Monday, January 31, 2011

Behind the Scenes

If you read through a fairy tale, most of what happens goes on behind the scenes.  You don’t hear about the seven dwarves showering or the fittings the princesses must undergo to have their beautiful gowns fit them like a glove, but those things must happen.  And so, too, much of what happens in our fertility fairy tales happens behinds the scenes.

For example, I was recently reading the blog of Christina, at http://2scompany3safamily.blogspot.com/.
She has just suffered a miscarriage and I strongly encourage any of you reading this to send her some support.  As I read her heartbreaking post, I thought about her sitting in her microscope room, suffering silently as those around her are likely oblivious to what she is going through.  Her suffering is going on behind the scenes.  Most people will never hear about what she is going through and how powerful it is.  I think it is not so uncommon for many of us to keep our suffering hidden from prying eyes.  And although we know what a huge part of our fairy tale the suffering is, the world will never know...will never see into our hearts.

My husband asked me last night why I am blogging.  I replied that it was nice to not have to keep my feelings hidden.  I like being able to share the thoughts and feelings that I rarely speak aloud and almost never share outside of our home.  He, in typical male fashion, replied “Sounds good!”  He explained that I can complain about him and infertility all I want in my blog, as long as it means he doesn’t have to hear it.  My husband was partially being a smart ass, but even he would prefer that the suffering aspect of infertility be bottled up and kept behind the scenes.

I am so grateful that you all allow me not to do that.  My heart breaks for Christina, but I am glad that she can put her sadness out there and be sent all of the love and support possible by a sea of anonymous women who are feeling pain right along with her.  I’m glad that none of us have to push our feelings and fears behind the scenes no matter how messy and confusing they are.  I think that, frequently, what happens behind the scenes is actually the real story that needs to be told.   

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Wizards, Witches and Woodland Creatures




No princess and prince reach “happily ever after” on their own.  Inevitably, a supporting character helps out along the way.  Sometimes it is a wizard or good witch casting spells that help the couple past certain obstacles.  Other times, characters like the “woodland creatures,” the unsung heroes of fairy tales (they don’t even get proper names), are working in the background, supporting the couple as they go through their journey.

In the fertility fairy tale, there also characters that provide a tremendous amount of help in getting people their positive pregnancy test.  There are the wizards and good witches (RE’s, GYN’s, M.D.’s and nurses), coming up with magical formulas and protocols, trying to make a miracle happen.  These health care providers devote their career to weathering the emotional roller coasters that their patients take them on, tirelessly working to get infertility patients from the point of despair upon diagnosis to the elation of the positive pregnancy test.  Most of the healthcare providers I’ve come in contact with, who work in the “infertility field,” work long and often unconventional hours.  They frequently bear the brunt of misdirected anger. And most importantly, they genuinely care about the outcome of each patient’s journey.  They play the dual role of counselors and healers.  They have very intimate relationships with their patients (as we all know too well) for months and sometimes years…watching the highs and lows.  Then, once a positive pregnancy test is achieved, the thankful couple usually drops out of sight.  I think that it is probably difficult to stay friendly with the people who played a role in bringing your baby about, as you never expected to need them and, once pregnant, you seek to focus on the happiness of the present and future rather than the pain of the past. (I am, of course, speculating about this, as I have never had a positive pregnancy test).  In spite of knowing that they will be left behind at the end of their patients’ journeys, they continue to do their magic because they care.

Then there are the “woodland creatures.”  To me, these are frequently the coolest characters in traditional fairy tales because who would ever expect a bird or a mouse to help out?  These are the characters that the princess may not know very well, but she still considers them friends.  They are not paid to be awesome and they don’t have supernatural powers, but they provide the hands-on support when the princess is in dire need of friends.  Don’t take offense, but all of you are my “woodland creatures.”  (You are all princesses, princes, queens, etc., too…but for the purposes of this article you are also playing the role of “woodland creatures”).  I don’t know your names or much about the other aspects of your lives, but I know you are in the trenches with me, supporting me in spite of our anonymity.  You are there when I’m awake at 2:00 a.m. in a panic and you will be there to share in the joyous occasion when I finally get a second line on the pee stick.  This story wouldn’t be complete without you and I want to thank each of you for playing a role in my fairy tale.         


Overcoming Obstacles

I am awake at 2:00 a.m. again, feeling the familiar crushing feeling of panic in my chest.  No particular reason for it, but it’s there all the same, like a visitor no one invited.  I even worked out yesterday.  Yeah, me…I joined a gym and walked one and a half miles…not much, I know.  But it’s one and a half miles more than I walked the day before.  I thought that would help my sleep, anxiety and weight.  Apparently not so much for the sleep and anxiety, and the effect of walking on my weight remains to be seen.

I find that I frequently don’t know how to overcome certain obstacles…and I’m not even talking about the biggie- infertility.  The little obstacles keep tripping me up. 

In fairy tales, that just doesn’t happen.  The heroes of the tales are faced with challenges and they decisively conquer those obstacles with ease.  What is wrong with me that I can’t do the same?  All of my careful planning and obsessive researching is not getting me over the little hurdles being placed in my way.  I can’t even sleep…that’s not even supposed to be a hurdle.  That’s supposed to just happen.  Then again, so is getting pregnant.

A lot of times in fairy tales, the princess just waits for someone else to overcome obstacles for her, so that she can be saved.  There’s a lot of “deep sleeping” or going about a normal life until the prince comes to rescue her.  If only I could just sleep until I magically become pregnant…leave all of the worry and heartache on someone else’s plate.  Instead, I have to come up with some plan of action (hopefully one that will actually work) and find the strength to implement that plan.  Standing in front of my obstacles, staring at them, is not helping.  Apparently G.I. Joe’s “knowing is half the battle” slogan does not apply to infertility and everything that comes with it. 

I wish my prince would step in and make it all okay.  He has been especially distant since finding out on Friday that we are about a month away from me starting the medications to get the donor cycle going, and less than two months out from an embryo transfer.  I’m scared and I think he’s scared.  I think a lot of my panic comes from the fact that he acts like he isn’t committed to this, after encouraging me to commit, and now it is too late to back out (not that I want to).  I want compassion and encouragement, but I am getting long periods of silence and no physical contact at all.  He always seems irritated with me and if I try to address how he is acting, he retreats even further.  I wish he could recognize his feelings of fear for what they are and work through them, instead of putting up a wall (yet another hurdle) between us at the beginning of each ART cycle.  Then again, I’m lying awake, writing a blog in the middle of the night because I can’t work through my own fears and worries.  So I guess I shouldn’t be doling out the judgment and advice just yet.  Right now, we both need some rescuing.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Another Beautiful Princess/Fairy Godmother - Our Anonymous Egg Donor

Today I got the message I have been waiting for…we’re ready to start moving on my egg donor cycle.  Over a month ago, when our names got to the top of the waiting list of our anonymous donor choice, we decided we were ready to go ahead with pursuing this option of family-building.  We committed and I was relieved, excited, terrified and sad all at the same time.  Because we were doing a split cycle (two recipients split the eggs retrieved from one donor during one cycle, each recipient paying half of what she would normally pay for a donor cycle), we had to wait for the donor coordinator to get confirmation from another couple that they also wanted to move forward with the chosen egg donor.  Then, the coordinator would call our donor choice and ask her when she would be ready to do a cycle.  Foolishly, I thought I would have my answers in a few days. 

I waited, and waited, often not as patiently as I would like, while day after day there was no news.  I tried to wait at least a few days between each email to the coordinator, asking for a status update (she’s got to be ready to kill me at this point).  Always the same reply, “Just waiting for another couple to confirm.”

So last night, a couple finally confirmed.  My first thought when I received the news I’ve been waiting for during the last month was not “great” or “finally.”  No, instead I ruined the moment by thinking about the fact that if we both get pregnant, my child and their child will be half-siblings.  There are a lot of thoughts that randomly pop into my head which make me worry that I am not fully onboard with this option.  But I also get that feeling on the way up the hill of a rollercoaster…I know that it is too late to back out and a part of me knows that I really don’t want to because the best part is still to come, but I’m so scared as the cart goes higher and higher that I think, for a split second, about freaking out and trying to get them to stop the ride to let me off.  Pursing the use of donor eggs has been my “rollercoaster experience” to the tenth degree.

I was worried that our donor wouldn’t be ready to do another cycle for a while, as she just finished one in November or December, but she is good to go.  So, now, after waiting and waiting, I feel like I’m starting down the hill of the rollercoaster, and the momentum is already terrifying and exhilarating at the same time.  I still have so many questions (which I’m sure the donor coordinator appreciates me bombarding her with via email the second I got her message that we were going to start in February).  I don’t know how long the process takes once our donor has her “Cycle Day 1,” which is what I am currently waiting for.  When do I fork over the thousands of dollars for the cycle and when do I get my medications that I will be taking during the cycle?  These are all questions that I feel as though I need answered RIGHT NOW.  I’m panicking a bit, and information is my only lifeline.

During those brief moments that I step back from the panic and breath, I am reminded that I should be filled with gratitude, not fear.  I recognize that this family-building option is not available to a lot of people for financial reasons or for moral reasons.  Many religions frown upon what we are doing and I am blessed enough to believe that God would never wish childlessness on a woman who truly desired a child, so God is okay with me using an egg donor.  Maybe I’m right, maybe I’m wrong, but either way, I’m not losing sleep over that issue.

I also realize that I need to be so grateful that the beautiful, amazing woman that we have chosen to be the genetic mother of our child is willing to give such a precious gift.  I understand that there are some financial incentives for donors, but I have read the answers my donor gave to a whole battery of questions (and reread them about a million times), and I truly believe that there is a huge altruistic motive for our donor giving us the gift of hope. 

When we started choosing a donor, I came up with a mathematical formula that rated and weighted the characteristics that were most important to us, plugging in each donor’s characteristics to determine which one had “the highest score.”  My husband and I both agreed that we wanted to use someone who had donated before and had a good response.  To my husband, it was also important that the donor be smart (in his mind, this means an advanced degree or a high SAT score).  For me, I felt like our donor should look something like me and her answers should be well-written.  But after hours and hours of pouring over each “candidate,” I realized that we were missing the big picture.  Some of the donors seemed very smart but had children at a very young age, or had financial situations that prevented them from pursuing college degrees.  My husband wasn’t happy about it, but I decided that I was not eliminating any candidates based on their education.  I also realized that I was incredibly nervous about being a recipient, and would probably have a ton of spelling and grammatical errors if I was asked to complete a pile of questionnaires without the benefits of spell-check, so I got rid of the “well-written” requirement that I had placed on the donors.  It also became less and less important to me, as I researched the donors, whether the woman looked like me.  Sure, a resemblance would be nice, but lets face it…no one is going to say that our child looks just like his/her mother and if someone does say that, it will be tough for me not to suppress a giggle.

Eventually, I started to get a gut feeling and my gut kept drawing me back to the same donor.  At that time, she hadn’t donated before (yet another one of our criteria down the drain), but I just felt like she was the one.  She does bear some resemblance to me, she has an associates degree, and she is very well-written, but most importantly to me, her answers jumped off the page.  It was like I could hear her voice and she was there with me when I read her responses to such questions as “Why did you choose to be a donor” and “How would you describe yourself” and “Who is your role model and why.”  I made my choice that she was “the one,” got my husband’s blessing (which was more like him being so sick of my indecision that any decision was fine with him), and I put our names on her waiting list.  As it turned out, while we waited we found out that she has an amazing response to stimulating medications and, in the two single cycles before our upcoming cycle, her eggs have helped both recipients get pregnant…one with twins!

I spend a lot of time thinking about what I would say to our donor if I could.  I would say that no matter how this all works out, I am so thankful that she was willing to share the ultimate gift with us.  I would tell her that she is so amazing and so beautiful inside and out, that I could see her radiance from a piece of paper she filled out.  I would tell her that I am honored to have her DNA in my child (okay, that would be a little awkward to say, but it’s my fantasy, so it’s fine).  I would assure her that, if I do get pregnant and have a child thanks to her assistance, I will be the best mother ever and that child will be showered with love every day of the child’s life.  I would say “Thank you,” through the tears of joy that are flowing down my cheeks as I write this post.  

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

And A Handsome Prince (a.k.a. My husband)

In the traditional fairy tale, the beautiful princess always completes her journey with a handsome prince.  Not always so in real-life fairy tales.  Sometimes couples are composed of two princes or two princesses.  Sometimes a princess decides to embark on her journey into motherhood on her own.  I have friends in each of these categories and I love and respect them for their strength and courage.  So please don’t think, when you read this post, I am forgetting that not everyone is making their journey with a prince…But I am, so that’s what I’m going to write about.

Let me start out by saying, my husband is not always a prince.  Sometimes he is aloof and grumpy.  Sometimes he goes into his emotional turtle shell and it is all I can do to coax him to poke his head out to acknowledge that I’m there.  Sometimes he rolls his eyes when I am crying about another coworker announcing her pregnancy or he lets out too big of a sigh when I ask him to pause a television show so I can update him on our current position on an egg donor’s waiting list.  Sometimes he makes me feel like I am all alone, because his way of dealing with the overpowering emotions involved in our infertility struggles is to move on without acknowledging that anything happened.  On these days, “prince” is not the word that I use to describe him.

But then there are other days – the days when he gives me a hug first thing in the morning and tells me that today is going to be a good day, or the days that he surprises me with a weekend getaway during a two week wait to get my mind off the all-consuming fear that we’ll be disappointed again.  There are those times when he offers to take over dealing with the egg donor coordinator because I am feeling overwhelmed and out of control.  On those days…he is absolutely a prince!

I should explain that my husband is a chemistry professor.  Enough said.  He is the poster-child for “emotionally unavailable" but I love him anyway.  We are very different people and we have struggled as a couple in the last year.  We’re in marriage counseling right now, not because we are on the verge of divorce or are disinterested in the marriage, but because we don’t speak the same language when it comes to infertility and it leads to serious breakdowns in our ability to communicate with one another.  The counseling helps and I would recommend it to anyone who is feeling like the tiny cracks that were there in a marriage before infertility are widening.  It happens to the strongest couples I know, and counseling helps.  Even my husband admits that it helps and he HATES relying on anyone, especially someone in the “soft sciences.”

Anyways, Mr. Science is logical, analytical and predictable about everything.  I am logical, analytical and predictable about everything…except infertility stuff.  When it comes to my struggle to become a mother, I am a hormonal ball of emotion that changes her mind faster than the wind changes directions.  Even when I am not on the fertility meds (which would turn Spock into a bawling little girl), I am not myself when it comes to dealing with my own infertility.  And it is because of the very different way that my husband and I approach infertility that we have made it this far. 

When I was begging to keep trying IVF’s with my eggs after 6 failed IVF’s and our second RE saying he just didn’t feel we were going to get pregnant that way, the prince didn’t cry or get angry like I did.  Instead, he insisted that I consider what was most important to me and what was going to give us the best odds of getting to my goal of motherhood.  I grieved for a long time, but eventually it was his objective perspective that forced me to be realistic and realize that having a baby was more important than having a baby with my DNA.  Granted, I wanted to send him outside to live in the garage when he was telling me that he didn’t understand why I was being so stubborn and emotional about not wanting to move on to donor eggs, but if he had taken the easy road right then and given in to my begging to continue a futile quest, I would probably be on my eighth failed IVF cycle by now, with two more heartbreaks under my belt.

Writing this post makes me think about a T-shirt that I got my husband for his birthday, after our third date.  The T-shirt says “Trust me.  I’m perfect.”  He still has it and even though it doesn’t quite fit his body anymore, it still fits his personality.  And he doesn’t hesitate to squeeze himself into the shirt, like a sausage, when he thinks I need a laugh after we’ve quarreled.  I’ll never say it to him and I would deny it if ever confronted with the statement I am about to make, but he is perfect...in his own way.  He is my perfect partner in the infertility trenches.  I can always rely on girlfriends to help me cry it out and to talk about the stuff that is too sappy for my husband to take on, but he is the one I need when the time comes to make the tough calls (there have been a lot of them on this journey).  He  is the one that consistently rises to the occasion when the chips are down.  Bottom line, my husband may not always be exactly what I want, but he is exactly what I need and in that sense, he is my prince.       

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

There Lived A Beautiful Princess (Part 2) - Shame and Self-Loathing


I was thinking a lot about what I discussed yesterday…how infertility has had such a profound effect on my weight and, thus, my outward appearance.  But thinking about that made me realize that infertility has had an even more profound effect on my view of my own inner-beauty.  I hear my fertility friends say all of the time that they hate what they are going through, but looking back, they can see how they have become such better people because of the hardships.  I wish I felt that way.  I think infertility has made me stronger, but when I look in the mirror and compare who I am today with who I was a few years ago, I’m sad at what I’ve lost and what it has been replaced with.

My infertility issues are largely due to my endometriosis and premature ovarian failure.  My husband has a contributing factor too, but his issue is taken care of with the ICSI process, so at this point, it’s my limitations that are causing us to stumble.  My husband says he doesn’t blame me and that it is not my fault that my ovaries aren’t doing what we want them to.  I’m so glad that he says that, but I secretly don’t believe him.  I hope I am just projecting my own insecurities onto him, but how could he not be just a little upset with me?  Being a father is the most important thing in the world to him and, albeit unintentionally, I am standing in the way of his dream coming true.

I know that our struggle is not “my fault.”  I can say that over and over and know that it is true…but it doesn’t feel true.  I feel so ashamed that I can’t get pregnant, that my ovaries don’t produce any quality eggs, and that I can’t seem to get an embryo to stick.  I try to hide these feelings, but my shame is so evident, the last time my RE cancelled my IVF cycle for lack of response, he spent a half hour with me, in a private room, telling me over and over that it was not my fault that we had to cancel and that I deserve to be a mother.  He reminded me that I have tried everything that anyone could ask of me – acupuncture, yoga, meditation, supplements, maya abdominal massage, huge dosages of multiple stimulating  medications, every different IVF protocol you can imagine -  and no one can ever say that my lack of getting pregnant is due to any lack of trying on my part.  I responded “I know” and plastered a fake smile on my face, but I walked out of the office wanting to be invisible and feeling like an utter and complete failure.

I am a person who needs order and control in my world, so when I am out of control of something, I start questioning why and trying to find a way to make things go the way I think they should.  In the case of infertility, the questioning is done not being done in the usual logical and productive way that I approach other problems.  Instead, I jump straight to negative, disjointed, unproductive conversation with myself.  For example, I frequently have the following thoughts -

Why I can’t be a mother…is it because I’m too selfish?  After all, I like to take naps on the weekends and I get grumpy when something wakes me up too early in the morning.  Maybe I’m not ready for a baby if I can’t deal with sleep deprivation.  Or maybe I can’t get pregnant because I am going to be a terrible mother.  To say that my childhood was less than ideal would be the understatement of the century.  So what if I’m wrong in my belief that those experiences will make me a great mother because I know what not to do?  What if I will be worse than my mother was?  After all, she’s had at least twelve pregnancies in her lifetime and I can’t even have one.  Or maybe I can’t get pregnant because I work to much…or because when I was young I said a hundred times that I wanted to be a “career woman” and never get saddled down with a husband and kids.  Maybe I asked for this and there is no taking it back.

This is the internal dialogue that haunts me if I don’t squash it.  I don’t feel like a beautiful princess and I don’t know if I will again until, one way or another, this infertility journey comes to an end.  I feel like there is this piece of me that just hates me and is always there, waiting to sabotage my attempts at maintaining balance and some degree of happiness during this journey.  It is always trying to steal away the self esteem that I have managed to hold onto throughout the heartache of the last three years.  I’m tired of saying “I’m sorry” incessantly, to everyone, for everything.  It’s become a joke to my friends because I do it so often.  I tell them that it is a nervous habit, but I was a psychology major in college…I know that it is an OBVIOUS sign of repressed self-loathing and shame. 

Like most of the issues that I am struggling with during this journey, I’m not sure how to fix my self-image.  For now, all I can do is try to listen to that other angelic voice that is also a part of me (not in the multiple personality disorder kind of way).  She says to shake it off…try to believe my friends when they tell me that infertility doesn’t make me any less of a person…try to acknowledge the good things I am able to do for others because of my experiences…try to believe that I will make an awesome Mom someday and that I deserve that gift as much as the next person…and have faith that some day I can tell that little self-destructive voice inside of me to “shove it” when I finally come out the other side of all of this. 



Monday, January 24, 2011

There Lived A Beautiful Princess...but she got fat on infertility meds

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“Inside some of us is a thin person struggling to get out, but they can usually be sedated with a few pieces of chocolate” ~Author Unknown

The third phrase in a fairy tale is frequently something to the effect of “there lived a beautiful princess.”  Beauty is a tough thing when you’re dealing with infertility.  I’ve taken an injection of HcG, the pregnancy hormone, lots of times to trigger ovulation for an IUI or IVF.  No one has ever said to me, during this process, “Oh…You are positively glowing.”  No.  Usually I get a comment from my husband like “Sweats, again?”   To which I have to shamefully reply, “I’ve really grown to appreciate elastic waistbands.”

I don’t know about the rest of you, but infertility has not been kind to my waistline.  In fact, this weekend, I reached a milestone…and not a good one.  As of Saturday, I am officially 60 pounds heavier than I was when I first started treating for infertility.  That’s right…not a typo…60!!!  And, to paint the picture in all its ugliness, I was not thin when I started this journey.  In fact, my first RE was on my case about my weight from the beginning, repeatedly telling me how much being overweight would hurt my chances of being pregnant (needless to say, he is no longer my RE).  I won’t give my exact weight to you…even in an anonymous blog I am too ashamed to share that little tidbit.  But the number that stared back at me from my scale’s display screen on Saturday was like a big slap in the face.  And I might have needed it.

I’ve been in denial about the weight I’ve been packing on for a year or two now.  I don’t lie about the fact that Ben & Jerry have become two of my closest friends.  How could I?  But I have lied to myself and to others about the extent of the problem.  Food has become my drug of choice and with infertility, there are a lot of emotions to be numbed.  Some nights I can feel sad, angry, scared and bored all at the same time.  Those are typically pizza nights.  I never reach for a salad in times of despair. 

So, reaching Saturday’s milestone made me face up to the fact that, not only has my weight been on a steady incline since finding out getting pregnant wasn’t going to be easy, I have also been on a binge for a long time.  I am eating enough calories for two or three people a day and I truly didn’t even realize it.  I tried to trace the binge back to its beginnings and, to my astonishment, I can recall the exact moment that it started.

A few days before Thanksgiving, I received the news that my IVF cycle was cancelled because, after 24 days on stimulating medications, I still had no follicles growing.  I was devastated.  I went for a drive to gather my thoughts and when I got home, I had a text message from my husband’s younger (and only) sister, announcing that she was pregnant with the family’s first grandchild.  I literally threw-up when I read the message.  I love my sister-in-law.  She rocks!  And I am really happy for her, but her pregnancy has been devastating to me.  She got married a year and a half ago and she and her husband had decided to wait to have a baby until they bought a house.  I was so relieved when I heard about their plan because I thought “Well, at least we’ll have chance to get pregnant first.”  Awful, I know…but I couldn’t get past the fantasy about having the first grandchild.  So, my sister-in-law and her husband closed on their house in October…and she announced her pregnancy in November.  That is the day the binge began.

I initially pulled it together to be the supportive person that I am expected to be, but the pregnancy was always there in the back of my mind and sometimes in the forefront of my mind.  Then, I had to deal with Christmas.  I was having panic attacks about how I was going to deal with Christmas at my husband’s family’s house, as it would inevitably become a celebration of the pregnancy.  My husband’s response was not to comfort me…oh, no.  He got irritated with me, said he couldn’t understand how I could be mad at his sister for being pregnant (sometimes guys really don’t get it), and told me not to ruin having a niece or nephew for him and not to ruin Christmas for his family by moping around.  He has been put in his place for these comments, but he did serious damage to my already fragile self esteem that day.  In addition to feeling miserable that I wasn’t pregnant, I now had to feel guilty about feeling miserable.  I made it through Christmas without making a scene, but I have only recently pulled out of what I can best describe as alternating bouts of mild depression and severe anxiety.  That was how the binge that I am on began and how it kept being fueled through the holidays.  After that, I think momentum just took hold and carried me through January.

So how do I fix this situation?  I’m not sure, but I think it is good that I at least am asking the question.  I know taking away my own excuses would be helpful.  Yeah the stimulating medications make you put on weight, but not 60 pounds and not when you aren’t even on the meds anymore (which I’m not).  I think that dealing with my own guilt and self esteem issues (related to my infertility) would help, too.  I’m hoping that admitting this issue to all of you will also be helpful…accountability never hurt anyone.  If anyone else has tackled this issue and has some advice for me, I would be so appreciative if you shared.  I know I can’t be alone on this one.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

In A Land Far Away...


I think that the second phrase at the beginning of most fairy tales -the phrase “in a land far away” - is used to distance the reader from the story.  After all, we know that fairy tales don’t mirror the world that we live in.  So if we are going to immerse ourselves into the tale and believe that it is possible, we need a way to explain the discrepancies between our world and the world in the tale.  “Ah…But it happened in a land far away” usually does the trick.

For a long time, I felt like the stories I heard about people getting pregnant must be happening in a “land far away,” because I certainly didn’t see them happening to me or the people around me.  But then one of my friends became that fabled “signed up for adoption after being told she couldn’t have a baby with her own eggs, only to find out she was pregnant” girl.  Another friend became the “failed to get pregnant after multiple ART procedures and then got pregnant naturally while relaxing on vacation” girl.  All of the urban pregnancy myths were coming true around me.  I even had one friend who had four failed IVF’s, then ate copious amounts of pineapple for weeks, and got pregnant.  I could no longer distance myself from the clich├ęd stories by believing that they were fanciful or that they didn’t happen in my world.  And without the “in a land far away” buffer, I was forced to face the reality that the miracle of motherhood happens everyday, all around me, not just in another place that may or may not exist.

Of course, I am happy for my friends, but their successes bring home the point that others are getting their miracles, while I’ve still never experienced a single positive pregnancy test.  All my pee sticks have only had one line, and I’ve been on vacations and “just relaxed” as much as the next gal.  I even ate pineapple until the song “If You Like Pina Coladas” made me nauseated.  No baby.  Which begs the question, if these great fertility fairy tales are coming true in my world, why aren’t they happening to me, too?

In addition to the self-pity and doubt that comes along with the removal of the “land far away” buffer, the fear of hope is also an unfortunate side effect.  That may sound like a weird statement – why would you fear hope?  But for me, hope has not been my friend in the past.  With great hope comes great disappointment if things don’t work out.  My issues with that go back to my last post, regarding “attachments to expectations.” 

My husband is so practical and logical.  He understands the odds of success involved each time we try a different approach to getting pregnant, and he somehow balances practicality with hopefulness.  He loves hearing that my friends have gotten pregnant after they struggled with infertility.  Somehow I think he figures their unconventional successes in as a factor that increases our odds of success.  I like to think that I am also a logical person, but I cannot achieve the balance that he can.  I throw myself into each ART cycle, each alternative therapy, each “natural” try, thinking that if I can just “believe enough” I will get my miracle, too.  When that doesn’t work, my husband takes the whole thing in stride while I become a blob of emotional goop.  I’ve taken hope to an unhealthy place and I am still trying to figure out where the tipping point lies between optimism and setting myself up for disappointment. 

I guess my ultimate point here is that sometimes, for me at least, ignorance is bliss.  I need the “in a land far away” buffer right now because my fertility journey is in such a scary and uncertain place.  While it is probably better to be grounded in reality, sometimes, when things get too scary or to sad, I need the temporary solace provided by the belief that a fairy tale is simply a fairy tale.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Once Upon a Time (Part 3) - Living in the Now

This morning, I was sitting in the waiting room of my fertility center and an overwhelming feeling of sadness washed over me.  I started to think about all of the times in the past that I’ve sat in that room, full of hope that my dreams were about to come true, only to be disappointed shortly thereafter.  After five minutes of waiting this morning, feeling badly for myself, I started getting that familiar nervous sickness in my stomach.  Before I knew it, my heart was pounding and my mind was racing about what was to come.  What if my “mock cycle” wasn’t going well and the use of an egg donor was going to be taken off the table as an option for us?  Or, what if the mock cycle turned out okay, but we don’t get pregnant, even with the use of donor eggs? 

Starting to panic, I looked around the waiting room.  There were four men sitting around, waiting for their significant others, and they were all doing something - playing videogames, texting, laughing during a phone conversation with someone.  I’m not proud to say that I immediately became irritated with these men, thinking “How can men be so unaffected by something so serious?”  And then I realized, those men were simply “living in the now.”  Men, as a general rule, don’t spend time obsessing about the past or worrying about the future.  They can get in a huge fight with their best friend one night and the next day they relate as though nothing ever happened, without so much as a discussion or apology.  I asked a guy friend one time how men were able to let things go so quickly and he replied “Why wouldn’t you?  What good does it do me to carry that [crap] around?”  For him, it was that simple.  There was no benefit in him living in the past, so he didn’t.

My fertility center is great about offering mind-body connection programs to patients, many of which address the importance of “living in the now.”  Some programs I find too “out there” for my liking, but a lot of them have been very helpful during this fertility journey.  For example, I love my fertility yoga classes.  I never feel as calm and happy as I do walking out of my weekly yoga class.  The focus in the class that I go to is not on twisting yourself into a pretzel.  Rather, the focus is on being in the present.  That means, accepting when thoughts of the past or worries about the future come into your mind, but instead of following those thoughts down their usual spiral, just acknowledging them and letting them go in peace.  Through yoga, I learn to feel what my body is telling me, where the tension is being held, and how to release it.  I remember to "just be," without judgments or expectations.  And, at least for the one hour a week that I commit to those principles, I am at peace.

I once read that spending too much time in the past leads to depression, and spending too much time in the future leads to anxiety.  That is why we should all strive to stay in the present.  I think that is true, although slightly over-simplified.  I think it is okay to think about “Once Upon a Time” and to learn from past experiences.  Depression doesn't become a concern until you get stuck in the emotions of the past, like I did this morning in the waiting room.  I also think that it is okay to look at the future, make plans and have dreams.  But it is the attachments to expectations and fears about the future that can get you into trouble with anxiety.  I have a long way to go in my pursuit of living in the now.  More consistent yoga and meditation practice would be a great start.  Does anyone else have ideas about how to stay in the present?  I would be so grateful if you would be willing to share.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Once Upon a Time (Part 2) - Before and After Infertility

Once upon a time...I was not "infertile."  Maybe I couldn't produce viable eggs and wasn't able to get pregnant, but I didn't know it.  I didn't know anything about infertility, and I was happy.  I just went about my life, hanging out with friends, going out on dates and worrying about how not to get pregnant.  In fact, if I had saved (and invested wisely) all of the money I spent on birth control over the years, I probably would have had enough money in the bank to send a child to college.  But I digress.

Around age 25, something changed for me.  I met my husband and I noticed that I was smiling at babies in grocery stores and was looking at baby clothes when I went shopping.  I still worked out, hung out with friends and watched movies.  But I occasionally found my mind wandering to how it would be to hold my child in my arms.  And it made me smile.  I realized that I wanted to be a mother.

My wedding day was a wonderful day and it marked a new beginning for me.  It was the beginning of my journey to becoming a mother.  My husband and I had a plan and, after being taken off a suppression medication my RE had previously had me on for endometriosis, we just happily waited for my cycle to start again.  When it didn't, we didn't panic.  We figured that having a baby was just going to take a little longer and be a little less traditional than we had hoped.  But as each failed IUI and IVF cycle piled up, our spirits sank.  I became consumed with all things "fertility."  It was no longer about having a baby, it was now about making a baby.  And let me tell you...making a baby is hard work.

For years, the first thing I did each morning was take my basal temperature.  That meant the first thought I had to have every morning was about fertility.  Then, I would get up and pee on an ovulation predictor stick.  Then I would drink my whey-yogurt-flaxseed-blueberry fertility smoothie for breakfast and, more often than not, head to my fertility clinic for blood work and an ultrasound.  I would spend every free second that I had at work on the internet, researching every article on IUI's, IVF's, diminished ovarian reserve, premature ovarian failure, the side effects of the drugs I was taking, the diets that are supposed to enhance fertility, yoga poses for fertility, self-help books on fertility, and every other fertility-related topic you can imagine.  It's exhausting just thinking about that time in my life. 

Then, during treatment cycles, there was the obsessing.  I would obsess about how many follicles I had and how long it was taking them to grow.  I would obsess about the level of my hormones, what the levels meant for my chances of conception and what I could do to change any of it.  Then, I would obsess about how many eggs we got at retrieval, how many fertilized, how many made it to Day 3 and...if we were lucky enough to make it to transfer...I would get to obsess about how poor the quality of my embryos were and what I could do to make them "stick."  I was so busy obsessing, at some point, I stopped talking to my friends.  I stopped talking to my husband (at least about anything other than infertility).  I stopped looking in the mirror or doing my make up.  I stopped exercising and going to movies.  I put on sixty pounds.  I stopped being me and I realized that, while I was still alive, I had stopped living.

That realization occurred only a few months ago.  I'm still mending friendships that I abandoned and I'm still learning how to have fun with my husband again.  We've both changed because of everything that's happened, and because we changed individually, we are needing to relearn how to truly enjoy being together as a couple.  We recently went on a vacation and I managed to go eight days without uttering one word about fertility issues.  At some point each day, I still would think about getting pregnant or about our egg donor choices...but I was able to let those thoughts go and just enjoy the sunshine.  I don't know if I will ever be able to go back to who I was or if I will ever be able to return to the social life I used to enjoy (especially now that all of my friends are pregnant or have small children).  I'm learning to live among "the fertile" and am slowly figuring out how to define myself outside of the label of "infertile."



Once upon a time, I was someone else.  I'm not that person anymore and, sometimes, I mourn the loss of that happy version of myself that was so full of hope and so unaware that there is a painful condition called infertility.  But sometimes, I look in the mirror and I'm able to see not what I've lost, but what I've gained.  I've gained strength, empathy, knowledge, and perspective.  I've learned to appreciate my friends, my husband, my dogs and all of the blessings that I do still have in my life.  And sometimes I'm even able to dream about what it will be like when I am in the future, holding my child, thinking about how difficult these last couple of years have been, and viewing this time as just a "Once Upon a Time."

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Once upon a time...

That's how all fairy tales start, right?  And that's what becoming a mother is supposed to be...a fairytale.  Little girls are taught to dream of being a mother from the time they are old enough to pick up a doll.  In fact, I can't remember a time when I didn't think that, eventually, I would find the man of my dreams, get married and nine months later - POOF - I would be the mother of a beautiful baby.  And then, we would all live happily ever after.  That was the fairy tale I believed in...and therein lies the problem.  I believed in a fairy tale.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines "fairy tale" as follows:

fairy tale
n.
  1. A fanciful tale of legendary deeds and creatures, usually intended for children.
  2. A fictitious, highly fanciful story or explanation.
Looking back on the last few years, I have to say that I find definition # 2 to be particularly relevant to this discussion.  The story I was told, the same story that I think many of us hear as we grow into women, turned out to be a "highly fanciful story."  "Fictitious" may be a strong word...after all, there are some women who have exactly the experience described in the aforementioned fairy tale.  But I think the fairy tale of a girl's journey to motherhood that I was sold told as a child was, at the very least, "fanciful" by omission.

There were many things that got left out of my fairy tale.  For example, no one told me that, at age 29, a reproductive endocrinologist would be sitting across from my husband and me, telling us that we may want to consider using an egg donor because six failed IUI's and one failed IVF was enough to indicate that we were facing an uphill battle with the use of my own eggs...the dreaded diminished ovarian reserve and/or premature ovarian failure.  No one told me that I would be sitting across from a different reproductive endocrinologist, two years and five additional failed IVF's later, having the same conversation.  No one told me about injecting medications into my stomach for weeks at a time, or about crying for months over the loss of a child that hadn't even been conceived.  No one told me how I would have to shake away the shame I feel every time I see tears in my husband's eyes when another negative pregnancy test is announced.

In fairness to those who promulgate the fanciful story that gets fed to little girls, there are a couple of legitimate reasons to leave the scary parts out.  First, they are a serious buzz kill and everyone knows fairy tales are not supposed to make you cry (see definition #1, above)...unless the tears are tears of joy.  The second reason I can see for leaving those experiences out of the widespread version of the fairy tale is every journey to motherhood is different.  This is true even for those of us ladies who have similar diagnoses, are of similar age, or are pursuing similar ART methods.  Every person's journey is unique in so many ways.  In a sense, we all have our own important tales to tell.  That's why sharing our stories with one another is so important.  During those times that our stories intersect, we are given a golden opportunity to strengthen one another and maybe even share a laugh or two.  We get an opportunity to teach one another, learn from one another and become better people for it.  

For that reason, this princess is going to lay my story out there for everyone to see.  Every midnight run to the local pharmacy for a pee stick because I am "certain" that I feel pregnant, every night spent obsessing over medical journal articles about how to improve ovarian response in IVF cycles, even every Ben & Jerry's binge will be proudly (or not so proudly) displayed for all of you to see.  For better or worse, I am writing this tale all the way to "happily ever after," and if I can, I'm taking all of you with me.