United in stunned disbelief: A blog rec

I’ve kinda been all over the place lately.  I spent my first 3 nights away from N this past weekend.  I had to go out and start attending to my dad’s house.  (The sheer volume of mouse droppings on his countertops when I dragged myself in the door after an epically bad 8.5 hour drive assured me that the trip was necessary.)  All three of the ButIf’s, not the least of which the littlest ButIf, have been sick off and on since at least November.  The hubs and I, both still recovering from last month’s pneumonia diagnoses times 2, are struggling to identify our roles as parents, to find a schedule somewhere in this life that has absolutely refused to be scheduled.  Dealing with orphanhood has also been weighing me down.  Not just the obvious emotional toll, but also the medical bills, the calls to the estate lawyer, the drive to pick up the cremains, the arguments with water companies that expected his bill to be paid on time despite the fact that their customer died the day before his bill was due…  I digress.  But, finally, my health has also been a constant elephant in the room.  I’m in pain a lot these days.  Surely all the driving and the physical exertion at my dad’s house isn’t helping, but no 31 year old should hurt this much.  Tingling hands, aching legs, the reemergence of the hip rash, weighing 10 pounds heavier at 9 months postpartum what I did the day I delivered, a back that causes constant, sleepless pain.  Next week’s rheumatologist appointment can’t come soon enough.

But, as I circle the wagons in preparation for another battle with medical professionals (albeit one that I still have some respect for), it’s causing me to reflect on my experiences with the medical field.  To put it simply, I’ve been failed just so many times.  And the cause hasn’t really mattered.  What unites my experiences navigating the medical diagnoses of infertility, repeat miscarriage, endometriosis, Hashimoto’s, PCOS, and my as of yet undiagnosed spondyloarthropathy is one thing – I’ve had some truly baffling responses lobbed at me.  The college health center MD who, upon first suggesting PCOS as the reason for my missing menses, casually stated to 20-year-old me, “You’ll be infertile, but otherwise you’ll be fine.”  The PCP who recommended a hobby and counseling would cure my uncontrollable and unexplainable weight gain.  The OB/GYN nurse who spent 10 minutes badgering me to tell her exactly which prenatal vitamin I’d been taking, even though she knew that day’s appointment was the one at which I’d be told that I needed to terminate the suspected ectopic pregnancy I’d been carrying after 18 months of trying.  The phlebotomist who offered to be my surrogate because, “I get knocked up whenever my husband looks at me!”  The other OB/GYN who, upon learning I’d relocated to the area, was infertile, and was going to be pursuing more infertility treatments, kept talking to me about the REI in the big town up the road (apparently years of medical school and residency in the field of obstetrics didn’t dissuade her of the notion that one goes to a sporting goods store to treat infertility).  The rheumatologist who told me she couldn’t help me until my disease had progressed to the point that I could no longer function.  The common thread is the sheer WTF-ness of it all.

And, I’m not alone.  That’s why I was happy to stumble upon the new blog You Need a New Doctor.  There’s a few things that sharing these truly horrifying stories can do.  They instill solidarity in those of us who have endured them, they let us know that (sadly) we are far from alone.  They give us a chance to laugh (or cry) along with a community of fellow-travelers.  They shame a system that has repeatedly failed us.  They inspire us to help make the system change.  They let external observers in on the dirty little secret that one person’s “unfortunate bad experience” is, in fact, an entire community’s burden.  We can do better.

So, please check it out.  And, while you’re there, check out my own submission about my third miscarriage – Thanks for the Jar?

Finding me

How many times have I made promises to write more?  To return to the blogosphere?  To reinvigorate my Twitter presence?  Too many.  Far too many if you count the silent thoughts that went unrecorded.  So, this is definitely not me making more promises I won’t keep…

But, I had a realization yesterday.  As I sat with my therapist and reviewed dad’s health (re-hospitalized, poor, and fading), N’s sleeping (non-existent), my marriage (strained), my career (overwhelming), and my health (rocky and ignored), she said something that surprised me.  As much as I’ve come to respect and embrace my need for our sessions, I’ve still always subconsciously conceptualized therapy as a highly narcissistic thing.  What could be more self-centered than an hour exploring the self?  So it felt out of left field when she observed that I seem the happiest when I’m helping others.  Was this just a compliment to help walk me back from the edge that’s become my life?  Had I really fooled her into thinking of me as this give give giver?

But, then, I really mulled it over.  Who am I now?  Who am I beyond a grieving daughter and proud mother?  What makes me me?  What makes me happy?

It’s then that I realized that, where others have hobbies, I have the cause of infertility.  The drive to help the young and chronically ill.  To walk others through the minefield that is an undifferentiated autoimmune diagnosis.  And, I miss that part of me.

Infertility can never be “cured,” but it can recede into the shadows.  It absolutely has for me, especially since the tumult of September.  And, a large part of what makes me me went with it.

I miss my RESOLVE support group.  I miss who I was when I was sitting in the front of that often very crowded hospital conference room.  I miss discussion forums and surprise questions from Facebook acquaintances and teary phone calls from women’s whose menstrual cycles I knew as well as my own.  Being an infertility advocate was my club sport, my crafting, my recreational time.  It’s left an odd void.

Yet, my relationship with infertility is still forever changed thanks to my son.  I can’t go back and feel those feelings as deeply, as wholly, and as painfully as I once did.  They, too, are shadows of what they once were.  And that makes me feel like an intruder in my own identity.  A fraud.

I need to rediscover my role in this community.  Because, yes, my therapist is right.  No past time makes me smile brighter or cry harder than advocating for the rights and opportunities of young women facing infertility and autoimmune disease.

In a wonderful stroke of coincidence, this realization has dawned just as announcements of RESOLVE’s Advocacy Day 2015 hit the airwaves.  I can’t fully commit to attending just yet – my life is a whirl of unanswered questions thanks to cancer – but I pledge now to try and make it this year.  Won’t some of you join me?

N’s arrival, pt. 1

I’ve sat down to write this post several times.  Writer’s block, sleep deprivation, a continuous string of visitors, and the needs of our little man have intervened.  And, as much as this blog has been my savior over the past year, that’s exactly how it should be.  Life first, blog second.

In many ways I feel like I’m slowly moving back to the land of the living.  A land where acquiring the basic human needs – food, sleep, love – has assumed so much of my time that I haven’t had much left to think about the world I’ve occupied for the past five years.  The one where wants were front and center.  The one where no joy could be found thanks to the constant hole that was felt.  I’ve done both now, and can say confidently that I’d much rather go without sleep than go without hope.  Even through glassy eyes this life lives better.

June 23 was my due date.  June 19 was my scheduled c-section date.  June 16 was my induction date.  June 12 was my baby boy’s self-selected birthday.  What a sense of humor this little man has already.

I should have learned long ago thanks to IF that planning is pointless.  Yet, with a stubborn breech baby who only turned at the 11th hour, with a rare clotting disorder that threatened my placenta, with a history of repeat losses, infertility, and IVF, so much of my pregnancy was planned.  It seemed so unlikely after all the appointments, all the difficult decisions, all the warning signs, that this little guy would catch the mister and I off guard.  But, that’s exactly what he did.

I’ve mentioned several times before that the mister and I are die-hard trivia buffs.  We attend (well, attended!), a weekly Wednesday night game at our local watering hole.  So, there we sat playing away on Wednesday June 11 surrounded by friends, co-workers, and the majority of who’s who in our tiny town.  Looking back now I realize I came within 60 minutes of being a Wednesday night trivia legend.  We left the game a little after 10pm, walked the three blocks home, and settled in for bed and work the next morning.  Just before 11:30pm I felt a substantial trickle.  For one mortifying moment I thought I’d lost control of my bladder, then realized that was unlikely.  I poked the mister, who’d probably only gone to sleep less than ten minutes earlier, and said:

“Um, I think my water just broke?”

One thing that you hear repeatedly – from your birth classes, from pregnancy books, from random strangers – is that labor is not like it is in the movies.  It does not start with a woman walking down the produce aisle at the grocery store and experiencing an unexpected gush of amniotic fluid in front of the peaches.  Except, it seems, when it does.  I was so convinced my labor would not start with my waters breaking, that I spent the next several minutes in disbelief.  I went to the bathroom and looked and smelled and consulted Dr. Google on my phone.  Was I absolutely sure I hadn’t peed myself?  I changed my underwear, grabbed a giant bath towel, and waddled back to bed.  “I guess I’m supposed to call the doctor, right?” I asked the mister.  “I guess,” he answered.  We were both oddly calm.  I called, left a message with the triage nurse, and waited for a call back.  Of course, this is the moment that my cell phone decided it didn’t feel like connecting to the cell tower any longer, so when the on-call resident finally did call back all I could hear was about every fifth or sixth word he uttered through a thick, unidentifiable accent.  I got the gist, though.  Watchful waiting.  If I wasn’t sure sure it was my waters, then there was no reason to panic.  I should only plan on coming in if it happened again.  Get some sleep.

And, that’s what I did.  On my giant bath towel wearing a super pad.  Until 12:45am when the flood gates opened.  I was on my hands and knees in bed pouring forth like Niagara Falls when I shook the mister again.

“Er, yea, no doubt.  <Nervous laughter.>  My water is totally broken.”

Through this all the awkward calm continued.  I was having no contractions, and knew full well that there were no perks to getting to the hospital early.  Just a lot more sitting around in an uncomfortable environment.  I got up, changed my pad/underwear for what felt like the hundredth time, took a shower, did a load of laundry (all those soaked bath towels and undergarments weren’t going to wash themselves), ate a granola bar, kept the mister company as he made himself coffee and a breakfast sandwich (half as fuel for the night ahead, half to soak up what remained of that double scotch he’d had at trivia!), grabbed the car seat, fed the cats, and prepared to leave for the hospital.  As I walked around the house with another bath towel between my legs I kept thinking:

“Am I seriously about to have a baby?”

After moving to this rural village 2 years ago I sought out excellent doctors no matter the distances I had to travel.  That is, for all but obstetrical care.  We moved here fresh from my second miscarriage, and I still had hope that some day my body would get it right.  Some day we’d be doing that midnight drive to labor & delivery.  Some day I’d be happy I’d picked the closest OB I could find.  When that closest OB botched my third miscarriage, I succumbed to the lure of the talented professionals in the nearest city, and prepared myself for an hour drive in labor.  As news of our pregnancy spread, friends and family alike looked puzzled as I explained that I’d be delivering fairly far from home, and I came to embrace the, “Well, I had no choice in hospital,” line once that wonderful city OB transferred me to an equally wonderful high-risk practice that only delivered at the wonderful hospital an hour away.  After 9 months of hearing and internalizing, “How are you going to manage that drive in labor?” it was wonderful to embrace my 10% status as me and my soggy bottoms made the hour drive covered in amniotic fluid, but totally without contractions.

When we did our hospital tour a couple months earlier, a highlight was learning of the valet service that would remove the “What do we do with our car?” confusion from what we were sure would be a confusing and tense time.  Those giving the tour, however, failed the inform us that said valet service comes with limited hours of operation.  As we rolled up to the hospital at 2:45am we were greeted by a sign noting that valet parking begins at 6am.  Sure, I could have gotten out and either waited for the hubs in the lobby or informed the desk attendant that he’d be by behind me, but I didn’t really feel like having to stand about flooding out public spaces without my husband by my side to share in the mortification.  So, I did what came naturally.  I rode with my husband to the nearest parking garage, helped him find a spot on the far end of the 3rd floor, delicately extricated myself from the passenger seat of our (NEW!) car that I had carefully wrapped in plastic and covered in bath towels, waddled down three flights of concrete steps (“No, I’m fine, I don’t feel like using the elevator!”), and shuffled the few blocks uphill toward the hospital in the cool 3am air.

There was one other thing the nurses had gotten wrong during our birthing class/hospital tour.  As we wandered around the labor and delivery floor, they let us – especially the “first timers” – know that we shouldn’t take it personally when the labor and delivery nurses treated our arrival to the 8th floor with a fair bit of skepticism.  “You may feel excited, you may be screaming inside, ‘THIS IS IT!’, but your labor and delivery nurses will still almost certainly send you to triage where you’ll wait to be evaluated before being given a room, or told to go home.  Don’t get discouraged, this is all a normal part of the process!”  So, while the lack of a valet caught me off guard, I wasn’t going to let anything else catch me off guard.  I mean, I was so prepared for this wait that I’d actually, you know, done two loads of laundry before driving the hour to the hospital!  But, sure enough, when the nurses of floor eight saw the very pregnant lady waddle in sporting jeans that looked like they’d just gone for a swim in a backyard swimming pool, their response was a jovial,

“Well, we don’t need to triage you!  You’re in the right spot!  Let’s get you a room!”

The large digital clock above the nurses station glowed red with “3:00:00” (why does that stick out in my mind?) as we were ushered off to room 8020 for the foreseeable future.  And, with that, it’s time to feed the little man whose kitty binky just isn’t cutting it anymore!  Hopefully it doesn’t take another month to write the final installments of this journey!  Until next time…

Resentment

Here’s the biggest thing I wasn’t prepared for when it comes to pregnancy after infertility.  Sometimes, while pregnant, you get depressed.  You worry, you cry, you panic.  That I was prepared for.  But the self-loathing and shame that can result from those worries and tears and panics?  Not so much.  I’m not going to lie.  I’m a total mess right now.  And, I think it’s been made worse by the fact that I haven’t felt like I could write it here.  I haven’t felt I could express it anywhere.  Not to friends, not to my husband, not to my therapist.  I hate myself and who I am right now, and not the least of which because I know I should be better, I should cope better, I should be grateful.

This little man’s been breech at every. single. visit. since the NT scan at 13-some weeks.  I was proud of myself for not worrying too much about it, because I knew it wasn’t a cause for concern until some far off, distant “later.”  It appears later is here.  Or, so it would seem from the simple one-page letter I unexpectedly got in the mail on Saturday telling me the date and time of my c-section.  The date and time of my son’s birth.

Since “the letter” I’ve been a disaster.  I cried for most of the rest of Saturday, managing to haul myself out for a few hours that night for a going away party for one of my closest friends here who will be moving to the other side of the country in a few short days.  Sunday I struggled to hold it together, but was still mostly in a daze.  Monday found me losing all composure throughout my morning ultrasound, non-stress test, and consult, and going through the motions of the rest of my workday, only to come home and snap.  I stayed awake long enough to do my 7:20pm lovenox injection, before going to sleep without dinner, without stopping the tears, without emerging from the darkness that had become my new mode of being.  I do remember my husband begging me to reassure him that I wasn’t thinking of “doing anything stupid” before I stumbled up to bed.  I remember waking 12 hours later, remembering the look in his eyes as he asked it, and starting to cry again.

I feel trapped between two worlds right now.  The “what should be’s” and the “what is,” the “I know better’s” and the “I’m tired of knowing better’s,” the “gratefulness” and the “jealousy.”

When I try to be rational, I eek out the following:

  • Holy shit I’m pregnant.  Really, REALLY pregnant.  Like, I may very well get to meet this child pregnant.
  • There is a nursery.  In our house.
  • You’ve got bigger things to worry about.  Like him surviving you coming off your meds.  Like him surviving.  Period.
  • The method of his delivery doesn’t matter, just that he gets here safely.
  • Seriously, read the above, you know better you fucking twat.

But, 99% of the time my thoughts are more of the variety of:

  • I’m tired of being understanding.  I’m tired of accepting what life throw’s at me.
  • I’m done with being the minority.  The 1.5% of births from IVF in the country.  The 2-4% of the general population with antiphospholipid syndrome.  The 1-3% of women who have scheduled C-sections due to a breech presentation.  The list goes on.  I’m a walking, talking ball of “This is SO UNFAIR!” right now.
  • I’m over surgery.  The C-section will be my 6th in 4 years.  Everyone assumes I’m upset because I’m “scared” of surgery.  No, I know surgery intimately by this point.  There is no fear there.  Just a lot of anger.  And, a lot of knowledge of what recovery will look like and physically and mentally feel like (especially given how much my body detests analgesics).
  • I’m sad I’ll never get to experience what my mom did to bring me into this world.  The only labor pains I’ll ever know are those that accompanied my three miscarriages.  I’ll never have the chance to turn that pain to a positive in my mind.  I needed that chance, I’ve been longing for that chance.
  • I feel robbed.  It’s not so much that I feel vaginal delivery is “normal,” but it’s certainly less invasive.  My child was conceived in a petri dish, this pregnancy has been sustained by tons and tons of drugs, procedures, and doctor’s visits, and now the birth will be more of the same.  It will be a timed transaction – place, date, and time preset by the convenience of my medical providers.  It will be another procedure written in my calendar.
  • I’m sick of an entirely new set of reminders from the fertile masses that I’m different.  Each well-meaning moron that tells me, “Labor isn’t what it’s cracked up to be,” or “you can always VBAC with your next one,” or “it won’t matter once he’s in your arms,” leads me one step closer to homicide.  I knew I would kick labor’s ass, and I’ve been longing for the opportunity to for 5 years.  I have the pain tolerance of an ox, and I’m ready to have it come into play when something positive can come from it.  And, speaking of “the next child” just reminds me that may likely never happen.
  • While I’m not scared of surgery, I am scared of the possible health implications.  Since I continually win the medical complication lottery (seriously, who gets diagnosed with 6 different diseases/conditions all before they’re 30?), I find myself certain that this C will result in endometriosis adhesions growing out of my uterus.  Yes, it happens.  Or that major abdominal surgery will set off my clotting disorder.  Or my yet-to-be-determined spondyloarthritic disease.  Or that, when you’re as infertile as I am, more scarring in the uterine cavity is never a good thing.  Especially when the combo of endometriosis and a clotting issue mean you’re in for a lot more laparoscopies down the road.
  • I’m frustrated that this birth feels like just another in a long line of confrontations with unhelpful, risk-averse, blanket statement doctors.  I haven’t seen an MD since February, and my case hasn’t been looked at in all that time.  (And, clearly, a lot has changed since then.)  Yet, the NPs and midwives continue this game of telephone.  Gathering my questions, presenting them to “some doctor” (one who may or may not have ever met me), and then coming back in the room and poorly communicating their answers.  For 6 months I’ve been told it would be dangerous for me to remain pregnant past 39 weeks, but now that they must schedule a c-section it’s been scheduled for nearly 40 weeks.  The NPs helpful response?  “Well, we’d sure like to do it sooner, but we don’t have any surgical availability.”  After one doctor told me in February that my lovenox was the only thing sustaining this pregnancy, now they’re taking me off of it without a second thought on Monday.  No discussions, no explanations, just a simple, “Your chart says for you to stop at 36 weeks.”  And, to my question of whether or not we could try an external cephalic version to flip him?  The friendly nurse replies, “Absolutely not.  Not with your history!” Oddly, that’s not remotely OK, but delaying delivery and taking me off my meds is totally fine.  This is not how I pictured my end of pregnancy care.
  • And, I’m angry that this is the end of the line.  I want to meet him more than anything, but I’m not ready to be once again un-pregnant.  Aside from the fact that I have physically felt the best I have felt in 10 years during this pregnancy, I’m also not ready to let go of him.  Especially since I’ve wasted so much time lately hating each kick that reminds me he is breech.  Especially since the medical system has been the only one to weigh in on when he arrives.

Clearly, one list is much longer than the other, but that doesn’t mean that the first list isn’t on my mind.  It is.  Constantly.  And, it’s why I’m such a mess.  Where do I get off feeling like I have any right to be upset over a c-section?  I know better.  I mean, I know better women than I who just lost wanted pregnancies, who failed yet another cycle, who’ve moved on to a life sans children, who’ve suffered more heartache and pain than anyone should ever endure.  Yet these past few days have sunk me lower than I’ve been since the death of my mother.

I have no answers.  This is hard.  And overwhelming.  And terrifying.  The risks are so high, and the territory so uncharted.  For me, infertility always had an element of misery.  Misery’s not all bad.  It unites the community, it can make the highs feel higher, it can be powerful and reaffirming to let it wash over you.  But, I’m so frightened to be spending these last few weeks of pregnancy in misery.  What does it say about me?  What does it mean about my ability to successfully parent?  What does it foretell about the future if I can’t ever get past these few final road bumps?  I’ve often bought in to the normative language that the ALI and PAIL communities frequently use – the phrases “finding a resolution to infertility” and “living after resolution to infertility.”  I doubt the accuracy of those phrases now.  I doubt that resolution will ever be possible.

On the verge…

… of parenthood?  Of breakdown?  Of both?

I keep trying to figure out why it is that I’m having such a hard time writing about my pregnancy here.  The posts flowed so much easier when I was under the influence of Gonal-F and endlessly waiting for the next laparoscopy, the next cycle, the next miscarriage.  At first I thought it was the inevitable IF guilt.  That deep-seated uneasiness with the fact that I was “moving along” while others were left to do the same things over and over again in the hopes of a different outcome.  Or left to rightfully rail against the very concept of hope itself.  And, yes, that guilt did factor in; but, I think, less than I initially thought.  Ultimately, the primary issue is I don’t know how to live and write equally in the lands of fear and joy – a skill that pregnancy after IF requires.  I’ve known what I felt, what I’ve wanted to say, what I’ve secreted away in my mind these past many months, but I just don’t know how to put it to paper.  Or even if I can put it to paper.  I’ve returned to the realm of the bogeyman, where it feels as if what I think, what I say, what I write will automatically land me in the bad graces of those unseen beings who decide my fate.  The simple act of sporting this belly feels like a daily act of hubris, for which I’m constantly sure I’m in for a rude awakening.

In trying to decide why this all feels so, I’m struck by how similar the IF and PG-after-IF emotions I’m feeling are.  Top of the list at the moment is the seesaw.  With twice weekly non-stress tests at the perinatal center I feel like I’m, once again, living from appointment to appointment.  Every three to four days my psyche is formed by the lines on the NST ribbon and the words of that day’s nurse practitioner or midwife.  One day I’m told how grand I’m doing (“minimal weight gain, stellar 1-hour glucose screen, you’re a rockstar!”), and the next I’m discussing the possibility of a looming c-section (“he’s still breech and, since we’re taking you off of the Lovenox at 36 weeks anyway, we might as well just do a c around that time!”).  A week ago one of my favorite midwifes poo-pooed the early c idea (“you’re still so early, and there are things we can try!”), only to have another preferred practitioner inform me this Monday that I had suddenly developed polyhdramnios (too much amniotic fluid) and we, “desperately need to get to the bottom of this!”  In a few short hours I trek an hour north again for a full afternoon of ultrasounds, NSTs, blood tests, and consults.

I’m exhausted.  Even at its best spending 5-6 hours each week in the car on the way to and from appointments is tiring.  Another 3-4 hours each week in waiting rooms and on exam tables doesn’t help.  Adding in the need to keep up with my full-time job during one of the busiest times of our semester brings me close to the edge.  When you factor in the frequent Braxton Hicks chipping away at my physical and mental stability I’m pretty much done for.

But all those stressors are the easy ones.  The ones that aren’t that hard to write.  The ones I start my therapy sessions with.  The ones that get me pity from most ffergiles and justifiable dagger-eyes from those still waiting to parent or finding peace in the decision not to.

Then there’s the much louder chorus of other concerns for which I have a private concert.  Most days I wake up waiting for the first kick or rumble.  As I pray for it to come, I run through what life post-still birth would look like.  I watch it play out from outside my body; me, sitting in silent grief and despair in our darkened bedroom, the mister bringing me food and handling the obligations of daily life as he cries alone in the shower.  Our families not knowing what to say and, likely, taking it even harder than we do.  After all, we’ve walked these halls before.  The failed cycles, the dashed dreams, the early losses go, if not unfelt by those in our inner circles, at least a lot less felt than for those of us with front row seats.  Soon, these morbid morning thoughts are replaced with anger, nearly all of it directed solely at myself.  What have I been doing for the past five years if not running and screaming from medical office to office demanding something was wrong?  Insisting I was sick?  How could I relentlessly pursue diagnoses in one breath, while doing everything in my power to become pregnant in the other?  I often feel shamefully selfish, and that’s really hard to admit.  For 4.5 years I’ve allowed the words “brave,” “determined,” and “driven” to shelter, protect, and uplift me.  Now I often feel like a fraud and a failure.  If we lose him, I am to blame.  My body did it.  And, most of all, I should have known better.

But, then he kicks.  Or he hiccups.  I catch a glance at the nursery.  Or I sit down to work on my shower thank you’s.  The mister gets misty in the eyes looking through the story books his parents gave us.  Or I find myself subconsciously rubbing my belly.  And it all melts away.  I’m quite easily the happiest I have ever been in my life.  I love my husband beyond words as he talks to our son and dreams of the future.  I miss my mom desperately, but I’ve never felt as connected to her as I do in these on-the-verge-of-mothering moments.  The contractions and kick counting are often overwhelming, but they always remind me that I’m living a moment in time I truly never thought I’d see.  For all that I’ve dreaded showers over the past five years, my own were beautiful and surprisingly cathartic.  And, not the least of all, I feel the healthiest I have in my adult life (no “unknown rheumatalogical condition” back pain or rashes, no endo constipation or crippling cramping, no Hashi’s fatigue or brain fog, no PCOS weight gain or hunger pangs).  Life is really, truly, deeply wonderful.

And, at the same time, life keeps on moving and fear keeps on sneaking in.  In the past week I registered for daycare, set up an appointment with our desired pediatrician, started really putting the nursery together, and continued planning for my maternity leave from work.  Yet, each time I cross one of these items off my to-do list I can’t help but feel like I’m adding them to a “what we’re going to have to undo” list.  I feel like I’m laughing at fate by planning for a child that may or may not arrive safely.  I can’t help but see myself un-registering, appointment cancelling, un-prepping the nursery, spending the summer in my desk chair.

The seesaw keeps rocking at the peak of a mighty mountain and I know I’m destined to fall off.  I’m just not sure which tranquil valley or cursed forest I’m perched above…

Resolve to know more about the lasting scars of infertility

* Note: Since new readers may stumble on this post via my submission in the Bloggers Unite challenge, a word of warning.  This post will discuss a current pregnancy, past pregnancy losses, and plans to parent after infertility.  Please tread lightly if any of these topics are triggers.*

 

It’s National Infertility Awareness Week (NIAW) yet again.  It’s hard not to let a milestone like that make you pause and reflect.  This will be my fifth NIAW as a mother-in-waiting; this will also (hopefully) be my last NIAW as a mother-in-waiting.  Today marks 31 weeks 1 day gestation of the IVF miracle kicking away in my belly.  (Somehow “miracle” doesn’t seem the right word for something that a healthy mixture of science and dumb luck created, sustained, and guarded for the past 7 months, but our language is full of gaps when it comes to the often taboo topic of infertility.)

When we started naively trying for our first child five years ago, I knew nothing of NIAW.  I knew hope and optimism.  I knew the emotional tears of joy and connection that dripped down my cheeks after the Mister and I really “tried” for the first time.  I knew the worries about having enough money, where to put the nursery, and wondering if we were really ready.  I knew absolutely nothing.  Five years, three miscarriages, three surgeries, thousands of pills and injections and doctor’s visits later I struggle to remember who that woman was.  I’m tempted to despise her naivete, to squirm at the thought of her cluelessness, to shout at her for all the times she’d asked casual acquaintances, “So when will you have kids?”, to slap her for telling her inlaws over lunch one early spring day that she wouldn’t be having caffeinated tea because, well, they were “trying.”  Then the frustration and anger I feel fade and are replaced with deep sadness.  I will never know that woman again.  She’s gone for good.

Four years ago I still had never heard of NIAW, but I was starting to get acquainted with “infertility.”  Even before a year of trying (the standard period required for an infertility diagnosis at my then-age of 27), I knew I was infertile.  In 8 months off of birth control I’d only had three periods.  I’d already become disillusioned at the prospect of buying and wasting home pregnancy tests, I reflected back to the “normal youthful” irregularity in my cycles which had landed me on birth control at 18 to begin with, and I was increasingly anxious for answers.  I began to dip my toes into the world of online fertility charting and chat rooms and learned how it felt to have my heart break each time a “friend in the computer” crossed to the other side – the pregnant side – without me.  In the beginning I allowed my doctors to convince me that the pressure I was feeling explained my mood swings and depression.  I was told it was “typical” for cycles to fluctuate after birth control, for conception to take up to a year, for a little bit of anxiety to set in when it didn’t work like it did in the movies.  For months I lived two lives – the driven professional woman who worked full time and attended graduate school in the evenings and on weekends; and the scared little girl who felt like her body and soul were breaking.  Worst of all was the knowledge that the only things wrong with me were impatience, a low pain tolerance, obesity, and a little “run of the mill” depression.  Then one morning in February I woke up in a panic.  I didn’t know who my husband was.  When he handed me the phone to call out of work, I didn’t know how to use it.  He got me in with our doctor (yet again) that same day.  She (again) repeated that I had a busy, stressful life and likely just needed a hobby, to get more exercise, and to relax.  But, she also agreed to run blood work.  The next day, February 8, 2011, marked the beginning of  the next phase of my infertility.  It was the day I was taken seriously, the day I started to get answers, the day we learned my thyroid had basically given up.  Ultimately, it was the first day I knew I was ill.  It was liberating and terrifying in equal measure, but I celebrated it as the beginning of the end of my fertility troubles.  A pill a day, a few blood tests, and I was assured we’d be pregnant in no time.  The diagnosis of PCOS a few months later came with the same good news: two pills a day, diet management, and I’d be pregnant in no time.  I embraced each new diagnosis as a sign that we were getting closer to our goal.  Looking back I still feel much the same, but I wish I could take myself aside and tell myself not to celebrate prematurely.  The doctor’s visits would continue, the diagnoses would continue, the familiarity with the American medical system and insurance regulations would bloom into another full-time job.  The journey was still at its starting point.  I needed to pace myself for the diagnoses and surgeries to come.

NIAW 2012 was the first I celebrated.  On Wednesday night we attended a fundraising dinner hosted on behalf of NIAW by one of the members of my new RESOLVE Peer-Led Support Group.  Yes, I’d formed my state’s first (and still only) support group.  I’d done it as a way to pass the time and to dull the ache of my first miscarriage a few months earlier.  The miscarriage that may have been/may not have been an ectopic pregnancy.  The one that was treated with chemotherapy that sidelined us from trying again for 3 months.  The one that was mismanaged by an OB/GYN that had no time or patience for me.  The one that inspired us to finally seek out a reproductive endocrinologist no matter the financial cost.  NIAW found me at the perfect time.  Our souls had been crushed, the tears were free-flowing, the sense of isolation and separation from the “normal” world was smothering me.  NIAW 2012 bore the message “Don’t Ignore Infertility!” and I listened.  I raised my voice in our support group meetings, I embraced my core group of “fertility friends in the computer,” I shared our story on Facebook to highlight the dangers of personhood legislation, I signed us up for the 2012 Walk of Hope.  Each bold and public move was underscored and fueled by another private setback or heartache.  2012 brought my second miscarriage, the laparoscopic surgery that diagnosed my endometriosis, several failed cycles with our first reproductive endocrinologist, and a job offer from another state that removed us from the support networks we’d built for ourselves just as it gave us the gift of working in a state with a (weak) infertility insurance mandate.  I learned the hard way that infertility can and does impact so many life choices.  Where to live and work, how to form deeper bonds with old friends and quick bonds with new friends through shared struggles, how to answer, “So, do you have kids?”  And, at the time, I was proud of the strength I’d found through my growing engagement with the infertility community and becoming an infertility advocate.  I still am today, but its become bittersweet.

Last year I started this blog, I submitted a post to the Bloggers Unite challenge, and I was humbled to be selected a finalist for last year’s Hope Award.  My public self was riding high on the cause of infertility, as my private self mourned the loss of our third pregnancy.  We’d seen the heartbeat only to see it cease.  We’d driven 8 hours in one day only to be told my our last chance specialist that only time would tell what would become of the pregnancy.  We’d traveled to maternity triage for an emergency D&C only to be told it couldn’t be performed on a Saturday and be sent home with sterile collection jars for the products of conception.  My “Join the Movement” post was largely, if not joyful, at least driven.  Yet, I wrote it as the Mister and I talked in quiet rooms about when “enough was enough,” when we’d move to a life without the prospect of children.  I was struggling to put my voice to it then, and frequently still struggle with it now, but last year’s post showed me even more clearly the duality of a life lived under the specter of infertility.  The pride, joy, empowerment, and, yes, even hope kept me going.  It provided me with a sense of self and purpose beyond my own struggles.  It made the injections and visits and surgeries bearable.  But, in time, that same empowerment, that same respect for my own needs and emotions, started to take away from the drive to continue.  It allowed me to reframe our failure to conceive and sustain a pregnancy as something other than failure.  It gave me the strength to set limits.  We’d complete an IVF package with all the pharmacological bells and whistles our far away specialist had recommended and when those cycles were done we’d be done.  The baby boy who’s kicking me resulted from IVF.  The “unnecessary extra meds” from the specialist – steroids and blood thinners – sustained the pregnancy.  The attentive OB/GYN I picked out of the yellow pages acknowledged my fears and ran the tests that got me my latest diagnosis – antiphospholipid syndrome.  The high risk pregnancy practice that OB/GYN referred me to has kept him baking even as my body has endeavored to resist their efforts.  All of the above led me to want to label this year’s post something along the lines of “Resolve to know more about how much dumb luck is involved in this process.”  But that ultimately felt off base with the emotions I’m feeling right now as I sit on the precipice of (hopefully) parenting after infertility.  And setting that parenthetical “hopefully” to virtual paper finally gave me my prompt, finally guided all the words you’ve read to this point.

This year I resolve to know more about the lasting scars of infertility.  The physical, emotional, and financial scars are ever-present.  They’re the nervous tick that keeps me from writing with certainty that I’ll definitely be parenting after infertility by June.  They’re the sadness I feel at having lost the connection to the woman I was during NIAW’s past.  They’re the frustration I endured when reassuring our accountant that, yes, I had indeed traveled over 4,000 miles for medical treatment in the past tax year.  And, yes, they’re even the raised red lines that traverse my pregnant belly marking incisions past, and reminding me of the incisions I’ll face in the future as I continue to navigate life with both endometriosis and a potential clotting disorder.

I never really thought that a lasting pregnancy would “cure” my infertility, but I also wasn’t quite prepared for how deep the scars would be and how sore they’d remain.  I miss that naive girl, I miss the (illusion) of health, and I miss the ability to make life decisions without questioning how they’ll impact me as an infertile woman.  For five years I was certain I knew my ultimate goal.  Yes, it changed a little – from pregnancy, to lasting pregnancy, to some sort of final and personally acceptable resolution to our infertility – but I always knew what we were reaching for.  I always had an idea where the finish line was located, even if I was having trouble getting there.  Today I don’t have that certainty.  Today it’s easier to reflect on where I’ve been, than to contemplate where I’m going, because it’s the past that’s given me these scars, and the past that will dictate how they shape my future.

Maybe I’m a bit strange, but when I woke up from my first laparoscopic surgery in 2012 I was proud of the scars that I bore.  They indelibly marked this struggle in a way nothing before had.  They added a physicality to this battle that I’d carry around with me for the rest of my life.  I’m finding now that those visible scars are just the tip of the iceberg.  Just as there’s no balm to vanish these incisions, there’s no salve to erase the many scars of infertility.  I continue to wear them all with honor.

 

To learn more about infertility, NIAW, and RESOLVE: The National Infertility Association, please follow the links below:

A bitter taste that doesn’t fade

Mid-way through the two-day intensive child birth preparation seminar we attended last weekend one of our instructors asked:

Who here thinks giving birth is going to be the hardest thing you’ve ever done in your life?

My hand stayed firmly at my side, while the hands of those around me shot straight up.  The mister and I gave one another a solemn, knowing look, and the moment passed.  It was likely a blip on the radar of so many others in the room – the woman who had to turn away during the bloody birth scene in one video, the many others who let out an audible gasp when our instructor introduced us to the Kiwi delivery device (the next-gen vacuum extractor), and the coach who got squeamish when our instructor noted that the prostoglandins in semen can induce labor.  But, to me, that 5-second show of hands was one of the biggest takeaways of our child birth education rite of passage.  I’m different.  We’re different.  Infertility doesn’t fade.

Don’t get me wrong, had the instructor phrased that question one of any number of different ways I might have joined in with my classmates.  One of the most physically taxing experiences of my life?  Sure.  Something for which I can’t be truly prepared until the moment arrives?  Absolutely.  An even that will redefine physical pain for the rest of my life?  I don’t doubt it.  But, to be entirely honest, I don’t suspect that the physical act of child birth will really, truly be the “hardest” moment of my life.  Whispering permission to die in my mother’s ear?  Bingo.  Walking in to maternity triage to get a double dose of methotrexate to terminate our first pregnancy?  Up there too.  Enduring 12 hours of contractions at home after being sent away from the hospital to birth our third dead fetus?  That definitely is on the list.  No, instructor, I don’t think giving birth is going to be the hardest thing I’ve ever done.

For better or for worse, I’m an education junkie and feel quite comfortable in the classroom.  That’s probably why I’ve built up the act of attending a child birth seminar in my mind so very much over these past 4.5 years.  It’s not that I’ve not gotten excited (and stressed) about finishing the nursery, and I even managed to find a sense of (uneasy) happiness at my first family shower two weeks ago; but, that child birth class?  That’s the moment I’ve most been waiting for.  That day that would tell me this is real.  I’ve always assumed that sitting on a floor huffing and puffing in comical fashion with a dozen other expectant couples would finally normalize this experience for me.  In a few ways, it did; but, in most ways, it absolutely didn’t.

Don’t get me wrong, we left with valuable information and I’m extremely comforted by the fact that I now have my bearings in the hospital we’ll be delivering at.  (A hospital I never set foot in until Saturday.)  Mr. knows where to drop off the car, I know what the birthing rooms look like, and we both know that there’s a definite disconcerting bounce to the upper floors L&D occupies.  (Thankfully, I don’t think I’ll be fretting about a bouncing building mid-delivery.)

It’s just that I also left knowing that pretty much nothing is going to normalize this pregnancy after infertility stuff for me.  And by that I truly don’t mean to be negative.  I couldn’t be happier or more excited to meet this little man in a few short months, and I don’t remotely regret attending the classes.  Just as they prepared us to navigate the built environment of the large teaching hospital campus we’ll be using, the classes also provided me with the knowledge that a certain amount of bitterness is going to be my perpetual bedfellow in this journey.  I won’t wallow in it, but, sometimes it’s just nice to know the lay of the land.

And, the emotions I experienced during the class aren’t likely to go away as we (oh please God!) transition from pregnancy to parenthood.  At just 30 years old, I felt old in the classroom.  In league with one or two other couples, we were the “old parents.”  We were frequently the babies in the infertility waiting room, so seeing so many faces lacking wrinkles and heads missing gray hair was unanticipated and a good bit unsettling.

Then I realized that most of our fellow classmates knew one another or knew our instructors.  The city we’ll be delivering in is kind of a “small town, big city.”  The nurses that led the class were the appropriate age to be friends with the parents of the mid-twenty somethings that occupied the room with us, and many of them were.  Other classmates were young professionals with the same local firms, and still others came from the nearby army base.

In all of this, one word prevails – “nearby.”  Each of our fellow classmates (like most sensible people) are a short distance from their hospital of choice.  We, on the other hand, will be traveling just about an hour to get this baby out.  We have to; I’m high-risk and this is the only hospital equipped to deal with high-risk patients.  As our instructors taught us to leave for the hospital when our contractions were 5 minutes apart, 1 minute in duration, over the course of 1 hour, one casually commented, “… because no one’s from over an hour away, right?”  I raised my hand and our instructions were altered to 7 minutes apart, 1 minute in duration, for 1 hour.

But, ultimately, I wasn’t worrying nearly as much as my fellow nervous classmates about deciding when to head for the hospital, because odds are our drive up will be timed to the convenience of our physicians, not my body, as they intend to induce if I get to 39 weeks.  And induction means doing it all at the hospital.  Being high-risk also means constant monitoring that made our tour of the whirlpool tubs and discussions of laboring in water all the more frustrating to listen to since those won’t be options for me.  At times, I found myself sitting back and mentally saying to my fellow students, “Oh, honey, don’t worry about how big that bathtub is… you’re gonna be begging for an epidural the second you roll in.  Accept it and move on.”

I had thoroughly othered myself.  An older transplant to the region that would never have the “typical” birth story (whatever that is!).  That’s not going away anytime soon, so acceptance sooner rather than later is probably a good bet.

Oddly enough, I only started easing into comfort with the classes on the second day when our instructors had learned enough to start calling me out as the special snowflake that I am.  On day one I was pretty miserable.  The class began as our instructors noted that, while their own pregnancies had been a while ago, they were still L&D nurses and instructors and were abreast of how the field had changed in the intervening years.  And, even more importantly screamed one, “My kids have given my grand kids!  Squeal!”  To which the other one replied, “Yes, my children have been delinquent and haven’t given me any yet, but they will soon or they’ll be hearing about it!”  The room laughed lightly, the instructors playfully jabbed one another, I turned a violent shade of fuchsia, formed my fist into a ball, and almost walked out barely thirty seconds into the class.  I was fuming for most of the rest of the 2.5 hour session.

Saturday morning was similar in tone, and then came lunch.  The instructors sat at our table and did something that oddly made me feel instantly better.  We had the names of our OB/GYNs on our name tags (to help us find our “labor buddies” with similar practices?!? Yea, no one else was with my MFM…) so the one instructor asked, “So, why are you with Dr. S?  He only takes really difficult cases, no?”  That might have made some of you squirm, but to me it was just the opening I needed to start the conversation about how I found her comments the day before a bit unsettling.  I listed off my resume – IVF, 3 miscarriages, antiphospholipid syndrome – and she went from playful (bumbling) kindergarten teacher holding the hands of a bevy of nervous fergiles to the educated L&D nurse instructor that she was at her day job.  From that point on – during the tour, through our discussion of pain management options, to the section on induction and labor augmentation – she looked me in the eyes, gave me additional tips and advice, and waited until I’d asked all my questions.  It’s amazing how you can go from hating something to loving something in the blink of an eye.  I even began to cut my classmates some slack, not the least of which because one particularly squirmy gasper overheard my conversation with the instructor at lunch and identified herself to the two of us as the survivor of 7 IVF cycles, the last of which landed her in our midst.

I’ve always known that there are many different and equally appropriate ways for women and men to endure struggle.  Mine has always been to latch on and find strength in difference.  To be brash in the defense of my journey and emotions.  I rarely sugarcoat the death of my mother, and – over time – I’ve come to be downright obnoxious about our IF.  It’s what works for me.  Others, though, are going to find strength in, well, not necessarily “forgetting,” but in moving on.  Child birth videos don’t make me squirm because, well, I’ve watched videos and seen pictures of my laparoscopies and those are a wee bit more frightening to my mind.  And, I was always a masochist throughout my IF.  I watched the videos, I read the child birth books, I was the most birth-educated non-mother around.  Whereas others can compartmentalize, I always wanted to know it all and know it NOW.  No one way is better or worse, but I sure wish I had taken the time to reflect on how my methods of coping would impact my move from IF to (lasting) PG after IF to (again, please God) parenting after IF.  Then again, I don’t know that I could have worked through this all any earlier than this moment.  That I could have anticipated how defining myself through difference would change when the differences became different.  And, that’s why I’m oddly happy we did take these child birth classes.  No, I didn’t need to learn about the stages of labor, or form bonds with my fellow nervous mamas to be, but I clearly DID need to work through some of this baggage.  And I think I’m closer now than I have been at any other stage of this pregnancy…

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.

Why’d you give me your mother’s card? and other questions

I’ve never been big on Valentine’s Day.  I just don’t get the premise.  A day set aside to tell your loved ones you love them?  Shouldn’t that be every day?

Granted, as a kid it meant candy hearts, paper cards, and chocolate.  But, those hearts tasted (and still taste) like chalk, the cards always devolved into a game of “whose parents are so poor that they had to give out the crappy cards?,” and, I know I know, I HATED chocolate as a girl.  Only the onset of menstruation really changed that one.  Yay?

So, as I awoke this morning to over a foot of fresh snow on the ground (on top of the existing 10+ inches), to absolutely no communication from my employer that we were getting so much as a late start, and to an email from my boss telling me she wasn’t coming in so I’d have to and be the sole person responsible for the department today, I wasn’t feeling particularly festive.  After dragging my mopey behind out of the shower, I started to post to Facebook:

Valentine’s Day?  M got me a freshly snow blown driveway; I gave him my endless appreciation.

When I got downstairs to the breakfast table, however, I found a card addressed in my husband’s handwriting to “Mom,” propped up next to a little black box.  Huh?  Clearly he’d gotten me a gift, but why was he giving me his mother’s card?  Wait, who gives their mother a Valentine’s Day card?  Hold up a minute…

Through the tears I opened said envelope to find a card picturing the both of us with little N’s NT scan picture nestled in between.  Through more tears I read the message from my men – my husband and my son.  By the time I opened the necklace the tears were flowing so quickly I couldn’t quite make out the beauty of the mother’s necklace (two intertwined hearts) through the surging stream of tears.

You win, Mr. But IF.  Well done.

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

There have been a lot of questions lately.  What will be the outcome of this pregnancy?  Where do I fit in the IF universe?  How can I help those still in the trenches?  Will I be a good mother?  Will labor be complicated?  Will I like my new MFM?  Will he have answers for me?  When we the electrician and drywaller get the future nursery done?  How will I find the time and energy to plan a surprise 60th for my mother-in-law the same weekend as my shower?  How should I react to my aunt’s sudden pronouncement that I must now drive over 800 miles round-trip in the third trimester to attend the shower she’s suddenly decided to throw for me?  Why, when we’re so close to getting what we’ve dreamed of, did I experience a severe bout of crippling depression two weeks ago?  Will HR ever give me a straight answer about my maternity leave?  Will the snow ever stop?

Each question deserves its own post, but just so many posts have gone unwritten lately due to fatigue, long work hours, and, above all, an uncertain mind and voice.

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

Last year on Valentine’s Day we drove up to the RE 9 weeks, 2 days pregnant, and drove home knowing our child’s heart had stopped beating.  Witnessing the global outpouring of love and joy (and commercialism) that this day brings as our own hearts broke into a thousand little pieces just made me feel numb.  The following day we went to our weekly Friday happy hour and I ordered the largest beer I could get in the company of friends and colleagues who knew of our infertility and pregnancy.  It allowed me to skip the questions; it enabled them to just jump to whispering, “I’m so sorry” over the din of a crowded restaurant.  Last year I wasn’t asking questions, I was just struggling to feel something, anything, even if it was just inebriation, as we waited for our own bloody red Valentine’s present to begin the coming weekend.

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

Asking questions is the province of those with time and unspent emotion on their hands.  I’m whirling in them now because there’s not much else to be doing.  Baby N is kicking and thriving, baby stuff is arriving on our doorstep at an unsettling pace, showers are being planned, and my new doctor is proving to be even more kickass than the one I left behind.  While last year I trudged zombie-like through the day – following our scripted path home from the RE, running into the coffee shop to get the biggest cup they had to offer and running into all our neighbors and their 2.5 children, sending emails and working at my desk with a dead fetus inside me – today my mind flits and floats with a lightness and inquisitiveness that only the content can know.