Written during week 38 of gestation – beginning 30 November 2021
November 30, 2021
Dear Pookie Bear,
I am currently 38 weeks pregnant with you, my little love. While you will eventually read this when you are a blossoming, beautiful, and vibrant nearly grown young woman, I wanted to write this letter to you before you were born so you’d know about our journey to have you, and you’d realize exactly how much you are loved and wanted in your daddy’s and my life.
In the ’90s, there was this popular boy band from Australia called Savage Garden. They wrote this song called “I Knew I Loved You” (before I met you). While your mama is a bit cynical and doesn’t believe in love at first sight (she does believe in lust at first sight, as that makes far more logical sense), she certainly felt this about you. I felt this when I saw the picture of you as a little embryo/blastocyst, a bunch of cells expanding after being thawed out from the freezer. I felt this during my first obstetrical ultrasound, when we saw you as just a little blob on the screen, a small gestational sac floating around the inside of my uterus. And with each subsequent ultrasound, more and more of you was forming and taking shape, and with each printout I got, I kept it close to my desk while working to remind myself how blessed I was to have you growing, slowly and surely, inside me.
My mother, your ba gnoai, always told me that I’d never quite understand how much she loved and worried about me and your late uncle until I had my own children. And while I debate most things your ba gnoai tries to lecture me on, as you yourself know how stubborn your mama is, I will willingly admit that she was right on this point. My worries about you began even before I was pregnant with you.
Pookie Bear, I’ve thought of you and been wanting you since 2018, though to be honest, your dad got cold feet and stalled until the middle of 2019, much to my annoyance and dismay. Little did he know then that getting pregnant wouldn’t come easily to us.
You see, we didn’t conceive you the “old-fashioned way” as much as I hoped that would’ve been the case. We started our TTC “trying to conceive” journey in the middle of 2019. After about five months of trying and each month ending with my period, I just had a sense something was wrong. I immediately went to my doctor to get tested, and she said everything was normal on my side, so I had your dad get tested, as well. And that was when we found out that things were not ideal there. I went back and told my doctor, and she was still hopeful. “It’s not impossible, but it may just take longer,” she said. She suggested we try for a few more months, and if it still didn’t work, IUI would be a good first step at a fertility clinic.
When I first entered that fertility clinic she recommended for an initial consultation in September 2020, I felt hopeful, too. IUI didn’t seem that invasive, and if “he just needs a little help” like my doctor said, within a few cycles, we’d get pregnant. But with each subsequent sperm sample, the results just got worse and worse. The second and last IUI, the sperm results were just one level above what they would have suggested to cancel the cycle entirely. I felt physically and mentally crushed as I sat in the room, undressed from the waist down with a covering over me, waiting for insertion, hearing this come out of the reproductive endocrinologist’s mouth. I wanted to scream, but I wasn’t sure who to scream at or blame for this. It just felt so unfair at the time that so many other couples were able to conceive so easily (and even accidentally), yet for us, it felt grueling and nearly impossible as each month passed. At the same time, I felt ungrateful and terrible, knowing full well that many other couples struggled for years if not decades to conceive with far worse prognoses than we had: closed fallopian tubes, poor egg quality, low egg count, azoospermia, completely immotile sperm, far lower sperm counts than what we faced. In total, we tried for about a year before I went to the fertility clinic. And after the second failed IUI cycle, your dad and I decided to forgo a recommended third IUI cycle and to jump right into IVF (in-vitro fertilization) since the success rates were much higher, though the treatment would be far more invasive, painful, and time consuming, not to mention much more emotionally grueling than IUI.
“Are you sure you want to do this?” your dad asked me after the IVF virtual consultation with the reproductive endocrinologist.
To me, all I wanted was you, Pookie Bear. I didn’t care that I’d need to go into the clinic for appointments nearly every other day for constant blood draws and transvaginal ultrasounds. Although I hated needles and the thought of self-administering follicle stimulating hormones into my body via 2-3x daily injections in my stomach scared me, all I thought was: all these other women before me have been strong enough to do this, so if they could get through this, so could I. I was strong enough, right? I could do this… just for the chance to have you. There were no guarantees as we were constantly reminded through this grueling process. But I remained hopeful because at the end, our goal was the same: to have you in our arms. We were also lucky in that your dad’s company at the time had amazing fertility coverage, which was rare for most health insurances and employers at the time in the U.S., so the out of pocket costs to us would be minimal. We had a lot of privilege, as I knew few people who had gone through fertility treatments at the time who had any coverage at all.
Sure, I felt a lot of anger and resentment: it made me mad that even though nothing was wrong with me specifically based on the endless tests I had to go through that I was the one who had to go through these invasive treatments, which would end in an egg retrieval, which is technically a surgery. I don’t blame your dad; he couldn’t help his situation, but I couldn’t help but feel resentful. I was angry that in all fertility treatments, only women had to go through this and that the hardest thing any man had to do through this process was to masturbate and jizz into a cup (you can handle my language by now, can’t you?). It just felt so unfair. Women already must go through the burdens of pregnancy and childbirth, and just to conceive when there is a problem, we must endure even more. This is what all women share: it is both a burden and a blessing to be able to get pregnant and give birth to a child.
And so, we went through with one round of IVF to begin. It was 2.5 weeks of daily self-administered injections nightly, with nearly every other day visits to the clinic. Each evening, your dad tried to remain supportive by standing by me as I did the injections into my stomach. He always had a nice treat, usually a dessert or Aussie biscuit, waiting for me when I was done. Your mama was very lucky, as she didn’t experience any of the usual IVF medication side effects, such as bloated stomach (that appears pregnant), mood swings, or nausea. Work at the time was very busy for me, as well, so I was somehow able to compartmentalize IVF and focus on work while at (remote) work. And then after the retrieval, which happened on the last day that I could say I was 34 years old (January 16, 2021), though I had a relatively smooth and quick recovery, I was beyond crushed and broken to find out the initial results on my 35th birthday the next day: twelve eggs were retrieved, but only five were mature and actually viable because one of my hormone levels unexpectedly spiked at the beginning of the cycle, which the RE did not anticipate, and so all the eggs grew out of sync. And in the end, out of five mature eggs, only one after fertiliziation made it to the blastocyst stage for genetic testing. I was angry at literally everyone after this happened: at the RE and the clinic for not seeing this coming and not changing the protocol; at your dad for not having to experience all this physically and not having the burden of doing nearly all the work; at the world for why I had to go through all this for barely a chance for you. I was pretty certain that if multiple lives existed, in a past life, I must have done something pretty bad to deserve this awful karma. But when the results came back and you, my little embryo, were considered a euploid (NORMAL!), I couldn’t help but be a little excited. And I was even more heartened when I found out you were female… because as I immediately thought when I saw the unredacted sex results: Of course, only a girl could have survived all this bullshit.
We debated doing another cycle, as I was scared we only had you, our one embryo, and if you didn’t “stick,” we’d have to start another IVF cycle all over again, from scratch. But your dad insisted we try with you first. He also did this because he was hell bent on having only one child, and I still wanted two. So, I finally relented because I was too exhausted to argue and debate after all this physical and emotional turmoil. I just wanted to move forward, and so we did that with you, our one survivor embryo.
So we did more testing, and finally the embryo transfer happened on Monday, March 29, 2021. I felt optimistic about your sticking. I hoped and prayed every day, and as you would know, I rarely pray. On that day, I got a picture of you, my little embryo. You were already expanding after you had been thawed from the freezer. And because your mama loves alliterations, I temporarily named you Emmie the embryo that day. Then a week and a half later, we got the news that you had, in fact, stuck: I was pregnant with you, my tiny survivor, my little embryo that could. Your Auntie Crista was staying with us at the time, and she accompanied me to the clinic to get my pregnancy test done. We walked across the park and had a fancy and indulgent breakfast at Sarabeth’s, then returned home. When the nurse called with the positive pregnancy test results just before midday, we both cried tears of joy and jumped up and down at the news. I was four weeks pregnant. I just couldn’t believe it: I was ACTUALLY PREGNANT. WITH YOU. Your dad, though, was cautiously optimistic: “Upward and onward,” he tentatively said after giving me a kiss on the forehead. He didn’t want me to get too excited in case this pregnancy ended in a miscarriage. And unfortunately, we know too well from too many people we knew how common miscarriage was, so it was dangerous to get too excited. But I felt we had to celebrate the small wins amidst so much waiting and crap we had to go through.
At the 5-week clinic appointment, your Auntie Crista also accompanied me, and that was when I had my first obstetrical ultrasound… which uncovered that there was not just one, but TWO gestational sacs; my little embryo that could SPLIT! We couldn’t believe it; your Auntie Crista and I were squealing with joy and excitement. The sonographer said she wasn’t sure if the second “sac” was just excess fluid buildup or a second sac, so she said we’d have to wait until the next week to confirm for sure if the embryo had split. And then, at the 6-week appointment, which your dad went to, it was confirmed: my little embryo had split into two, and we saw two gestational sacs, two yolk sacs, and two positive flickers — your two heart beats, on the screen. I was in total shock and awe. You would never believe how happy and excited I was; I couldn’t even believe how bursting with joy I was. I almost felt like it was just meant to be that we would have two babies. Your dad, on the other hand, was shocked and terrified. He eventually warmed up to the idea, saying it must have been his “super sperm” that caused the embryo to split. I let him think whatever he wanted. I was just elated.
In the moment it was confirmed I was carrying twins, this strong wave of protectiveness came over me. I immediately just felt this unwavering urge to shield the both of you from everything awful and ugly in this world. I know how unrealistic and helicopter-parenting that sounded, but I couldn’t help it. It was the Mama Bear in me revealing herself.
Unfortunately, it wasn’t meant to be. Two weeks later, at my 8-week scan that the RE did, he said that your tiny twin didn’t make it. The words that every pregnant person fears hearing were heard by us that day after a long silence and the doctor constantly zooming in to see closer on the ultrasound screen: “I’m so sorry. I don’t see a heartbeat.”
In that moment, I truly just wanted to die, to disappear into thin air and away from this cold, hard world that took your identical twin sister away. Just days before, my body was nourishing and growing two little babies, and just like that, one of them had literally vanished, her little heart stopped, and her gestational sac shriveled against the tiny embryo she once was. They call it “vanishing twin syndrome,” and it’s actually quite common according to all the medical professionals we spoke with. Although it’s been known to happen for decades with twins at this stage of gestation, little research has been done on *why* this actually happens. Your dad, always the logical one, got angry that we weren’t warned that this could have happened and how common it was. But I just felt broken, and I couldn’t stop crying. We ended up going to see a maternal fetal medicine specialist the next day to confirm that you were okay, and thankfully, you were just fine, progressing normally as a singleton, as though your twin never existed. The MFM specialist said she had no concerns about you, and you looked healthy and on track for this stage. And thank God for that, Pookie Bear: you were what kept me going during that dark period. If I didn’t have you to live for, I’m not sure how I would have made it out of that awful time in our life.
Given our journey to getting pregnant, IVF, and losing your twin sister, I remained cautiously optimistic as the weeks went by. But the days moved forward, and I held my breath at each doctor’s appointment, each ultrasound scan. With each week that passed, I was more and more thankful with all the good news that came our way. Other than fatigue and the occasional nausea in the first trimester, I was feeling very good. I felt amazing during my second trimester, and in the third, although I did have a temporary and painful 4-day bout of sciatica because of your position in my uterus, I was still so happy. Each visit, you were progressing well, growing, breathing, moving and kicking like crazy. One of the sonographers called you a “tiny dancer,” who made it difficult to get the still photos needed to evaluate appropriate brain development at times, but who always turned out okay. And as you got bigger and I could feel your movements, I could not believe how happy I was. Each day and night, I gave thanks for our progress, for having you growing in my uterus, happily and healthily. I had no idea I could be this happy, this thankful for my body, which was able to grow and sustain you as a new life. And as I started feeling your movements inside of me, your wiggles and squirms and turns and somersaults and kicks, I discovered a new amazement and new joy. Each movement felt like a blessing, and I imagined honestly being sad when you came out and I could no longer feel your movements so close to me like this. Before being pregnant, I had never known happiness like this one.
So after we got to around 20 weeks of gestation, I didn’t think calling you “Emmie” fit anymore, even though I did love “Emmie the embryo.” So your name changed to Pookie Bear. Now, you probably hate it when I call you that, but you will always be Pookie Bear, my little baby, in my heart, no matter how old or how big you get. Your dad and I have a lot of hopes and dreams for you, but our greatest wish for you is to grow up to be a happy, healthy, independent, empathetic, and kind human. The world into which you have entered is full of negativity, ugliness, racism, prejudice, injustice, and darkness, and navigating it all will be a challenge. But we hope that we will be able to arm you with the skills to get through it and not just survive, but thrive and make the most of it. I hope you will be quick-witted like your dad; I’m unfortunately too slow with comebacks for the idiots out there. We hope you will embrace your mixed heritage being Chinese, Vietnamese, and Indian, and having two nationalities, both American and Australian. We want you to combat any racist, ignorant crap that anyone tries to say or send your way. You are blessed and privileged to come from cultures so vast and rich, with long-standing histories and influences on the entire earth. You are also extremely privileged to be able to hold two passports from two wealthy countries that have little restrictions when it comes to entering different countries.
I hope you will be happy to know the story of how you came into the world, of how much your dad and I truly, genuinely wanted you. You have an entire extended family that has literally been waiting for years and years for your arrival (yes, this goes back to window guards on the second floor of your paternal grandparents’ home in Brighton, Victoria, in 2016; ask your dad for that story), and we all have loved you before we have even met you and want what’s best for you. I know there have been and will continue to be times when you will get angry with me, be mad about things I say or do, but I hope you will remember that I love you and always just want what’s best for you. I will always try my best to listen and be empathetic to your needs. I may not always do or say the right thing, but my heart and intention are always in the right place for you; I am human, after all, and humans do make mistakes. I can admit that, at least. I hope you will love and be proud of your parents, who have tried so hard to give you the best life possible, a life that is better and easier than even the lives we had, and magnitudes easier than the lives our parents and grandparents had.
I love you more than anything else in the entire world. You and your dad are my whole world, my sweet Pookie Bear. As long as I have the two of you, nothing else matters to me.
Your mama Yvonne