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.”

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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!!!

600

My beta results from yesterday – 600! I’m terrible at moderately complex math, so I have no idea what the doubling time is on that. (Feb. 2nd = 58 and Feb. 6th = 600) I write that just in case any of you know the secret formula and want to tell me – haha!

I’ll go back on February 16th for our first ultrasound, which I didn’t really think was necessary at first, but when I thought about it some more, I guess it’s mainly to make sure the pregnancy is intrauterine (as opposed to ectopic) so, yeah… that would be good to know! The reason I didn’t want to go in for such an early ultrasound is because I’m pretty sure I’m not going to see anything worthwhile at 5 1/2 weeks. And what I’m really afraid of is seeing that dreaded empty sac. I don’t even like to talk about that, but the only other time I was ever pregnant, that’s all we ever got to see. Even at week 7, when the ultrasound technician was trying to tell me I could be a couple of weeks off with my pregnancy math – which, of course, is next-to-impossible when you’re a compulsive fertility charter!

In my heart of hearts, it feels like this time is really different. But if there’s one theme for this journey through infertility, it really seems to be “you never know what’s around the corner!” I hope good things. I think I’ve had enough “character growth” to last a little while and I would just love to relax into the miracle of this pregnancy and enjoy some time basking in the glow of it all.

I know it’s almost sacrilege in the realm of veteran IVF-ers to actually tell a whole bunch of people (IRL) what you’re doing and when you’re doing it… and even worse to tell folks about a positive pregnancy test (gasp!) but that’s precisely what I have done – and what has been different about the 3rd round. Now, I’m not saying that this was the best idea I ever had – nor am I saying that I wouldn’t wish to un-tell certain people, given the chance, but my reasoning in doing so was to create a synergy of prayer & positive energy to give my last IVF the best possible odds of success. And I think that was achieved. In fact, I’ve been so moved by the number of people whose spouses also prayed for me! I never envisioned that. It’s been wonderful to feel all the love & support – and I think, much, much better than the loneliness of the first two cycles where only one or two women (who’d struggled with infertility themselves) knew.

Yesterday, I got a phone call from one of my oldest friends – we’ve known each other since about age 5, so she’s the closest thing to a(n annoying) sister I have. If you read one of my earlier ranting posts, she’s the one who is obsessed with St. Rita and truly believes that all requests made to St. Rita are granted. (I’m sure you can imagine why I might find this irritating!) Anyway, she called to tell me about a vision she had about me while she was driving. She had a similar vision days before she conceived her own son a few years ago. [Note: I do love when people have visions, dreams, messages for me – it saves so much work on my part!] So she said that she got the message that I was pregnant (before I told her my results) and that I was having a baby girl (no one IRL knows this!!!) and then she said that she got a message about what my daughter’s name should be. Until this point, I was elated and had to contain my excitement so as to not tip my hand and give her any idea about how right she was about it being a girl! Then she said, “And you’re supposed to name her ‘Faith.'” (If you had inserted a microphone into my brain at that very moment, you would have heard crickets chirping.)

No offense to anyone who is named Faith, loves someone named Faith, is choosing to name their baby girl Faith, etc. but for two devoutly non-religious people like hubby & me, that name is way too loaded. Ain’t. Gonna. Happen. That’s the catch with having other people interpret visions/dreams for you!

More on prophetic dreams & such later, if I can get to it. The one pregnancy symptom that is really kicking in is that I become ridiculously fatigued in the afternoons, starting somewhere around 3:30 p.m. and we are so there right now….

Seriously.

Before I write anything else, I have to express how humbled and grateful I am to the extraordinary women who offered me words of encouragement in my time of need – some of whom were going through very difficult times themselves.

Your generosity has been food for my soul. You all have a very special place in my heart and I will continue to keep you in my prayers. I want you all to get your miracles!

So, back at the ranch…. I kept getting negatives on those cheap “Wondfo” sticks from China – I now officially detest them – all through to the afternoon of 7dp5dt. At day 12 past retrieval, there’s no question in my mind that the test should have shown a positive, but that coupled with my lack of symptoms had already reduced me to a sobbing, inconsolable mess. Not one to be deterred by a complete emotional breakdown, I decided to take one more test at about 7:30 p.m. — hoping against hope I would receive a different outcome. This time, the stick had the faintest whisper of a line. In fact, it was such a squinter that if I looked away for a second and then back, it would disappear.

I decided it was time to pull out the special, “expensive” Answer test that’s been sitting in my bottom dresser drawer for well over a year and see what “answer” it had to give me! (Ohh… that was a baaad joke!) Using the same pee (TMI?) I dipped the test and minutes later a clear, albeit faint, second line appeared. I froze. Hand cupped over my mouth and eyes about to pop out of my head – I couldn’t believe what I was seeing! I laughed, I cried (happy tears this time), I squealed. I just had no idea what to do with myself.

Hubby showed up about an hour later from work. He’d picked up a bottle of Vodka and some chocolate – smart man, hedging his bets! When I gave him the good news, I think he was more relieved than anything else and I know, excited to get his “happy wife” back.

The following morning, I tested again with Wonfo (because I had no more “real” tests) and there was no second line. That threw me into a bit of a panic as horrible ideas like “chemical pregnancy” started to swirl in my head. But that was the day I’d know for sure because I had scheduled my beta for 10 a.m. (Isn’t 8dp5dt a little early to test at a clinic?) Anyway, I got the thing over with and then I had to wait for them to call me with the results. I am a bad wait-er.

Thanks to Google, I discovered that a beta of 25 – 50 mIU/ml would be considered “inconclusive.” And, I had always read that those stupid Wondfo strips were sensitive to the 25 mIU/ml level, so I really wanted to buy a better test to be sure. I went to CVS and had to wait forever for one of their cashier/zombies to unlock the glass case with the pregnancy tests. Just as the guy was unlocking the cabinet, my cell phone rang. It was the clinic.

I took a deep breath and answered. My usually dry doctor made a sweet attempt at humor and then said, “I’m only kidding around with you because I have good news. You are seriously pregnant!” I said, “Seriously?!” And he said, “Seriously.” “How seriously?” I asked. “Beta of 58,” he said. And I sank into the warm golden glow of utter happiness and joy.

We did it. We’re smack dab in the middle of the best miracle I have ever known.

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.

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