Follow me on the crazy, hopeful, discouraging, funny, and ultimately successful (one way or another) path to parenthood while facing infertility.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Starting a Family In Our Mid-to-Late 30s

I wanted to be a young mother. I had a idea that I would have both my kids before I was 30, and so I would have time to establish a career and be a young, energetic mom. That didn't work out. Really, thank goodness, because I spent the whole of my 20s with Voldemort, and while it was frustrating then I am thankful every day that he kept putting off the family starting stuff (definitely would have gotten in the way of philandering) until the end of that sad and distressing chapter came. I wanted to be a young parent like my parents were (only maybe slightly older, as they were 20 and that makes things a lot harder), so that I could raise my kids and still be young when they went off to college. I wanted young(ish) parenthood very badly.

Bryce also hoped to have children earlier, but that didn't work out either. So we both were able to enter into our second and for-keeps marriage with minimal complications from our previous lives. But it put us at a disadvantage, because we were getting married at 33 and 35, respectively. I had to adjust my thoughts to "I hope I can have my kids before I'm 35."

Fast forward to now, nearly 3 years later. I am turning 36 in just over a month, and my husband just turned 38. We will, hopefully, have at least one beautiful child by the time we are 40. If we are lucky. If we hit that elusive jackpot. But we are feeling...old. I realize that there are a lot of people who parent by choice (and like us, not by choice) far older than we are. But we are realizing every time we go out in public that a lot of parents are a hell of a lot younger than we are. Today, for example, we went out to breakfast at our favorite diner (best. homefries. ever.) and then for a drive, then to the library in a nearby village and a walk in same said village, and then to the grocery store. We saw countless young families, countless strollers. Our early spring has the flowers popping up, but apparently the babies have come fast and furious over the winter as well and are now showing their cute little faces all over town. But the babies didn't get us a little depressed. It was the parents. It was fact that these parents looked so young--and they probably were. A lot of parents in their mid-twenties. I ignored the ones who were younger (unless it was the girls in Target I saw last weekend, who were carting their babies around at 9:30 at night and looked like they were teenagers and had been at some point under the influence of something less than healthy, argh). We realized that these people are 10 years younger than us, at least, and they are so far ahead of the game. We realized that our children, when they finally come to us, will be born to the old parents. That we'll be on the playground with other parents who grew up on cell phones and have no attention span, and maybe even never owned a cassette tape. And never mind the fact that we figured out that if we luck out and get pregnant this year, that by the time our child is a freshman in high school we will be 50 and 52, respectively. My parents had kids in their 30s by then. I feel like we've jumped over an entire generation.

There are benefits to being an older parent. You are more secure financially. You have established your career. You are more stable. You have experienced more before parenthood. But I feel like so many of those things have been knocked down and out by infertility. Well, we were more secure financially, until we dropped an insane amount of money on treatments and associated costs, and can't even save up a nest egg for a downpayment on a bigger house or go on a fancy vacation to Napa because we need to be fiscally prepared for another go-round should we need it. Or if we want a sibling if we don't snag us some twin action. Bryce is pretty established in his career, which is great. Me, I didn't quite figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up until I was in my thirties. And so I have been a teacher for 5 years now, but I have also been an editorial assistant, an editor/club manager, a curriculum coordinator, a freelance writer, an assistant account executive at a yellow pages advertising agency (worst. job. ever.), and an employee handbook specialist. And since leaving my job in children's publishing in Manhattan at 25, I have yet to regain my highest salary (Yeah, we teachers are SO overpaid and SO rolling in swank benefits at the taxpayers' expense despite our fancy degrees and expensive certifications). So, not so financially stable and not so established in my career, although I am definitely on my way to that point. Just in time to (hopefully) take maternity leave. That's good for the ole career, yessiree.

But, we are definitely more stable. We have an amazing relationship. We have the years of pain and bad experiences behind us (at least when it comes to marriage). We know what we like and what we don't, and we can fight for what we want without fear. And while our finances have taken a hit despite assistance, if we weren't at this point in our lives we wouldn't be able to afford all these cycles. We'd be a lot more limited in how much we could do to progress down this path. So that's a plus of planning for parenting with crow's feet.

We are grateful for all the positives of being where we are when we are. But we are also resentful of the negatives, and the added negatives that being plagued with infertility has given us. We didn't choose to be older parents. And, quite frankly, our particular infertility issues have nothing to do with getting closer to 40. I had my AMh levels tested recently and I am apparently stellar in that department. I do not have to worry about the ticking clock in that regard, at least. Lots of eggs in reserve; too bad the PCOS makes them uncooperative. So, while we are getting older and still have that little room that ought to have a crib in it by now, we can keep doing this if we need to. We won't be the oldest parents at the playground, I'm sure. As long as we are parents at the playground we can be happy, and just suck up the generational differences between us and the others. And hope that we aren't too set in our ways to adapt well to the changes that parenthood brings. And know that we are bringing the best of everything we've been through apart and together to our experience as parents.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Taxes

We went to get our taxes done, finally. I have never enjoyed doing my taxes, but now I really don't enjoy it. Because our medical expenses are so high, we itemize everything. Which means going through all of the paperwork and receipts and putting a concrete number to what we have had to spend on what really should be free before you start buying diapers and clothing and all the expenses that come with an actual baby that exists.

We actually end up doing married filing separately, which is almost never something that benefits you, but because of the massive expense that we incur due to infertility actually works in our favor because my salary as a teacher is wicked lower than Bryce's salary as an engineer (of course even though we have the same level of higher education, and mine is required while Bryce's is recommended, and we usually work the same long hours even though I have "summers off."). Also, we have been tremendously blessed with family who are able to and willing to help us out financially, but due to the methods in which those funds are transferred there are wacky tax consequences on our end that muddle our returns (but are so incredibly worth it for the number of cycles we have been able to squeeze into a 2 1/2 year period and the fact that we are not in a tremendous amount of debt given the huge down payments we make on hope, and so we are immensely grateful for the gift).

Last year I managed to make it through the tax appointment, giving out the information without being too overwhelmed or sad. Even when the accountant said, "I can't imagine what people as young as yourselves could be facing to have out of pocket medical expenses this large." We wanted to be like, think about it. Married couple, mid-thirties, no dependents, huge medical expenses... To us it seemed pretty clear. But last year it was a bit of a mystery to the CPA.

This year not so much. This year our costs were a bit lower, because we paid for our second IVF, that took place largely in January, in December 2010. So we had one fresh IVF, one stupid IUI, and one relatively cheapie frozen IVF. Technically speaking, shouldn't be too bad. This time though I was smarter. I also brought all the costs for all the acupuncture, Maya, herbs, and all the other stuff that I did that were associated medical costs related to treatment. Because you can do that, apparently. Seeing it all add up was a bit overwhelming. But then, things finally clicked for our CPA. And she was very nice about it, which always makes me teary eyed. And then she said, "What about mileage or any other associated medical costs, like counseling?" And then I realized that the money we've spent was going to continue to climb and climb and climb. Which is good, for the deductions. But then I thought, "how many times have I gotten in a car and driven to and from appointments related to infertility?" I realized I was going to have to go through not only my calendars, which when we have a cycle going are a mess of ink, but my daily cycle journals, just to be sure I caught all the appointments. I realized that I could also count mileage to and from the hospital for our surgery in August that ended my dreams that I could be a miracle story and my tenuous first pregnancy could turn out all right. And I lost it. Cried all over myself in the accountant's office. The thought of going through all that paperwork was so overwhelming.

But go through it I did. And, including a petty amount of mileage for chiropractic care (which is technically not fertility related, although most definitely medical, and my neck pain is exacerbated by stress which is definitely fertility related, so I'm going to include it in the total here), my total mileage for all the direct and ancillary infertility related medical appointments was
                                              over 1300 miles.
That's like driving to my mother-in-law's house in Maine and back, plus a 200 mile scenic detour. That is SO crazy, considering that only one place that I go regularly is 10 miles away. The rest are between 2-4 miles. I know people who travel a lot farther for appointments. I would be crazy not to claim this on my taxes, especially since it's about $.20 per mile. As my CPA put it, "If the government isn't going to help with insurance coverage for these medical costs, then they really should help out with mileage and the deductions for the cost!!!" I am so hopeful that the bill will pass in Congress to give a tax credit, not tax deductions, for medical expenses associated with IVF since coverage is not mandated and it is a medical treatment for a medical condition. But in the meantime, I will take all the deductions I can. Even if it means flipping through paperwork and journals that remind me of all the heartbreak we've endured over 2011 alone. All the ups and all the down, down, downs.

So, just as a tip from my experience at the tax lady yesterday, if you are going through infertility this is what you can claim (with the obvious disclaimer that I am NOT a CPA or tax professional in any way shape or form and you should absolutely ask your own tax preparation professional about these deductions to make sure they are Kosher for you...):

- any medical expenses that were NOT paid for with an FSA or HSA plan (so I could add several thousand to my total expenses given that I participate in those programs and spend over 90% of it on infertility, but I can't because it was already untaxed. No double dipping allowed, understandably.)
- those medical expenses can include acupuncture appointments, alternative treatments, and counseling as long as your professional is licensed (and it doesn't have to be MSW or Ph.D or psychiatric MD, it can be licensed mental health counselor even if that means your insurance won't cover the service.)
- You can include mileage, and that includes to AND from. (I was told to use Goo.gle Maps for consistency.)
- don't forget all of your prescriptions, too.
- Throw in dentist appointments for fillings, chiropractic care, wellness visits, etc.
- Ask about married filing separately if one of you has a significantly lower salary. Your medical deductions are based on a percentage of your salary, so it can be worth it even if you lose the joint credits by filing that way, if one of your salaries is low enough and your expenses are high enough. It doesn't hurt to ask.

It all adds up. And when you are shelling out so much, every little bit helps.

Reviewing everything was hard, but worth it. It was interesting to see just how much we have done over the year and what we have put into our journey. It's a tremendous investment that so far has been stingy on the returns. But all I can hope is that this time next year we have less medical expenses and one or two big fat tax benefits. Bring on the dependents...

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Bellies Full of Hope

As a person going through infertility who has sought support and community, I have met a lot of other women who have suffered in the quest to build a family. I have seen women come and go through the process who I've met at different places on the journey. And sometimes, seeing these women after the treatment part of infertility is over (for the time being, anyway), can just fill me with hope.

I had a week where I saw several beautiful, round, pregnant bellies belonging to those who have gone on in their journeys. I know it sounds unfair and biased, but there is nothing more beautiful to me than a belly on a woman who has fought hard for that growing miracle. It is truly extra special. And when there are people who you haven't seen in a while, with whom you have lost touch (at least from a fertility standpoint), and for whom you have held out hope for a happy ending, and you run into them and they finally have the first part of the prize jutting out in front of them, it's all you can do not to cry. Not tears of "why isn't that me?" or unfairness. Tears of joy and relief. Tears of happiness that someone with a long, arduous journey has made it to the point of visible pregnancy, and tears of hope that if they can make it to that point, then it is not impossible that I will, too.

Just to clarify, a pregnant belly is not the prize. It is the first part, what you get on the way to the prize. As someone who has had a positive turn into a personal tragedy, and who has seen and heard many women experience the heartbreak and loss of miscarriage, I know that a pregnancy does not always equal a healthy baby. Even a visible pregnancy can be taken from you. I am so happy when there are bellies, but I am even happier when there are babies. Because that is the real goal. I used to hope for a positive test in all of this. Please, please, let me get a call that congratulates me on my pregnancy. Then I realized, through others and then unfortunately my own personal experience, that a positive test is not enough. A (reasonably) healthy pregnancy is not enough. Really, until that baby is born breathing, the journey is not over. And, from conversations I have had with my ladies who have crossed over to the other side, it's never over. The pain and heartbreak of infertility never goes away...it always colors your point of view and your experience. I will be a different parent because of this struggle. Not necessarily a better parent, although I can always hope that will be the case, but a different parent.

But back to the hope! What a wonderful feeling to see women whose dreams are so close to coming true, women whose stories have been long and difficult and not what they expected. I never expected that my path to parenthood would be this much of a marathon. I never thought that there would be so many twists and turns and roadblocks put in our way. But how amazing is it to know that I can really and truly believe that eventually, maybe not how I envisioned it but definitely some way and some how, I will be a mom. It is possible. I saw and celebrated proof of that this week. You can go through the unimaginable, feel more and more like you are on the neverending road to desperation and despair, and then have the miracle happen to you. I so hope that one day my pregnant belly gives the same message to someone else who is on the journey, wondering when (when, when, when!) this will ever be over. Someday my beautiful, round, pregnant belly will also be a beacon of hope.