Sunday, February 27, 2011

On the Other Side of the Castle Walls

Because the retreat fell through, I thought a nice quiet weekend at home was in order.  However, the Prince has been in an increasingly difficult and distant mood lately, so by Saturday morning I realized that my weekend would not be restful “inside the castle.”  To avoid the discomfort of staying at home, I decided to “leave” for a day.  I found a great deal on a nice hotel room in the same city that we live in and I booked it.  I came up with a weekend schedule for myself, full of yoga and indulgence, watching movies at the theater and in my hotel room, ordering room service and just relaxing in general.  I also threw in the shopping trip that I have been putting off for weeks - getting a gift for the first of many baby showers that I will be attending in the near future.

I decided to go get the baby gift out of the way first, so I would have time to recover afterwards.  I walked into Buy Buy Baby and was immediately engulfed in a world of baby toys, clothing, furniture, potty chairs, diapers, etc.  I’m not going to lie, at times it was hard to suck in a breath.  I couldn’t tell you what one other person in the store looked like because I had to just focus intently on the list I brought from my friend’s baby registry in order to avoid a panic attack.  I made it through the experience, but the rest of the baby shower gifts are getting purchased online.  That was simply no fun.

So…jump to the hotel room a few hours later.  I was all settled into my very nice room when, at 5:00 p.m., I noticed that I was stressing out.  I kept wondering, should I order room service or drive to the mall and get take out.  I had planned to get takeout, but them I didn’t want to leave the hotel room once I got there.  I was so distressed over the idea of veering from my plans, I literally spent over an hour making myself a sick because I couldn’t reach a decision.  Then, I started thinking about my husband and my problems with how things are progressing, or not progressing, in our relationship.  Before I knew it, I was tense and unhappy…bouncing from one negative topic to the other…the very things I was running from.  And then…I heard a baby crying.  Apparently, a family with an infant had been put in the room next to me and, as babies do, this baby cried…a lot.

I got so stressed out that I actually became angry because my “weekend of relaxation” was being ruined.  I could have just stayed home if I wanted to be stressed.  While sulking about my bad fortune, I ran a hot bath and I soaked.  I went for a late swim in the pool at the hotel.  Then I used a calming body scrub and gave myself a spa treatment in the room…telling myself the whole time “Just enjoy this.  The other stuff doesn’t matter tonight.  It will be there tomorrow.”  And, after repeating it enough, it was true and I did start to enjoy myself.  I ordered room service.  I ate a delicious steak and drank a root beer float (something I haven’t had since I was a child).  I ordered an in-room movie that I knew the Prince would not enjoy (not the naughty kind) and fell asleep during the movie (clearly the Prince was not the only one who would not enjoy it). 

As I awoke this morning, I started to make a list of everything I had to do today, both relaxation-related and functional tasks.  And then that smart little voice in my head spoke up and said…”This is why you don’t need a weekend retreat elsewhere right now.  It isn’t going to solve your problem.”  Offended (by myself), I wondered what that meant.  So, I did some yoga and then considered what I was feeling.  The voice, as usual, is right.  Had I gone away for the weekend, I would have been busy with juicing or yoga classes or meditation, or “skin brushing.”  My weekend would be scheduled out for me and I would use the non-stop activities, not as a means of working through my issues, but as a distraction allowing a temporary escape from the issues I face each day.  While I thought escape was what I needed, now I don’t think that is right.  I needed to just creep over the castle walls for a breather, while staying close enough to the castle that I couldn’t forget what’s awaiting me when I get back inside the castle. 

This mini-retreat didn’t fix my problems, didn’t even leave me fully recharged.  But it did teach me a valuable lesson that I am going to need going in to the next cycle - let the little annoyances and obstacles (I picture them as small, child-like trolls) sit beside me while I do what NEEDS to be done, until I can focus my attention on them, one at a time.  I don’t need to carry them on my back or juggle them around.  They’ll follow me around, sometimes patiently and sometimes not so patiently, if I just keep moving along, dealing with them as needed.  Having them there clearly isn’t killing me.  I don’t have to run away to escape them…I just have to be aware that they are there and they eventually need to be dealt with.  Sometimes a trip outside of the castle walls helps you see more clearly what lives inside the castle.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Stick to the Plot Line and Stop Sweating the Small Stuff

(Images... looking out our back door this afternoon)

The big question has been answered…I am not going to a retreat this weekend.  Okay.  Maybe that isn’t the “big” question, but it seemed like a big deal to me last night.

You see, yesterday, I got more and more anxious as the day went on, waiting to hear from the people who ran the retreat about whether they still had space for me or not.  After my yoga class, instead of being calm, I was stressed because I couldn’t believe that a business would conduct itself in such a manner that you don’t get a call telling you whether you are supposed to drive four hours to a retreat until 16 hours before you are supposed to start the driving.  Finally, I spoke to the leader of the retreat and she told me that they could make space for me, but she needed to know more about my health issues.  I told her I had been undergoing infertility treatments for about three years and just needed to physically and emotionally recharge.  She informed me that I would have to be willing to stop any fertility medications or treatments, and give their natural method a chance, if I wanted to attend their retreat (a one weekend retreat mind you).  Then, she told me that every woman can get pregnant naturally on her own if she just removes the toxicity from her body.  That was when I thanked her for her time and hung up the phone.

I don’t know why that conversation hit me so hard, but it did.  Maybe it was the disappointment of not getting a “retreat” this weekend.  Maybe it was the frustration of people outside of the infertility-world having such strong opinions about something they knew nothing about.  Or, maybe it was just one small thing too many.  Whatever the reason, I fell down on the floor and bawled last night.  Even after I picked myself up and started making dinner, my crying would get so intense that I would have to stop and put my hands and head on the counter to stay upright.  Thank God that “the Prince” had to work late last night, at his second job, teaching at community college, so that he didn’t have to be uncomfortable through the three hour bawl-fest.  When he did get home, I was grumpy with him and just went to bed early to avoid a big fight.  When he asked me what was wrong, all I could say was “I don’t know, but I can’t take any more.  I’ve given every ounce of everything I have and there’s nothing left to give.”

He said “Give what?”

And I said, “I don’t know.  It’s just how I feel.”  And that about summed it up - I had no idea what exactly was wrong, I just felt defeated.

This morning I woke up and knew immediately that I felt better.  It may have helped that we were getting a foot of snow dumped on us at an alarming rate, with 45 mile per hour winds to add to the fun.  I thought “If the retreat thing had worked out, I would have been driving four hours in this mess.  Only to be stuck at a retreat in nasty weather.”  As usual, in retrospect I can see that the retreat leader’s ignorant comment and disorganization shouldn’t have been an irritation to me, because it kept me from making the huge mistake of signing up for that retreat.  But isn’t that how it always works?  In retrospect, it is always easy to see how the little things that seem so overwhelming put us exactly where we need to be in our own plot lines, so that we get from where we are to where we want to be.  I want to be safe this weekend.  Now I am.  But it is hard for me to keep things in perspective when I’m in the moment, trying not to get washed away in a sea of tiny frustrations.  So, although I am not going away for a “cleanse” this weekend, I am going to try to find a way to cleanse myself of all these little stressors that are literally bring me to tears.  I’m going to try to find away to let go of the little things and keep my eye on the proposed ending of my story.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

All-In, Baby!

Odd poker hand

I’m still waiting to hear about the retreat…it may be full.  So, I can’t give an update about that yet.  I really want to be able to post like everyone else about day-to-day developments in my fertility journey.  But I can’t, because there are none.  I’m sure people are getting bored with my constant self-evaluations, but I am STILL waiting for our egg donor’s period to begin, even though it has been over 29 days since the donor coordinator said “I’ll call you when she has her first day of her menses.”  So, I have nothing exciting to report about.  Sorry.  I do, however, have an amusing anecdote about my RE and my addiction to infertility treatments.  So with that glowing introduction, here is today’s blog soup de jour.

Back in the fall of last year, my very wise (and hilarious) RE was trying to help me accept the cancellation of an IVF cycle.  I had been taking large doses of stimulation meds for something like 29 days, with zero follicles to show for my efforts.  When the RE recommended canceling, I bawled and bawled.  I just felt like I had given so much to the cycle…how could I quit?

He said “[Princess], this is not quitting.  Look at it like a poker game.  You got dealt a crappy hand this cycle.  It looked like it might be a good hand when you started betting, but now it is obvious that the hand isn’t good.  Is there a chance you could get a good card on the river that would save the hand?  Well…there’s always a chance.  But are you really willing to go all-in on this cycle when you can keep what chips you have left now and try for a better hand next time around?  It’s up to you, but there’s an obvious choice that takes your emotional and physical health into account.  You are not quitting the game…just folding a hand that is a stinker, so that you can hopefully get better cards in the next deal.”  (If you are not familiar with Texas Holdem’ poker, this reference was probably just lost on you.  You’ll have to trust me that it is clever!)

Thinking about canceling the cycle in those terms made me feel a little better about it.  I still cried but, every once in awhile, I would laugh through the tears, thinking about my RE trying so hard to convince me that canceling was the best move without making my emotional status any worse.

His analogy not only rings true when looking at an individual IVF (or IUI) cycle that isn’t going well, it also ties in nicely to my theory that infertility treatments are an addiction.  When I’m in an IVF cycle, all I can think about is getting to the end of the cycle and winning with a pregnancy.  When things don’t work out, I have an urgent need to get right back into another ART cycle.  An old New York Lottery slogan – “You have to be in it to win it” - comes to mind.  I don’t play the lotto.  Mainly because I am a big fan of math and it is hard to buy a lottery ticket when you have a solid understanding of statistics.  And yet, when my RE said I had a 5% chance of getting pregnant with my own eggs, I wanted to jump right into another IVF cycle…IVF cycle #7 to be specific. (Lucky number 7, right?)  Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, the Prince is also a fan of statistics and his analytical mind said that a 5% chance of success was not worth what we were going through each cycle.

So, now we’ve moved to a new “game” – a donor egg IVF cycle.  In this game, I’ve been given 50/50 odds of walking home with the prize.  Sometimes I think to myself:  “If I had six thousand dollars, and was told I could put it on a game with 50/50 odds of doubling up, I would pass on the game and keep the six thousand bucks.”  I’m risk-aversive.  But when the prize of the game is getting pregnant, I’m all-in, every time.  And even the ultra-conservative Prince is on board with 50/50 odds.  So, I just have to wait to be dealt in…and the waiting is killing me.  After all, I’m due for a big win.  And this IVF cycle is the new Lucky  #7.  Yep…I’m definitely an addict.  

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

And then the Princess had a colonic...

I bet you don't hear that in many fairy tales... "The princess didn't know what to do so she paid someone to put a hose...."  For the record, I am not getting a colonic.  But, I am thinking about starving myself for the weekend.  Actually, to be more specific, I am thinking about paying someone else to starve me for the weekend.  The spa calls it “Spiritual Cleansing through Fasting,” but let’s be honest…it’s starving yourself and meditating a lot.

I’ve been researching various retreats for weeks now, knowing that I need to get away from my life for a couple of days to get back in touch with “me.”  It’s sad that I have to leave my life to feel connected, but that is the current state of matters and there is no sense in fighting it.  I’m terrified of starting this upcoming, and most important, IVF cycle in the state of mind I’m currently in.  Something has to change and it just isn’t happening while I’m caught up in my day-to-day life. 

In my search for the perfect retreat, I found a place that really appealed to me.  It is only a couple of hours from where I live, it has beautiful scenery and lots of land to roam around on, and it’s cheaper than a lot of the retreats I’ve compared it to.  The only problem is…this weekend…the weekend that I have available to go on a retreat….is “CLEANSE” weekend. 

For those of you who don’t know what a “cleanse” is, let me quote a few lines from the online description of the retreat:  “We'll begin with a dinner of fresh juice on Friday evening.  After dinner we’ll have a Circle to get more connected.  Saturday morning we'll do yoga, skin brushing, and meditation.  Then we'll do a walkabout (on our beautiful 250 acres), relax, juice and have a class/discussion on nutrition, food preparation and wellness.  In the afternoon we'll do a sweat lodge together.  Lodge is a great way to detoxify and strengthen your mind/body/spirit.  We'll do a healing meditation before retiring to bed.  We'll have three "meals" of fresh juice plus other juices, tea and broth as well.  We'll complete the retreat on Sunday morning with some morning practice (similar to Saturday morning) and a breakfast meal in silence to maximize our re-entry to food.  We'll finish with a Walk in Beauty Circle, and people will leave for home by noon.  In addition, you can choose to receive a complimentary colonic on Saturday, if you so choose.  The atmosphere is relaxed and supportive.  It's very restful and rejuvenating.”
FYI- I reitterate here...I do NOT “so choose” to partake in the "complinetary" colonic.  Even my open mind has some limits.

So, when I first read that description, I thought “No way.  I’ve been fighting with that cold and the dehydration that came along with it.  I am a hundred pounds over my normal weight (according to the doctor’s charts) and am afraid I might pass out if I don’t eat often enough.”  But then, today, as I was telling a friend about how I had laughed off this retreat, I had two “ah ha moments.” First, as I heard myself talking about why I shouldn’t go, I realized that I am making excuses for why I “can’t” do something.  And I am starting to realize that those excuses are why I don’t get anything done.  Whenever I try to make a change in myself, there is always something holding me back - It doesn't work with the timing with my cycle, I'm too fat to do that without hurting myself, I'm too tired with everything I have going on.  Well, I call "Bullshit!" on myself.  Maybe I can do this.  Maybe it would feel good to do this, if for no other reason than to say that I accomplished something I didn’t think I could do going into it.  Maybe that's reason enough to do it. 

The second realization came when my friend was saying that she doesn’t think that she could psychologically handle not eating food for two days.  She said that she would be obsessed with the fact that she was not eating and wouldn’t be able to think about anything else.  As she said that, I realized that working through the obsession might just be the point.  I am obsessed with everything in my life right now.  I control, control, control…and freak out when things don’t go as planned.  So, if I was forced to face an obsession (say…a psychological obsession with food and hunger), and could see that I can not only get past that obsession, but I can replace it with healthy, meditative and nurturing thoughts, wouldn’t that be an amazing feat?  Isn't it possible that this retreat could be the catalyst I need to turn my frown upside down (ugh...I cringe even typing that).

I’ll let you know what I decide in tomorrow’s post but I am giving you fair warning that this fairy tale might have a wacky chapter coming up soon.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A Life Well-Scripted

When I was a little girl, my friends’ parents hated me.  They would like me until they overheard me at play with their children, engaged in a "conversation" that usually consisted of only me being allowed to speak as I told the other kids, “Okay.  Now I’ll say [this] and then you will say [that] and then I’ll say [this] and you will respond [that]….Then you stand over there…No!!!  Not there…there!”  And, as if my playground dictatorship wasn’t already bad enough, I would frequently "pout" the other children into submission if they resisted my rule, sulking and crying when I didn't get my way.  No one likes that little girl…not even teachers.  I still have my nursery school “report card” from when I was three years old.  On it, my nursery school teacher described me as “a mother hen”…which I now realize was her diplomatic way of saying I was a "bossy brat."

I would love to tell you that I have grown out of my “bossy” phase, but I haven’t.  I frequently catch myself saying to my husband, “Why can’t you just tell me I’m pretty?” Or, “You should have just stopped talking after [insert nice thing he said and delete obnoxious thing that came after].”  My husband’s frequent retort is “Just pretend I said that.”  It hurts my feelings when he says that to me, but someone has to keep my “bossy tendencies” in check, and I think that is what he is trying to do.   

Even the profession I chose feeds into my bossy nature.  As an attorney, I don’t get to boss people around, but my job does require me to persuade people that I am right.  Persuasion is really just a more subtle form of being bossy.  My job is to get the judge or clients, or whomever I am writing for, to say what I want them to say or to take the position I want them to take, without me coming out and telling them what to do.  One might say I’ve upped my game since nursery school…from “mother hen” to “professional manipulator.”  

It doesn’t give me any pleasure to admit these things about myself.  And, contrary to what one might expect, I don’t behave the way I do because I think other people are stupid or because I believe I am always right.  I simply have a need to be in control.  If you script a situation or a conversation, you have complete control over how things will progress…and you can be prepared for the future because you have seen what it holds…you wrote it.  By scripting my life, I’ve managed to choke out all the “messiness” that makes me scared of what is to come.  The problem with my approach is…life is messy.  Without the mess and chaos and spontaneity, there is no joy.  Life has become just a giant chess game for me.  I find myself spending so much time planning twenty moves ahead that I never actually move at all and I certainly don’t enjoy the game.

In my battle with infertility, I can’t script how each cycle will turn out.  If I could, I would have been pregnant a long time ago.  So, since I can’t script the outcome, I script every tiny detail of each cycle…obsessing about what supplements I take and when, producing inventories of my medications and needles, going through baby books to pick out names for a child I haven’t conceived.  I figure out when my due date will be if the cycle works, then modify it when the cycle changes, then modify it AGAIN when the cycle changes again.  Based on when the due date is, I decide what major holiday or event I will use as my big “I’m Pregnant” coming out party.  Two years ago I scripted how I will tell my husband that I am pregnant (I bought a maternity shirt that says “$$ Tax Deduction $$” on the belly, and I keep it hidden in my closet until the big day arrives).  I script and re-script how I will announce a pregnancy to our parents, our friends, and our employers.  And, when I have nothing left to script, I make a back-up plan for the cycle after the next cycle…so it won’t seem so devastating if the cycle I’m in doesn’t work out. 

Even this blog is a sort of script.  I write, as an author, the story of my fertility journey…pretending that I have total control over the ending of the story when, in fact, I don’t.  Maybe it is okay to have this crutch…this one place where I can pretend that I am scripting one of the most important situations in my life.  But the reality is, I don’t have control…and that is absolutely terrifying to a “mother hen” like me.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Dream a Little Dream...

As many of you know (because I’ve been complaining about it in all of my posts), I’ve had a cold for a long time.  I finally went to the doctor yesterday and was given an antibiotic and a cough syrup with codeine.  Normally, codeine doesn’t bother me but last night the medicine made my dreams really weird.  And they all involved the same theme – Babies/Pregnancy.  What a surprise!

In one dream, I was living with a lovely couple, admiring and playing with their baby (who was a few months old).  I desperately loved the baby, even though she wasn’t mine and I wasn’t related to her.  Then, for no particular reason, I gave her a piece of popcorn to eat.  Nothing bad happened, but her father yelled at me, saying “What were you thinking?  Don’t you know babies can choke on popcorn?”  Even after he calmed down, I felt so terrible about putting the baby in jeopardy.  I do know better, and I don’t know why I would do something so dangerous.  I kept saying I was sorry, secretly thinking “how stupid can you be?”

Clearly, this dream was about me struggling with the idea that I am not fit to be a mother, and that is why I am not able to get pregnant.  I know that is not the way it works, as is evidenced by all of the people who aren’t fit to be mothers who do get pregnant.  But no matter how many times I tell myself that I will be a good mother, and my infertility is not punishment for some sin I haven’t yet committed, my subconscious refuses to give this idea up. 

In another dream, I was getting my first ultrasound and I went home to tell my husband that I was pregnant (not sure why he didn’t know already, but whatever…it was a dream).  He said “Great.”  Then, he paced the floor and got sweaty.  He kept trying to pick a fight with me and eventually said “I can’t do this.  I thought it was what I wanted, but it isn’t.  I think you should terminate the pregnancy.”  My heart broke as I walked out the door, suitcase in hand, hoping he would change his mind when he calmed down.

That dream was also pretty easy to analyze, but no so easy to go through.  My husband and I have been getting into lots of little quarrels lately.  I secretly am certain that it is because we are close to heading into a new ART cycle.  My husband pushes me away emotionally whenever we start a cycle.  He is more moody than I am when I’m on the meds, but he is oblivious to the fact that he is behaving so badly, much less conscious of why he is behaving that way.  And although I know the constant bickering is about him steeling himself against the pain of another failure, and not about me…it hurts.  And it also makes me scared.  If his fear of what is to come makes him abandon me emotionally when we are just trying to get pregnant, what is going to happen when I actually get pregnant?  Is he going to freak out? 

There’s another way to analyze that dream, too.  Some psychologists theorize that we are actually every person in each of our dreams – every character is just a reflection of a piece of ourselves.  If that is the case, then this dream could also be about me being afraid that when I finally get pregnant and have a child, I am going to find that it isn’t everything I had hoped for.  I don’t ever say that out loud…as if that doubt’s very existence will keep me from getting pregnant.  But I do worry about changing my mind about what I want in life.  Lots of mothers tell me that they had no idea how hard motherhood would be and that as much as they love their children, they might do it differently if they had to do it over.  What if I become that person?  What if I have a baby only to wish that I didn’t have a baby?  Am I capable of that?  And knowing what women go through, what I’ve gone through, to have a baby…could I survive the guilt I would have if I felt that way?

I wish I could be a real fairy tale princess sometimes and just sleep in a deep sleep, only to wake up and find that all of my good dreams had come true and my bad dreams had been dealt with by someone else.  Real fairy tale princesses don’t get terrorized by their own psyche.  Real fairy tale princesses don’t wake up feeling guilty and afraid.  And real fairy tale princess don't have to fess-up, anonymously to friends they've never met, to having horrible doubts and fears.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Defeating the Dragon...

"Fairy tales are more than true; not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten."
G.K. Chesterton

I recently went out to dinner with five good friends who, like me, are also still on their journey towards motherhood.  To be honest, I was a little nervous going into the dinner.  Getting together with other women for whom the journey to motherhood has not been easy or quick is wonderful for boosting a feeling of camaraderie, but if you are not careful, it can quickly become an opportunity to flush yourself down the toilet of negativity.  You can convince yourself that things simply don’t work out for the people who deserve to be mothers…and that thought, if allowed to fester, can be debilitating.  Given the state of mind I’ve been in lately, I was very concerned about this possibility.

However, as happens to me more times than not, the thing that I worried about never came to fruition.  Instead, going to that dinner helped me to release some building negativity, and replace it with hope.  Everyone at the dinner, regardless of the length of their journey or the obstacles they had encountered had retained some amount of hope that their journey would end in “happily ever after,” in whatever form it may present itself.  Even those people who are taking a break in their journeys, to regroup and decide what comes next, still had some hope that something good was possible.  No one’s fairy tale had ended.  And there was a general consensus that, even if infertility had thrown us to the ground and kicked us while we were down, no one had been defeated by it.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what was said at dinner, and I realized that I took a lot of inspiration from my conversation with my friends.  So, I don’t think they will mind if I share some of what I learned (or knew but needed a reminder).  So here it is…some “veterans of infertility wisdom”:

-                     When people you are dealing with are nasty or obnoxious, it is most likely about them and not about you.  Remembering that fact when you are confronted with a person who is frustrating you or even demeaning you will change your perspective and take any power they had over you away from them.  You get to choose how you respond to adversity, and some responses are better than others.

-                     Surround yourself with caring and understanding people during this journey and limit your interaction with the rest.  This journey is simply too personal and too difficult to allow people in your life who are going to cause you to doubt yourself or make you feel badly about your choices.  And in line with that advice, remember that there are plenty of good and gracious people who will support you.  You just have to find them.  Keep an open mind and they will appear.

-                     If you need to take a break…take a break.  It is really easy to get caught up in the infertility journey, so much so, that you let the rest of your life fade away.  Sometimes, especially in the face of grief and despair, you need to back away and give yourself time to recover so that you can look at the journey more objectively…with a fresh pair of eyes.  It can be really hard, initially, to get yourself to take that break because it may feel like quitting.  It’s not quitting.  It’s allowing yourself to reevaluate important life-altering decisions when you aren’t crazed by hormone medications, fear and disappointment.  And no one ever takes a break and then says afterwards “I really wish I hadn’t allowed myself a breather so that I make choices more rationally.”

There are lots of other gems of wisdom that I took away from that dinner, but those are probably the three that spoke to me the most, looking back at my own journey.  There are many things about all of our journeys that are very unique to each person, but there are also some truths that are universal…some wisdom that can be applied to each situation.  Perhaps the greatest truth of all is that the dragon that is infertility can be slain, can be survived, and can be defeated.  Our own tales may have us coming up with individual ways to defeat that beast, and the dragon may look different to each of us…but we can all have the same fairy tale ending, if we don’t lose hope…if we keep believing in “happily ever after.”

Friday, February 18, 2011

Why Do You Put Yourself Through All of This?

Today I was crying on the phone to a friend.  I told her about my breakdown yesterday and about how crazy I feel, waiting to get started on our egg donor cycle, knowing that there is a chance that the cycle will fail.  She said “Why do you put yourself through all of this?”  And with that, I had to get off the phone.  I’ve been asked that question more times than I can count over the last couple of years.  Sometimes by well-meaning women who dealt with infertility many years ago, but didn’t have the technology available to them that we now have available to us.  Sometimes by family members who have no idea what it is like to deal with infertility (I have 42 cousins…fertility is not generally a problem in my family).  And sometimes by my own fertility friends who have changed the direction of their journeys toward adoption or child-free living.  Each time, no matter who is asking the question, I get upset.

How do you explain why you put yourself through the emotional ups and downs of infertility?  How do you explain why you would choose to spend thousands of dollars and give yourself countless injections of medications that make you crazy for a chance of getting pregnant?  How do you explain that you are choosing to give up a genetic link with your child in order to have a chance of having a child at all?  I can’t think of any explanation that adequately addresses the dreaded question “Why do you put yourself through all of this?”  Maybe I dread this question because the question itself implies that there is or should be a choice involved, and, for me, for now, there just isn't.  I have to keep trying.  I can't help it.

For me, the thought of not having a child is much like one of the saddest quotes I’ve ever read from a fairy tale. 

“The little mermaid knew this was the last evening she should ever see the prince, for whom she had forsaken her kindred and her home; she had given up her beautiful voice, and suffered unheard-of pain daily for him, while he knew nothing of it.  This was the last evening that she would breathe the same air with him....An eternal night, without a thought or a dream, awaited her.”  

                                                ~Hans Christian Andersen, “The Little Mermaid” (1836)

Giving up on having a child would feel like that….entering an eternal night, without a thought or a dream awaiting me.  I’ve alienated friends and family who disagree with my choices regarding ART, spent lots of money on ART, lost little pieces of the person I used to be throughout the last couple of years, and endured an untold amount of physical and emotional pain because I yearn for a child of my own, just as the little mermaid yearned to be with her prince.  The very idea of giving up on my dream now, of walking away after everything I've put into this endeavor, is more unspeakable than anything I might endure in the pursuit of motherhood.  

Not everyone feels the way I do, and I respect that.  In fact, I have numerous friends who have chosen child-free living post-infertility and they ALL say they wish they had made the decision a long time ago.  They’ve found happiness.  I applaud them.  Maybe one day, I will end up being one of them.  But for now, I want to hold on to my dream.  I am not ready for it to be over.  The thought of giving up my dream takes the breath from me, and I guess that is “why I put myself through all of this.”  Because I must.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Pouty Princess

What happened to me?  I am on this emotional rollercoaster and I haven’t even started treatments.  Looking back through my last few posts, I started out in a pretty rough place, but as the posts went on, I saw myself getting happier and more rational.   Then, last time I wrote I was talking about battling the “glass half empty” feeling.  Now, today, the darkness is rolling in.  I’m watching myself and I want to change what I see happening, but I feel powerless to do so.

This morning, my husband came into my bedroom (we sleep in separate rooms whenever one of us is sick, so as not to contaminate the other person) and woke me up in, what I considered to be, an obnoxious way – turning on the light and yelling “It’s wakey wakey time!”  I yelled back, “No…if it was wakey time, I would be AWAKE!  I’m not two years old…I’m old enough to decide when I need to wake up.”  That was a great start to what was destined to become a “great” day. 

Next, I slipped on ice outside of my house, getting into the car to go to work.  So I spent a half and hour in the freezing cold, with my cold, salting our driveway.  When I emailed my husband from work to let him know I’d salted, there was no appreciation.  Instead, he informed me that he already salted this morning.  I wanted to say “Clearly not well enough” but at least had enough self-control to avoid that fight. 

I’m still sick and am coughing so hard that I actually have a headache from coughing.  I can’t focus.  All I can think about is “why hasn’t the donor started her period yet?”  It’s been 23 days since the donor coordinator (D.C.) told me that she would call when my donor started her AF.  So…being the obsessive person that I am, I started thinking that at this point, assuming a 28 day cycle, my donor would have had to be on day 5 of her period when the D.C. told me we were waiting for the donor to start her period.  So after that thought, I got angry…because the donor coordinator never mentioned that my donor was in her cycle at that time and it would be another month before we would get started on anything.  Then, I thought, “What if this wasn’t the D.C.’s omission, what if there is something wrong with my donor and she has an irregular cycle?”  I can hear how ridiculous this sounds as I type it, but that’s where my mind went.  I am an extremely logical person, but logic went out the window, just then.  At that point, obsession had kicked in and I couldn’t do any work.  I just sat there and stewed.

So, like a person fresh out of a break-up, who makes that drunken 3 a.m. phone call to “the ex” that is regretted for years to come, I emailed the D.C.  I didn’t even attempt to conceal my insanity.  I came up with a pretense for emailing her and then launched into a barrage of questions…Was everything okay for the cycle to move forward?  Were we still waiting for the donor to call with her Day 1?  Was everything okay with her cycle, because it was seeming a little long and I would be concerned if she is having an off cycle?  Was the primary recipient couple (i.e. – the other couple we are sharing the eggs with this cycle) ready to go?  You (the D.C.) had said we would be starting in February, but it seems like we won’t be since we have to wait three weeks after the donor has her first AF day before we take the meds.  Oh…and “thanks for your patience.”

In her typical fashion, my D.C. was less than warm and fuzzy in her response.  She and I have very different personality types, and it is difficult for me to not take her brief and sometimes unresponsive replies to my questions as her being snippy with me.  She always puts “Have a great day!” at the end of her messages…but I feel like she is just plastering a bandaid on a black eye that she just gave me.  My husband reads the D.C.’s messages and sees nothing wrong with them…so I guess this is just a problem with my perspective.  But, in my defense, she has a reputation for being very matter of fact and not particularly sympathetic.  Anyways, I digress.  She responded to my email, saying “The donor will call in with the first day of her period and I will let you know when that happens.  The primary recipient couple is doing their mock cycle right now.  Have a nice day!”  Ugh!  First, I got pissed because my questions weren’t really answered.  Then I got pissed that the other couple is doing their mock cycle now, when I had been told at the end of January that they were finishing up their mock cycle.  So…either that couple is having issues that could hold things up or someone lied to me. 

What the hell is wrong with me?  I’m even cursing like a sailor in this post.  I feel the darkness creeping in.  I’m writing my blog post at work (something I’ve never done).  I really want to go to bed right now and sleep the rest of the day away (but I can’t because this stupid cold has already caused me to use too much of my sick leave).  I don’t want to speak to my husband because I’m mad at him, even though I know there is no reason to be angry.  I feel like a puppy that got spanked…sad and fearful…waiting for the next assault.  I get it that this is all crazy.  But why am I here right now, in this dark place, when I was doing so good just a few days ago?  Princesses aren’t supposed to be moody and crazy (see, I managed to tie it in with the theme, even if it’s a crappy tie-in).  As I type this, with tears falling down my cheeks, I keep thinking “I hate infertility.  I hate it.”  That says it all, really. 

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Into the Mystic

In spite of my recent positive shift in attitude, I have been feeling really disconnected from this upcoming cycle.  Usually, I would be getting excited, even hopeful, at this point in the process.  Being so close to getting the ball rolling is usually the point when I begin to check on what my due date would be, look through baby name books and get serious with my healthy eating.  This time is different.  Maybe it is because of my nagging reservations about using a donor.  Maybe it is because after so many heartbreaks, I’m just having difficulty mustering up excitement.  I’m not sure why I feel this way, but I am sure that I need this outlook to change.  I need to be at least cautiously optimistic before I start the fertility meds, or I will be a wreck going into the “meat and potatoes” part of the cycle.

In fairy tales, when a princess is feeling low, she often gets a little help from a magical character, object or creature.  Cinderella had her fairy godmother to help her.  Sleeping Beauty had the final fairy’s wish to give her a possible out from the bad fairy’s curse.  So what mystical solution do I need to get things back on track?

In the past, I have pursued acupuncture, meditation, hypnosis, vision boards, attempting to harness the power of the “law of attraction,” praying and even consulting a psychic (when you are desperate, you can throw skepticism out the window).  I’m not saying that all of these alternative therapies/practices are “mystical,” but, with the possible exception of prayer, they are generally outside of the norm in our culture.  My fertility clinic encourages the combination of Eastern and Western approaches to treating infertility, so they sort of guided me into the acupuncture and meditation.  In fact, I spent well over two thousand dollars on acupuncture during my second and third years of infertility treatments.  I've taken a hiatus from my treatments since November, when I just couldn't stand to even think about trying to get pregnant.  Although my migraines were better and my immune system was stronger when I was getting acupuncture, I didn’t get pregnant...and really, that was all I cared about.  Some of the other “mystical” remedies made me feel good emotionally during ART cycles, but they also didn’t get me to my goal of pregnancy.

I am pretty open to any suggestions about bettering myself and increasing my fertility.  But there are some things that have been recommended to me that are so outside of my scope of reality, I just can't stomach them.  For example, one time a person was brought into the support group I used to attend, at the clinic I go to for ART, so that she could share her "gifts" with us.  She owns a crystal shop and does life coaching and “spiritual healing.”  She spent the whole time (that would normally be allotted to our venting and comforting one another) talking about how we needed to “raise our vibrations.”  She claimed that by use of crystals, meditations, etc, we could raise our vibrations to the level that spirit babies (disembodied baby souls waiting to slip into a mother’s womb) would respond to.  Apparently you have to think only happy thoughts during a journey with infertility, because sadness, anger and depression will scare the spirit babies away.  When asked about how you set aside open wounds so that you can "raise your vibration," her answer was less than satisfactory.  I should note that she also started off the night saying that she had dealt with infertility and had beat it…only to later explain that she “beat it” by realizing that her business was her baby.  Yeah.  Not really the same thing in my opinion.  She also told the husbands who were attending the meeting that they were responsible for keeping their mates' vibrations high by being good vibrators themselves.  The discussion about the men being “good vibrators” was the highlight of the evening.  It almost became a game to see how many times we could get her to say "good vibrators."  Some mystical remedies are easy to reject...being good for little more than a laugh. 

But now I wonder, what is left?  Do I turn back to the “old faithfuls” for comfort?  Do I venture off into some new, uncharted alternatives?  Friends have recommended a female shaman in our area.  I’ve previously passed on Tibetan monk cleansing rituals that are supposed to be healing, but maybe I should be pursuing some outside intervention.  I haven’t tried cranial massage therapy or reiki yet.  What do I do?  Which one is going to be the magical fix to the funk I am in?  Which one will help me reach my goal of pregnancy?

I have been looking into weekend retreats lately.  There are a couple of ashrams, a monestary and a couple of yoga retreat centers close to where I live.  I’ve gone on silent meditation weekend retreats in the past and have found them to be very liberating.  When you are forced to be silent, you work through all of those dialogues with yourself that you generally push away because you are too busy to deal with them.  Once those are out of the way, you begin to become quiet – mentally, physically and emotionally.  There is a non-denominational spiritualism that automatically takes over…and it feels really good. (Plus I lose a bunch of weight by eating…or should I say by "not eating"…the vegan food they serve).  But I am never able to keep up on “my practice” once I return to everyday life, and slowly the good feeling and self-certainty dwindles away.  So far, I haven’t made any commitment to going on such a retreat.  I know that I can go any time, but I also know that we have a huge payment for our donor cycle due soon, and it is difficult to justify spending money on extras right now.

I wish I knew where my mystical fix could be found.  If I knew for sure that any of the aforementioned possibilities would help, I would find the money to pursue them.  I’ve had a miserable cold for two weeks now, so I will likely start acupuncture again so that I can be reasonably confident that I will be healthy going into the IVF process.  But I’m not so sure that will turn my pumpkin into a carriage, or my uterus into a baby shack.  I don’t know if anything can break the curse of seeing the glass as half full, or break the curse of infertility, but I feel like I have to do something.  I really need some hope of success right now.  What is the magical thing that is going to help this princess get out of her predicament?  I can't yet answer that question yet, but at least I can tell you that it won't be a "good vibrator."  Even my fairy tale isn't that weird. 

Monday, February 14, 2011

Let the Season of Royal Balls Begin...

I have three friends who are due to give birth in April, May, and June, respectively.  My sister-in-law's due date is July 4th.  That means the season of baby showers is upon me.  I’ve known it was coming and have, at times, stressed about where I would be at in my journey when the time came.  I LOVE parties…any excuse for one will do.  But, when you are dealing with infertility, you stop looking forward to baby showers. 

Most of the aforementioned pregnant friends are fertility friends.  We’ve discussed baby shower etiquette when they were on the other side of the infertility aisle (pre-preggers).  Still, I’ve been worrying that the excitement of pregnancy would cause my friends to forget how they felt in the situation that I now find myself in.  I am pleased to announce that my friends have come through for me (of course) and my fears, thus far, have gone unrealized.   Two of the three friends have called to ask if I would like to receive an invitation to their showers.  Both of those friends let me know that they would love to have me at the showers but would totally understand if I would prefer not to come, or even to forego getting an invitation in the mail.  In my personal opinion, this is really the best way for a pregnant woman to approach this issue when she knows that a friend is struggling with infertility.  The phone call says “I care about you and know what you are feeling, so I would love to have you there but if you need to sit this one out, I love you anyways.”  It also removes the element of surprise when you don’t know that a baby shower is coming.  There is nothing worse than being in the depths of despair over a failed ART or natural cycle, and getting a cutesy baby shower invitation in the mail…complete with pictures of booties and rattles. 

So far, I’ve been able to honestly tell my friends that I would like to receive an invitation.  I always add the caveat that I am not sure if I’ll be able to attend the showers, but that I hope I will.  And that is the truth, not the “grin and bear it” responses that those of us struggling with infertility sometimes have to give, so as not to create a socially awkward situation.  I’m so happy for my fertility friends who have made it through their journey, that I want to celebrate with them and help them however I can.  But I have to place emotional self-preservation above all else these days.  I’ve heard friends talk about feeling like they had to attend a shower, being filled with dread for days or even weeks before hand, and breaking down at the actual event.  I don’t want that to happen to me.  So, for me, I’m making sure that I know I have the freedom to excuse myself before or during the shower, without any hurt feelings.  If I have that freedom, I know I'll be fine. 

On Saturday, I received the first of the actual invitations.  I was a little scared opening it…as I knew what it was.  The invitation to my friend's baby shower was adorable and clever.  There was also a bookmark, requesting that guests bring a children's book to the shower, to start off the baby’s library.  What an awesome idea!  As I breathed a sigh of relief at my positive reaction to the invitation, it occurred to me that I am going to have the best baby shower ever!  If I can, I am going to attend each and every baby shower that presents itself, with the intention of stealing (or...shall we call it "procuring") all of the clever ideas from each friend’s showers and invitations, so that my baby shower will have all of the clever trappings that I would never have thought about (even a Hostess With the Mostest can't think of everything).  I know how that sounds…someone else's baby shower is not supposed to be about me.  I should be going in solely as a guest thinking about the baby that my friend is being blessed with.  But I’m a big believer that having small distractions available can make the difference between being overwhelmed by something, or being able to ignore the bad and focus on the good.  So…if all goes as planned, I’m going to be a baby shower idea thief, spending each shower celebrating my friends’ good fortunes, but also looking forward to my own.  I’m going to attend each shower, knowing that my baby is going to have the most awesome Royal Gala ever held...or at least I'm going to try.  So I say, bring on the baby showers.  I've got this!   

Friday, February 11, 2011

Why my infertility is a fairy tale (and other awesome things to ponder)...

First, as a disclaimer, I will admit that this post is a little long.  But, in my defense, tomorrow is my birthday and I have a busy weekend, so I likely won’t get to have a chance to right for a couple of days.  I tell you this so that if you get overwhelmed looking at my small novel of a post, you will know you can break it up into small chunks rather than trying to digest it all at once.  I probably should have posted it in small chunks but…I prefer to be “in the moment” when I write. 

So…I would like to start by apologizing for making an overgeneralization in last night’s post.  I talked about fertility friends - the strange way that our relationships pick-up in the middle of where a “normal” friendship would start, and the intense but shallow nature of those friendships.  I stated that fertility friends talk about infertility, but not their “other lives” until they get pregnant.  I said that, generally, it is only after her pregnancy that you get to know the “real person” who is your friend.  But that wasn’t entirely true.  Tonight I went out to dinner with two of my best friends….fertility friends…who both happen to be pregnant.  We talked about infertility, about their pregnancies, and about our husbands and crazy families.  I may not have “awoken” from the infertility nightmare like they have, but they haven’t cut and run yet, and our conversations tonight were as robust and fulfilling as any we’ve had in the past.  To the extent that anything has changed, it has almost certainly been my perception.  It’s as if I have felt the need to protect myself against being hurt or rejected, and so I didn’t associate with the “Land of the Living” (a.k.a. those Preggers).  I need to remember that, although I’m still stuck in a dream, my friends (fertility friends or otherwise) can still be a part of that dream.  This is my fairy tale and I get to choose who stays in the story and who only has a bit part.  And my true friends, no matter how we met and no matter what we choose to talk about, will be in my story as long as they want to be.  There just aren’t that many good characters around these days.  I need to do everything in my power to keep the ones I’ve found.

Okay.  On to the “meatier” part of my self-analysis.  Earlier today I was thinking about why I have always viewed my experience with infertility as a story or a fairy tale.  At first I thought that it was some strange form of dissociation, where it is easier for me to live through this experience if I am always thinking about it as something that isn’t quite real.  Then I was thinking that it could be that the characters involved fit neatly into the same types of categories you find in fairy tales.  But, ultimately, I have decided that it goes deeper than both of those explanations. 

Noted scholar on fairy tales and folk lore (yep…you name a subject, there’s an expert on it), Jack Zipes, has proffered that the function of fairy tales is to “awaken our regard for the miraculous condition of life & to evoke profound feelings of awe and respect for life as a miraculous process, which can be altered and changed….”

Okay…so if I break that down, a fairy tale “awakens our regard for the miraculous condition of life.”  Check!  Infertility has definitely made me aware of, and appreciative of, how miraculous life is.  Never before did I realize how amazing it is that humans ever conceive.  Everything has to go right…functioning ovary, appropriate hormone levels, good sperm count and motility, sex within a window of a few days each month, good cervical mucous, the sperm and egg meeting up for fertilization, the egg not breaking down upon fertilization, the embryo dividing for as long as is needed, the embryo implanting early enough to have time to burrow before the uterine lining sheds, and the mother’s body accepting the embryo rather than seeing it as a foreign substance and rejecting it.  ALL of this, and more, has to happen in order for a pregnancy to occur.  Once you start learning the odds of success for each separate part of this process, you realize that life is truly a miracle.  You probably never learn those odds if you don’t go through infertility, although it might make an interesting project for a course in statistics if there are any statistics professors reading this.

Next, a fairy tale is supposed “to evoke profound feelings of awe and respect for life as a miraculous process, which can be changed and altered….”  As I explained above, I have developed a much greater respect and feeling of awe for the creation of life.  But what about seeing my life, and all life, as something to be respected and revered?  I’ve talked about how much infertility has eroded my self-esteem and caused me to doubt everything I’ve believed in, including my own abilities.  Is it possible to feel that way and to respect your own life?  The simple and yet not so simple answer is “Yes.”  I’ve learned to be grateful for what I’ve been given in life and I’ve decided to work at making the most out of the life I have been given.  So, in that sense, I am much more respectful of my own life because of infertility. 

Because of infertility, I’ve put a microscope on my marriage and am working in therapy on cracks in the marriage that might have grown into dividers if I hadn’t caught them.  Because of infertility, I switched jobs.  After hearing a million times that the stress and long hours involved in my job was not helping our chances of conception, I realized that this was because my 60-70 hour a week, high stress work environment was unhealthy. So, I got my priorities in order and took a 9-5 low stress job, with a slight pay cut but a great work/life ratio.  I took the time to evaluate the friends I already had, making cuts as needed if a relationship was truly toxic, and spent more time cultivating new friendships with people who care about me.  I feel a respect for my own life that I just didn’t have before, and I am realizing that I can change those aspects of my life which aren’t to my liking.

This is not to say that I can change the fact that I am having a tough time having a baby.  In fact, infertility was the very first thing in my life that slapped me in the face and said “You can’t control me!”  And I can’t.  I have no control over whether I’m going to get pregnant next cycle.  But, I can alter and change my perspective to make up for that lack of power.  I can do yoga and write introspective blog posts that require serious self-examination.  I can help to emotionally prepare myself, just in case the next cycle doesn’t work.  I can constantly try to better myself so that I will be the most amazing mother I can be when the fates decide that it’s time to bless me with a baby.  Infertility has shown me that it is possible to alter and change my life, to overcome obstacles, and to keep on trucking…all the while appreciating how precious every life, including my own, is.

In sum, if Zipes is correct about the purpose of a fairy tale (and really, who’s to question him…he is the expert), it is no wonder that I view my journey through infertility as a fairy tale.  It is difficult to be “thankful” for infertility or to see it as a “gift” (a word frequently used by those who will point out what a character-building experience it is to repeatedly put your body through hell, only to get a negative pee stick result).  But, infertility does change your perspective and does cause you to view life in a new (and hopefully) more respectful way.  And maybe that's why this story is worth reading...and living. 

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Waking from the dream...

Last night, I was watching the movie, Inception, with my husband (for the third time) and a line I hadn’t paid much attention to before struck me as important, somehow.  In the movie, a character says “Well dreams, they feel real while we’re in them right?  It’s only when we wake up that we realize how things are actually strange.  Let me ask you a question, you never really remember the beginning of a dream, do you?  You always wind up right in the middle of what’s going on.”

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not suggesting that I have lost touch with reality to the point that I believe that I am actually in a dream right now.  But there is a similarity between the phenomenon being discussed by that character and some of my experiences with infertility.  And it’s the same phenomenon you see in fairy tales.  The characters’ lives, to the extent that they fall outside of the actual tale, are deemed irrelevant and are never addressed.  We don’t know what formed their motivations or how they ended up in their station in life.  We only know the role they play in that particular tale.  They wind up right in the middle of what’s going on, without any explanation of how it all began.  And after “happily ever after,” they fall off the grid.  Did Cinderella have acne as a child?  Did she ever have kids?  Did she get divorced?  Who knows because everything before “once upon a time” never happened and “happily ever after” is like waking up from a dream – Poof, it’s all gone from that point on…completely disconnected from the fairy tale.

So how does this apply to infertility?  Well, I have a lot of fertility friends and I feel so blessed to have them.  But I am realizing that we seem to be starting a friendship right in the middle of a shared journey and the focus is always on what is going on in our infertility struggles right then.  I don’t know much about most of their backgrounds or what their goals are after achieving motherhood.  I’m a Chatty Cathy (I’m sure you’re shocked given the brevity of my posts) and I think that most of them know very little about my life before infertility.  It’s as if we are stuck in a dream about infertility, together, and we will only realize how strange our relationships are after we get onto the other side of infertility.  I’ve noticed lately that when anyone asks me “How are you doing?”  I say “You mean like infertility-wise?”  It’s as if I can barely remember who I am outside of this journey.  And who meets someone a half hour before talking about where the progesterone suppositories go and the various ways to get them there.  At the time the conversation is going on, it seems totally normal.  It’s only after you step back that you realize how strange the situation is…like all filters regarding bodily functions and personal secrets get switched off, but all filters regarding everything mundane and normal get switched on.

And, like the line in the movie, it seems like people who get pregnant after dealing with infertility “wake up.”  The friends that I know the most about are the ones who have gotten pregnant.  After they get pregnant, I start hearing about their marriages and childhoods and careers.  Sometimes, I’m really surprised because who my friends really are barely resembles who I perceived them to be while we were both in “the dream.”  Once they are beyond the struggles of infertility, it seems strange to them to talk only about infertility related discussions, while I sometimes struggle with getting to a place where I am comfortable talking with them about anything else.  They are trying to extend their character beyond the pages of the fairy tale…as if there is actually a life after “happily ever after.” 

And then there’s the other end of the spectrum. Sometimes my fertility friends drop off the face of the earth once they are pregnant.  It is almost as if they view what they went through as a surreal nightmare that they can now wake up from and forget about because they have a baby in their arms.  I don’t blame them or judge them for that.  I imagine it might be hard to be reminded of the struggle of infertility when you have an opportunity to just embrace the joy of fertility.  But I wonder if the strangeness of our relationships assists them in cutting all ties.  I wonder if the fact that there is no beginning “getting to know you” stage to fertility friendships makes them easier to break off.

I have so many questions…and no real answers right now.  All I know is that I want “happily ever after,” but I don’t want to lose everything I’ve gained since “Once upon a time.”  I want to take the lessons and friends with me, and I don’t want to become irrelevant once the journey through infertility ends.  I don’t want to start a new story.  I want to build on the one I already have.