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

Angel

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

funny-animal-captions-still-waiting-bro

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.