I’ve got to admit, I’m at something of a low point. Until now, things always seemed to work out according to some sort of natural order… and if they didn’t, it was removed enough from my day-to-day life that I was able to deal and keep going.
Losing the infertility battle, though… it feels like I’ve been cut in half, scooped and scraped clean, and refilled with something unfamiliar and painful before being put back together. I don’t know how to move forward. I can’t figure out what comes next.
Though far more painful than the last, it’s not the first time I felt adrift…
On Friday, we celebrated our sixth Belvedersary. Every year, on the day after Thanksgiving, we mark the fateful day in 2010 on which a weird series of events led to our next big step. I was in grad school at the time and had spent nearly six years being trained for a career in academia… a career that I knew I didn’t want. But a girl needs a job and I was desperately searching for an better-than-nothing position as a post-doc after graduation. Until that day we celebrate year after year.
On the day after Thanksgiving in 2010, and please forgive me for repeating myself (it’s been a while), Seth and I were in Wisconsin for the holiday when my in-laws suggested we head to Marshfield for a fish fry at the Belvedere Supper Club, a quick stop at Festival Foods for a couple bottles of Captain’s Walk White to bring back to Maryland, and a tour of the Marshfield Rotary Winter Wonderland at Wildwood Park and Zoo. On the way through Marshfield, I noticed the big clinic anchoring the town… and the rest is history.
My future as a Scientific Research Writer was literally triggered by a million tiny light bulbs.
It doesn’t get much more obvious than that.
So yesterday, my amazing-at-humoring-me in-laws came to Marshfield to join Seth and me in celebrating our sixth Belvedersary.
First, a fish fry at the Belvedere.
Then, the lights at Wildwood.
It was so much fun. It’s always fun. And it’s such a good reminder of how things can work out, even if it’s in a way I couldn’t in a million years have anticipated.
And last night, celebrating our Belvedersary with people I love very, very much, my ucky new insides didn’t feel quite as painful as they did the day before. I don’t know if the future will be as clear as the million lights at Wildwood this time, and I know that I’m going to hurt for a while, but there will be a future. Somehow, some way. Just not the one I imagined.
It’s been a long five years, but the journey is over and it’s time for me to reflect on what that journey has been like for you. Miserable, right? And oh my gosh, am I ever sorry.
Five years ago, we started trying to get pregnant. It was fun at first (wink), until a couple of months had gone by and we had to get a little more serious. So I watched you like a hawk. Just tracking at first. Then predicting ovulation, a basal body temperature first thing in the morning, peeing on ovulation predictor sticks. The doctor refused to see us in that first year, that’s how it works — nothing for 12 months. And month after month, the fear grew, the frustration built, I hated you.
So, I started to subject you to ever more invasive interventions. It was just pills at first — the clomid with it’s bloating, headaches, and artificially elongated cycles that led to unrealized hopes month after month. Then came the intravaginal ultrasounds… and those wouldn’t stop for the next four years. Probes and clamps and ultrasounds and ultrasounds and ultrasounds. Six months later, the clomid had failed too.
So we traveled to Madison. Three rounds of IUI, four of IVF. Pills, injections (so many needles — bruising, bleeding, nerve damage), sticky patches and adhesive burns, another hysteroscopy, with a camera this time, so… many… ultrasounds… and every time, failure. Except the one time, when for 10 weeks when we thought otherwise, only to result in a stopped heart, a nearly unbearable surgery, and the worst months of my life.
It was awful, really. But it was impossible for me to let go of the hope, nor the anger at you. Until now.
Because, Body… you endured. The sticks, pokes, clamps, ultrasounds, surgery, heartbreak. You endured all of that, plus the physical symptoms of grief, anxiety, depression, and extreme stress. You may not have made me the baby I had so desperately hoped for, but you did every other thing I asked. Even ran that marathon. And for that, I am grateful.
So, Body, I’m done now. And you’ve certainly earned the kindness coming your way. At least 5 years-worth, probably more. I promise to give that to you. Of course, there will continue to be physical consequences for a while yet… you’ve been through a lot and I can’t make it all go away in an instant, particularly the physical manifestations of the anxiety and depression as I work to figure out a new way forward.
We’re in this together, and you’ve hung in there through some seriously tough stuff these past five years. I’m sorry for what I put you through, I appreciate how hard you let me try, how long you let me hold on to what was an impossible hope. Thank you for that. I’ll do better for you from now on.
So much love, for real,
PS: Next time someone tells you to “relax,” permission granted to take swing.
I answered the question by sharing my story, by putting my words out there, and engaging (with the internet) in an honest and authentic way.
It’s been stilted lately, though, this little blog-o-mine. And I’ve struggled to figure out why.
Last week, I enjoyed my first two days at Leadership Marshfield, a training program put on through the Marshfield Area Chamber of Commerce and Industry (MACCI) focused on enhancing the ability of potential community leaders to function effectively. It was an amazing experience and I’m really excited to continue with the program over the next 7 months… but it’s already had an impact.
On the second day of the two day retreat, we were instructed to prepare to share our personal leadership hero(es) with the group… with a prop. Naturally, on my way home from day one, I stopped at the (brand spanking new and beautiful) Everett Roehl Marshfield Public Library to check out a copy of Sheryl Sandberg’s Lean In. (Don’t get me wrong, I own it, of course… but a Kindle just doesn’t make a terribly effective prop, in my opinion.) It was actually on the cart behind the circulation desk to be reshelved, which made my heart happy knowing someone else had recently had their hands on it, and I brought it with me the next day.
The next morning, I stood up in front of the group and talked about my two leadership heroes:
(1) Sheryl Sandberg, COO of Facebook and author of Lean In, who changed my entire perspective about what it really means to engage in my life, my workplace, and my community. She taught me not to be ashamed or afraid of what and who I am, to value myself for my talents and my passions, and to move forward, with gusto, whenever I’m able.
(2) Ronda Kopelke, Director of the Marshfield Clinic Center for Community Outreach, who showed me what an amazing manager and leader should look like, up close and in practice. She continues to teach me (literally daily) what it means to really care about the people around you and to help them understand that you do. She’s also shown me how to be solution-oriented and engage with people in a positive, respectful, relationship-focused manner.
I sat back down, and then Shelley from Roehl popped up (sharing at Leadership Marshfield is popcorn-style… mmmmm… popcorn) and was mad/glad that I stole her thunder/had the same leadership role model as her. Again, my heart, so glad!
I thought a lot about Sheryl Sandberg that day, chatted with Shelley about her and about Lean In at the ROPES course (yes, I did the mother effing high ropes!! impressed? I am! go me!) and thought about what it was that reading that book had done for me and how it had changed my trajectory in the first place.
Sheryl Sandberg was the one who had asked me (and the millions and millions of other readers of Lean In) that question that started it all: what would you do if you weren’t afraid?
And I did those things. A lot of them. The blog three years ago. The ROPES course three days ago.
But I had never thought about the converse question:
What does it look like when you’re living in fear?
I know the answer now. Not on purpose. Not because I want to. But I look back on the last year and I can see, so clearly, what it looks like when I am afraid and I choose to live there.
I run. Literally, metaphorically. All of the above. I ran from my life and from everything that hurt and was scary. I ran and ran and ran. A marathon. Until I broke my foot (not literally, I just pulled a ligament, but it hurts like a b, so there’s that). I ate my way through Festival Foods to run from feelings and stopped vacuuming my floors. I ran from real life. I said yes to everything and anything at work to run from free time and I have ensured that I’ve had none over these past several months. No time to think or dwell, only run. From one assignment to the next. One workout to the next. One bag of chips (or box of candy, carton of ice cream, etc) to the next.
I even ran from writing and sharing and speaking and connecting. So much of me was just so tender and everything and anything could be salt in the wound without warning.
I have been afraid.
Of what, though, really? Grief after a miscarriage is one thing, but fear? I mean, fear that it would happen again would be rational… but you have to get pregnant first for that to be a possibility… getting pregnant is even less my strong suit than staying pregnant, so what then?
The what, I have to assume, is failure. That infertility wins and this is it. And “it” is failure. A life of settling because I can’t do the thing I want to do. That I felt so strongly I was supposed to do. Meant to do even. Family is the next step — love, (schoooooool), marriage… baby carriage. Even my childhood rhymes said so!
It hurts to fail. And I can do physical pain, but emotional? Nope. I hate it. It feels bad to be jealous, too. And I felt like I had replaced my rose-colored glasses with green ones, everywhere I looked ultrasounds and bumps and even literal baby carriages that weren’t mine. Might very well never be. I don’t like those feelings. I don’t like to fail. So I ran, cowered, stopped vacuuming.
This September, the anniversary of all the bad stuff came and went. The missing heartbeat on September 11th. The surgery on the 16th. The black days immediately after when I felt like I couldn’t breath… and didn’t want to. A year later, I’m still here. Still moving. And slowly recognizing a haze of fear. Recognition.
I take you back to the scene in Love Actually when Mark confesses his completely unrequited love to Juliet (yes, I’ve literally already said this) and then walks away, saying to himself, “Enough. Enough now.” It’s like that. Just like that.
Time to move on. To stop being afraid. Or, at the very least, to stop running from it. To face fear head on. Like Brene Brown and FDR’s man in the arena (highly recommend Brene Brown’s Daring Greatly). But also like Shana Niequist in Present Over Perfect (my newest and truest literary love affair) — sitting with it, even when it’s uncomfortable. Letting myself feel it and living my life anyway.
We have a lot of moments in life that are before and after type moments. Things that define us. But sometimes the moment is longer than a moment. Sometimes the moment is more like a year. For me, it was a year of fear. A year spent running, but getting nowhere. Except back to life. And that’s ok.
“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.” – Your Mom
Or maybe not your mom. Maybe it was your dad or a great auntie. Maybe a principal or a well-meaning member of the safety patrol. Whoever it was — someone said it to you at some point. And you got the point. Unless you’re trying to fix the problem, you are the problem. We’ve all internalized it. And since no one ever ever wants to be the problem, our natural inclination is to offer solutions, to fix it.
And then we all grew up a bit. If you’re anything like me, you became even nerdier. Maybe you even got into the chem scene (which makes chemistry sound cool, don’t you think?). If that’s the case, you may have latched onto this alternative adage — my personal favorite:
“If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the precipitate.” – All the Nerds
It made you laugh and laugh (not as much as the ether bunny or the ferrous wheel, of course), but you knew deep down that it was only a chem joke. Not a real life lesson.
Or is it?
I posit that it’s a better saying, really. More accurate for particularly complex problems, like infertility. Because to extend the chemistry metaphor a bit further — in the case of infertility, there are only two solutes in solution. My partner and myself. Anyone else can really only be part of the precipitate. A precipitate can’t fix anything, it just hangs out in the tube, separate. But that doesn’t make it part of the problem.
In the wake of our most recent crappy news, we’ve been offered a lot of love, a ton of support, and so very many ideas for next steps — ranging from “just relax” to offers of surrogacy and referrals to adoption case workers. These fixes come from a place of love, good intentions, and probably also a subconscious devotion to the first quote above. Unfortunately, it’s no one’s problem to solve. Instead, it’s Seth and my path to walk and because I know it’s hard to understand, hard not to want to fix, I thought it might be nice to share some aspects of infertility from my own perspective.
But you ain’t got no eggs!
Infertility happens for a million and one different reasons. Or even for no discernable reason at all. There’s male factor and female factor infertility. One or both partners can be affected. There can be no eggs, poor eggs, an inability to release eggs. Similarly, no sperm, poor sperm, immobile sperm. It can be mechanical — related to the shape or size or functional ability of the uterus, the shape or size of the vas deferens. It can be scar tissue, the result of surgeries, childhood radiation treatments. Genetic, chromosomal, hormonal issues. All of the above, none of the above, anything in between, or something else altogether.
We started out with “unexplained” infertility (i.e. everything seemed to be just fine). While it’s good to have nothing obviously wrong, lack of diagnosis makes treatment much more difficult — everything is just a guess at that point. However, after lots of tries (see below), we ultimately ended up with a diagnosis of diminished ovarian reserve. That means that despite being just 32 (and only 27 when we started trying to conceive), my eggs are just about out. The tank is approaching E and the few eggs I do have left are poor in quality — hence the miscarriage late last year. That’s our reason. And ultimately, it has the greatest impact on our potential solutions. So while I appreciate the offers of uteri for rent and the like, that’s not actually going to help me one bit. My body is technically quite capable of carrying a healthy pregnancy, we’re just missing half of the equation.
Grieving the loss of imaginary piggies.
Miscarrying last September was really hard. It was the most difficult experience of my life to date and the grief still comes so fiercely sometimes that all I can do is hold on and ride the wave for a while. I still had hope though, I thought that pregnancy would be followed by another. That we would have our own children. As it turns out, though, the lack of eggs means that the thing I’m really grieving is an imaginary future — one that was never going to exist, but always felt real to me in my mind. I’ve spent years wondering about the curly blonde babes Seth and I would someday bring into this world. I’ve always imagined us like Piggy and Kermit — all the girls would be pigs, all the boys would be frogs. Would they have my green eyes or Seth’s blue? My ready, beaming smile or Seth’s slower, more mischievous, lopsided grin?
And then just like that — I’ve been removed from the equation. No piggies at all. I can’t pass on the Vonck mouth. My genes won’t ever go anywhere, no matter what we decide to do next. That’s a hard pill to swallow. Something I have to wrap my mind around. Another loss to grieve, but how? There’s no memorial in the cemetery for this loss and it’s hard to know how to let it go.
All magic comes with a price, dearie.
After more than a year of trying to conceive on our own, we sought medical care for infertility and decided early on that we wanted to exhaust our possibilities to have biological children. And exhaust them we did. We’ve spent many, many, many thousands of dollars on diagnostic testing and assisted reproductive technology ranging from simple clomid and timed intercourse to intrauterine insemination (IUI) and finally two rounds of in vitro fertilization (IVF) over the course of 4+ years. Side-effects, needles, injections, ultrasounds, surgeries, procedures, tears and snot and stress and rage and bloating and month after month after month of disappointment. We did it all for a chance — all at great cost.
None of it worked for us. Now we know why. And because we’re quite certain that we do indeed want to be parents, we’re left looking at the next set of alternatives.
Egg donation, adoption, fostering. And even those options have sub-options — fresh or frozen, international or domestic, public or private. And those sub-options have sub-sub-options — how do you pick a donor? Physical characteristics? Genetics? Occupation? Personality? Psych profile? And if you adopt — are you prepared to wait for an eternity? Are you willing to let a birth parent pick you? What if they change their minds? What if you fall in love with a foster child and then they get sent back to their biological parents (Wisconsin focuses on reunification whenever possible)? Can you bare that? Can you bare any of it?
It’s a lot to think about. So much to process. And all of it — every last option — comes at great cost. Physically, emotionally, financially. On top of everything we’ve already been through, every time we hear “at least” (e.g., at least you know you did everything you could, at least you can afford it) or “just” (e.g., why don’t you just adopt?) it’s like salt in the wound — minimization of everything we’ve done so far and the difficult road ahead to family. Yes, we are fortunate that we can consider options, but that doesn’t make the necessity of considering them any easier.
It’s not you, it’s me.
The ugliest truth about infertility is that it colors everything. Over these last four years, infertility has become increasingly woven into my being and I have a hard time separating who I am from this thing I can’t do. I’m not proud to admit it, but in the face of cutesy pregnancy announcements, #blessed ultrasound pictures, and bow-decked baby bumps, happiness for those that I love and a sense of jealousy and bitterness are always there in equal measure. Of course, I wouldn’t wish infertility on my worst enemy, but that doesn’t mean I handle fertility with any kind of grace and I’m issuing a blanket apology for my poor reactions. It’s not you, honestly, it’s me. And presumably, someday it will get better, easier, to just be happy.
But here’s the most important thing: the announcements, photos, bumps, hashtags, motherhood memes — none of them have anything at all to do with me. So you shouldn’t stop doing them. It’s all worth celebrating and my scroogey attitude shouldn’t take away from that.
Conversely, radical self-care and self-preservation means that some Facebook friends are hidden and I won’t be RSVPing yes to a baby shower or making any more baby blankets for the foreseeable future. It’s too painful. I don’t ask for forgiveness or even understanding, just patience.
All roads lead to Rome.
Ultimately, there are a lot of different paths to parenthood. At present, I struggle because I don’t like any of the choices. Or, more accurately, I don’t want to have to make a choice. I will come around though. I always do, but as I said above, there’s no “just” about any of the paths. Once pregnancy via sex and waiting is off the table, nothing feels simple anymore.
In my present state of mind, egg donation proves that Seth really should have married someone else and fostering/adoption is unlikely to work out considering that even God wouldn’t choose me to raise a child — why would anyone else? Thankfully, Seth is much more capable of rational thought at the moment and I’m slowly starting to wrap my mind around some of the options. One foot in front of the other, all the way to Rome.
Not everybody wants to go to Rome.
But then again — Rome isn’t for everyone in the end. And there’s nothing wrong with making that decision for yourself. Families come in all shapes and sizes, Seth and I are a family all on our own and puppy makes three. Ultimately, though, the societal assumption is that if you’re infertile, you want to have children in any way possible and there’s the tendency to push couples struggling with infertility to pick a road and get to parenthood, one way or another.
Right now, Seth and I are pretty certain that we want to find a path to parenthood, but I think it’s really important that people accept any choices we do decide to make from the perspective of the precipitate. These things are incredibly personal and based only a little on biology, medicine, and rational thought. More than anything, we have to trust our emotions, our hearts, and each other to make the right choices for us moving forward. We both have to be on board with something 100%, no judgement if not.
The same goes for any other couple, any other family, and if you find yourself interested in learning more, I highly recommend perusing CNN’s recent infertility awareness week series. I shared this article on Facebook this morning and got a great response to it:
I’ve been spending a lot of time lately with the writing of Brene Brown and Anne Lamott and Jenny Lawson. Brave women who share their stories in an honest and beautiful way — they’ve opened me up to a whole new level of comfort in the idea of vulnerability and struggle and story telling and I think that for me, infertility is another avenue for that. The ranks of the infertile… not a tribe I’d have chosen to join, had it been a choice at all, but it’s a fierce one and I’m in good company. Someday, I’ll have a very intentional family and Seth by my side and I’ll be in good company then too. Thanks so much for being here through it all <3
Guys, I am struggling. All the hormones, all the waiting. The exhaustion — mental and physical. The guilt and negative thoughts. I’m really struggling.
But after an hour of tears in my therapist’s office and the ugly sobbing of so many incredibly unkind words toward myself, Dr. C suggested a thought exercise.
While I can’t quite wrap my mind around self-kindness, to treat myself as though I were a good friend, I can invent a friend and do pretty much the same. (I’m excellent at make believe, which is the nice way of saying lying.) I can invent a friend with a new diagnosis of, say, MS. (She was infertile at first, but Dr. C though maybe that would be a bit too much. So MS it is.) A debilitating and life-altering disease. A diagnosis that affects an individual and his or her partner. Sort of like infertility…
What would I say to that friend?
To my fictional friend, recently diagnosed with MS.
Your life is different now and will always be different. But your life is most definitely not over.
In fact, nothing has actually changed. Instead, you have an answer. It’s a terrible, horrible, no good and unwanted answer. But it’s an answer. And the answer doesn’t actually change a single thing about you.
The MS was always there. It’s a cruel trick of genetics, fate, chance. A cruel trick of whatever it is you believe controls the uncertainty in life.
It’s not a punishment or a judgement on your moral fiber, the being that is you. It’s a circumstance. And you are not a victim of circumstance.
You are brave. You are resilient. You are head strong and heart sure. You love and are loved. None of those things will change. They are, like you, unshakable at their core. Because they make up your core.
Yes, there will be bad days. Days when MS feels like the only thing. When it feels suffocating and dark and all encompassing. Those days will pass. And there will be good days, days when you forget MS exists at all. Those days will pass too. Each is only a day. A day inhabited by the same brave and beautiful you, capable of anything and everything. Even surviving, living, thriving.
No one who loved you before loved you because you didn’t have MS. And there’s no reason to expect that anyone will love you less because of it. You are loved for something much deeper than your external circumstances, including what your body can or can’t do — by your spouse, your family, your friends, your dog. Like you, those loves will not change.
But the MS may, and likely will, change your mind and work some magic on your heart. It may increase your capacity for empathy and understanding. Maybe it has done these things already. Yes, it may also sometimes make you feel jealous and ragey and bitter about the able-bodied, unaffected folks around you. But a small price to pay for the beauty and appreciation and opening of heart you get to experience, don’t you think?
It’s not so much that MS itself is a blessing. More so that it’s not a curse or a punishment. It’s not out to get you. It’s not your fault. And because you are who you are, you can take what MS gave you, the cliched lemons, and make some cliched lemonade. Maybe some lemon bars too. Because you’re talented in that way and always go beyond the cliche to find something a little deeper and a little more dusted in powdered sugar.
Yes, MS is forever and it is yours to live with for all that time. But you will. Live. And love. And be happy and sad. Joyful and sorrowful. Grateful and jealous. Brave and scared. Just like everyone else, but also a little bit different than most.
I can’t necessarily understand, but I’m here for you, as your friend, as someone who loves you. And I’ll always be here for you, as someone who tries to understand and never stops loving you. No matter what.
Meant to be a mom or not, I can be a pretty stellar friend. Certainly a better friend than internal monologue-ist (which is not a real thing, I just invented it to make the point that I’m a total jerk to myself). And now, when my own verdict arrives in the near future, I can read the letter above. I can sub out the MS and sub in a state of infertility no longer changeable. And most importantly, I won’t have to go to my crappy internal monologue-ist for her thoughts on the matter. In fact, I may even have to let her go and re-post for the position.
We’ve decided to go in another direction…
Help Wanted — Qualifications: eloquent, Harry Potter fan with good sense of humor. No jerks need apply.
And with that, I suspect I may be trying to hire Mindy Kaling as my internal monologue-ist. She’s even had appropriate experience. This could be excellent.
According to Salon.com, the old “definition of insanity” adage is “the most overused cliche of all time,” which makes me laugh, because I’m about to do it again.
I started by googling “crazy is doing the same thing” to find out who actually said it and quickly learned that it wasn’t crazy that I meant, but rather insanity. So I started over again… “insanity is doing the same thing” and found that in that respect, the Internet went wild re: attribution. As the Internet is wont to do. Maybe it was Einstein who said it. Maybe not. But as Salon suggests, lots and lots and lots of people have repeated it, myself included.
They say that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.
They who? I don’t know. The all powerful, ever present “they,” I suppose.
But are they right? And should I discuss it with you? These are the questions on my mind at present.
I’ve told you my infertility story. Dramatically recounted it in excruciating (to you, I’m sure) detail. So as I sit here, at the cusp of doing it all again (where “it all” = IVF)… I’m left wondering what to do about the words.
A while ago, there was a Twitter campaign associated with the hashtag #WhyIWrite. My response:
To let the words out. Some people really liked my response. Liked it enough to reach out to me personally, and that was really cool.
Honestly, it didn’t seem that profound when I put it out there. It was just my truth, but I can see why it resonated with other writers. They must, like me, at times get so over-stuffed with words that the release of writing is the only way forward. I’m not sure that this was ever truer than when I went through IVF the last time. The wild swings and crazy ups and downs filled me to the brim and blogging through it was incredibly cathartic for me. The release was exactly what I needed, the words on the page helped me to shape the thoughts in my head and explore the feelings wrapped around my heart, and the support I had through all of it from you, my dear readers, was phenomenal. It was so important to me, so valuable, and I feel so fortunate that writing, sharing, connecting in this way is a part of my life.
BUT. The definition of insanity…
We have decided to do IVF again. Just one more time. As I mentioned previously, for reasons beyond the blog-o-sphere, our chances of success are… what’s the right word?… low doesn’t quite do it justice… unlikely seems too bouncy… dismal seems a bit over dramatic… I’m not sure what the perfect turn of phrase is here, so I’ll borrow from our mutual frenemy Effie Trinket — the odds are not in our favor. Not now and definitely not in the future, so if we’re to have any chance at all of doing the baby making thing in this way, this is our shot. And we’re taking it. One more time, and only one more time. Given the poor odds and our previous experience, however, I have to wonder whether this is truly me bordering on the brink of proverbial insanity. And as such, what right do I have to run wild and free through Internet land talking and whining and ruminating again on something that may be just as insane (stupid/silly/dumb/wasteful/pathetic) as my inner mean girl (and the maybe-Einstein quote) would have me believe?
So… by way of long and twisty explanation (always)… I’ve been really back and forth about whether or not I should write about any of this again. Lots of self-deprecating cons (e.g., this is insanity, right? do people really want to read more about any of this? how much more could I possibly have to say? won’t it get repetitive?), but then the single, most important pro came to mind and it changed my mean, mean, mean mind: infertility is a big part of my life and IVF is where my head and heart, and by extension my words, are going to be for the next couple of months. That’s where I will be, where I am, and where I am is the only place from which I can truly connect with people, with you. So that’s where my words need to come from.
Ultimately, the point of my writing, and therefore Under the Tapestry, is to connect. And connections is, as I recently identified, one of my three core values. One of the things that really drives me, gives me purpose. Connection, grace, and humor. So, here we go again — pull the lever, Kronk!
But seriously — maybe you would hate to read even one more single infertility related word? If so, tell me now! Uterus? Did I lose you? Granted, I have a feeling that I’m going to be gushing about a certain marathon in the very near future too… so there’ll be other thingzzz. I just think I’m probably going to say some things about my uterus too. Cool?
In my last post before the Worst Thing happened, the one where I talked about being scared about the Worst Thing (EFF, right?), I ended with an HP quote from Hagrid, the loveable half-giant groundskeeper of Hogwarts. I said:
It’s funny because I thought that when the IVF was over, we’d have an answer and I’d feel resolved in some way. But I don’t. Not at all. Excited and happy, of course, but definitely not resolved. And what I probably need most of all is to circle back to that lovely prayer of relinquishment — the one that, with both hope and gratitude, accepts what is to be. Or, as Hagrid says, “What’s comin’ will come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does.”
It made sense when I said it. It made me feel like a confident person, ready to handle anything, good or bad, with a bit of grace.
I’m devastated and angry and broken and oh so messy — always on the brink of a sob, full on water works with snot and ugly crying and ohmygod why does my mouth do that. Swollen lips and puffy eyes. Kleenexes and kleenexes and kleenexes. There is not a single thing that is graceful or dignified, stoic or brave about it.
But I finished HP very, very early on Friday morning (I fought the sleeping pills — which are the only thing keeping me alive, I believe — until 1:40 in the morning, just to see sweet Albus Severus get on the Hogwarts Express). And it was fitting that I finish it now, the end of the series coinciding with the end of… everything. The IVF, the pregnancy, all of it. Interestingly, though, the thing that meant the most to me this time around wasn’t the defeat of Voldemort, the duel between Mrs. Weasley and Bellatrix Lestrange (“Not my daughter, you bitch!”), or Neville’s moment of glory. I still felt sad over poor Fred and overjoyed at Ron + Hermione. Grateful to Narcissa and shocked, pleased, amazed over Snape. But the thing that meant the most this time around… it was Hagrid’s grief over Harry’s lifeless body. His absolute devastation in that moment, the messy, sloppy tears and absolute wretchedness. It led me back to remember the other moments that Hagrid wept, over Buckbeak (whew) and Aragog (also whew?). Nearly lost it when he discussed his dear, departed dad.
The very same Hagrid who said with confidence implying grace and stoicism: “What’s comin’ will come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does.” And I suddenly felt just a little less stupid about all the things I’d said. Have ever said. The things I told my therapist made me a complete and total idiot, full of shit, writing and writing and writing about things that made absolutely no sense and that I didn’t actually believe when it came right down to it. (He said that we probably didn’t need to discuss that quite yet, but that doesn’t mean I haven’t obsessed anyway.) Because what was coming did come, and I have met it as I am. Having said all the things I said and wrote all the things I wrote. I never did promise to meet it with grace, just to meet it — because what, exactly, does grace look like when your baby dies??? Quite frankly, I reacted just like Hagrid would have. A curly-haired, creature-loving, half-giantess in my own right. Snot and tears and full on grief — grief because I loved. Like Hagrid.
But, sadly, also like Voldemort. Because when my baby died, a piece of my soul went with her. My grief is like Slytherin’s locket turned horcrux, hanging heavy around my neck. Making me think crazy, twisted, untrue thoughts — all the reasons it’s my fault, all the reasons I deserve to hurt, to have lost, to not be a mom. It drove Ron mad, and he was magical… what chance do I have?
But then again, Ron found his way back. The strength to try again. I guess I have to believe that I will too because despite the fantasy, the magic, the make believe… is there anything truer than Harry Potter? Good and evil, yet nuanced — “the world isn’t split into good people and Death Eaters. We’ve all got both light and dark inside us.” And outside us too. We all spend time basking in the brightest light and plunged into the deepest dark. Harry, Hermione, and Ron… Ginny, Luna, and Neville… Hagrid and sweet Dobbie, even Kreacher… they can teach us so much about that.
I started re-reading the series from the beginning on the day I started injecting the IVF drugs, in the hopes of producing a baby who loved it too. Of imbuing my eggs with a sense of magic. Of passing that on to my little one.
But she didn’t need it. I did.
It’s fiction. Children’s stories. But it’s parables too. Messages and lessons and thoughts worth thinking about, characters worth learning from. When nothing else helps, I’m glad I had it. Have it. Magic.
I had surgery last Wednesday. I woke up heart broken and body destroyed.
I’ve spent a lot of my time crying since then. And by Sunday, all the crying started to make me feel panicky — shouldn’t things be getting easier? Why does the pain keep coming? Wave after wave, worse and worse.
I made an emergency appointment with my therapist on Tuesday morning. I told him that I couldn’t stop the thoughts and that when the thoughts came I couldn’t stop the pain. The tears. The torture.
He reminded me that I’m grieving. He told me that this is normal.
I had a follow-up appointment from my surgery with my ob/gyn today. I told her about all the bleeding that comes and goes, about my puffy, swollen (think over-risen bread in a loaf pan) ankles and feet. Everything hurts. She reminded me that I just had surgery. That my ovaries are still hyperstimulated. She told me that this is normal.
I explained it all to Seth over gchat and ended with “I hate this new version of ‘normal.'” It was the truest thing I ever typed.
Normal has never been this hard. Normal has never felt so broken.
One of the weirdest things about this new normal is the lack of intense focus, the goal in mind. We’ve tried for years (YEARS) to get pregnant. Appointments, pills, ultrasounds, procedures, injections, the works. Since April, when we started gearing up for IVF, the intensity has been even greater. All eyes on the prize. And we won the prize. We held it in our hands, so briefly. Even after winning, so to speak, the focus didn’t lessen — 9 months ahead to parent-dom and a baby on the way. The goals changed, but they were still intense… eat not to vomit, avoid the smells, schedule the appointments, do all the things. Until in one awful moment, there was no longer any goal at all.
And this weird place, broken body and soul, became my new normal.
My therapist suggested on Tuesday that maybe now I just focus on healing — my body and my mind. It’s hard to say ok to that, honestly. Because I don’t want to heal, I want my baby back, to go back to two weeks ago when that little heart was still beating inside me. But one of those things is possible and the other is not.
So to heal is the only way. The only focus worth having.
Healing has to become my new normal. Maybe I can hate that less?
Admittedly, healing definitely starts from without in this instance. I can’t tell you… can’t even begin to express… how much love and support Seth and I have felt in this difficult (absolute crap) time. My friend Margaret said to me, “I pray that you can look out the window at a beautiful day (as I’m doing now) and be able to thank God for all the amazing blessings that you HAVE received, knowing that there will be many more to come.” And the blessings that we HAVE received are unbelievable and generous and innumerable and amazing. We have so much love in our lives, we have each other, we have our pup, our families, our friends, our jobs, our health, and so many other really, really Good Things. Even the weather, which actually has been lovely, like Margaret said.
We are lucky in a lot of ways. And no one is lucky in all the ways.
On Saturday evening, my dad and I sat on a boardwalk on Mackinac Island watching the sunset over the bridge.
Admittedly, my faith has been shaken and my beef with the almighty feels kind of big right now, but my dad assured me that someday, I will find Meaning in this. Even this. I think he’s probably right. I can’t look too hard for it at the moment. I’m still too sad, too angry, confused and upset and… as I’ve said a million times, broken, to find it. To even know where to start looking. But maybe that meaning is what comes with healing. And eventually incorporation of that meaning into my life can become my normal. That would probably be a better place to be. Another new normal, a little better than the last.
We saw our baby yesterday — big head and little arms, a perfect little t-rex. It actually looked like a baby. And I wanted to be so happy, but something was missing. That rapid blip blip blip that had been so obvious the first time we saw her. I didn’t want to ask; I couldn’t bare for it to be real. But I also couldn’t stand the silence.
“There’s no heartbeat, is there?”
“No. I’ve been looking. I’m so sorry.”
And in that moment, our baby was gone. Her life was over before it even started and my own heart was obliterated.
Shattered and destroyed.
All the air was gone and the tears came so fast. So steady. So constantly. Even still, right now.
I know it’s not my fault, but I’m still so so so sorry. So sad. I feel terrible that after struggling for years with infertility, Generations gave us this most precious gift and I couldn’t carry it. That I failed to be a mom and to give Seth the chance to be a dad.
The cruelest part is that she’s still there, inside of me. That my body still feels her in the ways that have always been known only to me — the nausea and the fatigue and the incredibly tender and swollen breasts. The little bloat to my belly, the uncomfortable tightness of my pants. My body doesn’t understand yet. Only my heart.
My heart feels it acutely — the pregnancy is over, our baby is gone, and life has once again careened off the rails. We have no plans right now except to continue breathing in and breathing out and to let the tears come when they do. I’ll probably spend some time today boxing up the Painful Things, the gifts and maternity clothes and other stuff that suddenly seems like useless, premature, wishful thinking. All the while, hoping that time will pass and work its magic as only time can work on pain.
I’ve been at such a loss for words. (You: But you always have words, way too many words…) I know, I know. The words are in my head… but they won’t move to my fingers and I can’t get them on the page. Blogging feels impossible. Because what do you write about when you just wrote the biggestthing you’ve ever written? Where do you even start?
And, more importantly, what if you have to take it back?
I don’t, thankfully. But I am so scared that I will. And that makes me scared to say anything at all. Lame. My husband is rather fond of saying, “like water off a duck’s back, babes…” He thinks it’s somehow not worth worrying about something you cannot control. Pppsshhh. I am so not a duck.
Yesterday, I came across a lovely description of my weirdness courtesy of Anne Lamott (living proof that The Hard can make you so so Good):
“My six-year-old associate, who sleeps down the hall about thirty feet away with both our doors wide open, wakes up on many mornings and predicts, ‘This might be the best day ever!’
Then, in the dead of night, a tiny voice calls out to me, ‘Nana, will you ever get sick or die?’ Then he cries at the very thought. He terrorizes himself.
I think this says it all.
If you are alive, conscious, and sensitive, which is to say, human, you’re going to have incredible joy and terror this side of eternity. It’s Life 101, life on life’s terms, not on ours, all these things – fear, joy, grace, mess, isolation, communion, all mixed up together.
I hate this more than I can say. I don’t like everything to touch.”
Mmmmm hmmmmm. (Nods enthusiastically.) Joy and terror, always touching. Like the world’s most poorly crafted dinner plate, everything leaking it’s juices all over everything else. Life. Ugh.
The only person who has ever said it better? Why, Bayside High’s own Jessie Spano of course — you know the very special episode. When poor, over-committed Jessie starts taking caffeine pills just to keep up with it all.
“I’m so excited! I’m so excited!! I’m so… scared!”
That is exactly it. I’m so dang excited I can barely stand it. But I’m SO SCARED. And as such, I’m trying way too hard to temper my excitement… just in cases (not a typo, watch Love Actually)… it’s no good.
Honestly, it’s no way to live. Yes, the bad, the worst, the unimaginable can happen. It has been happening for over three years. Month after month of disappointment, bad news, procedures and pills and injections without success. But in this moment, the good, the best, the unimaginable in a completely different way has happened. We’re pregnant. Pregnant!! And right now, we have a baby on the way. Incredible joy. Terror can always show up. But it’s not here now and worrying about it, collapsing into my real world Zack Morris, doesn’t help.
Fortunately, I ran back into the house on my way to work last Friday morning to puke up my breakfast. I had chalked everything else up to the progesterone injections (seriously guys, my backside is like swiss cheese — injections every day until 9/23) or elaborate psychosomatic responses to knowing/thinking I was pregnant (my brain can be such a powerful little beast), but you can’t just imagine puking. That’s real! I’d been feeling so good that I’d even peed on another stupid stick (positive!) last Monday. Kind of pathetic.
It’s just… the FEAR. I can’t escape it! I honestly don’t know how and I feel like I’m skipping from rock to rock across a 40 week wide river at the moment, desperately hoping I make it to the other side. Always looking ahead to the next rock, barely believing I made it across the last. Blood HCG to peeing on a stick to puking in a toilet bowl and ultrasound on Thursday. At some point I’ll have to stop, or I really will end up like poor, stressed out Jessie Spano. I’m just no good at being a duck.
It’s funny because I thought that when the IVF was over, we’d have an answer and I’d feel resolved in some way. But I don’t. Not at all. Excited and happy, of course, but definitely not resolved. And what I probably need most of all is to circle back to that lovely prayer of relinquishment — the one that, with both hope and gratitude, accepts what is to be. Or, as Hagrid says, “What’s comin’ will come, an’ we’ll meet it when it does.” (I just finished The Goblet of Fire last week. Oh my goodness. Onto the Order of the Phoenix — no fake book interlude this time, just straight through the magical goodness.)
Because why shouldn’t Harry Potter be part of my spiritual solution? (Which reminds me to say that dang, Hermione’s hair is so much better in the books than in the movies. I mean, lots of love to the brilliant Emma Watson, but her hair really should have been a lot bushier in the movies, don’t you think? Perhaps I’ll spend some time worrying about that instead for a bit.)