PTSD

So, here’s the thing.  I’ve got a lot of crazy swirling around in my brain right now.  And, what makes it an even crazier brand of crazy that just your normal, run-of-the-mill crazy is that I don’t even know if this crazy is justified.  I vacillate between thinking I’m one small step away from totally losing it, and getting terribly, horribly angry that my totally justified fears and concerns aren’t being heard.

Ok, to back up.  Yesterday was my regular 6-month follow-up with my thyroid doc.  Let’s call him Dr. Useless.  (I much prefer his PA, Mr. Has-a-Heart, but neither one holds a candle to my old practice back in the days I lived in civilization.)

Though I was discouraged to be seeing Dr. Useless, I was anxiously awaiting the appointment.  See, things have been weird with me lately.  Where to begin?

  • I lightly bumped my knee on a chair during the last week of July.  The next morning I had a bruise the size of a refrigerator.  The bruise got bigger and badder and more painful for weeks.  It was throbby and purple well into August and now, the last few days of September, it’s shadowy remains are still visible.  This caused me to notice that I was bruising A LOT and healing at a glacial pace.  That time N clung to my arm at daycare dropoff?  Yea, did more than hurt my soul – I’m still carrying around a baby thumbprint bruise on my upper arm 3 weeks later.
  • Now, my office at the job-from-hell is inhumanely cold.  (Like averages 60 on a good day cold.)  But, even still, fingers shouldn’t go blue this easily.  Especially not when accompanied with pins and needles and numbness.  And not when it happens in a comfortable living room nearly as often.
  • My head pounds.  A lot.  Have I got stress?  You betcha.  But enough to make my ears ring and vision go wonky?  I don’t think so.  At least, I don’t get why it’d be that bad now.  I mean, dad’s dead, estate taxes filed, things are actually, gulp, calming?  Har har.
  • Oh, and my weight.  I’m 40lbs heavier than when I started my successful IVF cycle and a good 10lbs heavier than the day my water broke.  Yes, that’s super duper discouraging.  But, then again, I’m still not at my all-time heaviest pre-thyroid diagnosis.  These things come and go, no?

I enter the appointment armed with my list, in exactly the above order.  Well, if you were on Twitter yesterday you probably saw the fallout.  I’ll provide the Cliff’s notes version:

Apparently I'm a fat ass

Yes, I’m bruising, I’m turning blue and tingly, and have regular severe headaches.  Add this to already diagnosed Hashimoto’s, PCOS, antiphospholipid antibodies, and endometriosis.  And a diagnosis history that saw my Hashi’s get off the charts severe before it ever was detected.  My instinct was that yes, of course, we’d discuss my weight.  I mean, I have a mirror and an awareness that I’ve gone back to the potato sack section of my closet.  But, call me silly for thinking that we’d discuss weight in the larger context of a whole host of other unresolved questions.

Nope.  Do you want to see what my visit summary says.  (Reminder: This was a prescheduled, regular 6-month followup for a diagnosed and historically difficult to control case of Hashi’s.):

follow-up summary

Uhhh, alright then.

So, as I sat listening to the “small risk” of suicidal ideation or severe depression or risk of seizures (“Oh, you don’t have a history of seizures, do you?  No?  Great!”) that accompanied the weight loss pills Dr. Useless wanted to prescribe me, I got angry.

On the drive home, that anger turned into deep, deep sadness.  Today, I’m verging on profound hysteria?  Paranoia?  Reasonable dismay?

My mom died of gall bladder cancer at 48.  She lived for years with pain and was told to lose weight, find a hobby, and see a counselor.  She was diagnosed on my 18th birthday.  She died a few months after my 19th.

My aunt was visiting her sister, my mother, in the oncology ward.  A nurse noticed a nasty burn that really refused to heal.  She recommended she see her PCP for some testing.  A few months before she buried her only sister, my aunt was diagnosed with leukemia.  She was 50.  After years of experimental treatments – some of which made her so miserable she begged for death – she’s in remission.  For now.

My grandfather died at 62.  Heart attack.  My mom found him dead in his chair.  He’d been there all night with my grandmother, his wife, calling down for him from the bedroom.

My grandmother was in that bedroom after suffering a debilitating stroke at 61.  She lived into her 70s, but spent my entire life in a nursing home.

My dad lived longer than I can ever hope to.  He made it to 73.  We blamed his confusion on his alcoholism.  But still, he went from a little confused to softball sized brain tumor to dead in about 9 months.

Family medical history isn’t a promise.  I know that.  I truly do.  But, it does matter.  And, that history above was a small part of what drove me to find answers in my 20s to my own medical complaints.  Overcoming infertility was priority number 1, but living a better, longer, healthier life – whether with or without children – was also always in the mix.  So, I made finding answers, getting the good doctors, and securing the most effective treatments a full-time occupation.  I researched, I wrote, I questioned, I pushed, I educated myself which turned into educating others, I embraced being “that patient.”

It was utterly exhausting.  And, to be totally truthful, I never really achieved a feeling of true health and well-being until I was pregnant.  Pregnancy was awesome.  Aside from my body doing that totally average task of growing another human, it also just. plain. worked.  Like, for the first time.  Ever.  I joked with my maternal fetal medicine doctors and nurses that I would happily go through labor every 9 months for the rest of my life if it meant I could feel like I felt then.  And, now on the other side of an unmedicated, natural laboring experience, I would still say the exact same thing.

So, now I feel like I’m circling back down the drain again, but it’s even worse this time.  See, now I have the the knowledge that even an immense amount of time and effort (and, let’s be honest, time and effort I don’t really have with an adorable and mischievous 15 month old in my life) still probably won’t result in me feeling as good as I’d hope to feel.  It’s hard not to feel like well-being is always going to be elusive.

And, that fatalism mixes with the knowledge of my family’s mortality and leaves me fearful.

I don’t want to die.

Melodramatic much?  But, yea, welcome to my current headspace.

I know what I should do.  I mean, I just need to heed my own words.  Find the right doctors.  Do my own homework.  Be relentless.  But I’m just so very, very tired.  And I can’t believe I’m back here.  You know that feeling you get when your computer crashes and you lose all your work after pulling an all-nighter right before a deadline?  Yea, that.  Except I’m the computer, the operator, and the deadline all wrapped up in one.

Loving your work or working near loved ones?

What matters more?  Loving your work or working near loved ones?  I fall asleep thinking about this, I wake up thinking about this.  It’s on my mind in the shower, in the car, and in endless meetings.

I hate my job.  Original, right?  Certain policies of my employer reek of ickiness, I have little to no respect for my immediate bosses, and, most problematically, I’m not doing the job I was promised I’d be doing.  But, I get paid very well to under-deliver on my education and experience.  It was a bait and switch that landed me in a pair of golden handcuffs.  Amidst a group of stellar individuals who feel much the same.

I’m seeing concerning things from my profession.  Yes, a growing few are touching upon the issues of privilege that pervade our paths to professional posts; a vocal cohort are calling for reenvisioned roles for ourselves and the work we do; and I’m proud of those individuals and organizations that consistently reinforce the worthiness of what I thought would be my life’s calling.  Yet, I still work in academia in the time of “quit lit”.  And, just because every argument, every comment, every new piece in the genre is predictable, it doesn’t mean it doesn’t ring true.  I now leave professional meetings more cynical than hopeful.  Perhaps, in part, because my iPad has learned to autocorrect words and phrases like “buy-in,” and “advocacy,” and “deliverables,” and “lean times,” and “do more with less.”

But, I still truly, deeply love what I do.  It’s just that I don’t often get to do it.  And I had to move my family to the middle of nowhere to not do what I do.

So, given the birth and death and post-death fallout of the last year I thought I’d try and see whether I could do what I love near the remaining family I’ve got left.  We inherited a house, Obamacare’s got my back, the husband’s employable, the cost of living is low-ish there, no more need for over-priced, full-time daycare… it wouldn’t have to be a good job.  Just a job.  To reconnect me to the work I love.  To reinvigorate me.

::crickets::

I know I shouldn’t be discouraged, and really I’m only a little bit discouraged.  I’m mostly feeling confused and trapped.  We’re not talking hundreds of rejections here – there’s only been six open positions in my field (or closely allied field) in that city since February.  I’ve applied to all, gotten personalized rejection emails/letters from two (which was quite nice in this day and age of unanswered applications), and heard nothing from the rest (expected).  Part of me feels good about the fact that I’m not getting interviews for the mostly entry-level posts that I’m clearly overqualified for, but then the other part of me feels despondent that there aren’t really any mid-level posts for me to apply to.  Which then circles me back to my worries about the profession.  Which then opens the flood gates of doubt and confusion.

The way I see it now, I’ve got two options.  1. Suck it up and stay here, or 2. get any job and move (or move and get any job).  Option 2 sounds better, if I’m totally honest, but I don’t even know how to begin to do it.  I’ve got two graduate degrees – one so academic it makes me qualified for nothing, the other so practical it makes me qualified for only one type of job, the type I can’t seem to get.  Then I get a resurgence of warm and fuzzies about my work and the people I help and the skill set I’ve established and the professional contacts I’ve made and the pride I have for my professional life.  And I don’t pull the trigger.  I make more excuses.

This post has no ending.  It has no real purpose.  I can’t undo what has been done, I can’t make happen those things out of my control.  So, I wait.  And get angry that my life is spent waiting.  That my marriage is weighed down by the waiting.  That my every day is consumed by waiting.  That this waiting is so eerily familiar to an IF survivor.

Orphanhood

And I’m back to work as if nothing happened.  Pushing paper from one side of my desk to the other.  Smiling at students.  Helping to contribute to an idyllic education in a bitterly cold, if brilliantly beautiful, academic wonderland.

My last parent died on February 7, 2015.  I’m so startlingly aware of what I no longer have with each breath I take.  I’m feel like an orphan at 31.  Why isn’t there a word for orphaned adults?  Well, one that doesn’t make me feel like I’m trivializing the experiences of “true” orphans.  The little orphan Annies and kids on the Unicef commercials.  Surely I should feel grateful for the time I got.  I should stop whining.  There’s no word because it’s not that bad, right?

There is a word, I guess.  Parentless.  But this definition annoys me as much as its infertility counterpart – childless.  I don’t want to define myself by what I don’t have now, just as much as I didn’t want to define myself by what I didn’t have then.  It leaves out so much.  What I did have, what I had to endure, what I’ll never know again.  Childlessness undervalued my other half, the man who made two a family.  It didn’t let the world in to the daily battle we were fighting.  It didn’t acknowledge the loss of naiveté we’d suffered along the way.  It made cut and dry something that was far from that in our situation.

Parentlessness feels much the same.  Though it does imply I once was with parents, and now I am not, it glosses over the agony by which that happened.  The midnight call asking permission to transfer my dad to the hospital, the 1am call saying, “It’s not good,” the 2am call to say he was nearly gone.  I listened to the hospital machinery chirp and chime as my father took his last breaths 400 miles away.  I held my son, I packed the car, we drove.  The last of the 3am unplanned drives home.  My home.  Our home.  Our house now.

But, now I’m back at work.  Living this other life.  Wake up, daycare, work, dinner, sleep, repeat.  Another house stands empty 400 miles away in a city that has my heart.  With both my parents gone, I feel like that city is the last parent I have left, and I ache to be there with all my heart.  To leave this job, this adopted home, this life I spent the last 15 years building for myself behind.  Now is not the time to make major life decisions, yet I don’t know how to live in both worlds at once.  So, I spent the evening of my dad’s funeral applying for a job 400 miles away.  And I spend tonight restless.

The people that gave me life are gone.  If that doesn’t make me want to start living, I don’t know what will…

12 years

I’ve thought often about what memories of my mother I’ll share with N.  It seems such a daunting task.  How can you ever convey the entirety of an entire beautiful (if brief) life in a few words?  Express all that energetic love in a single story?

So today, on the 12th anniversary of her death, I want to jot a few down for posterity:

  • She woke me up at 4:35am every single birthday.  She’d say, “Welcome to the world my darling daughter!” and I’d glare sleepily at her with as much scorn as a 7-year old could muster.  We’d almost always grab a birthday breakfast at a diner chain soon after.
  • She loved Christmas.  And decorations.  And tradition.  It was sacrosanct.  The Thanksgiving feast would start with a Christmas-themed present on my dining room chair, after we’d spent the afternoon as the turkey cooked wrapping the Christmas presents she’d always have fully purchased before Thanksgiving.  The decorating, tree cutting, house trimming, cookie baking, and light-hanging would continue on for the rest of the weekend.
  • She woke up early.  4:30am was late.  She’d get more done before dawn than most did in entire days.  She didn’t pass that vim and vigor on to me.
  • She always fell asleep with her TV on.  I’d sneak into her room and be the “TV fairy” and turn it off for the night, before I – night owl already at age 10 – would settle in for the night.
  • She loved me “’round the world and back again.”  Just as I love N.
  • She had a truly inspired way of making games out of tasks most could wouldn’t want to do.
  • She was fiercely protective of her only child, and defended my perfection to any who’d doubt it.  Sometimes her loyalty was well-earned, other times, she gave it to me in error.  Knowing she always stood behind me, though, made me strive to always prove her right.  I never wanted her to be wrong.
  • She was the embodiment of her red convertible.  Loud, but not offensive.  Proud, but not boastful.  Conspicuous, yes, but never flagrant.  How many nights we spent staring at the stars, reclined in those seats, listening to “our song.”

Ultimately, though, I know none of the items above will even come close to cutting it.  But, in the process of jotting them all down and tweeting with another IFer I had one final memory.  My mom would always get a little strange each February.  I don’t know how early on in our young lives we can tell when another human seems in distress, but I felt it annually from that point forward.  I’d never find her weeping in a corner, or losing her temper, or anything nearly that obvious.  I’d just silently sense her pain.  Her eyes would be duller, her ready laugh a little less genuine, her pep a little less present.  In retrospect, she’d act like a muted down version of how she’d act in the pain-med-addled final days of her battle with cancer.  She’d just cease to be my mom.

Somewhere in my mid teen years I got interested in genealogy.  Something about having so many dead immediate relatives, I think.  Anyway, I started asking about family statistics – birth and death dates, ages, places of birth, yadda, yadda.  That’s when I realized it.  My mom’s dad – my grandfather I could barely remember – died in February.  It clicked in an instant.  In that moment I knew the love she’d felt for that man more than I’d ever garnered from countless stories and anecdotes.  Her grief changed her mentally and physically.  A change so major even an self-centered 8 year old noted it.  This man must have been special.  This man really mattered.

I’m not thrilled at repeating this process, of having N intuit my pain so young, but I can only hope his conclusions are ultimately the same as mine.  That he one day knows both the anecdotes and visceral reactions her loss has had on me.  And that mom’s pain underscores the power of the grandma he’ll never know.

When life laughs last…

I was looking forward to living life beyond my maladies.  To comprehend life outside of surgeries, losses, and waiting rooms.  To embrace an IF-less life.

On Monday I became the daughter of a dying parent.  I fill this role for a second time.  My world is spinning and staying still at the same time.  Can you be called an orphan at 31?

Glioblastoma multiforme.  Stage IV brain cancer.

My dad was picking the wrong words the weekend of September 6.  The eggs became gravy; the gasoline a motor.  I diagnosed alcoholism-induced dementia, but made his sister promise a prompt visit with the GP.  The GP that apparently retired a decade ago.  My dad’s never had use for a doctor.  Fit as a fiddle aside from that drinking thing.  73 and healthy.  Hair just getting a silver sheen in these past few years, still mowing the lawn, fixing everyone else’s discarded lawn equipment, growing tomatoes from seed, drumming and marching as he did in the Air Force.  Ten days later when a new practice had time for him he saw a doctor.  At this point my phone conversations from 6.5 hours away were one sided.  “Dad, how are you feeling?”  Him: “Well, you know… you know… the tugboat.”

His sister called that night to say the doctor was very concerned and she’d taken his car keys.  That’s when I got scared.  My dad would never let his van keys be taken away.  Ever.

Two days later and time for the precautionary CT scan.  2.5 inch mass pressing out all the free space on the right half of his brain.  The scan and later MRIs look like a bad science fiction movie.  I’m certain you don’t need years of education in radiology to interpret that…

The night of the CT scan, my dad’s first night in the big city hospital, I tossed and turned in bed until little N woke for his 4am feeding.  We were in the car and on the road home – just two hearty travelers – by 5am.  I spent 8 hours with my dad, 10 hours away from my son, that day.  Two sentences made sense.

After months of crying over my inability to exclusively breastfeed, I cursed my body on the day of dad’s surgery.  I sat and wept in the hospital lactation room as I pumped for relief as my dad lay on the table.  17 hours away from N that day.  17 hours feeling like there was no way to succeed at motherhood and daughterhood at the same time.  17 hours waiting to hear that they got *most* of the mass, but not all.  That the mass was “suckable” but bad.  That it definitely looked like cancer.

Monday the pathology confirmed it.  With chemotherapy and radiation prognosis is 14 to 15 months.  He could have up to 2 years.  At least, I thought, one of those measurements comes in years.  My mom survived 14 months.  Will dad do better or worse?  Will I find myself hoping it passes quickly, or that we can milk each moment.

N won’t know his grandfather, just like he won’t know his grandma C.  How can N know me without knowing them?

I remember sitting in the backseat of my mom’s car, riding along with a little friend to dance lessons, or mini golf, or something.  She was talking about how her grandma did something, or cooked something, or smelled like something.  It’s vague.  I told her with the pride of a child, “I don’t have any grandparents!”  I remember my mom sniffling from the drivers’ seat.  Will I do the same when N innocently says, “Well, I only have Grammy and Pop Pop D.”

Most of the time I feel like an event planner or a fledgling bride.  Instead of calling caterers and venues, I’m dialing social workers and radiation oncologists.  Dad wants to be home, freed from rehab, able to tinker with cars and lawnmowers, able to cook.  I want that for him, but know he’s not who he was a month ago.  I need to hire a home aid.  I need to find transportation to radiation.  I need to get him cleared to leave rehab.  I need to do so much.  And in doing so much I never feel.  Feelings are for later.  If I remember how.  I’m not sure I do.

In which I have a breakdown

See, the trouble with having expectations is that life almost inevitably never lives up to them.  And then, if you’re anything like me, you spiral into a pit of ennui followed by a decent amount of self-loathing.  And then the capstone breakdown moment which just serves to remind you that you are far too fucked up to have had any business setting up expectations for your life in the first place.  It’s a fun ride, and I can’t help but think it’s been made even more tummy tickling by the healthy dose of hormones I’ve got rolling through this ol’ body of mine.

I don’t even know how to articulate where I’m at right now.  Linear thought and reason have left me, it seems.  I think of one thing to type and I immediately flit to another issue.  All that adds up to a silent blog and an overwhelmed me.  So, where to begin…  I guess with this blog.  You know, this one I poured my heart and soul into.  This one I was so proud of.  This space that provided sanity that now only reminds me of the sanity I feel like I’ve lost.  It’s one year anniversary was last Sunday and I totally missed that (whoops), as did I miss the Twitterversary that came a few days later.  I had helpful emails from WordPress and Twitter reminding me of the occasions.  The emails led to hyperventilation and a whimper of “No more.  I can’t take one more thing right now!”  That’s completely and totally healthy, right?

Just as healthy as laying a new floor at 28 weeks pregnant, I’d think.  My knees are currently on strike, but, you know, priorities.  The floor in the nursery does look damn fine.  I think I’ve previously explained here what a wonderful sense of pride and worthiness one can reap from rehabilitating a badly run-down grand old home.  Listen to me now: Ignore the batshit crazy lady who watches far too much HGTV.  Preparing a room with the world’s creepiest white-washed teddy bear wall-paper, drop ceiling, and stained carpet hiding loose asbestos tile flooring to be the one-day home of the son we’ve spent, oh, every last ounce of our time, energy, money, and metal stability trying to create for the past 4.5 years?  Yea, not nearly as rewarding as you’d think.  Doing it on your own while contractors concurrently gut and remodel your downstairs bathroom at 28 weeks pregnant?  Seriously, what the FUCK was I thinking?  Clearly, finding a resolution to our infertility led me to believe that I’d somehow been imbued with superhuman powers.  You know, cause getting 1 in 4 embryos that managed to find a home in my womb to actually stick around for 28 weeks makes me totally capable of, well, climbing ladders, painting (on the same day our hot water heater died), ripping up carpet, laying new flooring, and doing a rickety flight of stairs each of the 100 times a day I have to pee…

nursery after picture

Nursery After

nursery before picture

Nursery Before

But, at least that job I took because it would provide a better work-life balance for me and my finicky uterus has totally gone to crap.  Because I totally uprooted my husband and moved us both to the middle of snowy nowhere for long and un-rewarding work hours, never-ending physical demands, an unreliable leadership who philosophically opposes my understanding of my entire professional identity, and a maternity leave policy that is entirely unwritten and made up as you go along to suit the needs of whoever you happen to be talking to at the moment.

After 4 months of negotiations, though, it does appear I will get a decent leave thanks to having taken about 2 days of vacation time in the past 2 years.  (Silver lining ftw.)  I mean, I can never take vacation because of my husband’s two-job work schedule that makes it impossible (or at least damn challenging) for us to leave town on the weekends.  Did I mention that includes both this weekend – my shower in my home town 6.5 hours from here – and next – our childbirth classes?  Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely LOVE spending 14 hours in the car and 8 hours in an over-priced roadside motel, to spend 24 hours in my childhood home for a shower that will only be attended by my guilt-tripping aunt, two additional aunts who disowned my side of the family while I was growing up, a great-aunt I’ve met once, and my two bestest girlfriends (at least there’s a win).  Do I sound ungrateful enough for you yet?  No?  Well, how ’bout I tell you about the temper tantrum I threw yesterday when I found out that my cousin (daughter of one of the two “we will shun you for 20 years then pretend nothing ever happened” aunts) gave birth to a happy and healthy baby boy.  The baby boy she conceived on her honeymoon after the wedding we suddenly couldn’t attend because I was on all fours in my bathroom back home birthing my third miscarriage.  The cousin who was on a fucking dating-based reality show the year Mr. But IF and I first started trying to conceive.  The new baby that will be the center of attention throughout my entire shower, and whose name shares several syllables with the name our son will get when he arrives.

Bitter enough for you yet?  I know writing it all out surely makes me want to strangle my irrational, self-centered self.  So then we turn down the path of discontentment.  The size of the “You’re getting everything you fucking wanted and dreamed for so long” slap I want to deliver across my tear-stained cheeks is frighteningly out of control.  So I try to recenter myself, to focus on what’s important, to find a healthy way to let it out and move on.  Last week I called my therapist for a much-needed appointment only to find her only availability conflicted with an endless array of stressful work meetings.  We moved to this week to discover that her open slots were all on Thursday, the day of my day-long 28-week appointment (2 hour round-trip, growth scan, GD testing, consult, etc.).

At least I tried to get help, but, omg, I should totally just “snap out” of my mental crap and focus on the fact that shit is getting really real with the MFM after this week.  Thursday’s appointment is the “beginning of the end” of my pregnancy treatment plan, and will be followed by my first non-stress test (NST) at 30 weeks, which will happen weekly until 32 weeks, and then continue on bi-weekly until 39 weeks, at which point, if I haven’t gone into labor, I will be induced.  I’m beyond grateful to be getting this much attention, but telling an already stressed out and overwhelmed patient that she’ll be spending approximately 5 hours a week just in the car from 32 weeks onward doesn’t help with the stress level.  Add to all those round trips NSTs that, I’ve been told, could take anywhere from 15 minutes to a full day, that could result in the decision to immediately delivery there and then, and I’m just feeling oh so relaxed.  Good thing my ability to take any sort of maternity leave rests on me working a 40-hour week up until the moment of delivery…

And then, I step back and get immeasurably angry at the fact that IF caused this all.  IF made the blog and, more importantly, made me judge my worth by the meaningful ways I contributed to the IF community.  IF (and the subtle acceptance that we’d never have a family) made us feel prepared to tackle an endless array of house projects over the next decade, and “beating” IF fucked up that timeline.  IF encouraged me to put time and effort into improving my education and finding a new and rewarding position in a state with an IF insurance mandate.  IF made me incapable of planning a shower until the last moment, and IF-related pregnancy complications are making us throw that shower early in the third trimester.  IF familiarized me with a life dictated by doctor’s appointments, and IF hinted at the autoimmune issues that got me booted to high-risk pregnancy territory.

And, I think, above all, IF was an easy scapegoat for issues I would’ve faced no matter what.  I think I really cry because my mom is gone.  She should be planning my shower, she should be trying to calm me and tell me it will all be alright, she should let me whine and complain and scream and cry and still love me just as much after it all is out.  My shower, like my wedding, was never going to be without emotion, without a sense of loss.  Blaming IF masks some of that, but when the tears came in the bathtub on Sunday it wasn’t because I was unfulfilled in my career, because my husband’s second job interfered with our travel plans, or because my shower will be poorly attended.  Becoming a mother, without a mother, hurts.

The gift that keeps on giving

I’m 8 weeks pregnant today.  Things appear to be progressing normally.  I have an ultrasound on Wednesday, expect to be released from my RE next week, and will have a combined maternal fetal medicine consult and first (ever) OB appointment on November 27.  Really, what more could I ask for?

You see, the thing is, infertility and repeat miscarriage are gifts that really keep on giving.  Infertility is not lazy, it works hard each and every day to reassert its control over your life.  Miscarriage is not easily forgotten, but rather, like infertility, haunts my every day.  Neither is curable, eraseable, destroyable.  No matter how this pregnancy ends, no matter how future pregnancies end, I will be infertile, I will have suffered repeat pregnancy loss, until my dying day.

I also, it seems, will continue to suffer strained relationships due to the gift of my infertility.  Yesterday I may have injured my relationship with my aunt – my only surviving female blood relative – to the point of no repair.  Ever since my mom (her sister) died in 2002, Aunt L has tried to step up, tried to be there, tried to fill the gaping hole my mother’s passing left.  She’s done admirably.  Through her own immense grief and while receiving her own life-threatening/life-altering medical diagnoses, she’s been strong through graduations, engagements, marriages, and various other events that she should never have had to be the primary support person for.  Yet, her job is a thankless one.  She’s not my mom.  She’ll never be my mom.  And, for that, I seem to never be able to forgive her.

To say she’s struggled to understand my infertility is an understatement.  If it didn’t hurt so much, it would almost be comical how stereotypically wrong her responses have been to my pain time and time again.  When I became pregnant in 2011 after ovulating on vacation on day 56 of my cycle, she laughed as she replied, “I told you all you needed to do was relax and take a vacation!”  When that same pregnancy was diagnosed as ectopic she said, “It just wasn’t meant to be.”  After scheduling my first laparoscopy to investigate possible endometriosis (a condition that she herself has, that forced her own hysterectomy in her mid-30s) she told me I was being “too much of a worrier.”  Each medicated cycle after I was reminded that I’d never succeed if I was putting all those “unnatural hormones into your body,” and each negative test after negative test I was told, “It’s just not your time yet.”  When our third pregnancy ended in miscarriage last winter, she cried with me, but reminded me that the worry I had been feeling since our first bad blood draw at 5 weeks, “certainly did your baby no favors.”  She was visiting when we were approaching the end of my stimulation phase for this IVF cycle, and insisted on driving with me to my last monitoring appointment before trigger and retrieval.  On the car ride to the clinic she told me I could have avoided all this “IVF stuff if you’d just stuck with acupuncture.”

This woman loves me deeply, wholly, and completely, but seems incapable of saying or doing the right things.  And, believe me, I’ve taken my own advice – the advice I dole out so often at my RESOLVE group.  I’ve told her how her words make me feel.  I’ve asked her to respond differently.  I’ve told her what I need from her.  Each time I’ve been ignored, or, worse, corrected.  “More negativity is not what you need,” she explains, “you worry so much it makes no sense to make everyone else around you be just as miserable!”

So, for the past couple weeks, I’ve taken the coward’s way out.  She calls, I don’t answer.  She texts, I don’t reply.  It snowballs out of control.  My anxiety gets higher, the inevitable confrontation gets worse.  Finally, yesterday, Mr. But IF made me answer her call.

Apparently she thought I had died in a ditch.  You see, I do all those ridiculously long drives to the doctor and surely I got in an accident and no one noticed or told her.  (What that says about my husband and friends we’ll just ignore for now.)  I’m pregnant and she wants weekly updates, she demands weekly updates!  I told her that was just too much.  With a shaking voice I explained (again) that I just can’t keep calling and saying, “Yes, still pregnant.”  That even those three words leave me in a complete panic.  That just saying them seems like tempting fate.  That in my mind it’s not three words, but five.  It’s “Yes, still pregnant, for now…”

Again I was told that response is silly.  That my emotional needs are irrational.  If only it could have ended at that.

As her voice turned from stern talking to to chipper happiness, she said, “Well, fine, then we can talk about some other happy news at least.  Your cousin S is having a little boy, so you need to have a little girl.  I’ve told everyone you need to have a little girl so that your kids can play together!”

And, then it crashed.  The tears started flowing, the anger formed a lump in my throat the size of a softball, I couldn’t form words through the shaking.  My young cousin got married a few days after my most recent miscarriage.  After weeks of my aunt going on about how fun it will be to be pregnant at her wedding, I couldn’t manage.  I skipped her wedding.  A well-timed snowstorm gave me the excuse I needed to back out of the 6 hour drive home to the wedding of a cousin I barely know.  A cousin that is apparently very much NOT infertile.  A cousin who’s pregnancy and future little boy are just another on the long list of living reminders of all that infertility has stolen from me, of all that miscarriage has closed my heart to.

I think I’ve done fairly well at avoiding the constant comparisons and the what could have beens.  But hearing of the easily conceived pregnancy of the cousin that (I kid you not!) was on a television dating reality show when Mr. But IF and I first started trying to have our first sucks.  Having my aunt ignore my pain and replace it with joy for the niece who will give her her first grand-nephew sucks.  Having this all happen in time to coincide with the week when we lost our last child, when that heart beat stopped without apparent cause between 8 and 9 weeks, is cruel and unusual.

At least, as I said to Mr. But IF, I have something to talk to my counselor about on Thursday.  If I’m able to get out of bed on Thursday.  If Thursday isn’t the first day of grieving and moving on from a bad ultrasound on Wednesday.  But, it seems, I should just stop with the negativity and celebrate the gleeful naivete of friends and family and cousin’s named S.  Surely it’s my bad attitude that’s done this to me all along.  I’m constantly made to feel that I caused our struggles, I made my misery.  Why does this seem like rational logic to those that love me?  Why don’t they, by extension, remind me that positivity and yoga could have cured my mom’s cancer?  Why, when I speak of the pain of missing her, am I not reminded of a cousin, a friend, a stranger that has two living parents?  Shouldn’t celebrating living parents cure the lack of my own?

Back in the desk chair

My, does this post feel mighty overwhelming and a good bit overdue.  What have I been up to, you ask?  A little travelin’, a little workin’, a little gettin’ sliced open.  You know, same old.

Did you notice my site went down?  Down for like a couple weeks?  Yea, that caused the jitters to set in big time.

Luckily, a few Abita Ambers in a jazz club on Frenchmen Street calmed those jitters right down.  Mmmm… New Orleans.  Mr. But IF and I went down there a couple years ago for a vacation/family wedding and have been itching to go back ever since.  Luckily, with my professional organization selecting NOLA as the site of its annual meeting this year our dream came true.  (And, came partly paid by my employer at that!)  NOLA is rapidly becoming one of my favorite cities in America, and I’m already anxious to get back again.  This time it won’t be for a wedding, or a conference, or any other sensible purpose – it will be to embrace this city I’ve learned to love so quickly.

I was a little worried that going back to New Orleans would stir up old wounds.  Our first pregnancy was conceived there in 2011.  The only thing it reminded me of, though, was the love I feel for my husband.  (Yes, even as we wandered the French Quarter cranky as all get out.)  It also reminded me of the need to embrace these in-between moments in our TTC journey and wring every last drop of joy out of them.  We played pool in a local bar with a ragtag bunch of local casino dealers, we snuck back to the hotel in the middle of the day for a non-procreative romp in the sheets, we swayed to the music.  I lived life so fully and so outside of the manner I’ve become accustomed to.  It was beautiful.

Our flight home last Monday came far too early, and our travel time was made far too long by a miserable delay in the 10th circle of hell that is LaGuardia.  We arrived at our door around 5pm, we welcomed our usual bunch of Grilling, Growlers & Buffy friends over for dinner and an episode at 7pm, and my saintly mother-in-law arrived around 9:30.  A few hours of shut-eye and my mother-in-law and I were off to the RE bright and early the next morning for my laparoscopy.  In the car by 6:30am, at the office by 7:30am, walked into the surgical suite near 11am.  I love how like molasses time becomes when you’re in the hands of a medical practice.

The surgery went well.  Actually, better than expected.  After our last lesson in “be careful what you believe when a doctor says it” I’m not going to put much stock in doc Soulpatch’s quick post-operative exclamation of “It all looked good!” but my anesthesia-cobbled mind was happy to hear there were fewer spots of endo regrowth than anticipated and that my questionable right tube looked “wonderful.”  I’m proceeding cautiously until I have my final post-op appointment with the doctor next Tuesday, but it sure was better news than I expected to wake up to seeing as Mr. But IF and I spent large portions of our transit time back and forth from NOLA discussing what life would be like if I woke up to hear they’d removed both my tubes.

This was my second laparoscopy in 18 months, so I was thankfully no stranger to what recovery would be like.  Actually, the most uncomfortable moment of the entire ordeal was probably hearing the words, “nothing in your vagina for two weeks” while sitting with my mother-in-law waiting to go back for the procedure.  (Having just flown off to NOLA for a week, Mr. But IF had to work the day of my surgery.  World’s Best Mother-in-Law drove 3 hours to our house to drive me an addition 1 hour to my doctor to sit for an addition 5 hours for my surgery, to drive home another hour with a drug-addled passenger, and, finally, drive a final 3 hours back home in time for work the next day.)  So, yea, recovery was what it was.  I watched far too much Netflix, ate too many popsicles, and slept for what seemed like a solid 24 hours on multiple days.  Surgery was last Tuesday, I took my first trip out of the house on Friday, was back to work on Monday, and threw another Buffy night for a party of 25+ on Monday.  Either I’m a masochist or Mr. But IF is trying to collect my life insurance – I’m not sure which.  Either way, I’m 1w1d removed from surgery today and feel fully myself again.

I’ve had a lot of thoughts running through my brain about endometriosis lately.  Why is it so poorly understood, why are the paths toward diagnosing, managing, and curing it so under-explored, why is this debilitating disease so ghettoized within the medical, research, and patient communities?  That’s another post for another day, but suffice it to say now, dear readers, I’ve got angst.  I’ve got bitterness.  I’ve got frustration.  And I’ve got them all because even 1 week after my “it wasn’t that bad” second surgery I sit here feeling so much more human than I did 1 day before said elective surgery.  Regrowth was minimal, no serious anatomical issues were discovered, and the surgical glue is practically still drying in my three incisions, but I feel so much better now than I did just over a week ago.  No pain, no constipation, and a supremely healthy sex drive.  (Timed wonderfully, of course, to fall smack dab in the middle of my “nothing in the vjayjay” period.)  Immediate relief from a surgery I was told was unnecessary, for a disease I was told I didn’t have for so long, for a case so mild I’ve been told to be thankful.  I’m not thankful, I’m pissed.

So here I am back in the desk chair and back to reality.  A reality of waiting, of taking deep breaths, of wondering what’s around the corner.  A reality so different from my NOLA dreamland.  I’m back to counting the days.  5 until our consult with the RE.  How many until we can start IVF?  How many days of stims?  How many days past retrieval?  How many days until transfer?  How many days until the beta?  How many days until I miscarry?

Less than 2 weeks ago I was swaying in d.b.a. as John Boutté sang:

Don’t waste you time being angry
when a moment’s better with a smile
if you feel you’re time’s been wasted
waste it here a while
– “At the Foot of Canal Street”

My scarred body may be back in this desk chair, but perhaps I should leave some of my mind in New Orleans?

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?