Congratulations!

In the last month or so, I’ve seen more than a dozen announcements.  They’re everywhere.  Friends, family, acquaintances, friends of friends, family of friends, not to mention the television plot twists (Bernadette on The Big Bang Theory went from a positive pregnancy test to full basketball belly in one episode–really?).

There are cute, pun announcements and ultrasound images and newborn pictures and bulging baby bellies.  There are big brother and sister t-shirts.  And there are happy, smiling faces.

Sometimes, I smile, “like,” and share my congratulations.   Because I’m happy for them.  I truly am. But I’m also sad and hurt and angry because those pictures and announcements are a sucker punch to the gut.  Every.  Single.  Time.

I scroll through social media, and there’s the announcement: we’ve got a bun in the oven!  Immediately I enter a state of shock, almost freezing, like my brain can’t quite process what my eyes are seeing.  It’s like when you burn yourself, but it’s so hot that it feels cold, and you don’t react quite fast enough because your pain receptors haven’t caught up with what your brain knows to be true.  But it’s not my brain that’s stalled….or it is, but only in order to protect my heart because it’s stopped too.  It hovers between beats just a second too long as that moment of seeing but not recognizing, knowing but refusing to comprehend drags on.  And on.  And on.

Then suddenly it all comes rushing in at once.  The understanding of what I’m seeing and the pain of recognizing it for what it is, like a waterfall crashing over my head, rushing downward, threatening to drown me.  And I’m choking, trying to catch my breath, and my heart falls into my stomach, and I’m doubled up, struggling to breathe, and trying not to cry even though the tears flood the back of my eyes and quiver around the edges.  And the burn sears, hurting as bad as I knew it would.

Outside, I smile and offer my congrats.  Those who don’t know prattle on about how surprised they were to find out or how happy they are and the cuteness of baby booties.  And I smile.  And offer my congrats.

But others know.  They see the pain through the smile and hear it in the well wishes that always sound a little forced because the words are hard to get out when you’re struggling to breathe.

And they say how strong I am.  And they ask if I’m okay.  And, of course, I say yes.  Because what else am I to do?

 

Happy Anniversary!

Today is one year since our first trip to our fertility clinic.

A year ago, we were just finishing up a full day’s worth of testing and information.  Needless to say it was an overwhelming process, and we knew very, very little.  We thought we were in for the easiest of IVF cases, male-factor infertility.  We thought IUI (intrauterine insemination) might even be an option.  We’ve learned a lot in a year.

But a year later, it’s still pretty overwhelming, and we’re still learning.

Last week I ordered my meds to prepare for transfer.  On Day 1 of my next cycle, I’ll call our donor nurse.  She’ll draw up a calendar.  We’ll check that our Thanksgiving plans coordinate with the calendar and that the transfer would occur on or before Dec. 18 (the last day for a transfer at our clinic until after the holidays).  If it all works out, we’d be set for a transfer in December.  If it doesn’t, we’ll be looking at January.

So, the short version is that from Cycle day 1, it’s about six weeks to transfer.  I’ll go on a series of injections to prepare my uterus for transfer (if everything goes right, I’ll continue those injections through the first trimester).  The day before insemination, they’ll thaw our frozen eggs (thanks Donor #2561!).  The next day, my husband will make his contribution, and the embryologist will perform ICSI, carefully injecting a single, individually chosen sperm into each egg (no swimming required).

icsi

Then we wait.  The next day, we’ll get a status update on the embryos to see how many have started to divide.  Meanwhile, I’ll undergo daily monitoring (ultrasounds and blood work) to make sure all my hormones and uterine lining are nice and cozy for the embryo.

On Day 5, the embryos will reach the blastocyst stage and will be graded for quality.  We will receive that report and confer with our doctor about how many to transfer.  (Don’t panic:  in our post-octo-mom world there are now industry recognized guidelines regarding how many embryos to transfer.)

ASRM-guidelines-number-ET

On Day 6, we’ll go in for the transfer.  Our doctor will take the selected embryo(s) and place them directly into my uterus. (Any leftover embryos  will be frozen.) I’ll then be flat on my back for at least an hour and then on bed rest for the next 24 hours in the hopes that the embryo will stick.

Then we wait.  Two weeks later, we’ll take a pregnancy test to see if we’ve successfully conceived.

 

 

Guest Post: After the Loss

This guest author is a teacher and ranch wife who spends her days wrangling calves and kids. This is her second guest post; she also authored Celtic for Sorrow.

October is infant and pregnancy loss awareness month.

And I hate it.

Some women embrace the month and its dedication to the memory of their children: unborn or lost soon after birth.  It gives them a connection to the families that they dreamed to build and a chance to share their story, if they choose, or at least take some comfort in the knowledge that the world recognizes their grief, even though it can’t help with it.

But to me, October brings full circle the small, quiet thought that the memory of my lost child always brings into the deepest corner of my heart: “You’re a failure.”  My close circle of friends, each aware of our loss, and most of them struggling with their own battles, tag me and reach out to me….and all I want to do is bury myself away or shout to them, “Why are you reminding me?!  I’m not a mother; I’m a failure.”

I know I shouldn’t feel that way.  As a scientist and a teacher, I’ve read all the research that says most of the time there is no valid reason for the loss of a pregnancy or for infertility or the death of a new child.  I know it; I teach it (I’ve decided it’s one of the levels of hell, teaching teenagers–with their multitude of questions–about pregnancy and complications associated with it in their various forms).

But I do feel like I failed.  Every time I visit the gravestone of my infant daughter.  Every time I hold the hand of a small child.  Every time someone asks if we’ve considered having more children or when we’re planning on it, thinking more than a year later the wounds have healed.  Every time we ask ourselves if we’re planning on having a child.

 

I’m a failure.

 

It really shouldn’t feel that way.  A year and a half after the loss of our daughter, our lives are back to normal—on the outside.  I finished a Master’s degree, my husband got a promotion, we went forward with plans to build our home and broke ground…life’s moved on.  But that feeling still lingers.  And it’s like a sickness, invading the corners of my life.

When we lost Deirdre, we had the two week follow-up appointment.  Most couples bring in their baby for a wellness check.  I came in alone and sat, waiting for the doctor to call me, in a room full of newborns.  Finishing the exam, she told me we could try again for a child in as little as a month, that there should be no complications.

Before we had our daughter, we had planned to remain childless.  We both like children, but when told by doctors that my PCOS would be an issue, we accepted it for what it was and embraced the life we were given.  During my follow-up, the doctor explained to me that our unexpected, unplanned, unlikely pregnancy had reset my body and made future pregnancies easily possible.  The loss of my child had made possible future children.

I left the office stunned.  Everything was different.  We could have children.  We could try again.  Could it really be that simple?  That in a month, we could try to build a family we’d never thought possible?

They don’t tell you the thought process people struggle with when choosing to try for a child after a loss.  For us, we alternated between our original decision to not have children and trying again.

My husband, strong, masculine, big man that he is, was terrified.  The idea of possibly losing another child, mixed with not only the memory of our stillborn daughter but also seeing me lying near death in a hospital bed, made his decision for him:  No.  Less than a week after we buried our daughter, I listened to my husband tell his closest friend while I slept nearby, “We could have another child.  But I can never find another her.  I can’t lose her.”

And I understand.  I remember the fear on his face.  I remember the months of struggle that it took before I could even carry my own bag to the car.  I remember the doctor explaining that if my kidneys didn’t start working in two hours I would be dead.

But for me, there is more.  For me, there is the little voice whispering in the back of my mind, “Failure….”  This could be a chance–a chance to prove that I was not a failure, that I could create a beautiful child and protect it this time, that after feeling the world end, we could still have the happy family.

It’s not a decision to be made in a month.  It took us over a year to decide that we might be ready to make a decision.  As we moved on with building our home, we planned to try again, quietly, hoping for the best and preparing for the worst.  We got prepared: ovulation charts and kits, proper vitamins, timing, planning.  A month into trying, I felt sick: highly sensitive to smell, nauseous, no period after months of clockwork flow.  Could it have been that simple?  Really?

Two weeks later, my period came.  And with it, all the indications of a pregnancy lost in the first few weeks.  There are no words to describe the emotions I felt, or maybe there are, but none that I can find to share.  I was back on the rollercoaster of grief and sadness that I thought I was finally done with.  And so I wait.  I wait for time to heal my wounds enough that I’ll be okay, and that I can imagine trying again, setting myself up for the pain, again.

When we shared our story, somebody asked what the journey is like after the loss of a child.

This is life after child loss.  It is confusing.  It is overwhelming.  It is heartbreaking.  You alternate between wanting to share your story and be comforted and wanting to hide away and be left alone.  You have good days, and now they outnumber the bad.  But you still have nights where you crawl into bed and quietly whisper, “Today was a bad day.”  You still doubt yourself.

But you keep going.  You push through to be the person you were before, or as close as you can be.  You make the choice to try again because you hope for your shot at happiness, your rainbow in the end, all while struggling to keep your head up and convince yourself, and everyone else, that you’ll be okay, and you’re prepared for the next step of the journey.

Giving Up Hope

Most people who know me would call me a realist or a even a pessimist.  What they don’t see is that I have an incredibly strong sense of the ultimate good of the universe.  In order to maintain that belief, I must also have a powerful belief in hope.  Clearly, my sense of  universal karmic balance is supported by the definition of hope: “the feeling that events will turn out for the best.”

However, there is another definition of hope: “the feeling that what is wanted can be had.”  I show this hope to almost no one.  I keep it deeply buried, reserved for only the very most important things.  And, usually, it just breaks my heart.

 

While it’s true that we’ve been contemplating our next move (see To Test or Not To Test), hope that “what is wanted can be had” has also slowed our progress.  She keeps whispering that, despite all evidence to the contrary, this is all a bad dream.

Despite the year since the initial diagnosis of my infertility, the year since what we thought would be “easy” male factor infertility (as “easy “any infertility could be) was compounded with early menopause and a less than 30% chance of conception, despite the almost four months since our failed attempt at retrieving my eggs, despite the several weeks since we picked our egg donor, despite having two infertility diagnoses between us (either of which alone makes natural conception nearly impossible), Hope keeps hanging around.

So when I was late this month, that little voice of spoke up again.  Maybe…just maybe.  The more days went by, the more insistent that little voice became.  Maybe the last three years had been a nightmare.  Maybe…just maybe, we had a miracle.

Then, Hope broke my heart.

There are those who will say to keep believing in the voice, that miracles do happen, that God answers prayers, that they have had their own miracle……(and some will write exactly those comments in response to this post).

But the other voice, the voice of reason, says….blah, blah, blah.  Miracles are only miracles because not everyone gets one.  Stop wasting your time hoping for something that will never come. Accept reality.  You’re never going to just get pregnant.

This voice is right.

Hope has become a tool of denial, a symptom of grief.  Every day I wait for a miracle, I’m one day older.  Every day we wait is another day that we are living without a child.  And every day is another day wasted on false hope because “the feeling that what is wanted can be had” is ironically perpetuating my infertility.

 

So, I have to give up hope.
It’s the only way for events to turn out for the best.dandelion2

 

Guest Post: That Space Between

For many, motherhood is a straight and direct path, but for others it’s filled with hills and valleys and obstacles and curves.  I’m Diana, mother of two and wife who works full time outside the home.  I’m also an avid fan of Samantha’s photography; she has always done a beautiful job capturing images of my children.   Here is our story not seen in the photographs.kids holding hands

We always said we got married late in life, and at the ripe age of 27, it felt like it compared to most of our friends.  We wanted to enjoy some time together, work on the house, travel a little, and we knew we needed to save a little money before we had kids.  We were so responsible.  But if we knew then how long it would take to have a baby we would have thrown caution to the wind.

We finally decided to start trying when I was 30 and he was 31.  It would take us almost two years to get pregnant.  We finally went to the doctor after trying for a little more than a year and a half on our own.  She said I likely had poly-cystic ovarian syndrome (PCOS) and put the diagnosis down without any testing, merely observation.  PCOS causes hormones to be out of balance which in turn causes issues with menstruation and makes it difficult to get pregnant.  Most women with the diagnosis are also insulin resistant which leads to weight gain and, later in life, diabetes and heart disease.  She gave me a prescription for Clomid and Metformin and said come back in three months.  On Cycle 2, I found out I was pregnant.  We were thrilled and had no reason to worry.  Everything went well, and we had our son.  He was perfect.

I always wanted my kids to be three years apart.  My sister and I were three and a half years apart, and it always seemed like the perfect space.  So when our son was two and half, we tried again.  We got pregnant.  Right after we told our family at eight weeks, we miscarried.

After another year of trying, we got pregnant a third time.  This time with Clomid again.  Everything seemed to be okay, but I prayed every night that this baby would be healthy and strong.  We went to each appointment and heard the heartbeat. In hindsight, I think I already subconsciously knew something was wrong.

Then it was time for our 26 week appointment; we would find out the gender.  Except, there was no heartbeat.  We were given our options, chose to have a second ultrasound to be sure, and ultimately I delivered our stillborn baby girl.

Our first daughter is still very much a part of our lives: we honor her birthday each year with donations in her name to various causes and programs benefiting children.  Her name is in several places in our home.  When our children are old enough to understand, we will tell them about their sister in heaven.  It would be an understatement and surely completely obvious to say that this experience changed us in every aspect of our lives.

After about 6 months, we started talking about trying again.  I went to a different doctor, one that my sister met to address thyroid issues.  She put me on hormones to try to regulate my body.  So with the help of this new doctor, and a huge leap of faith, we were ready to try again.  By God’s grace we got pregnant a fourth time, nine months after our daughter’s stillborn birth, and I was monitored very closely. Again, I prayed everything would be okay.

At 24 weeks, I was diagnosed with gestational diabetes which added another worry.  I was on hormone therapy until week 28, and our rainbow baby was born two days before her due date.  She was beautiful and perfect and just what we prayed for.  She’s our rainbow because “There is a rainbow of hope after the storm.”

My children are my life, and I’ve spent the majority of my married life trying to have them.  If asked, “Why the age gap?” or “Don’t you want more?”  I always say, “Babies didn’t come easy for us,” but most people just smile and nod their heads.  They have no idea, and that’s okay.  I wouldn’t wish our experience on anyone.

We would love to have more children, but none would replace the two that we lost, and when I see my kids together, I always feel that space between. I always will.  It’s my place and my honor to carry the memory of the two between them in my heart, where they are safe and always loved.