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.

The Ghosts Of Christmas Past

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On paper, I’m all set up to have a Norman Rockwell Christmas. I’m a mother to a three year old who has stars in her eyes about the season. I’m approaching the 14th week of what is, as far as I know, a healthy pregnancy. We have a tree with an angel on top and garland around our banister. Our house smells like cinnamon.

But then, underneath, there’s so much sadness.

Last Christmas, I woke up covered in blood. I left my daughter just after opening stockings to get an ultrasound. And at that ultrasound we found out our much-longed-for baby no longer had a heartbeat. It was one of the worst days of my life. I came home from the clinic and put on a good face. I didn’t want to ruin the magic for Lettie, my living child. We opened presents and I exclaimed in excitement over every little thing. I pushed all that grief aside, put it in a neat little box marked “Christmas,” and left it there. And sure, I did grieve some over the next few weeks and months, but my deepest, most secret sadness remained tucked away.

Here’s the thing about grief: it doesn’t like being ignored. It’s stubborn, and it comes out one way or another.

Two weeks ago, we went to the hardware store to pick out our Christmas tree. The same hardware store we went to last Christmas. As we were paying for everything, I found myself in the middle of a panic attack. Last year I was pregnant, just like this year. Last year I felt so much hope for the future, just like this year. It’s going to happen again, I thought, I’m going to lose this baby, too, just like last year.

And it’s not just the miscarriage that is making me melancholy. I miss my mom more than usual this time of year, too. I wish she were here now. I wish she were here last year. I wish she were here always.

Christmas is hard. Pregnancy after infertility and loss is hard. I keep waiting for someone to come along and say, “Just kidding, we’re taking this baby away from you, too! Sorryyyyy!”

There is always something to be fearful about. Last Friday, we met with a genetic counselor, and it’s official: we can’t do any non-invasive blood testing because the vanishing twin could jack up the results. So we’ll be going into our 20-week ultrasound blind. The genetic counselor warned us they might find “soft markers” for genetic disorders at this ultrasound. The markers are pretty common and often mean nothing, but sometimes they’re indicative of downs or trisomy 13 or 18 or whatever else awful thing they’re on the lookout for. I am now terrified of this scan, and it’s still six weeks away.

On Monday, I brought homemade cupcakes to work. I tied a tag around each that said, “Baby B, due June 2016.” I wanted to do something fun to announce my pregnancy. I wanted to give this baby the celebration he or she deserves. But after I carefully placed the cupcakes on my co-workers’ desks, I walked to the bathroom and cried. My pregnancy was out there now, and I couldn’t take it back. No matter what happened, I couldn’t take it back.

And the thing is, I feel guilty for feeling all of this. I’m finally pregnant after wishing for it for so long, and I can’t even embrace it? What is wrong with me? I have a beautiful daughter who is beyond excited for Christmas. Why can’t I be excited right along with her?

I’m having a tough time of it, you guys. I’m trying, I truly am, but some days the ghosts are really loud.

 

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.

Like, So Whatever

Oh hai.

I’ve started approximately 16 posts in the last two weeks, but I keep stalling out after a few paragraphs. So I figured I’d come on here and give a quick update.

After 7 weeks, my hCG is finally under 5. Woo.

I haven’t actually spoken to my doctor about the baby aspirin and Lovenox yet, but I did get a brief email from her saying that she’s on board with the hematologist’s recommendation. Despite the fact that I still have a million unanswered questions,  I’m relieved to know that she’s on team Blood Thinners.  I’m going to book an appointment with her after my hysteroscopy to go over everything.

Once my next cycle starts, I will finally get the aforementioned hysteroscopy. If all looks good there, I can proceed with IVF the cycle after that.

Ok, this post is so boring that I’m falling asleep writing it. My eyes are actually drooping for real. Yawn. Sorry, dudes.

I’m glad there’s a light at the end of the tunnel, but I’m really just feeling whatever about it all. I’m not doing so hot these days. I have good moments, even some great ones, but overall I just feel sad. I’m doing all the right things — therapy, yoga and I’ve even started attending an infertility support group — but I think no matter what you do or how hard you work, life is just going to have some rough patches.

And this is one of them.

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.

Little Girl Gone

We got our genetic test results back today. The baby I miscarried was a genetically normal girl.

The nurse I talked to said that there is a very small chance that my DNA could have contaminated the results, but she thinks it’s highly unlikely in this case. She explained why, but I was too out of it to really pay attention.

A part of me wished the baby had been genetically abnormal because then at least I would have known beyond a shadow of a doubt that it was not meant to be.

But she was normal. She should have had a chance. Instead she is just gone.

I want to scream “Why?” at the Universe. I want to kick down trees and bust through clouds and pound my hands on the street. I want to beg and barter. I want, more than anything, for this not to be true. But it is true. We had a little girl. She was normal, she was alive. And now she is gone.

Her name is Anna Adele Best.

Anna is after my paternal grandmother and Tim’s maternal grandmother. Adele is the name of Tim’s paternal grandmother. All those grandmas are in heaven now, if such a place exists, so hopefully they can keep our Anna close and tell her how much she is loved.

The fact that this baby was a girl is hitting me just as hard as the fact that she was genetically normal. I know just what it’s like to love a little girl and it’s pretty much the best thing ever. I know exactly what I’m missing.

It makes me sad for Lettie, too. She could have had sister to share life with, a best friend, a conspirator.

My Anna. Gone from us too soon, but loved beyond measure.

I love you to the sky and back, sweet girl. I hope to someday hold you on the other side.

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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In Loss Limbo

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It is New Year’s Eve, a time of new beginnings. Yet here I am, in the middle of a long, slow ending. As you know, my baby has died. There is no longer a heartbeat. On Monday, the ultrasound showed that the embryo had “deteriorated.” All signs point to goodbye, so long, see you on the other side. But my body won’t let go.

I’ve had no bleeding since last Wednesday night. As of Monday, my hcg was still rising and my progesterone was sky high.

On the one hand, I am grateful to my body for holding on. I’m grateful that it wants to fight for this. I truly am. Body, you are a rock star. But I also just want this part, the physical part, to be over.

There are three options when you have a miscarriage: wait for things to happen naturally, take a pill called Cytotec to induce contractions, or get a surgical procedure called a D & C or D & E. I had a D & C last time. It was completely fine — some cramping, some spotting, that’s it. This time, I am worried about about the risks of the procedure, which include scarring to the uterus. I really don’t need another thing hampering my fertility. And the miscarriage pill? No way, Jose. That scares me. I’ve read many horror stories, some of which say it’s like labor or the worst pain ever felt. I’ll save labor for live babies, thank you very much. And why, when I’m already in so much emotional pain, would I want to add excruciating physical pain to the mix?

So really, what I want is for this to happen naturally. But I also don’t want to wait forever. Carrying around a dead baby is, well, very sad. To this end, I’ve scheduled a D & C for Tuesday. Due to my hemming and hawing, and my clinic’s holiday schedule, they really couldn’t get me in any earlier. I am fine with that. It gives my body almost two weeks from finding out about the loss to do its thing. If there are no signs of letting go by then, I think I will just need to move on at that point.

My doctor has been on vacation since Christmas Eve. She returns on January 5th and we have an appointment to talk to her that day. I’ll ask her about the risks of the D & C then. If she seems concerned, I’ll suck it up and take the freaking Cytotec.

Fun fact: if I miscarry tomorrow, it will end up being a grand tour. Get pregnant on Thanksgiving, find out the baby is gone on Christmas and miscarry on New Year’s Day. A holiday trifecta, people! And yes, I am kind of laughing as I write this part, because it’s both funny and not funny at all.

While I wait for all of this to go down, I’ve been attempting to eat away my problems. I’ve thrown my no-gluten, no-dairy rule to the wind. I’d really like to be drinking my face off as well, but I’m still feeling nauseous, so alcohol isn’t really in the cards. After almost a week of this, I am, not shockingly, feeling physically awful, so it’s probably time to get back on the horse. Fiiiiine.

What do I long for this coming year?

Hope.

That’s it. I’ll keep it simple. I want this to be a year filled with hope.

And I do feel hope. Even now. Right in the center of my aching heart, I feel it. I now know that IVF can work for us. That’s huge. Sure, IVF contributed to the embryo implanting all askew this time, possibly causing the miscarriage. But that doesn’t mean it will happen like that the next time. Nothing is certain, which means anything is possible.

So here we go: 2015. May it be a hopeful new year. For all of us.

Another Miscarriage or The Worst Christmas Ever

On Christmas Eve night I woke up with more bleeding. I had also developed some pain in my lower right side. I called the doctor’s office around 7 am on Christmas morning. We weren’t sure what to do. Should we start stockings and presents, knowing that the doctor might ask me to come in? They didn’t end up calling me back for an hour and a half, so we did start. What should have been an amazing Christmas morning with Lettie was tempered by the waiting and the pain in my side.

When they eventually called, they told me to come in. So we left Lettie with her grandparents and went. The whole time we were driving the 45 minutes to get there, I felt terrible for leaving her. Who on earth leaves their kid at Christmas? I looked out the window at the sunny sky and bare tree branches and felt like an asshole. I tried to talk to my embryo. Thump, thump, I thought at it, in an attempt to encourage a strong, beating heart.

The doctor’s office was a ghost town. There was one receptionist, one nurse and one doctor. The doctor did the ultrasound and said the blood clot had grown to twice its size. And the embryo no longer had a heartbeat. He looked for that heartbeat…and looked and looked. But it wasn’t there. The embryo had actually grown the right amount since the last ultrasound, but its heart had given up. The doctor was sorry, the nurse was sorry. Even the receptionist looked like she was about to cry. No one wants to give that news on Christmas morning.

The doctor said the baby might pass on its own or it might not. If I haven’t started bleeding before Monday, I’ll go back there and we can discuss a D & C. I haven’t had a bit of blood since Wednesday night, not even spotting.  I’m still having every pregnancy symptom, including morning sickness. My body, it seems, is trying to hang onto this one. My mind understands — I don’t want to let it go, either.

Now I am faced with the fact that not only do I have trouble getting pregnant, but I also have trouble staying pregnant. The doctor is going to run the panel of tests for recurrent miscarriage. I am praying that we get some answers, but I also have to be realistic and accept that we might not. I can’t help but wonder if Lettie was just a miraculous fluke. Like, maybe the Universe was saying, “Ok, her mom is dying, so we’ll let this one baby slide through for her, just this once.” Trust me,  I am grateful for that fluke every single day, but I’m starting to wonder if another one is just not meant to be.

So here I sit, entering yet another season of grief. There’s been a lot of that these last two and a half years — one mom and two babies. I feel like I know exactly what to expect now. There are those first few weeks of crushing sadness, of hiding in random bathrooms to cry in private. Then there are the months of feeling that you’re carrying a weight on your back because you just can’t shake the heartbreak. It might not be crushing anymore, but it is always there. Then, finally, acceptance and hope. So yeah, I know the drill. But I hate this fucking drill. I will go through it again, though, because I have no other choice.

Sleep in heavenly peace, my little love.