I don’t know what to title this …

… but that doesn’t matter. What matters is that I’m back, I guess.

After our last cycle failed I had to take a break from all things infertility related to preserve what little sanity I had left and survive what I consider the most difficult semester of nursing school. I won’t lie, that last failed cycle was a blow I was not prepared for in the least. It rocked me in a way that previous failures hadn’t and I needed quite a bit of time to recover from it — which was just as well because we didn’t have to financial ability to pursue IVF (our recommended next step).

Nursing school is winding down now — I’m in the home stretch with only 5 weeks left! And my sanity has returned to normal, if you could ever call it that. So of course the only logical next step is to test my newly normalized sanity with some more infertility treatments. Long story short, thanks to the help of special friends we’re moving forward with IVF. In fact, we’re a couple weeks into the process.

We won’t be sharing the exact timeline of it all because we want to maintain some privacy throughout this entire thing — mainly we don’t want family/friends to constantly ask well-meaning-but-ultimately-prying-and-anxiety-inducing questions. And we want to be able to announce a pregnancy (or lack thereof) on our own terms, which would be tricky if everyone already knows the exact timeline of everything.

BUT — I will be sharing my experiences because I think they’re worth sharing and can be beneficial to others. In fact, I can give you a basic outline of what will be coming up. First I have to take birth control (BC) for a while. Sometime during the BC phase I’ll have a mock embryo transfer so the reproductive endocrinologist (RE) can get an idea of my anatomy and discover any problems that may affect the transfer process. Taking BC seems counter-intuitive when you’re trying to get pregnant, but there’s some logic to it. BC helps everything calm down in preparation for the next step: stimming. Stimming is the process of injecting myself daily with various hormones in hopes of stimulating my ovaries into producing a lot of eggs. The stimming phase ends with a trigger injection, which basically pushes the follicles over the edge into maturation & then they’re ready to be retrieved by my RE. The retrieval (or harvest, as Andrew calls it) is an outpatient procedure involving aspirating the eggs out of my ovaries with a big needle. Sounds fun, right? But after retrieval is when the fun REALLY begins! The retrieved eggs are fertilized and sit around for a few days under supervision — the embryologist keeps an eye on the fertilized eggs to make sure they’re developing properly into cute little embryos. After a few days the best one (or two) embryos are placed in my uterus & then we wait to see if it (or they) sticks. Of course, ultrasounds and blood work are sprinkled in throughout most of the process.

That’s whats in store for me in the coming weeks. It’s exciting and terrifying and daunting and a lot of other things. I’m nervous about the effects of the hormones — mood swings, hot flashes, weight gain, headaches. I’m scared of the possible pain associated with the retrieval. I’m worried that we won’t have any embryos to transfer. I’m excited to finally have a real chance of getting pregnant but I’m hesitant about being excited because I don’t want to get my hopes up if it doesn’t work. It’s a lot to deal with. But, I think, the chance of finally starting our family is worth all of it. And more.

How Infertility Has Made Our Marriage Better

I don’t know if you know this about me, but I’m an exceedingly difficult person to live with. I can be very particular and inflexible. I like to hold grudges. I completely shut down when I’m upset. I’m terrible at putting away clean laundry and emptying the dishwasher. That’s a lot to handle. Throw infertility (IF) into the mix and you’re begging for disaster, right? That’s what I thought anyway. I was sure we’d need years of therapy to right all the wrongs IF brings. Really it’s been quite the opposite.

Let’s get back to me though. Specifically the part about shutting down when I’m upset. It’s really very simple. I don’t want to need anyone, because that makes me vulnerable and gives the needed person the power to hurt me. So when that person does something to fail me, however slight, I well up with anger. The thing is, even though outwardly it may look like I’m angry at the person, I’m actually just angry at myself. Angry because I stupidly let myself need someone. And I can never, never let myself need someone. And the outflow of so zealously guarding my vulnerabilities is that I tend to be detached and distant. Affection doesn’t come naturally to me anymore, communicating expectations is difficult, working through conflict is almost impossible.

(As an aside, and as a point of clarification, this thought process mainly applies to my relationship with Andrew and my family. In other relationships I’m able to be objective and realize that I’m just insane, but in more intimate relationships I already feel too vulnerable, making it more difficult to keep the crazy in check. I hope that makes sense.)

As you can imagine, my total inability to cope has been really difficult to work around in our marriage. Thankfully Andrew is exceedingly long-suffering and kind — any other man would have walked away and stayed away. But now that I’ve rambled about my biggest flaw for a while, you’re probably wondering how adding IF to the mess that is me has made anything better.

That’s an easy and obvious answer. Everything we’ve gone through has made me realize I can’t not need Andrew. It’s impossible. I know because I’ve tried. I tried to cope with the stress and the sadness and the disappointment alone, and it all almost swallowed me whole. I couldn’t keep crying in the car and sitting alone in the dark and then putting on an unconvincing smile whenever Andrew was around. It wasn’t working even a little bit. For either of us. I was drowning and Andrew was desperate to help me but didn’t have a clue how.

I can’t tell you when it happened, but at some point I realized I’m stupid. And slowly, in tiny ways, I started showing Andrew that I need him. I’d ask him to sit closer to me. I’d hug him for a long time for no reason. I’d read in the living room while he was doing work instead of locking myself up in the bedroom, just so he’d know I want to be around him. Then those tiny steps started getting a little bigger. I started communicating expectations clearly, like how I needed him to be sad with me instead of being stubbornly optimistic, because sometimes his optimism felt like he was just brushing me off. Or how I needed him to be more involved in and informed about the IF process, because otherwise I just felt like I was totally alone.

Our marriage is far from perfect, so don’t be fooled. But something totally weird happened once I started taking those steps: we grew closer to each other. Andrew began better meeting my needs because I was finally being vulnerable enough to show him what they were. Funny how that happens, right? But it’s not just that he’s meeting my needs. I was spending a considerable amount of energy trying to be completely self-reliant in terms of emotional needs. Now that I’m not trying so hard I have a little bit of extra energy to put into meeting Andrew’s needs. I have a little more energy to put into being affectionate, and patient, and fun, and social. Sometimes I even get around to putting away the clean laundry and emptying the dishwasher.

Infertility and the Holiday Season

I wanted to write a concise, eloquent, and organized post about why the holiday season can be especially difficult for those of us struggling with infertility (IF), but the words aren’t coming to me the way I’d like so I’ll just ramble until I feel I’ve gotten my point across.

First of all, the holidays suck when you’re infertile because holidays are all about family. This suck manifests itself in many, many different ways. For instance, the holiday season is the time of year when you get to see your cousin Jane, who never even wanted kids but is on her third accidental pregnancy anyway (and won’t stop complaining about it). And it’s the time of year when your little niece’s/nephew’s/cousin’s/sibling’s/whatever’s faces light up with excitement when it’s time to open gifts, and you ache yes, it physically hurts — to have a child to spoil with useless toys that you’ll regret buying when the off switch breaks and it’s stuck repeating the same annoying song on full blast. And it’s the time of year when your great-aunt Dorothy keeps asking why you’re waiting so long to have kids. Since you’re not out of the IF closet yet you say We’re not ready for kids yet (you’re lying through your teeth, of course). She harumphs at you a few times, and then great-aunt Dorothy drops hints all night that you should have kids soon before your ovaries dry up. And it’s the time of year when you’ll inevitably end up hiding in the guest bedroom crying into your third slice of pumpkin pie.

Secondly, the holiday season (and birthdays and anniversaries) can be difficult because it’s another important date or milestone that passes you by with no children in sight. New Year’s Eve has always been a somber holiday for me. It brings on a particularly strange tangle of emotions that end with me in tears at midnight. The best explanation I can come up with is that I become acutely aware of the passage of time and all the opportunities I missed to do something valuable with that time. IF adds to that. Oh look, another year. I wonder who will get pregnant this year. I wonder if I’ll get pregnant this year. I wonder if I’ll ever get pregnant. But it doesn’t have to be that emo. It might just be that you thought for sure you’d be pregnant by this Christmas. In my case, I was hopeful my IUI would work and I’d have a Christmas surprise to share. And before all this IF nonsense I was sure I’d have 2 kids by now, maybe a third on the way.

Holidays don’t bring out the best feelings in many of us going through IF. My best advice to you, dear readers, is remember to be kind and considerate to your family. Mainly, don’t ask pesky questions or drop hints about children to a family member that is childless. You don’t know that that family member hasn’t been trying to have children for years. You don’t know that you aren’t rubbing salt in a very open and very tender wound.

Officially Moving Onto IVF

So its official. My IUI failed. On the one hand it’s not surprising. On the other hand it’s extra devastating — Both because I was more hopeful this time that we were trying something new, and because I don’t know when we’ll be able to afford IVF. It’s tough news coming on the tail of putting down our dog Sable and “celebrating” the anniversary of my father in law’s death.

I don’t really have anything else to say.

 

Unconventional

Today marks 8 years of marriage. I can’t believe how fast time has gone by! And this morning, as I was lying in bed not sleeping, it struck me how unconventional our entire relationship has been. Can I tell you our story?

The first time I ever met Andrew was in November of 2003. I was hanging out with his best friend — we were watching the first two Matrix movies in preparation to go see the final movie that evening. Out of nowhere Andrew calls and announces he’s coming over. When Andrew got there I was exiting the bathroom, which was down a short hallway and facing the front door. We stood and stared at each other for a few seconds. Then Andrew opened his mouth: “You’re way too hot to be with this guy!” he said. I disliked him immediately. Over the next several weeks Andrew made it a point to make my life miserable, until I finally decided that I would avoid him at all costs. And I managed that for a few months.

Fast forward to the beginning of March, 2004. I was hanging out with my best friend at the time and we were bored. She didn’t have a problem with Andrew and insisted we hang out with him. My protestations were ignored and she turned her car around and drove to Andrew’s house. He didn’t want to hang out with us either, though; He wanted to stay home eating corn on the cob and watching chick flicks (which he’ll deny if you ask him). But he begrudgingly got in the car and the three of us went to the Rio. He warmed up to the idea of goofing off with us, and I realized he was a completely different person from when we’d first met. This new Andrew was sweet, and funny, and weird, and I liked him. I was grounded for one reason or another, and the rules were I had to be home by 10. But the rules didn’t say I couldn’t bring friends home with me so, not wanting to cut our time short, my friend drove us all to my house and we sat out back talking for a long time.

The 3 of us hung out together almost every day for a couple of weeks, though it was obvious to anyone who saw Andrew & I that there was a budding romance there. Then one day my best friend went to Europe with her family for spring break and Andrew & I were left to our own devices. On April 2nd, we went to Georgetown on our first official date. We spent the day in book stores and record shops, we ate delicious vietnamese food, we sneezed and blew our noses a lot since all the cherry blossoms were blooming and we were allergic. It was magical. And then, as we were walking back to the metro stop, it happened: Andrew glanced at me out of the corner of his eye and started asking me if I’d be his girlfriend. He almost got the entire sentence out, but not before he tripped and almost fell into an intersection. It was the saddest and most adorable thing. How could I have said no?

Our relationship was rocky. There is absolutely no denying that. We were that on-again off-again couple no one can stand. We’d talked about marriage on our first date though, and even though we had a lot of rough spots, something kept drawing us back together. Until one time it almost didn’t. You see, I was pretty fed up with the whole thing and I broke up with Andrew once and for all on Mother’s day in 2005. I cut off all communication and stopped hanging out with mutual friends, etc. One day my best friend and I went to visit another friend in Delaware and the 3 of us took a trip to the beach. That evening, as we were watching Finding Nemo and slathering aloe all over our sunburned bits, I got the phone call that changed everything forever. Andrew had enlisted and he was leaving for basic training at the end of the summer. We started spending time together because I wasn’t sure if I’d ever see him again, but I was adamant that we weren’t back together. It was a tense and strange time for the both of us.

Finally, a day or two before he left for basic training, the two of us went out to dinner with my parents. It was then that Andrew, who was still not my boyfriend, asked my dad for my hand in marriage. And my dad said no. Somehow Andrew managed to talk until my dad said yes though, and after he left for basic training I began frantically preparing to have a wedding in 16 weeks. They day we got married I was 18 and Andrew was 22.

Our marriage has been just as strange as our early relationship. We lived in Andrew’s old bedroom at his dad’s house for the first week of our marriage, then we packed up our few belongings and drove to Texas where we lived in a hotel for two weeks because we were technically homeless. By February we’d bought our first house. The day after our one year anniversary Andrew deployed to Iraq (his unit’s deployment was then extended from 12 to 15 months). By our 3rd anniversary Andrew had survived a war but returned with injuries changed our lives forever. By our 4th anniversary we’d lived apart more than we’d lived together, and by our 5th anniversary we’d already starting recovering from a short (but awful) separation. During that time we’d also experienced the death and illness of people we loved, and we got our first glimpse into the reality that infertility would be a struggle for us. We had a lot thrown at us in a very short amount of time and had to really fight to make everything work.

Aside from allowing me to wax sentimental about the last decade of my life, thinking about the twists and turns of our relationship has led me to another realization: it only makes sense that starting our family would be unconventional too. The thing is, you see, the more I think about it the more I realize that that doesn’t have to be a bad thing. All these years of doing things a little differently have changed our perspectives and priorities. We don’t buy into the notion that money and possessions equal security, because we’ve had both and that didn’t save us from almost destroying ourselves. We don’t buy into the notion of a perfect suburban family – no white picket fence, 2.5 kids, and dog for us (not that there’s anything wrong with that, it’s just not for us).  It’s really only fitting then that our way of conceiving doesn’t quite line up with the norm either. Even though infertility is awful, it’s ok. It just means we’re doing things a little differently again.

So here were are 8 years later, still refusing to play by the rules and still putting up a pretty damn good fight.

And, babe, I wouldn’t want to do it with anyone else but you by my side.

5 Things NOT to Say to Someone Struggling With Infertility: Part 2

Why don’t you just adopt?

Sure. Let me just walk over to the adoption tree and pick off a baby.

Puh-lease.

Hearing that statement over and over again is frustrating for two reasons.

#1 Asking “why don’t you just adopt?” is rather dismissive. It belittles the individual’s desire to have a biological child with the person they love most. It’s basically like saying “why bother?”

#2 Asking “why don’t you just adopt?” assumes that adoption is an easy process. It’s not. It’s not cute or quirky like in Juno. In fact, it can be just as expensive, invasive, and grueling as infertility treatments. You have to jump through all these hoops, open yourself up to interviews and home studies, and sell yourself to birth parents — and the sad reality is you might still end up without a child after all that. What if the birth mother changes her mind and wants her baby back? That happens more than you’d think. Adoption isn’t something to be flippant about. It’s a serious commitment that comes with its own set of expenses, hopes, and heartaches.

Don’t get me wrong. I think adoption is a really, really, really great thing! We can’t wait to adopt (which we will do regardless of whether or not we can conceive). But the next time you find yourself wanting to say “why don’t you just adopt?” maybe try one of these alternatives instead:

How do you feel about adoption?

Is adoption something you’d consider when you get as far as you want to go with infertility treatments?

Just Relax

In a previous post I mentioned that one of the things you shouldn’t say to someone struggling with infertility (IF) is “just relax” or “go on vacation.” I’m not retracting that statement. Going on relaxing  vacation will not make the medical conditions affecting my fertility go away.

Having said that, taking a vacation with your significant other is a great way to get away from the all-consuming madness that IF comes with. Last week Andrew & I had the opportunity to take a short trip up to Massachusetts in celebration of our 8 year wedding anniversary (which isn’t until October).  Our mini-vacation couldn’t have come at a better time! School had been kicking our butts since the semester started and we’d barely seen each other, and we were still recovering from the stress of all the failed treatments we’ve had this year while also adding the stress of going public & making the decision to pursue one IUI and then IVF. So last week we packed up the car and got lost in Massachusetts for 3 days.

The best part of the entire trip is that we only talked about IF once, very briefly, for about 3 minutes. The rest of the time was spent ogling weird things at curiosity shops in Salem, learning about pirates, eating too much delicious food, hunting ghosts, conducting our very own anthropological study at a hotel bar, and following a man dressed in period clothing around Boston while he told us about the city’s history. It was fantastic to get away from IF and all the other stressors in our lives. It was just the little getaway we needed to remind ourselves that we’re best friends and we have fun together!

You see, one of the worst things IF does is drain a relationship of laughter and fun. It’s so easy to fall into these cycles of mourning and silence and forget that your relationship isn’t actually defined by whether or not you have children. School is still stressful, IF is still awful, but getting away for a little while left us with renewed affection for one another and renewed perspective about our priorities within our marriage.

So if you’re struggling with IF (or if you’re not struggling with IF), just relax! Go on vacation, even if  “vacation” means going on a hike together on a nice day, or carving out some time for a date.

What things do you do to “just relax” with your partner?