lessons learned during struggle to get pregnant

My Struggle to Get Pregnant, & What I Learned Along the Way

After having my first child, I figured getting pregnant with a second would be easy. It turned out to be anything but.

By: Sara Larson
Photography: Alec Kugler

Cross paths with Sara Larson, and it’s easy to assume she’s been living the aspirational NYC life fit for a movie. In many respects, that’s true. She has a job love she loves as director of PR and communications for Galvan London, is happily married with a five-year-old daughter, and is pregnant with her second baby, due early next year. Conceiving that second baby, however, was a struggle, and one that was compounded by immense loss, grief, and self-doubt—things you don’t see when you run into someone at a fashion party or scroll through their Instagram feed. Ahead, Larson shares her struggle with Coveteur and what she learned along the way.


 

I always loved the idea of having kids. Living in New York, it can seem so daunting. My husband, Gunnar, and I were at dinner one night, mapping out what life would look like if one of us wasn’t around or we couldn’t conceive together. We discussed potential sperm and egg donors, both dear friends of ours. Then we looked at each other with a chuckle and were like, Wait, what are we doing? What are we afraid of? We are never going to be ready to have kids, can we agree to that? With that in mind, we just let everything go and never looked back. We were pregnant with our daughter Ihlen within two months. It’s a decision we both look back on with such fondness. She’s five now, and we’re so grateful that she’s a part of our lives and that we didn’t wait any longer to start a family.


 

In terms of a second baby, I don’t think we ever thought we could do it. Meaning, having two kids in New York feels next-level—like you might as well have four. When Ihlen was six weeks old, my husband looked at me through the tiny window cutout in our 350-square-foot East Village apartment and said, “Let’s do it again.” I laughed nervously, like “WTF? My boobs and booty are on fire—are you crazy?” Also, we were early 30-somethings pursuing our careers in fashion and interior design, wondering how on earth we were going to raise a family in this dream city. The thought of a second was not on my radar.


 

When I was pregnant with Ihlen, we didn’t find out if she was a girl or a boy. I knew she was a girl though—it was just this intense intuition that I had. One night I had this vivid dream of a little blonde, blue-eyed child in a golden field, and it was a little boy joined by a little girl. It left me confused for a lot of my pregnancy with Ihlen because I honestly questioned myself and thought, Maybe it’s a boy. In the fall of 2016, when she was almost three, I started experiencing this strong sense to have another baby. It felt scary to even consider because friends were having second babies, and we were hearing horror stories of how hard it is with two; you’ll never sleep again, and so on. Also, Gunnar and I had a lot of intense stuff happening in our lives at that time. My mom, who had been terminally ill for about six years at that point, wasn’t doing well physically or emotionally. She lived on the West Coast, and it was impossible to see her due to a myriad of family issues. To make things more complicated, my father-in-law was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer out of the blue. My husband, who is my rock and an incredible father, was completely shaken and lost his footing for a while—his dad was his best friend.

On the work front, things were good. They were insanely busy, and I poured myself into it super, super deep, like, lost-touch-with-reality deep. At the time I was consulting with three different brands. I eventually went in-house with one, and it was the wildest ride of my career. Extreme highs and lows in the midst of trying to raise a daughter, being a loving and supportive wife to a husband whose own best friend and rock was slowly slipping away, and all the while wanting to have a second baby. My husband didn’t say no, but I would later find out that he was the farthest from ready at that time. With my husband’s father sick though, the pressure to get pregnant was even greater. It became an obsession for me. I wanted him to know he would have another grandchild before he died. It felt like this mission of life. Gunnar was going through the motions, but deep down he wasn’t ready. We kept on like this for a year.


 

My father-in-law passed, and then nine months later my mother passed. Gunnar and I were both spiraling personally and a little bit in our relationship, too. It’s like having both of your arms cut off, trying to comfort the closest thing to you, but you can’t because you don’t even know how to comfort yourself. We preserved all of our love for Ihlen to make sure she was OK during all of it. I again dove into work like a maniac and was doing incredibly well, but I was failing at getting pregnant. I say failing because that’s what I felt like, a failure. Even though things had been complicated with seeing my mom, I still wanted her to be alive to know that I was pregnant with a second baby. It was this weird obsession—a mission I felt I had to achieve. It was almost as if I couldn’t control my father-in-law or my mom living, so I had to put that someplace else. A baby felt like the place it should go. With time and a lot of communication with Gunnar, my grip loosened. I began to see how erratic I was being, and clearly the timing was just not right. This was towards the end of 2016 into early 2017. I began to work through my grief and tried to just be the best mom to Ihlen instead of focusing on bringing another life into the world.


 

By the end of 2017, I began spotting weeks before my period. Each time I thought it was implantation bleeding and would get my hopes up. Work was good, but it was stressful. That, in addition to trying to find balance at home, made it a never-ending cycle of not being good enough at anything. My husband was always on call for me and my work schedule, which made things tense. He was trying to pursue his own career, but has always put me first and was trying to support my ever-changing schedule.

When I told my then doctor about the bleeding, he would say things like “Women get pregnant in war-torn countries all the time.” To me, this became a way for him to label my lack of conception as opposed to addressing it. He had removed a fibroid in my uterus when Ihlen was two. I found out shortly after her birth that I had it. When it started to grow abnormally, he said I should get it removed if I ever wanted to have a second baby. I had no idea what I was in for. The surgery was basically like a cesarean but without a baby. They had to cut into my uterus, remove it, and then sew me up the same way. I was in the hospital for three days. I had it in my mind I would never get pregnant again, that something had changed in me physically. It haunted me for a very long time. Finally the doctor said that if I wasn’t pregnant in six months, he’d prescribe me Clomid. “What’s that?” I asked. He said that it stimulates ovulation and that I was clearly having ovulation issues given the intermittent spotting. I asked if there were side effects, and his response was “Twins.” At the time I didn’t care about that risk, I just wanted to get pregnant.

In the middle of this, I made a change in my career and started working with a new brand. My schedule had one less day a week, and with this extra time to slow down (something I’m not good at), I was able to peel back the layers of what I’d been missing at home. That is ultimately why I made the change. I was never seeing my husband or daughter, and justifying it with It will get better, I’ll get more time, etc. etc. Once I finally stopped, I realized, Wow, this is not OK; I’ve been missing so much! I simultaneously started taking Clomid. Thank the Lord I only took two cycles. Clomid is a hormone, and hormones make you feel crazy at times. During pregnancy that’s somewhat expected, but I was completely sideswiped by the emotional roller coaster. In addition, I gained about seven pounds taking it, which was a lot for me to deal with.


 

A friend of mine whom I had confided in suggested that I meet a friend of hers who’s a doctor. I was willing to do anything and of course met with her. She’s my doctor today. When I first saw her, she said simply, “Nothing is wrong with you. Having a myomectamy will not cause you to not get pregnant. You just need to have sex every other day for six months and stop taking Clomid. You’ve already had a perfectly healthy baby, so why are you taking this? You could get pregnant with twins or triplets.” That was enough to stop me in my tracks. (Also worth mentioning—the same doctor that prescribed me Clomid suggested six months earlier that I get my tubes cleaned, as this apparently helps with pregnancy. It was super painful, and when I told my current doctor about this, she was stunned, as it’s not something your doctor should ever encourage you to do without giving you other steps to follow.)

I realized I couldn’t control this. I had to surrender to my body. I had to stop trying to plan everything. Mind you, other women had been telling me, “I just stopped thinking about it, and poof!—it happened,” and it would drive me nuts. I found myself getting jealous of friends who were pregnant, thinking, When is it my turn? What’s wrong with me? Why am I missing out?


 

The conversation with my doctor was in mid-May of this year, and I found out I was pregnant two weeks later. I had stopped using my ovulation sticks to track, but a friend of mine told me they read both LH surges and also HCG levels. My period was coming, and in typical fashion, I couldn’t wait to see if I’d missed it. I peed on the ovulation stick, and two lines came up at the same time. Hmmm this is weird, I thought. I did it again the next day, which was a day before I was supposed to start my period; two lines appeared right away. I gave it another day and then bought a pregnancy test. It was negative. Hmmm, I thought again. I gave it yet another day and bought another test. That Friday after work, two faint lines. I was pregnant. I couldn’t believe my eyes. “I’m pregnant,” I whispered to my husband in our Greenpoint apartment that we’d just moved to the month before. A shocked grin came over his face. We were both in disbelief. We wanted to believe, but we were stunned. After all this time of wishing and wanting a baby so badly, the moment we stopped and just “let go,” the timing was right.

I was in shock and overcome with joy, but it took me a long time to believe it. Early in this second pregnancy, I had intense morning sickness, to the point of being almost paralyzed. Experiencing your first trimester in NYC’s July and August heat is next-level. But through all the sickness, I was grateful. When I was eight weeks, I started spotting. I was on a flight back from a work trip in L.A., and I thought I was having a miscarriage on the plane. This was a feeling of deep, deep helplessness like I had never known. There was no one I could tell or run to. I had to go inside of myself and pray for peace and hope that my worst fears were not coming true. I had to surrender and let go. Thankfully, everything was fine and has been since.


 

I am a very determined and driven person. When I don’t get my way or can’t work hard enough to make something happen, I can’t compute why; it doesn’t makes sense to me. This was the case with this pregnancy. The fact that I couldn’t just snap my fingers and get pregnant when I thought I was ready or when I thought it was the perfect timing has been one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to give up control over. Instead of looking at it as defeat, I had to change my mind set and attitude to It’s just not the right time. Such hard words to look in the mirror and say to myself. Looking back though, on all of it, over the two-year span, myself, my husband, and my daughter, none of us were ready for a second baby. Creating life out of love with someone is the dreamiest way I can think of bringing another person into the world, and if I’m honest with myself, that love was in a fog of grief for a very long time. It’s not until very recently, the past six months probably, that I could honestly say we have been in a place to receive something like this. In addition, not only was feeling like a failure a major issue, but I was also refusing to look at elements that weren’t healthy for me, like going nonstop with work. I had to give up what I knew as a comfort zone and surrender to the next chapter and what was right for me and my family.


 

Living in NYC, the pressure to pursue a career is real. But you can have a career and a family. We’re told this lie that we have to sacrifice career for baby or vice versa, and it’s simply not true. You can be a beautiful, strong mother with an incredible career. But you may have to relinquish some control. At least that was the case for me.

 

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