Nothing can prepare you for this

When I was in my mid-20s I briefly considered donating my eggs. At the time, my motivation was primarily financial, although I was not ignorant to the idea that I could help give a baby to someone who desperately wanted one. I’ve always wanted to be a mother, and I had no doubt that being told you couldn’t have one “naturally” could be crushing to a woman.

After some consideration I deemed my motivations too selfish and my work schedule too hectic to move forward. I didn’t give egg donation another thought.

I didn’t give another thought to that woman I could have helped either. I wish I could rewind. I had no idea, ten years later, I’d be the woman struggling to force her body do the thing that it was built to do. No one ever thinks that it will be her. No one ever wants to be the one running out of time, money and options.

My husband and I began trying to conceive right around the time we got engaged, four and a half years ago. We weren’t naive that given our age, both 31, that we were shorter on time than some of our counterparts to build a family. We certainly didn’t consider ourselves geriatric, but we could do basic math. We planned a July wedding and I sincerely thought I could be pregnant before I walked down the aisle. As long as I still fit into my dress, I would be happy.

Two years later, after many life changes, but none of the baby variety, we reluctantly were referred to a fertility clinic. After the prerequisite testing, we were given an unexplained infertility diagnosis, and I began the first of several rounds of Clomid + IUI. While an unexplained diagnosis was intimidating, I was still so unprepared for what was to come.

In March of 2015, only a few months into fertility treatments, I wrote this:

When I wonder how much longer I can go on like this, in this state of mind, it makes me feel guilty. I would give anything to be pregnant. And I’m trying to give everything I can. I am trying. But I am so tired, too.

I had no idea what it meant to be tired, then.

Less than a month later I would become pregnant for the first time. A month following the happiest moment of my life, I miscarried for the first time.

More than two years, another miscarriage, four more IUI cycles, two failed IVF rounds later and a bout of chronic endometritis later, I know what it means to be tired. I read “not pregnant,” again, on that little stick just this weekend.

When I wrote that early post I was still so full of faith in my own body. I knew I would get the job I coveted of mother, and it would all be okay. The bloated, achy, overly hormonal side effects of Clomid would be a distant memory as I rocked my son or daughter to sleep at night.

But it hasn’t happened that way. Our infertility story is much longer than we could have ever expected, and we’re still very much in the thick of it. Infertility demands so much of your time, money, body and brain space. No woman or couple has any idea just how tiring this can be.

It’s hard to see the forest for the trees sometimes. Without the child my husband and I so desperately want, I’m not yet to a point where I can say, yes, everything was worth it. I’m still waiting. I’m still tired.

We’re nearing a crossroads. I’ve given my body, my energy, our money and more than four years of our time to science. Soon, we’ll need to decide how much longer we can continue, if at all. Facing that decision is parts scary, parts sad, and a small part freeing.

My husband and I are supposed to be parents. No one could have prepared us for what that would take, when it comes to others so easily. But we will be what we’re meant to be, someday.

52

Later days, endometritis

The super annoying, potentially infertility-causing house guest in my uterus is finally gone! Following my third (and heaven willing my last) biopsy earlier this month, my chronic endometritis has cleared. Boatloads of antibiotics did the trick.

The day that I got the good news, I was actually terrified that it would be bad. I just had the worst gut feeling that the condition was still lingering, and had, perhaps, gone too long untreated leaving my my uterus permanently inhospitalable.

I’m incredibly thankful that doesn’t appear to be the case.

While the coast is currently clear, I’m eager to move forward as quickly as possible. “Quickly,” though, in infertility land almost always means waiting for your next cycle to begin. After some back and forth with the doctor and input from the most amazing nurse in the world, my husband and I landed on returning to IUI for just one more cycle.

That decision was primarily driven by financials (IUI is pocket change compared to IVF), but also by the tried-and-true approach of “well it worked before…” Said with a shrug, of course.

giphy

Both times that I’ve been pregnant were a result of IUIs. Since both of those pregnancies ended in miscarriages, though, we’ll this time supplement the IUI with progesterone shots (Crinone suppositories historically haven’t worked for me).

I’ve started the Clomid regimen. In previous cycles Clomid has flattened me like a pancake, although it has done what it’s intended to do. I decided I was willing to deal with the side effects one last time.

Mentally, though, I’m already checked out of this cycle. Although it has been successful in the past, Clomid + IUI has failed me twice, too. I expect it will again. My expectations are low — where I hope they will stay.

This will be my seventh attempt to get pregnant with medical intervention. That number seems very high, but also not high enough given that we’ve spent more than two years and thousands and thousands of dollars doing it.

I’m listening

Probably one of the most important lessons I’ve learned about fertility over the last two-plus years is to listen to my body. Only a few years ago I likely would have thought this concept to be too new-agey for me, and in a way, it is. But when your month, every month, consists of testing things, prodding and then waiting, it’s natural to become hyper-aware of your body.

My husband and I tried to conceive naturally for nearly two years before we sought assistance. I was pretty well convinced when we first starting fertility testing that the doctors would find something wrong with me. Somewhere, in the back of my mind, I knew that to be true. Early on in that process, we got some mixed results which had be concerned. These red flags all but convinced me that I was right. I was so very thankful to be wrong. The red flags largely turned out to be caused by ultrasound shadows. By the time sat down with our fertility doc, our infertility was unexplained. My husband and I fell into that mysterious 10-15% of couples where there’s no discernible cause to have not conceived naturally in two years.

Less than a week after meeting with our doctor, we began the Clomid + IUI plan that we’re currently on. A friend of mine, when I mentioned that course of treatment mentioned that Clomid didn’t work for her, and she felt strongly about that very early on. She heeded, “listen to your body.” It’s great advice, and words I paid attention to.

In our most recent Clomid + IUI cycle, my OPKs never picked up an LH surge (this had also happened the previous month, and I missed the window for IUI because I never saw a positive OPK). But, I had all of my typical ovulation symptoms. Over the course of about 18 hours, I went back and forth with the incredible staff of nurses that I work with at our clinic, along with my husband, to decide if we should proceed with this month’s IUI. There are always a lot of factors to consider in fertility treatments, and, too often, cost is a major one. Our medical insurance does not cover fertility treatments, so we’ve paid for our visits and procedures over the last several months out of pocket. This cost is significant to any couple that doesn’t have a hefty savings to fall back on, as it has been for us.

So, a serious concern in deciding to move forward with this IUI was, obviously, cost. Without an LH surge detected, I had no firm indicator that I’d ovulated. It was more of a risk to decide to move forward with an IUI (and timing it, essentially, blind). I listened to the advice of the nurses that have gotten to know me, and that of my husband (who, ultimately said, “uh, I don’t know…”). And then I listened to my body. My body said, in her sassy way, “girl, you’re trippin’… you ovulating! Go make that baby!”

I’m happy that I listened, no matter the outcome. For now, though, to be continued….

Fatty McButterpants

I have a brother eight years younger than I… we’re the best of friends, and I really helped to raise him. He’s now an amazing, hard-working man that I am very proud to call my brother and my friend. When he was about eight years old, he started to put on some weight. This continued for a few years, and then he got into weight-lifting as a teenager. He got ripped. Still is. He’s won many weight-lifting competitions. When we look back at old photos of his awkward years, we call him “Fatty McButterpants.”

As a kid, I was the opposite. I was very active as a cheerleader (I can hardly even believe that now!) — jumping, tumbling, lifting and whatnot — and was always a thin, healthy size for my small stature (I’m 5’2″). Then college happened, I discovered gourmet cupcakes and binge-watching DVDs, and the rest is history. Gone were my days of size fours.

I’m a big believer (pun intended) in ending the era of fat-shaming (one of my favorite bloggers, Brittany Gibbons, is an incredible advocate and a daily inspiration in reminding me my weight isn’t going to stop me from doing awesome things). Trying on a bathing suit is likely to send me to cry on the floor of my closet with a half-gallon of cookies and cream ice cream. I’m absolutely an emotional eater. My scale fluctuates depending on my stress level and if I’ve discovered a new flavor of pop-tarts.

I’ve asked my fertility doctor if my weight is negatively affecting my ability to conceive. She says it’s not (other than a low thyroid issue that I’m also on meds for). But there’s a lot of information out there that says it could be. My focus, especially since we started trying to have a baby, has been getting healthier, making better choices. Only spending half of my Saturday binging on Netflix and the other half taking my dog for a walk or heading to the gym. Eating a banana or a protein bar when 3:00 hits instead of driving to Duck Donuts. I succeed in this about half of the time. I admit I have a lot of work to do.

What has caught me off-guard, though, has been my weight gain on Clomid. While it may be working great in helping my body produce healthy round follicles, I’ve noticed in the last few weeks that it’s causing some roundness in other places too. Probably seven or eight pounds of round. Which means my pants no fit.

Other than the unfair pregnancy-like symptoms I’ve written about before, I thought I’d been experiencing Clomid relatively unscathed. One hears so many horror stories, after all. But now that I’m smack in the middle of month four, it’s become clear there’s some scathing. Another eight pounds on an already Umpaloompa-ish body is not cute. Particularly as swimsuit season approaches here in the South.

It’s difficult to rectify the feelings I have about weight gain with knowing that it’s caused for a “good reason.” I worry about how much harder it will be to take the weight off postpartum, when there’s a lot less time to think about being active and not grabbing for the Oreos, because, ya know, I’m then responsible for an infant. That’s going to be rough…

I pretty much just fat-shamed myself, huh?

Image from Amazon.com

What to expect when you’re not expecting

For a long time, probably years before I was actually ready to become a mother, I have had a vision of purchasing a copy of “What to Expect When You’re Expecting” the day that I find out I am pregnant. This book, to many women, is much like a bible for pregnancy. I’ve purchased copies for friends when they’ve announced their news, always secretly knowing that I would be standing in line at Barnes & Noble or Target with the latest edition in-hand when my time had come. I realize that the modern woman has likely moved past “What to Expect…” (there was that terrible movie after all). A close friend of mine who became a mama last year read, and adored, “The Girlfriends’ Guide to Pregnancy.” (I’m sure I’ll buy that one, too.)

IRL, I know one other woman who has been on a similar infertility path as I (a friend/former coworker). One thing that she warned me of, that I never in a million years would have otherwise believed, is that many women experience pregnancy-like symptoms while on Clomid. From an “outsider’s” perspective, this makes little sense. A round of Clomid lasts only about five days of the cycle (mine is days 3-8)… so why would I experience symptoms like nausea, headaches and fatigue a full 10+ days later (when I hadn’t experienced anything of the sort elsewhere in my cycle)? If you’ve done the math, the time inconveniently coincides with the TTW… exactly the time I want to be feeling the annoying symptoms of pregnancy. But this is exactly what happened to me following my first Clomid/IUI cycle. For any woman trying to conceive (TTC), this is maddening. I am already paying an absurd amount of attention to my body (comparatively to my level of attention when I wasn’t TTC), and then, Clomid, you want to lay pregnancy symptoms on me?! Not cool, bro. (I generally associate Clomid with feminine terms, but “Not cool, sister” doesn’t pack the same punch.)

Chalk it up to stupid, misleading and damn confusing. As I said, I never would have believed that phantom symptoms would be a thing. But it totally is. Ask the package of plain crackers I bought and devoured…

The shift

Sometime in the last hour my outlook on the day changed dramatically. That happens to me frequently, as I’m sure it does to most women trying to have a baby. That dramatic, sudden shift – the certain to uncertain – is a source of fear and loneliness for me, not to mention it can physically hurt.

This month I had my first fertility treatment – a five-day round of Clomid, paired with intrauterine insemination (IUI). These past 24 days have felt like some of the longest in my life. Never have three plus weeks crawled so unbearably slowly. In fertility lingo there’s an acronym – TWW (the two-week wait), of which I am more than midway through. TWW refers to the void of time between an insemination and the pregnancy test.

I’m scheduled to take my test this Friday, but about an hour ago, in the restroom, I feared that I wouldn’t have to wait out the calendar for another few days. Now my heart hurts. The last few days I had essentially convinced myself that I was, in fact, with child. Headaches, fatigue, nausea for no discernible reason… classic pregnancy symptoms. It’s a strange thing to be happy about feeling bad. Yesterday when I felt like I could barely keep down some fruit for lunch, turned my nose up at my large iced coffee, and then sat most of the afternoon at my desk with a box of crackers in my lap, I was feeling elated. When I packed my crackers in my desk drawer at the end of the day I thought gotta get used to this…with a smile on my face.

Yes, I know that a successful round one of fertility treatments isn’t that common. Tries three and four are more likely to work. I know. But, you see, I did some simple math and it added up to a sign. Insemination (and therefore conception) took place on my father-in-law’s birthday. We would find out if it “stuck” on the 13th – my mother’s birth date and (deceased) father’s lucky number. Then, 40 weeks later would take us to November 6th. A lucky six dead in the center of my husband’s lucky five and my lucky seven. That math just couldn’t lie.

Since that moment I’ve treated every second as though I’m carrying the child that I’ve waited for. The nurses tell you after insemination that while nothing is restricted, you should behave as though you are pregnant – stay away from alcohol, take good care of yourself, and the like. I have. I will. Until that little stick shows me one line or two. That stupidly small piece of technology that determines if I get the job as “mama.”

Right this second I’m less sure that I will get that job this month. I want to go back an hour and unsee the spot of red that suddenly, like a shot, made me feel hopeless and helpless again. Just as I have every month before.