Is this thing still on???

Well, is it?  Are any of you still out there?  Does it really matter if you are?

Life’s been bumpy.  No lie.  I’ve been trying to find solace in journaling it out.  But, I’m not very good at accountability when I’m the only one I’m accountable to.  I also think I’m hopelessly a child of the Internet Age.  Even if I’m only typing into a unresponsive void, the knowledge I’m typing it out in a place where someone, somewhere, sometime *might* find my words instills me with greater comfort than filling a leather-bound journal locked in a desk drawer.  Maybe I don’t just marry narcissists?  Maybe I’m a wee bit of one myself, too?

So, I’m here.  I may jot some things down now and again.  And, I can be fairly certain they won’t really be about infertility.  I’ve got to thing of a new tag-line…

That said, “not when, but if” still feels pretty on point.  I really can’t say “when” anymore, without grimacing at the possibility that that when will never come.  When will I have romantic love and partnership in my life?  When will I feel stability?  Simply put, I might not.

But, there’s power in that.  I have no idea where I’m heading.  Nothing in my life has prepared me for anything that has happened in the past 18 months.  I think I’m finally becoming my own person.  Learning this new person.  Exploring the edges of this new person.  And, at 33, that feels pretty long overdue.

I’ve done some things

I’m still here.  Honestly, that’s about all I’ve got for this post.  At least, that’s why I’m writing.  Well, to tell the truth, the SPAM needed to be jettisoned.  Which meant I needed to log in.  Which resulted in having to look up the password.  Which resulted in a whole heap of sadness.  Which resulted in me really wanted to plant a sad little flag back in the ground over here.

But, the flag really doesn’t need to be sad.  In fact, it’s a pretty awesome flag.  Let’s review a quick list of changes since last I wrote:

  • I’ve moved.  New state, new house, new community, new life.  On the whole, this has been very, very much needed.  Were it not for some now-faraway and sorely missed friends, and a little niggling bit of sadness over our leaving behind and loved and cared for house, there would be nothing I’d really miss about our life of 2 months ago.
  • I’ve got a new job.  And I’m remembering how awesome life can be when you love and are totally inspired by your job and the people you work with.
  • I’ve got a stay-at-home husband.  Not gonna lie, that’s been bumpy, but we’re managing.  I’m gaining weight at a rapid clip thanks to his incredible cooking (both a pro and a con there, no?), and N’s been healthy(ish) for a good while thanks to the absence of daycare yuck.  Though, I also think he’s getting a little stir crazy…  judging by the fact that he runs to me when I walk in the front door holding his shoes and shouting “owside! owside! owside!”
  • I’ve got a toddler.  N’s running, and talking, and tantruming, and overall being a fully formed (if somewhat psychotic) little human.  20 months is equal parts captivating and horrifying.
  • I’ve still got a marriage.  And, oh Lord, the work that that has taken.  Let’s just leave that at that for now, shall we?

So, I’m here.  Are you?

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.

I’m many things

Should I admit how long it took me to remember how to even log in here?  Well, a while.  But,

1. I’m still here

Still chugging along.  Baby ButIF is now Waddler ButIF (daycare’s terminology, not mine).  He’s, just, so absolutely everything.  And into everything.  And falling on everything.  And eating everything.  Which means that…

2. I’m struggling with the rest

The blog, obviously, but also all other aspects of life.  I know saying it again and again doesn’t resolve it, but birth and death converging in the same 8 month time creates a wake so large I’m not sure when the ripples will cease.  Sometimes it feels like they never will.  And, of course, what gives first is caring for myself.  Not only mentally and spiritually, but also physically.  So now…

3. I’m hurting often

I’ve only recently realized that one thing that infertility gave me was carte-blanche to focus on my health.  It was 5 years of the best sort of self-obsessive, no excuses, endless war to health.  Or at least some sort of odd version of “health” that included drugs, and needles, and miscarriages, and scarred veins.  But, health it was.  When I ached, I went to the doctor.  When I bled, it was meticulously recorded on the calendar.  When I ate, I religiously popped pills with exactly the right dose of water.  When asked of symptoms, I had a list.  When telling my medical history, I brought out my own collated file.  Two years ago this week, we were starting our IVF cycle and I was logging long hours in the car back and forth to the RE.  Now I don’t have a PCP, my glasses are broken, I weigh more than the day I went into labor, I’ve had a suspicious bruise that’s ached for over a month, and I’m too tired to care.  When did it become so easy to stop caring about myself?  Probably about the same time that I realized that…

4. I’m lost and can’t find directions

I hate my job.  I own homes in two states, and am trying my damnedest to pick up everything we’ve made here and move to my childhood home.  My run-down, falling apart childhood home that we can’t even insure until we get a new roof, rip down the swimming pool, spend lots of money.  Money we don’t have thanks to the stock market’s timing, my husband going part-time to return to school, the cost of the tuition for that school, the cost of sending the littlest ButIF to daycare full-time due to inflexible child-care policies at the only daycare in town.  The town we’re trying so hard to leave, the town my husband isn’t in because he’s regularly fleeing to our other uninsured home to meet with contractors to spend money we don’t have.  Is it a home when there’s no family in it?  My marriage is, well, complicated.  But, as with our marriage, more broadly…

5. I’m not giving up

This isn’t a happy post.  An exuberant return.  It’s honest.  And, that makes me feel like I’m letting you down.  Just like I’ve felt like I’m letting so many people in my life down these days, not the least of which the littlest ButIF.  It’ll get better.  I’ll get better.  I feel better now than I did when I set fingers to keys, and I’ll feel better yet when I click “Publish.”  This blog is part of me, and part of me I’m claiming back.  I’m struggling and hurting and lost, but I’m here.

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.

Can you laugh your way into the looney bin?

The prospect of updating this space with news of the past 2 months makes me cringe.  How can you possibly fit all that joy and sadness, bliss and stress into an empty textbox?  When I started this blog it had one purpose.  To provide a space to scream loudly, cry publicly, type angrily about infertility.  Infertility.  That disease we so frequently suffer in silence.  That disease we still so frequently have to convince people is a disease.

Cancer’s not nearly so silent.  Yet, two months in to losing my second parent to cancer, I sit here silently.  It’s too much to type.  It’s too much to fathom.  It’s much too much to manage.

So, we’ll start with a story.  A single event.  And an event that’s even loosely tied to infertility when we’re all said and done.  Now lookey there!

I got my period on Tuesday.  The first since August 2013.  The first since IVF, since pregnancy, since the arrival of N, since my dad’s cancer diagnosis and craniotomy, since waving the white flag to breastfeeding with an insufficient supply and dying dad 7 hours from home.

When I pulled the toilet paper up to inspect it (will this nervous tick IF and multiple miscarriages ingrained in to me ever go away?), I saw the red.  When I saw that red I laughed.  I laughed a laugh so hard I shook.  I shook so hard I laughed some more.  At some point the laughter transitioned to screams of misery and tears of terror.  My face went numb, I laugh-cried, I fell to my knees.  This was it.  This was my breaking point.  This was surely the moment I wouldn’t recover from.

*******

30 seconds prior to that wipe, my husband was holding a fussy N and answering my father’s home telephone.  He was screaming to me, “It’s your aunt.  She wants an update on your dad.”

1 minute prior I was walking through the door of my father’s house with sushi takeout in hand.  I was greeting my husband and son, ready to settle in for a late dinner after a hectic day.  I said to my husband, “I really need to call my aunt and update her, but I haven’t peed since noon and I’m going to wet my pants if I don’t take 30 seconds to do this first!”

30 minutes prior I was driving in my car with my husband and son discussing how upside down the day had gone, how hungry we both were, and how much we needed to just get some takeout and relax for the rest of the night.  I was handing my husband my phone to call in my spicy tuna roll while I drove home from our errands.  I made plans to drop off the boys, let the hubby get a headstart on N’s bottle, bath, and bed routine, and go retrieve our food.

1 hour prior I was sitting in the Target parking lot with a fussy N in the back seat waiting for the hubs to return from getting the special AR formula my refluxey, fully formula fed baby now needed.

1 hours and 30 minutes prior I was standing in the aisles of Sam’s Club cursing them for not having N’s formula.  I silently mourned again the loss of the breastfeeding relationship I thought I’d have with my much longed-for child, but I quickly moved back to our mission.  More diapers and formula.  We’d be staying in town for longer than planned. We’d need more diapers.  More formula.  Feed the baby.  Change the baby.  Love the baby.  Don’t be so stressed when plans keep on changing.  We’d still have our Thanksgiving feast.  Dad’s would just be reheated in the microwave and served on a hospital tray.  We’d sneak N in in his adorable bow tie to cuddle with grandpa.

3 hours prior I was standing in the hallway of my hometown hospital listening to my dad’s quirky (aka obnoxious) oncologist utter the words, “He’s a tough old bird.”  No, he didn’t really know how this affected prognosis.  No, he didn’t know what the next few days would look like.  No, he didn’t know much.  “You see,” he’d said, “I don’t really know what to tell you.  I’ve only ever seen blood clots this bad mentioned on autopsy reports.  I don’t really know how he’s still with us.”  He literally has a clot floating in his heart.  Bouncing around with every heartbeat.  How is that even possible?  Ok, change of plans.  Not home for Thanksgiving.  Not home for a while.

4 hours prior I was sitting by my dad’s hospital bed explaining that we weren’t dooming him to live the rest of his life in a hospital.  I was explaining as simply as I could that there were two different things the doctors were talking about.  “Two separate things,” I’d said.  “There’s cancer and there’s blood clots.  You’ve got both.  One caused the other, but they’re separate.  You’re here because of the blood clots, and only here until we get over the hurdle with these blood clots.  You’re not here because of the cancer.”  When dad asked, “Then what the hell’s wrong with this doctor?  Why’s he so negative.  He had me thinking I was going to die!” I had to respond – again – “Dad, you ARE going to die.  The cancer will kill you someday.  Probably someday in the next 12 months to 2 years.  You’re here because the blood clots almost killed you.  And, they almost killed you yesterday.”

5 hours prior I was screaming at my husband that the fucking nurses station had me on hold for over ten minutes.  My dad could be dying right this minute and they’d put me on hold.  Then they hung up on me.  I was livid.  I called back, said I’d be there in 10 minutes, and I expected the doctor to be there waiting to talk to me.

5 hours and 10 minutes prior I was just taking my jacket off when my dad called from his hospital bed.  “I’m really confused and upset,” he said.  “This doctor came in.  I don’t know who he was.  Things are very negative right now.  He’s very negative.  Something very bad is happening.  Something with my test this morning.  I think he thinks I’m dying.  I don’t know what’s going on.”  I cursed again a cancer that manifests as transient confusion akin to Alzheimer’s.  I cursed again a doctor speaking to my dad without me being present.

5 hours and 20 minutes prior I was just settling in after returning home from visiting my dad and doing a giant grocery shopping trip.  The emergency room doctor the day before had said he could maybe be home by Thanksgiving.  I went straight from the hospital to the store, buying all things turkey and pumpkin.  We’d have a real feast.  My dad’s last, and N’s first.  If we were going to miss our usual big family holiday with the in-laws, we were at least going to gorge on turkey and make sure my dad enjoyed our visit.  All we needed to hear was that the echo they’d done that morning was clear.  He was obviously strong to survive so many clots.  To walk into the ER with a pulmonary embolism and only be complaining of a little shortness of breath.  A clear echo, a prescription for blood thinners, and we’d have our Happy Thanksgiving.

6 hours prior I was pulling out of the hospital parking garage feeling relieved.  Dad was in good spirits and less confused today.  He’d even been pleasant with the ultrasound tech.  Maybe I’m too used to reading the expressions on tech’s faces for my own good after more scans – internal and external – than I can count.  But, didn’t that echo take an awful long time?  Didn’t that tech get really silent?

*********

When I wiped red all I could think about was the day.  Not the emotions of it – the ups and downs, the bad news the good, the baby giggles and the terror in my dad’s weak voice.  I zeroed in on the places.  The grocery store.  Sam’s Club.  Target.  The Rite Aid next to the takeout restaurant.  They all had pads and tampons.  I didn’t.  Not a one.  I waded up some toilet paper, shoved it down my underwear, kissed baby and hubby goodbye, and drove to the Rite Aid.  My eyes were red and raw, I stumbled around like the drunk my dad was before cancer.  My laughter on the toilet echoed through my head.

As the clerk rang up my goods – value pack of tampons, pads, 500-count Advil, and, of course, a Hershey’s bar – I thought to myself, “Well, the day could have been worse, I suppose.  I could have run into someone from high school here in the pharmacy.  Doesn’t that always happen when you’re home for the holidays?  Dodged a bullet there.”

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.

N’s arrival, pt. 2

So, where did I leave off?  Ah, yea.  3am.  Pants soaked through.

This is really happening…

Actually, I spent a lot of time silently reiterating that.  “This is really happening.”  It didn’t seem real.  After months of Braxton-Hicks contractions that frequently worried my non-stress test nurses but never amounted to anything, I found it hard to believe that early labor was so contraction-free.  We were soon settled into our rooms, wrist bands applied, IV access inserted, and consent forms signed.  Now what?  I decided to sleep, and encouraged the mister to do the same.  I was quickly snoring in my cushy bed, as the mister tossed and turned in his straight-backed chair.  You see, the nurses casually mentioned during our birthing classes that the L&D floor had fewer reclining “dad chairbeds” than they did birthing rooms, but we foolishly assumed that it would be highly unlikely that we’d miss out on said chairbed.  Trouble is, when you come rolling in to the hospital at 3am you’re arriving after the rest of the floor has been tucked in for the night.  No chairs to be had for the mister, and, as a result, barely any sleep as well.  (This will become a recurring theme through the remainder of this tale!  Stay tuned for future posts!)

4am: 2cm dilated, 60% effaced, -3 station

And, so I slept.  Finally at around 7am the contractions started rolling in at a level that, while not all that bad, did make it impossible to sleep anymore.  I do think the poor mister was grateful to have me awake as he had long ago given up on sleeping.  The nursing staff changed over at 7am and we met our new nurse, Liz.  When we first met she said, “Well, my shift is over at 7pm, so you better have this baby before then cause I want to meet him!”  It sounded somewhat optimistic to me at the time (“I’m a first time mom, isn’t this supposed to take FOREVER!?”), but little did I know then that Liz would prove right.  The nurse encouraged me to eat something before labor really started going, so I called up and ordered oatmeal, grape juice, and a piece of turkey sausage!  Certainly one of my weirder breakfasts, but I was unsure about eating too much before labor, but wanted to throw that sausage protein in there for good measure.  This would not be the last time I ridiculously overthought my meals while at the hospital!  In retrospect I wish I had ordered A LOT more.  Note to self: Eat while they’re letting you eat because you don’t know where or when your next meal will come!

10am: 3cm dilated, 60% effaced, -2 station

This is when the decision-making started.  I wasn’t all that surprised that little had changed in 6 hours as I was still comfortably talking through most of my contractions, but it was discouraging none-the-less.  Not the least of which because this meant Liz had to talk to the resident-on-call about beginning augmentation.

As a bit of a refresher: I was hell-bent on a drug-free birth.  (I hate the phrase “natural birth,” don’t you?  It just reeks of smugness like the women who use pain management, who have c-sections, who do what’s best for their babies are somehow “unnatural.”  But, I digress.)  My reasons were many, but I’m finding them hard to articulate now, after-the-fact.  The reasons are there through the anger of my resentment post, but they range from a desire to turn the pain of labor to joy after laboring to deliver 3 prior miscarriages, my wish to experience the same type of labor my (long-dead) mother felt, my fear of drugs increasing the risk of the c-section I’d fought tooth and nail to avoid, my worries that another abdominal surgery would further impair my fertility and/or take more control away from me regarding my reproductive choices, my need to be fully alert and engaged in the process I’d fought so hard to experience, my hard-earned knowledge that my body responds negatively to analgesics, and a healthy dose of stubbornness and commitment to proving how “tough” I was.

So, it was hard not to panic once the discussions of augmentation began.  While I had nothing against pitocin, I worried that allowing a little pitocin would be a slippery slope into pain meds.  At the same time, I had to balance that fear with the knowledge that 1. without pitocin the labor could drag on endlessly and result in my becoming so tired that, again, labor would go differently than I’d hoped, and, 2. that I was working on a hospital-mandated clock because my waters broke at home.  We had 24 hours from when my water broke (11:30pm the prior night) to get the baby out the way I wanted before hospital policy (stemming from a fear of infection) stepped in.

In an odd way, the decision-making was made even harder by the fact that my experiences with my nurse and the resident were completely different from what I’d expected.  Throughout IF and my many other medical (mis)adventures, I’ve gotten serious mileage out of stubbornly pushing my wants/needs/expectations onto less-than-thrilled/less-than-receptive medical professionals.  Given the stories you hear about hospital births in modern America I expected much the same.  I’d have to fight to see my wishes through, I’d have to constantly remind myself to consult the BRAN acronym (What are the Benefits, Risks, Alternatives, and results if we do Nothing?) when having options forced on me.  My actual experience was quite different.  The doctors and nurses were completely hands-off with all decisions, almost to the point of causing me extreme frustration.  If they expressed no preference, then how was I going to battle them?  How would I know if I was winning?  The pitocin decision was just the first of many that went this way.

11am: Started low and slow pitocin drip

Somehow, I expected all hell to break loose once the “nasty” pitocin started.  And, yes, it definitely got worse, but, no, it was still nothing like I expected.  I was giving my longstanding IF-friends-in-the-computer Facebook play-by-plays through it all (have you wondered how I have this all memorized down to the hour?  I don’t – I’m going through old Facebook posts!), and when I mentioned that the nurse was off to get the pitocin one good friendly kindly offered, “Well, I don’t know how you feel about epidurals, but my advice with pitocin is to take the f****** epidural before you think you need it. I was so stuck on having a natural Hypnobabies no-pain-meds birth and… I wish someone had said, hey, pit contractions really are different and it’s OK.”  Not gonna lie, that concerned me.  I was beyond grateful for her advice (and for the fact that before she offered said advice she asked, “Can I offer my unsolicited advice about pitocin?” first… always a good plan!), but my experience was different.  I know I have a high pain tolerance, but I’m also not arrogant enough to think it’s that high.  Namely, I think the reason pitocin and I got along so well was because the nurse agreed to use a teeny-tiny dose and slowly step it up each half hour.  So while the pitocin definitely got things rocking and rolling a little faster, it didn’t lead me to want to break out the drugs immediately.  And when the contractions started picking up in frequency and intensity, and subsequent pelvic checks showed progress, the nurse happily stopped upping the pit and left it at my happy sweet spot.  So far, so good.

That’s not to say that I loved the pitocin or even, in retrospect, think it was entirely necessary.  I grew to have a LOT of angst over the fact that pitocin meant an IV drip and constant contraction and fetal heart rate monitoring.  Those requirements meant I could no longer do my laps around the L&D floor unencumbered, but now was chained to an IV pole.  And, in the beginning, even that wasn’t an option.  Our long string of “good luck” continued.  (I’m not even counting IF, here, but more things like, oh, the fact that the fertility clinic’s entire computer system was down on the day of my embryo transfer so, after years of waiting and knowing what was “normal” for an ET day, we left without seeing or receiving a single picture of any of our blasts…)  Turns out the hospital’s only high quality, portable heart rate/contraction monitor was out of batteries.  And the nurse couldn’t find the charger.  Hilarity ensued over the course of an hour as every L&D nurse scoured the floor looking for the missing battery pack.  It would have been comical if it weren’t for the fact that I was, as a result, left with only about a 5-foot tether between me and the monitor.  I paced that same 5 feet of hospital room continuously for nearly 2 hours before a battery pack was found.  That made me happy for, oh, about 20 minutes until I’d passed the point where leaving the comforts of my room (and bathroom… all those IV fluids!) seemed reasonable.  When pacing went out the window, all I wanted was a birthing ball.  You know, the birthing balls the childbirth class instructors promised us they had in spades?  Yea, turns out they didn’t have any clean balls available either.  So I paced for another hour while I waited for a ball.  The nurse reassured me we were just “lucky” (no chair for hubs, no battery pack, no ball…), but I told her that wasn’t much solace.  I mean, it’s not like I’d be back in next week to see whether the service was better or not.  But, yes, I do think it helped that I maintained my sense of humor through it all.  😉

4pm: 4cm dilated, 90% effaced, -2 station

This is when discouragement started.  Even after all the pep talks, all the knowledge that – especially in first timers – effacement matters more than dilation, all the visualization I’d done while swaying on my long-awaited birthing ball, hearing “4, 90, minus 2” shouted out made my heart sink.  The pain had started in earnest.  After hours of saying, “I thought it’d be worse!” it was now getting worse.  The hubs tried to chat with me as he clocked my contractions on an app on my phone, and in the lull between contractions I repeatedly shouted, “I can’t f-ing talk right now.  Just time the damn things!”

At around 5pm I got off my birthing ball for the last time and instinctually got on my hands and knees on the bed.  Sweat started pouring, tears streaming, groans constant.  I repeatedly had to remind myself to breathe.  I shouted to the mister with the start of a new contraction and sunk into the deepest, rawest pain I’ve ever felt.  Time stopped.

My contraction timing app promised me that in transition contractions could last up to 60 to 90 seconds.  To that I call, “bullshit!”  The contraction that came as I rested on all fours lasted a full 6 minutes without stopping.  By the third minute I was begging for it to end, by the fourth the nurse had entered the room and asked if I needed pain management, by the fifth I’d consented to an epidural and she’d left.  When it subsided I turned over and looked at the mister.  He stroked my brow with a cold cloth, held my hand, and said,

“Are you SURE?”

When the nurse reentered a few minutes later with the epidural supplies I told her I’d changed my mind.  The contraction had passed and, as long as I knew that they’d pass, I’d survive.  It was the fear that derailed me.  The worry that the new pain I was feeling was the pain I’d be feeling constantly until he was in my arms.  As long as I knew I’d have even a few seconds to recover in between, I could manage.  Despite my worries that the nurse would be frustrated with me (what silly things we worry about!), she gladly consented and informed everyone there’d be no need for an epidural.  She went back to checking my monitors without skipping a beat.

Now, many women would probably strangle their husband’s for doing what the mister did, but I’m so grateful he did it.  Many might see his words as questioning my decision, as a failure to support me, but I saw the opposite.  He knew how much a med-free birth mattered to me, he truly believed I could do it, and, as we made the decision to forego the epidural together, he kept saying over and over, “I know you can do this!  I know you’re further than they think you are!  I know how high your pain tolerance is and I wholeheartedly believe that was transition and the worst is behind us!  I know it will be easier from here on out!  I know you can do this!”  And, sure enough, he was right.  It was exactly the support I needed at exactly the moment I needed it.  And, as odd as it may sound, I’m so thankful to IF for his support and my receptiveness to it.  Those moments in that delivery room would have gone quite differently if we hadn’t already had 5 years of supporting one another through the worst under our belts, had we not had the ability to communicate volumes in one look or one hand on the forehead.

At around 5:30pm (the timing gets blurry here!) I told the nurse I REALLY needed to push.  She was beyond skeptical and reminded me I was only 4cm and -2 just over an hour earlier.  She patted my hand, said, “Let’s see if you can have a few more good contractions before I call in the doctor to check you,” and left the room to go back to the nurses station.  A definite hint of panic spread across the mister’s face when he realized he was left all alone in a room with a wife screaming,

“I NEED TO PUSH!”

He held my hand, tried to soothe me, and reassured me it wasn’t time just yet; I squeezed his hand, told him to stop being so patronizing, and bitched about the moron nurse who’d leave a laboring woman alone in a room.  By about 5:45pm I told him, “Screw this, I’m pushing.  I don’t care whether she thinks I’m ‘ready’ or not!”  By 5:50pm I’d pushed through 3 contractions and hubs pressed the panic button and screamed, “Can you please come check her!  She’s pushing!”  Half of me was frustrated my husband had “tattled” on me, the other half was thinking, “About f-ing time you stood up for me!”

The nurse sauntered in, calmly reassuring me that it wasn’t time yet, but she’d gladly call the doctor to come check and give me a progress update.  As she walked by the bed to get to the intercom I think she saw a little more than she was planning on.  The next thing I heard was,

“Get the resident in here NOW!”

Even through the pain I was impressed by the well choreographed dance that played out next.  The bed was broken into a birthing table, more nurses and doctors appeared like magic, each person knew their place, each person filled their role.  Oil was rubbed on the peritoneum, the bassinet was warmed, the spotlight was on, and I couldn’t stop praying that the window that looked out into the neighboring office building was, as I’d hoped, composed of one-way glass.  The resident arrived at 6:05pm and finally gave me formal permission to push.  The on-call attending (amazingly, the same compassionate OB that referred me to the high risk center in the first place!) arrived at 6:20pm.

And our beautiful son was born at 6:25pm on June 12, 2014.

Pushing was a relief after being denied permission to push for so long.  It felt right, it felt natural, it felt like progress.  But the nurse and resident had so convinced me that I had a long road ahead of me, that I couldn’t accept that my pushing was going to be over anytime soon.  As the resident said, “Just a few more and you’re there,” I looked at my husband and said, “She must be kidding, we just started!”  With eyes the size of saucers he looked back at me and said, “No, she’s not.  I see a head.  And LOTS AND LOTS of hair!  Push!”  At that point I realized that he must have been swept up in the grand plan to fool me into being more compliant and motivated for the long road ahead.  I made a note to myself to punish him for his deceit later.  Yet, a few moments later, a wave of relief rushed over me as I felt the head be born.

Still in shock, I reminded myself that that was the worst part and the rest of the body should just easily slip out.  It was over.  I’d done it.  Except, why was there still so much pressure?  Why wasn’t he crying?  Why wasn’t I holding him?  The resident calmly explained that, yes, the head was out, but he’d crossed his arms and was giving himself a big bear hug.  I mean, that would be heart-meltingly cute, right, if it weren’t for the fact that that meant his upper body was now even bigger than his head.  Little stinker!  Despite delivering the head without major trouble, delivering the upper body took the resident a few agonizing minutes longer and resulted in second degree tearing and many, many stitches.  (And probably set the stage for the lovely hemorrhoid I’m still nursing as I type this!)  Nevertheless, he made his quiet appearance into the world.  I only vaguely remember the cord being cut, but I remember each breath, sound, sight, and smell as they placed him on my chest for the first time.  Despite my expectations I didn’t cry, I just held him.  And in that moment I realized he wasn’t crying either…  His eyes were open, and, though he was blue, I knew that was normal.

So why wasn’t he crying?

He was swept away by the nurses and immediately under the care of the NICU staff that they’d called down at some unknown point during the struggle to free him.  My heart stopped for a few moments and it was all I could do not to jump off the table (even as the resident delivered the placenta and began stitching me up – two events I barely remember).  The NICU nurse calmly explained that babies usually spend a little longer than 20 minutes in the birth canal, and that that time is important as it’s when a lot of free fluid is pushed out of the baby’s lungs.  (I knew this fact quite well since it was one of the worries I had should we have had to have a section.)  I couldn’t stop thinking that my quick labor caused it.  The mommy guilt started within 30 seconds of his birth!  After a few (very scary looking) go’s with a long suction tube we started hearing little chirps, then bigger wails, and I knew all was right.  Despite the worry, he wouldn’t need to leave our room, and he never spent any time in the NICU.  He was ours and he was healthy.

He is our dream come true.

NCD ~ June 12, 2014 ~ 6:25pm ~ 7lbs6oz ~ 21in

NCD ~ June 12, 2014 ~ 6:25pm ~ 7lbs6oz ~ 21in