Wednesday, May 30, 2012

How Did We Get Here?

Lately I have been finding myself asking the question, over and over, "How the hell did we get here?" When we started our infertility journey nearly 3 years ago, it didn't seem like it was going to be quite so...neverending. It took us a year to get to IVF even though we were advised to go straight to it, but then we were supposed to be awesome IVFers. And then we weren't, for no apparent reason that makes any kind of sense at all. And now we are staring down the barrel of our 6th cycle, looking to transfer embryos #14, 15, and 16, and feeling like, "If this doesn't work, then what???" What will we do? How can I not put so much pressure on this frozen cycle, on our three little frosty miracles, to succeed? I have heard so many well-intended thoughts (this has to be your time, you're due, it's time for you to get what you deserve, etc. etc. etc.) but that's all they are--thoughts. There are no guarantees. As much as I want to believe it, these next three embryos do not HAVE to be the ones that become our babies. I want that, and I hope for that, and I can see that in my mind, but all of those positive-thinking tactics do not make it actually so. If that was the case I'd be trying for #2 right now.

I can deal with this for now. I am heading into a cycle over the summer, so I can live in a place of hope and positivity to a point. Every negative or loss takes away some of my capacity to have a full store of hope, but I've still got plenty enough to Pollyanna my way through this cycle. It's the summer, so I'll be relaxed. We are well-practiced at this and have beautiful B4 blasts waiting to come home. It is possible that this will be it. But part of me is preparing myself for the possibility that it might not be it. That we will get the "I'm so sorry" call again. That we will be numb, then angry (and drunk), then just unbelievably sad. Because if this frozen cycle does not work we are looking at a break of at least a year. We need to recuperate financially. We need to recuperate spiritually and be "normal" for a little bit. We need to figure out what the next steps are and where those will be--because as much as we love where we are, I don't think there's a sane person on this earth who wouldn't seek a fresh point of view, a second opinion, after 6 cycles. (Most people I know would have jumped ship at 3 cycles, but we are super loyal and really love our team. Genuinely LOVE our team and everything they've done for us.) I would love to close it out with our current team, and there is still a chance for that. I would be really sad NOT to be able to go to the annual IVF party for successful patients next year. I have lived for the possibility of going to that stupid IVF party for two years. I want to go!

So, here we are, at a crossroads. Or just before a crossroads, since we don't actually have to make a scary decision until we get bad news, which I sincerely hope we don't get. I hope all this is hypothetical and we don't have to worry about it because our frosty babylings will make our dreams come true. I hope that this is my last summer spent giving myself injections, my last school year where I have no idea what to expect for the following year (will I go out on maternity leave sometime during the year? Or will I have to once again use up a crazy amount of sick days for treatment?), the last year where we have to have the total turmoil of trying to have a baby before we enter into the chaos of actually having that baby. I want to stop crying over Mo.dern Fam.ily because a) they do such a good job of showing warts-and-all families and what you look forward to in your own family, and b) they do a pretty good job of showing the heartbreak and exhaustion that comes with the adoption process. Last week's episode left me a puddle on the floor. I want to stop feeling completely overwhelmed and upset by the Parent Day card shopping. This year I was actually able to pick out the Mother's Day cards myself -- it took two trial runs (walk through the section, pick up a couple cards, see the "New Mommy" cards and the "To Mommy From Baby" cards and walk swiftly away before I turn sad sap crazypants in Target/Hallmark/Wegmans), but then I bought the cards in a BarnesandN.oble. Far less intimidating display. But, this year, it was the Father's Day cards that had me barely keeping it together in Hall.mark. I hate Father's Day card shopping in general, because it is insanely difficult to find a good card for my dad. I love my dad very much, but finding a card for "Dad who moved to L.A. when I was in my early teens and missed things like Proms and meeting my first dates and all the sappy crap they put on "you've always been there for everything" Father's Day cards, and who lives 3000 miles away and I see every few years or so" is a little hard. I can't help but feel a little gypped when I read all the Daddy's Little Girl cards out there. And then there's the "Now that I have a family of my own" genre of Father's Day card, which I can't relate to either and get pissy about as well. But this year the sadness didn't come from finding a card for my dad or stepfather. It came from all the other cards out there. The "First Father's Day" cards. The "Expectant Dad" cards. The cards from loving and appreciative wives that I can't bring myself to read because I really, really want to give one of those to Bryce. I want all those cards for Bryce. It's like card people do a great job of creating a display of all the lives you wish you had but don't. And can't, at least not for the time being. The sad thing is that I was in Hall.mark to buy sympathy cards relating to the death of a grandmother figure--I had cried so much about that already and so I was decently ok picking those out. And usually I'm a puddle when I pick out sympathy cards--even when they're not for a person I know! But the Father's Day selection sent me hustling to the parking lot to cry in the semi-privacy of my car.

I want all this to be over. I want to have distant, difficult memories of what it was like to want something so badly but be denied it at every turn. I want to tell my children that they were miracles, hardwon defrosted miracles, and that they were so, so wanted and loved before they were even in my uterus. I want this to be over. I don't want to cross the bridge that's looming on the horizon. I don't want to disappear into the unknown and take our journey to a whole new level of complexity. I just want this all to be over, so that we can settle ourselves into the perfectly normal chaos and anxiety of new parenthood.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Baby Showers

It's officially baby season. The pregnancy announcements, baby showers, and births are raining down. And I am faced again with the difficulties that baby shower invitations present.

As a general rule, I don't go to baby showers. At first I felt like this was selfish, like I should be able to celebrate someone else's good fortune and sit through 2-3 hours of babyfesting without it being a problem. But, like Mother's Day, I decided that baby showers had to leave my list of go-to social obligations. It doesn't mean that I don't celebrate moms-to-be--if I am given an invitation to a baby shower (which honestly, I really appreciate the invite even if I don't go), I will get a card, get a gift, get a selection of picture/board books, and either shower the person privately or send the presents along with someone else. That way I can celebrate in my own way without being the sad sap in the corner, weeping into her mimosa and wallowing in self-pity because for me, a baby shower seems so terribly far away. And nobody wants a weepy-weeper at a joyful event.

Baby showers are torturous for me as a woman battling infertility. The entire event is centered on pregnancy and babies. People bring their fresh babies to these events. Everything is about oohing and aaahhhing over all the tiny little things, sharing birth and delivery stories, tips on what to buy and what not to buy, holding up tiny onesies and handmade baby blankets, and the room is just filled with anticipation and joy for this new life (or lives) to come. This is an awesome place to be if you are a) pregnant, b) a parent, c) a friend/family member who is not actively trying to have a baby. It's a place of hope and fun. Unless you have been trying to get pregnant and just keep failing at it. Then it is a reminder of everything not only that you don't have, but that tends to come so much easier to the rest of the world. Then the onesies and the rocking seats and the towels with hoods and ears are sharp stabs directly into your heart and/or empty uterus. I don't have a great analogy for this one. I would say it would be like being perennially single and having to go to a bridal shower, where everyone is paired and you are not, but usually there isn't a medical reason why a person is single. It is something largely out of your control--it is really hard to find that right person and it does seem very easy for a lot of people and very hard for others. So maybe it's a better analogy than I thought. But still, I come back to the medical aspect. I can't have a baby shower and sit there, hugely pregnant and surrounded by doting family and friends with arms full of tiny presents, because of an insidious medical condition that so far has rendered that impossible despite massive medical interventions. It is incredibly frustrating. And so I typically don't go to these events. Also, because on top of all the baby-in-your-face, if you don't know everyone, the inevitable "Do you have kids?" or "When are you going to have one of these?" comments tend to come up and I just don't have socially acceptable responses for those anymore.

I have gone to one baby shower since this process began, and that was for a friend who conceived twins through IVF. I really wanted to be there, but at the same time I really didn't want to be there. I felt so left behind, but I wanted so badly to be there for my friend who was a survivor of this process, who made it through to the other side. So I went. The great thing about going to a baby shower for someone who's been in your shoes is that she totally understands. She gets it if it's too much and you have to leave early (I didn't). She gets it if you disappear into the bathroom for a while during presents because it's just too much to take and you have to wipe your silent tears away in private (I did). She asks you the day before if you're sure you're up for it. And she really appreciates that you came, because she knows how very hard it was to sit through, and how much you must want to celebrate that hard-won success in order to soldier through it all. Going to that baby shower was incredibly difficult, and I cried in my car on the way home, but I was so glad that I did it.

Recently we were invited to another baby shower. This is a toughie. It's a friend's daughter, and we are closer in age to the grandmother-to-be than the expectant mom. The people going are going to be so young, and I'm pretty sure there will be several fresh babies in attendance. Everything about this shower screams "DON'T GO! THIS WILL BE MAJOR SAD SAP TERRITORY!!!" But we love these friends, and it's a co-ed shower so Bryce will be there, and there will likely be liquor served. We struggled with how to respond. I decided we should just be totally honest. And so yesterday, when we RSVP'd, I just said that we will go, but we have no idea how long we will stay, and it will be very hard, but we'd like to be there at least for a little while. And the weirdest thing happened. Our friend looked a little sad, and she told us that she totally forgot that this would be hard for us and she felt bad. And it was...refreshing! Someone who actually knows so much about our babymaking troubles totally FORGOT that we were sad sap infertiles! And she totally understood, and felt a little bad, but our first response was... WOOHOO! Someone forgot and then it. She wasn't pissy that we couldn't make the happy event all the way through. She wasn't irritated that our difficulties with those types of events affected her event (which, unfortunately, is often what happens--people are very understanding until the infertility affects their event, and then there are issues...which is just human, I guess). She just accepted it and that was it. Done.

So we will go to this baby shower, for as long as I can take it. We don't have anything coming up that will be bad-news-bearing before the shower. (The last baby shower we were verbally invited to was the weekend we received test news for our latest fresh IVF that was an unequivocal no, no, NO.) We are gearing up for doing our frozen cycle sometime this summer, and so we are back into hopeful mode as opposed to total mourning and bewilderment that we just can't make this work. All of these things together make it possible, for now, to attempt going to a baby shower that's not for a survivor; that's going to be full of highly fertile people in their early 20s. With the caveat that I may end up downing cocktails in the back and/or outside, saving my tipsy sad-sap-ness far away from the squealing over tiny little outfits.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Unfamiliar Boobies

Have I mentioned that May has not exactly been an awesome month? I had my 36th birthday (with no children), Mother's Day (again, not for me), and I had my follow up appointment with my doctor after my fourth failed fresh IVF (fifth failed cycle including the FET, I'm really not sure how to count those's a transfer, so it's in vitro, but it doesn't include stimming or egg retrieval, so it's kind of a bonus round). There are so many things about the follow up that had me feeling not so great and wondering how the hell we got to this particular point in our journey. All of which I will write about later. The topic for today is how my follow up appointment and Bryce's concern about what this process is doing to my body led me to a referral I was really hoping to avoid until I was 40.

Every time we do a cycle and my body is pumped full of various injectible hormone drugs, Bryce worries. He sees what it does to my body (bloating! weight gain! ginormous ovaries! estrogen levels through the roof as evidenced by crying/screaming/turning into a complete wackadoo!) and he doesn't particularly like it. Not just because I am difficult to live with when medicated, but because he worries about the wear and tear on my system. I have also been nervous about the impact these drugs have on my body, namely the increased risks of certain cancers (breast and ovarian). If you read the medical inserts for the drugs, which is good practice for being informed but when you actually read it you immediately think you are going to die in various horrible ways if you take these medications, the risk is mentioned. Anecdotally I have heard all kinds of things about the connections between IVF and breast and/or ovarian cancer. And I freak out. I am as terrified of dying an untimely death due to cancer related to my treatment as I was of ectopic pregnancy--both are rare but I managed one so I am slightly more nervous about the cancer thing than I used to be. But Bryce is probably more nervous. So, in our follow-up he mentioned that he was uneasy about the effect of the drugs on me, and my doctor gave me a referral for a mammogram. Because apparently when they do the bloodwork they look for weird white blood cell counts, and ovarian cancer would be found presumably on an ultrasound of my ovaries, and my ovaries are very well photographed. So off I went, three days after my 36th birthday, to get my boobies squished.

I was really, really upset about it, to tell the truth. I was worried that they were going to find something, of course, because I have terrible luck and really think that there is some angry spirit residing in my house, avenging itself by keeping the babies away. But I was kind of pissed that it was "Happy birthday to me, please smash my boobies flat!"  What a nice present. And plus, you are supposed to get a mammogram when you're 40. And you're a mommy. And your boobs have already been used for nutritional purposes. I really, really thought that I would experience childbirth before I would be waiting in a room with 50 year old women, wearing a lovely front-tie pink gown, getting ready to have (very nice) strangers totally abuse my poor boobles. So I was scared, but also resentful.

The mammogram itself really wasn't so terribly bad. They manhandle your boobs, one at a time, into this machine that has a plastic tray on a lever that comes down and squashes your breast as flat as it will get. This is where I was actually quite grateful for my huge boobies, because when they are bigger they apparently hurt less to be squashed. You can get them in there no problem. It was painful when they did the top-down squish, because it felt like the tissue was being ripped from my collarbone area. The diagonal squish wasn't bad at all, even though that one is supposed to be the most uncomfortable since it gets your pectoral muscle in there, too. The machine was really kind of cool--the nurse adjusts the height to make it effective and comfortable(ish) and then lowers the tray thingie down. After the pictures are taken, which is about 12 seconds, the tray thingie literally pops back up and your breast reconstitutes to its un-squashed glory.

After the messed-up photo shoot, they tell you that if all is fine and normal you will get a letter in 7-10 business days (but that most people get it in 3). If a repeat scan is needed you will get a call. Then they tell you NOT TO FREAK OUT when they call you, because especially with first-time mammograms it's hard to tell what's what since there's nothing to compare it to. Your boobs are unfamilar territory. So a lot of first-time people get called back. Most of the time it's nothing.

My mammogram was on a Tuesday. Wednesday came and went, and I didn't get a call. YES! Finally, something normal relating to my reproductively-related parts. I was so happy. I really was excited to be getting that "you're totally normal" letter. And then Thursday came and I got a call. What the hell? They couldn't call me Wednesday? I had to be lulled into a false sense of normal-ness before being smacked in the face with "We need some more pictures?" I tried my best, but it was really, really hard not to freak out. So I called my friend, who is married to my best friend, who just happens to be a radiologist. And he just happens to read mammograms all the time. I needed to know if I should be freaking out or if I would be ok. I basically wanted to make sure that the lovely people at the Breast Health place weren't just being nice to me and lying through their teeth that I shouldn't be worried.

The good news is that my radiologist friend told me that that there is no room for "probably benign" anymore due to the litigiousness associated with breast cancer diagnoses. The number one cause for malpractice suits against doctors is apparently delaying a diagnosis of breast cancer, and so radiologists have ridiculously high malpractice insurance (as do OB/GYNs, because when something goes wrong with your baby, apparently you sue like the dickens). So, unless they can say "This is 100% benign," you get a rescan. And maybe an ultrasound. Or even a biopsy. This was really scary to me, because I didn't want a biopsy, but apparently this is incredibly common because mammograms are super detailed now but not any better at telling what's cancer and what's just funky boobieness.  So, since I don't have a family history and I didn't have an obvious lump and this was preventive "hey, you've been pumping your body full of really high levels of lady hormones, four times in two years, and you're 36, so we should really check out your boobs just in case," I tried to not be worried, because it was probably just a case of unfamiliar boobies. Even though that angry spirit and/or some kind of scary neurotoxin lurks in my house, rendering us infertile and killing my cat like a mine canary. I am not paranoid at all.

The next Tuesday (this past Tuesday) was my re-scan. And, an ultrasound--which would have really freaked me out had my radiologist friend not warned me that they might do an ultrasound on the same day (thank you, radiologist friend!). When they take extra pictures of your suspicious boob, they do new and exciting angles that are not comfortable at all. And they use a smaller tray, which seems like it would be more humane but actually squashes localized tissue even more, and so it's definitely not cozy. I had bets with myself that the offending breast would be my right one, since that one is the bigger one. Most women have asymmetrical boobs, but my right one is up to a whole half cup bigger than the left. I really like my left, because it is perky for a DD. I wish my right one was more like my left. Now you know way too much about my boobs, but that's what this whole post is about so I don't feel too bad about it. I was right--it was my stupid floppy right boob, probably because it has more tissue and is harder to see (not that I actually know anything about this, medically).

After the localized right-boob squishing, I got to hang out in the sub-waiting room until they called me in for my ultrasound. I have to say it was really nice to have an ultrasound that didn't involve being pantsless and in stirrups. However, I am used to having the screen tilted my way so I can concentrate on the picture show of my enlarged and follicle-filled ovaries instead of focusing on the giant wand probing my nether regions. They don't do that for a breast ultrasound and so my neck hurt a little from straining to see what a boob on ultrasound looks like. It looks weird, like one of those meditative sand art things you see on people's desks, with the sand and the water squished between two panes of glass and it makes wave patterns when you flip it over. But then there was a dark spot, and I freaked out a little again. The dark spot looked kind of like a follicle. So I told the technician that I was used to looking at ovaries (and she asked if that's what I do, so I told her no, it's what I see as a fertility patient), and this was totally different. But the dark spot looked an awful lot like a follicle and so I said, "Hey, that looks like a follicle! Is it mature? Is it ready to be retrieved?" I'm so glad she had a sense of humor and laughed (even if it was just out of politeness). She even measured it like a follicle. I just hoped it was in the "Definitely Benign" category.

She left to see the radiologist and then came back--it was normal! It was a "complicated cyst" which apparently is just a cyst with weird attributes but they name it something scary just to make you worried again. They come and go and it probably would have been felt on my OB/GYN breast exam (which I have been postponing because I hate going in every year and having to update with more horribleness and no pregnancy), but it will probably be gone on its own shortly. So it just came to visit at an already stressful time to mess with my mind. How nice. But, the upsides are multiple: a) I don't have cancer and so the angry spirit is apparently appeased for the time being, and b) I don't have to have another mammogram until I am 40. And hopefully am finally a mommy. And hopefully am the owner of boobs that have been/are being used for nutritional purposes. And hopefully can just get a nice, "You are normal" letter in the mail and avoid all this worry. (I do have to add that as stressful as this one-week episode was, I was grateful to be checked out--because if I did have breast cancer I would rather worry and then be diagnosed early than not have the stress of worrying and then find out later than is optimal that something nefarious has been hiding out in my boob. So I am totally for mammograms starting at 40!)

Bryce is glad now that I've been checked out and declared normal. He's probably also glad because I've stopped making dark jokes about having breast cancer that aren't really funny but helped me not be a total basketcase. I'm glad that I'm normal and healthy in the boobular area. And we're both glad that now we can move forward, get ready for our frozen cycle sometime this summer, and keep on moving towards that elusive but not impossible pregnancy.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day?

Here it is. One more year, one more Mother's Day, and no card/brunch/potted flowering plant for me. Oh, Mother's Day, how you stick that knife in and twist it.

I have been employing my Mother's Day Survival Guide this year, outlined in last year's Mother's Day post (go here to read that one). I've been pretty successful--since we don't have cable I am not barraged by a variety of ads on the rare occasions when I watch TV. Although the Roku box has been displaying "HAPPY MOTHER'S DAY!" on the home screen all weekend, but I can get past that pretty quickly. I avoid the mall as much as possible (if I need to go in for any reason, I avoid department stores and go in the entrance closest to the store I need). I will not be going out to breakfast today, even though that's our Sunday routine and I really, really want those super good homefries. But breakfast on Mother's Day is like a parade of bitterness for me--so many families, so many young families, so many mothers being honored for something I can't seem to accomplish. I can ignore the occasional baby, but out-and-out celebration of all the moms on a day I thought for sure I'd at least be an expectant mom is just too much to handle over scrambled eggs and perfectly crispy home fries. I went for a really nice walk with Bryce yesterday, because today will be a strollerfest and there will be houses with tons of cars and people hugging each other and grandchildren galore and I can't quite perfect my tunnelvision enough not to see all that.

I have good coping skills, which is fortunate since if I hadn't developed those by now I'd probably be living under a comforter in a closet, crying all the time, eating gluten free brownies, and eventually needing to be taken out of the house by forklift. But every year gets harder. Especially since Mother's Day seems to fall right after my birthday (I guess it always has, but since now my birthday and Mother's Day are fairly equal in their ability to cause me pain, it's more apparent to me). Especially since the little voice in my head keeps whispering that I should really get over it and celebrate the moms in my life on their special day, and shove my own difficulties with this holiday to the back burner. But that little voice just needs to shut the F up. I have every right to choose to celebrate moms on another day, on my post-Mother's Day brunch next weekend. I have every right to send cards and call for this day, but not actually have to submit myself to the torture that is pretending that I can be ok on this day that makes it even more apparent than other days that I have failed so far in my quest to join the special club of Mothers. It is more important than ever to be "selfish" on this day, to take care of myself and know that people who have the tiniest bone of empathy in their bodies can understand why I duck out of Mother's Day on the actual day. It is not selfish to still celebrate moms in your life but to do it at another time, especially when your society and culture is stuffing how awesome and amazing it is to be a mother down your throat. Like all the things you see that are "For all you moms out there" or "There is no love like a mother's love" or "You will never truly understand love until you are a mother." Stop for a minute and think what that might make a body feel if they desperately want to be a mother, have moved heaven and earth to try to make that happen multiple times, and still haven't made it. Is my love less important because I don't have a baby? Am I less of a woman, less part of the womanly culture, because I'm not a mother? It's kind of how it feels at this time of year. Logically I know that's crap and that plenty of women who are not mothers have, in fact, experienced very special love and have huge hearts and lots to give others. I am special even though I am not in the Mommy club.

So, today I stay inside (maybe weed outside until the Stroller Brigade starts rolling through), I clean the house, I read my books, I have a cocktail or two. Bryce and I were actually thinking about going to see Dark Sha.dows today, because as far as I can tell there's no pregnancy or fertility subplot and the likelihood that that godawful trailer for What to Expec.t When You're Ex.pecting isn't likely to shove birth humor in my face. We'll see how we do on this one. I typically don't like to leave the house on Mother's Day, but a gothic yet funny vampire movie might take my mind of the holiday barfing all over the stores and restaurants surrounding the theater. Today I also celebrate the fact that I am an expectant mother, in a philosophical way. I have been trying to get pregnant for 2 years and 9 months, with massive medical intervention and limited success. I am the mother to 16 embryos--13 that haven't made it and 3 little nuggets of hope, sitting in the freezer, waiting to hopefully make me a physically expectant mother. I hope that next year, Mother's Day 2013, is the year that I can get tipsy on mimosas while out to brunch with the rest of the celebrating world, and not tipsy on salty cocktails in my house, tinged with the taste of disappointment and loss. Of course I will only be getting tipsy if I've managed to birth my miracle child before Mother's Day, not if I am actually carrying said miracle child. Wow, I am lucky to have Bryce for an editor--this would have totally negated the "I am going to be an awesome mom because of this experience" theory and given me children with fetal alchohol syndrome and visits from CPS instead...

Happy Mother's Day--to my mom, mother-in-law, sister, and grandmas. Happy Mother's Day to my friends who will celebrate with their new babies, young children, older children, and little babies-to-be tucked in their tummies. But a very, very, Happy Mother's Day to my infertile friends--may today be the last tear-filled Mother's Day, may today you celebrate your sheer determination to be a mother, may today you celebrate the amazing mother you WILL be, when all of this is over.