Guest Post: “But you chose to, so…”

sheena picSheena Hernandez is a wife and a mother of two very active boys.  She is also a “more than full-time” educator. 

I don’t know whether or not I even wanted more children, but suddenly it was too late to have the conversation. When my doctor called me on a Sunday evening and told me in her no-nonsense southern twang that I was so anemic I could die, I didn’t really think about if I had enough children or not.

I hit puberty (a phrase I hate…I didn’t punch it so much as it smacked me) around the same age as most girls. Nothing seemed unusual about it. Sure, my “monthlies” were a little longer (a lot longer) than other girls starting out, and they were a bit heavier that the other girls (and continued to be so), but I got them every month like clockwork, and I never thought they were a problem. No one ever TOLD me I had a problem. I was just a little more tired than the other girls. And it never got better.

Instead, as the years passed and I had one, then two children, the exhaustion got worse. But every time I went to a doctor, a male doctor, a different one each time, I was told I was fine. That I was normal. That it was “in my head.” I wouldn’t be surprised if a doctor wrote “hypochondriac” on my chart (and my office mate will attest that this is not far from the case; I swim in hand sanitizer like I’m practicing for the 2020 Olympics).

However, I could not shake the thought that it was not normal to spend half of every month barely conscious. Or to have to pack extra clothes with me everywhere in case I had an “accident.” Or to carry my huge purse stuffed with overnight-strength sanitary pads (cute little tampons were a pipe dream) lest I be caught out and embarrassed. Or to plan my life, and later those of my husband and sons, around that torturous 7-8-9 days that came every month.

Finally, in my 27th year, I decided to go see one last doctor.  This time a woman. She listened patiently, did all the tests, and finally introduced me to Megatron (the nickname I have for the huge internal ultrasound machine–We became best friends).   All of this lead to that call one Sunday evening, where my no-nonsense, southern-bred doctor told me that I needed to come back to see her ASAP, and we needed to find a solution for my adenomyosis, a fancy word for “worn out old lady womb.” Typically, this condition develops in women much older than my then 27 years.

For six months, we tried pills (nope), shots (hell nope…I had a six month period), and finally (the last result) surgery.  When I chose it, I was just giddy that it was all going to be over. Finally, I could be like every other woman out there. I could own a pair of white pants and stop falling asleep at my desk.

I remember waking up after the surgery groggy and numb. The TV was on; I think it was Maury Povich or a show like that. A nurse must’ve been monitoring me because a few seconds later she walked in as I was groggily picking my nose. She assured me that everything was going to be fine. I remember that she was very soothing, and I couldn’t understand why. Didn’t she realize I was free?  I had two wonderful nurses—one was pregnant, and one was battling cancer. She even let me rub her head where her hair was finally growing back. I felt for both of them, but I wasn’t like them anymore. I was healed.

The next week passed in a blur of Percocet. The week after, I was well enough to make it around a little bit, and the week after that I went back to work. After about six weeks, I was fully healed from my hysterectomy. I was still a bit slow, but I felt like a person…just a person. A non-descript, asexual person.

When I stopped to think about it, I didn’t really feel like this free woman that I thought I would be. I felt like the parts of me that actually made me a woman were gone. As happy as I was to be healthy, as happy as I was to not spend $150 a month on sanitary supplies (I know, right?), I couldn’t help but be aggrieved at this loss that I couldn’t quite pin down. What was wrong with me? What was I missing besides some old ratty uterus that never did me any favors? I had a husband, I had two boisterous sons, I had a fulfilling-if-sometimes-exhausting-career—I had the full Cosmo-approved package. But I felt like a bro in my own home. I felt “in-between.”  …but I chose it.

People asked me how I felt after the surgery, and I said what anyone who has the surgery says: “I felt great, like a new woman.”  “It’s amazing.”  “I am so glad.”  (I wonder why we say this, even to other people who have had the surgery.) But I wasn’t, not 100%. I was happy to be able to give more to the people around me, but I was mourning the people that weren’t going to be.  …but I chose it.

It’s not like they’d want to hear that anyway. When my mother and aunts and cousins would ask me when the next one was coming, I’d laugh it off and tell them I was “out of the game.” I didn’t even have a seat on the bench anymore.  …but I chose it.

Later, in my 30s, I realized what I lost was my choice. It was no longer on the table for me to have more children or not. I was definitely a not.

I have learned not to be bitter about it, and most days it isn’t bothersome–until someone announces they are having a baby, or I pass by the baby section of a store, or I see a sweet baby smile and pudgy baby legs.

And I have learned that being happy for other people does not take away from my happiness, and just because I cannot have children anymore does not mean that I am any less the woman I was before.  I chose the hysterectomy.  And I am choosing to live beyond biological definitions of womanhood.

 

 

Sorry, not sorry.

I knew writing the angry post would make people uncomfortable.  I debated that post for the blog’s entire existence.  I discussed with others whether or not I should post it.  (If you missed it, it’s here, but stand forewarned, it contains explicit language and apparently was objectionable enough to warrant a follow-up post.)

I knew anger would be less well-received.  Sadness and disappointment and grief are easier emotions to understand and accept.  We’re used to offering sympathy and comfort.  I knew some readers wouldn’t know how to react.  I knew some readers would think like that I had no right to be angry.  I knew some readers would be disappointed in me.  I knew some readers wouldn’t appreciate my choice of language.  I knew some readers would dismiss the entire blog based upon that one post.

But let me clear.  I wrote that post because anger is a significant part of my experience. The vast majority of the time, I put a nice face on my experiences for everyone else.  I say the socially acceptable things and behave politely.  And that’s fine.  But in writing the blog, I have chosen to be honest and transparent.  Not writing about anger would have been disingenuous.  And I can hear the critique now: “But you didn’t have to use those words.”  Yes. I did.  They were the only words I had that could even begin to describe my anger. I wasn’t profane for the sake of being profane.  I wasn’t trying to be dramatic.  The post wasn’t for shock value.  That post was  honest, perhaps the most honest one I’ve written.  It was raw and very, very real.

I also knew that writing the blog would open our experiences up to criticism, comment, and judgment.  Our choices would become topics for debate.  Our very personal experiences would become part of the public discourse.  Unsolicited advice would pour in.  And yet I post–not because I want to be the center of attention or because I want everyone in my business.

I post because these incredibly common experiences need to become public.  The infertility number is 1 in 8, for loss it’s 1 in 4.  And yet, we keep these experiences behind closed doctors’ office doors.  We whisper them with the dirty little family secrets at holidays.  We keep them secret because of the pain and shame and judgment they bring.  And we keep these experiences private because they are private and because they hurt to talk about and because sometimes we just want to forget about them even for just a minute and because they don’t define our lives or our families.

And we keep them private because talking about them makes other people uncomfortable.

And it should.  They’re uncomfortable topics.

But frankly, this is my story.  I don’t write it to make you comfortable.  I don’t write it to seek your advice or invite your criticism or judgment.  I don’t even write it for your support.  I write it because it’s a story that needs to be told.  I write it for the women and men who feel the same fear and shame and grief and hurt and anger but can’t put their experiences into words (clean or profane).  I write it “so we can finally get to a place where we understand and just simply love.”

So, if you’ve been made uncomfortable by my posts:

Sorry, not sorry.

To Test or not to Test…

to-test-or-not-to-test-this-is-the-prblem-2-638

In addition to rerunning a few tests (because it’s been a year, or nearly, since they were run), the next major step in our process is deciding if we will CCS test the embryos.  While this was not really optional with my eggs (due to their compromised quality), it is optional for our donor eggs. (If you missed it, a more detailed discussion of CCS testing is here.)

The Cons

  • Testing will delay our calendar and transfer for up to six weeks (assuming the next cycle is a good time for us).
  • Testing requires thawing the eggs, inseminating them, growing them for a few days, extracting DNA, and freezing them.  For transfer, they must be thawed again (and the remaining embryos, refrozen).  While the likelihood of losing an egg or embryo during  the freezing, thawing, freezing is significantly lower than it was with my eggs, it’s still a possibility.
  • Then there’s the cost.  CCS testing is $6225 for the first six embryos.  We currently have 12 frozen eggs, so, with any luck, we’ll have at least ten embryos (and steeper testing bill).

The Pros

  • Testing will identify any embryos with chromosomal anomalies (most of which are not viable and either will not result in pregnancy or will result in miscarriage).
  • Embryos with anomalies will not be transferred; therefore, the likelihood of an embryo not implanting or of implanting and miscarrying is significantly lowered.  Embryos with viable chromosomal anomalies (like Down Syndrome) will also be identified and will not be transferred.
  • Ruling out not viable embryos means it’s less likely that we will have to have multiple transfers to achieve a single conception.  (The cost of just one transfer (including only the ultrasounds, transfer, and coordinator fees and excluding, among other things, medications) is about $5100.
  • Testing will reveal the gender of each embryo.

Donor eggs are in their prime.  This means the statistical odds of an embryo having an anomaly are the same as the general population.  That said, approximately one-third of donation recipients still opt for CCS testing.

Today, I’m not that good a person.

WARNING: The following post is an expletive filled rant.  It’s not my most flattering post, but the point of the blog is to be honest about my experiences.  So, if you’re easily offended, please skip this post.

I’ve tried really hard to remain composed.

I know resenting you is futile.  I know your happiness does not cause my unhappiness. I know your success is not my failure.  I know your fertility does not cause my infertility.  I know your fecundity does not cause my barrenness.

Some of you say,
“You should be grateful you live in a time with this technology,”
“You’re lucky this is an option for you; it’s not for everyone,”
“Aren’t you excited you found a donor?”
“Family isn’t about blood,”
“When it’s all over it will be worth it,”
Etc.
Etc.
Etc.

And you know, you’re right.
I should be grateful.
I should be happy.
I am lucky.
I know all this.

Someday I will be all those things.

But some days, I’m just not that good a person.

Today’s one of those days.

 

Today, I’m jealous.

And resentful.

And bitter.

And just plain pissed.

 

For fuck’s sake is it really necessary during every, single commercial break of the television show I’m binge-ignoring to show the same advertisement for a new series following several couples who are “expecting”?

And apparently it’s that point in the ratings season where every, single show must announce a shocking, plot-twisting pregnancy scandal.

And that’s only the shit icing of the shit cake I’ve been served lately.  There’s been cutesy pregnancy announcement after naked newborn photo after lengthy list of this year’s hottest baby names.  I’m inundated from every angle.  Baby products and conception tips and infertility treatments infiltrate my life.  (Stop rubbing my face in it, Big Brother!)

So I’m pissed.

But I’m not just pissed.

I’m fucking pissed.

In fact, I’m mother-fucking pissed.
(How’s that for a little expletive irony–mother? mother fucking? No mothers here, by fucking or other means.)

I’m pissed that other people can take fertility for granted. I’m pissed that protruding pregnancy bellies stalk me through stores.   I’m pissed that everywhere I turn are happy families.   I’m pissed that literally hundreds of my acquaintances have had children in the time we’ve been trying (and, yes, hundreds is accurate…I have a list).  I’m pissed that 32 was too old, and 34, nearly 35, is WAY too old.  I’m pissed that my ovaries have betrayed me.  I’m pissed that trying to conceive is costing us a small fortune. I’m pissed that infertility is considered an elective medical condition.  I’m pissed that I’ve had more invasive exams in the last year than most women have a decade.  I’m pissed that everything must be monitored and planned and organized and scheduled and a conscious fucking decision.  I’m pissed that I won’t ever get to surprise my husband with a pregnancy test.  I’m pissed that I won’t get to announce my pregnancy with a cute staged photo.  I’m pissed that I have to make decisions most people never do. I’m pissed that, yet again, I’m going to be on daily hormones and injections, for months.  I’m pissed that everyone expects me to be happy and grateful and overjoyed that I get to have some other woman’s kid. And I’m pissed that I’m not allowed to be pissed.

Mostly, I’m pissed that it’s just not fair.

Today, I’m not that good a person.