it’s time

A long 39 day cycle later, it was finally time to return to my RE’s office to see if my cyst was gone, and check how my uterus had healed after my hysteroscopy. I had been anxiously waiting for this day after the setback last month when I learned of the cyst and was told to delay trying. Every day, as I would count my cycle days, analyze my temps, and try to guess when I would get my period again, I would also do a silent tally of the number of months since the last miscarriage. Seven. Seven months of doctors appointments, testing, surgeries, and perhaps worst of all, waiting. Seven months, after experiencing a particularly arduous year, felt excruciating. 

When I finally scheduled the return visit to the RE I hung up the phone and quickly returned to my day, as I was in the middle of a deep house clean preparing for my mother’s visit the next day. In the middle of a particularly rigorous Swiffer session, I felt a sudden swell of emotions build up inside of me, and I fell short of breath. My body was having a reaction independent of my own positive mind frame. My body remembered. My body remembered that I never seem to get good news at these appointments. My body remembered that this journey is like swimming against the current, the baby continually just out of our grasp, as we keep fighting for air and to stay above water.  My body was bracing for another setback, and started grieving the setback before it actually happened.

All I could do was cry, feeling completely overwhelmed by it all. Even if I were to get good news, I knew what that meant also. Time to throw myself back into what had caused all this devastation in the first place.

I showed up at my appointment the next morning already deflated, ready for disappointment. I had felt anxious all morning, which had slowly morphed into a disinterested hopelessness by the time I reached the ultrasound room. Go ahead and give me the bad news. Tell me that we have to wait longer. That I’m still not ready. That this baby thing just is not going to happen now. I already know what’s coming.

“Left ovary looks good…..Right ovary looks great!”

My cyst was gone. I was healed. My uterus was septum-free and ready.

The rest of the day I felt different, like we had entered a new era. After putting a baby on hold for seven months, I had settled into that reality. But those seven months are officially over. And I could finally revel in a little bit of cautious hope.

I’ve become so familiar with the emotional ups and downs that sync with our cycles. The hope, the anxiety, the disappointment, the despair, and then the hope again. I had been on my own giant seven month cycle, and experienced this same spectrum of emotions. But finally, I had entered the moment of optimism. That just maybe this will be our month. That just maybe this could actually happen.

My mom arrived that day, to stay for a week to help my brother and sister-in-law with their new baby. After my doctor appointment we drove to their home, and I watched as my mother teared up as she nuzzled her first grandchild for the very first time. We all sat around, watching this tiny newborn’s every move, as all the mothers talked birthing and babies.

I sat there, safe in my own bubble of hope, giving silent thanks for my good news that morning. Knowing it would have been a heart-wrenching day had I been told anything other than what I had received. 

Despite the fear, anxiety, and uncertain expectations, it’s time to try again.

“rarely does an empathic response begin with ‘at least'”

I love this short video which talks about the difference between sympathy and empathy:

 

This video made me think a lot about the way we comfort people, about our instinct to want to make things better, and about the way we want to be comforted. The line that sticks out to me the most is “Rarely, if ever, does an empathic response begin with “at least.” 

Since watching this video, I’ve tried to slash the phrase “at least” from my vocabulary when I’m trying to be an empathetic ear. It’s made me realize just how much I use it.

I know what the intent is when using this phrase. It’s meant to help reframe a situation for a person so that it doesn’t seem as terrible. Help find the silver lining. Make it hurt less. Tell them it’s not that bad so they don’t feel bad. And in some circumstances, that can be helpful.

But most of the time, it’s just alienating. What I hear is, “your situation isn’t that bad, you probably shouldn’t be this upset.” And that makes the feelings I do have feel invalidated. And that creates distance between me and the person trying to comfort me. 

I also love the way the narrator describes what empathy is. How in order to really initiate an empathetic response you have to become vulnerable – vulnerable by finding a place within yourself that allows you to connect to what the other person is experiencing. This place can be uncomfortable. It can be a place you don’t particularly want to be in. But you go there so your friend is not alone.

Sympathy doesn’t go there. Sympathy is pity; it’s distancing and doesn’t require a vulnerable response. Because I’ve been somewhat open among the people around me about our miscarriages and what this experience has been like, I’ve often worried that people are feeling sorry for me. It’s funny how much I really want people to understand how hard and devastating this struggle is, but I don’t want any pity. It’s the empathy I crave.

I’ve learned a lot though my experience with repeat pregnancy loss. About what the soul needs in time of distress; about what I need from other people, and in turn what I should give to others should the situation be reversed. About empathy. About opening up about your private struggles, and what that means. About how to feel difficult feelings rather than run from them, and how to let them pass. About how to summon strength when you need it most. About how to be vulnerable.

And like the narrator says, rarely can a response make some thing better. What we really need to help us through is connection.

Voice: Dr Brené Brown
Animation: Katy Davis (AKA Gobblynne) www.gobblynne.com

Watch Dr Brené Brown’s full talk ‘The Power of Vulnerability’ here:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sXSjc-pbXk4
Find out more about the RSAhttp://www.thersa.org

my nephew is here

My brother called me at 10pm last week and told me in a shaky voice, “The baby has to come out now.” It was four weeks before their due date. 

They had just received some test results diagnosing my sister-in-law with cholestasis, a liver disease where the normal flow of bile in the gallbladder becomes affected by pregnancy hormones. The bile flow becomes stopped or slowed causing a build up of acids in the liver which can spill into the bloodstream, increasing the risk of stillbirth. She and my brother needed to check into the hospital immediately, while they evaluated her and eventually induce labor. 

They were completely freaked out. Mentally, they were not prepared. Logistically, they were not prepared. The nursery was not finished, the room only housing a few big pieces of furniture and the onslaught of gifts that had steadily been arriving the past few months, all still in boxes. They had no carseat. They hadn’t finished their parenting classes. And both sets of parents had plane tickets booked for the following month. 

I got to the hospital as soon as I could and sat with them for many hours. 

They waited on test results to see if the baby’s lungs had reached maturity, and could handle being outside the womb. 

They fretted about brain development, and what the effects of delivering four weeks early would have on his eventual intelligence. My brother googled ‘famous preemies’ and ‘professional athletes that were preemies” to find some reassurance. They sought opinions from as many doctors as they could contact. They were told that the risk of the cholestasis harming the baby outweighed any risks to brain development. But ultimately, the choice was theirs. They could wait it out in the hospital another week, with heavy monitoring, and let the baby continue to gestate a little longer. But this increased the risk that the bile could contaminate the placenta, putting the baby in immediate danger, and would lead them straight to an emergency c-section. 

Deciding whether to go ahead and induce labor is intense. My sister-in-law burst into tears. 

Thirty-six hours after checking into the hospital, the labor began. About eighteen hours after that, my nephew was born, limp, and not breathing. Fifteen terrifying minutes later he was stable, breathing, crying, and a healthy 7 pounds.

In between the long hours I spent at the hospital, helping them think through decisions, attempting to provide comfort and enough entertainment to help pass the time, I started to prepare for the baby’s arrival. I drove around LA, looking for the exact right car seat that they wanted. I made big batches of soup, so they would have a meal to come home to. I stocked their pantry with groceries. 

And then I tackled the nursery. 

I spent two days in there, quietly opening boxes of books and toys, of swaddles and blankets. I spent an afternoon washing and folding onesies, separating them carefully into neat piles. Long sleeve onesies over here. Footed onesies over there. I googled how to organize a changing table, labeling all the drawers, changing my mind again and again about the order of the items. I arranged the stuffed animals and took pictures of my dog snarling at a yellow lion perched on a shelf, clearly taunting her with its gaze. I hung a welcome banner.

It was hard, and it was easy. Focusing on a project, however ladled with emotional triggers it was, helped to focus my intention. In the midst of the chaos and intensity from these turn of events, I wanted to make their transition home a smidgen easier. I wanted them too to feel swaddled with love and support. 

But my emotions still swung and still needed to be managed. When the doctors would come in to the hospital room to perform an exam, I would step into the hall and wait. Stand there quietly with no distractions, with the buzz of pregnancy and labor and birth all around me. And I would feel sad and tired. I would crave to go back into the room and shut the door to shield myself. At least in that room I had family and love and my soon to be nephew to help me through. 

And then my nephew came and I love him. Even though the envy is still there, the sad desire, and the memory of my losses remain, I love him. And I want to be around him all the time. 

It was an intense week, but this is what I learned.

I learned that all of our bodies can fail us. I got pregnant at the same time my sister-in-law did, and then I lost it.  Her pregnant glow and growing belly symbolized a stark reminder of the failings of my own. Her body, doing perfectly what it was supposed to do, my own, a constant source of emotional pain. But after eight months of a seemingly perfect pregnancy, her body failed her too. Developing a condition that would harm her own baby in a serious way. Forcing her into an emergency induction. 

I learned in the most visceral way that it’s possible to feel an intense mash up of paradoxical emotions. Happiness, melancholy, excitement, anguish, nervousness, depression, envy, desire, love, and sometimes numbness. I felt the waves of all those feelings, coming in and out, sometimes all at once, sometimes not at all.

And I learned that sometimes cliches are true. Your love for someone can trump all. No matter my history, my losses, my own pain and difficulty around pregnancy and babies, my brother, sister-in-law, and nephew come first. Helping them ease into parenthood amidst a scary, unexpected ordeal became my first priority. 

And I had no mixed feelings around that. 

to my husband, on our 2nd wedding anniversary

I love you.

I love your calm and steady ways, your wit and sense of humor. I love your Bradley Cooper hair, and the safety and solace I get from lying in your nook. I love your brilliant mind, the way you devour books, and the way you can still speak about them in great detail even years later. 

I love your joy, your light-hearted spirit, and your playful ways. And I love your devotion and have enormous gratitude for the sacrifices you make to create our best life, and our future family.

On this day last year, we found out we were expecting. I held that stick and danced around, crying, laughing. We jumped in the car and spent the weekend in Dana Point, a beautiful surprise weekend that you planned, where we spent the next few days coveting our own surprise. I took long naps, in that big luxurious bed, overlooking that big, expansive sea, with a hand on my belly. And we were filled with so much hope and expectation about the way it would go.

It hasn’t been an easy year since then, but I love you even more for it. Through the years I’ve thought I couldn’t possibly get any closer to you, and then I do. I’m closer to you now in ways I could never have fathomed one year ago today. I love you for how you’ve allowed yourself to be vulnerable, and I love you for how you’ve been strong. I love you for letting me swing wildly, at the whim of these tough emotions, without judging, before you help to steady me. 

I love that during the toughest journey of my life, I have you. 

We’ve faced so much uncertainty this past year, but this I know. I know I’ll always love you. I know that we’ll continue to create a beautiful, inspiring life together. I know that I will do everything I can to continue to be your rock and your biggest fan. 

And I know you’ll be an amazing dad; always up to dance or play or watch the latest Lego movie. To teach our kids about the best authors, about hip hop, about value propositions and how “you can’t beat the market.” You’ll teach them to be lifelong students and that it’s ok if “math is your life.” You’ll teach them how to treat others with kindness and compassion. And I know our children will look up to you, admire you, and want to be like you. 

We still have that to look forward to. 

This I know.  

You and Me. Always.

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how i blamed myself

After a miscarriage, it’s common to feel guilty and culpable for the loss. Wonder what horrible thing we did wrong; the alcohol we had before the positive test, the exercise we shouldn’t have done. But I didn’t feel like I caused my miscarriages. I had been so conscientious, so careful about everything I ate and did. I researched everything there was to know about pregnancy, and erred on the side of caution with my every move. And I knew rationally the causes were likely something that was beyond my control. But as I peeled back the layers, through therapy, and through my own reflection, I realized I had been unconsciously blaming myself all along. 

I realized I thought I caused my miscarriages by obsessively wanting to get pregnant.

I didn’t allow pregnancy just to happen organically. I have always been a planner, and had this planned to a T, with all my pregnancy tools in place. I waited exactly three months after starting my new job to start trying, to ensure I would receive full maternity leave benefits. I made sure to take three full months of prenatals and folic acid. I was armed with my ovulation predictor kits, my basal body thermometers, Pre-seed, and my VIP membership to Fertility Friend. I had read Taking Charge of Your Fertility cover to cover, and had all the important sections bookmarked and highlighted.

And poof, within three months I was knocked up. 

All according to plan. 

But of course, we know it didn’t go according to plan. My miscarriages turned my world upside down. 

My best friend, a free-spirited non-planner, also got pregnant at the same time I did. She got pregnant on the first try, and was even somewhat ambivalent about the pregnancy in the first place. She did not miscarry. 

I felt like the universe was trying to teach me a lesson. See what your obsessive planning leads to? See how you can’t control everything? If you had been more relaxed about this process and wanted it less, like your friend, everything would have been fine. I finally found a way to blame myself.

Subconsciously, I thought if I had been more relaxed and taken my time with the process, we might have gotten a better egg, or a healthier embryo. Somehow in my rush I had sacrificed quality. And even though rationally I knew that didn’t make any sense, I still believed it for a long time.

A few months after our second loss, my husband and I had breakfast with a friend, a resident at UCLA hospital. He knew through his fiancé what we had been through, and brought it up, offering condolences. I had been used to so much silence around the subject, that I was surprised, but also really appreciative. He spoke a lot, about the medical aspect of it, about some of the situations he had seen. But then he said something that kneaded my gut. “What you really just want to do is just live your life, and when it happens it happens,” he said with a smile and a shrug.

The opposite of what I felt I had done. I had obsessed and made my whole world about having a baby. Everything else in my life was secondary. How I wished I could be that person, that lived such a relaxed, fulfilled life, that getting pregnant would just be a happy, easy, side-occurrence one day. But I wasn’t. And it made me feel so bad.

But then I remembered, this is coming from a guy in his twenties, not even married yet, five years younger than me. He has no idea what this feels like. To crave, with every pulse and every breath, a baby to hold in your arms. The aching longing for motherhood.  When you want something so badly, that it shatters your heart month after month. The devastating pain that infertility and miscarriage causes. He. Has. No. Idea. 

With this realization, I let go of the self-blame. I know now that all I ever did was chase the thing I want most in the world right now.

and finally, some good news

We were told we needed to wait 3 – 6 months after my husband’s varicocelectomy to see any possible improvements from the surgery. After exactly 3 months we repeated his SA and eagerly waited for the results, bracing to be disappointed, keeping our expectations low….

“This is the most dramatic improvement we could have hoped for,” the urologist told us. 

The most beautiful sentence I’ve ever heard.

His numbers improved drastically across the board. Like, shot way up. As in, he now has super sperm.

I am fearful of letting myself get too excited or optimistic during this journey, but I couldn’t help but get a flicker of hope that things might start to look up.

Deciding to have the surgery was difficult, scary, stressful (read about our urology appointment here). We got conflicting advice from different doctors. More than one rolled their eyes and said it was unnecessary, we were getting pregnant. Surgery is a big deal, and we shouldn’t jump to go under the knife too quickly. Our urologist, and my own gut, told us differently. His varicocele was causing poor morphology, and slightly elevated levels of sperm DNA fragmentation. High levels of sperm DNA fragmentation have been linked to repeat pregnancy loss. And it remains somewhat controversial what role poor morphology has.

But, in two-thirds of men, the surgery will improve these parameters.

Two-thirds of men.

Statistics have been my enemy lately, offering me little solace, as we continue to fall into slimmest probabilities (your chance of miscarriage drops to 5% after you hear the heartbeat! the chance of having two miscarriages in a row is only 4%!).  Anything less than 100% was going to give me nightmares. 

But we knew we needed to stay to true to the vow we told ourselves. That we would test everything, and do anything we could to possibly lower our chance of miscarrying again. That we wouldn’t try again until we have turned every rock, pushed for every test, seen every kind of doctor. That we would be patient. I knew it was the only way to get the courage to try again. 

And now I’m starting to get courage. I can breathe easy and at least know that nothing on my husband’s end will increase our odds of losing another one. 

Pressure’s on, uterus…