Sunday, September 4, 2011

Saying Goodbye

Saying goodbye to our run as expectant parents and the tiny lost babyling reason for that run is a gradual process. It is probably also an ongoing process--I will most likely never forget that my due date was April 13th (according to an IVF calculator where you plug in your retrieval date and they give you your due date), or I would be 8 weeks now had it not been ill-fated, or that by our second wedding anniversary we would have made it into the second trimester. It's amazing to me that it's only our second wedding anniversary--we have certainly packed a lot in over these two years. It seems crazy that I'm sad it's the second time we'll have an anniversary and no pregnancy, no baby--but I can count on both hands the number of people I know who have celebrated or will celebrate their first anniversary with a baby in their arms, and I was really hoping that by getting a jump on things a little earlier than our wedding day that we would have a similar experience. We aren't exactly spring chickens and it was our dream to add to our family as soon as possible (I say add to, because we consider the two of us a family, children or not). It just wasn't meant to be our path.

I'm getting off topic though. I think it is hard to say goodbye because I put so much energy into believing this pregnancy into existence. I really worked hard at being positive and refusing to entertain the idea that it would fail in any way, in hopes that that enthusiasm would rub off on my babyling and we could will our miracle into being. So even going into our second ultrasound, after being told our chances were close to zero of a good outcome after viewing the void in my uterus in my first ultrasound, I still held onto a kernel of hope that this was all a big mistake, a cosmic ha-ha. I could have started to say goodbye when our initial HCG number was 12, or when a conversation with my doctor at five weeks revealed our dismal odds at a healthy go of it this time. I could have started to say goodbye at the first ultrasound. I might have started the process a little when I started having pain Tuesday night, and when I started spotting on Wednesday morning. But even then I kept telling myself, "this is a fluke--it's probably just my twingey ovaries from stimulation, and lots of pregnant women spot early or even full-out bleed and have healthy babies later. This is simply not happening to us." Even seeing the sac in my tube on the screen and discussing treatment options and surgery details and how many incisions I should have (a hilarious conversation involving cosmetic concerns--like my tummy area is EVER a cosmetic concern! Ha!), and when I last ate so I don't have a higher risk of anesthesia complication...even all of those things did not make the impending loss seem real to me. Technically speaking this was doomed from the start and it has been a loss waiting to happen since I got my positive pregnancy test. But I didn't want to see it that way.

The first time I truly started to say goodbye was sitting on my gurney in the Emergency Department, waiting to be wheeled down to the OR. I have a journal that I wrote in every day of my cycle, starting with the baseline appointment, and I continued writing in it throughout the pregnancy. It has an orchid on it and I have always thought of orchids as a fertile flower, since they always look vaguely obscene to me. It was a gift from my best friend for Christmas and I was planning on saving it for a pregnancy journal. But, my previous journal that I had used for my last two IVF cycles had run out of sufficient pages for this third cycle. I needed a new one and I thought, "why not be positive? Why not make it a cycle AND a pregnancy journal?" And it was, for a time. I wrote in it for the last time on that gurney, with chaos around me and Bryce dozing off on the end of the bed. Since getting my call that I was tenuously pregnant, I had written about the day, and what I was feeling physically and emotionally, but always ended with a little letter to the babyling--encouraging it, thanking it for the good work, telling it how very loved it was already. This day was no different--I just had to put some stamp of finality to it. I thanked it and blessed it and released it. And then I cried, and cried, and cried. And of course then my wonderful (and ridiculously good-looking) doctor appeared at that moment when I was a sniveling mess, to let us know that we had been cleared for surgery and we were probably going to be wheeled down within the hour or sooner. So I didn't have much time to process the initial grief. But it was important, that first real goodbye. It was followed by a cry on the way into the operating room when I realized a) I was actually a little scared at the gravity of this not-so-small surgery what with the tubes that were to be inserted all over my body and b) I was entering the room pregnant and would be leaving it... not. Two will enter, one will leave. But then I was out and everything was blurry for a long time.

Since then, we hadn't really said an official goodbye. There had been a lot of tears, but also a lot of physical pain and I really concentrated on that. As long as I had the physical pain and the numbing pain killers to distract me, I could avoid almost completely the fact that I had lost something and was completely devastated by it, but could somehow talk about it as though it had happened to someone else. Because it still sort of felt like that--like this didn't happen to me, this couldn't possibly have happened to us after everything else we've been through to get to this point. This was supposed to be our time, it was supposed to be our turn to be a miracle story. But we weren't and it wasn't right and we have to come to some sort of peace with this cycle before we can move on to our next opportunity.

A friend who is an OB nurse at a hospital (coincidentally the hospital that my current OB/GYN is affiliated with and I will, one day, deliver in) gave me a gift on Thursday that helped me to realize that this did actually happen to us, and it is very sad, and I am going to have to deal with this not as an observer but as the actual person it happened to. It was a little dimpled clay star on a rope--such a simple little thing, but it was the letter that accompanied it that really started the floodgates going. She has seen beautiful babies born healthy, and she has seen premature deliveries, babies that have died, moms that have died. There is no sense to be made of the tragedies. But, with regards to the loss of a pregnancy at whatever stage, she felt that it was helpful to think of that baby as a star, an angel in heaven, watching out for the brothers and/or sisters to come. I have greatly simplified the letter because it was so meaningful that I want to keep much of it to myself, but it was just such a beautiful thought. We are not religious people, but I have a strong sense of order in the Universe and a natural order--cycles of life and death and energy that has to go somewhere. Maybe I'm a Jedi, who knows. But this made sense to me and was beautiful--my little babyling wasn't meant to stay with us because he (I'm with my friend on this one, I believe for whatever reason that this was a boy--we will never know for sure but that's what I think) was meant to clear the way for the babies that will come through unharmed, a protective spirit and shining light to guide my second and third children home.

We finally did our own goodbye ceremony yesterday. I wasn't ready before then, but yesterday seemed like a good time--I hadn't taken any percoset all day and so was clear of mind, and I was in pain but not so much that I couldn't concentrate on the emotional side of things. I could cry without feeling like my stomach was being ripped apart. Just my heart. Throughout the pregnancy we had used these Flying Wish Papers to send letters to our babyling and encourage him and help him to feel loved and maybe encourage him to keep being so strong and warriorlike. You write your wish (or letter to your unborn embryo) in pencil on a square of thin tissue paper, crumple it up, smooth it out, roll it into a tube, and put it upright on a printed cardboard base. Then you light it, and it burns down to the base and then the embery ash tube floats up to the sky (or ceiling). It was a small ritual that made us feel like we were doing something and communicating with a being that had, at least if it was developmentally appropriate, fingernails but no ears yet. Then we would light a double-wick candle (red of course) together and say something inwardly and silently to the babyling. It was a beautiful ritual, and I wanted to extend it for the goodbye. It was so, so much harder writing it as a release than writing it as an encouraging pep talk to stay. There was no way not to cry while writing--writing a thank you for the gift of pregnancy, a thank you for being so strong for so long, a thank you for giving us a glimpse at being Mom and Dad. A love note and a goodbye letter. A reiteration of the belief that this babyling was our first child and will always be our first child, and that he is a shining light to protect and guide those who will come after him. He did get rid of the evil baby-sucking tube, so no other little babylings will mistakenly think that's a good home, and he did make it possible for them to find that endometriosis and remove it so that it can't cause any problems later. He did a great job. It just wasn't his time. When we lit the tubes, on the same square and touching each other, they didn't float up very high at all (we had done it together before and it almost kiss the ceiling, so it wasn't because of how we lit them). They barely cleared the ground. I said "they were just so heavy" and burst into tears. Visceral, wracking sobs. We sobbed and hugged for a long time. I am so lucky to have a husband who will do these things with me, willingly and as an active participant, and who is not afraid to feel this loss as deeply as I do. We then lit our candle, which at this point was almost to the end, and decided to let it burn all the way down and then discard it. I have a new one that I bought during the pregnancy in case we ran out early, but that one will be for our new pregnancy. As we lit the candle, I read from a book that my confirmation sponsor gave me forever ago, Earth Prayers (edited by Elizabeth Roberts and Elias Amidon). It's writings from rabbis and Native Americans and Shakespeare and T.S. Elliot, among others. A lot of it is praise for the Earth, a sense of oneness with nature and gathering strength and healing from the Earth. But there is a section called Cycles of Life and I knew I would find something appropriate in it. And I did:

                 "Life and death,
                  a twisted vine sharing a single root.

                  A water bright green stretching to top a twisted yellow
                  only to wither itself
                  as another green unfolds overhead.

                  One leaf atop another
                  yet under the next,
                  a vibrant tapestry of arcs and falls
                  all in the act of becoming.

                  Death is the passing of life.
                  And life
                  is the stringing together of so many little passings.
                                                                                       - RABBI RAMI M. SHAPIRO"

It was perfect. That's how we see this--one life making way for the life to come. I don't know why we have to have such a difficult road to parenthood, I really don't. But for some reason, we have to go through this in order to get to our happy ending, whatever that looks like. We have to experience the withered leaf in order to have the fresh new green leaf. And we thank that yellow leaf for its service and for its gifts. We know we can get pregnant. Even though I am so cynical, and feel like "ok, yeah, I can get pregnant in my tube. But can I get pregnant in my uterus? Haven't quite managed that one yet!" But our doctor said that getting pregnant anywhere is a good indication that it's not hostile in there, that if I can get pregnant in the wrong spot I can likely get pregnant in the right spot. We are in a better place for our frozen cycle because of this cycle. And as horrible and hard as it was, and continues to be, it was also a beautiful time and a time to be thankful for. Even if we are thankful through a haze of tears and loss and nearly unbearable sadness.

We had to say goodbye, and continue saying goodbye in our own ways. Because if we don't, we can't possibly have the energy to give to our next try. And I want to give those beautiful frozen blasts the best chance possible, knowing full well that just because things were awful this time it doesn't mean that next time is "definitely our time." That is apparently not how it works. Life is not fair, and there is no rhyme or reason to anything. But I would really, really, really like to believe that the next stop on our journey is parenthood--a positive pregnancy test, a relatively uneventful full-term pregnancy, a non-life-threatening birth experience, and a healthy baby or babies at the end. That is my hope as we honor this experience and prepare for the next.

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