R.I.P. Sir Robert Edward

By chance, I was in the car listening to NPR today, and I heard the newscaster report that Nobel Prize winning scientist, Sir Robert Edward – the father of IVF – died today. I was soon overcome with emotion and in tears, for a man I never knew, but who changed my life completely. I owe him so much. I am so grateful. My whole family is so grateful. How can you thank someone enough for giving your life meaning and purpose? For making all your dreams of motherhood come true? For making me the happiest, luckiest woman alive? For my beautiful, beautiful daughter?

I came home and Googled this wonderful man. I learned that by the time he was awarded the Nobel Prize in 2010, he was too far gone with dementia to appreciate the honor. The same goes for him being knighted by Queen Elizabeth the following year. I read about Louise Brown, the first “test tube” baby and how Robert had become a part of her family.

He started research on IVF in the Fifties and was driven by the belief that people had the right to receive help in having a family.

He once said: I have seen how infertility is a cause of great and lasting human sadness. It demands treatment. The most important thing in life is having a child.

What an incredible man… and what a huge debt our family and countless other families owe him. In one of the articles, I read that – among many tributes written to him – the most profound was from a young man whose note simply read, “Thank you for my life.”

Don’t Ignore Infertility Week

If I have any proficiency displaying the badge above, then you already know that this is National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW) brought to you by the amazing folks at RESOLVE.

One of the most frustrating elements of my struggle with infertility was how invisible I felt – how, outside the world of online support networks and largely anonymous bloggers – I was alone in the world. Even at my fertility clinic, patients would sit in the waiting room, not daring to look at one another. Only a sheer thread of something resembling shame united us all in our loneliness.

It used to really upset me that more people, particularly celebrities who we all know went through infertility treatments, wouldn’t speak up about infertility and their experiences. It seemed that once infertiles got pregnant, they were thrilled to leave the club (who wouldn’t be?) and join the fertile sorority on the other side of the glass wall that kept us apart.

There’s a certain amount of hypocrisy recognition as I write this… knowing that my blog, too, is anonymous (largely because my husband is intensely private, but also to give me the freedom to write the truth) and when I was struggling, I only let a few people – people who had already been through some version of infertility – know what I was going through. It seemed too shameful, too raw to reveal in the midst of it, that something was wrong with me and I couldn’t do/produce/have/be something that I had always assumed was my birthright as a woman.

Our last IVF cycle broke down a lot of walls for me – largely because I was desperate. I told just about all my friends in the effort to solicit their prayers and “good vibes” and create a last attempt at some type of synergy of prayer… like a loudspeaker to God. I had to do a lot of educating along the way, even to my friend who is studying to become a nurse! I was/am astonished about just how little people know about infertility treatments (but that’s the subject of another blog). In some ways, telling people was healing and helped to explain a lot of my absence at social events and baby showers (eek!), but in other ways, I felt I had exposed too much vulnerability, especially when people inadvertently (as they do) said things that were well-meaning, yet incredibly hurtful.

When our third IVF proved successful – and miraculously so – I briefly wondered if I, too, would be one of those women who slip silently out of this dreaded club and into the gleaming world of “normal” pregnant women. People who see me might assume – as I did whenever I saw a pregnant woman – that she was an “other,” an outsider to the world of infertility. But at every opportunity now, I’m completely open about what it took to get here and how amazingly lucky and grateful I am.

Yesterday, I had my blood drawn for the 2nd trimester screening that the State performs and my phlebotomist asked me (since I’m already showing at 15+ weeks) if we knew the sex of the baby. I told her that the doctors hadn’t been able to see it on the ultrasound yet, but we knew it was a girl because this was an IVF pregnancy and we had done genetic testing. She said, “You can choose the sex now?!” I told her that that wasn’t the reason we did the genetic testing. And somehow, our entire story about the three IVFs, the 36 embryos, the old eggs, the ONE normal embryo in the entire bunch, the transfer, the absolute miraculous nature of our pregnancy – the whole thing, condensed into a three minute story, with tears filling my eyes – came spilling out.

As I left the lab, I thought to myself, that’s how you do it… one person at a time… one story at a time, making ourselves visible, real, human. That’s how you make a difference.

Post-Birthday Bliss (and random thoughts)

Yesterday was my 39th birthday – woo hoo! For the first time in years, I got to be happy about it without any reservations (other than the minor fact that I’m getting older!) – but luckily, no maudlin moments about how I’m another year older without being pregnant. I’m 11 weeks and 2 days now and I just keep feeling better & better. I have the most adoring, sweet, sexy, and funny husband who is truly devoted to my happiness. And if that weren’t enough, I just scored the most relaxed part time job ever, helping my best friend start his law firm.

My birthday was nearly perfect – other than the IRS audit I received in the mail! On my birthday!?!? REALLY??? (Groan.) They sure do know how to rain on a girl’s parade. But, whatever. I got through this before (albeit with quite a bit of financial damage). Hopefully, I’ll get through it a lot more smoothly this time around.

At my last ultrasound (10 weeks), our baby actually waved at us! We could see her little arm moving back & forth. Hubby, New Doc, and I squealed all at the same time! (Okay, Hubby didn’t really squeal, but he let out some kind of excited sound.) My mother, who is convinced we’re having a boy (because I cruelly haven’t told her we already know it’s a girl) swears she can see (in the ultra-grainy ultrasound photo) that the baby looks just like my husband. Needless to say, she has a very active imagination.

The New Doc was also very excited when we told her we already knew we were having a girl and exclaimed, “Girls are the best!” which made me instantly wonder what she would have said had we told her we were having a boy? Hmm. Anyway, right on target according to all the pregnancy-by-week summaries, my nausea is dramatically lessening and so is my aversion to most foods. This is great because I can actually eat now… but it’s also not-so-great because I can actually eat now! And Hubby is so thrilled (since I hadn’t been eating much) that he is trying to stuff me like a Thanksgiving turkey (which is a bad analogy since we’re vegan)… but I think the 3 lbs. I put on this week is 0% baby and 100% birthday cake and junk food! No bueno!

I was thinking about exercising today (but it’s so cold & gloomy here) that I figure I can always start later… tomorrow, maybe? I was determined not to exercise until the start of my 2nd trimester, which is now about 2 weeks away – yippee! I  definitely want to do pre-natal yoga and maybe a little bit of Tracy Anderson workout for my arms.  MollySims.com has some special pregnancy workouts that Tracy did just for her website (I guess they’re both very pregnant right now). I love Tracy… and love even more that she actually looks a little heavy now that she’s pregnant. Is that so wrong?

What the pregnancy-by-week summaries have gotten wrong – so far – is the moodiness they all say I should be feeling right about now. I am not moody at all. I know this because of two things #1- I don’t feel moody, but even more convincingly, #2- my husband (who has a very sensitive PMS meter) hasn’t said a thing about it and he’s quick to call me out if I’m being overly emotional. So that’s good! It got me thinking… and I know everyone is different, blah, blah, blah… but what if the truth is that natural pregnancy hormones don’t hold a candle to the unnatural IVF-related hormones we shove into our bodies during this whole process? I mean, maybe pregnancy just feels less emotional for those of us who have been through the ringer with this infertility business because NOTHING can compare to the horrible, hormone-induced madness that is the IVF process? Maybe I’m somehow immune to pregnancy moodiness because of everything I had to go through along the way? Seems justified. Don’t you think?

Absent-Minded

There’s no question that I’ve been absent for a while. I just got to a point where I was so completely wound up with anxiety and fear that it was almost debilitating. I have since realized that I am (uncharacteristically) extremely suggestible as of late.

As an example, I read a friend’s post on FB about pancakes and immediately rushed to my kitchen to make some. I had to have pancakes right then and there! Nevermind that I hadn’t eaten pancakes for over a decade – the urge was so strong and instant that it was like I was possessed. (Thank God it was only pancakes – sheesh!)

This happens all the time now. I see something on t.v. or hear a story and am compelled to act or buy or eat something for which I had no desire seconds before. What is happening to me?

Is this some kind of weird, heretofore undiscovered pregnancy symptom? I’m usually much more rational about things… but something has changed (hopefully only temporarily) and I don’t like it!

So… this is all to set the stage for what sent me on my descending spiral into unquantifiable worry. As I’ve mentioned somewhere here before, I occasionally participate in the TCOYF (Taking Charge Of Your Fertility) forums which, over the years, has been a wonderful place for gathering quality information and receiving (as well as giving) support. It’s been a place to share about IVF cycles and the ups & downs of this entire journey with people who are pretty much going through the same thing.

As it turns out, one of the women who literally got pregnant only days before me (what you might call a “cycle buddy”) ended up miscarrying about a week or so ago. And, for whatever reason – perhaps because our pregnancies were so close – this affected me very personally. My initial thought was, “If this could happen to her, it can happen to me, too.” And that fear grew and grew until I knew I had to peel myself away from the forums and search elsewhere for some kind of confirmation that my baby was okay.

The problem with searching for reassurance is that, well, there isn’t any. Well meaning friends and relatives will tell you over & over that everything’s going to be fine (and some might tell you “whatever’s meant to be will be” – those people deserve a punch in the face) but none of it will put your mind at ease. Because the real bottom line is that you don’t know everything’s okay – you can’t know. Sure, you can analyze symptoms and try to logically talk yourself into an “everything must be fine” scenario… but since you can’t see or hear or feel the baby at this stage, without an ultrasound or doppler to clue you in on what’s really going on, it’s impossible to know for sure. That, ladies and gentlemen (?), is what we call HELL!

Listen, I’ve embraced my share of “not knowing” plenty of times during this whole infertility thing and I think I’ve actually done it well, with grace at least, if not patience… but it just seemed like too much to ask of me to do that now… when the stakes feel higher than ever. I bargained with myself that if all went well at the 9 week ultrasound, I would invest in a fetal doppler to put my mind at ease during the long stretches between doctor visits. My husband had concerns about the safety of using the doppler and wondered whether or not it could harm the baby. I convinced myself that his fears were inconsequential in the face of my completely freaking out heightened stress levels and that my stress would be worse for the baby than a few seconds of amateur doppler monitoring!

Cut to: doctor’s office, 9 week ultrasound. As soon as the image appeared on the screen of what looked like a huge baby-shaped thing in my uterus, I realized I hadn’t been breathing for about the last two weeks! Relief was the overwhelming emotion. I could barely participate in what the doctor was saying or even fully listen to his description of future eyes & limbs. I was so overcome by this flood of relief! (I know, very self-centered, isn’t it? I’ll have to work on that.)

We talked to the doctor afterwards and I told him how worried I had been and why. He said, “You shouldn’t be. You have the pregnancy of a 20 year old.” I’ve never been told I have the anything of a 20 year old… so that felt good to hear! And he went on to say, “Do you know what the difference is between you and your friend who miscarried? You had PGD and she didn’t!” “You’re absolutely right,” I had to admit. And even though I knew that before, somehow the weight of it didn’t really sink in until a man with a white lab coat, degrees & years of experience stated it like some kind of commandment.

He also urged me to not use my own fetal doppler and pointed out that these are strong energy waves and “we don’t really know” what the impact might be on a fetus because there haven’t been any long-term studies. He suggested that I relax and enjoy the pregnancy instead. (My conversion took a little bit of time, but ultimately, the thought of putting my mind at ease at the potential expense of causing my daughter any type of harm just didn’t make sense.)

So, I have decided to RELAX and ENJOY my pregnancy!!!

And then there was ONE

Today is 5 days past the 5-day transfer. For those of you keeping score (really probably only me) that’s 3 IVFs, 34 eggs retrieved, 22 fertilized & analyzed, and a grand total of… can I have a drumroll, please?

ONE. Normal. Embryo.

Well, at least there was one, right? The alternative would have been much worse.

So… because no one I know in real life reads this, I will tell you, dear anonymous person struggling with infertility, that our little blastocyst is a female. It feels kind of special to know that for some reason. And it’s funny, too, because all my mom’s psychic friends have predicted either a male child or male twins. Not on this round, I’m afraid, ladies!

Oh, and, I find it very interesting that the normal embryo was actually one of our frosties from IVF #2 – the cycle where I was the most stressed-out, sleep-deprived, and depressed! That was actually quite a surprise to me. Still, I’m glad we let her get to the 5-day blastocyst stage. I feel/hope/pray that will give her a better chance to implant.

The transfer procedure itself was actually extremely romantic. I know it sounds like I’m being sarcastic, but I’m not – I swear! We were in a transfer room with dim lighting and “mood” music – which I found to be both simultaneously cheesy and relaxing. I was lying down with my legs in stirrups (okay, that’s not romantic) as doctors & nurses bustled about readying everything. My darling husband sat behind me, stroking my hair, gazing at me lovingly, and gently tracing the features of my face. I felt so incredibly loved.

During the actual embryo transfer, the music became quite dramatic and hubby said something about it sounding like Liberace! I said, “Are you seriously telling me that our baby is being implanted to Liberace?!” It was all I could do to control my laughter. (Do you have any idea how hard it is to keep still when every part of you is trying to repress a full-belly laugh?) “It’s Debussy,” our RE chimed in, “I think this is the music you hear when you go to Heaven,” he added. We were immediately reduced to naughty school children who want nothing more than to bust out laughing during a very serious lesson! It was an awesome experience.

So that was 5 days ago now… and I spent the first 2 days feeling blissful and like my dreams had already come true. Day 3 was okay. Day 4 was very blah. And day 5, today, has sucked. All my hope & optimism seem to have vanished – along with any symptoms, I might add! No more sore boobs? I mean, Progesterone alone causes sore boobs for me and I’ve been on the suppositories since before the transfer. No more bloating? I have bloating even when I’m not going through IVF – what the hell is happening here? The only “symptom” I have, if you can really even call it that, is depression. I cried like there was no tomorrow this morning. I just couldn’t shake this horrible foreboding. I mean, box of Kleenex, snot-dripping-down-your-shirt type of sobbing. I know we’re not supposed to jump to conclusions, but I really, really don’t FEEL pregnant.

I was excited yesterday because I experienced some serious fluttering in my uterus. That has never happened before and I convinced myself it was a sign, however, my best-friend-Google says it can mean almost anything, which really means it means nothing. And of course, I thought it would make me feel less anxious if I could pee on a stick and pretend there was a faint line somewhere. So, I did… and there wasn’t. I mean it was stark blinding white no matter which angle I looked at it!

That made me really sad. (Yes, I know it’s too early, I’m just losing it.) This can’t really be it, can it? Six months, 3 surgeries, $35,000 and immeasurable heartache for this? I’m having a hard time existing in limbo. I don’t know what I will do if it doesn’t work.

The Wait Before “The Wait”

My ER was Friday and I have to say, it was the easiest one so far.  Prior to the retrieval, I was in the prep room, lying down in the hospital bed [wearing 2 gowns, booties over my double socks (hey, it gets cold!) and that strange shower cap thing (I still can’t figure out what that’s for!)] and I was happy & calm. I closed my eyes and took some time to thank my ovaries for all their hard work. I told them that I knew they had gone through a lot and that they had done the best they could. And that I was grateful for all their efforts.

When I opened my eyes, I found my doctor standing above me. “I’m just having a talk with my ovaries,” I said, smiling. “And the Lord!” he replied. Is it strange that my Jewish doctor refers to God as “the Lord”? I always associate that phrase with Christians. Anyway, I’m neither, but I find “God” to be a good shortcut term (people will fill in their own interpretations and I don’t have to do any explaining.) Win-win!

I was in a good space and that was important to me. The nurse escorted me into the OR and had me lie down on that weird cross shaped bed with the raised stirrup-type legs. After minimal small talk, the anesthesiologist (a different one from the other two times) started my I.V.  Since I’d never seen any of the nurses before, I revived my old joke about feeling like I was about to undergo an alien abduction – have you seen those creepy round lights? That is exactly what it looks like! They laughed and the anesthesiologist told me I must be watching too much t.v. and right about then, I felt the sinking / floating sensation of narcotics flowing through my veins. How I love that feeling!

I woke up, what seemed like minutes later, back in the recovery bed, feeling only slightly sore. I looked at the clock and only about 25 minutes had passed. The nurse called my husband in to keep me company and soon afterwards, we were told they retrieved  8 eggs with one looking impossibly small. I was happy with that. The following morning, I got an early call from the doctor to let me know that we had 6 eggs successfully fertilize. Woo hoo!

Even though I didn’t produce as many eggs this time as I have before, more than ever, we are concentrating on the eggs being healthy. Who knows? Maybe fewer eggs will translate to healthier eggs?

Right now, my pre-TWW wait has begun. The 6 embryos from this retrieval will be combined with the 4 frosties from IVF #2 and they will all undergo PGD. In fact, since today is Day 3, they may even be undergoing testing as I write this. All my hopes & prayers are concentrated on their health. (Please, God, let them be normal!) My doctor said we probably won’t know the results until the morning of my scheduled transfer (this Wednesday). It does make me a little nervous – and at the risk of totally jinxing this – I do, actually, have a good feeling about it. I certainly hope I’m not wrong.

While I haven’t had any pregnancy dreams yet, I did have a dream last night that my husband and I were looking at pictures of a beautiful blonde girl, about 4 years old, and I knew that she was our daughter in the dream and we were so in love with her! (It’s a little odd that neither of us is blond, right?) Lol. I don’t know… the details don’t matter much, but the wonderful feeling from the dream lasted for hours after I got up. I feel happy and hopeful. Please let this time be our time.

Matters of the Heart

On Saturday, one of our dearest friends (and husband’s band-mate), suffered a heart attack while performing on stage. At 41 years of age and in very good health as far as anyone knew, it was a complete shock to all of us. Luckily, the quick and decisive action of the friends who rushed him to the hospital saved his life.

I didn’t find out about it until Sunday morning. A friend of my husband’s had called several times – but I was at the clinic (yes, on a Sunday!) getting blood drawn and listening to another lackluster ultrasound report. [9 follicles, only 3 look like the right size… yawn.] {The “yawn” is not because I don’t care. Of course I care! I’m just done with letting it zap me of all my positive energy, that’s all. I can’t really afford to give it that much attention. But I digress!} So, when I was finally able to, I called back and received the news that “T” had had a heart attack and the information did not fully process in my mind because it seemed so outrageous! Tears and panic quickly set in on my drive home, and I was both beside myself with worry and deeply grateful that he was/is alive.

Suddenly, all my thoughts turned from my current IVF cycle, to how I could be there for our friend. It was just the change of perspective I needed.

“T” is one of my favorite people on the planet. Smart, funny, and extremely sarcastic… it’s not until you really get to know him that you discover he is one of the kindest & most generous human beings.  He’s a man’s man (and a definite ladies’ man) but under that somewhat tough exterior is a tender and lovely soul. The world needs more people like him in it, that I know for sure.

Visiting him in the ICU was rough, mostly because he was the healthiest person in there. I walked swiftly past beds with patients, many of whom already seemed to be in their final hours, to the room all the way at the end – to where our friend was. I saw his ex-wife first. She’d hadn’t left his side for even a moment and looked worse for the wear. It was touching to me that she was there, caring for him. Her love was apparent. I thought briefly about how my parents (who still despise one another after 20 years of being divorced) would never be capable of such compassion. But people like “T” tend to inspire that kind of devotion.

I was relieved to find him lucid and in good spirits, but I could see that he was also tired and… something else I couldn’t quite put my finger on. He’d lost some of his invincibility. Something in his eyes looked different, softer, more vulnerable perhaps. It occurred to me that his life would never go on as before. That it would be forever marked as “before the heart attack” and “after the heart attack” just as mine is separated into “before the miscarriage” and “after the miscarriage.” Because in a profound way, losing my child changed me. The loss of innocence often does that to a person.

I don’t know what I’ll find out this month that will mark my life again. Before the pregnancy / after the pregnancy or… before I found out I could never have biological children / after I found out I could never have biological children. It’s rare that one knows when one is standing on the precipice of monumental change. I think it may be a blessing in disguise in that I can decide, right here on the razor’s edge, that I am going to be okay no matter what happens.

In the end, I know I have the love & support of my wonderful husband, family and friends to see me through to the next chapter.

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