The View From Down Here

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A quick peek inside my head.

Well, here I am. A little less than two weeks post surgery. I’m feeling much better physically.

But mentally, yikes. If you could see my thoughts right now, you’d be like, whoa. They’d be all black clouds and evil robots and scary vintage dolls with those flip-lid eyes and I don’t even know what else.

Things were ok for a while. Initially after the surgery I felt relief. It’s over, hooray! I have endometriosis, hooray! It may seem strange to feel relieved upon finding out you have an incurable disease, but I was just glad that we finally had some answers. So many things were explained: the spotting before my period (endometriosis on my cervix), frequent urination (endometriosis on my bladder), the pain in my lower right side that doctors had been dismissing for years (endometriosis on my ovary) and my crap-quality eggs (endometriosis everywhere). And even better, all of it was removed! (P.S. the surgeon did remove the endo on my ovary – in my anesthesia-addled state I misheard the him.) For the moment at least, I am endometriosis free!

I was also feeling happy with myself. Happy that I kept searching and digging until I finally got some answers. That I didn’t give up. That I trusted my gut and listened to Dr. Braverman when he told me to get surgery after a ten minute phone consult. I was like, well, this is totally crazy, but I think he’s right so I’m going for it.

And he was right. We both were.

So yeah, I was feeling pretty good for a few days, despite the pain.

But then, I don’t even know what happened.

Maybe it was the fact that recovery was worse than I’d expected.

Maybe it’s because, as relieved as I was, it started sinking in that I have an incurable disease. Yes, the endometriosis is gone, but it usually comes back at some point.

Maybe it’s because, despite my very best efforts, I can’t seem to get my stupid teeth situation under control. Like, I can’t remember a time when my teeth didn’t hurt. One gets fixed and another one gets jacked up. It’s never ending.

Maybe it’s because we’ve been going at this babymaking crap for over two years.

Maybe it’s because I’m staring down the barrel of our last IVF. One final chance and that’s it.

Maybe it’s because after all of our talk of adoption, I don’t know if that’s truly going to end up being a valid option for us. We don’t have the cash up front right now to make it happen, so we’d have to either borrow money, clear out our dire-emergency-only funds, save for years or a combination of the three. Not to mention the fact that this fertility journey has already taken a toll on my relationship with Tim. We’re not headed to Divorce City or anything like that, but I think we both agree that we’ve seen happier days. What would another two or so years going through the adoption process do to us? Yes, I want another child more than almost anything, but not at the cost of my marriage. I’m not saying adoption is off the table, but it’s certainly going to require further discussion and exploration.

So when all is said and done, we may end up without another child. Which means we would have spent years on this journey with nothing to show for it — nothing good anyway. Two dead babies. A sharps container full of needles. A strained marriage.  Not to mention that I’m now the kind of person who rolls my eyes when I see a pregnancy announcement — so essentially I’ve become someone who begrudges others their happiness. And I’m sure I’m a worse parent to Lettie than I would have been if I didn’t go through any of this stuff. How many times have I been obsessing about my fertility, or lack thereof, instead of being in the present moment with the amazing child that I already have? How many times? Just thinking about it makes me want to cry my eyes out. She deserves better than that. Tim deserves better than a wife who’s anxious, upset and preoccupied all the time.

And there it is, the root of why I’ve been feeling so low lately: maybe I’ve fought valiantly for the last two years, but I’m not sure I like the person I’ve become.

Add Another Month Onto The Wait Pile

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Guys, I’ve really been struggling this last week or so. I know I’m grieving, and I know that means ups and downs, but holy crap I just feel so down right now.

My cycle returned last night. I was all, “Hooray, I can have my day three ultrasound and schedule my hysteroscopy. Things are finally going to get started again!”

Nope.

See, the thing is that my hCG is not back at zero yet. Last week it was still at 26. So when I went to get my blood drawn this morning, the nurse said they won’t do an ultrasound or a hysteroscopy until my hCG is negative. This is not likely to happen in the next few days, as my hCG has been decreasing by half every week, so I probably have another two weeks before it’s totally down.

And apparently, even though I have a period (which, to me, clearly says my body has reset itself), I cannot proceed with any kind of tests until my hCG is at zero. Why? I have no idea. The nurse said it was protocol. I’m planning on sending my doctor an email today asking for further clarification.

Basically what this boils down to is that I’m benched from getting the hysteroscopy until my next cycle after this one. Which means I won’t be able to start IVF again for another two cycles. And that’s best-case scenario, provided that the hysteroscopy looks perfect.

That means there will be a minimum of five months between this IVF and this last. What the efffff? Almost a half a year…poof.

I’m not even sure if we are “allowed” to try on our own this month yet, since my doctor is still waiting to get some results back from my recurrent miscarriage panel. I actually know the results—they are normal (woo!), except for one slightly elevated blood-clotting test, which no one seemed concerned about. But hematology hasn’t sent her the report yet, despite my insistence that it’s time sensitive.

Stuck. That’s how I feel. Stuck in this place I don’t want to be. I want to be moving forward. Instead I continue to be in limbo.

I have no idea why the waiting is hitting me so hard, but I’m really not dealing well with it. Tim asked me last night how many IVF cycles I thought I had left in me. I told him I really couldn’t answer that question. Could I handle a few more IVFs—the estrogen priming, the injections, the retrieval and transfer? Sure! I didn’t think the actual process was bad at all. But if, say, three more rounds of IVF means two more years of waiting—waiting between cycles, waiting for a cyst to go away, waiting for hCG to go down to zero, etc.—then no. I cannot handle that.

So I don’t know. This isn’t a very tidy post. It’s just been a rough morning in a long string of really rough days. My hCG may not be at zero, but my hope sure is.

How Did They Keep Going?

We’ve all heard the stories about that one couple who went through four rounds of IVF or had five miscarriages, and then finally gave birth to a healthy baby. I used to love those stories. They used to fill me with hope. But right now all I can think is, How did they keep going?

After almost two years, four IUIs, 1 IVF and two miscarriages, I am tired.

Like, bone tired.

My heart is broken. My body feels like someone else’s. I don’t remember what it’s like to have my body belong just to me, without internal ultrasounds, pills, injections or surgical procedures. Without timed intercourse, supplements, acupuncture or special diets.

How did those other people, the ones that triumphed after so many years or so many tries, keep going?

I suppose the simple answer is faith. They had faith that their baby was waiting for them, faith that what they longed for would come to be. That faith must have given them energy, that extra push to keep going.

But me? My faith is seriously depleted. I am pretty much held together by some kind of figurative masking tape right now and if someone shook me hard enough I’d fall apart.

Despite my intense exhaustion, though, I’m somehow still going. With eyelids drooping, I’m plotting out my next step. Because to stop would mean giving up the dream — the deepest, widest, sweetest dream that I have. And I can’t do that. Not yet.

And maybe that’s how those people kept going: they lived from one Not Yet to the next. Not yet today, but maybe tomorrow. Not yet this minute, but maybe the next.

Not yet.

Not yet.

Not yet.

Meeting Your Child Halfway: A Fertility Workshop

If you’ve been reading this blog since the beginning (and if you have, I love you, mwah!), you might remember me mentioning Julia Indichova. She is the author of two books, Inconceivable and The Fertile Female, both of which I read and loved when I was trying to get pregnant with Lettie. The short version is that Julia had trouble conceiving her second child and a billion specialists told her that getting pregnant would be medically impossible without donor eggs. She was 42. For the next eight months she changed her diet, tried every alternative treatment in the book and, most importantly, in my opinion, focused on the mind-body connection. She basically used her longing to have a child to change her life for the better. Eight months later, she was pregnant—completely naturally—and carried that pregnancy to term.

For the past twenty years, she’s been teaching what she learned on her fertility journey through workshops and phone sessions. This past weekend, I got the chance to attend one of those workshops. It was called Meeting Your Child Halfway: An All-Day Workshop With Julia Indichova. The all day thing was no joke—it started at 11 am and ended at 6:30 pm.

When Tim and I pulled up to her house in Woodstock, New York, I had no idea what to expect. Upon arrival, Julia had us take off our shoes and then escorted us into her studio. Inside, the floors were covered in carpet and oriental rugs. The walls were decorated with birth announcements. Outside the high windows, I caught wisps September-blue sky. 14 other people sat in a semi-circle—four solo women and five other couples. Julia separated the couples—eek!—so I was on my own. Tim was all the way across the room.

Shit got weird really fast. First we observed a moment of silence. Ok, cool. No big deal. Then Julia said, “Ok, you’re going to repeat after me. Do exactly as I say and do.” She started waving her hands and moaning. She covered her face. She whimpered. It was awkward city.

Then she said, “I don’t want to be in a workshop.”

And we said, “I don’t want to be in a workshop.”

“I just want a fucking baby,” she said.

“I just want a fucking baby,” we said.

At this point everyone was laughing, and even though we’d just had to endure seemingly endless minutes of moaning and moving like we were in some sort of improv warm-up, the ice was broken.

Next we went around and introduced ourselves. Immediately people started crying. Crap, I thought. What have I gotten myself into? I’m kind of an anti-crier, at least in front of other people, especially in front of strangers.

But guess what? After those initial introductions, I had tears in my eyes the whole time. Tim did, too. There was just something about being in a room of people who were all experiencing similar things. It felt safe. For once, I didn’t feel the need to justify or defend my dream to add another child to our family. Every single person there got it. Some were trying for their first child, some their second. Some had unexplained infertility, some low sperm count. It didn’t matter. Every single person wanted the exact same thing.

The day consisted of visualizations, one-on-one exercises, body movement (which Julia calls “body talk”) and even a lullaby. Picture a room full of people who want nothing more than to get pregnant, signing a lullaby to their unborn children. Only a robot would not tear up in that situation. Just sayin’.

Julia had a lot of great things to say. One of them was that it’s ok to not think positive all the time. “As a society,” she said, “we’re in danger of positive thinking ourselves to death.” She said that we should let ourselves feel the negative emotions—rage, cry, be jealous, get pissed off, whatever—but at the end of the day we should be moving forward in what she calls the current of the truth and life. Those emotions should be felt, but it doesn’t serve us to get stuck in them. This was such a relief for me. There’s a lot of mumbo-jumbo out there in infertility land that says you must think positive or else. I got sucked right on into that—I would often feel guilty for not being able to think positively every second of every day.

I won’t bore you with the nitty-gritty details of exactly what we did. And even if I tried, I don’t think I would do it justice. Bottom line, though? The workshop was pretty amazing. It was just what my soul needed at that time, on that day. I left there feeling clear-headed and hopeful. I felt alive. I felt, with certainty, that my baby was waiting for me, some day, somewhere.

And yes, I am totally ready to meet him or her halfway.

Lunching in Woodstock before the workshop.
Lunching in Woodstock before the workshop.
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Living the country life at our B & B.

The Reset Button

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Last week, our family traveled to Vermont. For me, it might have been one of the most-needed vacations ever. The weeks leading up to our trip were filled with fertility treatments, dental visits (seriously, people, they never end) and just a general sense of family unease. Tim and I were fighting. I felt distant from Lettie. We needed a place to start fresh. Vermont, as always, delivered.

The air is crisper there, even in the summer. There’s nothing to see but green and green and more green. Our dog Beaker ran around off-leash like a wild runt.

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Lettie played in the grass, dipped her toes in mountain ponds, checked out salamanders and frogs, and explored like a champ.

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At times, it felt like there was no one else in the state but the three of us. And I liked it that way.

We hiked.

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And hiked.

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And then hiked some more.

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We went out to breakfast.

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And dinner.

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And walked through quaint towns.

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It was a perfect week. In such a serene setting, it was easy to give myself permission to put my worries aside. To not think about the future. To appreciate my family just as it is now. It’s easy to get caught up in fertility treatments and the possibility of future babies. Scary easy. I am thankful that we got this time to breathe and regroup.

This morning, we found out that our fourth and final IUI did not work. Now we take a month off. After that, it’s time to pull out the big guns and head on over to IVF Town.

I’m scared—not really of the needles or the meds or the bajillion monitoring appointments. I’m mostly scared because IVF is the final frontier. After that, there’s pretty much nowhere else to go in terms of fertility treatments. It’s the last stop.

I’m also grateful. Grateful to science and doctors and insurance for even giving us the chance to walk down this road. For whatever reason, it appears that IVF is meant to be part of my life’s journey, and I want to accept that with grace and compassion.

I feel blessed that, before things get really crazy, we had this week to reconnect as a family. I’m telling you, Vermont is like a salve to the soul. If you haven’t been had the chance to bask in its majesty yet, jump in the car and get thee to the Green Mountains!

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Confronting The Passage Of Time At The Melrose Diner

Tim and I sit in the Melrose diner. Pictures of horse-drawn carriages and clip art signs advertising pies cover the chrome walls. Our booth is leftover from the middle of the last century, its maroon panels aged by time and sunlight and decades-old cigarette smoke.

I order an omelet with no cheese, hold the toast. My mug of decaf comes within seconds, along with a bowl of half-and-half cups. I open one and then hesitate. I hold it in my hand and watch the cup steam until our waitress comes back. I ask if she has any non-dairy creamer, even though I know it’s a ridiculous request in a place like this.

I wonder what the consequences will be if I add the creamer. I’d given up dairy and gluten months ago because it did not agree with my body, but now I hold onto this abstinence like a talisman. These days, my head is an endless game of if/then. If I don’t touch a drop of dairy or a speck of wheat, then I will get pregnant. If I stray, then I won’t. The rational part of me says this is not quite right, a little too extreme, but then another part says, but what if it’s not? How do you know?

I drink the coffee black.

Grey-haired couples dot the booths around us. They sit at the counters and talk to the servers. They exchange gossip, tsk-tsks and an occasional bark of laughter. They order their own regimented meals, the same ones they’ve been eating for three decades: a lone pancake on a plate, one egg over hard, a small cranberry juice.

We’ve arrived at the diner after an early morning doctor appointment. “Likely what happened,” the doctor had told us just a few minutes earlier, “is that you were pregnant for a very short time, maybe a day or so, and then you miscarried.” His back was turned to us as he said this, his fingers clacking on the computer keyboard. “We’ll never really know, though.”

This doctor, his hair white from years of medical experience, is the hotshot at our clinic. He won Best Philadelphia Doctor in his field a million years running in a handful of magazines. Arguably, he’s the best of the best. But all he could really tell us for sure is that he doesn’t know.

Before our meal arrives, I walk to the restroom. I stop to look at myself in the mirror. Though I’ve just turned 37, I feel as old as the couples out there with their reedy laughter and their one pancake. I trace the wrinkles around my forehead, my eyes, my mouth. My face is thinner than it used to be. My hair is not quite as shiny. I can’t help but wonder if my insides are the same—if my eggs are weathered with time, chromosomally abnormal, unfit. I imagine my body rejecting them one by one, like skipping stones sent out across a still pond.

 —

Back at home, my daughter is learning how to ride a bike. Her chubby legs barely look strong enough to support her big toddler belly, let alone a bulky metal frame. She is freshly two years old. Her hands are like tiny white starfish, her eyes blue points of light. Every time she laughs, my heart fills with a bittersweet mix of joy and desperation. I want to capture her unruly curls, her jumbled sentences, and the feel of her hand as she strokes my face and says, “Gentle, mama.” If it turns out that she is my only one, my only baby, time should at least slow for us, right?

She is unsure on the bike at first. Her dad steadies her, his back in a deep arch, as she steps and wobbles. She makes a few rounds around the house like this, smiling at her grandparents and me when she passes by. Then Tim releases her and she’s off, her hair like flames in the late morning light as she moves away from us.

A Wino’s Farewell to Wine

I love wine.

I love the taste, the smell, the way it makes me feel. I love wineries, wine bars and wine menus at restaurants. I love it all. I even like wine in boxes.

But I’m giving it up. For now.

Last night I made the (very difficult) decision to kick alcohol to the curb until I get pregnant.

A few factors spurred this decision. First, there are some studies linking alcohol to decreased fertility. I didn’t pay any mind to these studies when I first read about them. There are other studies out there saying alcohol while trying to conceive is No Big Deal. Indeed, many of my dearest friends were 100% tipsy when they got pregnant. Alcohol does not seem to mess with the average gal’s fertility much, so why should I worry about it?

Because when it comes down to it, I’m not the average gal trying to get pregnant. Even though I’ve had a couple periods since I’ve started upping my fat intake, they’re still not super regular and I’m ovulating way late in my cycle.

Second, I’ve been doing (and blogging about) so many things to make myself healthier these last few months, that ditching the sauce seems like the next logical step in the process. One thing has been naturally leading to the next as I’ve been slowly, but surely, building a healthier me.

And finally, I’m willing to go to great lengths to get pregnant, if necessary. I’d try Clomid, I’d inject myself with drugs and, yes, I would do IVF, the final frontier. Hopefully I won’t have to do those things, but that’s beside the point. If I’m willing to do all of those things, then why shouldn’t I be willing to try giving up alcohol first? It’s certainly more natural and less invasive than the things mentioned above. Plus, those medications, etc., are so expensive that I’d feel like I was wasting my time and money if I wasn’t as healthy as possible before I even thought about trying them.

Bottom line: it just feels like the right thing to do right now. I’ve written a lot recently about listening to the needs of my body and paying attention to my inner voice. And right now my inner voice is pretty much screaming at me about this.

But it is not going to be easy. Drinking is so much a part of my relationships and activities that I think I’m going to feel lost without it. After an emotional day, I could always uncork a bottle. When I was bored? Another bottle. Oh and let’s not forget celebrations. That’s at least two bottles.

It’s going to be totally weird for me to navigate all of that without my trusty elixir.

Why am I telling you all this? Because I need your support. Even if you just post a comment on this blog or say something supportive to me in passing, it would really help a lot.

I’m not going to give up alcohol forever. Oh hell no. But for now, I must make the following goodbyes. Because it’s not just my beloved wine that’s got to go, it’s everything:

Goodbye, beer sampler...
Goodbye, Guinness...
Goodbye, car bombs. Godspeed.

Picture This

Gretel's hard at work visualizing

I’ve been playing around with visualization lately. Much like my experience with wheatgrass, I became intrigued about visualization after reading Inconceivable by Julia Indichova. I’ve mentioned this book before and I’ll probably mention it again, so much so that you may begin to think I’m obsessed with it. Which I am, a little.

Here’s the idea behind visualization: even if you’re not literally doing the thing you’re imagining, it still works because your physiological response is the same as if you were. For example, when you have a nightmare, you wake up and you’re sweating and your heart is racing, even though you were in your bed the whole time. Your body’s response is the same as if you were physically in the nightmare world. So if you picture yourself lazing in a meadow and feeling at peace, you can still obtain that feeling, even though you’re nowhere near the meadow. Or if you’re imagining your body to be mega fertile, then you can make it so. Or at least help it along.

I’m using visualization for fertility, but the cool thing about it is that you can use it to help with anything: stress, depression, illnesses, whatever.

But let’s get specific. Because this would not be a complete blog post unless I made it weirdly personal. So I’m going to walk you through my favorite visualization exercise. The CD I own is called Fertile Heart Imagery (also from Julia Indichova…I should start an official fan club, no?) and the name of the exercise is Sacred Choices. In Julia’s words, “This exercise can be quite useful when you find yourself obsessing about statistics and so-called realities that might feel overwhelming.”

Obsess about stuff? I don’t know anyone who does that.

The exercise goes like this: Picture yourself walking out of your house. When you get to the street, look to the left and see a street sign that says Infertility (or any other word you want. I was using Amenorrhea when I wasn’t getting a period, but you can name your street whatever). Take note of the people walking on that street. Check out the buildings, the store windows, the weather.

When I look down that street it’s always raining. The sky is grey. The sidewalks are made of stainless steel. Doctors are walking around in white coats, generally ignoring everyone or else handing out plastic cards with stark diagnoses written on them. The stores are selling dusty baby bottles and empty boxes of diapers. The other patrons on the street are crying or wearing stunned, confused expressions.

After taking in that whole scene, you look to the right and see a street sign that says Hope. Again you notice the weather, the vendors and the buildings. On my street of Hope, there are gardens lining either side of the street, filled with rainbow-colored roses and zinnias. The weather is sunny and warm. Babies are crawling everywhere (don’t worry, no car traffic on this street) and one of them, I know, is mine. Dudes in carts are giving away wheatgrass smoothies. The people on this street are happy and they’re all making their way towards a fountain at the end of the street, which is bubbling over with cool, healing water. My favorite part about this street is that Tim is always there waiting for me with our two dogs. He’s smiling at me and the look on his face says, “What are you waiting for?”

Once you finish visualizing both streets, you choose which direction to walk in.

I did this particular exercise every day, twice a day, for two weeks straight. After I’d completed it, I was usually smiling. I felt calmer. And, yes, I felt more hopeful. Most importantly, I chose to feel that way. I didn’t let my anxiety choose for me.

This exercise is so ingrained in me now that whenever I start getting upset about the world of babymaking, I just picture my street of hope and my mind is quieted. Is it a fool-proof, cure-all technique? Of course not. But it helps.

So which direction do I choose? I’m heading straight to Hope Avenue.

I’ll see you all there.