Families

Long day, short-ish post.

I always have mixed feelings when we’re visiting family. On one hand, as I’m sure many of you have already experienced in your own lives, family gatherings can be remarkably fertile ground for infertility land-mines. When wandering around my husband’s grandmother’s house, you can’t take two steps without seeing evidence of the three great-grandchildren her other grandson has blessed her with. Hand-made pre-school knickknacks, happy family photographs (including a painful number of granddaughter-in-law in a what seems to me to be a perpetual state of pregnancy), and knitting projects in progress in the brightest baby blues and pinks. It’s hard not to look around and notice the lack of our contribution to this museum of the modern American family. I’m just thankful that, with the newest edition here, I no longer have to stare at any ultrasounds hung on the fridge. Ultrasounds have always meant pain to me, so I get terrified when I see them out in public. Why would anyone hang that, that blurry image that does nothing but spell doom and heartache, on their fridge? All of mine are hidden away in a folder alongside lab results, medical receipts, and the images taken of my screwed up insides during my laparoscopy. They most certainly aren’t on anyone’s fridge.

On the other hand, family is a great distraction from and reminder of that which we want so badly. A game of cards, a talkative dinner, the glee you witness when watching an 85 year-old opening her mail (“Oh, the March of Dimes sent me a nickel!”), it’s all a vivid reminder of the meaning brought to the mundane through the power of family. In those moments, I’m transported away from my world of worries. And, once back to reality, memories of those simple moments make all the injections, the tears, the 5AM drives to the RE, and even a thousand trans-vaginal ultrasounds worth it. I want these moments not to be relegated to my past and present; I want them in the future as well. I want to yell at my daughter for not visiting enough, I want to make my son his favorite pie, I want to give my grandchildren the same chocolate Easter eggs their great-great-grandmother gave me. This is why we are still fighting.

On this weekend away from home and (largely) away from the Internet, I’m reminded of another family I’m so very thankful to have in my life. On Wednesday night a dear old friend called me to congratulate me on this blog. During the conversation she remarked on how it must mean a lot to be able to go through this journey with the support of random strangers on the Internet. Without even thinking about it, I replied, “I wouldn’t have survived this all without my friends in the computer.” And, though that may have come out a little more dramatic than I intended, on reflection I still think that knee-jerk sentiment holds up. Infertility is lonely, infertility makes even the strongest buckle under the pressure, and infertility leaves you asking, “Why me?” The friends I’ve made through my online infertility support networks have made this infertile life worth living and that future family worth fighting for. They remind me I am not alone and I am not weak. I have the weight of the infertility community behind me and I carry the hopes and dreams of the infertility community with me.

So, thank you old friends who have been on this journey with me from the beginning, and thank you new ones who have embraced me through this blog in the past week. Here’s to all of us having the opportunity to make our grandchildren curse and smile in equal measure.

Riding in cars with infertiles (pt. 1)

So, as I’ve already mentioned, we’re spending the holiday weekend with the in-laws.  That means a 3.5 hour car trip south.  South from our rural village, to an even more rural valley populated by generation after generation of What IFs.

No, seriously, it’s half Clampett’s half Walton’s down here.  I remember my first trip home to meet the ‘rents.  The trip on which, among other things, I learned that the man I was dating tends to overlook gigantic plot points when telling a story.  No one can bury the lead like my man!  We were supposed to have a quick Sunday afternoon dinner with mom & dad.  We arrived, walked inside, and no one was home.  “They must be at my grandmother’s,” he uttered.  Oh wow, I thought, guess I’ll be meeting more than just mom and dad.  I started on my walk out the front door, back across the porch, and had my hand on the car door when he said, “Where are you going?”  “Getting in the car so we can go to your grandmother’s house,” I replied.  “She lives next door!” he chuckled, as if it was a commonly accepted fact that all grandmothers lived next door.  To be honest, the concept of a “grandmother” itself was a new one to me.  I’d been raised in a family in which 3 out of 4 grandparents had passed by the time I was 7, and where the fourth (my paternal grandmother) had gotten in such a row with my mother that by the time I was 2 she was a non-entity in our lives despite living in the same town.  Well, OK, come to think of it, she actually may have lived next door to us.  I wouldn’t have known who she was either way.

So we started our walk down the winding country road to “nans.”  (A walk that, in the past decade, has become so familiar and so capable  of evoking disgusting amounts of warm fuzzies.)  As we approached the old white farm house, complete with big red barn repuruposed into a garage, my husband spied a few additional cars.  “Oh, my aunt, uncle, and cousin must be up!”  Like I said, this  man is nonplussed by nothing.  I sat there trying to imagine what my Betty Crocker suburban mother would have done if an extra 4 people showed up for dinner.  Likely smiles all around, an angry cigarette as the cars left the drive, and an “accidental” removal from our Christmas card list.  Family or no family, hell, particularly family, you call ahead!

So, in I walk for my “quiet Sunday dinner” to find a raucous crowd of Mr. and Mrs. But IF’s anxiously waiting to meet the new “city girl” the valley’s favorite son had brought home from that “fancy” college.

Lest you think that the surprise dinner for 4 turned 8 phased me, you’ve not heard the entire tale!  No, my dear readers, while failure to properly prepare me for the magnitude of the afternoon’s events was mere laziness, disaffectedness, or sheer ignorance on my future husbands part, what came next was intentional.  He was very particular on one point when planning the event with mommy and daddy before our trip to But-IF-ville – the menu was non-negotiable.  They’d be serving nothing but the best (to test this city girl) — squirrel!  (I’m still waiting for my, “I met my boyfriend’s parents and all I got was a lousy squirrel” T-shirt.)  A decade later, here I sit in the living room of my squirrel-eating in-laws, having survived the meal (and many more adventures in rural Americana…).

So, where was this going?  Oh, yes, car rides.  It’s always the car ride. And, in the case of this particular car ride, a car trip sans radio stations, data signals, and all other distractions.  (The WhatIF-mobile was the height of German engineering in the year 2000, so while my tape deck is working, my cassette collection isn’t as relevant as it once was.  Original broadway cast recording of “Annie” anyone?)

We’ve had our best discussions in the car.  We decided to buy our first house when driving in the car, we planned most of our wedding when driving in the car, we decided we were ready to try and have children in the car.  Big shit happens in the car.  Today, was no different.

Adoption is a beautiful thing.  (I always feel like I’m pandering to someone when I say that, but I mean it.  Saying it again and again makes it sound less insincere, right?)  People that open their homes to children in need of one are awe inspiring to me.  In large part because, as we bared our souls to one another this morning, we acknowledged firmly and finally that we do not see adoption in our future.

My heart aches daily at the loss of innocence we’ve experienced through infertility.  The loss in some false certainty in the world that we’ve all been taught to expect.  You do right, you treat others well, you make wise decisions and prepare your heart and home for good things to come to you, and good things will come.  Unfortunately, no, they don’t.  Raised by an alcoholic father and forced to sit idly by as my adoring mother lost her battle with cancer at 48, I had already learned much of the “do well doesn’t equal receive well” lesson.  But, experiencing the loss of my own health, the loss of my potential pregnancies, the loss of my potential children, and the loss of my husband’s belief in do right, get right, has left additional scars.  Deep scars.  And a regular addition of new wounds that take their own sweet time to heal, and wounds to which no child should be exposed, especially when said child may have open sores of their own.

I’m angry that I may never experience a lasting pregnancy, I’m furious that even if we do achieve a lasting pregnancy the entire time I’ll be waiting for the next shoe to drop, and, if I’m honest with myself, in my current raw emotional state I know I will loathe those that would be involved in an adoption process – from social workers and birth mothers, and attorneys to agencies.  I’m not in a place yet where I can look at someone that has easily gotten what I want so badly and not have a visceral anger emotion.  And, if there’s one thing I won’t do, it is bring a child into a home filled with anger.  So, for the foreseeable future if not forever, adoption is off the table.

It’s getting late and our stock of Brit-coms is running low here in What-IF-valley, so I think we’ll end this here.  A teaser for part 2, however.  Whereas the adoption chat was a quiet, almost sombre and unemotional affair, the discussion of our sex life immediately elicited tears and shouts.  There’s a post you won’t want to miss, right?

Happy, sad, mad

And, as so often before, all hope dashed before we’ve even started.

Pretty much since the moment of my last miscarriage, I’ve been hinging all happiness on the fact that we would be able to try again.  And, not just try, but try with gusto.  Try 4.0, if you will.  We would be moving to injectable stims (something we’ve been discussing since early 2012), we’ve had our consults and testing with the amazing Dr. Braverman, and we just had a confirmed uterine pregnancy with heartbeat that lasted until 9 weeks.  Progress!  All these changes were actually opening me up to hope again.  I should know better by now.

Three little letters – A N A – just turned that happy to sad.  Last Monday I had my regular bi-annual appointment with the endocrinologist.  They monitor my thyroid status, prescribe my Metformin, and generally manage the care of my endocrine system and autoimmune disorders.  Basically, they do the things I would NEVER in a million years trust my RE or a GP to do.  Especially not my new RE – the one (I really hate), the only (within 100 miles), the incomparable (or insufferable?) Dr. Soulpatch.

Usually, I enjoy my visits to the endo.  I’ve been lucky over the years to have had three excellent endos willing to talk to me as an educated and informed patient, approach my case as unique and offer a treatment protocol tailored to address that uniqueness, and accept me and my opinions as a vital piece in the treatment puzzle.  In other words, my endo visits are nothing like going to the RE.  (I’m sure the fact that I get to remain fully clothed and don’t have to get intimate with the dildocam helps tremendously as well.)

At this particular visit I decided to bring up some nuisance symptoms I’ve been having off and on for at least 5 years (likely much longer… Mr. But IF and I disagree on the dates, but both concede it’s “been a while”).  Namely, I have bouts of severe morning back stiffness that are often accompanied by a scaly, itchy, dark rash on my hips.  I’ve never actively had a flair of these symptoms when it was time for my endo appointment, so I’ve never really had them investigated.  But, as luck would have it, ever since my miscarriage the back pain and rash are back.  (Salt, meet deep dark wound.)  The endo thought it would be a good idea to add a few more tests onto my usual battery, I said “What’s another pint, Dr. Dracula?”, and away we went.

The past two weeks have gone as follows:

Monday – Blood draw.

Tuesday 4:59pm – Voicemail from the endo.  “Call at your earliest convenience.  Something turned up in your lab work.”

Tuesday 4:59:30pm – I call back.  “Thank you for calling.  Our office hours are…” (Oh F you!)

Wednesday 8:00am – “Thank you for calling.  Our office hours are…” <click>

Wednesday 9:00am – Left a message with reception.  Someone will call back by the end of the day.

Wednesday 9:01am – Gotta pee… can’t leave phone… gotta pee… can’t leave office… gotta pee…

Wednesday 3:00pm – “I don’t know what to tell you.  We sent him a message.  Someone will get back to you.”

Wednesday 5:01pm – Liars!

Thursday 8:59:59am – “Yes, I see you left a message.  I’ll send another and mark it urgent.  No, I don’t have any access to your charts or the ability to share information with you.”

Thursday 3:00pm – Cuss out receptionist, feel bad, blame hormones, start crying…  She adds another “urgent” message.  (I suspect “urgent” actually means, “Seriously, don’t ever call this batshit crazy patient.  Make her SUFFER!”)

Friday 9:00am – “Listen, if I don’t hear something from someone, ANYONE, today, I will drive up there and protest in your waiting room.”

Friday 2:36pm – I quickly duck into our book vaults to page something.

Friday 2:36pm – Nurse calls. (FFfffffffffffffffffff………….)

Friday 2:37pm – Dial back.  Reception.  “I’ll leave a message…” <click>

Friday 3:38pm – IT’S THE NURSE! IT’S THE NURSE! IT’S THE NURSE! oh… I may be sick?  Something’s wrong?  I hadn’t really thought this through.  Oh fu…

So, yea, the much anticipated news is that my ANA panel (or anti-nuclear antibody panel) came back abnormal.  A normal titre level for my lab is 1:50, mine came back at 1:1250 for the speckled pattern.  Aren’t I a special little snowflake, eh?

So what’s it mean?  Likely, nothing.  False positives abound, Dr. B suspects it could be lingering effects of my body killing my baby (awesome!), or it could simply be further evidence of my body’s insatiable appetite for eating my thyroid (yum).

Medically, it means my body is producing antibodies that, instead of attacking foreign proteins (antigens), are attacking the nuclei of my own cells.  The particular pattern elevated in my instance suggests further testing for Lupus, Scleroderma, Sjogren’s syndrome, and mixed connective tissue disease.  The specialist that runs these tests is a rheumatologist and, I’ve learned in the past few days, that you should pray you never need a rheumatologist.  They’re tricky little bastards to get in with.  Seriously.  Schedulers won’t even talk to you on the phone unless another doctor vouches for you first through a referral.  Free market health care system my ass!

Ultimately, my RE has decided they don’t want to cycle with me again until I have more information about the ANA situation.  I get it, I really do, but do you know when the first appointment I was offered from the rheumatology gate-keepers was?  June 12!  Luckily, medical receptionists don’t know what they are getting when they get me on the line.  A few tears, a mention of my miscarriage, and an appropriately timed, “I’ve been trying to have a baby for over 3 years already, what’s another 4 months, right? <whimper>” bumped my appointment up to May 17.  But wait, she’s not pulled out all her tricks yet, folks.  Call rheumatologist #2, cry, fret, kvetch, and BAM April 23!

So, things are, I suppose, looking up.  That doesn’t mean, however, that I won’t cry (for real this time) when we walk into the drug store this evening to fill my new prescription for birth control pills.  Oh, and, wouldn’t you know?  We’ll be stopping at said pharmacy on our way home from delivering dinner to a colleague and his wife who are home celebrating with their new little miracle — the child they had by (wait for it, wait for it!) simply having sex one time 9 months ago!  How totally last century!

******************

The IF subculture on the interwebz is all abuzz today about Steve Wien’s blog post “Ten Words that Describe Infertility.”  And, the talk and praise is definitely just.

Everyone will have their own set of words to describe their process, but no one that has experienced infertility will be unfamiliar with any of the words Wien uses.  I never had despair over lost hope in a possible pregnancy in the sense that he discusses, because I’ve never had the experience of being “late.”  Lateness implies a predictability to one’s cycles that I can’t begin to wrap my mind around.  And, as sick and self-obsessed as this may sound, I actually enjoy the exposure and awkwardness of infertility these days.  I’ve said cervical mucus in a crowded bar on multiple occasions, and I don’t steer clear of openly and frankly discussing our issues to anyone dumb enough to stand near me.  I’ve embraced it as my second career, this infertility proselytizing.  (Hey, a girl’s gotta have hobbies!)  But, while my experiences with despair, exposure, and awkwardness are different, the feelings are still very much there.

I tried to figure out what my 10 words would be, but, in a rare moment of verbal parsimony (or, perhaps, a certain soul-searching laziness) I could only muster 3 raw words.  They are the words and emotions of this past week.

Happy to start a new cycle, sad to hit another road block, mad to be told to wait.  Happy to see my endo, sad my RE isn’t half as engaged, mad when my trusted endo let me down.  Happy I caught the nurse’s call (finally), sad to hear her news, mad I had to wait so long to hear it.  Happy to have a rheumatologist appointment next month, sad at the length’s I had to go to to get it, mad at a health system that only opens its doors to those willing to beg, borrow, and plead.  Happy to celebrate the birth of a new baby girl, sad that she’s not mine, mad that the joy is tinged with sadness.  Happy for the online and real life infertility support networks I’ve found myself in, sad at why we’ve found one another, mad at the struggles that unite us.

Happy, sad, mad.  They’re my emotional triad.

Wednesdays

Wednesday’s are long days for me, though I’m not complaining.  Moving to this quiet village from greater east coast stripmallia, I thought the hubs and I would be in for lots of long winter nights of trashy TV viewing while wearing both pajamas (preferably with feet!) and a cat (one per lap, please).  So, yea, I basically thought our social life would be a repeat of what it was in stripmallia, but minus a few digits on the ol’ mercury meter.  While the “holy shit it’s cold” has come (oh Lord the snow!), to my utter surprise the solitary nights have largely gone.  Cornerstone of my rockin’, child-free, social butterfly lifestyle?  Wednesday night trivia!  So what if I’m barely able to hold my head up at the following mornings’ faculty meetings?  This bitter infertile’s getting her geeky drink on!

Wednesday was also my “milestone” day for my most recent miscarriage.  The day the weeks changed.  The day I transitioned from 6w7d to 7 weeks, 7w6d to 8  weeks.  In other words, the day that, were I a clueless fertile, you’d be getting all my, “My embryo is the size of a kumquat” posts on your Facebook wall.  So, yea, I like to drink on Wednesday’s.  You wanna make an issue of it?

On this most social of my days, I thought I’d start* to recount some of my personal fave awkward IF conversations and miscellaneous happenings from the past 3 years.  Ready, set, awkward.

  • I belong to my profession’s primary listserv.  Multiple generations, various levels of computer proficiency, and a healthy dose of crotchety types, make it a laugh a minute on the best days.  Yesterday’s controversy?  In the mid-nineteenth century did the term “abortion” imply all that we associate with it today, or was it simply another term for a miscarriage?  Totally, f-ing awesome, by the way, to have my e-mail notifier keep popping up new messages with the headings “Miscarriage? Abortion?” all day long.  Bonus points for it being the same day I found out we won’t be able to try to become pregnant again until my ANA level is evaluated by a rheumatologist… in June.
  • Countless chipper nurses: “Your time will come!”
  • My lovely aunt: “You know, I blame that birth control!  It’s just not natural!”  (What, because my body is so clearly “in tune” with nature when left to its own devices?)
  • Supportive boss: “You can have my step-sons!”
  • Friend of a friend: “I’m infertile too!  We haven’t been trying long, but I know I’ll have trouble.” (Followed by seeing her baby shower photos on Facebook 6 months later.)
  • From the doc at the ER where I went to have my D&C last month: “You aren’t an emergency.  It’s a Saturday.  My team doesn’t work on Saturdays.  Here’s two sterile collection jars for when you pass the products of conception.”
  • From my former health insurer when I called to inquire about coverage for laparoscopic surgery to diagnose and treat suspected endometriosis: “Me: Why would this procedure not be covered? Her: Well, could it play any role in helping you become pregnant in the future? Me: In theory, yes, I suppose it could. Her: That’s why! This surgery is comparable to breast augmentation.  Under your policy both are considered cosmetic procedures.  It isn’t our responsibility to make it easier for you to make the ‘lifestyle choice’ to become pregnant.”
  • And, for our final round of the day, I bring you, every last comment overheard this past New Year’s Eve spent, as per usual, in a rousing game of Canasta with my husband’s family (you can listen in to my crazy by following the italics!):
    • “Did you hear Sally Smith’s having a fourth kid? Yea and she just left that new boyfriend of hers!”  (Ok, it’s a big family gathering Ms. But IF, these convo’s come with the territory.  Just enjoy your appetizers you mean-spirited little buzz kill…)
    • “That Jones girl is pregnant. They got married and starting trying this summer and I guess she only has half a uterus or something so it took them a while but she’s finally pregnant!” (From summer to January 1 is a “long while”?  Why, yes, I’ll take another tumbler of wine.)
    • (After hearing of a cousin’s engagement) “I’m not sure whether I’ll be getting more grand babies or not. She’s 31 or 32 and, you know, once they get that old it’s less likely to happen!” (I better pick out my plot in the graveyard.  Mmmm… champagne!)
    • (From cousin who works in the ER) We had this sad case on Saturday. A woman was brought in that had gotten in a fight with her family and went and hung herself. I took her blood to confirm that she was more or less gone and to get info for organ donation, and when the results came in I heard the doc start cussing. He called me over and had me call down to the lab to have one more test run. Turns out she was 5 weeks pregnant!  (Sad, angry, sad, angry…. Someone, pass me a bottle, NOW!)
    • Mr. But IF’s grandmother: “I think I’m going to get another great grand baby in 2013.”  Commence everyone’s favorite family gameshow — “Name. That. Fertile!”  First guess?  That’s right, the single, much younger, likely gay cousin!  WRONG.  Mr. But IF’s much younger engaged sister? (Oh, please God…) WRONG. (…exhale)  The older cousin who already has three kids under five?  Abso-frickin-lutely.  Ding, ding, ding… we have a winner!  Oh, and for those playing the at home game, never once did Mr. and Mrs. But IF come up as a remote possibility. (Where do they keep the hard stuff?)

(I feel I should add that I literally love my husband’s family and know no harm was meant.  But, sometimes, infertile’s gotta hate…)

Ah, what special joy can next Wednesday bring?  Think I’ve given you my good stuff already?  Not even close… unfortunately.

* I’m hoping to make this a regular Wednesday occurrence.  At least until I run out.  That will be a while…

The Unbearable (Un)Lightness of Peeing

It dawned on me yesterday as I was sitting in the-worlds-longest-meeting that I haven’t had a pee session in the past 3+ years that wasn’t imbued with more meaning than a simple emptying of the bladder should ever rightfully have.  As the meeting dragged on, my cramping picked up, and I found myself both praying and fearing that my period had arrived.  We’ve been waiting for the witch ever since we learned that our last baby’s heart stopped on Valentine’s Day (there’s a fun coincidence, eh?).  35 days and a 5-day course of Provera later, we’re still waiting.  But as awesome as it would have been to have her crash the meeting, there’s still the fact that me and my khaki slacks really didn’t want to stand up and find I’d bled all over my boss’ boss’ chair in front of said big boss and little boss.  Still, I was sad when my subsequent potty trip showed all worry was for naught.  (If anyone finds my period, btw, can you give her directions to my house?)

Still, the experience got me thinking of all the crazy flowing through my mind at any given moment.  If you (like me) think pregnant women go unnecessarily hog wild with the worry (“No soft cheese for me, please,” “No, that eye dropper full of wine may ruin my yet-to-be-born honor student’s future academic performance,” or “Oh my God I ate lunch meat without microwaving it!”), you should take a long hard look at you friendly neighborhood infertile’s day-by-day.  Preggers McFertile over there turns health Nazi for 9 months; Ms. Bitter Infertile will be living in the neighboring ghetto of insanity for years, if not decades.

Some worries, those worries forged in n00b-ness, fade.  I still remember that first post-TTC trip to my in-laws where the hubs and I felt all James Bond and Miss Moneypenney while diverting all offers of caffeine and alcohol with a wink and white lie.  Over 3 years later, I’m sitting here chugging down my Metformin with some strong black coffee, and dreaming of what alcoholic delight I’ll partake in at tonight’s exhibit opening.  So, yea, some worries fade.

In their place, others remain and new ones appear.  Yesterday, I touched on my newest worry, born out of a totally unexpected positive ANA result.  Today has been all about trying to find a rheumatologist willing to see me sooner than June (why is this so f-ing hard?), and trying to decide whether to move forward with our next cycle prior to seeing a rheumy.  Infertile mind a-racing?  Shouting matches with medical receptionists?  Multiple emails to my RE before noon?  Check.  Check.  And check.

What’s the inspiration for my most prevalent wonder and worry throughout the years, though?  That’s right, my pee.

Unlike many of my infertile sisters, I think I’ve spent at least twice as much time in the past 3 years wishing for my period to arrive, than I have hoping it would stay away (for, oh, 9 months?).  And, that’s probably a gross underestimate.  PCOS, Hashi’s, anovulation, surgery, miscarriages – it’s all led to more anxious waiting for a period than even the sluttiest little teenager could appreciate.  So, I spend at least half my time in the ladies’ room poking and prodding and praying for even slightest hint of red.

With three miscarriages under my belt, another quarter of my time has been spent occupied with said poking and prodding and the always delightful shoving in of progesterone suppositories.  Same story as above, save the hope is for no red and you get the added bonus of the aroma and appearance of week old Crinone.  Rounding out the final quarter of my time are the hours spent peeing on things – ovulation tests, home pregnancy tests, my hands – in the hope of gaining some small sliver of understanding of what my broken body is up to.  Wishing for red, wishing away red, cursing the red.  (Don’t even get me started on cervical mucus!)

Peeing is complicated.  It’s not light.  It’s heavy.  And not even a bowler hat can change it.

Getting to know you

So, my dashboard just told me I’ve had 69 views today.

1. Yes, I’m a 15 year old boy and I thought that this would be a funny number to focus on for this post.[1]

2. I honestly haven’t clicked through this blog that much by myself, so holy-crap-people-are-reading-this!

Anyway, this minor milestone has me asking, who are you my friendly readers?  Seriously, tell me it’s not just Mr. But IF logging in from various places about town trying to make me feel accomplished and stuff.

Why are you reading this?  How did you find me?  What can I do to keep you around?  (Pleeease don’t leave me!?!?)

Catch you all in the comments!

[1] As an aside, did you know that according to one 1998 study published in Human Reproduction it was found that, “All lubricants except baby oil significantly decreased percentage progressive motility, progressive velocity, curvilinear velocity and lateral head displacement at 12.5% concentration.  At a lower concentration of 6.25%, both olive oil and saliva still significantly reduced progressive motility parameters, while KY jelly diminished head movement parameters.”  See: S. Lewis, L. Anderson, and N. McClure, “The Effects of Coital Lubricants on Sperm Motility in vitro,” Human Reproduction 13 (12): 3351-3356.  (Oh, and seriously, wtf with the baby oil and olive oil???)

What is in a name?

As I sit here this cold Monday morning, Lady Grey tea in hand, kitties at my feet, waiting for the fireplace guys to come clean the pellet stove insert in our new home, I’m doing some reminiscing.

First realization (and if you’d known me a few years a go, this would be an utter shock), life is good.  No, really, it is.  I’m married to a man I adore, and who challenges, entertains, inspires, and, yes, infuriates me every day.  In 8 years I’ve earned two advanced degrees, numerous awards, been published in a premier journal, and, just this summer, had all this hard work pay off and lead to a new wonderful position in a new town, where we bought our new (old) house, and are making our new friends.  For whatever reason, I have earned loving and loyal friends throughout all stages of my life, and I married into a large family that, while very different from my own, loved me instantly and completely.  And, yes, there is the whole “kitties & tea” thing – that certainly never hurts.

Prior to early 2011 the realities of my life on paper were much the same, but life was most definitely not good.  I hurt.  Emotionally, physically, wholly.  Years of doctors appointments – high school physicals, college health center, grad school health center, new “big girl job” PCP – had left me with the belief that the only things wrong with me were those things I was doing to myself.  As the weight piled on, I was, at best, given referrals to therapists, and, at worst, accused of sleep eating.  Now, I was never thin.  Even while dabbling with an eating disorder in late high school and early college, I still never lost.  (Probably one of the reasons I “dabbled” rather than falling completely into that hell like so many women and men before me.)  But, years of silent calorie counting and exercise kept telling me one story, while the scale told me another.  By my mid-twenties I was gaining 20-30 pounds a year with a strict diet and exercise regime.

But, said the docs, you are depressed!  I knew I was depressed, I had no doubt I was depressed, and I’d most definitely been depressed since middle school.  And, thinking about how I still managed to be depressed even when everything in my life was going so good, just made me more depressed.  When my body started aching, my mind started failing me, my chronic constipation took over my life, and my desire for sleep reached a level that only an addict jonesing for his/her next fix could appreciate, I marched my fat self back to the doctor.  Apparently, the sleep was from depression, the body aches and back pain were from my tubby self sleeping too much, the constipation could be IBS or not enough water or my obviously bad diet, and the mind was me just needing to accept I was getting older… at 25.

Then, I went off birth control.  The same birth control I had gone on at age 18 because I was sick and tired of wondering when my next period would come, and when I would next need to miss a week of school writhing in pain and vomiting on the floor as my mom encouraged me to sip warm port wine.  My first visit with Aunt Flo (or AF as the cutesy types in the online IF world call it) was when I was 11.  From 11 to 18 my cycles ranged from 30 days to 10 months between periods.  My mom trotted me into the doctor, was told I was “young” and just needed time to regulate, and brought me home defeated.  When we mentioned the extreme and crippling pain I would have whenever menses did arrive, I was told to get used to the joys of being a woman.  When one older male physician told my mom that, “If your daughter’s cramps are as bad as you say they are, then I would think you’d be happy she cycles very irregularly,” I thought she was going to choke him out right there in the exam room.  So, at 18 I learned to stop worrying and love the pill.

Trouble is, you can’t really love the pill when you want a baby.  When I quit it in 2010 to begin building our family, I was not remotely surprised when I didn’t have another period for 48 days, then 43 days, 62 days, 58 days… I was 8 months into trying for a baby, and had had 4 periods.  More problematically, my friend the basal body temperature chart told me I wasn’t even ovulating.  Back to the doctor, more recommendations to lose weight, eat right, and wait for my body to regulate.  So we waited.

We waited until one morning in February 2011 when I woke up for work, looked at my husband, didn’t know who he was or what is name was, and started to panic.  When Mr. But IF had sufficiently calmed me down, he wisely brought me a telephone to call out of work for the day.  Trouble is, as he handed me that rounded chunk of plastic, I had no clue what to do with it.  “Phone” seemed familiar, the feel of the object in my hand seemed familiar, and even the thought that this was the item one used to order pizza, connect with relatives, and snag a work-free day seemed familiar, but how to actually accomplish those things with a brick named V-tech?  Nothing doing.  Mr. But IF had me to the doctor same day.  She asked me what I thought was wrong, and I told her what I’d told her several times before.  Please check my thyroid.  I begged, tears came, and she ran the tests.

I dragged myself into work the next day, and spent the day forwarding my phone to every new office or workspace I found myself in.  (I’m convinced, by the way, that Google Voice is one of the most essential tools in my battle with the health care system.)  When the phone call came I was wonderfully alone in an office with my husband.  Our conversation went something like this,

Nurse: The doctor wants to schedule a follow-up.

Me: Ok, great, when?

Nurse: Um, now!  Today.

Me: What were my lab results?

Nurse: Um, well. <Sounds of shuffling paper> There are quite a few…

Me: TSH, all I care about is the TSH!

Her: Oh, ok.  55.38.

Me: <Tears.  Tears.  More tears.  Tears of joy at being right.  Tears of anger for being ignored for so long.  Tears of pain for all my hurts.>

For those that don’t know much about thyroid disease, you’ll likely hear a lot if you stick around here.  Suffice it to say that the normal range now recommended by the American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists is 0.3 to 3.0.  On February 8, 2011, mine was 55.38.  I wasn’t fat; I wasn’t depressed; I wasn’t a complainer.  I was sick.  Very sick.

It took another year and a miscarriage to diagnose both the PCOS that was contributing to my absent menses and the Endometriosis that was making them so unbearable.  But, in that year I benefited from the number 1 lesson I’d learned through Hashi’s.  NO ONE WILL CARE ABOUT MY HEALTH UNLESS I MAKE THEM.

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So, 1,200 words in and I guess I’m finally to the point of this post.  (I’ve mentioned I struggle with brevity, right?)  Why have I named this little corner of the Web “Not When, But IF?”

The first meaning is pretty transparent I suppose.  Infertility (IF) brings with it a loss of predictability in one’s life.  Go to any infertility support group, visit any online support forum, or talk to your friendly neighborhood infertile (you know, that friend of your mom’s cousin), and loss of control is a theme you will hear about regularly.  We don’t know when, how, or even if we will be able to build our families, and it is because of IF.

Though it isn’t a theme I’ve yet to detail here, I should mention that at every doctor’s appointment during which I brought up my absent menses and ovulation and subsequent fears of future or current infertility, I was reminded that I was young, that these things take time, and that it would happen “when the time is right.”  Not if, but when, the cheery nurses would say.  But, for 1 in 8 couples, however, that couldn’t be further from the truth.

There is also a deeper, more personal meaning to “Not When, But IF.”  I often say to my support group that I have a complicated relationship with hope.  I’m still trying to decide whether I say that because it is nice and quippy and makes me sound smart, or if it actually gets to the root of something deeper.  It’s probably a bit of both.  For better or for worse, my complicated relationship with hope has a lot to do with the fact that I loathe it as a concept for its utter laziness.  When someone tells you to hope (chipper obnoxious nurses, my well-meaning Aunt, the stranger on the chat board), it feels accusatory, dismissive, and uninformed all at once.  Had I hoped more, would my body not have killed my last baby?  How could hope have detached the endometriosis adhesions connecting my bowel to my abdomen?  I hoped so damn much that my doctors would take me seriously and test my thyroid, but that hope wasn’t fulfilled until I demanded action.

Thus, the other meaning of “Not When, But IF.”  While I pray not everyone will have the difficult path to diagnosis that I’ve had, many unfortunately will.  And to those women I say don’t wait for an eventual moment when your doctor will take you seriously.  Change will come if you educate yourself, seek out your own answers, get second, third, fourth opinions, and demand that the time for attention is not some when in the future but now.

And, lest I sound nauseatingly Type A, self-righteous, and put together, let me add that doing the above can still be absolutely overwhelming and terrifying to me.  On Friday, I learned that I’m likely in for yet another battle in this long war toward health.  Routine labs run by my endocrinologist last week now reveal a highly elevated ANA titre (1:1250 speckled pattern) that could indicate an additional autoimmune disease (Lupus, Sjogren’s, Scleroderma, and mixed connective tissue disease being the most likely culprits), could be the lingering effects of my immune system killing my last baby, or could be absolutely nothing at all.  But, until I find out, I’m stuck sitting here, wondering when and if I’ll ever get my answers.

Pretty-ing things up

Got the terrifying first-post-of-doom™ out of the way yesterday, so today I thought I’d actually move into territory I’m comfortable with — adding some style to this little corner of the Web.

WordPress is new to me; Web design is not.  I’m finding the two to be frustratingly mutually exclusive (as anticipated).  I keep trying to slip rogue CSS in here and there and, surprise surprise, it’s a total no-go.  Ultimately, this is a good thing and why I chose a free, hosted blogging platform in the first place.  This blog is supposed to help me work through my massive piles of emotional crap and various and sundry deep dark secrets.  My knee jerk is to want to muck about with the code, but my need is really to muck about in my own brain.  Hosted platform to the rescue!

Yea, yea, I could pay to customize things, but, 1. read above paragraph, and 2. I hail from a long line of frugal Scots.  Free is a way of life and an artform.  As uncomfortable as I am even starting a blog (I mean, isn’t it totally the height of narcissism?), paying for the privilege of pushing my musings out into ether seems even more pathetic.  Have I mentioned I tend to overanalyze EVERYTHING?

So, there you have it.  My pretty little site.

(P.S. – Yes, those are my pills.  Well, some of them.  The photogenic ones.  And the ones I didn’t have to run upstairs to get.  For those of you looking to fill a square on your infertility bingo card, can you <begin game show host voice here> NAME  THOSE  PILLS!!!</voice>?)

Birthing a blog…

… and nothing else.

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We all have our elevator stories.  We boil our lives down into quick couple-liners.  Me?  I’m a wife, I’m an archivist, I’m an academic.  I enjoy beer, football, technology, and history.  I code and I cross stitch.  I’m a displaced Pittsburgher, and a proud Pennsylvanian.

If that elevator got stuck, you might hear a little more.  I lost my mom to cancer far too young; I spent my teens over-achieving, while doubting my appearance, my sanity, and my self-worth; I married my best friend at 22; and, I’ve always wanted to be a mother.

I’m also infertile.

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At 26, my husband and I celebrated our fourth wedding anniversary, we marked 1 year in our lovely little Cape Cod home, and I had a fulfilling and challenging job.  I did it all “right,” had all my ducks in a row, and it was time for a baby.

Now, at 29 (soon 30), my arms remain empty.

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I often quip that I wanted a baby, but all I got were these lousy diseases.  Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS), Endometriosis, Raynaud’s, and (the world’s best named genetic mutation) MTHFR A1298C.

In three years, we’ve also had three miscarriages.  I’ve hosted a large family Thanksgiving the same week I walked into maternity triage to terminate an ectopic pregnancy, I’ve driven 12 hours in one day for a 1 hour consult with one of the world’s only Reproductive Immunologists as my third pregnancy failed, and I can compete like a pro in the infertility pain olympics.

But, I don’t want to compete in the pain olympics, and I strive to wear my infertility like a badge of honor, not shame.  These three years have brought me friendships I could never have predicted with strangers across the globe.  Women with whom I’ve cried and celebrated, and for whom I’m daily thankful.

My infertility has made me strong.  I founded a RESOLVE (The National Infertility Association) support group, I’ve raised money for infertility awareness, I’ve walked in the Walk of Hope, and I’ve written Congressmen.  From a book-smart yet reserved girl, I’ve transformed into an assertive and proactive woman.  I’ve questioned doctors and lived to tell about it!  (A feat I once thought would never be possible.)

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So, my elevator speech.  Today even the short one includes my infertility.  It’s one of the largest influences in my life, and I’m not remotely afraid of it defining me to others as it has come to define a large part of me to myself.

I’m not a mother, and I may never be.  But I can raise awareness of infertility, I can try and rear in others a willingness to speak up and fight for themselves, and I can birth this blog.  And, that’s something I’m tremendously proud of.