Thursday: Week 5

On Thursdays as 5 p.m. approaches, time slows.

I log on by 4:45 because I’m always early for everything, and then time crawls like a slow-motion scene in a Hollywood blockbuster.  I can’t help but hit refresh every time the screen reloads because what if they’re early updating the database this week?

Shortly after 5 a new donor appears.  I can’t rule her out at a glance.  I open her profile in a new window and refresh the database just in case.  I flip between the two windows, frantically skimming the profile while waiting for the donor list to reload.

Another donor appears.  I quickly open her profile as well.  I know the organization of the documents pretty well by now, so I skip to the pages that contain the highlights.

My husband calls to talk about the first new donor; he hasn’t seen the second.  He refreshes his screen and pulls her up.  As he is skimming the preliminary information in her profile, she’s gone.  My screen updates: “unavailable for reserve.”  I refresh the database and the first donor’s gone as well.  It’s 5:07, and both of this week’s new donors are reserved by someone else.

I want to cry but not because either of these women was a particularly great match.

I want to cry because I’m feeling defeated.  It all happens too fast.  Too fast for me to process the profiles.  When she does finally appear, I’m going to miss her because I’m too slow. Should I have hit the reserve button on one of these women?  Why didn’t I get that one weeks ago?

And I want to cry because I’m starting to feel desperate.  Are my expectations too high?  Am I being too picky?  Does our donor even exist?  Am I going to have to settle?

Mostly I want to cry because I’m tired.  I’m tired of waiting.  I’m tired of wondering.  I’m tired of listening to well-meaning condolences (“You didn’t ‘miss’ her, she just wasn’t supposed to be yours,” “be patient, your donor just isn’t there yet,” “good things come…”).  I’m tired of holding it all together.  I’m tired of falling apart.  I’m tired of this long-drawn out process.

I want to cry because it’s seven days until our next chance at a donor.

Today is a Sad Day

Sadness has been hanging around lately.  She was quiet when she arrived, slipping into the house unseen.  She’s so unobtrusive that I failed to notice her for days, but she’s been seeping into me, a little a time.  Then, all at once, I was saturated, and Sadness spilled unexpectedly from my eyes and down my cheeks.

When she comes to visit, Sadness hangs around for days.  She follows me around the house while I’m trying to be productive.  When I’m washing dishes, I can feel her tug on my pant leg.  When I’m folding laundry, she snuggles up to me on the bed.  When I’m trying to relax in the tub, I can hear her quietly crying in the other room.

Eventually, Sadness insists I carry her with me everywhere; she’s surprisingly heavy.  Her weight pulls me down and saps my energy, leaving me immobile.  Then she gets what she really wants: me to spend all day on the couch, holding her.

Thursday: Week 4

The minor panic attack happened while I was mowing the lawn.  I was hot and dirty, concentrating on finishing.  Suddenly, the panic hit.  Today’s Thursday.  I’d been mowing for hours. What if I’d missed it?

I rushed to the shop and checked the time on the computer:  4 p.m.  I still had an hour.

At 4:45, I logged into the database.  At 5 I started refreshing the page.  As soon as the page loaded, showing the same three donors, I refreshed again.

5:01
5:02–They usually appear around now.
5:03
5:04
5:05–Maybe someone just got a little behind today.
5:06
5:07
5:08–It should have updated by now.
5:09
5:10–Surely they didn’t get hung up this long.

5:15

5:30

5:40

I hadn’t prepared for this possibility.  It never occurred to me that there might not be any new donors.

Thursday: Week 3

Today is Thursday.  Around our house it’s also known as Database Update Day.

After missing a match last week, we were prepared this week.  We were each on a laptop with new the plan to “click first, ask questions later.”

At 5:02, the new donors loaded.  Or, rather, the new DONOR.  Singular.

Upon inspection, it became clear that she was the donor I was reading about last week when I missed the match. Although she had been reserved last week, today she was added back into the database.  Although infrequent, couples sometime do change their minds.  She could have been accidentally selected or the couple may have changed their minds (perhaps as a result of consulting with a geneticist about the donor’s genetic screening).

This week we both got to read about her, and although she’s a match in a lot of ways, neither of us had that surge of immediacy to reserve her.  She just didn’t feel like ours.  So we decided to leave her, agreeing that if she appears again next week, we’ll talk about her more.  If she’s gone, she was right for someone else.

As I check now, she’s no longer available in the database.  Someone has chosen her.

While the addition of only one donor (who wasn’t really new) is disappointing, this week doesn’t sting like last.  We didn’t miss her.  Our donation just isn’t here yet.

Guest Post: Accident to Advocate

Shalee Higgins is the mother of three beautiful daughters, the first conceived with IVF.  She lives on a little farm in the country with her girls, husband, and their menagerie including cats, dogs, goats, ducks, chickens, guineas, horses, and even miniature donkeys.  She works in the agriculture industry and is an advocate for infertility awareness.  She is also Samantha’s cousin.shalee fam

The summer I turned 18 changed my life dramatically.  Just about a month before turning 18 on a hot June day, I was traveling from Harper to Attica on the back roads.  I slowed down to make the turn, and this is when my doctors believed my life changed.

A car driven by a teenage boy traveling over 100 mph struck the back of my car.  Luckily I was wearing my seat belt, and while my car was flipped around and smashed up, I was okay.  I was in a neck brace for a month but went on with my life.

In 2007, when I was 21, I married my husband, and we started trying for a family.

In 2009, at 23, I realized the hate I had for that summer day.  I hated the boy who had been in five or more wrecks before he hit me!  I was 23 and still childless.  When I had my first surgery, it showed that I was full of internal adhesions (abnormal unions of membranous surfaces due to inflammation or injury).  There were only two causes for these adhesions: 1) trauma to the lower abdomen, or 2) disease.  Since I had no diseases, we concluded that the seat belt that kept me in the car also damaged me so badly I might never have children.

In 2010, depressed, childless, and broke, I had my second surgery, performed by my infertility doctor.  He was a great doctor with a great clinic.  That day I had to sign papers allowing him to not only remove adhesions but also a Fallopian tube.  One tube was completely blocked by adhesions and the other was blocked over 50%.  This was my first step to IVF.

After a long IVF process we were successful! On April 9, 2011, we had a little girl.  The doctor told us if we wanted more children to start trying right away after the birth. Adhesions return on their own in most cases, and, in my case, I learned mine return fast between my surgeries. I can tell when my adhesions are back and in full force because it is very painful.

In 2012 we started birth control again to start our next round of IVF. At our first doctor’s appointment we learned we were just about a week pregnant! You should have seen my doctor’s face (I had only one Fallopian tube and was on birth control).  Our second daughter was born on Christmas Day of 2012.

In 2015 we decided to try again with the attitude of if it happened, great, if not we wouldn’t pay for any more fertility work. Girl number three was born in January of 2016.

Today, I believe by the continuous pain I’m in that my adhesions are back and wonder every day if we are done having kids.

Infertility can effect anyone. I heard some hurtful things while I was pregnant. I was asked the question, “Don’t you know how that happens?” That is when I decided to start talking and educating people about infertility. Now, I tell them about fertilizing my eggs in a dish!

Tick, Tick, Boom

Our culture loves to talk about ticking biological clocks while pressuring women to reproduce before they “run out of time.” Somehow, I avoided the ticking.  I was 28 when we married.  I didn’t hear the ticking.  I was 32 when we started trying.  Still no ticking.  Intellectually I knew I was aging, but I also knew many, many women who were having children into their mid- and even late-thirties.  We wanted children, but I wasn’t driven by a biological urge armed with a detonator.

Tick: When we really started trying to conceive, time gained significance.  Each month, we timed our attempts at conception, tracking what should have been my most fertile days.  I charted and monitored, and when the time was right, we tried.  And tried.  And tried.  Then, time would inevitably reveal that our efforts were fruitless, so for a year we timed again and again.  A year of daily testing at the same pre-dawn time.  A year of counting days.  A year of trying on schedule. Getting pregnant was taking too long.

Tick: Then we saw a doctor.  I took the first of the timed medications, taken on specific cycle days at exact times, followed by scheduled bloodwork, and we tried.  Two rounds later, we timed the minutes to the doctor’s office to make sure we arrived on time for the first of the tests.

Tick: Months later, we began juggling schedules, trying to anticipate the days we should (and could) visit the clinic for extensive testing.  When we checked in, we were given our day’s schedule, each minute of the day documented.  We rushed from one appointment to the next, one invasive test to another, and at the end of the day, we were given instructions for yet more tests on another time table.

Tick: A few weeks, later, we got the news that our time was running out.  My ovarian reserves were low and egg quality was compromised.  I was on the clock.

Tick: This spring, we decided to try IVF with my eggs, and we entered a whole new world of timing.  Calendars were calculated and modified when they didn’t match the timing of biology.  I made phone call after phone call, trying to find clinics, hospitals, and doctors’ offices that would accommodate my ultrasound and bloodwork schedules.  Then the calendar shifted again.  The phones calls began again, trying to work out the logistics of testing on weekends and holidays (without having to drive to Denver).  The timing was constantly in flux, so contingency plans upon contingency plans were required.

Tick: When we were given the go ahead, the stimulation meds began.  For the next ten days or so, timing became crucial.  I still took a thyroid medication at 5:30 a.m.  At 6:45 a.m. I administered an injection.  At noon, I took a prenatal vitamin.  At 6:45 p.m., another shot and two pills.  At 8:45, another pill.

Tick: Seven days later, we traveled to Denver, and I added another evening injection.  For the next three days, we woke and arrived at the clinic for 8:30 a.m. testing.  They called every afternoon with specific timing and dosing instructions for the next twenty-four hours.  We live by the clock.

Tick: On day ten, the schedule changed; the next day would be retrieval.  This timing was critical. I took my thyroid medication at 5:30 a.m., two injections at 6:45 a.m., noon vitamins, one injection at 6:45 p.m. and one pill at 8:45 p.m.  Then my husband and I woke at 11:30 p.m. for a new intramuscular injection.  I woke again at 12:30 a.m. for one final injection.

Tick: The next morning, I reported to the surgery center at 9:30 a.m. for a 10:30 retrieval. Repeatedly I recounted the timing of the last twenty-four hours to my nurse, doctor, and anesthesiologist.

Boom: When we learned that the cycle wasn’t successful and we wouldn’t be doing the other two, time stopped.

 

Later, the doctor explained that the uterus doesn’t age like the ovaries, so with an egg donor, we had plenty of time. Now, the daily rituals are fewer.  I’m not counting days and setting multiple alarms and making appointments and keeping schedules.

Instead, I’m waiting for Thursdays at 4:45.  I’m refreshing my browser screen every minute in anticipation of 5 p.m. when the new donors show up.  This week, (week two of the database search), I learned a hard less about just how important time still is.

Thursday, when the new donors appeared, I skimmed the list and started reading about one.  When I exited her profile and refreshed the screen, a bright pink bar appeared, indicating a donor had been reserved and was no longer available.  It was only then I realized I’d missed her.  She was physical match for me.  As I read her profile, I was sickened to see that she was a good personality and education match as well.  We would have chosen her in a second, but in less than ten minutes, barely time to skim her profile, she had been reserved.  Time moved too fast.

Two years ago, I thought I had all the time in the world to start a family.  However, it was only once I learned that my clock had stopped that I began to realize how much time infertility steals.

The years spent trying unsuccessfully to conceive,
the months spent not knowing,
the days spent in doctor’s offices and waiting rooms,
the hours spent making phone calls and managing schedules,
the minutes carved out of the day for medication routines,
the time spent worrying,
and crying,
and mourning,
and regretting,
and thinking,
and waiting,
and hoping…

It’s Thursday

It’s Thursday; this afternoon new donors go in the database.

It’s an awkward place to be, walking the tightrope between hoping and trying not to. Sure, sooner or later, our donor will appear.  And it’s possible that it could be today, in only week two of the search.  But that’s also highly unlikely.  More likely is that we will spend months waiting for her.  So I not hope, and hope.

Last week at the update, there were eight donors.  This morning there are four.  Four families found their donors. Four families are one step closer.  They’re getting their calendars and medications and making their plans.

How many other families are still waiting?

They’re waiting for the woman with just enough resemblance, with the compatible medical history, with the desired education, with the combination of qualities to fit just right?  How many of us will rush to the database at exactly four o’clock to see if she’s there?

How many families are hoping, not hoping?

Calling Contributors

“Thank you for your courage. This world needs more like you
so we can finally get to a place where we understand and just simply love.”

This was one of many comments I received when the blog went public.  While I deeply appreciate (and read and reread) all the support we’ve received, this friend beautifully crystalized what I had struggled to find the words for:

“so we can finally get to a place where we understand and just simply love.”

In addition to the messages of support, I’ve received others’ experiences, losses, successes, fears, and hopes.  Many confess to being too afraid or sad or embarrassed to share their experiences openly, and yet they write to me, exposing their vulnerabilities. Although our individual experiences vary, we share more than most of us realize.

Everyone has a story.

 

So today’s post is a call for contributors.

I’m not going to lie to you and say that writing this blog is easy.  There’s no beautiful bay window I gaze out serenely while the words flow forth in a beautiful symphony.  Rather, the writing more often is difficult and painful.  I struggle to find the right words (and avoid the clichés).  Sometimes the ideas come all jumbled together, and I write furiously, abandon them for a few days, and then piece them together like a puzzle.  Always, I write and rewrite.  Other times I’m blank.  I wonder if there’s anything left to say.  But, for the torture that is this writing, the blog has also been cathartic in that way you feel better after you ugly cry and scream and throw things and collapse in a soggy limp pile on the floor, a mess but relieved.

To promote understanding and simply loving, I’m looking to include all reproductive-related topics: adoption, having large families, having just one child, teen pregnancy, pregnancy loss, infertility, donation, choosing not to have children, etc.  I’m also open to all kinds of contributions.  You want to write a confessional essay?  Perfect. A poem?  Awesome.  A fictional story?  Excellent.  You want to just write it as it comes? Outstanding.  If your topic or genre isn’t on these lists, that’s okay too.

And I can already hear some of you saying, I’d really like to share my story, but I’m not a writer.  That’s okay.  I’d love to help you tell your story (I do teach writing for a living.)

I haven’t worked out all the details yet, so submission “requirements” are subject to change, but I have made a few decisions.  Contributors may share their identities or remain anonymous.  All posts must be reviewed and approved by both the contributor and myself before they are posted.  Most importantly, I will not post anything that does not contribute to the goal of understanding and simply loving.

If you have a story you’d like to tell, please message me. (And if you don’t have a story, please share this post anyway, so we can all learn from and learn to love each other.)  You’re under no obligation to contribute, and it’s completely okay if you say you will and change your mind.  I know how scary sharing is.