Wednesday, June 25, 2014

The Day My Life (and My Appendix) Exploded

Five years ago today, Michael Jackson died. As much I enjoy "Thriller" and "Billy Jean," I remember June 25, 2009, more significantly because my own life changed forever. My appendix ruptured. I experienced more pain than I have ever felt before or since. I spent 12 days in the hospital from infections and complications, and I didn't fully recover until several months afterward. That day shook me. It pushed me to a state of physical helplessness and humility that made me realize that my physical strength can be taken away at a moment's notice. Little did I know then, however, how much that day truly altered my life.

Two-and-a-half years later with medical help, my husband and I finally received the happy news of pregnancy. But at six weeks, I had a feeling something was wrong. I had severe, debilitating cramps, which didn't seem like a normal pregnancy symptom. However, I ignored that feeling. At 8 weeks, the cramps got worse, and I started bleeding. When I finally saw my doctor at 9 weeks, the doctor confirmed my suspicion that I had an ectopic pregnancy caused by tissue damage from my ruptured appendix. And by that point the embryo itself had ruptured. Surprised that I could even walk on my own, the doctor immediately checked me into the hospital, and within hours I was in the operating room. My doctor told me that we had a good chance of another ectopic pregnancy occurring on the other side.

My husband and I knew it would not be smart or safe to try to conceive without using IVF and began planning accordingly. As we started our first IVF cycle, we found out that I was pregnant again with another ectopic pregnancy. Once again, I found myself in the hospital--coincidentally in the room next door to my last visit six months before.

After the first ectopic, we felt how little control we have in life. After the second, we wanted to throw our hands in the air and say, "We surrender!" As much as my appendix episode humbled me physically and mentally, the subsequent consequences of it have equally humbled me spiritually and emotionally. Eventually, we gathered our hope and strength to try again.

When we completed our IVF cycle and awaited the pregnancy test results, my mind and heart unavoidably raced through the possible outcomes--positive and negative. What if it worked? What if we have twins? What will our kids be like? What if it didn't work? What if we never are able to have our own kids? I believe in general I kept a positive attitude, but I learned long ago to have a backup plan, to anticipate the unexpected. I don't wear rose-colored glasses.

As I wondered how I would react if IVF didn't work, I realized that even after three major surgeries, multiple disappointments, and everything going horribly wrong that I was still there. I made it through, and I even made it through a stronger person than I was before. Even if the result came back negative, or even if--God forbid--something were to happen either during the pregnancy or after, somehow I would make it through the pain and sorrow and eventually find a way to be okay. I would find a way to find joy.

The wait suddenly became far less frightening. The positive result sank into my heart deeper and sweeter.

It may seem stupid to remember or bring up a traumatic event from which I have long recovered, but because of that one event, I am a different person than I was or would have been without it. My husband and I are a different couple with a different vision for our family. But because we never gave up and didn't become bitter because of our difficulties, I believe we are different for the better. As I remember that day and all that has happened since, I remember the lessons I have learned from all of it and realize that I still need and will need those lessons just as much now and probably even more in the future as I did five years ago.

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