What’s in a Name?

After several weeks of not posting, I finally have regained the use of my vocabulary.  As mentioned in a previous post, I tend to get paralyzed in times of trial.

We had one of our precious frozen embryos transferred on September 23rd.  All over the internet on message boards, these frozen embryos are affectionately referred to as “snow babies”.  I was the definition of a compliant patient and even took two days off work to make sure that I gave the little embryo snow baby a chance to settle in nicely.

After a seemingly interminable 10 days of limbo, we were told to report to the office for first blood draw to test our “Beta” level – the Beta HCG serum pregnancy test.  For lay persons, this is the more sensitive blood test equivalent of the test offered in the drug store where you pee on a stick.  The serum test is able to detect the pregnancy hormone at extremely low levels, allowing for earlier diagnosis than the urine test.

Of course, nothing can be straightforward for us, and although we did get good news, it was tempered.  In addition to having a positive test (defined as a level greater than minimally detectable 5), we were told that the pregnancy was guarded, because our Beta was only a meager 25.  By then, the numbers should typically have been in the hundreds.

A string of nerve racking additional Beta tests followed.  Two days after the initial test, our Beta behaved appropriately and doubled.  Heart pounding!  Joy! Joy!  The meager 25 turned into a slightly less meager 53 with an order to return to the office the following Monday (three days later) for another vampirey phlebotomy session.

Meanwhile, back at home, the tiny seed of hope in our hearts began to grow.  I am not sure when, but at some point I got it in my head that this snow baby should have a proper name and not be called “little buddy” or “little one” or “little guy”.  For some reason, I had a feeling it was a boy embryo.  The name that was suddenly assigned in my head inexplicably was Luke.

Let me be clear that Luke is not a name I have been dreaming of naming my son all my life.  I don’t know a single other person named Luke.  Luca, yes –even a wonderful dog Lucas, a loving Rottweiler (our beloved dog Ellie’s Oakland cousin).  But no Luke.

Where did the name come from?  I’m not such a spiritual person.  But admittedly, lately, I have been reaching for something that seems to be lacking in my life. In a word, perhaps, FAITH.  We’ve even been to Church a couple of times, inspired in part by Pope Francis.  As I’m sure you know, Luke is one of the Biblical Gospel writers.  Apparently also a physician and a martyr, he has become known as the patron saint of doctors, which is somewhat ironic given that I am one, and I never knew that about St. Luke until I just looked it up now.

I told Roberto about Luke’s name and he protested vehemently.  “No Luke Skywalker!  My Mexican friends will say, ‘what, you were too cheap for the extra “A” ‘[in Spanish, monosyllabic Luke would be adjusted to bi-syllabic Luca].

The Sunday night after the second Beta was dramatic.  It was the night before Beta test number three, so we were already on edge.  I was tucked in for sleep.  Suddenly, I felt a terrible uneasiness come over me.  I began to be overwhelmed by a drenching sweat and terrible cramping pain.  The incident lasted about 15 minutes – but no blood appeared.  I was certain something was wrong and crushed by a feeling of dread.  I was certain that the following day’s Beta would show that the pregnancy was lost.  And then, as quickly as the pain had started, it passed.  I had scared Roberto profoundly. After changing into a dry shirt and some spooning, we tried to finally get some sleep.

The following day, I felt totally fine.  We went for the blood test and waited for the result, and the good news came in the afternoon.  Another appropriate rise!  Underwhelming 53 was now 153.  What a relief!  Luke had survived the prior evening’s scary incident!  All was good with the world. Back to the government shutdown and cursing the dreaded Tea Party Republicans.  Back to work.   We even dared to start making plans for a life after infertility.  Our wedding.  A bigger apartment.  Social engagements. A baby!!! 

The nurse’s next order was for us to report back in one week to check for a sac on Ultrasound and once again, a Beta HCG.  That week, I started to have this pain that would come and go on my side.  I was certain it was an ovarian cyst.  Sometimes in early pregnancy, one can develop an enlarged corpus luteum cyst that can cause some pain.  But then also, some small brown spotting started to appear.  I was worried, and I contacted the nurse who was reassuring.  “A lot of people have some tiny brown spotting.”

Of course due to the holiday in honor of the raping and pillaging Columbus, our next appointment was delayed until Tuesday.  We couldn’t be more nervous, especially given the pain I had been having and the guarded nature of our pregnancy.  We prayed that Luke was going to be fine.

But he wasn’t fine.  The Ultrasound technician couldn’t find a sac in my uterus.  And to make matters worse, she also didn’t see much of a cyst to account for my pain.  Not only were we on miscarriage watch, but also a “rule out ectopic”.  If our Beta level came back high, the question would be where was the sac?  If it came back low, things were not right with the pregnancy and we had miscarried. There was a small sliver of a chance that the levels would be right and the sac show up within the next couple of days.  But alas, it was not Luke’s time.

After what seemed like an eternity of an afternoon later, our nurse finally called.  The Beta was low.  All meds had to be stopped.  And several days later, I would pass the remains of the pregnancy.  Our spirits have sunken right back into the abyss.  Why did I give him a name?

I keep trying to find meaning in all of this. A lesson – something good to come out of it.  What can that be?  And I wonder if Luke was trying to tell me something, help us figure something out.  As a result of this latest disappointment, I will be having some additional testing done for some esoteric causes of repeated pregnancy loss.  Maybe Luke will lead us to find out that there is something else wrong with me that can be fixed up so we can be successful later.  After all, he is the Patron Saint of Doctors.  Perhaps, I hope, he’ll watch over us now.