“It truly takes a village to build a family.”
Here at August Women, we have a mission to foster a community of self-love and deep connection. To us, part of that mission means bringing women together by creating a space for them to share their stories with one another. August Women was created because one of our founders, during her pregnancy, wondered: “do other women feel the same way I do?” That question has become the basis for everything August Women does – the way we source our partnerships, the fashion we’re passionate about, and the conversations we want to have here on our blog and beyond.
We are so honoured to launch our new blog with a deeply personal piece written by someone near and dear to us here at August Women. October is Pregnancy Loss Awareness Month, and Jordan has generously shared with us her own experience with this difficult topic. We hope that her vulnerability and honesty will help any women who have gone or are currently going through something similar. Our goal here at August Women is to bring women together in many ways, and we know that sometimes, just knowing you’re not alone can be a powerful thing.
In the Pursuit of Family and the Fog of Infertility
Jordan's Emotional Journey of Love and Loss
For two summers during the pandemic, we’ve been fortunate to sneak away to a small town in BC.
During the first summer, the weather was warm and sunny, few wore masks and it almost (almost) felt like the pandemic did not exist. Despite three years of trying to get pregnant with our second child, we had reason to be optimistic: when we returned to Toronto we would try IVF for the first time.
Fast forward one year later….
We are back in BC. Most of the province is enveloped in smoke from the forest fires surrounding us and everyone is masked. Where once we saw so much expanse of space and life in front of us - the mountains, trees, wildlife - this year we saw no mountains, no lake, no life.
It is a year later, and this scene is our infertility journey reflected in nature. Much like the environment around us - the sun and light are seemingly extinguished, enveloped in a smoky fog of loss and lost hope, and not knowing what the immediate future for our family building looks like.
How did we get here? And how did this scene look so different one year ago?
Part I – From hope to despair and back again
After our first visit in BC in August 2020, I returned to Toronto. At that time, we kept our struggles with infertility a secret. I underwent the egg retrieval process for IVF and everything that came with it - the shock when I received the massive box of medication I would later inject into me, the daily early morning blood work that overtime looked like the remnant traces of a drug addict, the daily tummy injections with a very curious daughter looking on, and my continual, creative excuses to my boss at work to cover for all these early morning appointments.
At that time, we kept our struggles with infertility a secret.
After the egg retrieval, we rode the waves of emotional ups-and-downs clinging to “The Number” (our chances) slowly declining over a painful waiting period of one month. The inevitable countdown with every weekly update from our nurse: first the number of follicles retrieved, then number of viable eggs in those follicles, then number of fertilized eggs, then the number of embryos, and finally the number of viable genetically tested embryos. We started with the number 22 and made our way down to 4. Despite the declines, the result was positive. We had 4 healthy embryos ready for implantation.
The next month I went in for our first embryo transfer. What was more excruciating was waiting to hear if it worked. Ten days later we received the long-awaited results.
I was finally pregnant!
One more follow-up of blood work to confirm my HCG levels were rising and I was on my way.
Then I got a call from my doctor, never a good sign. The HCG levels are not rising properly and over a series of close monitoring and follow-up visits this is what I heard: “Your pregnancy is not viable... there are no signs of heavy bleeding, yet... we should give you medication to induce a miscarriage... but we first need to do an ultrasound.”.
And then a few days later from my ultrasound technician: ”I’m so sorry to hear the news. Wait… wait a second. I’m not supposed to tell you this, but I hear a heartbeat!”
Everyone was in shock! Later I found out my nurse posted the ultrasound picture above her desk calling it the “miracle baby”. I didn’t believe it and neither did they.
Part II – Then the unimaginable
I was closely monitored over the following weeks and everything eventually looked normal. I graduated from my fertility clinic to my OB. I still remember the last wave goodbye as I left the clinic. I should have felt relief and elation but I had a nagging feeling of dread. I pushed it to the back of my mind - that I was thinking the worst after having struggled for years.
We made it to the second trimester. Everything was looking great. We shared the news with our four year old daughter. Her reaction was precious. She too couldn’t believe it and asked “Mommy, is this a dream?”. She began planning all the toys she would share and where the baby would sleep. And we were ecstatic to tell our close family and friends.
But then the fateful day in March, when it all went up in flames. During my anatomy ultrasound I waited with cold gel on my enlarged tummy: one technician bug-eyed and silent except to say she was calling in the radiologist; then one hour later the radiologist also working in silence with unwavering, focused attention. I feared breaking the silence and her concentration. I “smelt the smoke”.
Finally, I asked the dreaded question: “Is my baby ok?”.
The answer: “No, and I need to see if mom will be ok too.”
The radiologist explained that my baby had serious abnormalities and was incompatible with life. Separately, and also rare, my placenta was aggressively invading my c-section scar from my previous birth - a condition known as placenta percreta - a life threatening condition that can cause severe blood loss and death. I sat there for a moment and recalled a conversation with my fertility doctor about the risk of this condition and that it could result in a hysterectomy. I put two and two together in that ultrasound room: not only was I losing my child, I would lose my uterus, unable to carry another pregnancy, and perhaps my life. I broke.
...not only was I losing my child, I would lose my uterus, unable to carry another pregnancy, and perhaps my life. I broke.
It was all a blur from there - phone calls, beeping machines, tears, google research, filing for disability leave, tears, explaining to my daughter, tears and lots of doctors appointments with rooms filled with healthy pregnant women. I was now on the other side. Then six hours of surgery and a week in the hospital.
Our journey led us here: I nearly lost my life, we lost the life of our baby boy, Nova, in the womb at 23 weeks and I lost my ability to give life.
We now entered what I like to call the “liminal space”. The physical and emotional space between one destination and the next.
Part III – A reason for hope
So now we are in the second summer. Instead of celebrating the birth of our baby, we are commemorating his death. We can barely see two feet in front of us, mask on our face from the pandemic shielding the acrid smell of smoke, sitting amidst the fog after the fire. We read poems, spread ashes and released balloons. This memorial not only released a flood of emotional anguish but, astonishingly, it was at this moment that literally the fog from the forest fires started to clear. I could make out the lake and the mountains in the distance.
While we experienced visceral suffering and intense grief during our journey, we also experienced moments of real meaningful connection and glimpses of genuine human goodness. Good people - really good people - surrounded us throughout.
- A doctor walked me from appointment to appointment to ensure I knew where to go
- Another doctor asked to attend my surgery just to hold my hand
- My husband and I lay together on my hospital bed hours before my surgery. He felt our baby kick for the first and last time
- A volunteer made an intricate knitted bassinet for our little one
- An unknown mother who lost her baby left a robe for the next loss mom just to signal she was there.
I also met women in unexpected ways who experienced their own pregnancy loss and struggles with infertility in their pursuit of building a family. I would have never met these genuinely brave, inspirational and authentically exceptional women were it not for my own story. We cried, we talked, we connected. Most importantly, we spoke of hope in the midst of unimaginable grief. They’ve given me my own courage and conviction that we can continue.
...these genuinely brave, inspirational and authentically exceptional women... (have) given me my own courage and conviction that we can continue.
As I reflect on my journey personified through the smoke and fog of wildfires that surrounded me, I’ve come to realize that forest fires also spur new growth. Wildfires, like infertility, are destructive forces, but they occur naturally. In fact, nature and evolution rely on them. While forest fires wreak damage and devastation with destructive consequences, they also stimulate new growth and renewal. And through this journey, I’ve reached into a reservoir of strength and resiliency I never thought I had.
Our reservoir of hope and renewal in the face of devastation is to continue our journey. We were amazed to hear of women - surrogates - who are willing to carry a pregnancy for another family unable to carry their own. We are now in our search of finding a surrogate who can carry a pregnancy for us - using our embryos - and help us realize our dreams of expanding our family.
Up to 16 percent of Canadians struggle with infertility and 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage or stillbirth. Surrogacy is an often unknown topic despite it having increased 400% in Canada in the past decade.
Up to 16 percent of Canadians struggle with infertility and 1 in 4 pregnancies end in miscarriage or stillbirth.
We are hopeful that a wonderful surrogate can help give our daughter a sibling, realize our dreams of expanding our family and to help us create renewed hope for our story - one of human resilience, growth in the midst of devastation, perseverance and a recognition that it truly takes a village to build a family.