Thursday, March 24, 2011

10 Things I've Learned from Infertility

1. For a former needlephobe, I am now a pro at getting my blood drawn. I still don't like it, but somehow I know which veins are good and where the tech will have the best luck (outside of my right elbow pit is a go-to spot!). Which is helpful because my veins can suck and not knowing the good spots results in lots of sticks.

2. I can say the words vagina, sperm, and ejaculate without blushing or batting an eye. I can say them in mixed company, I can say them to my mother or mother-in-law. They are as natural to me as sunshine, margarita, and music.

3. I have learned to be very, very efficient at work. I can't stay as late as I used to or do as much at home when I am embroiled in infertility treatments--I am too tired, too emotionally fragile, and I need to take care of myself first. I am not used to this, but I have realized that most things, if not finished today, can be finished tomorrow. I accomplish far more in my planning periods than I ever have in the past. I have let go and realized that I cannot (and should not) control every aspect of every thing. And I have learned to not apologize for that. It is what I need, and, quite frankly, I still rock the socks off my job.

4. I have learned to give myself injections quickly and without fanfare. The first injection took me 15 minutes--I counted down and then started over at a higher number over and over again. I couldn't plunge that needle into my tummy (even though it is relatively small and thin) without major anxiety. I needed moral support from my husband. Now I am a pro. I can inject myself while on the phone, in the car, talking to someone in the other room, and I can do it in seconds, not minutes. At least the subcutaneous 1/2 inch ones. The 1 1/2 inch scary intramuscular needle that goes into my hip/butt is still all about Bryce administering it--but I am not nervous about it anymore. Shots at the doctor's office? Used to hate them. Now? No big whoop. I could probably do it myself.

5. I have learned that infertility is a sisterhood that comes out of the woodwork when you open up about it. I have so many friends through support groups and email groups, but I also have friends at work or who I meet in classes or who send me notes via Facebook who are also going through this or have gone through it. I have forged friendships with these women or strengthened existing friendships, because while our stories are very different the heartache and difficulties are the same.

6. I have learned to ignore insensitive comments or advice. Usually people are very well-meaning, and that they said anything at all means that they care. If I think it helps, I will educate (on my particular situation and how it differs from their perception, on infertility facts and figures, on what really happens during procedures, on what options truly are). But if I don't think it will help, I smile and say (or write) thank you or change the subject and let it go. If it's a recurrent thing, I have learned to protect my well-being and to avoid these situations when I can. I am getting better at letting go.

7. I have learned that despite the odds stacked against us and the repeated failures that we face, that I can still have space in my heart for hopes and dreams. I have the ability to still think about baby names and think of nursery decor and create binders of useful articles from the magazines I bought for the vision board pictures. I can still walk into my guest room and envision it as a nursery and mentally move furniture in and out and around so that it is a baby's room with baby furniture and not the placeholder room it currently is. The dream is very much alive and I feed it every day.

8. I have learned more about the human reproductive process and all the detailed ins and outs of how embryos and fetuses come to be and all the techniques that can be used to assist that process than I ever thought I would need to. I know all kinds of crazy things about cycles, and follicles, and hormone levels, and sperm counts and quality, and timings for different processes. I have learned all sorts of details about early pregnancy (that I have yet to put into practice, but still, I know things) that most people don't even realize because they happen before the first OB appointment. And I have learned that I love to share this information and help others navigate this crazy process.

9. I have learned to be my best advocate and to speak up for myself. I have learned to respect expertise and authority but to question it and not worry about hurting someone's feelings. I have learned to ask question after question and not stop until I have the answers (or the admission that are no answers) I want and need. Am I a high-maintenance patient? Maybe. But I feel confident that I am getting the best possible care when I understand it fully and can stand up for my differences of opinion when it comes to my care, and have that difference respected.

10. I have learned that infertility is one of the biggest stressors I have ever encountered, and that I am so lucky to be going through it with my husband. As lucky as we can be to both be infertile and compound each other's dearth of properly functioning gonads. Because I can see why this process can tear apart relationships--how it can expose the weaknesses of your marriage and push you apart. I can see how there can be cycles of blame and guilt and inability to understand wild mood swings or infuriatingly even logical thinking. But I don't see that in my marriage. We have our ups and downs, to be sure, but overall I think that infertility has strengthened us. We are learning to be explicit in sharing our feelings, wants, and needs. We are learning how to diffuse each other. We are learning how to bring one of us out of the depths of despair and find new ways to cope. We are learning to love each other in the time of Infertility -- a turbulent, desperate, financially draining, self-absorbed time. But we are doing it, and building a strong foundation of love for the family I know we will have when all the stars align and the baby fairy finally graces our home.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

How I Know It's Spring

When you live in Rochester, spring is a beautiful thing. It's the return of color after months and months of nothing but greys and browns. It's seeing the little green nubs poking up out of the thawing ground, promising an explosion of color in just a few weeks. It's hearing the return of the songbirds in the morning. And it's the re-emergence of people from our cozy winter hidey-holes--all frigid season long people are outside only to go from the car to the door or to take their dogs for quick, utilitarian walks. When spring is here, you realize you have neighbors again. They're out doing yardwork, out enjoying the long-lost sunshine, walking dogs without possibility of extremity loss, and just puttering around the neighborhood.

Spring has become difficult for me, though, because of this reemergence. Over the winter there were signs that people were having babies--Graco boxes by the recycling bins, shower balloons on the lampposts, "It's a Girl/Boy!" signs on doors, trees, and sticking up out of the snow. Every time I saw a signal of a new life in our neighborhood, it was like a little pinprick of sadness. But just a pinprick--a ripped-open pack-and-play box doesn't necessarily tug at the heartstrings. I didn't see swollen pregnant bellies walking around, showing me what I could have but for some reason just can't. It was too freaking cold.

But now, now it's warming up. People are coming out and there is an explosion of strollers, and slings.  Happy new families (or happy larger families) are out and visible and just so HAPPY and VISIBLE. I can't walk the dog without running into at least one and usually two newborns or under-6-month babies in their strollers, cooing and being cooed at by adoring moms and dads. There is a house around the corner that either is an in-home daycare center or it's an ongoing play group for the moms in the neighborhood. It is really hard to avoid this house due to it's location, but every time I pass it it's just a flurry of beautiful chaos--babies and toddlers and laughing and cooing and screaming and moms running after their bundled-up little ones. I swear, it's like there was a population explosion over the winter, everywhere but at our house. It's like every house I pass is an advertisement for the life we'd like to be living right now but, because biology is cruel and thwarting us at every pass, we aren't. It's salt, and lemon juice, and hydrochloric acid in my wounds.

But, I can't just stay inside or in my backyard and ignore the babypalooza that is the outdoors. I have to suck it up and racewalk past those strollers or take interesting routes to avoid passing the same meandering baby-drunk family twice on one walk. I have to blast Britney and FloRida and Justin Timberlake on my iPod so that I can concentrate on the beat in my ears and not the infectious laughter of young children or the "Mommy, Mommy, Mommy" that isn't calling for me. I have to think over and over again, "I can sleep in and snuggle with Bryce on weekends. I can have unlocked cabinets and drawers. I don't need to get a babysitter to go to Maria's on Friday. We are free to enjoy each other and be selfish" to remind myself of the (very very few) benefits of being childless and pretend, PRETEND that these things are more desirable than being the happy, fresh family walking a dog AND a stroller.

One day we will be the fresh new family, and we will be babydrunk and have no free hands for morning coffee and will join the playgroup at the house around the corner (if they've not all outgrown playgroups at that point). One day we will join the population explosion. The question is, how many springs from now?

Thursday, March 10, 2011

No-Baby Weight

I spent 30 minutes hula-hooping today and bought those crazy sneakers with the balance ball instability built into them. I looked like a crazy woman gyrating in my living room, scared the crap out of my dog, and will probably sprain my ankle before the week is out. Why this sudden flurry of questionable activity? Because I can't stand the No-Baby Weight I'm carrying.

Pregnancy and new parent magazines are full of articles and tips on losing the baby weight after your pregnancy has ended and your bundle(s) of joy is sweetly not sleeping in his/her crib. But what about my weight gain? The No-Baby Weight? I am pretty sure that every IVF I do I have gained about 8 pounds. I started this process 2 pants sizes ago. How does this happen? The medication can cause weight gain. The period when you are stimming and your ovaries are brimming with ripe follicles does not exactly inspire a body to go for a run. After egg retrieval you are too sore to exercise and after transfer you're terrified that if you exercise you will keep the embryos from staying and burrowing and making a nice home for themselves. After a negative test you just want to eat crap to get back at your body for not cooperating despite all the healthful eating and deprivation and conscientiousness you've endured over the past weeks and months preparing for the cycle (that, by the way, people who get pregnant while drunk on weekend trips or whatnot do not do at all). Or, you are just too depressed to get up off the couch and stop eating the bag of salt and vinegar chips or the gluten-free brownies that your loving husband made to cheer you up. This up and down and up and down and up and down of infertility treatment is exhausting, and it has a profound (and quite visible) effect on the body. It is so unfair because I have nothing to show for it except the memory of more than a few full sharps containers.

I was in the support group before yoga on Monday, and we got to talking about the weight gain associated with infertility. I brought up pants. Pants are why I am putting in an effort to be more active and eat a little better in the months leading up to my next IVF. Pants are incredibly irritating. Because I don't want to buy another set of pants in a new size. I want to buy MATERNITY pants, for the love of all that is holy. I want to believe that I will be buying maternity pants very soon, and will need my clothes budget for my whole new, sassy, very cute set of pregnancy pants and outfits. I don't want to blow my money on bigger pants for a nonpregnant, infertility-chubbed-up me. I am apparently not alone in my pants frustration, which was comforting. Especially since sometimes it feels like the other yoga ladies are untouched by the plague of fertilityfat--they look so lithe and beautiful to me.

So, I will step things up and hula hoop and yogify and walk in my slightly dangerous shoes that promise me a better butt, posture, and thigh toning. Because I want to spend my money on lots of those cute pregnancy outfits, dammit.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Yoga Love

I love, love, love going to yoga class. I have been unable to go for the past two months due to the Robotics build season and I have missed it terribly. My state of mind suffers when I can't go to yoga. My flexibility definitely suffers when I can't go to yoga. My ability to commune with a large group of women entrenched in the seamy underbelly of infertility suffers when I don't go to yoga. It was amazing to go back this past Monday and realize just how many benefits yoga for fertility brings me (and those around me).
  • Yoga class allows me to truly, wholly relax. The combination of deep breathing, visualization exercises, poses that work specifically to increase blood flow to vital parts of my anatomy for conception and poses that work specifically to release tension in shoulders, neck, and hips allows for a full body/mind release. My body is stretched and strengthened and de-tensioned. My mind is quieted and concentrated on just the way air fills my core and is released--not on any of the worries and anxiety that race through my mind on a regular basis.
  • Yoga class allows me to be selfish. Even though I am in a class with a group of people, almost all of us do yoga with our eyes closed. I don't know if this is everyone's experience but it is mine--I tune out everything but my breath, the music, and the voice of the instructor. I create a private space for myself where I can nourish my body and mind. I don't have to worry about the needy dog or my psycho cats (literally, by this weekend not one but both of my cats will be on Prozac) or what's for dinner or how I haven't vacuumed in a while. I don't have anything calling to me--unlike when I do videos. When you do a video you can't truly escape the animals in the house, the dripping of water off the ice damming, the dust you can see under the entertainment cabinet while in floor poses. In yoga class I am in a world by myself, just focusing on what my body is telling me and the depth of my breath.
  • Yoga class allows me to create my special relaxation place. In final relaxation, we are encouraged to envision ourselves in a relaxing, peaceful place. I almost always use George's Pond at camp in Maine, and visualize myself floating on my back in the still water, looking up at the stars which are also reflected in the water around me. It looks like I am floating in a sea of stars, with the silhouettes of pine trees around the edges and the haunting call of loons serving as my soundtrack. It doesn't matter that I would never, ever actually float in the lake at night -- in reality that sounds terrifying to me. But in surreality, it's absolutely my go-to deep relaxation space. 
  • Yoga class totally changes my state of mind. I can go into yoga class feeling discouraged, angry, sad, and just generally in a bad mood. I almost always leave yoga class feeling lighter, calmer, and more able to deal with this crappy hand we've been dealt. It is perfectly ok for me to feel discouraged, angry, sad, and bitchy--but these are feelings that need to be worked through and released eventually. Yoga helps me to get that release for my feelings in a healthy way. It has a cumulative effect--I felt much better after yoga on Monday but will most likely feel even better next Monday and the Monday after that as I allow myself to work through those feelings and tune myself to what my body and mind need. I have cried during final relaxation while releasing some of these feelings--allowing myself to experience them intensely and then just let them go. Going weekly helps me immensely because throughout the week things can happen that bring those feelings of sadness, anger, and frustration back--but I can always go back to yoga and start fresh on Monday. 
  • Yoga class helps me to be a better wife. If I am able to center myself and feel a little less volatile and fragile emotionally, I am a hell of a lot easier to live with. I had a lot of anger from this past cycle. Anger that we aren't in the percentage of people who succeed on their first or second IVF attempts, anger at my body for failing me again, anger that we have to go through this incredibly draining process in order to have a chance of having a biological child. That anger boils up and spills out of me and regularly flays the one I love when left unchecked and unreleased. When I can get to yoga and work through that anger and release it with my breath in a guided setting, I am way less bitchy. I am back to being my normal, happy, goofy self. I am back to treating my husband like the wonderful, patient, loving, PATIENT, supportive partner he is. 
  • Yoga class introduces me to a whole community of women. I am lucky--I have wonderful friends who are supportive and listen and help distract me from the needles and hormone swings and disappointments that pepper my daily life now. But very few of my friends have experienced infertility. And so they can be supportive, but it isn't intuitive--and they probably don't want to talk about follicles and embryo quality and how to survive infertility with your marriage/relationship in tact all the time. They can sympathize, but they can't empathize. This is where the support portion of yoga is invaluable. I have met so many women who are also going through this process both through yoga support group and the support group offered by my clinic. These are women who are traveling down the same craptastic road, and have the same challenges. We can help each other deal with hurts that come from inadvertent comments or situations that are perfectly normal to most but not to women going through infertility. It's a completely safe group where you can voice the things that people outside of fertility treatment might not understand, not fully. Sometimes you can ask one question about how to deal with a situation and be flooded with everyone's stories of how they had to deal with that same situation--it helps so much to not feel alone. And I love that support is now before yoga--we can rant and rage and vent and be venomous or cry and be totally depressed and then let the yoga heal us afterwards. Yoga also helps me be a better friend to my fertile friends--I can regain the energy to not consume every conversation with tons of fertility talk since I was able to release it. While I appreciate it greatly when my fertile friends express an interest in what's going on in my infertile world, I also appreciate that it probably shouldn't be the only thing I talk about.
Yoga is not an amazing infertility cure-all, but my yoga fertility class is such a healing balm for so much that ails me during this process. It is time consuming and guarantees that once a week I am embroiled in infertility, but it is totally worth it because it surrounds me in the positive. Monday I went into yoga feeling like I just couldn't take anymore and my supply of strength had just about run out, and left feeling once again like the infertility warrior woman I need to be in order to survive this.