Pile O’ Blood (round 2)

blood draw | sundriedtomatoe.wordpress.com
I had a friend ask me “what the heck is going on?” so I figured I’d work it out on here, and thus have a better explanation (at least a more succinct one) next time I get that question.

In the back half of 2013, when we got our butts in gear (and realized we weren’t going to have any kiddos on our own) we had two major options: infertility treatment and adoption. When we first started exploring our options, I wasn’t super keen on infertility treatment and Hubs was hesitant about adoption.

On my end, I was loath to endure any more time with doctors, in hospitals, being poked and prodded, and told severely stupid things (which seems to be a chronic condition in emotionally sensitive medical situations). For Hubs, he was concerned about the basics of adopting – from where would a child originate? What about the family background? What would a personal connection be like?

What we decided, after a lot of thoughtful conversation, was to do one round of IVF. If it resulted in a kid, we’d consider doing it again. If it did not, we would not. When IVF failed, adoption was the next step. We had two reasons for this finite limit to infertility treatment. The first was that neither of us wanted to endure a limitless regime of shots, doctor visits, hormone fluctuations, and failed pregnancies. The second was that all our options have a substantial cost associated with them, and our resources are finite. In terms of having a family, adoption is a sure thing; infertility treatments are not.

In-Vitro Fertilization (IVF) is a multi-step process. First, a barrage of tests (for both of us). Then I began two months of medications and hormone supplements, mostly delivered by daily shots (self-administered). All went well with the hormone regimen, so our doctor harvested a multitude of mature eggs from my ovaries in a singularly uncomfortable outpatient procedure.

Those eggs then spent three days in a lab, being transformed into embryos. On the third day, two good looking embryos were deposited in my uterus, in another uncomfortable outpatient procedure. We went home, and the remaining (lab) embryos spent another two days maturing in a petrie dish before being cryogenically frozen. Only one of our embryos made it to freezing.

In the meantime, we had a chemical pregnancy, which is a medical way of saying that at least one embryo hung on for a week or two before dying off. That was rough.

After that, we started looking into adoption. We started working through the foster-to-adopt program with the state, but that went poorly. We figured we’d wait until 1) we moved to a different area, where we could retry foster-to-adopt with a new group and/or 2) our financial situation changed.

Both conditions were met this year. We moved to a new city and I got a new job that pays much more than what I was previously making. After even more thoughtful conversation, we decided we don’t want to depend on the state system for our first kid, so we fixed on private domestic adoption as our next step.

However. We still have that one frozen embryo hanging out in cryo. (That sounds so sci-fi.) It’s a life. We made it. It seems wrong to leave it in limbo forever. Also seems wrong to discard it. So, before we pour ALL the coal on the adoption burners, we are going to get that one little guy defrosted and give it a go.

What we’ll be doing (called a Frozen Embryo Transfer, or FET for short) is basically the last step of the IVF cycle – a fertilized embryo will be placed in my uterus, and we’ll wait a week or two to see how it fares. Given our history, our expectations are nil. We will be overjoyed if it works out (I feel like that doesn’t even really need to be said at this point…) and we have zero expectation that it will work out.

Part of the workup for this process is another round of tests for both of us. Since we are in a new city, we are working with a different doctor for the day to day stuff and that doc wants all his OWN test results. So I recently spent a morning getting a ton of blood drawn.

I have to lie down when I’m getting a lot of blood drawn. Have I told that story? I feel like I have.

So that is not at all succinct, but it is thorough. For the friends who wonder, I can now direct them to this post.

Next test: a hysteroscopy! Hopefully the last one I ever endure IN MY LIFE. Onward and upward!

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Borderline Morbidly Obese

Doctors, man. I rarely leave a meeting with a doctor (especially one related to my reproductive parts) without at least one incredibly painful line that will follow me around for years to come.

We had a truly banner day, recently. We “met” with our adoption  consultant (over the phone) and are now officially “started” on the adoption journey.

We also met with a local fertility specialist for the first time. We are in a new area and about 8-9 hours from the last one we worked with. There’s one frozen embryo (hereafter referred to as Frosty) left from our IVF cycle last year and we both feel like we have a moral obligation to give it a shot. It’s a life.

That being said, we are now officially eight years into infertility. By that I mean we’ve been “trying” for eight years. During that time we’ve had three chemical pregnancies and an ectopic pregnancy. And about six years of zilch. Apparently that one fallopian tube I lost was the good one.

So you’ll understand why we are less than optimistic about Frosty’s chances. We have had multiple pregnancies and not one has made it past 10 weeks. Would it be delightful and miraculous if Frosty was the one that made it? For sure.

Do we expect Frosty to make it? Not remotely.

That being said, we’ve spent years wishing and hoping and praying for a kid, watching others raise theirs, and turning off news stations where folks mistreat or abuse kids. Life is precious. We have a life that we created and we are not going to let it go. We are going to fight for it. Even if it’s a losing battle from the start, it’s still worth fighting for.

SO.

We met the local fertility doc. And it was generally pleasant. He knows what he’s doing. He’s friendly. He’s positive. He’s even slightly pushy about the whole “don’t give up” thing, which we expect from a doctor whose specialty is making babies. But dude.

Apparently I’m borderline morbidly obese.

This comes as a surprise to me. It’s been increasingly obvious that I’m overweight. It’s been on my mind. I’m mildly active. I know the activity could use an uptick, but truly it’s the diet that needs to change. I’ve been crossing my fingers that the metabolism of my 20s reappears so I can keep eating delicious restaurant food four nights of the week and drinking a beer with dinner. Every time I look in the mirror I’m like “just a few more years with sweet potato fries and craft beer! Please!”

All that came crashing to the ground, though, with the proclamation of “borderline morbidly obese.”

So what did I end up with from that banner day? Hope and joy that we will soon be parents through the sociological miracle that is adoption? The faintest glimmer of possibility that I might actually be able to give birth once in my life? No. No. Nope.

Look, I know that guy was off. I understand the unreliability of BMI as any kind of accurate gauge of health or weight. I know it’s actually a small spread with a lot of grey area and room for interpretation. Even within those broad parameters, “morbid” obesity is so much further down the road than where I am. I can look at myself in the mirror and see that his words are a gross overstatement.

But still.

It’s a doctor. It’s an “expert.”

I’m so tired of medical people. I 100% can not wait to be done with them in relation to my reproductive parts. They are THE WORST.

On the slightly brighter side, now I have the appropriate level of self-disgust to give up sweet potato fries and craft beer. Bravo, doc.

Dr. Cox exercise program | sundriedtomatoe.wordpress.com

Pile O’ Blood

NOTE: I wrote this post in/around March of 2014, shortly after our try with IVF. At the time, I didn’t want to publish it because I was still wrapping my head around what was going on. Now my head is firmly wrapped.

We never did get any answers or definitive results from any of the rounds of testing we did. We are officially “unexplained infertile” and it will most likely stay that way until the end of time.


 

March 2014 — So Hubs and I scraped up enough moolah to try a round of IVF. It’s something that has been on the back burner for several years as we worked in recovering emotionally from multiple losses early on in our adventure. Last November we started taking a close look at how much IVF would cost, what would be involved.

It costs a lot. Our insurance doesn’t cover any infertility treatments. Grand total was over $13,000, which we paid in cash. Holy smokes that’s a lot of cash.

It involved a lot of needles. During one week I was injecting myself with three different needles every morning. I got pretty amazing at pinching my thighs. I got really good at giving blood too. Lotsa regular blood tests involved.

Unfortunately, the cycle failed. We had a positive pregnancy test and then the blood started flowing a few days later. We had some serious moments of despair that week. Plenty of quiet tears. Fortunately, this kind of loss is not the shock it once was.

We have had a few weeks to marinate on where we go from here. Before we started we were looking at adoption as our next move. Then, after the IVF cycle failed, I started investigating options closely. There are some things about our options that raise concerns for us. Still on the table, but cautiously.

I’m loathe to experience another pregnancy loss. It’s tough. It’s lonely, and I hate seeing my husband hurt. Watching him deal with this loss were some of the worst moments of my adult life.

So before we even think about any more medical interventions we are getting yet another round of tests done. This round tests both of us for chromosomal issues that might mess with a developing fetus. And I’m being tested for immunological issues that might account for a bunch of very early pregnancy fails.

I filled up a LOT of tubes the other day.

image

Fun fact: nurses love when you warn them about a vaso-vagal hypersensitivity ahead of time.

I Call Bulls**t – Monica & Chandler Adopt

I didn’t watch Friends when it was on the air – we didn’t really do TV in my house growing up and we definitely didn’t do “20 somethings having sex” TV.

Now, though, I have Netflix and a lot of crafting/making time on my hands, so I’ve been working my way through the series. Mostly I’ve been enjoying it, although I’m still not over my strong distaste for Rachel Green. I’ve just never understood the cultural fascination with Jennifer Aniston. Did it start with this character? WHY? She’s the WORST.

rachel green
Ugh. Rachel Green.

Moving on.

In the last (tenth) season of the show, Monica and Chandler go through infertility and then adoption. I have ambivalent feelings as I watch. On the one hand, I’m kind of delighted to see that real and present decision-making process represented on a major TV show. It’s not something you see on TV much, certainly not in proportion to how many people deal with it in real life. I feel personally gratified that it’s all on there, because so much of what I see as I watch is a “hey, us too!” thing.

deep emotion
“I’m feeling all the feels about our inability to be human beings, Chandler. Can you tell from the deep sorrow that is playing across my flat, emotionless face?”

On the other hand, though, it’s a twee representation. Friends is not a deep show. There’s no one grappling with a drug or alcohol addiction. Eating disorders are funny. Multiple divorces are funny. Suicide and homelessness are funny. So when infertility comes up and they try to be serious about it (and kudos for trying) it rings false. Or, at least, it falls flat.

paperwork
“Oh my GAWD, Monica, look at these SEVEN PAGES we have to fill out in this ONE EPISODE.”

I never see the couple losing it over the inability to have kids. Neither of them question their basic biological function – their wholeness as people. No one ever cries (!??!?) over the situation. They have a clear, meaningful result to their first round of infertility tests. They move through alt-family options with swiftness and ease. They don’t agonize over what kind of adoption, or funding, or the paperwork/waiting process. They don’t feel a horrifying mixture of resentment and guilt over their friends having kids easily.

twins
Ooopsie! TWINS! Two for the price of one! And, by the way, let’s never actually address the tens of thousands of dollars we had to shell out to get here!

In the span of a few weeks they go from “trying” to have kids to having twins.

At one point, they LIE to the birth mother about their file. They eventually correct the mistake but then Chandler does this super-pathetic “we are desperate for a child” plea that apparently wins the birth mother back over. WTF?! Lying and coercion to get a kid?!

lying to the birth mother
Lying to the Birth Mother is a great way to get a baby!

It’s weird because the whole time I’m watching I’m so glad and relieved to see SOMETHING about our lives represented on a popular show. But at the same exact time I’m so angry and offended by how lightly it’s treated, and how easily it’s resolved.

Be ye warned, actual, real-life friends: the Friends version of this devastating life event is just the tip of the iceberg. If you have someone in your life dealing with this kind of thing, don’t use Friends as a source of information or understanding.

But do watch the show for other stuff, though. It’s pretty good.

—-

LATimes article responding to the “we’ll just adopt” episode, 2003

Blog post on Rachel vs. Monica

Choose Joy – Some Thoughts About Faith

The faith-based infertility and adoption conference I attended this past weekend was such a positive experience. I’ve already posted about how wonderful it was to feel a sense of community and have an ability to share more openly about infertility and our first steps into adoption.

I honestly expected to struggle more with the whole faith-based thing during the event. Instead, I had a peaceful weekend. There was lots of food for thought, but nothing particularly challenging or agonizing.

I want to explain why.

Six years ago, two years into infertility, I hit a wall with the whole notion of God and my faith of 20+ years. I could not reconcile the things that were happening to us with the God I was so familiar with. I was also beginning to recognize that I was in the throes of a significant grieving process. The loss of my faith wasn’t something that I had the ability to grapple with right then. So I “put a pin in it” with the understanding that I’d come back to it later.

Some people hit rock bottom and their faith in God is deepened. I hit rock bottom and God was not there. I couldn’t deal with both rock bottom and the absence of God. So I triaged. I told myself, “Deal with rock bottom first, the God thing will still be there when you are ready.”

And it was.

Strong at the broken places... | SundriedTomatoe.Wordpress.com

Two to three years ago I started to unpack “the God thing.” I gave it a lot of thought, I read, I studied, I analyzed. I was open (kind of hopeful, actually) to a different, better understanding of the Christian God I had grown up with. I was actively searching for a place to plant my feet, the “solid foundation” I spent most of my life hearing about.

What I eventually came to was that the things I “knew” about God, and had learned about God, and continued to hear about God – these things are incompatible with what we have been through.

It’s a 1+3=2 situation.

There are so many ways to talk about unexplained loss. But no matter how Christians conceptualize it, it’s still a 1+3=2 equation. I’ve heard it said that this is the foundation of belief – trusting that one plus three really does equal two because God – and I can allow for that. I think that a God of Everything can probably handle that kind of math. But whether God can handle it is not enough for me to accept the dogma of Christianity and live my life according to a Christian framework.

What I’ve been through and what I knew about the Christian God – those things don’t jive. They just don’t. I grappled with the whole framework: the dogma, the tenets, the teachings, the practice of Christianity. What I hit on, about a year ago, is that I have serious questions about the basics. I simply cannot get over the 1+3=2 problem. And the answers of the Christian Church are not sufficient for me.

I realized that if God exists I’ve had it wrong for a long time.

Initially, I really didn’t like this. For several years I sort of hoped for some divine revelation that would make the 1+3=2 thing work. I like having something to believe in. I like the idea of a Plan, of something controlling or orchestrating the events of my life. I took comfort in the notion that our pain was not a wasted thing – that it meant something. But no matter how I looked at it, thought about it, prayed about it… the equation just did not work.

If I can't change a situation, I am challenged to change myself. | SundriedTomatoe.Wordpress.com

At this point I am a lot less sure about anything than I ever was. I believe that any God that might exist is way bigger and more complex than how we conceptualize It. What I believe these days is pretty much a rejection of Christian dogma as a whole. I believe in the possibility of God… and that’s about it.

What’s interesting is that, for the very first time in my life, I have peace about my “walk” with God. I don’t feel like I’m missing something. I don’t feel like I should be doing something I’m not. I don’t agonize over it, I don’t feel gypped or wronged, I don’t feel like an idiot, and I don’t feel guilty. I just have peace. It seems ironic – Peace is something Christians talk about a lot in relation to God.

Back to the reason all of this was not much of a struggle this past weekend – I had fixed on some things after much work. And I had fixed on them well before my trip to the faith-based conference. I didn’t have a hard time because I believe that each person’s understanding of God is fundamentally limited. They were speaking what they know, just like I speak what I know.

This is not Facts; this is Belief. I can extend graciousness and possibility to anyone in terms of their Beliefs.

Here’s what I believe:

I doubt God exists. If God does exist, God is very different from the way Christians talk about God.

God will not punish me for thinking this way.

I’m the master of my fate – God is not a conductor orchestrating my every moment toward some grand, yet unknown crescendo.

Infertility is a biological event, not a consequence of Original Sin or a side effect of Free Will.

Adoption is not a calling, a ministry, or a way to “do your duty” or “glorify” God.

Suffering is not divine.

I believe that if any God exists, it’s a big God, a huge God, a God way past my ability to understand, comprehend, correct, or even argue with. I don’t have to get it right, because the kind of God I believe in is fully aware of how tiny and limited I am in relation to It and just how ridiculously difficult something like 1+3=2 is for something like me.

And what if I’m wrong?

God can handle it.

I hit rock bottom and God was not there. | SundriedTomatoe.Wordpress.com

Choose Joy 2015 – First Thoughts

This has been a tremendous weekend. It’s strange because it’s been one of those times where no ONE thing happened that was earth shattering, but instead it was kind of a three day process of Things Happening.

I won a trip to a faith-based infertility and adoption conference in California. It wasn’t just the registration fee that I won – I also won airfare, hotel, transportation. Zero reason to keep me from going. And even so, I was nervous and hesitant. Because I wouldn’t use the word “faith-based” to describe my lifestyle. At all. And, in fact, that didn’t really change this weekend.

However, I’ve been following this event for several years, and it has always looked like a strange and wonderful microcosmic bubble of support and understanding and sharing. I wanted that. And holy smokes, I got it.

Part of what makes infertility so terrible is the way it isolates. It’s a loss that is completely unseen. It’s a loss that doesn’t usually include an event or any kind of mourning period.

With most other kinds of grief there are social and mental boundaries sort of built in – it only happens once, it’s a huge deal, other people understand, Hallmark makes cards for it. They do 5Ks for it. You know? There are ways to remember positively, and ways to share the loss, and ways to feel not-alone. And the whole “it’s been XX years since XX grief” allows you to not only mark your grief in a very real way, but also allows you to get some mental distance from it.

None of this is a thing with infertility. It is an ongoing grief because it is an ongoing loss (a death-magnitude loss) throughout the entirety of childbearing years. It is a specific kind of grief – one that only a limited number of people share. And it is unseen. There are no photos of now-gone loved ones to remind others (or us) of a life well-lived. There are few anniversaries. No 5Ks and very few support groups to create any kind of community or safe space to work through it.

Infertility is a lonely grief.

Sharing it online has been helpful because it allows me to connect with others who are dealing with similar stories. It also allows me to share what I’m dealing with in a way that is emotionally safe – posting online and moderating feedback means I’m not exposed to weird comments or judgement the same way I would be if I was sharing “in real life.” People say some awful stuff but it’s not because they’re mean or unfeeling. It’s because people don’t know this grief. It’s not familiar, and so they (even the really good ones) say dumb things.

So sharing in real life is rare.

One of the intense and incredible things about this weekend at the Choose Joy 2015 conference was being in a huge group where everyone feels the same way as me. They are dealing with the same kind of grief. They have similar stories and similar triggers, and struggle with moving on in the same ways as I do. In the eight years we have been trying to have kids, I’ve never once experienced that. Ever. There is no camaraderie in infertility. It is a thing that a woman (or family) experiences alone. And that is so different from how we, as humans, are wired.

The “not-alone” feeling was driven home for me right near the end of the weekend, when I happened to be next to two women who had the good fortune of having been able to birth some kids. They forgot themselves and spent a few moments co-lamenting the misery of summer pregnancies. It was such a little thing for them that they didn’t even realize how painful it was for those around them.

In that moment, though, instead of being upset, I was kind of fascinated. I realized that I have heard this kind of thing millions of times in my adult life. I have many, many friends with kids, and having kids comes with a host of trials and tribulations that are miserably real. I expect this kind of commiserating. It’s how we operate; It doesn’t bother me (anymore) because I know that sharing struggle, commiserating, is so integral to being a human and being a woman – you build a community around common experiences, and usually around common hardships.

I haven’t had that. It’s pretty much been eight years of suffocated suffering (that’s weird to type) but I got it this weekend. I got to share, to commiserate, to say “holy smokes I KNOW how you feel” and get that response in return.

I didn’t even realize how much I craved that simple human connection.

So many people came out of the woodwork when we started having miscarriages – miscarriage is a 1 in 3 event (meaning most couples have had at least one). Infertility has a 1 in 8 occurrence rate. And yet, except for very brief glimpses into that pain (and only six years ago, when we were regularly losing pregnancies), we don’t talk about those things. We don’t commune over those things. There is no common ground between us an those around us in relation to infertility. We don’t lessen the pain by sharing with those who can empathize – we really can’t. And we suffer for it.

But this weekend I got to do that. I got a community. I got to share. I got to listen as a fellow, as someone who could empathize. And just that simple thing of being able to commiserate, to give and take, with people who deeply understood because they’d been through the same stuff… it was insane.

I so needed it. I so needed the experience of feeling that others are dealing with this, and that I’m not alone, and that even if it might be forever it won’t always feel like it does now.

I’m not alone.

How incredible.

Changing Tide?

Let me tell you about this past week.

I’m visiting my sister, who recently had a baby. I love my sister, and I LOVE my niece, and visiting is hard. This visit is nowhere near as hard as the last one – I’m thoroughly enjoying myself this time around. Baby makes eye contact, smiles, laughs, baby-talks, and snuggles. (New) Mom has a routine and a confidence she hadn’t built up yet the last time I was here.

When I fall asleep at night, I fall asleep knowing that all too soon I will return to my quiet, childless house. No more baby smiles or conversations or weird faces. It’s borrowed baby-time. For as much as I’m loving the time I have here, it is also an ever-present reminder of what we’ve lost.

There have been two pregnancy announcements in as many days. One was from a young couple whose wedding Hubs and I attended a few years back. Kinda’ puts into perspective our age and how long we’ve been dealing with the whole infertility thing. This is another situation where we will simultaneously be so excited to meet the new baby (and new parents) while being very aware of what we’ve lost.

And then there were birth announcements. A friend of mine from school, who also struggled with infertility, had a gorgeous baby. Another friend who has terrifically dangerous pregnancies gave birth to another healthy baby.

Most days (these days) I don’t have an issue with these things. Most days I have enough distance between me and raw pain that I can feel the joy (and only the joy) that comes with these kinds of events.

Maybe it’s being around an adorable, happy, healthy baby that makes it so much harder to focus only on joy. While I’m visiting this wonderful baby and her wonderful parents I’m LIVING a new-baby life (to some extent) and it’s impossible to disconnect from my own desire to have it for myself. Maybe when it’s not as much of a novelty it won’t be such a challenge.

Rough patch. And a rough patch when I really don’t want one. I want to enjoy the time I have with Baby and New Parents.

So then, randomly, I won an all-expenses paid trip to an infertility and adoption conference in California. I’ve been following the conference (and its enthusiastic attendees) for several years with plenty of mild envy and no real hope of getting out there to go.

And now, suddenly, I get to go.

It’s next month. I expect it to be a bright moment in this journey, this long and never-ending journey. In fact, I’m anticipating it as an oasis of sorts. There’s so much about this kind of life that is challenging and sad and difficult and this trip will most definitely include more than that. I suspect much more.

For some, the conference has been a game changer. Maybe it will be for us, as well. At the very least, it will be a wonderful adventure and that’s something I don’t often get to say about anything related to infertility/adoption/loss.

Win.


PS I suspect some People had a Hand in this. I have no idea which People, and no idea what kind of Hand, but I don’t think this was an entirely random (ie: celestially-ordained) thing.

So if you’re one of the People who had a Hand in the trip: thank you. And please share my thanks with any other People.

You’re great and I lurv you.