If you’re my friend or follow me on Facebook or Instagram, you already know that I’m pregnant with my 4th child. What you probably don’t know is that this baby is a Paragard pregnancy– one that happened while I had an IUD in place.
If we’re not already acquainted with each other, let me catch you up to speed. I’m a recently-turned 32 year old mom of three truly amazing little kids. My oldest, a boy, came into this world seven and a half years ago when I was a young, healthy, and super active 24 year old without a clue about what tolls pregnancy takes on the body. He was big, and my doctor at the time said he was simply too big to make it out of my then-smallish frame, and after 3 straight days of labor and nearly 24 hours of broken water, he was delivered by C-section. Nearly 4 years later, I was a yoga-fit 28 year old getting ready to deliver my second baby, a girl, and had every intention of delivering her the old fashioned way. If you think I’m kidding, read this. I read just about every blog and personal account on the entire internet to talk myself into finding a way to get her into the world in the most natural way possible– Cesarean recoveries are hard on the body, mind, and if you ask me, the soul. Two days before her due date Hurricane Sandy was barreling up the East Coast, and while nobody in our downtown NYC neighborhood had any idea just how bad that storm would be, local businesses and medical offices were already shuttering. I called my doctor at 5 AM to tell her it was time to induce me, because if I didn’t have that baby TODAY, I had a bad feeling I’d be in a very dangerous situation without any medical help.
My doctor, although she was (and still is) amazing, thought I was just getting panicked for no reason. “Bryce, the hospitals won’t close. That’s impossible, and we don’t induce once you’ve already had a C.” I tried to take a nap, but woke from a dream where I saw myself giving birth in the dark with nobody around to help, and struggling to get my baby to breathe. That was enough for me.
I marched myself down to the hospital, alone, shortly after 6 AM. My husband thought I was nuts, insisting that nothing catastrophic can happen in NYC, and all the best doctors are here, and let’s just wait. I waited in the labor and delivery hallway for hours before my doctor would see me. A nurse told me I’d have to leave, and I wasn’t welcome to stay there anymore. I refused, insisting I needed a C-section right then and there. My doctor said she couldn’t do it, legally, unless I showed some signs of labor. Well, thankfully after being hooked up to monitors my contractions were mild, but just enough for her to legally mark me down as ‘in labor.’ Shortly after 6 PM that night, 12 hours after marching myself into the hospital and about 3 hours after my husband and mom finally showed up and realized how serious I was, my sweet nearly-9 pound daughter was born. Just a few hours later the hospital was evacuated. The hospital remained closed for months after that because of horrible flooding. Like my instincts told me, that baby had to be born THEN. I went home with fresh sutures after signing a mountain of papers (turns out it’s a major legal headache to release recently-sliced patients), only to find the electricity in our Chelsea apartment was out. The whole neighborhood was out. My ex-army husband was lighting things with lemons from the fridge, but somehow it all worked out because I had two beautiful and healthy kids. We knew we wanted a larger family at some point, but after that experience, I needed an emotional minute to get the lights back on, our home sorted out, and let my body heal. Imagine coming home from a C-section after just a few hours without so much as an Advil? Do that math.
As soon as the lights made it back on in our neighborhood (about 9 days later), I had my doctor call in a Rx for the mini pill, the lower dose birth control designed for moms planning to breastfeed. I was exclusively breastfeeding, and although I had no immediate plans to be intimate with my husband, I knew I had to start the pill as close to my daughter’s birth as possible and take it at precisely the same time every day for it to work. I did– and I was religious about it, and a couple months later, my husband and me were back to normal (she was a surprisingly good sleeper!). Three and a half months after she was born, I was still exclusively breastfeeding and religious about that mini pill. But I was pregnant. Again.
Somehow this pregnancy was easier, but my doctor wasn’t excited. Back to back pregnancies after C-sections aren’t just hard on a woman in all the usually-expected physical ways, but below the skin’s surface the uterus can actually thin and create a dangerous environment for both the mom and child. I delivered my 9 pound son almost 13 months after my daughter, to the minute. He was beautiful, healthy, and a perfect addition to our family. Somehow the failure of the mini pill became one of our greatest achievements, but my doctor quickly warned right before his delivery that we had only two options left: tubal ligation, or an IUD. If I got pregnant again too soon, I’d be at major risk of uterine rupture, and put my own life and potential baby’s life at risk.
I think it goes without saying that risking my life or a potential child’s wasn’t an option, but I did want the option of a fourth child (like I said, we wanted a large family!) down the road. We weighed the options of copper IUDs like Paragard, or hormone-releasing plastic ones like the Mirena. My doctor warned me that I might end up especially crampy or with more intense periods from Paragard, but I figured it was a small price to pay for keeping me un-pregnant long enough to mend and get to a point where my body could comfortably handle another 9 pounder.
READ MORE: My Experience with Paragard After C-Sections
I had the Paragard in for two full years. My periods in the beginning were awful– I likened it to being shot in the pelvis each month, but I figured that I’d just keep on going because various internet chat boards suggested it would get better over time. That’s when the miscarriages started, though. After the first few months I started to fall pregnant pretty regularly– every 6 to 8 weeks or so. Paragard works by making the lining of your uterus difficult for a fertilized egg to stick to, rather than stopping the fertilization process altogether. My eggs were fertilizing. And they were sticking, but after a few weeks they seemed to lose their ability to keep going, and eventually I would miscarry. I had several emotionally agonizing miscarriages during my two year run, and had no idea that Paragard pregnancy was relatively normal until one night, deep in tears, I spent hours googling other women’s experiences with my best friend. Aly, if you’re reading this, thanks for being a trooper so many times! At some point I spoke to my husband about taking it out. I couldn’t do it anymore. Physically, emotionally– all of it was too much. If you’ve ever had one miscarriage you know how awful they can be, and if you have several in an eighteen month timespan, ugh, it’s just hard to get past that without wanting to shake your first at every piece of copper you see for the rest of your life.
I scheduled an appointment with my new doctor, a high risk OB specialist (knowing eventually I’d need to see her because I’d almost inevitably need a 4th C-section at some point), to have it removed. Little did we know, I was already pregnant AGAIN. This time by just a couple weeks… just new enough to fly under the urine test radar (urine tests are notoriously less sensitive than blood tests, and most doctors only perform urine tests before removing IUDs). I went home, expecting to get my period at some point, even though it was terribly unpredictable since inserting the copper IUD. It never came. I waited, and waited, and then waited a few more weeks. I googled everything from ‘absent period after IUD removal’ to ‘early menopause’ thinking that there had to be some other reason for my absent period. Little by little, those telltale pregnancy symptoms started creeping up. I was napping at my desk, falling asleep at 7:45 PM in my daughter’s bed, and getting really upset every time the fridge was emptied of fruit. Instinct told me to get my butt back to the drugstore and buy a pregnancy test.
I let the tests sit unused in my bathroom for a few days. I didn’t want to take one, it seemed pointless. I couldn’t be pregnant.
I found myself waking up to pee around 10:30 one night and realized I needed to take a test. So I did. I laid it on the bathroom counter, shouted to my husband that I didn’t have the balls to look at the test, and that he needed to come read it while I looked for a cold bottle of juice. Thirty seconds later I heard him say, “OK! We’re having another baby, now we know why you’re so sleepy!”
Obviously I called my new doc, headed in later that week for the first available appointment, and heard her give me the schpiel about ‘well, this certainly isn’t usual, but it’s nice to see you back so soon…’ and ‘you’re really healthy, that’s a really healthy heartbeat, so congratulations on expanding the family!’ and all the rest of the usual, heart-calming things that I needed to hear. It was official. It was okay to be happy. You can’t imagine what it’s like to go even just a few days wondering if your doctor will give you awful news about the baby growing inside you. Or awful news about your own body. I kept thinking that maybe I just couldn’t do this, that it was too soon again, and maybe I was somehow defective. But all the tests proved the opposite. I could breathe– my body wasn’t a time bomb, and my baby had a good heart beat and looked as healthy as anyone could ask for.
Obviously I asked how I got out of the Paragard pregnancy danger zone– I mean, it seemed against the odds. She told me it was, in fact, VERY against the odds to have a fertilized egg make it to a healthy, growing fetus while on the Paragard IUD, but the fact that I had it removed just before it would’ve caused yet another miscarriage (a time window she said was a matter of hours, and by the grace of everything good in the universe, I was in her stirrups at the right time), was exactly the right formula for letting both my growing baby and myself skate right on by.
Fast forward a bunch of weeks. We’re not totally sure what week or day I’m in the way some women do when they chart their ovulation, because Paragard throws your periods off by a lot (for a lot of women anyway), but it looks like we’re hovering around 4 months and everything is good. I’ll head in for a 20-week(ish, haha!) anatomy scan in a couple weeks to get the exact measurements and due date predictions, but so far we’re feeling like we’re totally in the miracle zone even before meeting this little one, and there’s a good reason why I’m sharing all these usually very-private details.
Here’s why. I assume there are a ton of other women out there like me, women who want bigger families but need to time them for one reason or another, and are trusting their IUD for 100% protection. We all read the packaging that says ‘blah, blah 99.7%’ but never think that teeny, tiny sliver of a percentage can be us or a friend we know. It can be, and the miscarriages don’t seem to be figured into that number at all — only viable pregnancies. That’s kind of scary, and I want more women to know that although IUDs are statistically a good choice, they’re definitely not devoid of risks and side effects that span beyond just the physical. If you’re experiencing miscarriages from your Paragard or other IUD, you’re not alone. A simple Google search will bring you to near countless chatboards and threads of other women experiencing the same. And, if by some miracle like ours you find yourself with a healthy, beautiful pregnancy while you have your IUD in, it’s definitely not the end of the world. From what I’ve seen and experienced, most doctors are pretty adept at IUD removal in early pregnancy, and most of those pregnancies turn into healthy, bouncing bundles of totally-normal joy.