Letter To My Littlest Love: Acorns, Stars & Other Things

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Dear Little Acorn,

You have many nicknames already, most of them generated by your sister. At first, you were Staircase Ball-Jar, followed by Cupcake Christmas Tree. Your current name du jour is Rocky Stone.

But there’s one nickname that belongs to you and I alone: Little Acorn. There is a story there, of course.

The day before I found out I was pregnant with you, your dad, sister and I were wandering through a boutique near our house. Hanging on the wall was a bright green onesie. I’m partial to crazy, happy colors, so it immediately caught my eye. On the onesie was an illustration of an acorn, and beneath it the words, “I will be mighty.”

Truth be told, I’m a little slow sometimes, so I didn’t immediately get it. “Wait. Why does it say ‘I will be mighty’ with a picture of an acorn?” I asked your dad.

“You know,” he said, “because an acorn starts out tiny and then grows into a big, strong tree.”

Oh. Oh. My heart started racing right there in that store. Because at that moment I knew: that onesie was for you. My little fighter embryo, destined to grow into a mighty oak.

I didn’t buy it, though. After all, I wasn’t even sure I was pregnant. I hoped, oh God did I hope, but I didn’t know. But I promised myself that I would come back and buy it for you if I was indeed pregnant.

Even though I found out the next day that you had decided to stick around, I didn’t go back. I was too scared. It took me almost six weeks to go back and purchase that tiny green onesie. And even then, when I was asking the sales associate about sizing, I didn’t tell her it was for my baby. I pretended it was for another baby, maybe a friend’s baby, or a random nebulous baby belonging to no one.

You see, I was worried sick. And if I’m honest, I still am, most days. (It’s no secret that your mom is a first class worrier. If you ever want to go skydiving or something, talk to your dad.) I feared that my instinct was wrong and that you weren’t a fighter after all, that you weren’t here to stay. That you weren’t mine to keep, not this time.

But you have proved me wrong time and time again. Out of dozens of embryos, you’re the only one that decided my inhospitable body was a fine place to hang out for a while. So far you are surviving and thriving. And just now you kicked me, as if to say, “That’s right, mom. Here I am!”

Yesterday, your sister and I watched a planetarium show. We learned lots of cool things. One of Jupiter’s moons contains frozen lakes with liquid water churning underneath. The hottest stars are blue. If you get lost on a clear night, you can always find your way home by the Big Dipper—it points right to Polaris, the North Star. The sun is so big that it could hold 1.3 million earths.

And even beyond our sun and our solar system, there are infinite stars and planets. An ever-expanding universe—over 10 billion light years that we will never discover.

It seems hard to believe, then, that with all of those things out there bigger and more awesome than we can even imagine, that something so small—an embryo, an acorn, a baby—could even matter.

But you, mighty one, are our whole world.

We are all counting down the days until we can hold you, kiss your new, soft skin, and see the stars in your eyes.

Love,
Mom

The Things She Carried

[inspired by Tim O’Brien’s novel, The Things They Carried]

She carried 758 needles, 170 suppositories of the vaginal variety, and hundreds of blood draws—she was told she had good veins, like that was some kind of prize to win. She was weirdly proud of her awesome veins, because in this game of carrying and dropping, losing and winning, there’s not much else to be proud of.

She carried 63 ultrasounds, some of them a routine check for follicles, some looking in vain for beating hearts, some checking to make sure “the products of conception” no longer existed inside of her.

She carried names of drugs she could barely pronounce—Menopur, Follistim, Ovidrel, Ganirelix, Intralipids, Lovenox, Prednisone.

She carried four IUIs, three IVFs, 66 follicles, 33 eggs and 20 embryos. Some of these embryos were placed back inside of her, and some never grew beyond a handful of cells. All were loved.

She carried lesions on her ovaries, cervix, uterus and bladder. She carried a blood clotting disorder called antiphospholipid antibody syndrome. She carried overactive natural killer cells, which weren’t really killing much except teeny-tiny embryos too little to fight for themselves.

She carried one laparoscopy attempt. One actual laparoscopy. Three egg retrievals. Two transfers. Two D & Cs.

She carried 1,938 miles of travel—from the house to the fertility clinic; from the clinic to work; from Philadelphia to Manhattan for surgery; from Philadelphia to Woodbury to visit what she hoped would be a miracle doctor; from Philadelphia to Woodstock to spend the day with a fertility visionary. She carried $726 in parking garage fees, and even one parking garage accident.

She carried Please Gods and plea bargains. She carried what-ifs and what-will-I-do-nows.

She carried special diets—no gluten, no dairy, no sugar, no air.

She carried the love of a good man, but she carried it clumsily and sometimes carelessly. She lashed out. She yelled. “Why can’t you carry any of this for me?” she wanted to know. There was no good answer to that question—he knew it and she knew it, and at the end of the day she was lucky to still be holding his heart.

She carried the memory of lost babies—three at last count. First was Gabriel. She lost him on the bathroom floor at work, and by the time she got to the hospital she was so bloody it looked like she was starring in a Carrie remake. Then there was Anna, who was confirmed genetically normal and therefore should have lived, but didn’t. Anna, who said au revoir to the world on Christmas day, but who would never open a single present. Finally, there was Baby B, a loss too new to even get a name.

She carried a persistence that even she admitted was insane. She carried advice from relatives, friends, acquaintances, the checkout lady at Target, wondering why she was doing this to herself, why she didn’t just give up. Stop this nonsense. Be happy for what you have. Halt. Cease and desist before you ruin yourself, your job, your marriage. And she did want to stop, she did. But she needed to try one last time. One more needle, one more blood draw, one more doctor. One more.

And now.

Now she carries a baby inside of her, a little girl, no bigger than a winter squash. She feels her kicks, taps and nudges, and they feel like hope. She still carries the what-ifs—so many what-ifs—but now she carries something else as well—trust. Trust that this is the soul she is meant to meet. She sings to her baby every night, hands on her belly, heart wide open as a summer sky: ‘twas grace that brought you safe thus far, and grace will lead you home.

IVF #2: I Choose Hope

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It’s been a rough week. Since my last post I’ve pretty much descended into madness. I’ve been obsessing about follicle growth and root canals and estrogen numbers. My anxiety level has been out of control.

I’m pretty sure it reached its peak this afternoon. My clinic called to say that I would be triggering this evening. A few minutes later I emailed them to find out what my estrogen was at this point during my last cycle so I could compare. For real-life friends: your estrogen number can be indicative of how many mature follicles you have. The higher your number, usually the more mature eggs you’ll produce. You don’t want the number to get too high because then your ovaries can freak out and fill with fluid, earning you a one-way ticket to the hospital. But you don’t want it too low either. For reference, my estrogen today was around 1500.

So this one nurse writes back. I think she’s kind of new, but I’m not sure. She’s young and super sweet, but she just doesn’t seem as with it as the other nurses.

She writes, “Your estrogen at this time last cycle was 258.”

And I’m like, huh? That seems crazy low. So I write he back saying, “Wait, 258? Is there a missing number somewhere? That seems really low.”

And she writes, “Oh, I’m sorry, 258 was your first beta from your last pregnancy. Your estrogen last time was 2578.”

Cue multiple freakouts. Freakout number one: Who wants to be reminded of an unsuccessful pregnancy right before trying to get pregnant again? WTF? Freakout number two: Why is my estrogen so much lower this time? Does that mean I’ll get half the number of eggs? AAAAAAACCCCCKKKK!

So then I wrote, “Whoa, that’s a lot lower than last time. Does the mean I’ll get a lot less eggs at retrieval?”

After that, another nurse wrote me saying sorry for the miscommunication and that I had been given the wrong number ah-gain. The 2587 number was from the day after trigger shot. My number the day of trigger shot was like 1800-ish.

That’s really not that much of a difference than last time. Plus, I had 16 follicles last time and now I have 12, so it makes sense that the estrogen would be a little less. But by the time time I got that last email my anxiety was in super-freak mode, and continued on that way until about an hour ago.

Until I decided enough of this.

I can choose to keep going down this path of fear that I seem so hell bent on walking, or I can choose hope. That’s what has been absent from this cycle so far: hope. I completely lost sight of it. I got so mired in the teeth pain and the baggage from my last IVF that I let the anxiety completely overtake me. I lost sight of what I long for this experience to be: a chance to connect with the soul who will join our family.

Yes, I’m having major teeth pain and root canals. Yes, I’ve been doped up on Tylenol 3. Yes, I’ve been stressed to the max for days on end. Yes, I’m still sad about the loss of my last pregnancy. Ok, fine, these are not 100% perfect circumstances for an IVF cycle. But what in life is ever perfect? Just because it’s not perfect, doesn’t mean it won’t work.

So today, right now, I choose hope. I’m packing my bags and moving my whole family to Hope Street — and that’s where we’ll stay, for as long as we need to. Fear Street is derelict, you guys. And the neighbors are all paranoid assholes.

As The Ovaries Turn: IVF #2 On The Horizon

Things are moving along here in baby-making land. I had my hysteroscopy a couple of weeks ago and that went well. My doctor said that she did see a slight curve in my uterus, but neither she nor the other doctor she discussed it with felt that it was an issue. So no additional surgery needed, hooray!

I’m currently estrogen priming, which entails taking estrogen pills twice a day. This is to ensure that the follicles grow at the same rate during the stimulation phase of IVF–a greedy, over-acheiving follicle is a very bad thing indeed. Once my next cycle starts, I’ll have a day two ultrasound, and if that looks good (fingers crossed no cysts!), I’ll start injections that night. Of course, the pharmacy is being dumb (long and boring story), so I’m not altogether sure that we’ll get our medications in time, but hopefully we can borrow from our clinic if needed.

I haven’t decided yet if I’m going to blog during this next IVF. I really want to keep my head on straight, and I wonder if the blogging play-by-play last time increased my anxiety. Or maybe I would’ve been an Anxious Annie no matter what (let’s be honest). I might even take a full-on blogging break for a bit to make sure I’m feeling centered. Who knows, dudes. I’m saying all of this, but I might be back posting again tomorrow, all like “Did you guys miss me?!” I guess I just want to let you know that if I do drop off a bit, it’s not because something is wrong.

One of my teachers on this baby-making endeavor, Julia Indichova, often talks about how this journey does not need to feel like a prison sentence. It is only our perspective, she says, that makes it feel like a punishment. I think this is very wise. Some days I do feel trapped in a jail of my own making–like either I’m stuck waiting indefinitely or I have to give up completely. Some days are really, really hard. But other days, I am able to shift my thinking and see this all for what I, deep down, truly believe it to be: a great adventure. An opportunity to become more compassionate towards others, and also towards myself. A chance to get well acquainted with hope and faith.

Thankfully, today is one of those days. I’m feeling pretty good. I don’t know what will happen with the next IVF, and right this minute I don’t really care. Because right this minute I am feeling grateful. I’m thinking about the two pairs of blue eyes–one big and one little–that I get to look into each day. I’m thinking about the cold rain on my face as I left work this evening. Normally, that rain would have pissed me off, but today I was like, yes!

Because, really: how lucky I am to feel that rain. How lucky I am to hear and see. To have good, plentiful food to eat. To know deep love. How lucky I am to feel each breath–a constant rhythm, a reassurance that I am here, right now, exactly where I’m meant to be.

We’re Still Us

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Tonight, our dear friend came over for dinner. He mentioned that he was planning on taking a trip to Iceland this summer. There are few things that Tim and I get more excited about than Iceland — we’ll talk about it with anyone who will listen. We traveled there in the summer of 2011 and it was the vacation of a lifetime. We, of course, had to immediately show our friend the photo slideshow we had made of the trip.

I hadn’t watched the slideshow in years. My first thought upon viewing it was, Who are these people? The couple in the video looked relaxed and carefree. They looked insanely happy.

They looked madly in love.

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I am undeniably still in love with Tim, but I can’t remember a time when we last looked that happy. We looked as if all that mattered in the world was each other. And it’s not like we were untouched by sadness during that trip — in fact, Tim’s childhood best friend had just died suddenly a few days before. I remember stopping on a black sand beach outside the town of Vik so Tim could drop a picture of his friend into the waves. We watched and cried together as it drifted out to sea. But even with that loss, I remember the trip as a time of sweetness and light.

To me, Iceland belongs to the time of Before. Before we lost my mom and our babies, before needles, endless doctors visits and drugs whose names I can’t pronounce. Of course, many happy things have also happened in the years since that trip — the most notable being the birth of our sweet Lettie. Despite all the good we’ve been blessed with, I’ve noticed that over the last few years our love has started to have a heaviness to it. What used to feel buoyant is now weighted down by our shared loss.

But here’s the thing I realized tonight. Although my first thought after seeing that slideshow was, Who are these people?, my next thought was Oh! That’s still us! And I started to feel excited. I began to feel hopeful for the first time in weeks.

Underneath all the grief and sadness, we are still those same two people who are madly in love. Our circumstances may have changed, but we didn’t. I believe that the core of who we are as a couple is still solid. We might not feel that giddy Icelandic happiness this very minute, but we’ve felt it before, and that alone is promise enough that we can feel it again. There’s no getting around the fact that we’re in a season of grief right now, but you never know:

A season of light could be just around the corner.

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The Pink Socks

There’s a suitcase full of my mother’s clothes on the bedroom floor. Everything in it smells like her. It smells of every hug she ever gave me.

In the living room, a beast on borrowed time rests on her dog bed. She sleeps peacefully, but a few days ago she was moaning from a tumor-extracting surgery. Her cancer is gone for now, but there’s no telling if it will return and when.

In the kitchen, there are mice banging around in the cabinets. Their strangely loud clangs and shuffles remind me that unwanted things can creep in at any moment. They make me wonder if life is just a fight to keep the bad things out.

There are pink socks scattered in the hallway, belonging to tiny feet. There’s a pint-sized washcloth drying in the bathroom, no bigger than my hand. These things remind me of the little girl tucked in a crib next to my bed. They remind me of all that’s good in the world.

They remind me of hope.

Prayers For Peggy: Reflections On Love And Motherhood

You might have read in my previous post that my mom was back in the hospital again, this time with meningitis. The meningitis is under control, thank God, but my mom hated being in the hospital. She was miserable to the max. So a couple of days ago, she transferred to a hospice facility. I haven’t seen the place, but my mom, dad and brother say that it is wonderful. You can even bring your pets there if you like!

Hospice is a scary word. Once I heard she had transferred there, I did some research, and what I found made me feel better. Hospice is not about giving up hope, but rather it’s about regaining a better quality of life. It’s about being with your family. It’s about comfort and peace and love. My mom indeed seems much happier and much more comfortable there. And that, my friends, is all I could ever wish for my beloved mother: peace, comfort and buckets of love.

I’m going to put myself out there now and share a letter that I wrote to her because it also explores some of the thoughts and feelings I’ve been having about motherhood.

Dear Mom,

Since I’ve had my daughter, I’ve been thinking about you all the time. I don’t remember a lot from when I was very young, but the one thing that I do remember—strong and clear—is a feeling of overwhelming love for you. I think that’s my first real memory—not a place or a time, but a feeling of love for you. I was a true mama’s girl, as I’m sure you recall. I remember wanting to touch you and hug you and just generally wanting to be around you as much as possible. It occurred to me the other day that, before Tim, you were the original love of my life. Most people only associate that phrase with romantic love, but I think that’s silly. I am lucky enough to have three loves of my life: first there was you, then Tim and now there’s Colette. But you were first and I wanted you to know that.

Love,
Tanya

This letter, of course, became the family joke, with my dad and siblings crying that they “didn’t even make the list.” And to that I say, whatever, peeps. I gots plenty o’ love to go around.

I would be extremely grateful if you all could keep my mother in your thoughts and prayers. If you could send as much goodness as you can spare her way.

I love you like crazy, mom. I love you to the sky and back, and even further still. I love you all the way to the stars and the moon and into the furthest reaches of the ever-expanding universe. There is nowhere you can go where my love cannot reach you.