I haven't been to the dentist in nine years

Yes, really. Nine years.

I need to go and I am terrified. Every time I think or talk about going I start shaking and then the tears come. I don’t think there’s ever been anything in my life I was more scared of (other than getting a spinal for my c-section).

What is the source of my fear? The simple answer is that I associate the dentist with a traumatic event. The two are (most likely) not related, but I can’t seem to separate them in my mind.

I can tell you the exact date I last went to the dentist. It was Wednesday, April 17, 2002.

I was 11 weeks pregnant. I walked into the office, went up to the receptionist and burst into tears. I told her I didn’t think I could go through with having my cavity filled. I had never had a filling without the gas.

This was also my first time ever going to a dentist that wasn’t Dr. Smith (like my creative pseudonym?) - the man who went to high school with my father and ended up being our dentist for most of my childhood. Dr. Smith used to hide the needle from me so I didn’t see it until the very last second. After he got me good and frozen, he’d proceed to tell blonde jokes - to his blonde patient and blonde assistant. Nothing unkind - he was just a funny man. And I wish I could have packed him up and brought him to Ottawa with me when I moved. (I feel the same about my GP and chiropractor, too.)

If I had been wise, I would have taken the receptionist up on her offer of a reprieve. I would have walked away and not had that cavity filled. Instead, I decided that I needed to grow up and do what had to be done. Because that’s what you do when you’re facing impending motherhood, right?

It was awful. I don’t think I’ve relaxed in the last nine years since I got up from that chair; my body was wound so tight. Not having gas for a filling should never have been an option for me - nor will it ever be again. My tooth was sensitive for months after because I had the tooth-coloured filling for the first time.

All in all, it was way too many firsts. First child. First time without Dr. Smith. First filling with no gas. First filling while pregnant with first child. The firsts piled on top of firsts and turned it into something far greater than it had to be. But that wasn’t the end.

Thursday I started spotting.

It continued on Friday.

And Saturday. 

When I woke up Sunday, I knew I needed to go to the hospital. After hours on a saline drip, freezing cold from what must have been ice water they were dripping through my veins, they finally did the ultrasound that confirmed what I already knew.

My baby was gone. 

Logically, I can tell you that I don’t believe those two events were related. But fears are rarely logical and this one is as irrational as they come. It’s been well over nine years since I went to the dentist. I’m sitting here writing about this on the ninth anniversary of my due date - November 7th. It’s astounding to me that, had things gone differently, I would have a nine-year-old running around. But things didn’t work out that way.

And now I have to go back to the dentist. 

My dad always told me I needed to brush my teeth properly or my teeth would rot out of my head. His nagging advice was wise and I heeded it and I have had few issues. But I am a teeth grinder. Always have been (it used to wake my mom up at night). My physiotherapist keeps telling me to get a nightguard to help with my neck pain.

This means a trip to the dentist.

Last week, I woke in the middle of the night when a felt something crumbly on my tongue. It was a chip off of one of my molars. Just a small chip. No pain. But it was a wake up call about that nightguard. Clearly, it can’t wait.

Today I finally started looking for a dentist. Specifically, I’m trying to find a sleep dentist. I’m pretty sure that I’m officially beyond the ability to relax even with the gas anymore. 

Now, if only I could get someone to let me use the gas so I’d actually make the call to set up an appointment.

Journey to Motherhood Part 2: Aftermath of Loss

This is the second part in a series; you can read the first post here: Journey to Motherhood Part 1: Unexpected Change of Plans.

A few weeks after we lost the baby, we traveled to Florida - our first visit since I'd moved to Canada - to see family and friends. It was a bittersweet trip. We wanted to go down anyway but we'd planned it with the intention of celebrating the baby that we were no longer going to have.

I had planned to spend time with a girlfriend and her husband who were expecting their second child. We'd been emailing back and forth during our early weeks of pregnancy comparing notes and realized we were due exactly a day apart. We were "belly buddies" as she put it. I surprised myself by never feeling jealous in her presence during the time we spent together. Sure, it was hard, but I knew what she'd gone through to have children. Of all my friends at that stage of my life, she probably understood better than anyone how I felt - even though to my knowledge she never miscarried. The fear of never being able to have children carries an extemely heavy weight of grief - and that was her reality for several years.

I wasn't quite so mature when I found out later that summer about two co-workers who were expecting. I was simultaneously jealous and ashamed of my jealousy. I talked a lot with another colleague who'd lost a baby several years before and was struggling to conceive again. She was a wake-up call for me. Her grief - still very raw - was contributing to feelings of bitterness and dissatisfaction with many areas of her life.

I didn't want to become bitter. I made a conscious choice that I was going to work through it and move on. It wasn't always easy and for a long time I had struggled with some really bad moments or days, but I feel that I succeeded in grieving and moving forward as healthily as I could. To be honest, even if I didn't, a lot of the hardest times seem to be erased from my memory.

While dealing with the emotional aftermath, I had to deal with the physical as well. It became apparent pretty quickly that my body wasn't functioning post-pregnancy as it did pre-pregnancy. I'm sure there's a certain degree of "normal" abnormality but instead of getting better over time I was getting worse. A friend saw symptoms she recognized and suggested that I ask to be tested for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS). She knew from personal experience what it looks like and I showed many of the signs. I'll always be thankful for her having the courage to make that suggestion (we hadn't known each other for long), because she was right.

After my diagnosis, I did a lot of research on PCOS and learned I could potentially develop problems with fertility. You kinda don't know until you try but there was a lot of preventative steps I could take to give me better chances. Unfortunately, the primary steps were to diet and exercise. I don't excel at those particular activities. There were drug options but I was really uncomfortable with going that route after doing further research into my options. Where some would be motivated by the challenge to take action, it just further frustrated and overwhelmed me because I felt I had so very far to go.

I put off the work I had to do. Occasionally I'd begin to put in effort and make significant progress. It never lasted long and I usually lost any ground I had gained. 

For various reasons, including my inability to make lasting changes to help myself, we didn't seriously commit to a timeframe for trying again for a baby. I still feel the sting of my repeated failures.

I learned something through the process of becoming pregnant and then losing my first baby - that motherhood was something I really wanted. I couldn't have told you why (I still can't); it was as if some internal switch was flipped within me by getting pregnant. Wanting kids as some vague plan for the future is one thing - that was my mentality before my first pregnancy. But after walking around for eleven and a half weeks knowing my child was growing inside me, I knew that what I really wanted was to be a mother.

All I had to do was find the right time.

Journey to Motherhood Part 1: Unexpected Change of Plans

Growing up, I always knew I wanted children. In fact, I wanted a big family. I grew up in the south in the Bible belt and there were large families everywhere. My parents, my two brothers and I were considered a pretty smallish family and though my mom actually wanted more children, it didn’t happen for her. 

My husband and I got married fairly young. In 2000, I was 23, he was 27 and by this time, my goals had changed and I knew I wanted to work outside the home, so having a large family wouldn’t be a financially viable option for us. Two kids – that perfect nuclear family – was my revised dream. I was no longer set on having kids young. Waiting five to ten years so Matt and I would have time alone together seemed like a good plan. 

Imagine my shock in February 2002 when I started to suspect I was pregnant. Part of me was secretly thrilled. A new life! A little baby! It was so exciting. The rest of me was kinda terrified. We had school loans to pay off, other debts because we both moved to Ottawa from our respective hometowns, so we were essentially starting life all over and that's expensive. I was starting fresh in a new country, I didn't make that much money and how could we live with me getting only 55% of my salary for a year? We also couldn’t afford childcare once I did go back to work. Financially, the timing of the baby was not good. But I kept saying to myself that we’d figure it out. We’d find a way because there’s always a way.

At first, I didn’t share my suspicions with Matt. I waited until I could do a pregnancy test and while he was still asleep one weekend, I did the test.

It was positive.

My stomach sort of sank into my toes when I saw the result. I was a bit scared to tell Matt. But there was still that thrilled part of me that hoped he would be happy about the baby. This was an unwise expectation. We weren’t even discussing planning or trying to have a child, so why would he be anything other than shocked? I told him the news and he was stunned. I made an appointment at the clinic to have the pregnancy confirmed. 

By the time we got the results, I was only about 6 weeks pregnant. My due date was November 7th, 2002. I didn’t want to tell anyone, but Matt did. He was still unsure about our changing situation, but I think he was beginning to accept this unexpected development in our lives. We told all of our family, friends and co-workers.

The first trimester was fairly easy on me. I couldn’t stand the taste of coffee, which is just as well since I needed to cut it out anyway. I didn’t have much morning sickness at all and I ate like there was no tomorrow, sadly gaining about 15 pounds in two months. That part wasn’t cool. Neither was the utter exhaustion. I never realized a body could get that tired and still function!

When I was in my 12th week, I went to the dentist for a filling. The appointment had been made months prior and it didn’t even occur to me to cancel it. I know, it’s good to visit the dentist and continue dental care while pregnant, but that doesn’t mean you have to have fillings. I am a full-on, 100% wimp and I’m not afraid to admit it. I had never, up to that point in my life, had a filling done without gas or by any dentist other than the man I’d been going to practically my entire life. Unfortunately, his practice was down in Tallahassee, FL and I was in Ottawa, so I couldn’t go to him AND I was pregnant, so they couldn’t use the gas. 

I walked into the dentist office and burst into tears as I told them with shaking hands that I wasn’t sure if I could do this. The receptionist smiled sympathetically and told me that I was the second one to come in with that problem that day. She said if I didn’t feel up to it that it was fine. 

I didn’t want to be a wimp. I wanted to buck up and be adult about this. I was 24, not 4. I needed to grow up and be responsible. I let them do the filling. In hindsight, I should have walked away, though. Heck, they should have sent me home! I was clearly in no state to have a dental procedure done. I sat in the chair with my fists clenched and my back muscles tightening more and more with every second they were grinding on my teeth. When the filling was finally done, I was actually sore and emotionally wasted. I vowed that I would never go for a filling again while pregnant. The experience was so horrible for me that getting a cleaning done in future pregnancies was definitely an iffy prospect as well.

The next day when I came home from work, I found that I had started bleeding. I called my mother, panicked and wanting her to be able to tell me it was going to be all right – that I wasn’t going to lose my baby. But how could she? I asked her if I needed to go to the hospital or the doctor. (I really didn’t want to go.) She said that if I was having a miscarriage there is nothing they could do to stop it. I think I knew as soon as the bleeding started that this wasn’t going to end well. Three days later, I finally went to the hospital because the bleeding got heavier and I was having a lot of cramping (or contractions, since I was essentially giving birth). 

The ER doctor confirmed that she couldn’t find a baby or a heartbeat and that she felt I had miscarried. I had to go for a follow-up ultrasound with a technician to confirm her findings two days later. I had the ultrasound in one building and was sent back to the hospital’s ER department for the doctor to give me the results. In triage, the nurse who spoke with me told me that it didn’t look like I’d had a "spontaneous abortion", one of the medical terms for miscarriage. I began to hope that the baby was okay – maybe the first doctor had made a mistake!

Then we were called back to the exam room and the doctor gave us the news that the baby was gone. All I could think was, "Why the hell did that nurse tell me it wasn't?" On the way home from the hospital, Matt told me that it felt surreal. We’d just gotten used to the idea of having a baby, we were starting to get really excited about it, and all of the sudden the baby was just...gone. 

I grieved hard for that baby. In my mind, she was always a girl. We hadn’t been able to agree on a boy’s name, but we had picked a girl’s name – Jennifer Leigh. Eight years later, I can’t imagine having a seven-year-old running around. Our life would be vastly different today if my first pregnancy had not ended the way it did and it is still surreal to think about. I felt like a mother, but I didn't have a baby to hold. My views of motherhood changed dramatically and I wanted a baby more than anything. I no longer wanted to wait for years before trying. Wisely, Matt insisted on waiting.

He was right - I wasn't ready after the loss of our first.