Welcome to Refinery29’s Fertility Diaries, where people chronicle their joyous, painful, and sometimes complicated paths to parenthood. Today, we hear from Jackie Quinn-Piper, a 40-year-old woman in Southern California who is struggling with secondary fertility and who has experienced four miscarriages.
"I didn't know I wanted to have kids until I thought I couldn't. In my 20s, I was pursuing higher education and a career, and just really enjoying my life with my husband. But a few years into the marriage, we decided to "try" — I went off birth control but wasn't too worried about it. But after four years without success, we began wondering if something was wrong. At 35, I went to a fertility doctor. He suggested in vitro fertilization (IVF).
"We went for it but there were financial, physical, and emotional costs I wasn't prepared for. We had to pay about $20,000 for the first cycle. Worse, we later learned we only had one 'B quality' embryo viable to "transfer." We were hoping for at least one 'A,' which would have a higher chance of resulting in a healthy pregnancy that would be carried to term. We went for it, and two weeks later I found out I was pregnant. We were overjoyed. The nurses and doctors told us to wait before we got too excited because sometimes pregnancies don't hold. It was week seven when we heard the heartbeat. Feeling relief, we left the clinic and began planning. But the next week, I started experiencing pain. I went in and they said the heartbeat had stopped. It was a miscarriage.
"We decided to take a break from treatments after that, and eventually we began trying to time sex to my cycle again. At the end of June 2018, I had a positive test. The pregnancy was terrifying, I kept worrying something would go wrong and this was going to be taken away from me. But, after a difficult nine months and birth, I had my son and he was healthy. We were ecstatic.
"About a year later in 2020, I found out I was pregnant again. We were so happy, but history repeated itself. Around the same week of pregnancy, we had the same issue we'd had after implanting our IVF embryo; they couldn't find the heartbeat again. It was the most terrible déjà vu I've ever had. They told me I could wait for things to "take their course," but it would be days and days of bleeding and I didn't want that. I wanted to mourn and move on. I had a [dilation and curettage] (D&C) to remove the fetus. On the day of the operation, they had me fill out a form for insurance purposes. The form listed [the procedure] as an "elective abortion."
"I didn't realize something like this was classified as an abortion. My husband was angry about it being called that because we didn't have any control over what happened. I always was and am still pro-choice so it surprised me to feel so much emotion about it being called an abortion, knowing this wasn't something I was choosing.
"Chrissy Teigen recently spoke out about being in a similar situation. She had no choice but to have a technical abortion for her health, though she thought of it as a miscarriage at the time. “Let’s just call it what it was: It was an abortion,” she said recently. “An abortion to save my life for a baby that had absolutely no chance." I was so appreciative of what she shared. Abortion is such a complicated issue, and there are so many people who have them for so many reasons. It's not talked about enough. In fact, I spoke to my mom about the subject, and she was like, “Oh yeah, I had four miscarriages before you.” I didn’t know that before. Now, with the recent Supreme Court decision overturning Roe v. Wade, if what had happened to me then happened now and if I lived in another state, I would have been even more terrified. It would be another level of anxiety on top of everything. With my history, I would also be scared to try to conceive again.
"After the second miscarriage, we grieved, and then we decided to start trying again months later. I desperately wanted to give my son a sibling, but I also felt riddled with guilt about that. I told myself, I have my son, and that should be enough. We have such an amazing kid right here in front of us.
"I got pregnant again. But when I went in for an ultrasound, they couldn't find anything in my uterus. The doctor said my [human chorionic gonadotropin] (hCG) and progesterone levels were still increasing, which was strange. It seemed like there was still hope, so they kept having me come in for testing for a few weeks, but they never found a heartbeat. A nurse told me it could be an ectopic pregnancy, in which the fertilized egg implants outside of the uterus. It was a total mindfuck. But soon, my levels started dropping again and they told me it was another miscarriage.
"Eventually, we decided to give IVF another shot. This wasn’t our first rodeo, so we were prepared for it — and then we weren’t. We genetically tested the two eggs from the retrieval that made it. One had too many chromosomes, one had too few, our doctor told us. We knew we couldn't do IVF again as we'd spent about $40,000 in total and were in debt. Five months later I got pregnant again but then miscarried another time.
"Through therapy, I have attempted to process my sense of loss and despair. I had to accept what I couldn't change, and know you only have so much control. My husband and I have had lots of conversations about our desire for another child, and he's been so supportive. Right now, we're not actively pursuing getting pregnant again, but it's still in the back of my mind. I honestly have some hope. If it were to happen, that would be amazing but we're just letting it be and are trying to be okay with where we are now. In some ways, that's relieving. It's like stepping out of a fog. Now we're just going to live."
As told to Molly Longman.
This interview has been condensed for length and clarity.