Raquel shares her story of having two children in her mid-forties with a donor egg. Raquel’s High Risk Birth Story begins with a chemical pregnancy miscarriage shortly after getting married at 39 and includes multiple miscarriages and rounds of IUI and IVF. She shares her stories so others will feel supported and like they are not alone.
“Reconnecting with Raquel: Pregnancy in my mid-forties” with Raquel Bruno
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Dr. Fox: Welcome to “High Risk Birth Stories” brought to you by the creators of the “Healthful Woman” podcast. I am your host, Dr. Nathan Fox. “High Risk Birth Stories” is a podcast designed to give you, the listener, a window into the life-changing experiences of pregnancy, fertility and childbirth.
Raquel, welcome to the podcast. It’s so nice to see you.
Raquel: Thank you so much. You’re awesome, Dr. Fox. You are. I’m so glad…and you have no idea, I’m so excited to be here.
Dr. Fox: We reconnected this year in Englewood, New Jersey, of all places.
Raquel: Yes, exactly. Jersey strong.
Dr. Fox: Jersey strong.
Raquel: Or Dirty Jerz, however people wanna take it. Yes, we did.
Dr. Fox: You know, I’m an unsuspecting doctor walking into an ultrasound room to tell someone their ultrasound’s normal. And what did you tell me?
Raquel: I said to you, “I can’t believe it’s finally you. We’ve been waiting weeks to see…” or months actually at that point to see you and really years because we had had our first miscarriage or we thought it was our first miscarriage and my prior doctor, Dr. Christopher, who was amazing, said, “Well, I think that you may be in the midst of having a miscarriage but I want you to really get another opinion. Please go see my colleague, Dr. Fox.” And sure enough, it was terrible news the first time. But what you had provided for my husband and I was the fact that you had said to me literally verbatim, “It’s not a matter of if you’re gonna get pregnant, it’s a matter of when.” And those words stuck with us for eight years, eight full years. And every time we had had…and we had such a bumpy road. Every time we went through that, I kept hearing your words in my head and it kept us going.
So, when we were going back to try again with RMA in New Jersey, it was Dr. Rybak that said, “Go see Dr. Fox.” And we’re like, “Wait, wait. Is this the same Dr. Fox? He was in the city.” Because that’s when…time when I was living in the city and I just moved. And he said, “Yes. Yes, it is. He’s now out of Englewood.” And every time I’d gone and I’m like, “Maybe this is the week I see Dr. Fox. Maybe this is the week,” and you came in and then we both kinda started tearing up.
Dr. Fox: For the record, I’m in both places now but I spent most of my time in the city but I am in Englewood periodically which is where I live. So of course, why would I go where I live when I can commute to the city every day and enjoy that? But it’s…you know, we see so many people and you said we met, you know, eight years ago, nine years ago and it was just…it was awesome. And to get…and first of all, it was awesome because it’s nice to see someone but number two, you are on the other end of this tale because here now we’re talking about your second child after that first time, “Am I gonna ever have any kids?” And it had been a very long time.
Dr. Fox: But to, you know…this idea when you’re going through something and you say, “Oh, one day we’re gonna look back on this.” That was that day.
Raquel: Hundred percent.
Dr. Fox: And it’s just so nice to actually have that day and to look back and to get to recount it. And today is…this day is really that day because we’re gonna get into it in detail but that was a pretty cool day. I remember I came home, I told my family, I said, “You’ll never believe what happened to me today,” and I told them the story and they were like, “That’s awesome. That’s so cool.”
Raquel: Talk about a swing of emotions. And this process is never easy and that’s why I wanted to do this podcast with you because I think it’s really important for not just women but for partners in general. It is all the feels when you go through this process. And to…I mean, you have no idea. We had actually…we were like, “We really need to find Dr. Fox,” because we just wanted you to understand, like, even something so simple as, “You will get there at the end of this journey,” but we couldn’t see it. We couldn’t see the forest for the trees. And to…just that one simple line, when you really feel like a number, when you’re going through the process and you feel like a scientific experiment, you feel like, “Oh, my God. You know, am I ever gonna be a mom?” And it really…you have no idea. Like, I still tear up thinking about it because that day…that just made that day, as awful as it was…it gave us hope. It really did.
Dr. Fox: Hope, as we learned in Shawshank Redemption, is a good thing. It’s the best thing. But it’s true because when we’re going through something devastating, the first thing is obviously just, you know, complete grief.
Dr. Fox: And then after that usually comes complete guilt which is unwarranted but it happens obviously.
Dr. Fox: And then after the complete guilt comes the hopelessness. And I spend so much time trying to just stop people after the grief. Like, just grieve. Just be sad. This is horrible, this is terrible. No one should take that away from you. But don’t go to the next level. A, don’t go to guilt. This isn’t your fault. And don’t go to hopelessness because that’s just not…I mean, there are people who…nothing works out for them. Obviously. There’s people who have the most, you know, horrible situations but that’s not what typically happens. Almost always, everything’s gonna work out eventually, particularly if everything else is in line, everything else is in order. And it’s hard for people to just stop at grief. They feel like that’s not enough.
Raquel: Right. It is and it’s…as someone once told me when I went through the first time and then the second time, “It is a marathon, not a sprint.” And you really have to have a long view on this process. Sometimes you’re lucky, sometimes you’re just like, “We went through it.” And my kids, when they turn teenagers and they’re such a pain in the butt, I’m gonna say, “You have no idea what we went through to get you here.” It really was so tough. And along the road, have we not had folks like yourself that were just our cheerleaders that basically said, “Just keep going. Just keep going. If this is truly what you want, you gotta keep going.” But some…you have some tough days and there’s…I mean, there’s…after the second one, I had two weeks on the couch where I just…I couldn’t lift my head up. So, there are…but then you’re just like, “Okay. I’m gonna give myself a minute to go through this, let it pass through me literally in every sense of the word but let me pass through these feelings and we try again.” That’s life.
Dr. Fox: Yeah, well, I’ve got some news for you, my friend, as someone who’s raising and raised four teenagers, you’re gonna have those bumpy days ahead as well.
Raquel: I am already bracing. I have a three-and-a-half-year-old that I said like, “Oh, my goodness. What were we thinking?”
Dr. Fox: Teenagers, they’re also a marathon, not a sprint. You gotta play the long game with the teenagers.
Raquel: I have a threenager. I’m already preparing myself. Are you kidding? I’m like, “Oh, my God. What is he doing?”
Dr. Fox: The long game, life is the long game.
Dr. Fox: So, let’s do chronological. Take us back to the beginning. Where are you in life? What’s your family situation? Where are you living? What are you doing professionally when you first embarked on this journey to start your family?
Raquel: I was living in New York City and I had spent my whole life, you know, basically, it was career first. And I figured, “Well, family’s gonna come along if I’m…” You know, first of all, dating in New York City is a disaster. Anyone who’s out there who’s gonna hear this goes, “Oh, yeah.” And so, I ironically have been dating somebody and I was like, “Enough with New York City already.” And I’d been looking for a friend of mine who I just hadn’t seen since college and I’m like, “Where does he work? For the CIA? I never see him on, at the time, Friendster.” That’s how long back we’re going. Friendster, Myspace, couldn’t find him. Found him on Facebook and…but at this point, you know, I was 38 years old and I always thought, “Well, if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.” And I knew in my heart…I had friends of mine who wanted to have kids but they weren’t finding the right partners so they actually went the sperm donor route. Unfortunately, for a good friend of mine, it didn’t work out the way she wanted it to. But she really did try.
For me, I wanted the full package. I wanna know that if the partner is there, the kids will also be there. Didn’t know it was gonna happen much later in life. So, I’m working for myself at this point. I had left Viacom. I’d worked for MTV. I’m a TV and talent producer and also DJ and a thousand other things which we’d just talked about. But basically, I found my partner…he was my best friend in college. I hadn’t…if you had asked me at 18 when we first met that I would be married now to Chris Kaira, my now husband, I said, “You must be out of your mind.” He was, like, my best buddy that we watched John Cusack movies with and we always were like, “We’re best friends,” while dating other people. Never dated. But sure enough, we reconnected on Facebook.
And it was…you know, we dated for about a year but we knew we were…as soon as we were about to get married, we started immediately about a month before our wedding. I actually think I was pregnant at my wedding because I remember I was, you know, dancing. I’m like, “Oh, I feel a little nauseous. What’s going on with that?” And it just wasn’t my normal, like, you know, stomach issues. I’m like, “Okay.” And then we had our honeymoon, what have you. And then sure enough, we…I was like, “Well, let me just check.” Took the pregnancy test and we were pregnant naturally.
So, at this point, I am 39. We got pregnant so…and I always thought, you know…everyone always says, “Oh, Fertile Myrtle. You come from a fertile family.” A thousand times you hear this, right? Well, for…you know, I had 39-year-old eggs. And we went in to see Dr. Christopher. We went for our first checkup actually. I still get choked up. And there wasn’t a heartbeat. And there was basically, like, an empty sack. It just was…it was a chemical pregnancy. And, you know, I thought, “Well, you’re never prepared to hear those words. You’re just not.” You’re thinking, “Okay, we’re gonna do this because you never…” You haven’t been through it so you don’t know what to expect.
Dr. Fox: Right.
Raquel: He didn’t wanna necessarily make that decision but we’d gotten married so we’d come to see you, I think it was maybe a month after we got pregnant. And I just never thought I would hear those words, that, “I don’t think this is a viable pregnancy.” And so, when we went to see you on that day and you basically did a full examination and you were like, “Listen, the car is running. I don’t know about the gas but basically, like, you’ve got the goods. This can happen.” And so…
Dr. Fox: No, because fertility is a big issue for people also as they get older and a lot of the concern is, “Will I get pregnant?” And so, if you get pregnant very quickly as you did and it’s an abnormal pregnancy, that’s a function of odds and luck, you know, which egg comes out. But again, the fact that you know that everything is working and that is…again, it’s…you can think of it as a silver lining potentially but it’s just…it’s a fact, right. There’s 10 things that you need to happen and eight of them happened. And that’s…which is really good because for some people, zero of them happen. And you have to sort of, you know…that’s one way to think about it. It doesn’t help that much in a moment but it’s true. It’s a natural truth.
Raquel: Exactly. And I think that that’s why we were so excited that we were…we got pregnant. We were like, “Wow, this actually did happen.” Because I…and no is not in my vocabulary. If you know me as a person, as you get to know me, I just…I don’t take no as an answer. So, it’s like, “I am…we’re just, you know, we’re gonna do this.” And so, you kinda get stuck in your tracks. You know, like, “Wow. That was really tough.” And I remember that day after we left you, we went back to Dr. Christopher and we had the D&C, and I cried the whole time. And you just, like…you think your life is over. You’re like, “I don’t understand why this is happening to me.” Like, you say, “Why is this happening to me or to us?” And you’re like, “Okay. Well, I guess this is something we weren’t prepared for but we’ll just have to be strong about it and see what we can do.
So, we tried getting pregnant many more times after that naturally, a good year and a half, two years and it wasn’t…and, well, at that point, you know, we’re going into…I’m becoming 40, becoming 41. I’d say probably within the year is probably when we started getting help.
Dr. Fox: Right. Had you known anyone that was close to you that had an early miscarriage similar to that?
Raquel: My mom had a miscarriage. I don’t know if it was that type of miscarriage but she had a miscarriage between me and my brother. So, there was that. But she also was, you know…she was able to get pregnant a little bit…and her, you know…for her years, she was 35, 36 when she had my brother. So even then…you know, they say…you know, I hate when they always say that your advanced age…you know, guys can still…whatever. But then you also hear that with men as well, that it’s…
Dr. Fox: We’re never considered advanced. That’s in any regard.
Raquel: Oh, salt and pepper hair. Okay. I’ll go dye my hair again.
Dr. Fox: But I mean, did you ever have, like, a friend of yours go through this that…a contemporary of yours?
Raquel: I found out later where we’re headed, I found out later that people had gone through what I went through but they weren’t as vocal about it, which is why I like to be vocal about it because I feel that a lot of women my age in my industry or just in general suffer in silence.
Dr. Fox: Yeah, that’s sort of where I was going because for me sitting here, it’s almost hard to imagine someone who’s 38 and going, you know, through a pregnancy for the first time doesn’t have 50 friends who went through the same thing. And so, I know obviously you did have 50 friends who went through it but you knew about it in 0 of them or maybe 1 of them because so many times people just don’t talk about it for whatever reason. Either it brings up too much pain or there’s some sort of shame or whatever it might be. And listen, if someone makes a choice, they don’t wanna talk about it, obviously that’s fine but sometimes people feel like they’re compelled not to talk about it and that’s troubling. People should be open about it obviously.
Raquel: It’s still, like, the last of the things, you know…the shameful things that…and for me, it’s super important because I wanna remove that…the shame factor, the I don’t wanna talk about it factor. I made a choice. I wanted, you know, I wanted to go into my profession first and so I went, you know, headstrong into that. And so, I mean, I was interning by my freshmen year so I was very career focused. Relationships, I was in kind of some long-term relationships and stuff but family really wasn’t a thing. I think for me on a side note, you know, my parents had gone through a divorce later in life and I thought…at first I was like, “Well, I don’t know if I wanna have kids. I wanna have the right relationship before I decide to have a child. I wanna make sure that I have a partner who’s gonna help me raise…
I was very modern in my career but I was very traditional in my family planning. I didn’t wanna go down that road alone. So, once I found my partner that had, you know…happened to be my friend from years ago, then I realized…literally actually the first time he walked in, I’m like, “I wanna have his child.” And that had never been the thing for me. So, but I think looking back, I was also surrounded by a lot of single people in my lifestyle where they weren’t necessarily taking…and the friends that got married and had kids, I wasn’t in that world as much because I also didn’t…and it was also a little painful too because I wasn’t in a relationship with kids. And so, I kind of maybe even avoided that. And later as well when we started having miscarriages, it was hard for me to be around friends with kids too.
Dr. Fox: Sure.
Raquel: That was, you know…and I talk about it because you’re like, “I just…I want what they have and I don’t have it.” You really have to check yourself mentally and make sure that you’re strong enough to keep going because it is not an easy road when you keep having no, no, no, it’s not happening, it’s not happening. So, it’s a…I think when you go through it, you don’t realize your strength until you look back on it and go, “Wow. We really went…” Because people are like…when I tell you the amount of IVFs and IUIs that we’ll talk about, people go, “Are you kidding?” They stopped after two or three. I’m like, “Oh, no.” And God only knows what I put my body through but that’s a whole other thing. Yeah.
Dr. Fox: So, tell me. So, what happened next?
Raquel: So, we started out…we went to RMA New York and we started the process of…first we started out with IUI. We figured not only for insurance purposes but we thought we’d try the less invasive way of doing that. So, we tried a few and I actually got pregnant with one of the IUIs which was my second pregnancy and that ended up being an ectopic miscarriage. So that was hard and very painful. So, at that point, we had been…we had moved to Central Jersey and I was going through a group down there and we got pregnant and we were super excited but then all of a sudden, a couple of weeks into my pregnancy I’m like, “Something does not feel right. I don’t feel good. Something is wrong.” I ended up having to have one of the drugs that helps basically help your miscarriage.
Dr. Fox: The Cytotec.
Raquel: Yeah, something for cancer or it was originally…
Dr. Fox: Oh, methotrexate.
Dr. Fox: Yeah, that probably was…that would’ve been it for the ectopic one probably. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Raquel: Yes, that was for the ectopic one.
Dr. Fox: Exactly.
Raquel: And that process is just terrible. You do the whole…because you’re literally feeling yourself going, “Oh, my gosh. What’s going on?” And to step back for a second just to tell about, like, women going through what they do with work and then having to go through this process, for the first miscarriage, I had to leave to go on a work trip where I was one of the few women on the production of what I was working on at the time. And I had the choice of, well, do I go to Los Angeles knowing that I have…what’s going on in my, you know, in my uterus or do I actually have to do the D&C now and just mourn and try to move on? It was really tough because, you know, I cried the whole way out to Los Angeles. In fact, my husband came out with me and it just…it was really, really hard because nobody knew. I was surrounded by mostly men and you never wanna be seen…and this is a whole darn thing, you never be seen as “weak” but I had one or two friends that were on the team that knew something was not right. You know, I told them what we had gone through but again, that was also eight years ago at this point. Like, lots of changes have happened since then but it’s very hard to show “weakness” which is why women, I think, don’t really talk about it because you have an issue that you’re going through and something that really is your life and you have to kind of like…especially when you’re an executive in a production, sometimes it’s really hard to go through it. And you’re going through it emotionally, physically, mentally, all of it and it’s really hard to kind of find the strength to go through it. Especially with that first one, it was really tough.
Dr. Fox: Yeah. No, that’s hard and on top of that, each one of these attempts, it’s not like, “Oh, I’m gonna, you know, go and the next day try again, the next day…” Each one is one to four months. And so, you know, you feel like so much time is passing during this process. So, you know, an IUI, best case is once a month. IVF? I don’t know. Every three to four months, best case and it’s best case, if everything…if all the stars align properly and you have this sense of urgency on top of it which compounds all of the fear and anxiety that’s going on.
Raquel: Hundred percent.
Dr. Fox: Wow. Tough stuff.
Raquel: Really tough stuff.
Dr. Fox: Yeah.
Raquel: I don’t wanna scare people off from the process but I think it’s important to talk about because I want…I literally want other women to say, “If they can go through this, I can do it too.” If you wanna have a family that badly, if you wanna have a child that badly, then you have to just make sure you’re aware of what you are gonna go through but don’t give up the fight because it was worth it on the other side of it. It really is. It’s just tough going through it.
Dr. Fox: Ultimately, how many IVFs did you do?
Raquel: So, all in all, between IUIs and IVFs, I’d say we did between 13 to 15. And so, the third miscarriage we had, we put…we had…ended up putting three embryos in to up our chances.
Dr. Fox: Right.
Raquel: That was the one that nearly almost destroyed me. I lost all three. That’s when I decided to take a year off. I just mentally, financially, physically, I was just like, “I need a break.”
Dr. Fox: Right. Where were you in terms of, from when you started, how many years in now, when you took the year off?
Raquel: So, we started…let’s see if I have my years correctly. So, it might not be eight years. It might be a little less than that. So, we started naturally at…I was 38. I’m doing the math. So, seven. So basically at 45, 44. At 44 is when we went into RMA New Jersey. So, I started at 38 and at 44 at this point I had taken time off. I’m like, “I can’t do anymore. I need a break.” And I really was just devastated. And then I remember it was a New Year’s Eve and my husband looked at me. He said, “Listen, I really wanna be a dad.” And we both knew that we didn’t want to adopt. It just wasn’t for us. I knew I wanted to carry our…his child, our child. And so, after having a lot of time off, we walked into the biggest cheerleader I’ve ever met, Dr. Rybak at RMA New Jersey and…
Dr. Fox: He’s a good guy.
Raquel: Such a good guy which is why all roads lead back to you. Thank God for Dr. Rybak and for you. And I remember I had gone to another fertility specialist and she had said to me…she was kinda gruff about it which is…it was all…it’s all in delivery, as I know well, and she was like, “Well, you know, you’re old. You need to do egg donor.” Just like…and I wasn’t ready to receive that news. I just wasn’t ready to hear it. I was like, “I have my own eggs, I’m gonna do it.”
Dr. Fox: But certainly not in that messaging.
Raquel: No, not in that messaging and not…and maybe the timing too. It’s like, “I’m coming to see you for a consultation. There’s a way to say it.” So, there’s the way that she’s saying it and the way Dr. Rybak was like, “You can have a kid. You’re just gonna have to do egg donor.” And it was just, like, it was all in the way…and it is, it’s all in how you’re just receiving the information.
Dr. Fox: It’s also about odds. I mean, you could tell someone, you know…again, this isn’t my specialty but you could say, “All right, listen. You’re 43, 44. Here’s what your ultrasound looks like. Here’s your blood test. If you try on your own, it’s possible but maybe it’s 5% to 10%. And if you use an egg donor, it’s possible and it’s 60% to 70%.” And there’s pluses and minuses to going in each of those routes and let’s figure it out. And some people will choose my own eggs with the lower percent and other people are like, “This is too much. I’d rather, you know, go with an egg donor and improve my percentages.” Because this is…you know, there’s issues with egg donation. It costs more, it’s more convoluted, there’s more stuff you gotta do. And, you know, there’s much, much less things like, you know, stigma or whatever but it’s something that comes up in people’s minds is this, you know, genetics and all that. So, it’s an event to do egg donation. It’s great but it’s a decision. And so, I think had she laid it out to you sort of that way, you know, put it out there on the table but not make it your only option, you could’ve decided either way and you would’ve felt like, you know, she gave you options.
Raquel: Exactly. Like, just lay it on the table. Like, put the cards on the table. What are we looking at? But if you say it like that, I’m like, “All right. You think I can’t do it?” You know, it’s like, “You tell me I can’t do something, I’m gonna, you know, do what I can to make it happen.”
Dr. Fox: Did you have a lot of hesitation when egg donation was brought up by, you know, by Dr. Rybak at that point?
Raquel: Yes. It never really truly goes away, the thing of, like, the genetics part of it but when you’ve gone through what I went through to get them here, you know, they are my kids.
Dr. Fox: Of course.
Raquel: They are my kids. But it was…it took…in fact, when you go through the process, they really make you sit with it, they make you see all different types of people within the RMA structure. They were amazing. You see a therapist, you know, they make sure they guide you, you know, for the process and what to expect with egg donorship. So, they really prep you for that which I find incredible. But, you know, my husband was like, “I really wanna be a parent.” And going into the New Year’s like, “What do we do?” And so, I thought about it. I took about two months to think about it and then we set up our appointment. And then finally I said, “You know what? Let’s do it.” And so, the funny thing is, like, I really sat with it for a long time and again, Dr. Rybak gave me…he said, “Look, it could take a week, it could take a month, it could take a couple of years to find the right donor. Just be prepared for that. It could happen.”
So sometimes things just happen the way they’re supposed to happen. We finally submitted, you know, all the criteria and what we wanted, the kind of donor we wanted. They found her in three days.
Dr. Fox: Wow.
Raquel: So that was how my children were meant to be here.
Dr. Fox: Dr. Rybak was just driving down the highway, he saw someone, grabbed her, “Come with me.”
Raquel: It’s just like this, oh, you’re perfect. You’ve got music in you. You’ve got la, la, la. Perfect. College, great, you know. Yes. And so, it was…
Dr. Fox: Wow, that is fast.
Raquel: It was really fast, you know. She looks like me and so sometimes in life, you know, after having no after no after no and problem after problem, it was like a breath of fresh air to finally have something start going in the right direction.
Dr. Fox: You finally catch a break.
Raquel: Yeah. Exactly. So that was the best part about that. It was like, “Okay. Then this is our road. Yeah. This is our journey.”
Dr. Fox: And you get to do IVF without having you being pumped full of hormones.
Raquel: I mean, that was something else. I mean, thank God my body is built like a tank or, I don’t know…I was able to go through it but you are literally like…at one point I’ve had friends help me with needles and my husband’s at work, they were like, “What are we doing?” I’m like, “You’re a friend for life. You’re ride or die if you can do this.” But just like…I used to have a fear of needles. That has gone out the window at this point after all the years of just pumping yourself up with hormones.
Dr. Fox: Did it work on the first try?
Raquel: It did.
Dr. Fox: Wow.
Raquel: Both times.
Dr. Fox: Both times. So, tell me about the first pregnancy. So, what was it like the first time when you did the IVF with the egg donor and you’re pregnant and there’s a heartbeat? What was that first visit like?
Raquel: Overwhelmingly beautiful. And I remember…so when they gave you, like, the grades of the embryos, they were like, “Well, this one is an A plus plus and this one’s…” And I…but I also…you know, because I’m also very spiritual and I literally saw my first child. I felt his energy. It was kinda like I’m looking and I…and it was like…well, the first one…you know, it was an A plus plus plus. It’s a boy. And, like, literally in my image I saw, “Me, me, me. Yes, yes, yes.” And sure enough, that’s my Jacob. So, I remember going in for the first time with Dr. Rybak and just crying, just…you know, but also being cautiously optimistic because I remember with each pregnancy, we got to the eight- or nine-week mark and that’s when things started going downhill. So, I was like, “Okay, we’re pregnant but I really don’t wanna get too excited and…” but went with every visit, we’re like, “Okay, we…one more week. One more week. Now one more couple of weeks. One more visit.” Once it was happening, it was like, “Oh, my gosh. This is really happening.”
Dr. Fox: When was that? When was that breaking point in your brain when you went from, I hope this happens, to, you know, this is real.
Raquel: Probably, like, three months in.
Dr. Fox: Yeah.
Raquel: Three months in I’m like, “He’s showing up.”
Dr. Fox: Wow.
Raquel: And he’s gonna be a terror but he’s showing up. And I remember we did, you know…and the first one you’re like, “Oh, you know, I have to be careful. You know, don’t get your hair done.” You know, you do everything to make sure, like, everything is in perfect order. But the thing that I made sure of because I’m a huge music fan and I live and work in music, I went to, like, 15 concerts in utero. I mean, so now I can be playing loud music in the next room and he’ll sleep right through it. So, I still continued my lifestyle but more safe.
Dr. Fox: Yeah. How old were you when you were pregnant with Jacob?
Raquel: So, I was pregnant at 44 and turning 45. So, I gave birth to him when I was 45.
Dr. Fox: Did you have any concerns about the pregnancy based on your age or another way to put it is what had you heard about this, like, maybe from popular culture, from friends or whatever that was potentially a misconception?
Raquel: I went through every test under the book even though genetically he wasn’t “mine.” We still did the extra testing. We had gone to your…ironically, we had gone to your group as well for Jacob. I remember walking into my OB’s. I was concerned. In New York, you’re, like, a dime a dozen when you’re in your 40s but in New Jersey it’s a little bit different. You’re kinda like, “Oh, it’s the 45-year-old coming in for her…” And even though they didn’t make me feel that way, you just kinda start thinking like, “Oh, my God. Am I the grandma having a child over here?”
Dr. Fox: When the pregnant women in the waiting room get up and give you their seat, it’s a bad sign.
Raquel: That’s exactly right. I’m like, “Don’t worry. I’ll stand. I’m good.” Yeah, exactly. So, I was like, “Oh, my God.”
Dr. Fox: Here, ma’am.
Raquel: You might need this. It’s like, “Oh, my God.” But I remember I…you know, I have two OBs who I love dearly and they’re two very different personalities, Dr. Santkovsky, Dr. Jacobson. And they’ll hear this and they’ll laugh like, “Oh, Raquel.” Just they both were both…like, kept me under a very close eye but they were like, “But don’t stop living your life. You’re gonna be fine. Just do what you need to do.” But I was the one that was nervous because I’m like, “Oh, my God. I just wanna get to the finish line.” And I would literally look at my belly and go, “Jacob, we gotta get to 37 weeks, 37.” I would say this out loud. I’d, you know, meditate on it. I’m like, “Thirty-seven weeks. That’s what they tell me. Let’s do this.”
Dr. Fox: Right. Unfortunately, he couldn’t hear you because his eardrums were blown from the concerts.
Raquel: She was like…I remember the one time we went and saw…we went to see my husband and I went to see…because at this point, I’m like, “Let’s just see everyone.” We went and saw Guns N’ Roses and my teeth were chattering because a friend of mine in the industry gave me tickets. Like, fourth song in, I’m like, “This may be a little too much. We gotta go.” I was like…but I remember, you know, like, I had to travel for work and I just made sure I…because I will go 1,000 miles a minute. I kind of tailored it back a little bit to make sure, you know, I stayed, you know, hydrated and, you know, not necessarily be like, “Go, go, go,” all the time. Like, I really need to make sure…and my friends were like…even my friend who works with me, she’s like, “Pack a bag. Just at least pack a bag so you’re ready to go to the hospital.” I did not pack a bag. Like, I was like, “We’ll get there.” Because I just didn’t wanna worry.
Dr. Fox: Yeah, when did you tell people you were pregnant in that pregnancy? Also around three months, same time?
Raquel: No. No. I waited. Because the first couple of miscarriages we had told people early and I think this time I just went, “I gotta wait.” Probably right before we did a shower. So, I’d say…well, at that point, they were starting to see me as well. I didn’t gain a terrible amount of weight but it was enough where I was like…people were like, “Oh, you’re sitting down a little bit extra.” I’m like…so with work, I had to tell people probably about five months in.
Dr. Fox: Okay.
Raquel: But we were going a little bit wider, I waited until we were out of the danger zone in essence. So, I would say probably about 30 weeks, maybe a little less than that, and when I went like live where we put the photo up on social media and what have you.
Dr. Fox: Yeah, you went public.
Raquel: I just wanted to make…you know, people in my inner circle and that work with me knew. In fact, I tried to hide it from them. They were like, “What’s going on with you? You’re running to the bathroom a little too many times.”
Dr. Fox: Right.
Raquel: So, there were a few but then I just…not that I’m superstitious. I just was like, “I just wanted him to be more formed and know that he’s getting here.”
Dr. Fox: Right. Were people predominantly very positive? Were they shocked?
Raquel: Combination. I’ll tell you there’s a lot of women in the industry that have since reached out to me and…because a lot of us, again, had careers first and then decided to go into family planning. My job is to give them hope because I wanted to be an example of that for folks because if it happened to me at 45, I want people to know like…and I…and in fact, one of the big things I tell people…because I didn’t do this, this is my only regret, I tell any woman that is between the ages of 25 and 35, “Please freeze your eggs so at least you…if you can afford to do it and you have an insurance policy so that you have it available to you so you don’t have to go through this process. And if you wanna go through the process, it’s great but at least you have your own…you can kind of control a little bit more of your narrative, if you’d like.” And so, I’ve told lots of young women in the industry that are just, like, versions of myself, I said, “Just…if you have the opportunity…” Now a lot more companies are starting to do that. They’re starting to cover payment for that. Do it. Just do it.
Dr. Fox: Did you get any negative responses? Anyone who was, you know…maybe said something that felt like judgment to you?
Raquel: Yes. You know, people were like, “Oh, you know, you’re older.” And, you know, I had a…like, I know I’m older. Like, thank you.
Dr. Fox: Oh, man, crap, you’re right. I forgot.
Raquel: Luckily people didn’t touch the belly as much. A lot of people are like, “Oh, they always touch…” I’m like, “They didn’t touch me. Maybe I give off that look like don’t even come near me.” But, you know, I had a couple of people that were like, “Wow, you gotta be careful and this and that.” Before I even got pregnant. I remember we had to go for the process where you have to check and see if your fallopian tubes are open.
Dr. Fox: Right, the HSG.
Dr. Fox: Yeah.
Raquel: And I remember one of the tubes wasn’t open. You know, you’re on a slab, it’s freezing cold. It’s not exactly a fun process. Let’s just talk about that. And she was the nurse and wasn’t even the doctor. And I love nurses. They’re everything to me. I’m actually married to a nurse. But she…I said, “Oh.” She was like, “Oh, one of your tubes is closed.” She’s like, “Do you have gonorrhea?” I’m like, “What? How did we make a jump from what could…” And finally, I said to the doctor…and it was really upsetting. I’m like, “What is happening?” And he’s like, “No. It’s like a hose. Sometimes it just bends.” And sure enough, both of my tubes were open. But there had been a cross…like, ongoing throughout the process really stupid things that have been told to us. But luckily, friends and family that had seen us go through it…I was really lucky that maybe I was just shielded from it so I didn’t hear it as much but I know lots of other people have been told terrible things and I’m like, “It’s hard…we’re hard enough on ourselves as it is. The last thing we need is for you just to throw negative stuff at us.” I mean, it’s…
Dr. Fox: Right. Especially gonorrhea.
Raquel: I mean, gonorrhea. I was like, [crosstalk 00:33:12]
Dr. Fox: Who’s thrown that at me? Yeah.
Raquel: Please [inaudible 00:33:14] I need that. But it was just like…there are some really stupid things that are told to you but luckily I…
Dr. Fox: You should’ve told her, “Well, I’m not really sure but to be safe, we probably shouldn’t sleep together right now.”
Raquel: I don’t wanna give you what I’ve got.
Just stay over there.
Dr. Fox: Yeah, just, you know, abundance of caution. Abundance of caution.
Raquel: Exactly. Like, you’re…and I think I was still, like, literally on the table. I’m like, “It is amazing.” Or, like, there are sometimes you’re like…you know, they’re like, “Oh, we wanna bring our intern.” I’m like, “Bring everyone in. I don’t think enough people have seen me in this position yet.”
Dr. Fox: Yeah. Wow.
Raquel: But luckily, I think because I’ve been so open about our journey, I think some people took some mercy on us and were like, “Let’s just support them.”
Dr. Fox: What was the birth like? Did you have a plan? Were you gonna deliver vaginally? Were you gonna have a C-section? Did you have, like, a whole, like, you know, 36-point plan?
Raquel: I had a whole plan. In fact, I had a doula. I had like…we went through the whole process. And again, like I said to Jacob, get to 37 weeks. And I went in for my 37th week visit. In fact, I was at your offices in Englewood unbeknownst to me that they were your offices. And I had a scan. Everything looked great. And my appointment right after was going over the OB and I remember I went in and, you know, you kinda…like, you read “What to Expect When You’re Expecting”, you kinda go through the whole thing. And I just glanced over the preeclampsia part of it. And I come in and Dr. Santkovsky sits me down. She’s like, “How are you feeling?” And I had terrible nausea the entire pregnancy.
Dr. Fox: Aside from the gonorrhea, I feel great.
Raquel: Aside from the gonorrhea and God knows whatever else I captured that I don’t even know. She was like, “Well, you know, how are you feeling?” I said, “I’m feeling fine.” And for me, I was like, “I’m 45. We got to…” Like, I’m like, “Why is she…” Like, I was so bummed with her. I’m like, “Why are we not, like, jumping up and down and celebrating?” She’s like, “I’m a little concerned.” And I’m like, “Wait. Now what? What now is going on?” She said, “Well, you had a little bit higher blood pressure than normal today. You had protein in your urine. So, I wanna see how your eyesight is. I wanna, you know…” And we’re going into a weekend. This was on a Thursday. I said…she’s like, “I think you’re at beginning stages of preeclampsia.” I’m like, “Shouldn’t I have, like, balloons, a gold watch? Like, it’s taken me so long to get here.” And she said, “I’m concerned.” And she said, “With your age…” Again, with your age. I think that’s the thing for me is that I kept hearing like, “Well, your age…” It’s always your age type of thing. I’m like…
Dr. Fox: Yeah, that was the real one, preeclampsia. Yeah.
Raquel: The preeclampsia, that was the one that got me.
Dr. Fox: Yeah. That’s the real one. Whew.
Raquel: And she said, “Yeah. I’m…” She goes, “I know you understand your body very well. I’m concerned going into a weekend that one of us might not be available but there are a couple of things I want you to look for in the next couple of days.” And I’m sitting there going, “Now what?” Like, I was like, “I feel like I have been through so many battles that I’m like I just wanna get to the end of this whole thing.” So, we were at 37 plus 1 day and she said, “Just when you go home, just, you know, keep an eye out for a few things. A couple of things are anything that…your eyesight, if it starts to feel weird, if you have nausea that’s not your normal nausea, if you start getting really puffy, I need you to call us immediately.” And I knew nothing about preeclampsia at all. I mean, in fact, like, you even go on some websites now in 2021, there’s still not as much, I think, that…for you to understand why it happens. And of course, I had all the factors working against me, my age… I found out later that my grandmother had gone through it. My mom was like, “Well, she gave birth but she’s a little blind and then she was fine.” I’m like, “That would’ve been helpful before I went in.” But it was age, egg donor. I was a little chunkier than you should be. But all the factors were working against me. I had, like, the checklist. I was like, “Yep, yep, yep, have all those things.”
And so sure enough…she was like, “Well, I’m gonna run some tests.” And the next day, she called me the test, she said, “Everything looks fine internally but I think that you just need to be careful.” So sure enough, she goes, “Just call us.” So sure enough, I took a nap and then I go…I woke up, took a shower and I started feeling, like, the pulsing behind my eyes. My ring would not go on. I’m like, “Oh, no. Oh, no.” And then I say to my nurse, my husband who’s a nurse, I’m like, “I think I need you to get me a blood pressure cuff.” “You’re fine. You’re overreacting.” “Go get me a damn…” Like, I literally started screaming at him. He got it and he goes, “Oh, it’s a little high.” And we went to an emergency med place and then they were like, “You need to go in.” Sure enough, I had an emergency C-section. Jacob made it to 37 plus 2 days. He stayed an extra two days. But it was intense. By the time they brought me in for the emergency C-section, my blood pressure was 191 over 120.
Dr. Fox: Wow. Did it get, for this pregnancy, for Jacob, did it get better after you delivered?
Raquel: No. I was a real disaster. It took about a good year and a half to start feeling better. I was left with migraines which I never had before and days…like, sometimes even lights like this get me a little off or the crazy weather. I really…it took a long time to recover from it. I mean, they basically saved our lives. It was Dr. Jacobson and she, thank God, was on that day at Englewood. And she said, “We gotta go in and get him.”
Dr. Fox: Right.
Raquel: And she did.
Dr. Fox: You got preeclampsia the second time around also, right?
Raquel: And I got preeclampsia the second…I thought, “Okay. We’re gonna do this.” And for Sofia…and that was another one. Every week, we were like, “Oh, my God. We’re getting there. No preeclampsia. Thank God.” And that’s the thing they say to you, “Look, you can…like, it doubles your chances. If you’ve had it once, just be prepared.” And I for sure thought we were gonna get it. So, I was over the moon when we got to 36 weeks and they were like, “Okay, we’re gonna…” They had said to me, “We’re gonna schedule…we now know what we’re up against. We’re scheduling it at exactly 37 weeks.” Sure enough, I’m in the hospital and unfortunately, my daughter had to go to NICU but she was fine. And then I’m about to get discharged the next day. It’s 2:00 in the morning. They’re checking my blood pressure and it’s 180 over God knows what and Dr. Santkovsky goes…because I…the one thing I had said to him, I’m like, “Please, whatever you do, please do not put me on a drip.”
Dr. Fox: The magnesium.
Raquel: On the magnesium drip because that was probably the worst thing for me. I just…I hated that feeling. And she looked at me and I was crying hysterically and she’s like, “I hate to do this to you but you have postpartum preeclampsia.”
Dr. Fox: Right. And this is…
Raquel: So, I can laugh at it now seven weeks into it.
Dr. Fox: Yeah, we’re only…it’s only two months ago. I mean, this is…she’s a newborn.
Raquel: Yes. She’s a newborn. Exactly.
Dr. Fox: Are you still recuperating from that now?
Raquel: I am but I have to say thank God, I am feeling 100 times better than the first go around with the emergency C-section. I think mentally I knew going into it I had to be put on children’s aspirin. You know, I had to…I went through a whole…in fact, one of your colleagues was the one that said, “Listen, if we’re gonna go through this and you know the risks, you have to get the clearance from your endocrinologist, your cardiologist. Like, get the green light.” And it just was, like, green, green, green and we were able to do it. I went in knowing at least what to expect.
Dr. Fox: Right. So here you are. You’re a new mom again.
Dr. Fox: You have a little baby girl at home and you have a boy who’s running around the Earth causing trouble.
Dr. Fox: And looking back on all this, what do you think?
Raquel: I think I’m crazy but I also am proud of the fact that my husband and I had the endurance. It’s like training, again, for a marathon. I wouldn’t have changed a thing. I wish I knew a little bit more going…about just in general some of the risks that you have to go as an older, potentially older parent, mom to be. You know, now my husband and I joke around and we’re like…especially when, you know…in 3:00 a.m. feeding and I’m rocking my daughter and we look at each other like, “Who thought this was a good idea at 49 years old?” We’re gonna be 50 in December. We laugh about it. But it’s what we wanted. They’re gonna keep us young. They will because they’re gonna…I’m never retiring any time soon.
Dr. Fox: You won’t be able to afford to.
Raquel: No, like, exactly. I’m still paying off the IVF bills.
Dr. Fox: Yeah.
Raquel: But I look back and I just…again, this is one of the reasons I wanted to come here and see you and do the podcast. I just want, you know, families and partners to feel that if you truly want to have a child, you can. And like I said, you saying it’s not a matter of if, it’s a matter of when, but it’s really hard to have the endurance to do it. And do I wish I went through the preeclampsia? Absolutely not because now it’s like I have, like, the, what do they call it, the whitecoat syndrome. Every time they wheel in that stupid blood pressure cuff, I’m like…and of course, it’s always higher than it should be. But they’re such beautiful kids and I am proud to say that I am their mom. And every time my son says, “Mommy,” now because we put him back in school and he…I mean, I literally tear up every single time because I waited so long to hear those words.
Dr. Fox: Right.
Raquel: I’m somebody’s mommy.
Dr. Fox: It’s amazing. What a great story. It’s so nice to see you.
Raquel: Thanks. Same. And again, I can’t thank you enough for just your words of optimism and just being there for your patients. It’s…and doing this because I think we all need whatever words of inspiration we can get wherever we can get it. It truly means the world to us that are going through one of those days where you’re like, “I don’t know if I can go through this again.” I mean, you think back and go, “But the end result is worth it.”
Dr. Fox: Thank you for listening to “High Risk Birth Stories” brought to you by the creators of the “Healthful Woman” podcast. If you’re interested in telling your birth story on our podcast, please go to our partner website at www.healthfulwoman.com and click the link for sharing your story. You can also email us directly at email@example.com. If you liked today’s podcast, please be sure to check out our “Healthful Woman” podcast as well where I speak with leaders in the field to help you learn more about women’s health, pregnancy and wellness. Have a great day.
The information discussed in “High Risk Birth Stories” is intended for information and entertainment only and does not replace medical care from your physician. The stories and experiences discussed in our podcast are unique to each guest and are not intended to be representative of any standard of care or expected outcomes. As always, we encourage you to speak with your own doctor about specific diagnoses and treatment options for an effective treatment plan. Guests on “High Risk Birth Stories” have given their permission for us to share their personal health information.