Monday, April 24, 2017

Listen Up! Infertility Doesn't Just Affect Women

This post during NIAW is written from my husband's perspective. Even though he is biologically "fine," infertility affects him as it does me. This is his essay he wrote for a grant we applied for. As you can see, while I am the more serious one, he definitely brings laughter into my life. He has been my rock over the past several years and has kept me sane. He's reminded me that it is still ok to laugh.




 My path to attempted parenthood started off similar to others, and for the same reasons.  Lara and I had been talking about having kids ever since I got out of the Navy and had a regular work schedule.  Our family includes two goofy and sweet dogs, but I always wanted to add children to the mix.  Every time we visited our nieces and nephews, after holding and playing with them, I always felt longing and wishing that we could have children of our own.  But since we made the decision to start trying, we could never figure out Lara’s ovulation cycles. 


“Wait, ok,” she would say while hovering over a calendar, “I ovulated last time two days early, which altered the ovulation moving average to 3.567 weeks, but my basal temperature hasn’t changed just yet so that means I’m a day late, which means I should be ovulating…let’s see…tomorrow?!”  I’d scratch my head at the charts and graphs she had sprawled out across our kitchen, not to mention the kooky equations she was using. “Why not worry? We could just try every single day!” I added with a smile.  The face melting look I got told me that my suggestion was not a viable option.


Despite repeated attempts to predict Lara’s ovulation cycle (and a chicken bone necklace on my part), we sensed something was amiss, but couldn’t really determine what it was.  Lara would watch television, and a generic nuclear family with 1.5 kids and a baby would be featured.  Lara would look at it wistfully and sigh, “I wish I had a bun in the oven.” Because I am a proud male descendant of Neanderthals, I am completely oblivious to subtlety and remarked, “Oh, buns are gross. I prefer biscuits.”


It wasn’t until I was in bed, after hours spent puzzling as to why Lara pelted me with pillows, that it hit me: “By golly, you were talking about wanting a child!”


So after months of trying, our gynecologist finally gave us a referral to a fertility specialist who officially diagnosed Lara with polycystic ovarian syndrome.  “What does this mean?” I asked. “It means it’ll be difficult for us to get pregnant.”


I was devastated. Did this mean we’d have to resort to dressing the dogs up in baby clothes? Who would I tell my awesome dad jokes to? “Stop being so dramatic,” Lara replied. “It means we’ll have to start seeing the fertility doctor to check if I’m ovulating regularly.”


As it turns out, Lara was not. Despite my chicken bone necklace, we’ve had to resort to hormone therapy with no success.  After the fifth round of therapy and numerous test, we’re slowly starting to come to the realization that we may have to resort to IUI or IVF as the end point, as well as paying for a majority of the costs out of pocket.  But as I explained to Lara, my view is that it’s just one more hoop to jump through to have a kid and totally worth it.

As most of you know, we've decided to skip IUI and to try for our first IVF round, hopefully soon! And as my husband says, whatever hoops we have to jump through, we will, because in the end, having a baby will be worth all the hoop-jumping in the world.

Sunday, April 23, 2017

Listen Up! The Lonely Journey of Infertility

Today marks the official start of National Infertility Awareness Week or NIAW. Throughout this week I'll be posting on different topics and different experiences on my infertility journey. The first post is a hopeful post on how infertility doesn't automatically mean loneliness. 

The journey of infertility. Oh how to explain this to people who don't understand? 

A year ago I was asking my GYN for a referral to a fertility specialist. I remember sitting in my car, alone, crying after that appointment. Even though I wanted to move forward, I hated that I had to take this step. I thought I would be joining the ranks of sad, angry women who thought all the time about stealing children from hospitals or who were so drugged up from infertility injections that they couldn't function. 

A year ago I sat in my car, alone, crying because I thought that I would lose all my friends, that my family would shun me and that my husband would eventually give up on me. I sat in my car crying because in the span of a few minutes I had completely changed, my life had completely changed and I was about to go back to work to people who would never know what this felt like. How would they react? How would I get through this? 

A year ago I sat in my car ,alone and crying, and made the first, of a lot, appointment with my RE. A year ago I couldn't have imagined how far I would go, the friendships I've made, the thing I've done, the strength of my marriage. A year ago. So much has changed. 

The lonely journey of infertility can be really lonely. And I know that sounds redundant so let me explain. Everyone's journey is different. Everyone has a different reason for joining the infertility family and so in that way, everyone is "alone" on their journey. Even though another woman may have PCOS, her journey and mine are not the same. But you don't have to be alone in the walk. You don't have to be alone in the darkness. 

I felt alone for a long time after that day. For weeks I tried to make sense of what was happening. Why it was happening. I tried to atone for my sins, because surely that would stop this madness. Each step we took, each new treatment we tried was always I step I had felt for sure we would never have to take. I was angry and frustrated and I hated myself. I couldn't understand why my husband stuck around. 

And then I went to my first Resolve support group. I was late, because why not? When it was my turn to share I could barely get through the first part of my story before tears came. I felt shame and embarrassment that I couldn't even hold it together for strangers. And then I looked up. They were all looking at me but not in a judgmental way. Some even had tears in their eyes. They all were looking at me in empathy-they had all taken this same step before. All of a sudden I felt like I could breathe again. I stopped screaming at myself. The hurt in my heart lessened a little bit. I was surrounded by people who knew. With them I didn't have to sensor my feelings, my frustration. And I didn't want to. Each month I went to a meeting and each month I connected with someone who knew what I was going through. Each month I met another amazing person. And each month I felt more hopeful. 

I am lucky enough to live in Richmond, VA where there is a very active infertility community. In fact, we are so active that each year for the past four years we've held a race to raise grant money to help sponsor the journeys of five very lucky parents-to-be. 

This year, my husband and I were so fortunate to have been chosen as grant recipients for the 2017 race. We, along with four other couples, spent the past several months planning the race, sharing it with family and friends, and spreading infertility awareness. 

Yesterday was the day of the race and it was one of the best days of my life. While I can't say that this journey has been easy, I do not regret the people that I've met, the friendships that I've made, the experiences that have made me a stronger person. It's taken me a long time to accept infertility as part of who I am. I have come to love my journey, I wouldn't change it for anything. The people I've met in the past year are some of the strongest people I know. They have held my hand as I struggled, they have let me cry with them. My infertility family means everything to me. 

And just like that, I'm not alone anymore. 

Sunday, April 9, 2017

Anxiety

Lately, I have been feeling anxious. I have been trying to think of things to do so that it feels like we're moving forward. The race is in less than two weeks (!!!), which means that we'll soon start the "getting ready" portion of IVF. I am excited and terrified. I was reading back through a text conversation with a friend last night. Hard to believe that just a few months I was so sure that we would never have to try IVF. And yet here we are. Just a few short weeks away.

I realized why I have been so anxious the last several weeks. IVF is not even remotely close to other procedures we've tried. We WILL be making babies, they'll be only 3 or 5 day old embryos, sure, but that's more than anything I've ever had. And I think that's why I'm anxious. Because before, even if there was fertilization, I never knew it. But this time, I will KNOW that there are embryos in there. And if they don't stick, I will have actually lost something.

Did you know that you can see your embryos before they're transferred? You can actually see the little tiny microscopic embryos before they go in. There's an acronym that's used for women in between transfer and confirming a pregnancy two weeks later: PUPO. Pregnant until proven otherwise.

So there you have it. The reason for my anxiety.

I sincerely believed we would never have to utilize IVF. I really did think that the other things would work. But they didn't and here we are.

Just a few more weeks. A few more weeks until, what I think will be, the most emotional roller coaster time of our lives.

Another "hurry up and wait." I hate "hurry up and wait."

Sunday, March 5, 2017

Barren Rose

In the backyard of our house we have a Rose of Sharon tree. To see it in the spring and summer is a privilege. It is absolutely gorgeous; flowers blooming, beautiful green leaves. And the blooms last a long time; it continuously blooms from spring until late summer.

And then the blooms go away.

And while the shape of it is still beautiful-it is no longer awe inspiring.

I no longer yearn to sign at the window, just to watch the tree.

It is winter. And it is no longer fruitful.

That's a bit how this feels, how infertility feels.

We are in the middle of a cold, dark, barren winter. My heart is as empty as the tree's branches. My soul is brittle and can be snapped like a dead twig that falls from the tree's trunk. It is hard, to get through these tough, lonely months.

But eventually...there will be warmth. There will be sunshine. There will be light and a soft breeze and those buds will flower and grow and spread throughout.

And just like our Virginia winters, my winter has pockets of spring where I'm reminded of who I am and not of just my failures or faults. I feel like I've been in a pocket of spring in the midst of a deep, dark winter.

And I think-there might be-a warm breeze blowing our way after all...

Monday, January 30, 2017

The Meaning of Words

You guys, I wanna talk about the power of words for a moment. 

Earlier today I was having a conversation with a woman who I had just met. We share multiple mutual acquaintances and we were talking about the race (see previous post). 

She said I was brave. 

I have to say I was stunned. And not just for a moment, but for awhile. All semblance of thought had left me. I had no words. And my eyes teared up. 

In all of this, in all of this crap and awfulness that we've gone through, that word had never entered my mind. I never thought of myself as brave. For the most part I think I'm just lucky to get through each day without having some sort of...well, something. There was a time where I was lucky to just get out of bed-and let me tell you, that took some pushing. There was a time when I didn't want to do anything except lay on the couch and stare; yeah, the TV was usually on, but nothing registered. There was a time when I would have given ANYTHING to not give myself one more stupid shot because I was so bruised up and no matter how much you ice your skin those big needles still hurt like a mother. There was a time when I was not myself. When I hated myself. When I did not think that I deserved any good or any niceness. There was a time. 

And there are still times like that. 

But being brave? No, there was never a time like that. 

Except. Except...

Do you know how much courage it takes to jab a needle into your stomach? I do. 
And then-to do that once, twice a day? I do. 
Do you know how much courage it takes to go to the store to get tampons because you couldn't even finish your two week wait before your period came? I do. 
Do you know how much courage it takes to talk to your friends, your friends who don't know, ask them about their children and watch these beautiful children, who you love, grow up? I do. 
Do you know how much courage it takes to not cry uncontrollably when a very well-meaning person asks tells you you'll make a wonderful mother some day and then asks when that will be? I do. 
Do you know how much courage it takes to hold your friend's newborn, three days before your first fertility appointment? I do. 

I know so many amazing and wonderful and BRAVE women who have all done this, and more. And yes, they're brave. These women-WE-have so many reasons to just shut the door on life and crawl into bed and stare. But we don't. We do the hard things. We do the painful things. We smile and keep on going. Because we're brave. 

And I did not realize that until I had a conversation with a woman I barely knew. 

Thank you. 

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

My New Family

This is a happy post. With good news!

Two days before Christmas, Trey and I received an email. It was in response to this amazing opportunity we had applied for back in November.

It was a difficult application. A lot of it was the usual demographic information. I had to get a letter from my fertility doctor, which was a little more difficult than I planned; there was some miscommunication in the office and then I don't think I explained what I needed from him very well.  And then, the hardest part: explain our story to a handful of strangers. Trey seemed to make it very easy; throughout this whole process he has been very light-hearted, very hopeful and optimistic; it's usually the reverse in our relationship.

But how to explain everything to these people who didn't know me? Who may not understand that I try and hide my pain so that I don't inconvenience anyone, including my husband? How do I explain that I often use sarcasm to mask the words that I really want to say?

The answer: Just put everything out on the line. Put your heartache, your pain, your feelings out in the open, for everyone.

And that's exactly what we did.

The opportunity is called The Race to Parenthood 5K, which is the main event of the non-profit The Road to Parenthood. This is a non-profit organization that helps couples going through infertility treatments fund their pathways to parenthood. 100% of the donations and race proceeds go to five Featured Couples.

And we were chosen. We were chosen as a 2017 Race to Parenthood Featured Couple.

And I cried, which shouldn't really be surprising at this point, but this time it was a happy cry. It was a relief cry, it was a hopeful cry. Because after all the failures, all of the disappointments, we had hope. We were given hope. And that was such a wonderful Christmas present.

Immediately, all of the past Featured Couples and race organizers welcomed us "to the race family." And that phrase really struck me.

We are a family. True, we're not related by blood; but we are related by experience. A life-changing experience. The people in this family already know us, because they've been where we've been, they've had the same ups and downs. And while several of them have their little miracles, that doesn't take away from the fact that they had to go down the same road we're on right now. And that makes us a family.

The Featured Couples are divided into teams based on colors (green, red, yellow, orange and purple). We were chosen for Team Green and we met our awesome mentors, who were 2016's Featured Couple. They have been so nice and so wonderful; they have opened their arms to us and we actually haven't officially met yet!

I am so excited about what's to come in the next several months as we plan our 2017 race. I am so excited to meet the other 2017 Featured Couples and know that we are going to be lifelong friends; that our kids will be friends for the rest of their lives because of what their parents went through.

I have been thinking about My Monster lately, though. There has been so much good stuff happening to us lately, that I almost feel back to my normal self. Of course, she is still there.  She will always be there, though hopefully she'll be dormant for a good long while. My Monster will never go away; she is forever a part of me. You can't erase her just like you can't erase our experiences, our troubles, our bumps and obstacles. Infertility is a life-changing experience; at the end of the road, whatever we decide our end to be, we will be different. Hopefully stronger different, but different. No matter how much I want to, I will never be the Lara of 2012 or 2013 or even 2014 when our journey began. And that's not necessarily a bad thing. Our journey is not a bad thing; we have met the most amazing people, we have become stronger as a couple, I've learned a whole lotta medical stuff and I know how to inject myself (which could come in handy, you never know), and in the end we'll be able to live and love the choices we've made.

As I said during art therapy: I only want to be proud of myself when all this is over. I want to look back, no matter the outcome, and know that I have no regrets, that I made decisions for me and not because of someone else, and that I did the best I could. And that's all anyone can ask of us, really.

SO. I hope you all will follow along on Facebook or here on the blog for all of our updates on the race and on our journey. Once the race planning gets into gear I'll post "newsletters" on our blog so that those who are interested have the information.

You'll see this a lot and I'm not even sorry:

Go Team Green!!!

Monday, January 2, 2017

Moving Forward-Reflections

It's Christmas again. I feel like it was just Christmas. My parents warned me about this phenomenon of time speeding up as you get older. Like most other things they told me that I didn't believe, they were right. It has been a rough year. For most of it, my life has been doctor's appointments, shots, blood work, more shots. And waiting. And then more shots. And losing our spontaneity and freedom to come and go as we please.

Our last hormone cycle failed. I didn't even make it to "test day." Which, in retrospect, not having to look at another negative pregnancy test was nice. Nice probably isn't the right word but you know what I mean.

A lot of things have changed over the past year. I am no longer the same person. My perspective has changed; the way I interact with the world has changed. Even my marriage has changed.

A year ago, I was still under the care of my OB/GYN and we were in the middle of doing Clomid cycles. I was so naive. I didn't think of myself as "infertile." That was a four-letter word to me. "I'll just take some pills and 9 months later we'll have a baby. It'll be easy!" Never did I think that I would give myself shots every day for weeks at a time. Never did I think that I would become so used to reading vaginal ultrasounds that I would get excited about seeing follicles before my doctor would even point them out.

Never did I think I would be someone who would actually look forward to giving myself shots because at least that meant I was DOING SOMETHING.

The two weeks waits were the worst. Sit around and wait. Or, my new most hated phrase "Wait and See." If you want to torture me don't even consider water-boarding, just make me sit at home for two weeks and whisper "Wait and see" in my ear every hour or so. That's torture.

I have turned into a bitter, glass half empty person. I no longer get excited when my doctor mentions success rates, high egg counts, good uterine lining. I am anxious all the time because I want to go ahead and move on to the next thing. I have become a walking, talking infertility-hormonal-pin-cushion-science-experiment.

And then the WORST thing. The thing that I think and I wonder "WHERE did that come from?!"

The thought of, "What if I stop wanting children?" "What if I HAVE stopped wanting children?" and then I mentally hit myself over the head with a 2 X 4 because that's not true. And I hate myself for even allowing that thought to enter my brain. Of course I want to be a mom. It's the only thing that keeps me going, this unreasonable, buried deep inside hope, that one day I will be a mother. And then I stop crying, pull myself out of my hole, and ask "What's the next step?"

So, what is our next step? For us, it's IVF. We decided not to try IUI; it doesn't increase our chances and we'd rather spend our time and money on a procedure that gives us at least a 50% chance of becoming pregnant. I am young, I am healthy, if a tad (or more) overweight, and chances are good.

We're taking a break over the holidays, because they're stressful enough, and will resume everything after the new year.

Maybe a break will be good. Maybe it will allow me to have a little optimism again. Maybe it will bring me back to myself.

Writer's note: This post was written several days before Christmas. In an attempt to lift my/our spirits we decided not to publish it until after the holidays. It's 2017 now and while we still face the emotions and challenges that come with being a couple struggling with fertility, we feel a renewed hope for this coming year. Good things (more on that later) to come!!! To everyone who has been so supportive, so loving and so caring: we appreciate you more than you'll ever know. Happy New Year!