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.

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.

The IVF Ball, It’s A-Rolling

I shall concoct you...a baby! [image credit]
I shall concoct you…a baby!
[image credit]

Last week we had our official IVF consult with our new doctor’s office. It was awesome. As you know, I loved our old doctor, so the decision to switch was not easy. But we left last week’s appointment feeling, without a doubt, like we made the right choice. This place is just on a whole different level. Basically, they have their shit together.

Our new doctor is not warm and fuzzy and dressed to the nines like our old doctor. Nope. She’s abrupt, straight shooting and very serious, but I still think she’s the bees-knees. At the appointment, we expressed concern about our records transfer request and she asked us the name of the person we talked to in the office. Then she said she would go speak with that person herself to make sure everything was as it should be. You guys, she offered to do something outside the scope of her job. And then she did it. Right away. Half an hour after returning from the appointment, I got a message saying that the issue was resolved. I know this sounds like no big thing, but in my experience a willingness to go above and beyond is rare. In fact, the whole place is like that—from the nurses to the insurance coordinator to the people who answer the phones. Their unspoken motto seems to be, Why do this yourself when we can do it for you? This is such a change from where we were. It’s not like the people at the old place were a-holes. They just seemed to lack…focus.

Although we are taking this cycle “off,” there still is a bunch of stuff that needs to happen. We need to transfer records and work out insurance pre-authorization. We needed to have a day three ultrasound and blood work, so our new doctor could get a sense of what was going on with my bod.

Today, I had two diagnostic procedures—a mock transfer and a hysteroscopy. The mock transfer is where they go up in your business with a catheter and, like, pretend they are transferring embryos. This gives them the lay of the land when the time comes to transfer real embryos. The hysteroscopy is again where they go up in your business, but this time with a tiny camera. They are checking for polyps, scarring and other wackness. Both of the procedures went off without a hitch and everything looked normal. By far, the hardest part of the afternoon was having a full bladder during the procedures. At one point the doctor was talking to me, and then he stopped and said, “Are you ok? You look tired.” And I was like, “Nope, I just really have to pee.”

Next week, we have an appointment with a nurse, who will school us on the medications I’ll be taking. It’s a two-hour appointment, so I’m fully expecting my brain to explode.

So, yeah. Not really a month off at all. Woops. It’s cool, though. I’m glad we’re getting everything done now so there are no surprises at game time. I’m also excited. And hopeful. It feels good to be hopeful. What we were doing up until this point, IUI, had a 10% chance of working per cycle. IVF has a 50% chance. Sure, sure, IVF is a lot more intense and you pretty much have to get all mad-scientist on yourself to do it. But still: I do like them odds.

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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The Healers & The Faith Keepers

I’ve been trying to write this post for weeks, but I’ve been feeling too meh to do it. Tim and I are smack in the middle of fertility treatments, and although what we’re doing right now is not super physically challenging, I am tired. Like, mega tired.

I think when I last talked about this topic I was on track to take progesterone for two months. That seemed to work well with my body, but I did not get pregnant. Now we are taking a drug called Clomid, along with a procedure called IUI (intrauterine insemination). This involves two monitoring appointments, five days of pills, multiple blood draws, one shot and then the actual procedure. In fertility land, this is chump change—nothing compared to the more hardcore treatments. Yet still, it is mentally and physically draining.

Our doctor said this Clomid and IUI combo has a 25% chance of working within four months. We’re on month three right now. If it doesn’t pan out, we’ll move onto IVF (in-vitro fertilization). This means there’s a 75% chance we’ll be doing IVF. I’m struggling with finding the balance here. On the one hand, I want to remain positive that we’ll be one of the 25% and IUI will work for us. On the other hand, statistically, it looks like IVF is likely and we need to plan for that. There’s the money thing, for one. It’s expensive. What does our insurance cover and what do we pay for out of pocket? Getting this answer is not as easy as it should be. Then there’s the question of where. We love, love, love our current doctor, but our current clinic’s IVF success rates are below the national average. We’ll need to ask our doctor about this, as well as meet one or two doctors at other clinics for a consult. IVF would be a huge deal, not to be taken lightly, but like I said, there needs to be a balance between planning for the future and having faith in what we’re doing right now. I’m not even close to finding that balance.

Honestly, I’m writing this on a bad day. If I would have written this even a few days ago, I would said how positive I’m feeling. It’s a roller coaster, my friends, and today I am at the bottom of a drop.

In spite of my current mopey-moperness, I will say that I have been feeling very loved and supported throughout this process. Yes, it can be an isolating experience, but I have people standing behind me. I like to think of these people in two different categories: the Healers and the Faith Keepers.

The Healers are people like my acupuncturist, who invited me to her house for a private session when I couldn’t get an appointment at the office. People like my doctor, who is stylish and lovely and makes me laugh every time I see her. She says things like, “I’m sorry,” “Take a deep breath” and “You’re so brave.” Or the the nurses at my clinic who call me back within minutes and who answer any question with kindness, now matter how mundane.

Then there are my close friends, who I like to think of as the Faith Keepers. They say things to me like, “Tell me about your ovaries.” They ask about my appointments, my ultrasounds, how I’m feeling. They let me know, in so many little ways, that I am loved. Most importantly, they keep the faith for me when I can’t.

We’ve all heard the saying that it takes a village to raise a child, but I think that, sometimes, it takes a village to make a baby, too. Today, I am feeling overwhelmed. Today, my hope is buried underneath the details and the what-ifs. It’s all good, though. My village has my back.