McKernan: Our Story

Our Story

On Monday January 9th of this year, the personal and the professional collided…and it did so for anyone who was listening to the show to hear.

I don’t think I would necessarily describe the incident as embarrassing, but I suppose it would be fair to call it rather scary…after all, we’ve been doing this show nearly everyday since 2004, and I had never had an experience like this.

And the worst part was the audience knew something was wrong. They just didn’t know what it was.

Actually…that wasn’t the worst part.

The worst part was I couldn’t tell them.

My silence was quite obvious as Jimmy “The Cat” Hayes and Doug Vaughn filled the air of a three-man show with just two people talking.

Now, they knew what was going on. But, I didn’t anticipate it being as bad as it was.

I tried to talk. I mean…I specifically recall wanting to open my mouth to talk, but I couldn’t.

Meanwhile, The Cat and Doug kept doing their thing…and I just sat there.

Frozen.

Devastated.

And…really…I was disappointed in myself for coming into the show that day. I suppose I thought that I’d be fine. But, it only took a couple of minutes to realize not only was I going to be a disaster…it was understandably going to lead to speculation from the audience.

While those listening may have wondered what was wrong, all of the people involved with the show knew what the problem was…because Anna-Marie and I had sent this email out to them about 10 hours earlier:

Ladies and gentlemen,

This is a difficult email to write…and even more tough to share outside of our household.

I sincerely request that this email stay private. That is quite important to us at this point. I am not sending this to everyone at the station…only the people with whom I see and work with on a day-to-day basis.

Because my wife and I both work at the station and really live with the highs and lows of the business—and have done so for nearly the last decade together, after discussing whether or not to share what we have experienced, Anna-Marie and I decided it would be better to do so than leave people wondering what is wrong. Candidly, we’re dreading the next few weeks…as the last couple of days have been as sad as we have ever experienced…and going back into work—specifically doing a show that is usually upbeat—is going to be quite difficult.

Nonetheless, as I wrote above, after discussing it, Anna-Marie and I thought it would be best to tell the truth to the people with whom we interact everyday…as inevitably, our behavior may not be normal:

We have been trying to have a baby since we got married in 2011.

When it didn’t happen naturally, we turned to a variety of different means to try to make it happen in 2013…and then 2014. In July of 2014, we did IVF (in-vitro fertilization). Anna-Marie got pregnant…but we lost the baby.

Devastated, we decided that the best thing to do was to try again. And we did so in December 2014. However, it did not work. And, that was perhaps more difficult, because as the doctor told us, it was “less than 1%” probability for a healthy 30 year-old woman to get shut out with two tries of IVF. So, at that point, we began to wonder if we would ever be able to have children.

Just as we were getting ready to do another round of IVF in early 2017, Anna-Marie gave me the most incredible Christmas present ever: she told me that she was pregnant. It had happened naturally. For the last several weeks, we have been as happy as two people could be. To be able to share the news with our parents—especially Anna-Marie’s parents as she is an only child—was one of the greatest moments of our lives.

However, unfortunately, early yesterday morning, we lost our baby.

Suffice it to say, we are heartbroken.

Millions of couples go through this…as miscarriages are much more common than I think many people realize…and that’s probably because people don’t discuss them.

I wouldn’t be discussing this with anyone outside of family—as we didn’t discuss what we dealt with in 2014 on two separate occasions in a public manner—except for the fact that this time we were further along…and we really thought it was going to happen…and it’s now the third time we’ve dealt with this heartbreak. And, because of those factors, the next few weeks will likely be a battle for both of us.

Because of that, we decided to share this with you just to let you know why we may not be firing on all cylinders over the next few weeks.

We don’t expect—or want—sympathy…as we are no different than millions of other couples—some of whom may be reading this email—that have dealt with this. We do, however, want you to know what is going on. Usually, we respond to texts/emails almost immediately…but I don’t know how the next couple of weeks will play out…so please just bear with us as we go through this.

That was sent out at 9 pm on Sunday January 8th.

It was now approaching 8 am on Monday January 9th, and I had just “done” an hour of radio by sitting there, because I was so devastatingly crushed by what had happened that I couldn’t talk.

We both wanted to have a baby so badly, but unfortunately, we hadn’t been able to. Just as we were getting ready to do IVF for a third time—we were about to begin the process in January—Anna-Marie surprised me on December 27th with the news she was pregnant naturally. This was something we were told was statistically impossible to happen…and yet there we were.

We actually planned on doing IVF with a different doctor we met with in November, but just out of wanting to meet with one other doctor before proceeding, it got delayed. Had we gone with the first doctor immediately in November, Anna-Marie would have been put on birth control—a standard first step in IVF to regulate cycles for timing purposes—and she would have never gotten pregnant in early December.

After years of multiple treatments, multiple IVF attempts, and multiple disappointments, we were going to fire another financially and emotionally high-risk bullet at trying to slay the infertility dragon. And then, despite being told it was virtually impossible for us to get pregnant naturally, we were celebrating New Year’s Eve going into 2017 with visions of finally becoming parents.

A week later…it ended.

Anna-Marie came downstairs Saturday January 7th crying, fell into my arms, and said, “It’s over. It’s over.”

She was bleeding. She had experienced this before in 2014 during her first miscarriage. Anna-Marie called her OB who said she could go to the emergency room, but based on what was going on, she had likely lost the baby. We had been through this before, and we went to the emergency room when it happened before, and that was not something Anna-Marie wanted to go through again. As her doctor told her, there was nothing that could be done…and no one to blame.

If you have experienced a miscarriage—as a woman, as a husband, as a significant other, as a parent, as a sibling, as a friend—you know, however, that no matter what, more often than not—especially for a hopeful first-time mother—there’s no such thing as “no one to blame.”

No matter what, Anna-Marie blamed herself.

Not only was she experiencing the pain of losing another pregnancy and what felt like a lottery ticket of sorts considering the long odds about which we had been told…but she felt like she was to blame…even if the reasons didn’t hold to logic, the devastation of the emotions gave way to nauseating and incorrect blame.

As a husband, there’s absolutely nothing you can do or say that makes it “better.” It just “is.” No words…no actions…make it go away or make it even less painful. All I could do was be there for her. Be with her. Hold her. Talk with her.

Live the wedding vows.

Unfortunately, with this being the third time we’ve experienced this specific kind of pain—to go with five plus years of trying and not getting pregnant—I was familiar with the emotions and what comes with it. But, this one was much more painful than anything before.

Yeah…I hurt for myself, but I was way down the list. I hurt for my parents. I hurt for Anna-Marie’s parents, as this was the third time they thought their only child was about to give them a grandchild. But, I was dying for my wife.

I love my wife.

Yeah, yeah.

What a bold statement to make in public.

But, seriously…I love my wife.

It’s a rather odd thing to feel awkward about saying…but I do. Maybe it’s because it’s more socially acceptable to joke about marriage and/or clichés like the “old ball and chain,” but there isn’t anyone in the world I would rather spend time with than Anna-Marie. Yes, she is my best friend…but we have been through quite a bit together over close to 10 years…and I can only describe her as someone whose outer beauty is dwarfed by the brilliance of her mind and the goodness in her heart.

Every woman deserves to be a mother if she so desires…but in the case of Anna-Marie, the world would be the better for having at least one person brought into this world and raised by her.

At just 32, we knew we had time…but with all that we had been through, we both were starting to wonder. At one of our appointments in November, our doctor brought up an egg donor. Other people had started to suggest adoption. For us, neither were options we were interested in pursuing. To each their own…but those weren’t for us at the moment.

Her friends knew how badly Anna-Marie wanted to have a baby. It became a bit of a topic of conversation regularly when I would see them.

They always get together for a Christmas Party every year. At this one in December, I was talking with one of her friends about the fact that we were going to do IVF again in January, and she said something rather poignant considering it was said over the noise of a bar: “When two people love each other as much as you two do, you have to have a baby.”

Those words caught me off guard.

I got a little Dick Vermeil-esque when I heard them.

Later that night, when we got home, I told Anna-Marie what her friend had said.

They stuck with her as well.

When I got home from work on December 27th, Anna-Marie had a present waiting for me…a delayed Christmas present as she called it.

She had a gift bag sitting on our table with her positive pregnancy test and a card: “When two people love each other as much as you two do, you have to have a baby.”

At our wedding, her dad delivered one of the most incredible father of the bride speeches that I have heard. He had my friends crying.

He told the story of how he had told Anna-Marie’s mom that if she ever was pregnant to “simply hang baby booties from the chandelier.”

They, too, had waited for a miracle to have a baby.

But, one day, my father-in-law came home, and there were baby booties hanging from the chandelier.

A few months later, Anna-Marie was born.

When I came home to receive my delayed Christmas present, Anna-Marie had paid homage to her dad’s speech in November 2011, and I was stunned and thrilled all at once to see baby’s booties hanging from our chandelier.

For nearly two weeks, only six people knew about our surprise…until that Saturday morning on January 7th.

Tears on December 27th. Tears all weekend on January 7th and January 8th with my wife, my parents, and Anna-Marie’s parents.

Perhaps it was because we had about two days of mourning that I thought it would be good for me to go in and do the show on Monday January 9th. Or perhaps I thought I could handle it.

I couldn’t.

Now with the benefit of hindsight, I shouldn’t have done the show that day. But, I work with the best group of people going in radio, and The Cat, Doug, The Sea Monster, The PlowBoy, and Iggy carried the show. I sat there saying close to nothing…and made it blatantly obvious that something was wrong, which only complicated an already painful time.

After the show, I returned home to pick up Anna-Marie to go to the hospital. Her OB wanted to see her to see if they would need to perform a D & C, which stands for dilation and curettage. It’s a surgery that many women must endure to clear the uterine lining after a miscarriage.

As we approached the elevators to go up to the doctor’s office, I recall thinking, “Wouldn’t it be amazing to get another miracle and somehow the baby still be alive?”

In 2012, I received a phone call from the very building which we had just entered telling me that I had lymphoma. I detailed that experience in a story titled The Price of Hope. For a week, I thought I had cancer. One of the most-respected doctors at the hospital had called me to tell me on November 14, 2012…when as recently as November 12, 2012 I thought I only had a cough. But, that is what happened…and for a week, that was my reality and the reality of my wife and both of our families.

After having a surgery called a mediastinoscopy to determine what kind of lymphoma I had…and what treatments would be required…I recall waiting for a phone call the next day. I remember thinking that I’ll never have an experience like this again: simply waiting for a phone call to tell me if I had cancer or not.

In a moment that I still can’t verbally convey without getting emotional, I received a phone call that afternoon in 2012 from my surgeon telling me simply, “No cancer.”

The diagnosis I received over the phone on November 14th was premature and, more importantly, inaccurate.

I thought, “You only get one of those kinds of experiences…and that’s if you’re lucky to even get one.”

Now, more than four years later, as I walked toward those elevators and thought about getting another miracle, I recall thinking that this one would be even less likely than the one in 2012.

But, in talking with my doctor on Saturday morning as I looked for advice, he told me a story of a friend of his from medical school thinking that she had a miscarriage. And just as they were getting ready to perform the D & C, they realized that the baby’s heartbeat was still beating.

That baby is now in medical school.

While that story gave me some semblance of hope, it was not something that was at the forefront of my mind. And, it was immediately moved to the back of my mind when Anna-Marie said in the waiting room, “I just want to get this over with and hope that I don’t have to get a D & C.”

It wasn’t even on her mind that there could be a miracle. Not a shadow of hope in her mind.

And, as we sat in the ultrasound room together…we weren’t even really paying attention as the nurse began the procedure. Anna-Marie intentionally looked away, because she didn’t want to see the emptiness.

I was on my phone.

And then I looked over…

…and I thought I saw something.

A tiny little flickering on the computer screen.

As Anna-Marie continued to look away, I saw the nurse look closer and say, “There’s the baby’s heartbeat.”

I was overwhelmed. I put my head in my hands and cried.

Anna-Marie, now looking at the screen, just kept saying, “What? How is this possible?”

Tears of joy flowed from her eyes as the shock dissipated and the reality set in: Our baby was still alive.

And so it is with this story that Anna-Marie and I announce we will be having our first child this year.

While it has been one of the most exciting times of our lives to share this with our close friends and family over the last couple of weeks, our reason for sharing this entire anecdote is for the couples who either have experienced or are experiencing the pain of trying to start a family…of experiencing a miscarriage…of wanting something so badly…but feeling helpless.

Oftentimes we would hear stories of couples that tried and tried and tried…whether it be naturally or with IVF…or both…and then suddenly, after years of not having anything work, they would get pregnant.

We would wonder if these people really existed, or if telling the stories was just a way to make us feel better.

Well, now you have names and faces to put to one couple that not only tried everything…but was told that they couldn’t have kids naturally. After five plus years of trying—and experiencing the pain of not succeeding—we can tell you that is possible.

When two people love each other as much as you do, you have to have a baby.

And so we will.

Our son is due this August.

If you have any questions, comments, or whatever, please email me at tmckernan@insideSTL.com.

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