I have a story to tell. It’s about my journey to motherhood and beyond, along with foresight, insight and hindsight and how Tepeyac has been with me through it all.
Let’s start by saying I’ve been a longtime patient of Tepeyac, which started as Tepeyac Family Center. I began as a patient there just a few years after they were established and at their Lee Highway location. At first, I was just a routine gynecology patient, going in for annual exams. I had heard they were a completely pro-lie practice that practiced in-line with the teaching of the Catholic Church. Once I heard about it, I knew the practice was the perfect fit for someone like me.
Insight: Tepeyac is fairly unique among OB/GYNs. Who else is both pro-life and pro-faith that you know of? Today, compared to the late 90s, the model that Tepeyac stands upon is one-of-a-kind. We mustn’t forget that information when realizing how important it is to support organizations in line with our own values– by being loyal a patient, volunteering, prayer and financial support.
When I married 20 years ago, my husband and I had already decided that we would wait a couple of years or so to have children. We were both in our late 20s and we had the mindset that oftentimes, when a couple had children right after their marriage, that they missed out on time alone with each other that they could never get back until the kids had left the house. We wanted to know each other as a married couple without children as well as with children. So, we practiced Natural Family Planning (NFP) to postpone pregnancy from the start.
During these very early years, I had one of my annual exams at Tepeyac. Dr. Marie Anderson asked me when we intended to start having children. Confidently, I shared our philosophy and plan to start trying after two to three years. I was a bit astounded when her response showed more disagreement than acceptance. “You should think more about starting now. You have a wonderful husband and you’re not getting any younger.” – that was the gist. Was it because I had told her about my sisters’ rough journey to motherhood? That conversation at Tepeyac bothered me for a while. “How could she not see how reasoned we were with our approach?” I thought.
Hindsight: Dr. Anderson had something valuable to say. We wouldn’t personally know why until later. However, for many couples, this is generally good advice. When you are in a stable, marital relationship and in your prime fertile years (if late 20’s can be seen as prime anymore), each needs to seriously think about the openness to children that God called them to on their wedding day. Are they putting His plan first or their own plans? Each couple needs to purposefully contemplate this.
Some time passed, and before long, we celebrated our second wedding anniversary. The thought, just the thought, of whether we would start trying for a baby soon crossed my mind every so often, but without urgency. Within several months of that anniversary, our contentment was rocked. My dear mother passed away at a relatively young age from heart failure, which she had battled for years. She seemed to be doing so much better. Her weight was down, she was exercising, she and my dad found rekindled romance, and then…gone. Unexpectedly, though crestfallen, God gave me the peace with her death as truly being part of His plan.
Only a few weeks later, I knew it was time for us to start trying to have children. My mom’s death had reminded me (and I hate cliches) of how short and precious life is. She would never know our children on earth and she ADORED her other grandchildren. If I could have a child at that very moment, and I died at the same age as my mom, that child would also be ‘robbed’ of a mom at the age of 29. Too early, I felt. The time was here. I thank God that my husband was right on board with me. We stopped using NFP to avoid pregnancy and put the charts and thermometer back in the bedside drawer. It was mid-November.
And with our very first try, by mid-December, we had a positive pregnancy test. Wow. I mean, “just like that, it worked?” We embraced and felt such joy. I remember that perfect Christmas morning that year with snow gently falling outside, our best gifts ever, and the knowledge that we only knew of the family we had started.
Just a few mornings later, I woke up in pain. I had cramping that was so bad. So sharp. I tried to get up, but each movement was like my side being stabbed. “I think something’s wrong,” I said to my still sleeping husband. He wasn’t happy I had awoken him, told me it would go away, and began getting ready for the day. I started crying from the pain and lack of empathy, but pulled myself together and got out of bed. As I moved to the steps to go downstairs, I found myself hardly able to walk, I was literally doubled over. It was evident my husband thought I was overreacting, as he told me as much. “I’m calling Tepeyac,” I announced, “I can’t even walk.” It was Saturday, and the office was closed, so I spoke with the doctor on call. I was instructed to go to the emergency room.
I didn’t even think to ask which emergency room I should go to. Sure, Tepeyac delivered at Fair Oaks Hospital, but that wasn’t the closest hospital to us. Shouldn’t we go to the nearest hospital? That’s what we ended up doing. That’s when I learned that not all hospitals include all departments: that this particular hospital didn’t even have an OB/GYN department or even a single OB/GYN on staff. Well, the ER doctor ordered blood work to check my hormone levels, and they ordered an ultrasound. It was my first time in a hospital since I had hemorrhaged after my tonsils were removed when I was 12. I couldn’t believe how slowly things moved along. After I had the ultrasound, we were told that since there was no OB/GYN on staff, there was no one there who could interpret the images, and they had to be sent to another radiology department to get the results. More waiting. Finally, the report came back and we learned that no gestational sac could be seen. We were told that in rare cases, the baby can implant outside of the uterus, something known as an ectopic pregnancy. We were told I might need emergency surgery if it was the case, as the fallopian tube might rupture and kill me. That if it was an ectopic, the baby couldn’t be moved to my uterus but would die. The saving news was that my hCG numbers were at right about the level where it might or might not be expected to be seen. The ER doc called Tepeyac and spoke to Dr. John Bruchalski. They concluded that the best thing to do was to wait a week or so for my hormone numbers to go up, and then we could have a second ultrasound for a better diagnosis.
Insight: The choice of hospital does make a difference in emergencies. In a life-threatening situation, of course, proximity is of greater importance. In other situations, it may pay to think through which nearby hospital can best provide the most appropriate care for your situation. If you don’t know, call and ask your referring doctor for advice. Once you have this information, you can even instruct an ambulance to go to a different hospital than the nearest hospital, if needed.
We left the local hospital and the next week went fairly smoothly, with perhaps some mild cramping and twinges. The next Saturday, I received an unsolicited phone call from Dr. B. He sounded so warm and ensuring, so caring. What really impressed me then (and still does to this day), is that I could tell he was calling me from home, as I heard his then young boys playing in the background. Doctors work tirelessly when they care deeply about their calling. “Can you do something for me?” he asked. “Can you jump up and down on your right leg? … Now your left? Did you feel any pain?” I hadn’t. “That’s an old trick for determining whether there is a growth where it shouldn’t be… an ectopic pregnancy.” He expressed that the facts looked promising to him that things were seeming to go fine.
My scheduled ultrasound was at the Tepeyac office the next week. My husband and I waited for Dr. B. to come into the ultrasound room. And he came in. And he actually administered the ultrasound himself. His bedside manner was light at first, then as he focused and refocused the images, he was more subdued. He pointed out that there still wasn’t a sac in my uterus. He panned over to one side and there was our baby in my right fallopian tube. The baby’s heart had already stopped beating. Swiftly, he took the measurements for my file, snapped a few photos, and had me sit up while they printed. Then, he prayed. He prayed with us and for us, and it was natural as can be, even though it was the first time I ever knew a doctor to pray with patients. As I dressed, the tears welled in my eyes, trying to hold things together.
We named our baby after the saint whose feast day it was when we found out we had lost him, St. Raymond of Penafort.
Because the baby’s heart had already stopped, surgery would not be needed. However, the remains of the pregnancy and the baby itself would need to be removed to prevent infection, blockage of the tube, and further scarring. To accomplish this, I was given an injection of methotrexate a couple of days later.
Insight: Tepeyac is once again different from other OB/GYN practices in that it approaches ectopic pregnancies in line with the moral teachings of the Catholic Church. Suffice it to say that it is not easy to summarize here. Still, isn’t it good to know that their doctors care about the sanctity of life while other practices might not give it a second thought?
During this time, I was emotionally raw. I was so crushed. All I could think was that ‘just a few more inches’ and our baby would have made it to my uterus and been fine. He would have lived. He was soooo close! Why? Why? Our poor baby! The bleeding started. I would be in the bathroom balling as I couldn’t help but think of just how I was losing this baby. Of how his tiny little body would be expelled into the toilet. Our baby. Our son. He did not deserve the toilet and the sewers as a resting place. Yet this was the reality. I gushed so much. Blood and clots that just poured out of me. And my dear husband, I’m sure, couldn’t drown out the sound of my cries in our small, cottage-like home.
Those intense emotions stayed with me for quite some time. I really grieved. And grieved. I think I cried most everyday for over a month. And then a little less, but the heart was still heavy. Because of the toxicity of the methotrexate, we were told not to continue trying to conceive for the next month or two until my body could rid itself of the deadly effects of the drug.
I had a follow-up procedure to the ectopic pregnancy, known as hysterosalpingography (HSG), where fluoroscopic x-rays are taken of the female reproductive tract. The results showed that my fallopian tubes were found clear, though there was some scarring at the site of implantation, However, it shouldn’t prevent me from getting pregnant. If an egg couldn’t make it down the affected tube, there was always the other.
That September, we discovered I was pregnant again. Because I had had an ectopic, the good doctors at Tepeyac wanted to track my hormone levels from the very beginning. If the numbers didn’t double every two days or so, it could point to another ectopic, which was certainly possible. So, I started the regimen of having my blood drawn as close to every 48 hours as I could. Soon after learning we were expecting, my husband had to leave for out-of-state work training for three months. It was close to where I had grown up, so I planned to visit him and my own family a couple of times while he was there.
With each blood draw, I would get a call from one of the Tepeyac nurses to tell me the results. The numbers looked promising. One day, while in my work office, I answered the Tepeyac call I had become used to, only this time, it was Dr. Bruchalski instead of the nurse. I knew immediately there was a problem when the doctor himself called. Sure enough, he told me that my hCG levels were falling- that this could only mean that I was having a miscarriage and that I could expect to start bleeding soon. He had compassion. I would continue to need to have my blood drawn to make sure my hormone levels dropped to 0. We finished the call and I found myself on the edge of crying. I needed to go home so I could call my husband and have a good cry. The tears flowed sooner than that as I told my coworkers what had happened, including that I had been expecting at all, never wanting that group to be the first to know, but life happens just when you least expect it to, sometimes, and we adjust.
I drove home and called my husband in the middle of his workday several states away. Was there a need to come home? No. I would see him the next weekend in Chicago. He was sad but held it together for me. I spent the afternoon so sorrowful and distraught.
The news of our loss spread fast, and my sister-in-law called on the phone that afternoon. She was concerned that I was by myself and told me I shouldn’t be alone during this time. She asked if I wanted to go out to dinner. So thoughtful. So we did, and it helped to have an actual person to talk things through with face-to-face.
The bleeding must have started a few days later. I had the foresight to know that this time, I wanted to capture the body of our baby. I found myself closely looking in the toilet water each time I used the bathroom. It’s amazing what we can find ourselves actually doing in times of trial. Thus, I found myself scooping up what I believed to be the gestational sac with my bare hands and depositing it in a cup. I looked closely. Was that our tiny baby? It was. I knew it. What do I do now? I had wanted to bury her, (We named the baby after St. Monica the next weekend.) but wanted my husband to be there. So, I put her tiny remains in the freezer. I could scarcely tell others this at the time, and still find it difficult to write about today. I mean, who freezes their lifeless baby? For the next two months, I would quiver each time I went to grab an ice cube.
This second loss was no easier than the first. I spent so many days in sorrow. My heart was aching. We were keenly cognizant of the souls of these children. We knew they were created by God and alive only because of Him. My mother-in-law even told my husband that God had a special purpose for creating these souls and that He chose and needed us to create them. I do believe that’s the most profound thing she has ever said– and I’ve found that thought so comforting through that time.
After one of my follow-up appointments at Tepeyac, I drove to the nearby Paschal Lamb and looked for a suitable burial container for Monica. I ended up buying a wooden box for storing a rosary. It had a picture of Mary holding the infant Jesus on it. I transferred her remains to the box, lining it with some scrap fabric we had in the house.
Once my husband came home from his training that December, we decided that it didn’t feel right to bury her in our yard. We had talked about moving soon, and it wouldn’t feel right to leave her behind. We came up with the idea of a water burial. We agreed on a beautiful and special place, nearby Great Falls Park, where water roared through narrow passages of rugged rocks, a place we both enjoyed hiking. So one overcast afternoon, we went to the park and found a smaller branch of the falls where we said a prayer and sent our daughter in her tiny rosary casket swirling downstream among the turbulent, crashing waters.
This is Part 1 of a Serialized Account of the Real Experiences of an Actual Tepeyac OB/GYN Patient Written by the Patient Herself. Watch for Part 2 in the next printed newsletter from Divine Mercy Care.