I have always been one who has tried to walk by faith, but I have been shown anew what that really means in the past few months. Pregnancy in general is a huge faith walk… I can control some things, like what I eat and how I take care of my body, but so many other things are completely beyond my control. It puts me in awe to think about how little I am actually doing in the making of this baby. Literally as I sit here typing, God is knitting this baby together in my womb. It’s mind-boggling. And for control freaks like me, it can be a bit scary. This pregnancy has been yet another lesson in surrender.
From the moment this pregnancy began, Trent and I have acknowledged that this life is in God’s hands. This little one has been covered in prayer since the get-go. Even still, we have had our share of challenges and scares. When we went in for our 6 week check-up (you can do that in China), the doctors who were doing the ultrasound said that everything was “hěn hǎo,” or “very good.” So when we left the hospital for lunch, we were feeling great! Baby had a strong heartbeat and everything looked like it was progressing as it should. But two hours later when we came back for the results of the blood work, it seemed like a different story. The blood test gives readings for the three basic pregnancy hormones: estrogen, progesterone, and HcG (which is the hormone that tells you you’re pregnant). My levels were:
Now when we got the numbers back, Catherine pointed out that my HcG was SUPER high. She said that hers around week 5 was only like 4,000. It doubles every 2-3 days early in pregnancy, but mine was extremely high. The doctors didn’t even mention this number… however, through many phone translations, it was communicated that my progesterone was “too low.” I would have to come back in a week for another blood test, and they gave me some synthetic progesterone pills that they wanted me to take 3 times a day every day until I came back.
When I left, I felt conflicted. I really didn’t want to take medicine, especially before I had done my own research, yet I didn’t want to make a “wrong” decision that could adversely affect me or the baby. It was a lot of pressure. The entire cab ride home (at least 35 minutes), I looked up all sorts of charts on the internet, and asked a million questions of Bing (Google doesn’t work well here). What progesterone and HcG levels are normal? Are the pills safe? What happens if I don’t take the pills? How low is too low? Do the pills even work? What are the side effects? The questions kept coming. Towards the end, I think I had TOO much information. The charts I found told me that for week 6, my progesterone levels were well within the mean range as you can see below.
Blogs and forums of moms who had miscarried had far lower progesterone levels than mine. But still, doubts lingered, worry crept in. Am I really doing what’s best for my baby? Will the pills help me keep this pregnancy? Anyways, I didn’t know what to do. I wrote to my ObGyn at home and asked his opinion. He wrote back that I shouldn’t worry, that those levels seemed normal for this stage of pregnancy. And then I learned that most people who have been pregnant in China (foreigners and locals alike) had also been told the same thing and had been advised to take the pills, but they make them very sick. After conferring with Catherine and my sister-in-law a LOT, I decided not to take the pills. I would go back in a week and see if the levels had gone up. Either way, I decided simply to pray and leave it in God’s hands. That, of course, is much easier said than done. I had to make the deliberate choice every day that week to choose faith over fear, sometimes even from minute-to-minute I had to remind myself to trust instead of worry. I really wanted this baby!
A week later, I went back for a second blood test. Although my estrogen and HcG had doubled (at least), my progesterone was still at 25… in fact, it had dropped a few decimal points to 25.34 (.33 lower than last time). My HcG was off the charts (literally- it just read >300,000), and my estrogen had nearly doubled to 813. Everything else looked fine. The doctors asked (through broken English and phone translators) if I had been taking the pills. I told them that I had not. They scolded me and then told me to take them this week and then come back in for another blood test the following week.
When we left that day, I felt defeated. I had hoped that prayer would make my levels go up. What do I do? The levels still seemed normal based on the charts, even for week 7. Do I even go back next week? These appointments are eating up our Saturdays. Maybe I should just wait it out… Should I get a natural progesterone cream? What are some natural ways to boost progesterone? I asked Catherine again, and she said that her progesterone had also dropped the second week- but hers was a much more drastic drop than mine- hers went from 30 down to 18. But her pregnancy was fine.
I went home and messaged my ObGyn a second time. This time his response wasn’t very helpful. He basically said that in the USA, they don’t even track progesterone levels during early stages of pregnancy. They only do a blood test initially to confirm the pregnancy. He wasn’t sure how to advise me, but he did say not to take any synthetic progesterone supplements, as they have been associated with birth defects. I felt no closer to a decision than I had before. But again, I decided to just leave it in God’s hands. God knows my body and what it needs far better than the doctors did. If this pregnancy was meant for completion, then God would be faithful to make it happen. If something was wrong and I lost the baby, then He would be with me through it all.
In the end, I decided just to wait until 10 weeks to go back in for an ultrasound. If they wanted to do blood work again, I would just tell them that there’s nothing the blood work could tell us that an ultrasound couldn’t. If something was wrong with me or the baby, an ultrasound would detect that. But I didn’t want any more numbers making me stress!
Now we are in our second trimester. The baby seems healthy and everything appears to be fine. But I will tell you now that the beginning of this pregnancy was not exactly easy. These decisions are hard. Maybe the decision I made isn’t right for everyone, but I do think it was the right decision for me. I’m thankful that God has sustained this baby and this pregnancy this far and I trust that he will continue to hold this precious little life in his hands for the rest of it.
Some things I later learned: EVERYONE in China is told that they have low progesterone. I hypothesize that it is because of the “one child policy.” Because couples can only have one child, there is a lot of pressure put on the doctors and nurses here. Chinese families don’t want anything to go wrong so I think they prescribe the extra progesterone early on in pregnancy to increase viability, although studies haven’t even proven that taking the supplements helps. It also doesn’t hurt the hospital to keep making people come back for blood work again and again… its’ almost three times as expensive as an ultrasound (that being said, it still only costs about $45 bucks a pop). I’ve talked to several other expat moms here in Qingdao that were told that they had low progesterone and who had opted not to take the pills, and they all have happy, healthy babies.