Today, my baby is six months old! So I thought I’d write a little bit about our journey thus far.
When my doctor said “congratulations” and gestured at the piece of paper on the desk in front of my chair, I was a total blank. I was completely programmed for disappointment, for sorry, the fertilised egg didn’t stick, for your womb wasn’t a safe enough place to keep this baby, and my mind hadn’t even registered the possibility of anything else. But there it was in front of me: September 9th, 4 weeks pregnant. Oh god.
I couldn’t relax. I was still terrified. 4 weeks was nothing; it was still too early to celebrate. I’d lost babies in this early stage before. “Come back on Friday for oestrogen injections,” the doctor said. “And keep using the oestrogen patches and progesterone pessaries.” Okay, yes, yes. Focus on the practical things. The paper he’d given me warned of cramps, of spotting, of morning sickness. It asked people not to display their maternity marks inside the clinic out of consideration for people who had yet to conceive. Sure, yes, okay.
Once the appointment was over, I went into the stairwell and down a flight of stairs. I called my husband, and spoke to him in English just in case someone else overheard and was upset: “You’re going to be a daddy.”
“Oh! That’s good,” he said. “Thank god.”
Because my clinic was specifically for those with fertility issues, I not only went regularly for injections and blood tests, but I also initially had ultrasound scans every week. I wanted them every day! Is it still there? Is it still alive? I kept impulsively buying pregnancy tests “just to check” – until I read somewhere that hCG levels can still remain high enough for tests to read positive for a couple of days even after a miscarriage, so using them as a metric for whether or not the baby was doing okay was a waste of money. Hard as it was, holding on until the next checkup was the only option.
The following week, I started feeling sick. The English name is such a misnomer, as “morning” sickness not only happens at any time but can happen all the time. And oh, it did. I was fortunately not cursed with the heavy kind where you end up hospitalised due to an inability to eat anything at all, but I did end up going to hospital two or three times for IV fluids after several days of not keeping anything down. I would throw up on the way to work and have to call head office to cancel (my contracts were time-specific, so it wasn’t the sort of work you could show up late to). I would throw up while walking the dog. I would barely manage to avoid throwing up on the way home from work and dive off the train at the next station instead. But hey, this meant my little goldfish was growing well, right? Right? So it was okay.
At some point, I started bleeding. It wasn’t a lot of blood and I had no cramps, but… how much is “a lot”? How much blood is a normal amount? Why is any amount of bleeding “normal”?! It was days, days, weeks. Every time I went to the clinic (still two or three times a week) I would tell them: I’m still bleeding. Why am I still bleeding? Is everything okay?
Yes, everything’s fine, they would say. It might continue for a bit.
But WHY! I was getting really distressed. Why am I bleeding! Why is this apparently normal and okay!
So my doctor finally explained. Diagrams of the uterus are always face-on, she said, so it’s easy to forget that the vagina is actually tilted, angled towards your spine. You’re using progesterone pessaries every night, as advised. One of the effects of the progesterone is to make the skin in the vagina thinner, more tender, and more likely to ooze blood. Even inserting the wand for the transvaginal ultrasounds was likely to make it produce blood, she explained, so it’s quite possible that you’ll bleed more following a scan, too. Furthermore, the vagina is not smooth but ridged, and due to the aforementioned angle this means that blood can pool in places and clot, which is why your blood is brownish and not bright red. If the bleeding is bright red and heavy enough that it seems like the second day of your period, then you can worry. But the chances are, you will continue to experience spotting like this until you’re done with the progesterone, at around 12 weeks.
Well, that instantly made things a whole lot less stressful. On that front, at least.
At my 7-week checkup, the doctor frowned at the ultrasound screen. “Mrs. H,” she said to me, “there is a twin.”
Why the frown? Well, under normal circumstances an identical twin (as this one was: there was only one fertilised egg) should have grown at the same rate as its sibling, and this one was much smaller. Why?
Well, it was possible that there was some genetic issue creating a problem. If that were the case, the bigger twin would also have the same problem and would possibly stop growing soon. However, the bigger twin seemed to be growing well, so that theory seemed less likely. The other theory was that the second twin wasn’t getting as much energy from the shared placenta, and would eventually “vanish” and be reabsorbed. The third possibility was that the smaller twin would continue to grow, but the difference in size meant that there would undoubtedly be concerns throughout the pregnancy.
My husband and I went out for lunch together after that appointment. I cried. I’m a real pro at crying. I wanted both babies, of course I did. But the moment that twin entered our lives was also the same moment that it was essentially taken away from us: we knew very well that the likelihood of it reaching full term was incredibly low. In the end, she got no bigger and disappeared from the scans altogether. I still think about her, even now. My second little goldfish. My husband, entirely practical except for in unexpected moments like these, says “she wasn’t ready to be in the outside world just yet. She wanted to stay with you.” Even though I know that’s sentimental rubbish, it helps my sad mama heart.
At somewhere between 7-8 weeks, we went to the local government health centre to register my pregnancy and to get the “mother and child record book” that you need to take with you to every appointment from pregnancy onwards (until the child is ready to start school). We also received some information about local services and the “Mama support taxi” system, as well as the maternity mark that ostensibly helps you sit in the priority seating on public transport. I often got back from work pretty late, and riding the packed evening trains from Tokyo down to the Kanagawa seafront was a real struggle if I had to stand. Fortunately, I was never in a position where I never got a seat, even if it was a few stops along the way.
I initially didn’t want to tell anyone about my pregnancy until the first twelve weeks were over, at the very least. I felt weirdly guilty, using my maternity mark to get seats on public transport while the rest of my friends didn’t know. It felt a little unfair somehow, like, these random strangers know I am pregnant but friends I’ve known for close to a decade haven’t a clue. I told my parents very early on, and then one or two close friends. But oh boy, that morning sickness really didn’t let up! I had a Monday morning contract that started at 8am, coincidentally at a company that made equipment for fertility clinics, so they totally understood why I occasionally couldn’t make it, or why I would be hunched over the desk slowly sucking on a pouch of fortified vitamin jelly when they arrived. Next, I told my actual employers, who were very understanding (given that since I was a contract/freelance worker, they had no legal obligation to provide any support or grant maternity leave, hah). But everyone else? Big no, not until much later on. What if something happened? What if everything went horribly wrong? What if I lost the first twin as well as the second? Besides, despite the ongoing sickness and constant need to pee, I still didn’t really feel pregnant.
And then finally, oh finally! The first trimester ended, which is where I think I shall leave this post for today.
Thank you so much for reading, especially if you made it this far!