Settling into failure

A few days have passed since we officially found out that our first IVF cycle was unsuccessful. My anger at the situation has tapered, although still rears its head in flashes. I’ve since settled into disappointment and a general feeling of being lost. Much of my last three-plus years has left me in a similar place, so, unfortunately its rather familiar. It’s hard to make sense of that sometimes — that this is my new normal — but I’ve begrudgingly accepted it.

There’s not much I can do right now but make myself reasonably comfortable in this lost space. We’ll meet with the doctor in two weeks to go over key learnings from my failed first cycle and then make a plan to move on. Financially I need to figure out what that will look like and how soon we can feasibly start round two with an FET.

I’ve run out of things to say when people who knew about the IVF ask how I am. I don’t have a new way to say, well, I’m kinda used to this. Or actually, sometimes my whole body hurts because I want a baby. Sometimes I’m really just going through the motions and maybe I always will be.

Even though I feel this way now, I’m cautiously optimistic to try again. Infertility is a complex web of emotions that demand to be felt. It’s lonely and scary. All-consuming. But I’ll keep doing it over and over again for the foreseeable future. I don’t have a choice, right?

teenage-girl-waiting-for-train-chicago-illinois-19601

Image from The Refined Investor

When your heart keeps breaking

Going into my first IVF cycle I didn’t understand just how high my hopes would be. I thought, as long as we come out of this stim cycle with frozen embryos, I’m good. And we did.

But I’m not good. I got my period several days ago and have been stewing ever since. I went through the stages of grief. Spotting is normal during implantation and this is only a little more than that… Then my period would all but stop and I’d feel relieved and silly that I overreacted. Then, hours later, more red.

Little 3AB didn’t stick around and that sucks. It really just sucks. I’m angry that for what I’ve put my body through over the last several weeks I don’t have much to show for it. I’m still waiting. How am I still waiting?!

How has this thing that happens for a majority of the population — often by accident — not happened for me after three and a half years of time, money and effort? I’m angry. I’m sad. I don’t understand it. I can’t understand it. I can’t let it go.

I’ll focus on the positive — a future Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET) — later. I’ll dust myself off and gather the pieces… later. For now my heart is broken again. It’s my new normal and I hate it.

An unlucky sisterhood

I’ve found at times that it can be difficult to talk to other women about infertility who have never experienced it. They got pregnant quickly or easily. Perhaps accidentally. If you watch their faces as you tell your story of waiting, loss, pain and aching, you might see a small flash of relief that they didn’t have to experience what you do. I’d probably have it, too. It’s not hurtful to me because I completely get it.

Just as often their faces show compassion and genuine sadness for your story. They shake their heads in empathy. A lot of women I’ve spoken to choose their next words carefully, which I appreciate. If you haven’t been through this, please don’t tell me that everything happens for a reason or that we’re not given more than we can handle. You may believe those things, and that’s fine. But I don’t. Not now. Maybe I never did. It doesn’t mean I’ve lost faith; it just means that those words have little comfort for me, and many other women experiencing infertility.

Those of us in this unlucky sisterhood have been burned. I choose the word unlucky here merely to illustrate that there’s often no rhyme or reason for our infertility. I check out fine, as does my husband. I don’t necessarily think “luck” in the traditional sense of the word has anything to do with it; but here we are, together, maybe huddled in the corner of impending parenthood, trying to make sense of what we have to deal with.

In this sisterhood many of us are guarded and know the value of choosing our words carefully. We know that a positive pregnancy test can mean hold our breath during the entire first trimester. Our “I’m pregnant” is often followed by “I hope this sticks.” Unless you’ve said aloud or thought that phrase in context, you can’t really understand the gravity of it. Many couples will never know what it feels like to be both happy and completely unsure if that joy will change on a dime. What placing a bet of thousands of hard-earned dollars down of hormones and ultrasounds will get us. Going all-in to nurse an infant at 3am. To be a human pin cushion and relying on science to see our eyes or our spouses looking back at us from the safety of our cradling arms.

I recently had conversation with a fellow sister who told me of another who’d been rejected as a prenatal patient by an OB because she “wasn’t excited enough about her pregnancy.” In hearing this story, I was shocked that a doctor — an obstetrician, no less — could be so unfeeling toward a woman who’d had a tumultuous time even getting to the point of needing an OB. Clearly that would not have been a good patient-provider fit, but it hurts my heart that a fellow unlucky sister had to hear that from a professional.

The women that I know who are experiencing this with me are so strong, so fierce and so very deserving. I feel connected to this vast network of women that are every shape, size, color… I never wanted to join this unlucky sisterhood, but I’m here now, and sending support from the very bottom of my heart. We can do this.

“We need some light”

I totally nerd out for musicals. I would stare in awe and stammer if I met Lin-Manuel Miranda more than I would George Clooney. Musicals have always made me happy, since I first fell in love with “Phantom of the Opera” when I was in seventh grade. While I’ve found all types of music resonates with me, I’ve always felt the closest connections to my own life and feelings through musical theatre.

When I saw “Next to Normal” last year it changed my life. The story follows a family coping with the mother’s bipolar diagnosis, through the highs of mania and the lows of depression. The music is so striking and so powerful. It hit me in the gut while reminding me that we’re not alone.

As the countdown is on to starting IVF (T minus four days), I’ve drawn strength from a few key lyrics in the show’s finale, “Light.” I’ve listened to the cast recording of this show ad nauseum, but have only listened to this song a handful of times because it makes me cry (this is not an unusual pattern for me — I regularly skip the last songs of “Rent,” “Hamilton” and “Les Miserables,” too, because the waterworks start). It feels applicable now, as I take this next step in trying to have a baby.

We need some light.
First of all, we need some light.
You can’t sit here in the dark.
And all alone, it’s a sorry sight.
It’s just you and me.
We’ll live, you’ll see.

N2Nplaybill

Playbill.com

In April I only see showers

Some days I’m not sure my heart can take it. I want to turn it off. On the radio I hear of a mother who left her child to die – simply neglecting him. On Facebook I see another story of parents accused of abuse. A friend tells me of her own child who, before she adopted her, was sexually abused by her biological father as a toddler. Biology has allowed these people to have a child, yet me, not.

The other night I was at a work event and remarked to a coworker that I was drinking my first glass of wine in more than a year. She asked if that was by choice. I guess I’d forgotten that she didn’t know. I don’t have any problem discussing my history with people – friends – that see me every day. I told her that no, it wasn’t really by choice. I was pregnant last spring, then on fertility medication, then pregnant again, until recently.

I’ve just had my second consecutive miscarriage, one year apart. In April I only see showers. Dark clouds roll in and the rain that follows washes everything I hope for away.

Physically this miscarriage was much more difficult than my last. In both cases I required medical intervention, but I chose to forgo the D&C this time in favor of pharmaceutical assistance. The pain and bleeding lasted much longer than I’d anticipated – six days – but emotionally my brain shut it down. It flipped the switch, sort of knowing what to expect. I’ve talked about this at length in therapy since, and I find it pretty remarkable what our brains can do. While I was more emotionally invested in this pregnancy, I transitioned quickly into a protection mode. The day of and following the diagnosis of a collapsed sac (when one week prior everything looked very promising) I was in disbelief. But the acceptance of another miscarriage happened within a few short days. My brain sort of said you know what happens now, and you’ll make it through.

And I have. I still experience the waves of sadness and fits of anger that I do not have the child that I desire. Some days are better than others. Today my heart and body hurt from another loss. But tomorrow may be better. My brain is pushing me forward.

I spent much of 2015 in a very dark place with my depression over my miscarriage. I didn’t say the word aloud very often for fear that I’d well up in tears. When the situation called for it, I’d often say my surgery. It spared me, sometimes, the few moments of remembering what I’d lost.

This year had more promise. I found out I was pregnant for a second time while in my hometown visiting my family and meeting my then-six-week-old nephew. I told him he was going to have a cousin, and then quietly sang him “Dear Theodosia” from Hamilton, thinking that before year’s end I could sing it to my own baby.

When this April ends I’ll begin IVF. I am 20 percent hopeful, 40 percent scared of what it will do to my body and brain and 40 percent resigned to feeling like all of those other people have a privilege that they don’t deserve.

One step forward, two steps back

It’s been just more than seven weeks since I miscarried and they’ve crawled by at a snail’s pace. I didn’t put any expectations on myself to feel better, physically or mentally, in any finite amount of time.

Emotionally some days are better than others. That’s often how grief works.

Physically has been a series of ant hills and mountains. Since I did not miscarry naturally, I assumed the recovery period would be pretty limited. My doctor, who also performed the D&C surgery, told me to expect some heavy bleeding and cramping for a few days, and mentioned to be aware of fevers or other unexpected changes. After a little more than a week, I was feeling more like my pre-pregnancy self. I was tested to ensure that my hormone levels were dropping appropriately, and it was confirmed that they were. After another follow-up, my doctor cleared my husband and I to try again following my next period. She expected that I would see that unwanted, old friend again within about four weeks, perhaps six.

I’m not sure why I thought my body would adhere to the normal timeline — considering that my infertility is largely unexplained — but as I passed weeks four, five, and six without a period I wondered if things were okay. I was feeling fine physically, so what was going on? I consulted Dr. Google (which, really, why do I ever do that?) and fell down a Babycenter rabbit hole. More than two-thirds of the women posting in the thread about post-miscarriage menstruation said they’d actually discovered that they’d almost immediately gotten pregnant again. Reading this, of course, gave me some hope. I mean, this was a lot of women who said this happened.

I even took a pregnancy test on my husband’s birthday thinking wellll… Negative.

Every time I’m tempted to ask myself why not me?, I just stop. Because I’m not those other women. I really never am. None of this has gone my way. I’m more like the one woman who posted that she was 13 weeks post and her hormone levels were still high and no red in sight. Ugh.

This week, though, I’m bleeding like a stuck pig.

Asking why not me? always ends in tears and frustration. This hasn’t been easy. In fact, it sucks. Today I’m feeling a little tired of pretending that it doesn’t. There’s not a handbook for it. I’m writing my own.

Treating my whole self

I’ve struggled with depression and anxiety for many years. Because of this, and the help I’ve asked for in getting through some of the most difficult times, I’ve been in therapy pretty consistently since I was 22 years old. I strongly believe that this, paired with a cocktail of antidepressants, have allowed me to be a (mostly) normal, functional human. They’ve also kept me from slipping farther into the black hole that depression can crate. In a lot of ways, a combination of therapy and medication has kept me alive.

Like with any subject, there are people on the other side of the fence that believe that depression and anxiety can be controlled without therapy or medication; some may even say that “it is all in your head.” I’m not here to change their minds.

One of the most challenging things about infertility is managing the flood of emotions that come with the highs and lows of the experience. I’m no stranger to recognizing my own triggers for depression and anxiety, so I’ve tried to stay on top of coping with my emotions. That is, of course, when I can even process them. Occasionally it feels like everything I’m feeling — particularly since my miscarriage — gets stuffed into a cheese cloth and then wrung out when I least expect it. At the height of some of my worst months of previous depression, the feeling was very much the same. Some of what is in the cheese cloth remains, but much is coming out in a steady stream of everything inside. It’s hard to plan for what often comes out unexpectedly.

This weekend The New York Times Magazine ran a piece that hit close to home — “The Secret Sadness of Pregnancy with Depression.” It’s a tremendous, eye-opening read that focuses on antenatal depression (depression while pregnant) and how serious of a condition this can be, particularly if left untreated.

The article comments:

“Though antenatal and postpartum depression are linked, antenatal depression has remained underground. Much of the stigma around maternal depression — antenatal and postpartum — seems to focus on women who fail at joy, often suggesting that such women are heartless. How can anyone not be swept up by the momentousness of producing a child who will give her life purpose? The myth of the pregnant mother who is high on hormones has had considerable staying power.”

The emotional needs of the soon-to-be mother are too often ignored and pushed aside. Even the healthiest of pregnancies is still an insane journey of physical and emotional stress on a woman.

This piece reminded me why I recently decided to find a new therapist and spend that hour a week examining everything that I’m feeling now, and have felt in these two-plus years of trying to conceive a baby. Returning to treatment means taking the bull by the horns and owning that what I’m going through is enormously stressful and emotional as hell. I’ve never been one to take for granted what it can mean to have a clear head, and I’m certainly not ashamed to say I need some help getting there.

Mother’s Day

I expected this Mother’s Day to be challenging for me given my miscarriage just a week before. I was correct; I found myself overwhelmingly sad at a few points during the day. In the shower I thought about how excited I was for this to be my “first” Mother’s Day. In the car on my way to my in-laws I thought about how the last time I was there I was pregnant. That thought is probably the one that sneaks through most often. Two weeks ago I was… but now I’m not.

And it most often hits me when I’m in the car alone. That is occasionally problematic for my 35-minute morning and evening commutes. A few evenings ago when I was driving home from work and I thought about how I wasn’t excited about the rest of the year because I wouldn’t meet my baby at the end of it. Those are the thoughts that floor me and cause a waterfall of tears, wherever I am. Those are the thoughts that pop up, me having no control. Those are the thoughts when a simple distraction doesn’t cut it. I suppose I’m fairly lucky in that those thoughts haven’t come too frequently. Those that are debilitating are pretty few and far between.

That’s not to say that I don’t think about where I am now every day. It’s not erased. I’m just working on moving forward. For us, that means that we plan to try to conceive again when we’re given the all clear from the doctor. Trying again will hopefully mean another success, this time with a much better outcome. Moving forward means something different for everyone.

But I’m weary. Will I be afraid to acknowledge another pregnancy until I’m in the safe zone? Maybe. Will I be anxious through my first ultrasound, terrified that the conversation will be the same? Maybe. I will want to embrace the joy and excitement that conceiving a child brought me just two months ago. I want that, but am unsure right now if that can reasonably be my reaction the second time around. I just don’t know right now. And I suppose that’s okay. What I do know is that holding off longer than necessary isn’t what’s best for us.

Just keep swimming.

Thanks, Dory.

On the seventh and twenty-seventh

On April 7th, the morning of my last post, I found out I was pregnant. I cried and laughed and cried. My husband and I celebrated and talked about names. The next few weeks were filled with telling our families the wonderful news and pinning nursery furniture to a private Pinterest board.

On April 27th, I found out I was no longer pregnant. I cried again. Going into our first pre-natal appointment that morning I was both nervous and excited. My biggest concern was that the doctor would say there was more than one heartbeat. While I knew (and know) that I would be incredibly blessed to have twins, the idea is still a bit scary. But our doctor didn’t say there was more than one heartbeat. In fact, there was none; there was just an empty sac. We left our ultrasound unsure of what would come next. There were two possible outcomes, following a blood draw… 1. That I simply wasn’t as far along as we thought (one day shy of seven weeks), despite having had IUI during my ovulation. Or 2. That the pregnancy wasn’t viable and I would miscarry.

I didn’t go back to work that day. I knew I wouldn’t be able to focus on writing about accounting or banking. The only thing on my mind would be that tiny seed-sized embryo that had a due date of my brother’s birthday — December 15th (eight days after my own).

That afternoon I received a call from my doctor with the news. One of the last conversations a woman ever wants to hear. My hormone levels hadn’t progressed in about a week and a half, and my pregnancy — my little Christmas baby — wasn’t viable.

Yesterday, I had a D&C surgery to expel the embryo from my body, as I hadn’t shown significant signs that I would miscarry naturally. It was one of the hardest days of my life, as I’m positive it is for any woman who has to physically have something so important taken from her too soon.

I’ve been through plenty of death — I unexpectedly lost my stepfather nearly four years ago to a heart attack — but nothing has ever felt quite like this pain. I think each loss in one’s life is a little different. This one has left a tightness in my chest and a hole in my heart. There’s nothing I ever wanted more in life than to be a mother. I still do, but this will always be a part of me.

After being rolled out of the OR and into recovery yesterday, I apparently told my doctor that the next time I came to that hospital it would be to have a baby.

Over the last few days it’s hard not to question a lot of things. I question why I haven’t gotten the job as mama yet when a woman across the country can give birth at work and then tie up her helpless child in a plastic bag like trash. But there will always people have what I would like and yet make horrifically awful, selfish decisions with what they’re given. Life will never be fair.

I know a few of you reading here have experienced this rollercoaster of emotion — from the day the second line on the stick appears, to the day you’re no longer with that joy — and some, even more than once. My heart breaks for you as it does for my own Christmas baby. Experiencing this more than once must be excruciating, and I have so much respect for those of you that have and continue to get out of bed in the morning. I’m not sure I could.

For now, my husband and I will grieve for our Christmas baby. Then, soon, we’ll continue to apply for the jobs we really want — of mama and daddy. Hopefully without a dampened spirit, and only enthusiasm for the day we again see two pink lines.

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