourist on a beach, because, as he said, he was not worried at all. But I wondered if, secretly, he didn’t want to look me in the eye, at any given appointment, at the moment of "truth."
But all was well -- until the final week, when I developed pre-eclampsia, which, left untreated, can be fatal to mother and baby. The hint was elevated blood pressure; other testing was conclusive. Labor had to be induced – fast! And of course, induced labor carries a risk of miscarriage. But the lesser risk had to be taken.
Six weeks before my 46th birthday, after nine months of the scariest psychological roller-coaster imaginable, my husband and I witnessed the miraculous birth of our long awaited and statistically "impossible" newborn baby girl. Actually, I had passed out after the last push so I myself did not actually witness anything. However, when I came to, the baby was not with us, and there was no sound. The baby had been seen, but not yet heard, and this is one time a person wishes for the opposite of that old adage.
There! – across the room – I made out unintelligible gesticulating and murmuring, as though I had awakened on another planet. The umbilical cord was wrapped not once, but twice, around our baby’s neck....and our five-pound miracle could not breathe! Frozen, sightless, senseless, I let out one scream, jerking upward, eyes darting wildly in the dimness, the whole universe, like the proverbial tree in a forest, fallen, and far, far away....
Until the tiniest, teeniest cry pierced the queerest quiet, over, over, and over again, gathering strength, hollering, then wailing wildly its insistent, incredible message: "Life at last! – Even against the Odds!"
Author's footnote: between the births of my daughters, we adopted a special-needs 5-year-old boy Some say adoption and succeeding successful pregnancy are related; the evidence is anecdotal, but I'd like to include the fact here, to let readers know that we did not turn our backs on the adoption option.
Julianza Shavin-Katz lives in Colorado and is mother to Leah Miryam, Jesse Caleb, and Amadea Natanya. She is a freelance musician, writer, and visual artist. She is married to Harold Katz, computer engineer, musician, and poet.