Katrina and Her Waves

Five years ago this weekend found Mr. X and I stuck in a little CR-V with two cats, a litter box and our most precious worldly possessions stuck in traffic in Houston on a very hot day.

Six hours earlier we had left our home in New Orleans, bound for Mr. X’s parents’ house west of Houston, not knowing what the future would bring.   As we were leaving town, we listened to C-Ray being interviewed on WWL -I distinctly remember his talking about how Katrina was like a storm on steroids due to the warm waters in the Gulf.  I probably snorted at the obviousness of this statement and the total lack of awareness by C-Ray at the obviousness of the statement.  By the time contraflow had kicked in and most people were getting themselves out of harm’s way, we were ensconced in a Mexican restaurant in BFE nowheres-ville Texas downing margaritas.  They were not celebratory.

The rest of our Katrina story is actually pretty boring – although, Mr. X did get to play commando loading handguns going back in nine days after the storm via the Causeway with my boss to check on our house and my firm’s office.  Our house was undamaged, if only by the grace of the levee on the other side of the canal being a little weaker.  We had no looting or other problems. We even managed to save our fridge, which was a very big deal since after the storm, new fridges were taking four months to come in.  Four MONTHS.

Still, Katrina changed our lives dramatically.  We moved out of New Orleans for good two months after the storm.  We had been thinking about moving before Katrina, but the storm turned our vague discussions into action plans.  I was tired of living in fear six months out of the year and the city, even our relatively undamaged portion, was going to take a very long time to recover.

You would think that ours was a Katrina success story, and in many ways it was.  Mr. X quickly found a new job in a new city and we determined that I could continue working at my jobin our new city.  We were able to sell our house not three months after the storm, which was virtually unheard of at the time.  We were able to get a moving company to come in from Dallas and move us.  We were able to extricate ourselves with the least amount of effort imaginable.  Yet, Katrina marked the beginning of a tough five years for us.  It was as if the storm was the opening salvo in a barrage of bad luck and adversity that we have only just now been able to emerge from.  I speak, of course, of our infertility journey and subsequent multiple miscarriages.   We had started our conception journey three months before the storm and of course, nothing had happened.  By January 2006, I knew that something was right and, in our new city, began the first of many infertility workups that would lead to our diagnoses (blocked tubes for me, low count for him) and treatment (IUIs, IVFs, FETs, you name it, we did it!).   All of this effort and heartbreak culminated in Rex, who arrived four years, ten months and about 11 days after we first decided that it was time to become parents.

Like New Orleans, we have come a long way since Katrina.  We are different, stronger and more resilient in some ways, more cautious and untrusting in others.  We had no way of knowing that bright, gorgeous Saturday morning in August when we left the city that had been our home for ten years that we never be able to fully return just like we didn’t know then how much it would take for us to realize our dream of being parents.   But, five years later, we are parents to the most beautiful gift ever conceived and our city has and continues to reinvent itself.  Perhaps, someday Rex will return to New Orleans and continue to help with the rebuilding of the city that his parents so love.

image: omnibus

Oh, New York, New York

I actually let my subscription to New York magazine expire a few weeks ago.  I just didn’t have time to read it on a weekly basis and there was no point in spending the money to keep it up if I wasn’t going to read it.  This meant that I didn’t see the latest gem of a cover complete with attention-grabbing headline (and the even more groan-worthy subheader “Why Parents Hate Parenting”) until Adele eloquently discussed it through the lens of multiple pregnancy loss.

I dutifully read the article while absently noting that none of the information contained within it was either a) new or b) different than what I have read time and time before.  What is new is the perspective with which I read the article.  Because, you see, I have been on both sides of the equation now – the primary infertility with multiple pregnancy loss side and the healthy baby parenting side.

I’ll get the obvious part over with. The article is right on one point: parenting is hard.  It is fucking hard.  It is so hard sometimes that you want to hide in the closet and cry.  It is joy, it is pain, it is sunshine and rain.  It is wonder and it is drudgery. But, as hard as it is, I don’t hate it.  There have been times when I really don’t like it, but never hate.  In contrast, I can say unequivocally that I hated being infertile and dealing with repeat miscarriages.  I hated that I couldn’t do what every one else seemed to be able to do with a lot less money and effort.

In acknowledging and agreeing (read = complaining) that parenting is hard work, though, I am not saying that I am not grateful.  Sweet Baby Toes, every day I am grateful. I am grateful that we were lucky enough to be able to afford multiple rounds of IVF.  I am grateful that we were able to use our own genetic material.  I am grateful that my body was able to grow this magnificent human being and bring him forth into this world.  I am so grateful sometimes it hurts.

And, I still remember oh so well how hard it was to lose our first two babies.  I literally woke up from my first D&C crying that I had lost my baby.  I remember the bitter sense of unfairness that not only did I have to wait two years and go through multiple procedures to even get pregnant the first time, I lost the baby anyway (and went on to lose a second, after our first IVF).  It seemed doubly cruel to me.  All told it took us almost five years to have Rex.  Five years.  Even lazy college students started and finished school in less time.  I was lapped twice around by at least one friend.

But, it’s hard to be grateful all the time about anything, not just about babies.  As the song goes, I can’t complain, but I will.  I freely grouse about my job, my husband, my parents, my house, the dog, the cats, you name any good thing I have in my life and I will complain about it.  Not constantly, maybe not even regularly, but one of the few things that keeps me sane in this world is being able to complain, to vent, to seek a little understanding of my daily trials so that I don’t feel as if I am the only person in the universe going through whatever bullshit is of the moment.

Understanding. Isn’t that we are all looking for at any given moment?  The feeling that we are not alone in our pain, our confusion, our sorrow, our little annoyances.  Unfortunately, there was little room in this article for understanding the perspective of someone dealing with infertility which is why the blithe complaints just seem like such a smack in the face to so many.  But, I understand.  I understand that the pain of difficult parenting is nothing compared to the pain of infertility and pregnancy loss. Nothing. Not even a pinky finger’s worth of difficulty.

Perhaps the parents in this article ‘hate’ parenting because they haven’t had to deal with the real hateful experiences that are infertility and miscarriage.

Looks Like I Picked a Bad Day to Quit Drinking…

Caffeine, that is.

I’ve had the mother of all headaches from about 1pm onwards and I haven’t helped it by brooding over an incident at this morning’s monitoring appointment.

The monitoring itself was fine.  Nice number of contenders, same dosage and a follow up visit with the dildo cam on Friday.

No, what bothered me was what I saw when I got in the room. 

7am to 9am is cycle monitoring time and they see a slew of patients.  I understand that the clean up between patients can be hasty. What I don’t understand, though, is how you don’t clear the image from the ultrasound screen from the prior patient. 

Especially when it is me who is going in for the next appointment.

The person they saw in there before me was pregnant, 7w3d to be exact.  How did I know this without having met her?  The ultrasound screen hadn’t been cleared after she had left and there on the screen was the telltale baby blob. And, just in case you had someone who couldn’t quite make it all out, the tech had helpfully written above it the words “Hi Mom and Dad!” Un-freaking-believable.  And, this is not the first time this has happened at his office, either. The last time this happened, there was no picture.  No ridiculous anthropomorphic utterings from the baby written on the screen. 

What’s amazing is that I wasn’t bothered that she was pregnant or that I had to see the picture of her blob. What bothered me was that they were able to write that message from their baby assuming that seven or so months from now, they will meet that baby, and they were able to do that without a hint of worry or foreboding.  I lost the ability to do that with my first miscarriage (after hearing the heartbeat. Twice.).  So now, I grieve not only the loss of my two babies, but I also grieve the loss of that innocence, that surety that now that there is a bun in the oven, it’s smooth sailing from here on out.  I wanted to bang my head on the wall (or the screen). 

When Dr. Salsa came in, I nicely asked that they make sure that the ultrasound screen is clear before I go in to the room. 

Unfortunately, that’s not going to erase the rest of it.

The Hurt in My Heart

My heart has been hurting today. A lot.

It started in the morning as the twinge in the nose and progressed to a dull thud behind the breastbone by this afternoon.  As usual, the hurt was internal.  No one came at me with a dagger or intentionally tried to bruise me.  My heart was just overwhelmed with seemingly innocuous things that really turned out to be little poisonous darts, each a minor annoyance, but collectively fatal:  Mother’s Day ads.  More Mother’s Day ads.  Participating in the dangerous game of comparing oneself to other infertiles, and pretty much everytime coming up short (meaning, still not pregnant).  Reading email from best friend with a near one-year old and trying to decipher whether we have entered into the game of one upsmanship.   Receiving drugs for the next cycle and being reminded – again – at what I must do to get pregnant that many others do not.  Remembering the joy of those moments when I was pregnant and genuinely believed that it was going to work, that we had finally defeated the monster.  

In other words, it was a bad day.

So, I took my hurting heart and went to the most peaceful place that I know of, my backporch, and stretched out on a chair.  I listened to the birds and the wind. I tried pleading with my heart to stop hurting, telling it that we are so lucky to have what we do. But, my heart was being churlish and refused to stop hurting.  “I don’t hurt less because everything else in life is rosy,” it said.

I knew I needed something or someone more compelling. I decided to summon Mr. X.  Never mind that he’s working and doesn’t know that I am summoning him in my mind. I closed my eyes and called across the miles to him. The door to the porch closed, I stretched out my hand and there he was sitting next to me, holding my hand.

“What’s the matter, my love?”, he said.

“My heart hurts, ” I said.

“Why does it hurt?”, he asked.

“Because it is afraid that it will never have that special joy of knowing that your dreams are finally coming true.  It sees others finding this joy and it wants to know when it will be its turn.”

“Ah, I understand why that would hurt. Can I have your heart for a moment?”

I reached inside and gave him my poor, shriveled damaged little heart. I watched as he cupped it in his hands like water and began to speak to it: “There is no reason to hurt, little one. This joy that you seek is not the only joy in the world. You can still seek this joy, but this can’t be the only joy that you seek or you will continue to hurt. You know this. I love you, little heart. No matter what happens or doesn’t happen, I love you and will love you.”

My hurt began to ease as I felt his love and as I realized that I can be happy without this joy, even if I still seek it.  I took my heart back and tucked it safely away.  I promised to take better care of it, to be kind to it and to try to shield it from those things that hurts it the most.  

And for now, my heart has stopped hurting.

Not This Time

It’s mid-February and I have been busy resisting  the urge to play the This Time Last Year Game.

ohdearbarb1If I gave in and drew out my worn and dog geared deck of cards, I would remember that I was newly pregnant after our first IVF.  I would remember that in just a few short days, I would start spotting and so would begin the almost month-long odyssey from no hope to hope to no hope

I would note that the Oscars are on this Sunday and that Mr. X and I watched the Oscars last year at his relative’s house, and I couldn’t concentrate because all I could think about was how I had started spotting that afternoon, but I couldn’t share anything with anyone except him.  I would dread reliving the agonizing day until I could get into Dr. Uterus’s office to find out what was going on.  I would remember how awful it was to go through that without Mr. X.  In short, I would have myself a nice case of post-traumatic stress disorder, infertility-style.

So, rather than play that deck, I choose to open a fresh deck of cards.  On top, is the card of Can-I-tell-you-how-wonderful-it-is-to-not-be-pregnant-right-now?  There is such power and relief in knowing that at least this February will be different.  This February unlike the last two will not feature me getting knocked up and being worried about being knocked up.  This February, all I have to do is just be. 

The next cards in the deck, of course, belong to Dr. Salsa.  But, knowing that the dealer has changed from Dr. Uterus to Dr. Salsa is further helping me avoid playing that old deck.  I think the mind f*ck of trying to get pregnant/being pregnant for the third February in a row and seeing Dr. Uterus at the same time would be too much for my over developed sense of deja vu to handle.  I would feel like I was in the Infertility Groundhog’s Day movie, except the outcome never would change. 

I don’t know if our outcome this time will be any different. But at least I’m playing a gleaming, new and shiny deck of cards that haven’t been tainted or tampered with.

image: ohdearbarb

Putting a Number on Hope

velo_cityBoiled down to its essence, inferitility treatment is a numbers game.  Everything about the process is quantified – number of follicles, number of sperm, percentage of motility, dosage of medication, size of cysts, size of follicles, number of eggs retrieved, number fertilized, number transferred, HCG number, number of heartbeats, heartbeat rate, measurements of the fetus, days of pregnancy,  number of miscarriages, the list just goes on and on.   And, statistics loom large with every decision, from how many IUIs to try to how aggressive to be in the number of blasts that are transferred during IVF.  Numbers are everywhere in infertility, often making a clinical process seem even more cold.  

You would think that there were some areas that were immune from being quantified, such as feelings.  Ah, if only.  When I was filling out the questionnaire for the acupuncturist last week, that last wall fell with this question:

On a scale of 1 to 10, with one being the lowest and ten being the highest, how would you describe your current level of hopefulness towards attaining your fertility goals?

Rather than treat this as one of those quizzes in Cosmo where you put down the answer that you know gets you the most points and proves that you really are boyfriend material, I knew that I needed to answer the question truthfully.  Much like you are instructed to blurt out the first thing that comes to mind in a Rorschach test, I circled the first number that came to mind:


I used to have hope of probably around 7.  If I could pinpoint that moment when my hope dipped below the magic halfway point of 5, though, it would be when I learned that my second miscarriage was also a monosomy, after we had been assured that it probably wouldn’t happen again.  I lost a lot of hope in that fiasco and most of it has not returned.  I don’t know if it ever will.  Like money, you learn not to put too much hope on the line lest you lose it all.

I have no idea what the acupuncturist will do with this information.  Like the rest of the questionnaire, it may go unread.  But, I thought it was interesting that of all of the things that we have left in this journey of infertility that have not been reduced to numbers, couldn’t they have left hope alone?

image: velo_city

The Fortunate Ones

Whenever I feel myself falling into the depths of self-pity at what has befallen Mr. X and I in our quest to do that which comes so naturally to others, I inevitably try to remember that things could be a lot worse.  I freeparking10remember stories of friends’ loved ones who are battling cancer or are in need of organ transplants.  Or, I remember that we are supremely fortunate that we have some insurance coverage, when so many others do not.  I think about how lucky I am to even have a choice about whether to have a child.  There are still many, many women in the world who have no say.  I remember that while infertility sucks more than 50,000 vacuum cleaners, we are still so fortunate.

But, inevitably, I think of other women who appear to have it all and still managed to have a child with little to no fanfare.  Women who did not greet the news of a subsequent pregnancy with dread remembering the outcome of the first.  Women who have no concept of poking needles in unpleasant places or gingerly sitting down because their ovaries are so swollen that plopping oneself in the comfortable chair can mean spasms of pain.  Women who buy maternity clothes right when they find out they’re pregnant, without a single thought that things might not progress that far to justify them, and then have a trouble-free pregnancy. 

While letting the jealousy seep through and feeling the bubble of why starting to come up, I try to put myself in the position of others who have dealt with things that I have never dealt with. People with inoperable cancer, amputees, people with incurable diseases.  To them, I probably appear normal and, probably worse, I appear as if I take that normality for granted.  I flaunt my health, my complete set of limbs, youthful vitality and good color.  I probably inspire the same feelings in them that my more fortunate friends have inspired in me, namely the feeling that this person doesn’t deserve the gifts that they have been given because they do not appreciate how fleeting and miraculous they truly are.

And, I inevitably lay blame for the blithe attitude squarely at the feet of society that preaches what is ‘normal’ and ‘expected’ and to what we are ‘entitled to’.  Normal is to have a baby when you are ready, not a minute before, to have a relatively uninteresting pregnancy that allows you to design the nursery and make your birth plan, a relatively pain free delivery, nd then to have a blissful time bonding with your new baby while they instinctively figure out how to breast feed.  I have to admit, that this was my idea of normal and that I was entitled to have that experience. 

freeparking-6It was a very rude awakening and an even more excruciating process to retrain my brain to recognize that these are not in fact normal, but abnormal.  People who manage to have these outcomes are fucking lucky with a capital “L”.  You might say that this is my inner bitter infertile talking.  This is my way of rationalizing that which cannot be rationalized.  I don’t agree. 

When we met with Dr. Salsa for that first appointment, he showed us a graphic illustrating the outcomes of all pregnancies. It was a pyramid, not unlike the food pyramid, which just served to crack me up even more.  Do you know how mnay pregnancies out of all of those that are conceived actually result in a live infant? According to the food pregnancy pyramid, 15%.  Yep.  Mr. X and I were actually in the 30% of pregnancies that make it to being detected (yay us).  

Recognizing just how incredibly hard it is to make a baby even without assistance has humbled me and kept me grounded, while also sparking even more jealousy for those who appear to have no difficulty doing it multiple times.  Perhaps it’s enough that I know how lucky they are, even if they don’t.

To Tell or Not To Tell

A few weeks ago, I got an email from an old friend of ours when we lived in the town before this one.  I knew her through her husband who I knew through Mr. X.  We probably wouldn’t have been friends if we had met otherwise.  We were just different.  But, she has faithfully kept up the correspondence, even when they moved away and I have (half-heartedly) kept up my end.

As an unspoken policy, we had not previously told any of our ‘old town’ friends about our current difficulty in reproducing.  It’s not something you just drop in a once in every six-months’ conversation.  But, at the same time, I found myself becoming resentful that they were prattling on about this and that and I couldn’t share that huge portion of my life that was consuming so much time and energy.

So, when she sent me an email last year after my miscarriage – when I was still raw and unapologetically sharing it with everyone – I knew I could not keep silent.  I couldn’t talk about unimportant things like my job or Mr. X’s job or the kitties.  It was infertility and miscarriage talk or she wasn’t getting a reply.  I was like a geyser – I had to tell or I would burst from the sheer effort of containing it all.  I was very diplomatic about how I told her, though.  No frowny faces, no woe-is-me my life sucks (even though I’m sure I said that at least ten times a day), just the straightforward, we’ve been having difficulty conceiving, sought treatment, had a miscarriage. So sad, blah, blah, blah.

She wrote a lovely note back and was genuinely sorry to hear of our misfortune, which was like balm on my raw wound.  So few people acknowledged what had happened and I was always so mollified when someone who we weren’t particularly close to was so giving. 

But now, we’ve had a second miscarriage, this time after IVF, do I give the sob story again? It is a huge part of my history, but not the only part. Would I feel as if I was betraying myself and our little phoenix if I didn’t tell her? Can I really let her believe that all is well in my world? I think that’s what it comes down to – this unabashed desire to be nakedly honest with her, put it all out there and let her pick and choose what she will respond to.  At least I know that I have told her and she now has the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

This plan has back-fired on me before, though.  After our first miscarriage, I wrote to Mr. X’s great-aunt, a woman I love and admire.  She’s feisty, loving, caring and just plain neat – all the qualities that I wish to have, particularly when I get older.  I told her of our miscarriage in my email and was waiting for her special brand of soothing.  A day passed, then a few, then some more.  Nothing.  Absolutely nothing.  I was heartbroken.  She has never said a word about it and it still breaks my heart. 

There were others who I told who never responded or acknowledged it: Mr. X’s cousin who I had to tell after she asked how our baby-making was coming along (not so well, my dear, not so well); our friends who had a baby last year – she called me recently after receiving my email and I could tell that she wanted to bring it up but didn’t have the heart (or the nerve). I can’t say I blame her.  But, still.  I knew she had read the email and still there was nothing.  And, of course, there was John*.

Am I committing some huge faux-pas here telling people that our life is not a bed of roses and shitty things happen to good people? Am I harshing on someone else’s day by sharing this? Am I being totally selfish by wanting to share EVERYTHING – the good, the bad, the ugly? Or, am I making it more acceptable to talk about these things, even if they are met with silence, so that if any of these women (the great-aunt notwithstanding) has the unfortuate luck to have a miscarriage, she knows at least one other person who has had one?  Why don’t more people share this information with each other? Are we all so ashamed of what happened as if it was somehow our fault (to which the resounding answer would be NO) that we can’t even begin to mention it until someone else has one?

After my first miscarriage, I seriously considered getting a t-shirt made that told the whole world what had happened.  I was hurting so much that I wanted everyone to know.  I never did it because the mere thought of it was comforting enough, but I still feel that stigma of being Debbie Downer whenever I tell someone what has happened – as if my bad news would taint the rest of their day. 

The bottom line is this: I had two miscarriages, both after infertility treatments and I am not ashamed of that.  I am still sad about it (and some days angry) but they are events in my life just like getting G or learning to sew and equally worthy of being shared.  For, they have to be shared, people need to know that this stuff happens and it happens to people they know and love.  I will still tell people in the hopes of meeting those few enlightened souls who ‘get it’ and educate those who don’t.

image: scottwills (used through Creative Commons)

Twice Bitten, Infinitely Shy

In the back of my mind, wedged in between perpetual grocery lists and new tricks I want to teach G, is the theory – that has morphed into a belief – that it is impossible for any pregnancy I may have to progress past the 9th week. I’m reminded of this when I hear of others who have made it to 12, 15, 20 weeks and beyond. It seems completely abnormal and atypical to me. There are people who can do that?, I think. Much like when I hear that someone gets pregnant without medical intervention.  You can get pregnant without an RE and an embryologist? Where is this fantasy land?

I am so far down that rabbit hole of infertility and miscarriage that my new normal now resembles most people’s abnormal. The irony of this is not lost on me. For as normal a life I have in many other respects, I am constantly reminded of how much of a minority I am when it comes to my uterus (and what does or does not happen in it). But, the farther into the struggle I get, the more perversely proud I am of myself for making it that far and still being a relatively well-adjusted, functioning person. And, perhaps, still willing to take a gander at whether the third time will be the charm. 

It’s not even that I don’t think that I’ll get pregnant again.  It’s that I can no longer even imagine a scenario where I am at my 11 week or 12 week appointment and I hear that everything looks good, is progressing and now you need to find yourself a nice, normal OB with no drama.  Perhaps this is my defense mechanism to help shield myself from the pain, or the ultimate in pessimism, but I can honestly say that I cannot even envision it, much like people could not imagine a man on the moon or flight. 

But, these things did happen. After many attempts and many failures. The question, then, is am I willing to keep going knowing that eventually it may work but that failure is also probably in the cards?

image: Steve Rhodes

The Sympathetic Response

One of the easiest ways to get me to become weepy about my infertility very quickly is to tell me in that *right* tone of empathy how sorry you are about what we’re going through, or how hard it must be for me when friends get pregnant. The sudden swell of grief that causes me to tear up is more of a response to the person who is showing how much they care about me to be saying these things as opposed to grief about the particular event. It’s kind of like wearing your favorite sweater even though you know it generates static electricity that will shock you. You love to wear the sweater, so you deal with the shock when it comes which will never be when you expect it.