Our Son

I often think about our child.  I see him in his little jeans and boots, following his dad around the yard.  I can feel him in my arms.  I imagine him playing with our dog and carrying his fishing pole to the pick-up.  I can’t help but see our son every day.

fishing

I think the reason I picture our child as a boy is because he has a name. He was named before we even began trying to conceive.  I found his name on an old building and fell in love.  Unlike others we’ve considered, this name made him real.  It’s who he is, and he doesn’t even exist.

I have a harder time picturing our daughter because she doesn’t have a name that I love.  She has a nickname that I adore but not a name, name.  She’s not quite as real.  And maybe I don’t picture her as well because I know we only have one embryo left.  We can’t have both.

But imagining our son is dangerous.  Because every time I picture him, he’s more real.  And making him real, makes me vulnerable.  Because right now he’s just a little six-day-old, 3/4 embryo.  And as long as he’s frozen, he still has the potential to become our son.

But nine days after the transfer, one month and one day from now, one way or the other, we’ll know:

he’ll be real

or he’ll be the son we never had.

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When You’re Still Not a Mother on Mother’s Day

A year ago, I wrote my first blog post.  Mother’s Day last year marked the second year of our trying to conceive.  We’d tried for a year on our own, then spent a year with doctors and testing.  We were about to begin medications for an egg retrieval.

Today, it’s been another year.  We’ve done a lot.  Last year, our egg retrieval failed, we picked an egg donor, we transferred two embryos that didn’t stick, we did a biopsy that revealed nothing abnormal, and next month, we’ll transfer our only remaining embryo.

Over that year, some things have changed–things no one but me notices.

Last year’s Mother’s Day post contained this passage:
“We spent a year trying to get pregnant.  When we decided to stop ‘not trying,’ I was excited…and nervous.  It was a big decision, life-altering.  I immediately starting thinking to the future.  I didn’t want to go shopping.  Why spend money on clothes that wouldn’t fit in a few months anyway?  I thought about the work we needed to complete on the house to fix up our spare bedroom for a baby.  I read all the baby name lists in my social media feed. I brainstormed cute pregnancy announcement themes to perfectly capture our little family.  I planned the things we would do: bake cookies, make Halloween costumes, start Christmas traditions.”

A year later, I don’t do those things anymore.  I buy clothes.  The spare bedroom is still full of junk with the door permanently closed.  The baby name lists no longer show up in my social media feeds, and I no longer read them all, trying to find the perfect name.  I don’t plan pregnancy announcements because even if I do get pregnant, I’ll never get to make the cutesy, surprise one.  We don’t have holiday traditions.  I now think more about what the rest of our lives will look like if…

And a year later, some things remain the same.  Mother’s Day still sucks.  I don’t want to talk about it.  I don’t want to acknowledge that today is even a thing.  I feel guilty because I should be celebrating the mothers in my life, but I just can’t.  I can’t even escape into mind-numbing nothingness because the Mother’s Day commercials are on every channel, and the celebrations and gifts and appreciative comments are all over social media; all everyone can talk about is Mother’s Day.

And I know I’m not alone.  I know that the women who have lost children and long for the ones they’ve never had all ache today.  I know it’s the same pain they carry daily, but today, it’s just a little deeper, a little sharper.

Today is Mother’s Day, and we’re still not parents, and I’m still not a mother.

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I Won’t Label My Experience a “Journey”

As an English teacher and a writer, I know the power of words and of labeling.  I teach my students that we make sense of our world through language.  We gain control and understanding of our experiences through naming.  And we frame the perception of our message to others through our choice of words.  Therefore, the first challenge I faced when I decided to start the blog was what to call it.

A quick search reveals hundreds of blogs and websites devoted to the “journey” of conception, infertility, pregnancy, etc.

My stomach churned. I abhorred this journey “theme.”  There was no way my blog was going to be a “journey.”  (No offense to those who are on a “journey,”  but I absolutely cannot view my experiences through that lens.)

A journey is defined as
“1. a traveling from one place to another, usually taking a rather long time; trip:  a six-day journey across the desert.
2.  a distance, course, or area traveled or suitable for traveling: a desert journey.
3.  a period of travel: a week’s journey.
4.  passage or progress from one stage to another: the journey to success.”

Frankly, in relation to infertility, these definitions suck.  The fundamental problem with this descriptor is that a journey implies an arrival.  Eventually, you reach your destination.  With infertility, that destination is not guaranteed.

And some of you will respond with the argument that no journey has a guaranteed destination, that it often changes, that the road to the destination is winding and the destination changes because of the journey.  You’ve fallen into the trap of journeys being inherently, annoyingly, optimistic.

It’s not about the ending; it’s about the journey.
The only impossible journey is the one you never begin.
Enjoy the journey.

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My experiences with infertility have not been a journey.  I can’t enjoy the road we’re on.  Our experiences have taught me that looking at a mythical, perhaps impossible, destination is not the way I navigate infertility.  (See my post The Pressure of Positivity: The Power of Pessimism.)

Obviously, I wasn’t the first the try to frame the experience of infertility in a way outsiders can understand.  explores the language surrounding infertility, offering “infertility survivor” as her term of choice, positioning the experience of infertility within a framework of trauma.  For me, this rings truer.

Science agrees.  Multiple studies have found that women experiencing child loss suffer symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (Englehard).  Another finds that those experiencing child loss and infertility suffer depression and anxiety at rates similar to those with cancer, cardiac rehabilitation, and HIV (Zuttermeister).

These studies also align with my framework for infertility: war.

Infertility was something we were to conquer.  So, we went to battle with our diagnoses.  We relied on the experts to gather the best intelligence and form a strategy to defeat infertility.  We waged a series of battles.  But even the best data left too many unknowns.  We suffered loss after loss.   The collateral damage is widespread: finances, emotions, marriage, hope, relationships, joy.  Even when you “win” a war, it’s not without paying a steep price (and the price for the “loser” is much, much higher).

I’ll be the first to acknowledge that there are limitations to the metaphor.  We were never in imminent danger of death or significant bodily harm.  We didn’t see the horrors experienced by those in a war-torn land.  We didn’t lose our livelihoods, our belongings, or our friends and family.

But, we do live with daily uncertainty.

We do endure unknowns and uncontrollable factors.

We do mourn losses.

We do carry scars.

Infertility was, and is, traumatic.

 

 

Studies on the effects of infertility:

Engelhard IM, van den Hout MA, Arntz A. Posttraumatic stress disorder after pregnancy loss. General Hospital Psychiatry. 2001;23:62–66.

Domar AD, Zuttermeister PC, Friedman R. The psychological impact of infertility, a comparison with patients with other medical conditions. Journal of. Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology. 1993;14:45–52.

 

 

Odd Woman Out

outI’m used to being the odd woman out.  I’m an introvert and a nerd, so in high school I was more content reading a good book than attending the football game.  At college, I certainly didn’t fit with girly girls who were professional make-up artists in preparation for the bar on Friday night.  In my mid-thirties, I still don’t quite fit.  I’m the awkward one at neighborhood gatherings, appearing antisocial, sitting in silence because all the women in our group have children, and I don’t have much to contribute to the conversation.

Today, however, being the odd woman out struck a tender nerve.  My cousin posted a picture of her son, all tuckered out, with a caption about spending his big day meeting his cousin. Our other female cousin had traveled from out of state with her seven-week-old daughter to see our grandmother.  And just like I was the odd woman out.

All I can think is that if our transfer in December had worked, I still wouldn’t have an infant in the picture with those two, but I’d be in my second trimester.  (In December,  my cousin and I talked about trying to get a picture of the pregnant three of us together.)

And that’s why it’s so hard to be around other people’s kids.  I can’t help but picture my own in the mix, playing in the neighbor’s yard, chasing farm animals with my cousin’s daughters, building sandcastles with his cousins to the south.

And that’s why when I met my newest nephew last weekend, I was conflicted.

I knew that sooner or later I had to meet him, so I stopped by my grandmother’s house.  That sounds really bad: sooner or later, I had to.  It’s not like I didn’t want to meet him.  It’s not like I don’t love my cousin dearly and her children (she’s the sister I didn’t get and mother to three perfect blonde daughters every bit as ornery and quick-witted as their mother and the newest member and long-awaited baby brother).  But as much as I love them, loving them hurts.

And my cousin gets it.  She has her own infertility story and understands better than anyone else why I hesitated when she asked if I wanted to hold her son.  She, herself, hesitates every time she posts a picture of her children because she knows.  She gave me permission to write this post because she remembers exactly how it feels to look at other people’s children and see your own.  And even though she has a family of six now, she understands what it means to be the odd woman out.

Guest Post: I Wish I Could Just Pregnant on my Own

My name is Ashley Aldape I am a wife of almost 10 years, an aunt, a friend, a sister, a daughter, and not a mother.

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Since I went through puberty, I have struggled with insane periods. I get physically sick a few days before, vomiting, light-headed, feverish, etc.  Once that subsides, the flood gates open, and I bleed profusely for weeks, even months. Along with the blood, there is pain, mainly in my right side.

My mother pulled me from doctor to doctor trying to figure out what was wrong with me.  No one could figure it out.  They said it was because I was overweight and had Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS), a hormonal disorder that causes cysts to develop on the ovaries.  Women with PCOS have difficulty conceiving because the syndrome effects ovulation.

Okay, but why was I in so much pain?  Why would I bleed for months at a time? Why would I go through a box of super plus tampons in a day? One doctor even went so far as to say, “What is heavy bleeding for one person, is not heavy for another person,” basically telling 17 year-old me that it was all in my head.

I was on tons of different medications: birth control, progesterone, metformin, etc.  Yet none of it alleviated the pain and heavy flows. Then the infections started. I had urinary tract infections and yeast infections constantly.  This came on around the time I became sexually active.  I thought maybe I wasn’t cleaning up properly or maybe the guy was giving me a STD or something. I was young, and no one had ever talked about bodily functions with me.  All I knew was it must have been something I was doing wrong.

I was going to a nurse practitioner (I refused to go back to the OB/GYN who had written me off as crazy), and she told me flat out that she didn’t know what was wrong with me and referred me to a specialist a few hours away.

It was the summer before my wedding when I met Dr. Tatpatti. She runs a fertility and women’s health clinic.  She sees people daily who struggle with infertility.  I went in not even thinking that she could help as I wasn’t trying to conceive. I told her my story, and she ordered a sonogram.  I had had hundreds of sonograms at this point, so I was skeptical that she would find something that others missed.  I was right.  She confirmed that I did have PCOS but couldn’t pinpoint the cause of my symptoms.

Then she did something that NO ONE had thought to do.  She ordered an MRI.  As simple as that: an MRI. Why didn’t anyone else think to do that?  I went back a few weeks later and had the MRI.  I hated it.  The little tube smelled funny, and I wasn’t able to move for what seemed like hours.  I just kept telling myself, After this we’ll know what’s wrong with me.

We went to her office to go over the results.  My mom was on one side of me and my soon-to-be husband on the other.  We were all nervous. Dr. Tatpatti dropped a bomb on us all by starting out with, “Did you know you only have one kidney?”  We were all shocked!  No one had ever told us this!  She then told me that I had a bi-coronate uterus. She explained that I had two uteruses and two cervixes and a nub of a second vaginal canal.  The blood was just sloshing back and forth between the uteruses which was causing me to bleed for months and in heavy amounts.

My first thought, and everyone’s first question, was if I was supposed to be a twin or something? That’s not the case.  Dr. Tapatti informed us that I have a rare genetic condition that I was just born with.  (We had no idea that this ran in our family because my dad was adopted, and we don’t know much of his biological history.) It was as if a weight was lifted off of my shoulders.  I believed with all my heart that I would be cured since we figured out what was wrong with me.  We had a plan of action and steps to take to fix me.  She prescribed me progesterone, so we could kick start my period because I needed to be on my period for an exploratory surgery, so she could confer with some peers to figure out what needed to be done.   We would need to do a partial hysterectomy and remove the “extra” uterus and cervix.

A few months after my wedding, I went in for the partial hysterectomy.  Surgery went as expected, and they were able to remove the smaller set of organs.  I’m left with a “working” set but my uterus and cervix are smaller than others.  She told me to expect difficulty getting pregnant, and IF I was able to get pregnant, it would be questionable if I would be able to carry and deliver a baby.   I hadn’t even considered this.  I thought I would be “normal” after the surgery.

I was a newlywed, and I was getting questions non-stop about when we were going to have children.  For the first few years, I was able to laugh it off and say, “It’ll happen soon.”

I don’t know when that changed.  I’m no longer able to laugh it off.  It’s awkward and uncomfortable. Most of our friends and family know the story, but strangers (why are strangers even asking me about children?) and new friends are the worst. Once they ask, I feel like I have to explain my condition to them which inevitability leads to more questions and comments. Comments about so and so’s third cousin who went through IVF or your sister’s mother-in-law who adopted a kid and then miraculously got pregnant after they stopped trying.  I know they don’t mean to upset me, but they do.

Commercials for pregnancy tests piss me off. I have taken hundreds of pregnancy tests over the years.  I don’t have a period for months sometimes, and I can’t help but to get my hopes up. They are always negative. The commercials always portray a positive test and a happy family.  It’s unrealistic.  People always reach out to me to go to their doctor, try this weird herbal tea, and try acupuncture because, “It worked for (fill in a name).”  I have to say that I have tried a bunch of weird stuff because it couldn’t hurt right?  Well every time I subconsciously think that it might work, and every time I get my hopes crushed.

I can handle when friends or family tell me they are expecting because I know that they will be good parents and love the crap out of the kid. I mean, it still sucks, and it’s hard to hear, but generally I’m happy for them. But there are others.  A few years ago a friend of my husband’s got his girlfriend of a few months pregnant.  They were both drug users and not in a stable relationship. This was by far the worst one for me to handle.  When the baby was born, we went to the hospital to congratulate the new mom and dad. They were dealing with some family drama (as always) and gave the baby to me to hold.  I just stared down at her little face, turned my back, and cried.  I cried for her–her life was going to be so hard–and I cried because I was mad and sad that my husband and I were not able to have a child.  I quietly wiped my tears, we said our goodbyes, and left.  We walked out of the hospital, and my husband just held me. That was the last time I saw those “friends.” Later, I heard the little girl was taken away from them and put into someone else’s custody.

I have undergone several rounds of progesterone and Clomid. It hasn’t worked.  Dr. Tatpatti told us that if the Clomid fails to work then our next step is IVF.  I’m scared of IVF.  Since my uterus is smaller than others, she recommends that we don’t implant more than one embryo at a time.  This cuts our chances of it taking in half.  And IVF is expensive; I worry that I’ll spend all this money that I don’t have and won’t end up with a baby.

My husband and I have talked about adoption. We are not against it at all, but we would like to have a child with our DNA.

We have been struggling for NINE YEARS. We are going to start ANOTHER round of Clomid this winter. If that doesn’t work, I guess we’ll move onto IVF. I guess I have drug my feet because what if the IVF doesn’t work?

I wish I could just get pregnant on my own.

 

And the Results Are In…

Today, my nurse called with my biopsy results.

Good news and bad news.

The good news is I’m positive for proteins (that help “hold on” to embryos) and everything else looks normal.  There’s nothing to indicate that a transfer will fail.

But that’s also the bad news.  We didn’t find anything wrong, so there’s nothing to do differently.  There’s still no reason why our last transfer failed.

That’s the thing with infertility.  You hope for bad news–that the test results will reveal a problem because that problem could be the cause of your infertility and there might be a treatment for it.  Good news–like positive test results or everything looking good–is actually the bad news because you don’t get any answers.

Irregardless of our unanswered questions, we’re moving forward. This weekend will be spent sorting and ordering medications, printing documents, signing papers, and getting ready.  Monday I start the first of the medications for our frozen embryo transfer (FET) scheduled for early June. Here we go, again.

 

 

Integrin Biopsy Day Sucks

Over the last few years, I’ve had a lot of tests and procedures.  I’ve had vaginal ultrasounds and daily blood draws, the “dye” test, and visualization of my uterus.  I’ve had my follicles “aspirated” and embryo-carrying catheters slipped through my cervix.  I’ve learned not to panic, stress, or fear these procedures  They’ve never been as utterly awful as I’ve been lead to believe, and I have a high pain tolerance.

Today, however, I had my integrin biopsy.

It sucked.

I arrived before my 1:15 check-in time. The receptionist warned me that my doctor was in delivery, so I might have to wait. No problem. It’s to be expected.

The waiting room was packed. I was surrounded by pregnant women with their spouses and new moms with their infants. There was even an adorable little boy, about two years old, who was playing and running around all cute.

I sat off to the side, alone, trying to ignore all the happy pregnancy chatter and hormones swirling around the room.  The longer I sat, the worse I felt. I contemplated telling the receptionist I would be waiting out by the elevators instead of in the waiting room.

Finally around 1:45 (the scheduled time of my appointment), my name was called, and I was escorted to the exam room. After a quick medical review, I changed into the open front gown and draped myself with the thin, white sheet. And I waited.

It didn’t take long before the hospital-cold seeped through my lack of clothing, and I started to get chilled.

Around 2:10, the nurse popped her head back in to assure me that they hadn’t forgotten about me.  She said my doctor was next door, so I would be next.   Thank God, I thought.  I was officially freezing.

When I checked the clock again, it was 2:30.  I had been there since 1:15; I had been freezing since 1:45.  I contemplated lying down and trying to nap.

Then a knock at the door came, but it was just the nurse again coming to add insult to injury. She apologized, saying she should have had me give a urine sample for pregnancy test before I came to the room. The doctor wanted to be sure I wasn’t pregnant before she “stuck something up there.”

It took all I had not to make a rude (and honest) comment about the likelihood of my being pregnant considering I was only there because of infertility and a failed donor-egg embryo transfer.

Instead, I got redressed and went back out to the waiting room to give a urine sample while everyone listened. (I declined the specimen cup the nurse offered to bring me in the exam room–which had no bathroom.)

Back in the exam room, unclothed, and freezing again, I resumed waiting (and trying not to think about all the pregnancy bellies and babies outside that door and my impending negative pregnancy test).

Finally, my doctor arrived.  She asked how I was and checked out my biopsy kit. She said it was likely this would be an easy biopsy because given where I was in my cycle, my cervix should be opening slightly to allow sperm to pass.

She was wrong.

She struggled to gain access to my uterus because of the curve of my cervix. Two different tools later, she finally decided my cervix, although open, was tilted toward the back. Multiple adjustments of the speculum, dabbing and wiping of cotton swabs, and finally two or three attempts with the “pinchers” later, she finally had decent access.

She repeatedly apologized as I lay there immobile just trying to breathe through the worsening cramping, sharp pinching pains and repositioning of the tools. Multiple times, she had to wait while the nurse left the room to get another necessary, yet missing, torture device.

Eventually, it was over, and I was left to redress, take my specimen, and find my way to FedEx to overnight it to California.

All the way to FedEx, I fought tears.  All through Wal-Mart, I fought tears (meeting pregnant women and carts devoted to newborns in car seats in every aisle).  All the way home, I fought tears.

As I unloaded groceries, I gave in. The physical pain was bad enough, but it was just the final straw on top of the emotional strain of today.  I had been reminded at every turn how hard it’s been and how unfair it is that we have to work this hard.

And now we wait, yet again, this time for biopsy results. If it shows the necesssary proteins are present, we still have no idea why our last transfer failed or what to do differently next time. If the proteins are missing, we have something else to try but still no guarantee of a successful transfer with our remaining embryo.

Integrin biopsy day sucks.