Sunday, September 28, 2014

Silver Linings

Sometimes after a really long, busy, and stressful week, it does the soul good to go to bed early, sleep in, and have a lazy morning filled with coffee and reading.  My plans for the rest of the day include exercising, showering (and probably putting pajamas back on after), more reading, and unfortunately some work too.  I can have this de-stressing day because I don't have a child and because I'm not responsible for anyone but myself (and to a lesser extent the husband and dog).  A year ago I couldn't have seen this silver lining.  Right now I'm incredibly thankful for it.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Being Brave

I know that most people hate their commute, but I actually don't mind mine.  I live about 13 miles from work but on an average day the commute is around 45 minutes each way.  In the morning it gives me plenty of time to go through my mental checklist of things that I need to do for the day and in the evening it gives me plenty of time to reflect on the day and switch my brain from "work mode" to "home mode."  Essentially it's my "me" time and I quite enjoy it.  On Mondays I teach an evening class and often do not leave for home until around 9pm.  There is something about the darkness and the lack of traffic that always makes me particularly reflective.  This past Monday evening, as I was driving, I was singing along to the radio when F***** Perfect by Pink came on.  I've heard this song many times, but I really listened to the lyrics for the first time and thought about them within the context of infertility and just generally being a woman.  The lyrics to the chorus are:
Pretty, pretty please, don't you ever, ever feel
Like you're less than, F*****' perfect
Pretty, pretty please, if you ever, ever feel
Like you're nothing you're f*****' perfect to me 
The video is below.  If you've never heard the song or never really listened to the lyrics, I encourage you to do so.  I intentionally opted not to post the link to the official music video from the artist's approved youtube page because there are several themes in the video (e.g., drug use, self-harm) that may be triggers for some people.  Also, if you find language offensive, this probably wouldn't be a good thing for you to watch.

Anyway, first I started thinking about this song within the context of being a woman.  We're bombarded with messages of "you're not good enough/smart enough/pretty enough/you can't do that/you're too skinny/you're too fat/you don't deserve good things/etc." from an early age.  And those messages are even stronger if you are "different" and don't fit in.  I've never really fit in and there are a precious few people who actually get me.  The truth is that  while I've done a pretty good job appearing to be confident, in reality I'm not.  When I started dating my husband he did amazing things for my self-confidence.  He told me that I was beautiful, smart, awesome, funny, etc. enough that I finally started to believe those things about myself.  Then infertility hit and all of those negative things crept back in.  Feelings like "I'm not good enough/I can't even give my husband a baby/I'm broken/I'm a failure." Since we quit trying to conceive, I've tried to work on regaining some of my lost self-confidence, and again, my husband has been brilliant.  So back to the song-I've spent a whole lot of my life feeling (and believing) that I'm less than perfect.  But the reality is that I am perfect.  I am exactly who I am supposed to be and am doing exactly what I am supposed to be doing.  Every single thing that has ever happened to me has happened for a reason, even if it doesn't make sense to me.  I can't compare myself to others and use them as a measuring stick because I am not them.  I probably didn't do a very good job of articulating the thought process that or the progress that was made after listening to the song, but it really did hit me like a ton of bricks (in a good way).  It was definitely a message that I needed to hear, and I suspect that I'm not the only one.

As I continued to drive I was sort of marveling at my little breakthrough.  Then Brave by Sara Barellis came on.  Cue the tears.  I think this song so beautifully captures how brave we have to be during and after our battles with infertility.  I'm not even going to bother quoting some of the lyrics, instead I'll just encourage you to listen to the song.

Save for a few people, I've never openly shared about infertility with anyone (in real life).  I've always been one of those people who has a really hard time showing my emotions in front of other people and infertility is something that I can't really talk about without becoming emotional, so I don't share.  I need to work on being brave.  I need to work on letting the words fall out honestly without worrying what the listener is going to think of me or what they're going to say.  For some reason infertility is a taboo topic and living child free after infertility is even more taboo.  The only way to make it less taboo is to talk about it, and that requires bravery.  I'm not quite ready to wear a shirt that says "look at me, I'm infertile" or anything like that, but I do think that I need to make an effort to respond in a way that adequately describes the struggle and emotional impact, but in a way that also doesn't lend itself to questions or me sharing more than I want to (because there are so many parts of the journey that are so deeply personal).  I don't feel very brave right now, but I suspect that will come with time and practice.  Infertility is part of me, just like my blue eyes, brown hair, and crazy long legs, and that's ok!

If read this far, thanks!  I don't usually write posts this long, but I don't have breakthroughs like this very often either.  I also don't get summoned to jury duty selection very often which is why I had the free time to write a post of this length. :)

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Two pink lines

I apologize in advance that this post isn't well organized and is largely unedited.  I just needed to do a brain dump of some things that have been bouncing around my brain for a couple of weeks.  I hope it makes at least a little bit of sense.

Last week Pamela wrote an article about Blind Spots.  It really hit home for me because it's something I've been dealing with recently.  Here is what I wrote in the comment section of her blog:

I’ve been unpacking and examining some of these blind spots for the past couple of weeks. For a long time I’ve felt that when a person gets pregnant, even under less than ideal circumstances (with the exception of rape, obviously) that they are lucky. I’ve also felt like women who do get pregnant but end up without a take home baby are somehow luckier than I am too because they got to experience pregnancy, even if just for a little bit (yes, I do feel horrible even putting that in print). I concluded that a positive pregnancy test is something very symbolic to me, likely because it’s an experience that I will never get to have, and this really does cloud my mindset. People who have unintended pregnancies or who have losses don’t see themselves as lucky and I shouldn’t either. All I can do is acknowledge my blind spot and try to put it aside, or at least acknowledge that it shapes my attitude.
Here's an expanded version of what led me to discovering this blind spot.  August was a rough month for me.  A month filled with seeing other's successes (childbirth/pregnancy) and my failures (inability to conceive).  In short I was feeling really sorry for myself.  (Note to self: There is a whole heck of a lot more to you than your inability to procreate! Stop defining yourself this way!)

At that time, two things collided and wreaked havoc on my emotions: one of my very good friends brought her baby home from the hospital and a second friend found out she was pregnant.  Right around the time we were beginning the infertility testing process the first friend called me and confided that they had been trying for (gasp) two whole months and she was very frustrated.  I gave her a quick lesson in ovulation tests and wished her luck.  I'll be damned if four weeks later she texted me a picture of a positive pregnancy test and a hearty "thank you" for helping her get pregnant.  I had a very negative, visceral reaction.  I honestly don't know if I've ever cried that hard in my life.  I mean, it just wasn't fair.  Everything I knew couldn't get me pregnant and it helped her to get pregnant in one shot. A few weeks later we found out that it was unlikely I would have children without some intensive and expensive fertility treatments.   The second friend battled infertility to, so she understands on at least some level.  Right around the time that my husband and I made the decision not to proceed with treatment, her and her husband made the decision to try treatment.  We remained very close and supported so when she got a positive pregnancy test naturally I was the first one (not married to her) that she texted a picture of the test to.  The first couple of tests were really light, but then they started to darken appropriately, and she started sending close up pictures of tests and of tests lined up next to each other.  It was too much for me.  She did it innocently and didn't realize that it would hurt me and I didn't realize that it had hurt me until it was too late.  To top it off I didn't say anything.  I didn't want to rain on her parade.  Then she started to obsess about low beta numbers and miscarriage.  The hurt me part of me lashed out at her and told her that she needed to calm herself down and enjoy it just a little bit and that she was lucky to even get to experience being pregnant, even if just for a little bit.  Not surprisingly this hurt her feelings, deeply.  Long story short, we made up, but I think I damaged our relationship in a way that will never be fully repaired though.

Friend one brought her baby home the same week that friend two got her positive pregnancy test.  So two of my best friends had really great news and I was left out of the excitement.  Again.  It hurt.  Really, really bad.  I think I could have handled one of these two things, but to handle them together was just too much.

I needed to figure out why I reacted so intensely to these situations.  I needed to know so that I could protect myself in the future and so that all of my hurt won't make me a bad friend to others.  The only trigger that I could come up with was seeing the positive pregnancy test for both of my friends.  And when the second friend got the positive test right as the first was bringing her baby home from the hospital, it just seemed like history was repeating itself, and it was hard on me.  I started to unpack these feelings even more.  I've never had a positive pregnancy test of my own.  I'll never get to see a positive pregnancy test of my own.  I'll miss out on telling my husband, my parents, etc.  It's the start of something big and I'll never get to experience it and that makes me incredibly sad.   I guess that seeing those two pink lines makes me remember everything I'm going to miss out on.

So I guess that what I can do is remember that this is going to be a blind spot for me, at least in the near future.  I can recognize that it's going to trigger some negative emotions and try to protect myself the best that I can.  I also need to remember that even though I might feel like other people are lucky, they may not feel the same way.  Feelings are messy and don't always make sense.  I'm imperfect, but I'm trying.  I'm growing.  I'm getting better.  I'm trying to heal, but I'm also trying to not leave a path of distraction in my wake.  I'm doing the best I can.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Ups and Downs

Right now I feel like I'm in a really good place.  I don't have that "elephant on my chest" feeling every time I think about not having children or other people having children.  It's been a couple of weeks since a pregnancy or birth announcement completely gutted me.  I'm able to differentiate being happy for them and being sad for us instead of just all-consuming jealousy and sadness.  My husband and I have been spending a lot of really great quality time together and not once have I lamented about not having children or how whatever we were doing would somehow be better if we did have a child.  I feel good right now.  I feel confident right now.  I feel like I can handle whatever the universe throws at me.  But I also wonder when the bottom is going to drop out.  I wonder how long the inevitable depression will last once the bottom does fall out.  Does anybody else get this way?  My plan is just to ride this wave as long as possible and then deal with the fall out when it comes.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

What a difference a year makes

I work in academia.  In May of every year, everyone scatters after commencement and for the most part we don't see each other again until August when school starts, so there is always a lot of catching up to do.  Last year at the beginning of the school year we had a meeting with a catered lunch afterwards.  The department head was moving about the room making conversation with everyone as they ate.  I happened to be sitting at a table with a pregnant colleague, a colleague who had a baby only a couple of months old, and another with a baby under a year old.  Everyone was making small talk about their kids (I'm sure you all know the type of conversation) when the department head asked me when I was going to contribute a baby to the department (there's a joke that at least one person in our department has had a baby every semester for something like 14 semesters running).  I fumbled through an answer, excused myself, and went to my office and had an ugly cry.  Fast forward to yesterday.  Same people, same scenario.  The same department head asked me about my family planning timetable.  This year I said: "The truth is that we tried really hard for a long time, we aren't comfortable pursuing the treatment options available to us, and right now we're figuring out what the rest of our lives are going to look like since children are realistically no longer part of the picture.  There is still a small chance that I could get pregnant, but the reality is that the chances of me getting pregnant are somewhere in the vicinity of my chances of getting struck by lightening."  And then I changed the topic.  You could have heard a pin drop.  I was so proud of myself.  A year ago it was a victory just to get through the conversation without crying publicly.  A year makes a world of difference! 

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Random thoughts

When my husband and I scheduled our first RE appointment, we weren't exactly sure what to expect, beyond that there would be a bunch of tests.  We did all of the tests and scheduled our follow-up appointment to go over the results.  The doctor started out with Mr. Bent's results where he informed him that his sperm looked more like that of a man 10 years younger.  Off to a great start.  Then he started with my results.  He threw out a bunch of numbers with little to no explanation and then informed us that our next steps were to try a high stim cycle "just to see if it worked" and then on to IVF with donor eggs.  No "I'm sorry to tell you this," no "do you have any questions," no compassion or empathy whatsoever.  Then we were shuffled out to "talk to" the IVF nurse who went through the whole process at warp speed and then gave us a one page sheet with instructions and told us that if we were going to start the process during the next cycle we would need to make the decision in full because things had to be paid in advance before anything could start.  After that we were shuffled to the finance guy who again informed us that everything would need paid in advance since our insurance didn't cover anything, gave us price sheets showing all of the costs, and information about financing (which I joked probably had a 27% interest rate and could be paid in 120 monthly installments).  We walked to the car in a daze and had made the decision that IVF was not for us before we even pulled out of the parking garage, and even with hours of research it didn't change.*  We didn't have the emotional fortitude to endure IVF, which for us, had a less than 10% chance of being successful, and we felt it was irresponsible to completely drain our savings (plus a bit) to put ourselves through something that would likely be unsuccessful.  That was in March.  We've not second guessed our decision once.

I really didn't think about IVF again until this weekend when I read two articles, one on HuffPost and the other on NPR, about egg freezing and shared risk IVF, respectively.  I also ventured into the Facebook comments on the NPR article.  I fully expected to find what I did in the comments, but I didn't expect people to so vehemently disagree with assisted reproduction and attack those who chose to go this route.  It was vicious and it made me realize why I prefer the company of my dog to that of most humans.

The HuffPost Article about Egg Sharing was a huge eye opener about something that didn't even occur to me about being an option.  I mean, I've heard of it, but only within the context of cancer patients.  The author of this article went to a informational session/cocktail party at a swanky New York City hotel.  Literally something this important and life changing was discussed over cocktails.  I'm all for a good cocktail and I'm certainly not a prude, but I think that alcohol and big decisions don't mix well.  Anyway, from the tone of the article, it seemed apparent that the informational session glossed over some really important details while simultaneously overestimating the potential for success. In short, it really seemed to me like this company did a fine job of misleading these women. I just find this deeply disturbing.  I mean, if a woman wants to freeze her eggs, by all means do it, but make sure you are educated beyond one-sided facts presented to you by a company who is far more interested in your wallet than your family building plans.

The NPR article about Sharing Risk was eye opening to me as well.  In the program discussed in this article, couples can pay a flat fee for up to six cycles of IVF, and get their money back if unsuccessful.  The premise of this program is that the couples who get pregnant the first cycle essentially subsidize those that it takes longer for.  This seems like a relatively "good deal" but I also question putting a woman through that many cycles of drugs, presumably increasing every cycle.  It just seems dangerous given that there is little to no research about the long term effects of messing with hormones in such a way.  I would also be interested in the "eligibility criteria" for this program, which, other than age, is not clearly outlined on the website.  The cynic in me figures that this program is aimed at couples who have a good chance of success anyway, thereby increasing the clinic's profits.

I guess there's really not much point to this post.  These articles really opened my eyes.  I figured out early in our experience that it was about our ability to hand over money to the clinic as opposed to building our family.  I worry that couples desperate to have babies are being taken advantage of.  I worry that success statistics are being overestimated.  I worry that couples are given misleading facts.  I worry about the long term side effects for women who have undergone IVF.**  I think that women need to be better advocates for themselves when it comes to fertility and I think that the medical community needs to do a better job of presenting accurate information when it comes to fertility.

*This was the right decision for us.  I'm a firm believer that all couples should make the right decision for them and that no couple should be judged based on whether or not or how far they decided to go down the ART path.

**I hope this paragraph didn't sound judgmental.  It wasn't intended to be.