Monday, November 30, 2015

#Microblog Mondays: The Christmas Cards...

Last December sucked.

Royally, royally sucked.

We had several bad things at once: my cycle went wonky, my grandmother died, my cycle got cancelled, my hopes got trashed, I felt like everything was just going wrong.

And so, our Christmas cards just never got out. As in, we have a whole box of New Year's cards that CLEARLY say out with 2014 and in with 2015...and now it's time to send new ones.

The lovely front

I can't turn it, but as you can clearly see we were feeling irreverent, with a large dose of "fuck it'" on the back of the card. That's a glorious picture I took of Bryce, wearing my wedding tiara and his bathrobe, holding Lucky like he's doing a royal portrait with his Corgi or something. I don't know what we were thinking, but it is kind of funny. Also unclear why he gets to be His Majesty and I'm just Lady Jess, but whatever. I was feeling somewhat inconsequential at the time. 
We have done a picture card every year since we got married. It's like an encapsulation of our life together, and so I would really like to do one again this year...but time is running short.

I had an idea... pictures of us from around the year, doing things we enjoy, and then in the middle, a picture of us with a sign or a map or something that says "On the road to our baby through adoption!" or something similarly schmaltzy. Because, believe it or not, there actually are people who don't know we're on the path to adopting. BUT, we don't want to look like it is imminent or has already happened in some way. I like it, but how to execute?

Bryce's worry is that we do this one, and then next year's Christmas card looks just the same. Which would be kind of depressing, but do we protect our heart for an outcome that could be instead of being freely exuberant about our hope and joy? I WANT THE JOY. IT'S THE FREAKING SEASON FOR JOY. Maybe next year, if we're in the same boat, we could post a picture of me dusting the nursery. Ha. ha. ha.

I say we do it. We figure out the center picture and send them out as New Year's cards, a joyful way to show that hopefully this is the year we become a family of more than two.

Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Embryo Adoption... Beginning the Process

It's official. We made the decision. Our infertility journey is officially over.

Yesterday we filled out the first part of the application for the Snowflakes program through Nightlight Christian Adoptions.

It was an interesting decision-making process, because while Snowflakes is the largest and oldest embryo adoption agency in the US, there were initially some things about it that bothered us, mainly things that we noticed in their Placing Parents guide that they have available on their website:

- They are a Christian organization, and we do not participate in organized religion. Much of the political belief system inherent in religious organizations tends not to mesh with our beliefs.
- Their verbiage is heavy on the personhood concept...such as calling the embryos "preborn children"
- While in their own words, the Christian in their name says more about who they are than who their clients are, they do ask their adoptive parents to "be committed to providing their child with a constructive, wholesome and spiritual home environment." Which is pretty open ended, because spiritual does not necessarily mean religious, but does this mean that most people who come to Snowflakes are in fact considerably religious?
- There was a nefarious-sounding clause somewhere in the information (which I could not find again for some reason) that stated that adoptive parents sign a statement in their contract that says that they agree not to terminate the pregnancy for any reason. Which raised my hackles, because someone who is going through the trouble to adopt an embryo and complete an IVF transfer and go through all the medications and everything obviously WANTS this baby, so the only reasons why termination would come up would be if something went dreadfully wrong with the fetus or the life of the mother was at stake. I did not at all feel comfortable with that.

Things we did like about Snowflakes from their website materials:

- They are the oldest and largest embryo adoption agency in the U.S., so they probably have this process DOWN.
- They offer closed donation, but really embrace openness between adoptive and placing families (this already began to make me giggle a bit, because it is incredibly weird to be considered half a placing  parent in this scenario and also to be a waiting adoptive parent for an infant... it's beyond bizarre).
- All expenses are paid by the adoptive parents, so the only cost we would incur for this process would be the $150 fee for transporting our embryos from our clinic to their cryogenic facility.
- They even offer one year of free storage at their facility (which is nationally known) to placing parents while matching is going on
- We would get to be a part of the matching process
- We would get to know where our embryos landed
- We would get to know if a pregnancy and subsequently (hopefully) a birth took place
- We would have the option to get letters and pictures and see what half a Jess or half a Bryce would look like
- They accept embryos created with donor material
- They do everything possible to find a home for all embryos, due in part to their belief system, which is great and makes us feel better for sure.

The positives initially way outweighed the negatives, at least enough to place a call and get more information.

The whole thing is kind of a mindfuck, to be honest, on many counts. First of all, it's very interesting to deeply explore my thoughts regarding these embryos. I am totally against personhood legislation, because of its impacts on IVF and some contraception and early terminations. I am staunchly pro-choice. But this isn't a blanket choice, this is OUR choice. And we would not enforce OUR choice on anyone else, so we feel okay with our shifting between dichotomies on this one. Bryce and I had a whole long conversation about life beginning vs personhood beginning. When does a fetus deserve rights? It is a STICKY STICKY WICKET. I do not believe that our embryos are people with the same rights as fully formed humans. However, I do not believe that they are merely a "clump of cells," either. I believe that they are POTENTIAL people. I believe that these embryos were expressly created by us (and donor helpers and a zillion medical professionals) for the purpose of becoming future people. If I believed that embryos were just a cellular cluster, then why on earth would I be so gutted and devastated when those clusters failed? They were potential children. For us, they were the only children we had, these photos of clusters of cellular materials.

And so, for us, embryo adoption was the best choice...because it eliminates mystery. Just to clarify, for my purposes I am considering embryo donation an anonymous thing not requiring a home study or matching process, done through clinics. Embryo adoption has a level of openness, looks remarkably like traditional adoption since adopting parents must complete a homestudy and provide a profile, and we as placing parents choose who the embryos will go to. It's really strange, the parallels in the process for a potential baby vs an external living baby. It does consider personhood in it, which makes me feel squeegy, but for us personally the KNOWING is the piece to adoption that is missing in donation. You may feel differently about these processes, and feel free to add your thoughts in the comments (respectfully of course), but this is how I'm wrapping my head around this situation.

I couldn't donate my embryos and not know where they went. I couldn't always wonder if they were successful or not, if they resulted in a baby. I need to know. There's a funny connection there through biology (well, in half of the embryos anyway), and it would drive me crazy not knowing.

With the decision to look into Snowflakes further made, I called with a list of questions:

- Your materials really speak to people who have "completed their family" through IVF. Do you accept embryos from couples who did not find success? No success in the cohort at all?
- Will you accept 2PN embryos?
- We saw that you take single women as clients, does your religious bearing prevent you from placing to same-sex couples if we wished to have that as an option?
- What is with this contract clause about termination? How on earth is that even remotely enforceable?
- Are you okay with not just donor material-created embryos, but two sets of genetically unrelated embryos, one with my eggs and donor sperm and the other with donor eggs and my husband's sperm?

Heavy stuff, no?

I had a lengthy conversation with an Education Coordinator and Fertility Clinic Liaison, who intelligently answered all my questions and did a little further digging to get more specific answers. It was a hard conversation to have without crying, because my god, to relay our story for the umpteenth time never gets any easier.


-They do take embryos from people who have not been successful, but rarely.
-They don't have much experience at all with placing embryos for a couple who used two types of donor materials for two sets of embryos and are themselves in the adoption process. She wasn't sure if they'd EVER had this particular complexity. (And then she took our case so that we won't have to tell our story over and over, for which I am incredibly grateful.)
-Yup, they take 2PNs.
-They do consider same-sex couples, but they don't advertise it, and there are not a whole lot of adoptive families in this camp, but we could certainly specify our openness in this area.
-No, the termination clause is not truly legally enforceable, and it is mostly in place to heavily discourage selective reduction. They heavily recommend only 1-2 embryos per transfer for this reason. If a medical situation came up (which they stated that it hasn't to their knowledge), of course there would be options and the people most enforcing things would be us as the placing parents. Which of course we wouldn't enforce, not for a second. They do counsel adoptive families on this clause, and if they are uncomfortable with it they have altered it to exempt situations where the mother's life was at risk, and if clients STILL were uncomfortable they directed them towards other agency choices. (I was okay with this.)
-The non-genetically related sets of embryos coming from one placing parent was interesting. They will absolutely be fine with that, and it helps that they are both housed in the same clinic currently and we have all the information possible on both donors (but admittedly far less on the egg donor's side than the sperm donor's side).

And so, we felt comfortable enough to start the process.

We filled out YET ANOTHER online application that included our sordid history with IVF treatments. It never gets less sobering to see 10 transfers, 3 cancellations, 27 embryos transferred, 2 pregnancies, no births. ZERO children. There wasn't a place to put that we are in the adoption process and so we are actually expecting in our own right.

And now, we wait for the next step. I am so relieved to have the decision done, to put the waffling part of this to bed. I am not a person to delay a decision, to take a break, because my mind perseverates and perseverates and it is SO much easier for me to just rip the damn bandaid off. And it's so ripped. Wheels are in motion.

It's kind of exciting, actually, to think that we are giving these embryos a shot that they really never had in my uterus. I am sad, of course, but the closure on our end of the process is incredibly liberating. WE ARE DONE WITH IVF. I CAN MAKE PEACE WITH NEVER BEING PREGNANT. And, there's hope that in some weird way our genetics will live on elsewhere, and we get to know about it. Maybe. If it works. All those possibilities are a topic for a different post.

I can't say enough how much relief I feel in having this lengthy decision-making process done. It is fascinating to me that in choosing this option, we may have more of an extended family than we ever imagined. We'll have a child with a birth family, and then we'll have these other children out there that exist because we created their embryos once upon a time. Yeah, the whole thing is surreal. Yet at the same time, oddly beautiful in its complexity. How interesting it will be to watch it all unfold.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Thanksgiving Thoughts

Thanksgiving can be a tough holiday. It is fairly easy to celebrate if everything is going relatively well in your life -- if you have the family you desire, you haven't recently lost a loved one, you have a home and a job and a life that you're feeling pretty darn good about.

But if you're in the middle of turmoil, if you're experiencing loss of any kind -- loss of a spouse, loss of a father or mother, loss of a job, loss of a relationship, loss of a pregnancy, loss of a child, loss of a dream you've worked so hard to achieve -- it can be extraordinarily difficult to face the onslaught of thankfulness, the onslaught of "at leasts" that come to your door.

At least you have your health.
At least you have your children.
At least you have your husband/wife/partner.
At least you have your job.
At least you have a warm place to live and a belly full of food every day.

These "at leasts" are important, for sure, because not everyone has those, but it can feel like a slap in the face to be dealing with your own personal tragedy and have thankfulness foisted upon you. I feel that there's room at the Thanksgiving table for the traditional acknowledging what you have, but also for acknowledging your losses. They seem magnified at times of gratitude. It is so important to be given space to reflect not only on what you are so fortunate to have, whatever that may be, but to recognize that these things exist IN TANDEM with the empty holes, the things that on a good day can make you feel sad and on a bad day can push you down into a pit of despair.

It's a balance. You cannot have happiness without sadness, which is one of my favorite parts of the movie Out. It would be disingenuous to gloss over all the losses that make you the person you are. At the same time, having something positive to hang on to can keep you from mouldering down in that pit of despair forever.

But in order to heal, you pretty much need to acknowledge that pit. You need to spend at least a little time reflecting on the deep hole of sadness, the feelings of emptiness, in order to get back up into the light. You can't have the light without the dark.

I have been in that pit, more than once. I have felt hopelessness, and emptiness, and a feeling that nothing would ever be right or good again. And when you are dropped in that pit, there's nothing that can really convince you that you shouldn't just stay a little longer, lie on the rotted-leaf-strewn floor, and just watch all the light and happiness pass you by through the pinprick of light at the top of your pit.

There is light at the top of the pit, though, and one day it will seem possible to crawl out. Crawling out requires two things.

The first is acknowledging the things that put you in that pit. For me:

It was harder than I ever imagined to try to get pregnant.
I only got pregnant twice and once was in the wrong spot and the other was a devastating miscarriage.
Even an egg donor whose every cycle before me worked, DID NOT work for me.
Even switching to a new clinic and trying donor sperm, from a donor who also had many pregnancies result from his contribution, DID NOT work for me.
My uterus kept me from transferring my frozen embryos.
My uterus is probably the culprit after all...which means I am probably the ultimate reason for our IVF failure.
I don't want to go through all that any more, and it's really not good for my health (physically or mentally) to put myself back into that cycle of failure and pain, so....
...I will never, ever be pregnant again.
And now I have homeless embryos to contend with.

On the other side of the pit are all the reasons to crawl out, all the positives to be thankful for:

I have an amazing husband who loves me so completely that I'm not quite sure I deserve it.
We have gone through this journey together, and come out of it knowing we can tackle anything life decides to throw at us (but would appreciate less throwing, please).
We are going to be parents -- it may take longer than we hope, but adoption will bring us our Mystery Baby and we will have the joy we've been striving for for so long.
I have an amazing counselor who helps me muddle through all the various feels that come with all these experiences and decisions.
I have a wonderful family who supports us and is there for us in good times and in sad.
I have incredible friends who are there when I need to cry, but also there when it's time to celebrate our impending joy.
I have the unbelievable support of an online community that completely gets the cycle of happiness and loss, emptiness and hope.
I have a job I love and amazing support in my administration (both building and district) and my coworkers as we work through our shifting family dynamics.
We have options for our embryos that we feel comfortable and at peace with.
We have options ahead of us to help us put broken pieces together and make sense of all we've been through, so that we can move forward and be the best family we can for Mystery Baby.
We will be parents sooner than later.
We WILL be parents.
The countdown has begun.

Looking at the two sides, I sure do have  a lot to be thankful for. But I also have a lot of loss to reflect on. They both have a place today. I am breathless and sweaty, sitting on the lip of my pit. I could fall back in again, but I have all these handholds that can help me get back out.

And I am so, so thankful for that.

I wish you a very happy Thanksgiving, wherever you are. I hope that whether you're deep in your pit, climbing out, or reflecting on what a crazy journey that whole adventure was from the surface, that you have the space to feel both your joys and your losses today. That no one forces you to feel thankful if you're not in the right place for it.

May every day bring you more to be thankful for.

Monday, November 23, 2015

#Microblog Mondays: A Happy Post About a Happy Place

I am still in the trenches of dealing with our frozen embryo decisions, and dealing with the loss that is completely and utterly letting go of any hope of being pregnant. Of having a baby belly. Of hearing a heartbeat that's not mine emanating from my body. You know, some heavy stuff.

To counterbalance it all, here are some pictures of the nursery, ever-evolving, looking more and more like a real home for a real baby. We had to rearrange things a bit since the dresser came in and it became painfully obvious that having the dresser with changing pad under the slanted part of the ceiling would result in concussions, definitely for Bryce and possibly for baby. So, crib under slant and dresser on the flat wall with the decals. The adorable, fun decals! Enjoy this peek into Mystery Baby's special space. It is definitely my happy place.

Cozy new carpet, the crib in its new cozy spot where Bryce can stand upright, and our shiny new dresser. (Obviously the blanket won't rest on the crib when a baby's in it.) Lucky is loving this new spot. 

The crib and the blue nook, with my mom's quilt on the tiny rocking chair and an abundance of Boppys. Which I hear are great for many uses, not just breastfeeding. I hear they make excellent neck pillows for the couch, as well... :)

Lucky, blissed out on the cozy fuzzy changing pad that is SO NOT FOR HIM. (Good luck convincing him of that, though....)

Looking at the bookshelf/cube storage and blue nook from the crib side of the tiny room. The stuffed animals sort of look like sentinels sitting there, facing the door...a tad creepy. That carpet is amazing. You just want to lie on it forever.

Our long-awaited fancy schmancy glider that made it up the stairs because it actually came in two pieces... it makes for a great reading nook right now, with the cozy blanket and the owl pillow that my sister gave me years ago that just HAPPENED to match the upholstery EXACTLY! Coincidence? Hmmm.... 

The crib in its old place, but it gives you a great shot at the decals! So much fun. 

Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy!

Monday, November 16, 2015

#Microblog Mondays: Mourning What Will Never Be

Friday night I had a dream. I dreamed that against all odds, we got pregnant naturally, on our own. Except for some reason I got a call with beta numbers, not a double-lined pee stick.

And the number was 3.

Which is really odd, because a HCG level of 3 wouldn't even be considered positive at most clinics.

And it wasn't good in the dreamworld either, because I realized that again I was being presented with a short time to be excited, and given the experience we had with the ectopic where we started at 12 and then rose but wonkily until it resulted in tragedy and surgery, I was filled with doom and sadness and realization that pregnancy was just not going to ever be something attainable or positive for me. Ever.

I woke up and felt...resigned. Bryce and I had hashed out discussion after discussion this week that ended in the one decision regarding our embryos that sticks -- we won't be transferring them to me. That is not an option for a slew of reasons:

1) We've never been successful before
2) We don't know if my uterus will be okay by then
3) We really don't want to go down that road again, the literal driving part but also the injections, the appointments, the calls, the disappointments
4) It was discovered in my blood workup YEARS ago that I am heterozygous for the prothrombin gene mutation, which puts me at significant risk for stroke and blood clot. With that combined with my tendency to have migraine with aura, my current OB/GYN refuses to put me on anything with estrogen in it. Which means progesterone-only birth control pill, or Depo Provera (which I start next week, because the progesterone-only pill was a nightmare of constant and unpredictable bleeding that left me feeling like a 14 year old again and also hampered my quality of life at home, ahem, a LOT). Which also means he doesn't recommend any additional estrogen, which would be utterly necessary for another transfer. (It also means menopause is probably going to be craptastic, because estrogen therapy falls under that umbrella, too, I bet.)

That last one is huge. That last one had my doctor saying, somewhat dramatically, "So, let me get this straight. You are planning to adopt a child, become a mother, and then purposely put yourself at risk for a life-threatening clot by doing a frozen transfer afterwards?" Yeah. I sound like the douchiest of douches when put that way. I have always been willing to put my own health second to a chance at becoming a mother, which drives Bryce crazy, but when you think about the fact that I would finally be a mother, finally have that caregiving responsibility, finally be parenting, and risk my health to do it again in a way that has pretty much proven to us how slim the chances of success are... it sounds awful. I can't do it.

I am left in a place that's strange, because there is a calming sense of closure that comes with realizing that I will never be pregnant, EVER. I have been able to hang on to this fantasy of having it all thanks to those frozens, and that's all it is, a fantasy. Which means in opposition to this closure is the death of a dream.

And I am sad, so, so desperately sad. Which is appropriate, I guess. I mourned it when we walked away from our embryos and opened the beautiful door to adoption. But I could hold on to that tiny sliver of hope that I wasn't REALLY walking away, because there was still this CHANCE that pregnancy could still be mine one day. Except it won't be.

That's okay, because that part of our journey was filled with pain and loss and a constant feeling of failure. Failure that made me question myself, question my body's usefulness, question how much I could put myself through. How much I could put OURSELVES through, really. It's incredibly hard to realize that my stubbornness pushed us away from our current pathway to parenthood initially, that we could have opened that door years ago if I wasn't so stuck on the fantasy of pregnancy.

I will move through this, I will heal and not be split, no matter how infinitesimally, between the hope for a pregnancy and the reality and beauty of adoption as our best choice for parenthood. I will let go of the fantasy, finally, and put it in the ground so that I can focus on the unfurling hopes and dreams that are waiting for us through adoption, on the other side of this wait, that have a definitiveness that pregnancy never did. It's kind of freeing, actually.

I love this quote from Helen Keller, one that used to irk me when I was being obstinate (or tenacious, depending on how you look at it) but that now expresses pretty perfectly how I feel about our journey up until this point:

When one door of happiness closes, another one opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one which has been opened for us...  -- Helen Keller

I'm ready to consider that door and see it for what it is -- closed and locked and perhaps even blocked on the other side with a bureau or a chair wedged up under the doorknob. I'm ready to walk through that open door unfettered by backwards glances at what will never be, to accept that that particular dream is gone, but that the new door offers a dream that is SO MUCH BETTER for so many reasons.

PS -- I will write about something happier next time, promise. Just muddling through at the moment.

Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy!

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Did We Put Ourselves In This Position?

It's been an emotional week, a time of heaviness and weighing of decisions and incredibly strange existential crisis type discussions. In my last post, The Elephant in the Freezer, I talked about how we have this impossible decision to make with our remaining embryos. I mean, not impossible, but one that has casualties no matter what. Or if not casualties, then complications. Discussing it for over a week has resulted in a lot of tears, some epiphanies, and the overwhelming sense of unfairness to our situation. The question that keeps haunting me in the back of my mind though is, did we put ourselves in this position?

Part of the complication in this ongoing discussion stems from the fact that both sets of embryos have donor material involved, and it's not the same gamete for the two sets. Part of it is because the egg donor/Bryce sperm set are 2PNs, and so they are frozen but upon thawing could prove to grow out to...nothing. These things together make donation hard. We can't grow out the 2PNs and then refreeze whatever makes it without acknowledging that we would very likely take a large hit on quality, and these embryos did not come from a successful cohort. So we really don't know how many we are dealing with here.

A year ago, when we were realizing that our time to keep doing the IVF thing was running out and my body was putting nails in our pregnancy coffin faster than we could pull them out, we started thinking about the frozens more seriously. Our hope was to transfer them all before January, use them up before committing to adoption. We had a great plan. And my uterus laughed and laughed. When it became apparent that we weren't going to get to the point where my body was hospitable for transfer anytime soon, we made the decision to put the embryos on ice until a later date and move forward with adoption. That enough was enough. That we wanted to be parents, and I wanted to no longer be a pincushion/wand receptacle.

At some point, Bryce had a conversation with a friend who has a different religious viewpoint than we do. Bryce said what a difficult position we were in, and his friend said, "Well, I would never have put myself in that position in the first place."

Granted, in typing it now that sounds super judgy, and I don't think it was intended to be because this friend and his family have been nothing but supportive to us throughout our infertility journey despite knowing that they would never have chosen IVF due to their religious beliefs. But that statement just sticks and sticks with me.

Because yes, when you sign up to do IVF and fill out the scads of paperwork (which is quite frankly DWARFED COMPLETELY by adoption paperwork, but it's still a fair amount of signing), one of the things that you agree to is that you will be able to make decisions about any remaining embryos. Including in the event of your death, your husband/partner's death, or both of your deaths. And through the clinic where we started (and I think the one where we ended, too), donation was not an option laid out neatly on the original paperwork. If you wanted to donate your embryos, you would have to arrange that yourself through a third party.

One such third party is Snowflakes Embryo Adoption Program, which is a part of Nightlight Christian Adoptions. Their program allows for people to donate their excess frozen embryos, through an actual adoption process. They do accept  donor material-created embryos, which I was somewhat surprised about, but they don't say anything (that I saw at least) about 2PN embryos. There is a pretty comprehensive guide for "Placing Parents." (The irony of this terminology does not escape me.)

Before I get too deep into this option, which is intriguing to say the least and worthy of its very own post, I want to explain a bit about "getting into this situation." Because while yes, we are in this problematic quandary because we chose to do IVF, and because we have excess embryos, we were very careful about our decisions to try to prevent being in this very situation.

The fact is, I don't see these embryos as excess. From the beginning, we were (perhaps naively) utterly sure we'd have success with IVF, be lucky enough to have frozen embryos for a sibling, and then be done. IVF was explained to us as a likely solution for our issues with IUI (and impossibility with "natural" conception). My PCOS would work in our favor, and I would produce a zillion eggs and likely good embryos.

Except that didn't happen. I was shocked when our first IVF cycle didn't produce blasts and didn't produce frozens. I thought frozens were a given. I had a ton of follicles, but my mature eggs were way fewer and the number that fertilized and grew out were even more scant.

I thought it was a fluke, and when the cycle failed I was devastated but we tried again, and our follicle-to-embryo attrition was WORSE. Again, no frozens. It seemed that worrying about frozens was kind of silly, in our case at least.

Then we tried a new protocol and I DID get frozens, but more importantly I DID get pregnant. Unfortunately it was a wonky ectopic, something I'll never understand as they put the embryo in my uterus, not my tube, and so I lost both the pregnancy and my right tube. A double hit. But I had frozens. And hope that I could actually get pregnant in the right spot, next time.

The frozens didn't work. The new fresh cycle didn't work. But that one, again, created frozens... and the frozen cycle resulted in my first bona-fide uterine pregnancy, one that we thought was the end of all this nonsense.

Except it wasn't. I miscarried. I broke apart. I started feeling like maybe this wasn't going to happen, after all.

At this point, three years in, we had NO FROZENS. None. We were making a decision without complication, just a boatload of grief.

And we decided to do an egg donor cycle, to believe that things weren't working out because my genetic material was "too old" at 36 and it was failing us. So we chose an option where the egg age was nearly 10 years younger, and proven with pregnancies resulting from all previous cycles (with other couples, other uteruses). We had a phenomenal cycle where we had three blasts to transfer, three blasts frozen, and for some reason, six embryos thawed as fertilized day-one embryos, or 2PNs (2 pro-nuclei). The blasts didn't work. The frozen blasts didn't work. We wanted to make some new decisions.

We did not, however, transfer the 2PNs at this time. We figured we could freeze them and figure out what was going on, since the donor's eggs also didn't work so maybe it was a different factor. So maybe this is where we first made the decision that led to the current problem we're having. It just seemed like the 2PNs were such a gamble, such a bizarre thing to do since it was false numbers... we didn't have six embryos, we had six STARTS at embryos. They probably wouldn't actually become six embryos, especially given our track record of whittling. And since they were amorphous and the rest of the cohort didn't make it after transfer, we just didn't want to transfer them yet.

So we did our second opinions and we landed on doing a split cycle with donor sperm at a different clinic. Half the eggs retrieved would be fertilized with Bryce, half with our donor. We were able to transfer the ones that were all our genetic material. They didn't make it.

Which left us with five frozen blasts. (I think it was five...I'm kind of thrilled that I don't remember with great clarity.) I think we transferred three last September, that (of course) didn't make it, and that left us with two remaining frozens that were my eggs and donor sperm.

And then we tried like the dickens from October to the first days of February to get them transferred. I couldn't make it work. I realize this is personalizing it quite a bit, but in the end it all came down to my uterus in the end, so it IS personal. I had the hysteroscopy in October that revealed the Asherman's Freddy-Kreugering my top third of my uterus, and then an HSG in November that showed we were okay to start but the scarring was still there. And then I had the fluid and the poor lining and I got cancelled in December. And then the same thing happened in late January, and when I tried to salvage a retrieval out of what was obviously not going to result in a transfer, my estrogen crashed and I got nothing.

But I still had embryos. Frozen embryos that I COULD NOT TRANSFER. Embryos that weren't excess, but rather homeless. We seriously bandied about the possibility of gestational carrier for about a day before determining that we couldn't make that work for a variety of reasons and we didn't want to do it when we could decide to move forward with adoption and ACTUALLY BECOME PARENTS. It might take a while, but we wouldn't be gambling anymore. We would keep the embryos on ice and maybe try for a sibling after we became parents, after a break, after having some space from the physical and emotional hell that is IVF.

In this arrangement, we ALWAYS planned to use the embryos. Until I got far enough away from IVF to realize how awful it truly had been, how abusive to my body and soul it had become (not that I regret doing it, not at all, but it became unhealthy after a while and I no longer cared how hard I pushed my body as long as there was the possibility I could become pregnant). The thought of doing that again became something that filled my eyes with tears, instantly.

However, having the frozen embryos meant that I didn't have to 100% believe that I would never be pregnant. There was still a very small chance that some amorphous thing could change and I could get pregnant in my early forties with an amalgam of embryos from different sources and have the best of everything -- have our first child through adoption, and then provide that child with a sibling and have the chance to be pregnant. It is incredibly difficult to realize that in actuality, this is a fantasy. That in reality, after massive amounts of deliberation, it seems that transferring those embryos to me is a terrible idea for a whole host of reasons.

What makes me think my uterus will suddenly be hospitable? That my hormones will do what they're supposed to do to prep and sustain a pregnancy? What makes me think that I can survive another round of injections and driving an hour and fifteen minutes for monitoring appointments? What makes me think that statistics will turn on their heads and I will suddenly reach success THEN when I couldn't do it in my thirties? Would I survive another miscarriage, especially knowing that I WILLINGLY CHOSE TO TRANSFER EMBRYOS INTO A KNOWN DEAD ZONE?

There's hope, and there's realism, and there's fantasyland, and then there's trying to decipher one from another when it's all mushed together in this sticky mess we've landed ourselves in. Or have we?

YES: We chose IVF. We chose to keep going. We chose to continue past when most people would have made a different choice. We created these embryos. We put ourselves in this position.

NO: We thought ahead of time how we would settle out embryos, and we decided that we WOULDN'T HAVE ANY leftover. Our intent was always to use them all. And at some point, that choice was taken from us. Maybe we should have stopped before moving on to donor material. Maybe we should have tried gestational carrier once my uterus revealed itself to be a formidable culprit. Maybe we should have transferred those 2PNs at our first clinic before moving on to another one and to an entirely different donor adventure. Having no way to foresee just how awful everything would get, just how impossible this whole venture would be... we planned as best as we could, and so we did not intend to have "excess" embryos to contend with. It was a risk we knew was possible, but we did everything we could to avoid being in the precise position we're in today.

The question of what to do has become more sticky, now that we are in a place where it is pretty much decided that I won't be transferring these embryos to me, ever. I still do not believe that discard is a good option, which leaves us with donation. And in donation there are additional sticky questions, best answered in a different post. I do like the option of giving these little embryos a shot in someone else's uterus, without them making their way back to us, if only that it a) doesn't destroy them, b) doesn't destroy me in the process of trying to transfer them to my defunct uterus, c) gives someone else a shot. There's interesting ethical dilemmas there, too, not the least of which is that we'd be donating someone else's material in both sets of embryos, and that most embryo donation/adoption programs have political views that don't jive with ours. So much to think about, so many things to consider.

The one thing I do feel pretty certain about is that although we put ourselves in the position of doing IVF that resulted in these tiny ethical dilemmas, we did EVERYTHING we could to prevent this very position that we are in. There was no way to anticipate that every single freaking thing that could put a roadblock up would happen, things mystifying even to our medical team. Somewhere in the past seven years we broke a mirror or something, because this series of unfortunate events led us right here, to this difficult choice that results in a lot of soul-searching and a not a small amount of mourning. It's hard to realize that every choice we made up until this point led us here, with the help of some atrociously bad luck.

The choice I don't regret whatsoever is leaving this medical arena and pursuing another avenue to parenthood. One rife with ethical dilemmas of its own, but we can hope that maybe we'll be thrown a bone and the series of unfortunate events that plagued us throughout our IVF journey will end there, that we may have a complication or two but nothing like where we've been. I am excited for adoption. I am mourning the loss of a fantasy while anxiously anticipating a beautiful reality that is much less amorphous, although for the time being just out of our grasp.

Monday, November 2, 2015

#Microblog Mondays: The Elephant in the Freezer

The envelope was tucked in the mail, like any other bill or credit card offer, but we recognized the blue-and-white lettering in the cellophane window and knew to feel... a sense of foreboding.

It was our storage bill for the eight embryos we still have, frozen and vitrified in the freezer at our last clinic. 

It was a tangible reminder of the amorphous elephant lurking in the ether, the genetic material in various stages of development that lie there, dormant, waiting for us to make some sort of decision. 

Two blastocysts that are my eggs and donor sperm, and six 2PN embryos that are donor eggs and Bryce's sperm.

I think about these embryos ALL THE TIME. We actually had a whole surreal conversation over dinner about them and when we each believe that life begins a few weeks ago, that made us wonder if other families have these sorts of ethical conundrum untanglings over butternut squash pasta bakes. During the conversation, Bryce was mystified to find that I think about our embryos at least a few times per week. 

Maybe more. 

Our original plan (or rather the gazillionth iteration of our original plan) involved transferring our embryos before deciding to throw in the battered and threadbare towel where we hoped to experience pregnancy. We had the brilliant plan to thaw the 2PNs first, so we could grow them out and only transfer them if they made it to blast, but no worries because if they didn't survive we'd thaw the blasts and be done, one (or two if things went well with the 2PNs) last opportunity to try to knock me up. Except we had two cancelled cycles in a row, and I was completely unable to create a lining and had mystery fluid making transfer we put the embryos on ice. 

And we put our decision of what to do with them on ice, too. 

But now we have this bill that we can't ignore staring us in the face with baleful, judgy eyes. 

In the conversation where I admitted to wondering about those embryos on a fairly regular basis, we discussed our options. 

1) destroy them
2) donate them
3) transfer them at a later time, after we have successfully created a family of three through adoption, so that we might have a shot at a sibling through pregnancy

None of these options are great, actually. It's a sticky ethical dilemma, one that we considered when we started the whole IVF process but didn't think would ever apply to us because I wasn't exactly prolific with creating awesome embryos and we weren't exactly successful, just dogged. 

Option 1) is completely unpalatable to me. I am staunchly pro-choice, but to me I feel that these embryos are little potential lives that we willingly created. It seems unfair to send them to their demise without a shot at existence, when they exist BECAUSE WE MADE THEM. I grew attached to them. I mean, I did effectively destroy their previous cohorts, but that was tragic and unwitting. This would be witting destruction for no good purpose. I can't do it. 

Option 2) is trickier, I think, than we originally thought. Can you donate embryos to another couple or woman that don't have a proven track record of success from their previous cohort? Can you donate embryos created with donor material? I mean, we have the original files for the sperm donor and we have the original SINGLE SHEET OF PAPER for the egg donor, but can you ethically donate material that's not yours but was meant for you to use? Can we even LEGALLY do that? I'm not sure. And even if we could, how would I feel if embryos that did bupkus in my uterus became tiny humans in someone else's? Could I feel magnanimous, like I've given a beautiful gift (that wasn't truly mine to give if it's the donor eggs embryos, but whatever), or would I be filled with a sinking pit of despair and feeling of utter uselessness that it was really my stupid uterus all along that kicked us out of the pregnancy game? If we could donate, emotionally and/or legally, would we want it to be known? Would it be anonymous and we'd never know if it worked? Or would we be in effect like a strange type of birth parent to a child who could one day track one of us down (because none of them are both of us)? THAT would be somewhat ironic. And how would this child feel, having been created from one of us and donor material of our choosing but not born from us? IT'S SUCH A STRANGE ISSUE. I'm not sure I can do it. 

Which leaves us with Option 3). Transfer them at a later date. 

Except this option is hard, because while those embryos are 28 and 39, so there's really no immediate expiration date due to egg age, I DON'T KNOW IF I CAN GO THROUGH ALL THAT IVF ROUTINE AGAIN. I just don't know if I will reach a point where it seems far enough away that I can pick up a syringe and not immediately want to cry. Where I can feel hope again now that time has passed and THIS TIME maybe it will work. Stranger things have happened, but I'll be the mother of a young child, at some point in the near future, and as some of you know IVF when you have a little one is incredibly difficult. There's the guilt. And then there's the guilt of thinking that maybe our Mystery Baby who we've waited so long for will feel less-than because we wanted to try for pregnancy one more time. Or maybe Mystery Baby will be thrilled for the chance to have a sibling. I don't really know. Do I want Mystery Baby to witness what Bryce has, the abject sorrow and emptiness that comes with having my body betray me in incredibly painful ways? Will my uterus heal up and my body be refreshed in two years, when I'm 41, so that I could try to give these embryos one last shot at existence with us? Or is that unfair, since we know from past experience that my uterus is a ghostly Bermuda Triangle of doom where no one escapes alive? 


I think the best option is to pay the storage fee, which is fairly reasonable, and delay our conversation for another year. See where our adoption journey takes us, and see what our perspective is when I'm 40 and Bryce is 42 and (hopefully) we are new parents. Maybe our thoughts will change and we will be so happy being parents to our little Mystery Baby that we will be able to donate (minus all that legal iffiness). Maybe another option will make itself known that isn't an ethical quagmire. I can only hope. 

It's another reason I feel so failed by IVF...I didn't even get to close out our process. I have these tiny elephants in the freezer, haunting us because my uterus couldn't get its act together enough to transfer them while we still had some small ability to continue hanging on to our worn and weathered towel. I can pretend they don't exist, but they do. And someday, we have to decide. Until then, we pay the fee and shove the elephant as deep into our subconscious as we can.

Want to read more #Microblog Mondays? Go here and enjoy! 

DISCLAIMER: I fully understand that this is the least microblog post I've ever done on a Monday, and I apologize. The elephant was bigger than I thought.