The long, long wait

Africa October 2007 (3034)

I was first married at the age of 31. I married my high school “sweetheart” after we had been together for about 15 years or so. I remember in those early days of marriage and through most of our married relationship, we’d get a lot of questions about when we would have kids. Sometimes questions were direct, and sometimes they were subtle hints. Sometimes it was not subtle at all. I remember a family camping trip where the in-laws snuck into our tent leaving behind baby shower signs. I thought it was kind of cute and funny at the time, not knowing I would still be childless so many years later. In the beginning, these questions didn’t really bother me. It was definitely on my mind, but following high school, we had both been very driven with our college education and our careers. Once we were ready for marriage, there were travel plans to fulfill before babies. I wasn’t quite yet ready for kids, but I also knew that time was ticking and I didn’t want to end up regretting it later because I had “missed my chance.”   In that dual income, no kids relationship, we were fortunate to travel to South Africa, Zambia, Kenya, Tanzania, New Zealand, Amsterdam, France and Greece. It was truly incredible. I’m thankful for those opportunities and the memories of seeing lions, elephants, zebras and monkeys in the wild, glaciers in New Zealand, and sunsets in Santorini. When I turned 34, the clock was ticking loudly and I thought we better not waste any more time. But here’s where infertility hit without actually being an “infertile couple”. It just takes one person in the relationship to decide that kids were no longer in our future and bam…you can no longer make a baby. And that’s what happened. And during this time, I had my first experiences avoiding the comments…

”When are you going to have a baby?”

“You better not wait too long or you’ll miss your chance”

These questions and comments tore through my heart. I was now facing a decision of staying married with no kids or divorcing with the hope of still having them in the future. It was then, that I started realizing how hurtful these questions can be. I hadn’t even touched the surface of infertility at this point in my life, but this is when I realized, even hinting at parenthood could be a painful topic. I myself had been guilty of asking others these questions without any idea that it could be such a difficult topic.

I went through my 20’s avoiding pregnancy, and there I was in my early 30’s wanting a baby.   But now the person I had married was taking away an irreplaceable dream.   My high school sweetheart turned out not to be so sweet. This was the first time in my life I had to go through the grieving process of not being able to have a baby. By the age of 36, I was going through a divorce. I had no idea if I would marry again, have a baby, or if I would even have issues trying to get pregnant.   I remember thinking, “how could I possibly meet someone, fall in love, get engaged, get married and have a baby while I still actually have good eggs? Who knows how long this could take?”

A year and half went by between my separation, finalized divorce and magical eHarmony wink. And there he was. We went on one date and fell in love. So, that accelerated my imaginary timeline to baby quite a bit. Five months later we were engaged and a year and a half after meeting, we were married.   I was 38 when we got married. Let the baby making commence! Well…not so fast. We determined at the beginning of our relationship that we were one of those 1 in 8 couples. Three months after we were married we had our first round of IVF. In early January of 2013 I found out I was pregnant. Two days before my 39th birthday, I miscarried at 15 weeks. From there our story continued with a second miscarriage of twin girls and now I am moving toward our 8th embryo transfer at the age of 41. I’ve been married twice, yet I’ve never had the chance to try to conceive naturally.

I’m 41 years old and still trying to have a baby. But trying to conceive at 41, brings a lot of blessings in addition to the heartache. At 41, nobody asks anymore, “when are you going to have kids?” Nobody is on our case about having a baby.   Nobody says, “you better hurry up”. Baby showers become a rarity, since all of our friends already had one or two kids years ago. By the time 39 slipped away from me, baby making peer pressure that had previously existed, simply faded away.

Where that’s helpful when faced with infertility, it’s also scary because you start to realize that perhaps there’s no longer a reason for anyone to ask those questions. I worry that people may think we are crazy to try to have a baby so late in life.  Or may not even believe it is possible. While I see other women in their 20’s and 30’s going through the challenges and emotional pain of infertility, I realize in some ways I’m really lucky. When I was in my late 20’s and throughout my 30’s, all of my friends were having babies. But all this was happening at a time when I wasn’t faced with infertility and the pain associated with that journey. I went to a lot of baby showers and played a lot of baby shower games. I bought a lot of baby gifts. I could enjoy walking into a Baby Gap and buying some cute little outfits. I was able to be there with my friends not just for baby #1, but also for baby #2. And I loved all of it. I was able to be emotionally there for them and to watch their joy and feel their joy with them. I was able to be a friend and really care deeply about their move into mommyhood and was able to fall in love with all of their children. I have nieces and nephews that I love dearly, but I’m also an “Auntie” in several other households. I’m known as Aunt Cookie, Crispy, Auntie Chrissykins and Auntie Nasty. My husband even acquired the nickname, Uncle Cupcake this summer. I’ve been able to watch these kids grow up without the cloud of jealousy due to infertility. I didn’t have to back away from being a part of those growing families because I had just had a miscarriage or another failed embryo transfer. Those things didn’t start to happen until after my friends had their babies and for that, I am grateful.

I’m thankful that even though I’m doing this so late, those same friends are there to support me in my struggle. They are there to offer me words of encouragement when I can’t take the emotional pain anymore. They are understanding and allow me to follow my own path. They are compassionate. At this point in life, my good friends have had the life experiences to know what words to say or how to offer sympathy and kindness.  They have the strength to feel my grief with me.

While I never expected to wait so long to have kids of my own, I have had a journey that has changed my life. It has taught me how to survive deep emotional pain and grief and allowed me to support others in their journey as well. Through all the heartache, it has taught me that hope and faith still do exist. I haven’t given up yet. I’m still waiting for my baby…but oh, does it feel like the longest wait ever.

Photo by CJE – Serengeti National Park, Tanzania

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Fitness and Infertility

trail walkStaying mentally and physically healthy through infertility, IVF, embryo transfers, short periods of pregnancy and miscarriages has been incredibly challenging and often feels impossible. Since my journey through this process has spanned over the past couple of years, my fight to stay physically strong coupled with a desire to not give up on happiness and mental stability has often left me exhausted, drained and empty. And I’m just talking about ME. I’m not even getting into the impact this has on my marriage. This has left me struggling with what feels like a never-ending and futile attempt to lose weight (or to at least stabilize my weight) combined with cycles of deep sadness and sometimes depression through the disappointments and losses I have experienced on this journey. It is a constant start and stop process with exercise whether I’m in between cycles (amp up the exercise routine) or low impact walking post embryo transfer. As soon as I start to feel progress with physical fitness or any hope of losing a couple of pounds, here I am again making adjustments to put the possibility of pregnancy as the top priority following an embryo transfer. With the two pregnancy losses we have experienced, the only other possible thing my doctor recommended to increase my chances of future success is weight loss. My doctor recommended a certain BMI to enable optimal pregnancy health. I did the calculations. To reach this BMI, I would need to lose 35 pounds. That would take me months to achieve with 100% focus on nothing but exercise and nutrition. (and my body is STUBBORN!!) But sadly, I’m time-bound by the financial piece of this process. We are invested in a “refund plan” that allows us to have as many embryo transfers as needed to become pregnant within one year of starting this contract using embryos from our egg donor. (we have about 6 months left) This does not allow me the extra time off to reach this health/fitness and weight loss goal. By the time I have my next embryo transfer I will have had a little over 2 months to recover from the D&C procedure which was then followed by depression, a terrible flu and then a bad cold just two weeks later. This made it nearly impossible to try to lose weight in this period of time. As soon as I recovered, I started walking and swimming again and went back to the gym with my personal trainer. But do you know how hard it is to lose weight with the hormone fluctuations of pregnancy, followed by pregnancy loss, then throw in some depression, the holidays and some illnesses? It feels completely hopeless. My body fluctuated up and down in a 10 pound range following the pregnancy loss for at least a month. I’ve done a cleanse, given up sugar and alcohol and I exercise regularly and there is no weight loss happening here.

My health and exercise has always been a top priority for me. I’ve always been active and involved in sports or fitness activities, however I have struggled with my weight since I was a child. I have tried so very hard to stay in shape through this process of trying to make a baby. Prior to my first round of IVF, I spent one year training at a CrossFit gym trying to get as strong as possible before pregnancy. I’ve never given up on exercising and I work hard to eat as healthy as I can. But it is a daily struggle and very frustrating when doing my best may not be good enough. I definitely want to avoid blaming myself for a failed pregnancy because I wasn’t “fit” enough or because my BMI was too high. So, for now I just have to settle for what is realistic for me. The best I can do involves getting outdoors and enjoying walks with my dog and swimming and weight training (at least until Sunday). Then the exercise plan shifts again… I hope this time I will have a new 9 month fitness plan.

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Photos by CJE

Chance #1/31 (May-July 2014)

never give up_blogOur first embryo transfer with our donor embryos was a rather long but interesting process. Our clinic worked with both of us to coordinate our cycles through medications up until the embryo transfer. During month one, the medications set us up to synchronize our menstrual cycles. This allowed us to be working in parallel in month two so that she could go through the IVF and egg retrieval process, while my body was being prepared for the embryo transfer as soon as the embryos were ready.   While this feels like a complicated process for the patient, our clinic has the scheduling and coordination down to a science. Although it is a bit nerve-wracking to think that not only do I need to be on top of all the correct medications every day and coming in for doctor appointments on specific days, but my donor has to do that too. On top of which I knew she had flights to coordinate for the trips to our clinic for various steps of the process. I kept thinking to myself, “Please don’t let her have flight delays or canceled flights! Get her to the clinic safely! She’s carrying all my eggs! Her ovaries are saturated with my dreams!” One of my biggest fears was that something would not go right with one of our bodies and we’d have to abort the process and start all over. But it all went like clockwork and my donor was amazing! Her body made 42 eggs, 38 fertilized and 31 became high quality embryos that we would now own. My husband and I felt like we won the egg donor lottery! And all went as planned. My body was ready to receive an embryo on day 5 of their development and that was it. And then we waited…those 9 excruciating days to see if all that work (and money) created a pregnancy. During those 9 days our brains do amazing things to make us think we are pregnant or make us think we aren’t pregnant so that we will be prepared somehow for the outcome. Every time, I tell myself not to look on the internet for ANYTHING. But somehow I end up looking up every site that I can find that talks about early pregnancy symptoms and embryo development during those 9 days post transfer. The symptoms are evil tricksters because the medications to help foster the pregnancy (progesterone and estrogen) will also give you pregnancy symptoms. In this case, I thought for sure I was pregnant. And then for the fourth time reading the lab results (where our last two tries were negative) looking for an HCG level over 50, we saw zero…AGAIN. Three times in a row, not pregnant. It’s like running full force into a brick wall. That moment is one of the most painful, excruciating moments in the process. I try not to get my hopes up, but of course I do, because the dream of having a baby is just darn overwhelming and exciting and joyful. But every time I’ve seen the lab test come back as “not detectable,” it becomes the darkest, deepest, most intense moment of sadness and heartbreak. And for me, my brain tortures me with re-living the loss of my first pregnancy where I not only see visions of the horrific loss of our baby, but also start remembering the wonderful details of what it felt like to be pregnant. And all of it hurts. And it feels so far away and maybe even impossible to see a positive pregnancy test and fill the desperate need and desire to be pregnant again.  So, here I am sitting in my car with this piece of paper in my hand that just shattered my world and now what? How do I get strong enough to put myself through this again? Do I want to? But then all I can do for that moment is just cry while everything else in the world disappears except for that one thought…that I just lost this dream again. And then I pull myself together for enough seconds to realize that I better call in sick to work because I know the tears will not stop today. And I can’t bear to look at my husband through my tears because I know I’ll just see a face of helplessness, because he can’t fix it either and he just lost his dream too.

Then time passes…and somehow we do find the strength to try again.

The DNA Decision

child book ED storyWhen we dream of having our own children, we wonder how our looks and personality will pass down to our baby. Will they have our nose, our eye color or hair color? Will they laugh like us, look like us, smile like us? Maybe she will be my strawberry-blond mini-me bringing on comments from friends saying, “she’s so cute, she looks just like you!” But how does this all change and how do we accept that this type of dream is gone, when the genetics are not ours? How do we decide to move forward with the journey to baby when we can’t have “our” baby? Surprisingly, the decision turned out to be quite simple. Not that there weren’t fears that came along with it, but as options dwindle, the path becomes clear and now here we are with our donor embryos. When successful IVF with my own eggs became such a remote possibility, our next logical step seemed to be adoption. But then we found out about egg donation. Knowing my first choice is to carry the pregnancy on my own and be in control of the health of the baby from day one, this became our next best option. The process with our agency was so respectful and comforting that it became such an exciting new path for us. We chose a donor that resembled me as closely as possible to my eye, hair and skin color. We were able to review medical history and a thorough profile including photos from various years of her life. And then we had the option to meet her. While all personal information including names are kept confidential, we were able to sit with her for an hour with our conversation guided by a psychologist. I left the meeting feeling so thrilled to now have insight into her personality, her childhood, her family, her hobbies, music interests, travel desires and mannerisms. I left there hoping I would be able to share this with my child someday.

Here are a few things that I wrote about her shortly after meeting her:

…She has a cute smile. I hope we will get to see that smile again. She’s confident, witty, smart, a hard worker and likes reggae, rap, hip-hop and Jimmy Buffet. She has green eyes that sparkle with a daring and adventurous spirit. Blond hair that was dyed a bright orange-red with a short, spunky haircut. When we walked in the office to meet her I went to shake her hand and was surprised and happy to be met by a hug.

…She warned us that she is adventurous and daring, apologizing ahead of time that we could have a child climbing the walls.

After going through two partial pregnancies and experiencing the love for the life growing within me; there was no longer a fear or thought that “this baby isn’t mine.” They all felt like mine from the moment I heard a heart beat. The genetics did not mean a thing when I saw them on the ultrasound. All I saw were my babies and all I felt was love. And isn’t it exciting to think of creating a child where there are no preconceived ideas of what they should be like because you expect them to be like you? How wonderful to let go of that and just let them grow and blossom into who they are meant to be! So, if our miracle comes and someone says, “she’s so cute, she looks just like you!” I will smile and know that it’s because our love and our connected souls are shining through her eyes (or his, I’m not picky). We will belong to each other.

Priorities

priorities imageIt has been over two years since we started this process. When I think about the time commitment, it is like taking on a new big life project or part time job. There is the element of managing the time needed for doctor appointments and ensuring injections can be given about the same time every day (For our last cycle, I endured at least 80 intramuscular injections to support the embryo transfer and pregnancy). There’s training on how to give the injections and following up with various pharmacies to fill prescriptions and to make sure they will be available on time and if they are covered by insurance. There’s up front financial planning, insurance inquiries and perhaps the decision to sell off investments and take out loans. It may mean saying no to vacations. Going through all the planning and commitments for one cycle is manageable as it becomes the top priority of your life for a couple of months. However, we have now done this five times, including the time commitment to go through the egg donor process as well as the unexpected periods of time to recover from failed cycles in addition to pregnancy losses. Over the past two years, the commitment and emotional strain of this process has impacted decisions about my career and how I want to live my life, which has lead to some positive changes.   During my first pregnancy, I was in a very stressful job. I was miserable and exhausted. I wanted to be as healthy as possible during my pregnancy and I could not figure out how to reduce my stress level at work. I kept thinking to myself that I would just hang in there until I had maternity leave then I would look for another job. But that never happened. After losing our baby, Jaxon at 15 weeks and returning to work two weeks later, I made the decision to change my job. It was an absolute necessity for my mental health. I was very lucky that there was something I could move into but the process took a few months. While grieving and managing depression I was still under terrible stress at work but I knew there was a light at the end of the tunnel. This was a very different type of career decision for me. I had spent about 15 years pushing forward, taking on new challenges, taking risks and putting myself in situations outside of my comfort zone in order to get to the next big career move. But this time was different. I made a deliberate decision to return to a job that I had done before for many years. And that is exactly what I needed…Established expertise without stress of learning a new role, predictable challenges, and a feeling of stability. My plan was to create a situation at work that allowed me to focus on my health, emotional recovery and enough flexibility in my schedule to manage doctor appointments for our continued attempts to make a baby. While it ended up taking another nine months to achieve my goal of manageable stress and a stable, supportive work environment, it was worth the time and effort. I even managed to achieve a promotion along the way. I am incredibly thankful for the support I have at work from my management and close friends, which enables me to continue to pursue our dream of having our own baby. For this last embryo transfer cycle and nine weeks of pregnancy, the flexibility to manage my time at work allowed me to go to at least 12 doctor appointments and at least 10 trips to the lab for blood draws. Overall, my priorities have shifted from a focus on my career development to a focus on my mental and physical health, and taking on this journey with my husband to make a baby. And this priority means we have to say no to some other things and accept the risk of disappointment while not losing sight that our dream could come true.