Tell us a little about yourself.
My name is Adina Schwartz; I am 28 years old and originally from Toronto. My husband Jason and I got married five years ago and live in New York. I work at Everly Health as a Senior Manager of our Clinical Operations team and have been with the company for two and a half years.
What was happening in your life when you decided you wanted to start trying to get pregnant?
We knew right when we got married that we wanted to wait at least two years before trying to conceive. I was no stranger to the struggles of infertility, having friends and family who have experienced varying levels of infertility, so I knew that it could take some time. I joined Facebook groups and decided that I wanted to (probably a bit obsessively!) start tracking ovulation right when I got off birth control so I could time things correctly. There was chatter at this time of a virus overseas, but we had no idea in early 2020 what was ahead of us. The day of my preconception appointment was actually the same day New York had the first reported COVID case.
Tell us about your experiences with fertility and pregnancy.
We were extremely lucky to get pregnant in our second month of trying, and I attribute that to ovulation testing. My pregnancy was relatively normal, except the typical morning (or all day!) sickness throughout the first trimester, and then the body aches and pains towards the end of my third trimester.
Being pregnant during COVID was definitely scary since this was before the vaccine was available, and I was going to all appointments alone. Thankfully, we managed to stay healthy the entire time. I was also lucky to be working from home which made being sick a lot easier. It was really only after everything went south, that my fertility journey looked a lot different.
It was really only after everything went south, that my fertility journey looked a lot different.
Devastatingly, we experienced the stillbirth of our son at 36 weeks after a crash c-section to attempt to save him. I had been at the doctor earlier that morning for my 36 week appointment, and all had gone smoothly. I had my GBS test, received my baby’s estimated weight, and was starting to negotiate with my doctor about induction plans (which he told me needed to wait until at least a few weeks, of course). It was Christmas Eve, and I had the day off work, so I went home to relax. Throughout the day, I realized that I had not felt my baby move in a while, which concerned me, but I figured all had to be fine since I was just at the doctor hours earlier. I also had a previous episode the week prior where I noticed reduced movement, went to triage, and of course, right when they strapped the monitor on, my baby started moving. I left that encounter feeling like a bit of a silly and dramatic first-time mom who went to the hospital for nothing, so when this occured a week later, just hours after a doctor’s appointment, I knew I did not want to go through that hospital experience again. I spent the majority of the day with my hands on my stomach and driving myself crazy trying to get my baby to move. It got to the point where I wasn’t even sure if he moved, and I missed it. I spoke to a few friends as well as my husband, and we all concluded that everything had to be fine since I was just at the doctor that morning. Hours later I went to sleep, and when I woke up in the middle of the night and still did not experience movement, we decided to head to the hospital. We thought they’d dismiss our concerns and not even want us there—who wants to deal with patients on Christmas Eve? We were so oblivious to what could happen.
From the time we got to the hospital until the baby was out was a total of fifteen minutes. The events that transpired are a lot to convey in a short paragraph as well as properly express in words. But I was in labor and delivery triage, and they tried to find my baby’s heartbeat. They did eventually locate it, but it was clear something was wrong, and it was much too low. An entire team rushed into the room and the words I remember being clearly called out were “36 weeks. Emergency c-section. Get every tech in the OR now.”
I was rushed to the OR for my c-section, and my husband left to wait alone in a support person room. I was put under, and they did a crash c-section and attempted to resuscitate our baby. When they got him out, which they did in three minutes, he already had no heartbeat, and they worked on him for twenty two minutes. My husband found out the news by himself, and he was with me in the room when the team woke me up and told me what happened.
No words can adequately describe the events of that day as well as the immediate days and weeks that followed. We were in the hospital from Friday early morning until Sunday afternoon once we were discharged and left to navigate our new normal.
Strictly speaking on the fertility aspect, I wasn’t even allowed to try to get pregnant again for six months (but I bargained with my doctor down to four) because of the c-section and risk of uterine rupture. The closer we got to the four month mark without my cycle returning, I was extremely anxious about secondary infertility, even though I had no reason to think this would happen to me. At about three and a half months post stillbirth, I went on progesterone to induce a bleed, and then hoped ovulation would follow soon after. It took a little longer than usual to ovulate, but I eventually caught my ovulation (thanks to OPKs!) and miraculously got pregnant again that first cycle! That pregnancy unfortunately ended in a miscarriage at my eight week appointment when I was told there was no heartbeat, followed by a D&C the next day. We were back to the waiting game of letting your hormones regulate, wait to ovulate, and try again. We found out from the genetics on the embryo that the baby had trisomy 16 which is one of the most common causes of first trimester miscarriages. Unrelated to my stillbirth, but just two unlucky events (one more common than others) back to back.
We started the grieving process again, albeit differently this time, as well as the wait for my cycle to return, which we were told could take up to three months. There was constant ovulation testing and lots of anxiety on my part, and eventually at about two months post D&C, my doctor put me on clomid to try and induce ovulation since I was anxious to speed things up. I ovulated on each of my three rounds of clomid, but did not get pregnant, which was completely normal.
After those three cycles, I went to an RE to reevaluate and see how we can speed things up, since we had been on this grueling journey. He suggested an IUI with my next round of clomid so we can be more aggressive, but during that time I would have to get an HSG to make sure there were no blockages. During that cycle off clomid, I ended up ovulating on my own and getting pregnant, but that one ended quickly in a chemical pregnancy.
After three losses, all very different, and two which are pretty common ones, and with no explanation for the chemical pregnancy other than it just happens, we decided that we wanted to move ahead with IVF and PGT testing. It is an aggressive approach, but we want to be able to minimize risk as much as we can and have as much control as possible into this process.
We are excited to have some level of “control” in the process and at least know that whatever embryo is going in has the best possible chance.
What are you currently doing to take care of yourself while working through your grieving process?
This answer looks very different depending on which stage of our grief you would ask me! The first few weeks and months were really a blur, and it was constant grief as we tried to navigate our new normal and return to the world. When we felt like we were getting somewhat back on our feet was when we experienced the miscarriage, so it really just felt like we were being kicked back into the mud. I think our biggest progress has been in the second half of 2021; whether it is the time, medication, or really amazing therapists who have been with us along the way, I can say that I finally feel that we are in a really good place of healing. That’s not to say any of this was easy though, especially returning to work. I was so lucky to be given the space to return as I saw fit, and jump into work and then pull back when needed. The support of my manager and team was truly remarkable. But even just an answer such as this one doesn’t ever fully encapsulate just how difficult this process was.
You’ve been open about experiencing a stillbirth and miscarriage within a very short amount of time. How have these experiences changed your perspective on women’s health and conception?
Oh my goodness so much has changed, it is hard to even quantify. First and foremost, I really wish there was more education regarding these issues. I considered myself pretty knowledgeable and informed during my pregnancy, but I had no idea things could turn out the way they did, especially after having an appointment and everything being fine just hours prior to my stillbirth.
I also very strongly feel that women’s concerns, fears, and questions need to be addressed and taken seriously. So many women, especially first-time moms, complain about not wanting to go into triage for fear of being dismissed as just a nervous first-time mom. There is so much stillbirth education that needs to be shared, and when I look back at my experience, what is done is done, but if I knew then what I know now, or if any of the people I spoke to that day of reduced movement had the knowledge of what to do in that situation, things may have been different.
There is also a fine line of how one can share with people that something like this could happen to them, without scaring those around you.
I just wish I had the education then that I have now.
There is also a fine line of how one can share with people that something like this could happen to them, without scaring those around you.
You’ve previously talked on podcasts about the nerves you experienced when it came time to leave the safe space of the hospital. How has your experience with loss impacted both your relationship with the places and people in your life?
This is another biggie—so much has changed in the past year plus, I truly feel like I am a different person now. During the first few weeks and months post stillbirth, it was really hard for me to adjust to returning to my same surroundings, and life, while so much has changed. These spaces were supposed to look so different, and have new life in them, but instead they were filled with grief.
I have learned so much, though, about how to be there for others during their time of need, specifically how to reach out to people, what to say, how to offer things to them, offering something specific and not broad, etc.
Every first was something that was difficult and scary—the first friend who told me they were pregnant after my stillbirth, the first time we returned to our apartment, my first Zoom call back at work. They were all obstacles that we had to overcome.
What advice would you give other women struggling after stillbirth, miscarriage, and pregnancy loss?
The advice I was given just a few days later was that I will eventually be okay. And that was really hard for me to understand or even believe, but as cliche as it sounds, time really does heal. You never go back to who you were before and your life is forever changed, but the passage of time is truly a wonderful gift. This feels so all consuming and suffocating, and it will for a long time, but there will be a time that things will get better, as impossible as it is to believe that. Also, find people who understand what you have been through! I go through phases of wanting to connect with others, read a ton of stories, or pull back and not have so much information about other’s loss. But at the times when you need it, it is so helpful to share with others and hear from those who are in it, but also those who have made it out the other end.
There were times that it was helpful to connect with those who have already been through it and had successful pregnancies and births since, and at other times, it was nice speaking with those who were still in the thick of it, who had not come out the other side yet, and who fully understood what feelings I was feeling at that moment.
Also, do what feels right for you. Protect yourself and if that means setting boundaries, that is completely fine. You need to take care of yourself. This is a time when it is completely okay to be selfish.
You need to take care of yourself. This is a time when it is completely okay to be selfish.
Is there a larger vision that keeps you going, even when your motivation is down?
I would definitely be lying if I said that I was positive about this the entire time and was able to keep my head up and stay motivated. What helps is telling myself that this will pass; it will not stay this bad forever and just knowing that everything happens for a reason, and there is a larger plan than I know of. This is also much easier for me to say now, one year out, than it would have been six months ago.
What is your favorite Natalist product?
Always love a good OPK!
What advice do you have for other aspiring mamas?
Get familiar with your cycle right when you start trying to conceive! Knowledge is power—you can start tracking ovulation right away; it is such a key piece of information during this journey.
Anything else you’d like to share?
It’s hard to sum up a story such as mine in one blog post, and it is especially difficult for me to encompass all of these complicated feelings coherently as well. Nothing that I write or say will ever fully encapsulate my experience, and I am always nervous to leave out important pieces. Everyone goes through something, and if you find yourself in a scenario like my own, please feel free to reach out. I feel like throughout this past year I have put together a collection of resources (Facebook groups, Instagram pages, books) and am happy to guide others along this difficult path.