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Today I Am a Mother

I have learned a lot about myself in the past 48 hours.

1.  I have tough skin.

No, unfortunately not metaphorically, quite literally.  The nurse anesthetist had quite a time getting my IV going on Friday and, after telling me the first one “burst” and I told her that the word burst made me anxious, declared that despite my being a dainty lady (fairly certain that will be the only time in my life that I hear that), that I have tough skin.  After several tissues worth of palm sweat my husband wiped off my hands, providing much-needed comic relief, laying me back to prevent a further vagal response, and a couple tries later, we were in.  I, as usual, was a high maintenance patient as my anxiety got the best of me.  I wish it were figurative, too.

2.  I am a curious anesthetic drunk.

My friend Laura warned me that she was a sobby and sappy anesthetic drunk, that all the emotion of IVF buried deep emerged as she came out of the anesthesia post-retrieval.  Me?  I was that before it even started.  As the nurse walked me back to get changed and Hubs left to provide his sample, I broke down crying.  It all rushed in.  I gathered myself, read Scripture on my phone (coincidentally the passage of the day was II Corinthians 1 on “The God of All Comfort), and again resumed crying when Hubs returned.  And then when the nurse came back, and the anesthetist, and my RE.  It was all a bit overwhelming.  For some reason I chose to wear a ring Hubs gave me for my 20th birthday that I hadn’t pulled out in a while.  As I looking at the thing, I couldn’t help but think back to those two innocent kiddos and how they had no idea what the future had in store.  Certainly infertility is not the only thing — most of it has been great  — but we had no idea we’d be in that room, doing this wild thing 11 years later.  They somehow managed to get me back to the operating room and my RE and the nurses wished me well on my trip to the beach and requested I bring a drink back for them.  Have I mentioned how great they are at my clinic?  They were all so understanding and comforting with me and all my emotion and wispiness.  I was awakened when they brought my husband back and quickly began asking him questions about when had I woken up, how did they wake me up, how many eggs (of course), etc..  Not a single tear, I was fairly clear-minded, super relieved that part was over, and wondering why the heck I still felt so full in the ovaries (apparently they pop the follicles to retrieve the eggs, and the follicles become cysts — great).

3.  I like dried prunes (and I cannot lie).

No need for a lot of details, but did you know they taste like those Whole Foods fruit leathers?  Yum!  I can be so close-minded with my produce selections.  I still lament all the years I spent without avocado in my life.

4.  My friends are amazing cooks.

They (you all) have brought us the most delicious meals, it is no wonder we live in the foodiest small town in America.  Quinoa and roasted vegetables, lentil and rice soup, extra-ginger carrot soup, vegetarian ziti, spinach enchiladas, southwestern grits, Dahl and brown rice, sun-dried tomato artichoke quiche (dairy-free!)…and lots and lots of chocolate and cupcakes which I have been eating indiscriminately but don’t tell Julie the acupuncturist.  Biggest thanks for all of this love.  And I am proud of you, my community, for your incredible cooking skills and being the hands and feet of Jesus.  You people have even taken our terror of a puppy on hikes — that is love.

5.  I am a mother.

Lastly and most importantly.  It feels weird to have been chipper in this post so far, because I’m actually very very worried and sad and scared.  The low-down on the retrieval: the procedure itself all went very well, they harvested 13 eggs as we had hoped, the sperm report was perfect.  We got a call Saturday, though, that only four had fertilized normally.  Of the 13, three weren’t mature (in line with the 80% we predicted), and of the ten remaining, five had signs of maturity but did not fertilize, one fertilized but abnormally and so would not result in a baby, leaving our four embryos.  That is a low fertilization rate of 40% when you’re usually looking at 70%.  Our RE said that we should realistically hope for just the one fresh transfer.

The blastocyst conversion rate — how many day-1 embryos make it to a day-5 blastocyst — is 50%, meaning statistically speaking, we are hoping for one to two embryos by Wednesday to transfer, likely none to freeze for later.  What a blow after all of that work and pain and time and hope.  It is bad enough if we are not pregnant this cycle but have frozen embryos to thaw for a later attempt, but so much worse if we are not pregnant and that was our only shot after this long and grueling process.

As many have reminded me lately, it only takes one.  I am praying for this and was encouraged today to hear a story of a friend’s friend having one embryo and now having a rambunctious five-year-old girl.  But, more than that, I am incessantly praying for our four babies.

This morning I couldn’t help but realize that I am, in fact, now officially a mother.  I just felt different in my love and concern for them.  I feel desperate for them, want to fight for them, be with them, do anything I can for them.  Of course at this point that is next to nothing except for prayer.

I realize that it is highly unlikely statistically, but I am praying and asking others to pray that all four would fight and make it and be strong and healthy on Wednesday.  That the Lord would do that fighting for them.  “He is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine” (Ephesians 3:20).  This verse hung in my sister’s twin’s nursery who were conceived with the help of fertility meds and sustained after being born 8 weeks early.  Today in church we sang “He is Able.”  This is true and I believe it.  All four may not make it, but it will not be for me not having asked.  And, on the other hand, they just may.  I am that persistent woman before the judge this weekend, asking this of the Lord over and over and over again.

We’ll get a report on them midday tomorrow.  It has driven me crazy today to think of them, 20 minutes down the road, not knowing how many are still there, how they’re doing, if they’re growing.  But I am believing in my babies and my Father who is with them, hoping they have tough skin like their mama.  Praying that the Lord would see them through.  I’m very aware that they are ours, that we are their parents and love them already.

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Today Our Dog Got Neutered

Oh, the irony of all ironies.  We dropped the little meatball off at the vet on our way to our first monitoring ultrasound of IVF.  He is back tonight and all is well, although he appears quite drunk from the anesthetics, whimpering excessively and his legs sprawling out with every attempt to sit up.

While his fertility was being compromised, we were getting a good look at my ovaries on steroids and were pleased with what we saw.  About 13 leaders ranging from 7-11 mm, and several others trailing behind, about where it should be for day 5 of stimming.  No cysts, lining looked good, and estradiol was in the 300s, so we’re staying on our course and will do it all again in two days to check in on those little pearls.  Which my doctor refers to as chocolate chips and, today, chocolate chunks.  I guess it didn’t take her long to realize cookie metaphors were what I needed to track with the medical jargon.

My week in TIBWM speak:

Monday: Today I Met Hapa!
She and Monika put the pieces together that she was in our area a few months ago and we finally made it happen to celebrate Hapa’s pregnancy.  She had her first ultrasound yesterday and got to see the heartbeat!  So exciting.  I think she was the first blog I followed so I’ve been rooting for her for a long time, and meeting her only further confirmed that she is a fabulous woman who would make a great mother.  Go Baby Hapa!

Tuesday: Today I Know the Meds are Working
As I was driving home from class I suddenly felt a pang in the ovaries and was kept awake that night by that pressure and a pretty rough headache.  I caved and took Aleve and finally went to sleep, but the headache is getting harder to fight each day since.  In my RE’s words today, I have hopped aboard the hormone roller coaster.  Acupuncture today provided some relief and I continue to find it fascinating how complex our bodies are.  Working on a point in the leg can address throbbing in the temple, how wild is that?

Wednesday: Today I Turned 31!
We were on our way to dinner and realized we’d forgotten to do our nightly injection and had to run back home.  I take it as a good sign (albeit a little concerning) that we forgot about IVF for a few moments in the midst of celebrating.  Also, as I opened my card from my husband I read that he had addressed it to my name and “Team Pearl,” causing me to cry and struggle to compose myself.  Further evidence that the meds had kicked in and that I have the best husband ever.

And now, today.  We’re primarily feeling hopeful and excited, save the headaches.  We have a host of people in this with us and it is palpable.  I feel at peace and attribute that to their prayers and support.  The meals friends have brought have been an enormous help as we juggle work, appointments, scheduling injections, and real life.  I can’t begin to describe the peace and comfort their support and presence bring us.

When we had our first IUI the doctor told us about a study in Israel where pregnancy rates were higher in patients who watched a clown performance post-IUI than those who did not.  She encouraged us to find something funny to entertain ourselves with for the wait after, and today’s video is one we watched for at least one of our IUIs, maybe more.  In honor of the pup’s anesthesia and mine upcoming, one of my top five youtube videos to share with you:

And I’m off to the pet store to buy a cone!

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Today is Next Month

It’s February 1st, as evidenced by the new red candlesticks out on the dining table (hip hip huzzah for Crate & Barrel Christmas clearance and gift card from my dad).  I’ve never been one for cheesy, illegitimate holidays, but this year I’ve been waiting eagerly to put these bad boys out and I’m guessing it has something to do with the abounding eagerness to get going with IVF that’s up in here.  In my mind and conversations with others, the phrase “We start IVF next month” has been on repeat.  But today, next month is here.

IMG_0349

We finally got off of the questioning roller coaster — IVF, adoption, IVF, adoption… — in mid-January and I was ever so ready.  The toiling and uncertainty were taking any potential restfulness of our “break” right out and I again found myself crying in inappropriate places like acupuncture.  We landed on IVF and were talking just tonight about how comfortable and at peace we feel with our decision.  Not because we feel especially hopeful that it will work — although as he pointed out, the odds at 45-55%/cycle are the highest they’ve been since trying to conceive — but because we’ve become increasingly certain that we want to give IVF a shot.  (I needn’t note pun intended.)  If we didn’t give it a try, I think I would always look back and wonder and ask “what if?”  And because the best predictor of IVF success is age, the best shot we can give it is now.  It feels really good to have sat with this decision and continue to feel at peace with it.

I’d like to say that, since then, I’ve been zen- and mother earth-like, but in all honesty it’s been more like an exhibition of failed nervous energy management.  Mainly in the form of trying to find something I can actually do during the wait like scheduling appointments and looking into a potential lower-cost option for meds, but also of course unnecessary baking/cooking and celebrating that Downton Abbey is now airing in the States.  (Nevermind how horrific the last episode was re: the poor infertility advice offered.  Although, I will say, if DA is taking up male factor infertility as one of its themes, I give it kudos.  Also, I forgive you, writers, for betraying me with Cybil’s pregnancy after all she went through last week.  May she rest in peace.)

So here’s our IVF timeline.  Of course this is all tentative and I’ve learned that with IVF you must expect the unexpected.  As someone told me the other day, it has a way of taking on a life of its own so the best thing to do is to expect it do so and roll with it.

Feb. 7: Predicted Day 1 of cycle
Feb. 9: Day 3 of cycle, start birth control for ~14 days, during these two weeks do testing (I have to repeat the saline ultrasounds, nooooooo!!!), nurse training, order meds, etc.
Feb. 24: Day 1 of Stim Phase (injections & every other day monitoring/ultrasounds)
Feb. 27: I turn 31!  Guess who’s getting a $12-15,000 birthday present this year?
March 5-9 (somewhere in there): Retrieval
3 or 5 days after retrieval (depending on embryo growth): Embryo Transfer
2 weeks after retrieval (approximately March 19-23): Blood test to learn the results

So, February is here and we’re a few weeks out from the real start of it all.  My acupuncturist gave me great advice today to enjoy the last week of a medication-free body and not paying attention to all the details that come with IVF.  Also, our trip was never able to happen so we’re doing a stay-cation next weekend and checking out a great local spa, so lots of good, relaxing distractions in place.

And now, in the vein of distractions, I share a YouTube submission by my dear friend and IVF supporter, Jess.  Some people have been asking how they can bring a meal or otherwise support us during IVF, which is so kind and thoughtful.  Jess will be sending out emails and coordinating that for us and we’re very thankful to her for that.  (I’d be curious to hear from others who have gone through this what kind of support they found helpful or wished they’d had, if you want to leave a comment.)

From Jess this evening: “Hoping you are having a Buttermilk the Goat type of weekend – well, except for the knocking your friends over part…”

And the same goes for you, my friends.

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Today I’m Rich

“And He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.” -Rev. 21:3

This verse is giving me great comfort today, as I’ve realized lately that much of my questioning and struggle boil down to the question, is God good?  Scripture says it outright countless times, yet I still find it hard to believe.  Believe at a heart level.  I question how a God who is sovereign and good could allow the kinds of suffering that I see and that I experience myself.  My own suffering pales in comparison to some of the horrors occurring in others’ lives and around the world.  How do sin and the fact that we live in a fallen, broken time and place factor in?  It feels easier to swallow that sin and brokenness are the default for now but that Jesus is entering into it and redeeming it all even now.  It somehow feels more compassionate — but perhaps just easier to swallow — that this suffering isn’t what the Lord wills, that He wants something different for us, wants us to not have to anguish for the past two years, wants our bodies to be working, wants us to be parents already, wants to take away the pain, is crying with us and wants to wipe our tears.  Can He be as good and as compassionate if He is willing this suffering and this situation for us?  For others around the world?

Not easy questions, not ones I am really trying to answer here.  And maybe it doesn’t even matter.  If I play with the ideas in my mind, I tend to think so — think in my head — but in my limited human-ness it seems to break down somewhere, leaving me wondering about a sadistic god who would will such pain for greater good.  I hate to even write the words.  Could there be a greater good?

For the longest time that has felt impossible and at the very least, trite.  But I dare say I’m beginning to experience some of it.  See it, taste it.  Taste and see that the Lord is good.

I’m coming out the other side.  It sounds crazy to say when we haven’t even started IVF yet, we haven’t a clue what the outcome will be.  I’m feeling more like myself again, only a more mature, seasoned version.  A little deeper, a little more dimensional.

My friend Katherine, someone I’ve grown closer to only through this time of suffering, is one of those people who just gets it.  I can pick up with her and instantly feel understood, not to mention less like a crazy person.  Katherine wrote me after our final IUI attempt failed and I asked her if I could share it here on my blog.  It is just too beautiful to keep to myself and I hope some other infertiles can find it useful.  Her words encouraged me greatly at that time and continue to as I’m beginning to experience some of what she talked about.  (As an aside, her email is also a perfect example of how to be an amazing friend to an infertile.  I keep it in my inbox and about five other cards in my journal, all containing priceless words my amazing friends have sent me the past year.)

Hey –
Just wanted to drop you a line and let you know that we’re thinking about you guys.  [My husband] told me that you came in for prayer about next steps, which was sad news (since I was a little behind on the blog and hadn’t heard about this month yet) and also so encouraging that you guys are doing things like getting prayed for.  I can think of about 1000 times we should have done that but it never occurred to us.

I am so sad to hear that your little one did not arrive this last month.  We really mourn with you, my friend.  Such an exhausting and grueling process. It’s very exciting news that you’re moving forward with IVF, though.  On to a new adventure.  🙂  I know it may not feel like it, but you are in the thick of something big in your life.  If you were to graph your growth over time (the inside kind, of course), it is taking a steep upward turn these days while you gain a treasure-trove of experience, wisdom, future empathy for other women going this path, and all sorts of other things that you might not have wanted, but are getting nonetheless.  Count on it – if you hang in, you will get your baby one day – and unlike all those other lamos who got pregnant on the first try, you’ll have that treasure trove to go with it.

Needless to say, I hope and pray that you have both of those things very soon.  🙂  We’d love to see you guys sometime soon.  We can talk and lament over this stuff, or just ponder the final scene of DA.  Either is fine.  🙂

How beautiful is that?  (And great that she deeply empathizes, mourns with us, has faith for us, and relates to the feeling that super-fertile people are lamos. 🙂 )  I replied to her that I would hang on to this image because, at that moment and for a long time before, I was not feeling an ounce of growth or feeling God’s nearness.

I am beginning to get a very real sense of this treasure trove, though; I think that day is coming.  I’m increasingly aware of a feeling that I’ve gained something the past two years.  In a time that has felt so dry and agonizing and empty.  I think that depth and dimension are exactly what she was talking about.  Maybe He can use this — whether He willed it or not — maybe this treasure trove is worth the suffering, and that He, in fact, in all His goodness helped me in the suffering and brought and is bringing this treasure into fruition without an ounce of my own effort.  I never thought I would say that and really mean it — not as a defense against my pain and confusion — but I don’t think I imagined what and how good the treasure could be.

We still await a child.  We still do not know how or when the Lord will bring him or her to us.  We wait and we wait.  We wait and are in anguish and are comforted.  We wait uncertain and fearful and aware that He desires to wipe away our every tear.  We wait, praying He continues to build that treasure trove, praying that above all on the other side the treasure is good and that we will know and taste His goodness.

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Today I’m Buying Out Whole Foods

So I have been a big-time grumpy grouper this week.  My mental life has been a bit of a wreck.  I’m playing some quite destructive mind games, like defending myself over and over in my mind to a colleague who had a negative response to news about my infertility (downplaying it, weighing whose suffering is worse, and criticizing my financial decisions).  Doubting and feeling guilty about my efforts to make life more manageable right now and worrying others also believe things about me and infertility like aforementioned colleague.  And premourning next week and already freaking out about it.

Throw on top of that unexplained snippiness with my husband, likely related to both the hormones and these bad thought patterns, and uncomfortable physical symptoms (including terrible breaking out and weird uterus feelings ever since the IUI — is this normal?) and I can hardly stand myself.  Thank goodness I did actually get decent sleep this week.  (And that my candidate won the election!)  I guess the unifying theme is that I’m feeling alone, feeling some distance between me and the world.

As someone in a helping profession I’ve always had difficulty feeling comfortable talking about myself, and with infertility I find it really hard to know how to convey to others how I’m feeling or doing on any given day or at a meta level, how awful infertility is.  Sometimes, then, I end up feeling down and a bit stuck inside myself, believing others don’t understand or care enough to understand.  I wish there were a book out there to give to others explaining infertility, the work it requires, the continuous feelings of loss.  Maybe some of the IF community’s blog posts could be compiled someday to create this.

At the support group I recently joined (yep, you heard that right) one of the women mentioned how her doctors consistently remind her that her stress is real and legitimate and that research shows that stress levels in women with infertility are equivalent to those with cancer or HIV diagnoses.  These days I’m really wishing people got that.  I worry that others might see my feelings as overblown or overdramatic, so really, I wish someone else would communicate this for me.  Having research saying it helps.  I guess I’m wanting both understanding and validation of my pain from others.  I want them to say, “I know this is terrible for you.”  And maybe “What do you need?” like we do when people get a scary, life-changing medical diagnosis.

I ended up realizing slowly over the week that some of my thoughts are askew and that there really are a lot of people in our corner.  My friend Wesley faithfully sent another email checking in on me, I remembered a few people Sunday really meaning it when they asked how I was doing and in fact noting how awful this process is, a friend let me cry to her and followed up with a card the next day asking how she can advocate for me, my dad texted yesterday to let me know he was thinking of me, my co-worker left delicious toffee in the break room for me with a note.  Why do I continue to feel all alone and doubt whether others care when I can recount things like this almost every week?

No idea, but I think it shows the depth and power of the fear and longing and deep need.

I realize that this long road takes a good deal of endurance for our support systems too, and I of course do not want to wear people out as they walk with us.  I hate being grumpy with my husband and not knowing exactly why.  I hate the feeling of needing to explain myself and not being able to do it.  And honestly I hate needing things from other people.  If I’m learning nothing else in this process, it is that I am desperate and dependent and that is something I’ll never escape, even and especially if a baby comes along.

As I’ve begun to let in these kind things from others this week, I’ve slowly felt a little lighter.  I spent the morning dropping off canned goods people from our church gathered and talking with some dedicated people there who care a lot about homelessness.  I prepared for the arrival of my pal since 5th grade, sat in the sun that’s back in town, and let myself go wild at Whole Foods.  Pear cider, ginger dark chocolate, pumpkin seeds…so excited.  Today I’m choosing not to believe everything I hear — from others or myself — and today I’m choosing joy.

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