my baby will decide

I’ve always been a girl with a plan. I like lists and schedules and thinking things through and knowing what will happen ahead of time. And even though we know it’s futile, I approached baby-making the same way.

I got married when I was 31. We moved to Los Angeles after the wedding, and shortly after, I turned 32. I insisted I find a job before we started trying to get pregnant, which I did a few months later. I stopped birth control, and waited 3 cycles to load up on prenatals and folic acid, and to make sure I would receive full maternity benefits from work. And then we started trying.

I was determined to become pregnant by 33. Which I did. But I lost the baby 6 weeks before my 33rd birthday.

I then became determined to have a baby before turning 34. I became pregnant again, with a due date 6 weeks before my 34th birthday.

But I lost that baby too.

I then thought, ok well at least I’ll be pregnant again before I turn 34.

I turn 34 in eleven days and that’s not happening. So now I keep thinking, as long as I’m pregnant by the end of 2014, as long as I have a baby before 35….

These are self-imposed arbitrary deadlines, and they cause me so much stress and heartache.

I had a meltdown in therapy last week. About how I’m dreading my 34th birthday. About how I never wanted to get this old before having kids. About how my fertile years are slipping away. About how sad I’ll be if I’m not pregnant by Christmas. About how much I’m trying to make this happen for us.

She looked at me and pretty directly and said, “Alexis, you have no control over when you will have a baby.”

How could she be so mean? How could she say something so hurtful?

And even though the tears that followed were an involuntary reaction to those words, I knew she was right.

I fantasize all the time about letting go. Could I just trash my ovulation sticks, my basal body thermometer, never pay attention to what cycle day it is, or when my period is due? Could I ever just not care about when this actually happens? I know my therapist is nudging me in that direction. She wants me to acknowledge that this is out of my control, and to let go a little. She wants me to stop putting all my hope and desperation into each current cycle, and have faith that eventually, it will happen.

But how do you climb out when you’re in so deep? Every little bit of this is so loaded. I would just be pretending to not know the cycle day, or that I wasn’t anxiously awaiting the verdict at the end of the two week wait. Because I’m too scared to let go. Too scared that if I don’t try to control it in some way, it will never happen.

“The greatest suffering I see from people,” she told me, “are those that cannot accept the reality of their situation.”

I know that despite however much heartache it causes me, I’ve accepted that we’re fighting this battle. I pushed and advocated for our care every step of the way, even when doctors have written me off or rolled their eyes. I’ve accepted that we’ve needed help and that we had medical issues that needed to be fixed. And after the second loss, even though I was told over and over to “just try again,” and I wanted so badly to do exactly that, I accepted that it wasn’t the solution.

But what I still have trouble accepting, now that we’re fixed and primed and ready, is that I still have no control over when this baby will come. That every plan, every bit of effort, obsession, and desire, makes no difference.

And so I tried to think of it another way.

My baby will decide.

My baby is waiting for that perfect time to emerge. Waiting for the right time for its journey from zygote to the little human in my arms.

My baby is forcing me to get strong, to learn about perseverance, and patience, and faith. My baby is forcing me to learn when to exert control and when to let go. When to be assertive and when to be passive. When to perfect the art of equanimity and when it’s ok to meltdown.

My baby is waiting so that the joy of his or her arrival will be that much more overwhelming. Waiting so after all these tough lessons, I will be that much better of a mom.

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cyst check and next steps

My cyst was smaller, but not small enough. We were told to continue sitting this cycle out, and I was instructed to remain on pelvic rest.

Disappointing, but I’m ok. I’m back on my feet.

Sometimes it takes me a few days. I need a few days to crash, and cry, and embrace all my despair in the form of dramatic sobs and refusing to get out from under the covers. My helpless husband stays by my side, trying to cheer me up by enticing me with fro-yo or by bringing me surprise bouquets of flowers. But he knows. Once I’ve had my monthly tantrum, I always find it a little easier to pick myself up, accept reality, and move on.

And so I’m moving on. But since I’m always a girl with a plan, I had to come up with something new to keep myself calm and help me believe that this next cycle will be The One. As my therapist has pointed out, so much of my hope is attached to action. When I’m forced out of action, and I have to just sit and wait and lessen my control grips, I start to spiral downward. Downward to that negative place that eats hope and smacks down positivity. Which is why this cyst and sitting out this cycle hit me so hard.

And although my therapist continually encourages me to make peace with sitting and waiting and acknowledging that I have no control, I tend to resist it.

My next action item is to do an HSG, which I requested today. I’ve had every single infertility test out there, except this one. Because I’ve gotten pregnant, and an HSG checks for blockages in the fallopian tubes that would prevent a pregnancy from even occurring in the first place, my doctors have brushed it aside and told me I didn’t need it. Which is probably true. But I was also told I didn’t need a saline ultrasound, which is the procedure that led us to discover that I had a large uterine septum and likely the cause of my losses.

After two miscarriages, a D&C, and a hysteroscopy I need some reassurance that every bit of my reproductive track looks pristine. I tend to lie awake at night wondering, has any scar tissue developed from the hysteroscopy I had 5 months ago? Is there some weird thing going on in my tubes, that’s going to now prevent me from getting pregnant again? Has the chaos of the last two years destroyed anything or broken anything in there? I know this last bit makes no sense, but still, I lay, and I worry.

The HSG will answer these questions and hopefully give me some serenity and confidence to continue moving forward. And as an added bonus, I wouldn’t mind the extra fertility boost that the HSG is known to give, as that lovely dye paves the way for a smooth ride for that sperm and that egg.

I know there are horror stories out there about the HSG, and it probably seems a little crazy to beg for this unpleasant procedure. But I am a worrier. I love to fret. I develop irrational fears. Repeat pregnancy loss makes all those tendencies ten times worse. And so if there’s one thing in this process that we left out and didn’t check, it will haunt me day after day.

Peace of mind is a precious thing. I’m willing to let someone shoot dye through my fallopian tubes and uterus just for a little bit of it.

castor oil packs

In an act of desperation I got my RE to agree to see me on CD11, right before I ovulate, to check my cyst to see if by any chance it has decreased in size. If it has and it’s small enough, my RE said perhaps we would be ok to try naturally and salvage this month. I know it’s a long shot. But I now have 7 days to hope and pray that this little sucker shrinks. I went to my acupuncturist and through my tears begged her to jam a bunch of needles into my ovaries. She obliged, more or less, although without much reassurance that it would be my miracle cure. As I left my session she told me to spend time visualizing the cyst shrinking, and then gave me the advice I hate the most, to think positively.

So I decided to consult Dr. Google, to search what I could do to dissolve an ovarian cyst naturally. I really was looking for information to help get rid of an existing cyst, rather than a 3-month program on how to avoid them in the first place. And so I stumbled up on this information from Natural Fertility Info:

There are two natural therapies that have been used time and time again to help the body break down the cysts, reduce their size and may help them to disappear all together.

Systemic Enzyme Therapy: Systemic enzymes contain a special enzyme that breakdown tissues in the body that are not supposed to be there. It also eats away at the cysts reducing their size or eliminating them over time. With ovarian cysts it is important to also make sure you are reducing the estrogen coming in your body and actively getting rid of excess estrogens; this can be done with the estrogen metabolizer DIM and progesterone.

Castor Oil Pack: Castor Oil Packs are an ancient therapy that helps to cleanse and heal the body where they are placed. The castor oil has a drawing power that clears the body of excess tissues and toxins. Castor oil packs stimulate the lymphatic and circulatory system. The lymphatic system removes toxins and waste from the area stimulated by the castor oil pack. The promotion of circulation by the castor oil pack will also bring in fresh oxygenated, nutrient rich blood to the reproductive organs, including the ovaries. This is vital to reducing and dissolving ovarian cysts. Do not use during menstruation.

My RE is very conservative about allowing any holistic supplements. She made me get off my maca root, evening primrose oil, probiotics and royal jelly supplements when I initially saw her citing that she didn’t know how they would interact with the medications she prescribed. I’ve been disappointed about that since I’d rather take a holistic approach to balancing hormones and improving egg health in addition to western remedies. But since that’s the case, I decided to skip the systemic enzyme therapy, although it sounds like it has a host of benefits, including breaking down scar tissue and having an anti-inflammatory effect.

So that left me with castor oil packs. I don’t know if my RE would approve, but given that this month is a bust anyway I feel I don’t have anything to lose. I remembered a friend of mine who struggled for three years to get pregnant telling me about castor oil packs, and how it can aid fertility. Castor oil packs may be able to support ovarian health, fallopian tube health, uterine health, egg health, and help you detoxify. However it’s important not to use them after ovulation when trying to get pregnant. 

I made my first pack tonight. Here are the instructions I followed:

Materials

  • One flannel cloth (preferably un-dyed and unbleached)
  • One bottle of Castor oil 
  • Plastic wrap cut one to two inches larger than the flannel (can be cut from a plastic bag)
  • Hot water bottle or heating pad
  • Container with lid
  • Old clothes and sheets. Castor oil will stain clothing and bedding.
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preparing my materials

Step-by-step instructions

  1. Place the flannel in the container. Soak it in castor oil so that it is saturated, but not dripping.
  2. Place the pack over the affected body part.
  3. Cover with plastic.
  4. Place the hot water bottle or heating pad over the pack. Leave it on for 30-45 minutes. Rest while the pack is in place.
  5. After removing the pack, cleanse the area with a diluted solution of water and baking soda.
  6. Store the pack in the covered container in the refrigerator. Each pack may be reused up to 25-30 times.
trying to envision my cyst shrinking!

trying to envision my cyst shrinking!

Over the past few days I’ve made peace with sitting out this cycle, and using this time to take a break from the stress and emotional upheaval that this roller coaster causes. But sometimes I just can’t stop myself from making a last ditch effort before throwing in the towel. You can’t blame a girl for hoping and trying, consulting Google, and then smearing oil all over her belly just in case it can work a miracle, right?

and then there was a cyst

I’ve managed to hold it together at all my RE appointments. I’ve taken hard news in stride, discussed my losses without even a lip quiver, and remained composed and upbeat through all my appointments. I have a good poker face that I’ve relied on for years to keep my emotionally private self, private. So even though I constantly want to cry when I’m in that office, I’ve always waited until I get home to let out the rage-filled tears of frustration.

But then there was today.

After our failed IUI last cycle, my husband and I discussed at length how to move forward. We had jumped quickly to IUI because we had one month left of 100% infertility coverage until my husband left his job. The IUI would be free….so why not? Even though we’ve been getting pregnant naturally on our own, after the trauma of the last year and a half why not be as aggressive as we can and maybe cut out a few months of heartache?

But it didn’t work. And now we had to decide whether to continue doing IUIs and pay out of pocket, or go back to the natural way. Part of me didn’t want to give up the momentum of the IUIs, thinking it had to work in the next few cycles. But it was hard to justify that out of pocket expense when we had gotten pregnant on our own.

But then we got a little gift….as my husband was looking through his exit documents from his old company, we discovered that his health insurance wouldn’t end until the last day of the month following the month of his last day of work. Meaning we had 100% infertility coverage until the last day of September. Meaning we could do another free IUI.

This news lifted me and made me feel so optimistic about going forth. We had a great weekend celebrating my husband’s 34th birthday, and I was able to bounce back from the disappointing BFN of a few days prior. I spoke to my doctor and we discussed what we’d do differently, knowing now how I respond to the medications. Because I responded so quickly, I would go in for a cycle day 2 scan and start monitoring follicle growth earlier. She would switch me to Clomid. And we would try to grow a few more follicles with a more aggressive dosage.

I arrived this morning for my scan with the same familiar butterflies in my stomach, but I felt so optimistic about this cycle that I pretty easily talked myself out of the nerves. I laid down ready for the exam, and a few moments after that lovely wand took a tour of my ovaries, the resident doing my scan pointed something out on the screen to my doctor.

“You have a large cyst on your right ovary, so we need to sit this cycle out,” the doctor explained.

Thud.

She asked if I was having any pain in that area, to which I had no idea. Between the cramps and stomachaches I get from the progesterone, the fertility meds, and my period I’m used to having a painful party in my stomach. To the point where I’ve stopped paying attention and hardly feel anything anymore.

She went on to explain the cyst was twice the size of my ovary, was probably from the Femara, and then said a bunch of other things that I couldn’t take in because I was too busy focusing on not crying. She told me I should avoid any kind of jarring exercise or sex until it was gone.

And then that moment came when I just knew no matter how much face scrunching or quick blinking I did, the tears were on their way and there was no turning back. And these were not dainty, controllable tears. I had a total meltdown in the office. To the point where I had doctors, nurses, and residents offering hugs, tissues, and sympathetic looks.

“IT’S JUST TAKING SO LONG!!!!” was all I could really get out between the tears.

What do you do when you need to get your ugly cry face out, complete with loud heaves, uncontrollable sobs, and dramatic gasps for air, but you’re in a public place? When you know you need a good hour or so before you can realistically compose yourself? You run out of there immediately and forget to book your next appointment or pick up any of your paperwork. And when all the rampant tears start coming out the second you step outside, you stop caring that you look like a disheveled maniac.

At least that’s what I did.

If we sit out this cycle, the very earliest we’ll see a positive pregnancy test is the end of October. Thirteen months after our last positive test.

I want this year of my life back.

when will you ever show me something good?

when will you ever show me something good?

 

how do you move on from disappointment?

I am feeling much better today.

After yesterday’s news of our failed IUI I felt like a hockey puck getting slammed against every difficult emotion I’ve ever experienced in the last 18 months. I was reeling in pain, sadness, frustration and feelings of loss. But the prevailing emotion, more than anything, was just complete disappointment. And when I say disappointment, I don’t mean my favorite TV show is being canceled kind of disappointment. Or finding out your husband ate the last of the ice cream when you thought there was still some left kind of disappointment.  Or even the flight for my vacation got canceled kind of disappointment.

I mean shatter your heart and knock you to the ground kind of disappointment.

And so I thought a lot about disappointment yesterday. What it feels like, what it does to you. How it makes your heart feel, what it does to your head and to your thoughts. How it crushes you because of how badly you want a different outcome, how much your heart screams for it, but there is nothing you can do about it.

I thought about the effect it had on me yesterday. Disappointment made me feel like my heart was breaking into a million pieces. It made me feel like I got the wind knocked out me. It made me feel like my strength had dissolved, and I no longer had any stamina left.

Disappointment made me feel helpless.

And after experiencing too many disappointments, I was starting to feel bitter, jaded, cynical and hopeless.

As I felt each one of these things while crying over our negative result, I thought to myself, I know it’s in these moments you are supposed to show what you are made out of. It’s that cliche: it’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters. I know this is my moment and I have a choice of how to react. But was I capable of reacting with strength, positivity, and faith? Was I able to take it in stride, dust myself off, and know that this is just part of the process? I really didn’t know. And at many points yesterday, absolutely not.

But oh, it feels so bad to be in that place. I knew I was suffering from the crushing blow of disappointment and all the accompanying emotions, but I was so tired of it. I needed to be out of it. And although the thought of throwing in the towel and letting go of all this briefly fluttered through my mind, I knew I couldn’t. So I started to wonder, how do you recover from disappointment?

I could try ignoring the bad feelings. I could try going on about my day, with that chronic ache, and hope that eventually the feelings would fade. I could continue to cry and try to process my emotions and schedule an extra session with my therapist. I could keep writing, and connect with the other amazing bloggers that I knew would understand painfully well. I could try and find comfort in their sweet empathetic swaddle of support.

And I did try a little of all of these things. And a lot of it helped. But what I found the most helpful, after I acknowledged all the complex emotions I was feeling and the trauma that surrounds it, was to think about the next cycle. To discuss our next plan. To accept that we may not have a May 2015 baby, but maybe we’ll have a June 2015 baby?

I spent a long time talking to my doctor, reflecting on this past cycle and discussing what we could do differently next time. We discussed the pros and cons of different options. I called our new insurance company to inquire about every little detail of our infertility coverage. My husband and I talked about what do next, and whether we should try a natural cycle or proceed to IUI #2.

Doing this helped me to cut down on some of the helplessness that the disappointment left me with.

It helped heal my heart a little because I started to focus on hope again.

It gave me back a little bit of my strength and stamina that the disappointment ripped away.

I still have the achey pain, but my energy is turned towards next month. I actually felt grateful for the chance to try again. So many of the same emotions I felt after my miscarriages surfaced yesterday that I almost was tricked into thinking that’s what I was going through. But that’s not what this is. We don’t need to discuss termination options, or sit out a cycle while my body recovers from the loss. We don’t have to wait endlessly while the miscarriage passes. Sometimes I even think, maybe this cycle would have resulted in loss, and I was just spared? 

It still hurts, and I’m still disappointed. But I’m hoping. Maybe next month.

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the perils of progesterone

I hate taking pregnancy tests.

I get heart palpitations just thinking about taking a pregnancy test. The build up, the anxiety, the potential let down. It all becomes too much for me.

This probably puts me in the minority, but I’d rather just wait to see if my period shows up. I find that easier to face than a stark “not pregnant” message staring at me. I also tend to rely on symptom spotting and my temperatures to gauge whether I think the test will be a yay or nay. I use it to mentally prepare myself. 

As a result, I’ve only taken three pregnancy tests in the last 18 months. 

The first test happened the first month we started trying. And it was negative. It was only our first month, so it was more of a mild bummer than anything else. But I still found it to be such a let down, my husband and I so eager to see the result, so excited in our naivety, only to be quickly disappointed. After that test I vowed not to test early anymore. The next two times I took pregnancy tests they were positive, and happened when I was already 95% sure I was pregnant. 

This month, my doctor started me on a regimen of baby aspirin and progesterone. Baby aspirin every day, progesterone after ovulation. Seems to be standard after a few losses, and my doctor’s attitude is very much, “it can’t hurt, and maybe it will help.”

The progesterone is just another icky, uncomfortable thing to contend with during this fertility battle. But my real issue with them is the way they cause you to experience pregnancy symptoms. Fatigue that causes me to do a face plant before dinner is even over. Slight lower abdomen cramping that keeps me thinking about my uterus at all times. The hormonal emotional roller coaster that causes my husband to cower every time I walk in the room. Basal body temperatures that stay elevated.

Then after 14 days of the progesterone, I have to take a pregnancy test. 

I won’t get a period while on the progesterone. I have to take the test to know whether to stop the pills or not. And I won’t get any clues either. Any “pregnancy” symptoms I get will be from the pills. My temps won’t clue me in. I have no way to mentally prepare for the result because I will no idea what it will be.

I know I’m being a wimp, but I just don’t want to face that test cold. 

After seven months of waiting to try again, the build up for this first cycle is big, causing even more anxiety and anticipation for what will happen. I know it’s unrealistic to expect a positive on the first go. But knowing that there’s any chance at all keeps me hoping, obsessing, and anticipating. 

And meanwhile, I am trying not to be tricked by these phantom symptoms, which are continually taunting me. Every twinge, tug, and pull I feel in my stomach gives me hope, before I start repeating the mantra, “it’s just the pills, it’s just the pills” in my head. 

It’s just the pills….

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.