infertility

Giving Thanks

I really meant to write more frequently, as we got updates on our embabies, but unfortunately we had received some bad news last weekend and radio silence ensued.

Last Friday, we were on our way up to San Francisco for a weekend with friends that we had planned for months. Some of our college friends are big Patriots fans so we had gotten tickets to the game vs. the 49ers. Obviously I didn’t know anything about egg retrieval surgery at the time we planned this over the summer, but I was feeling better Friday and was hellbent on sticking with the plan. The day started off well, with another call from our RE letting us know we had 8 embryos that were looking good, possibly even 9 or 10. This was day 3 and I was still very hopeful.

By the time Sunday rolled around, I was miserable. I was physically feeling much better, in that it didn’t hurt to breathe or eat or move. But with my body feeling more healed, I suddenly was acutely aware of my emotions and I was a total mess. My estrogen levels had been at 6,000 before retrieval, and I could feel it plummeting fast. My skin broke out the worst it ever has, I was even more bloated than I had been on stims, my clothes didn’t fit me (I seriously needed maternity clothes, my bump was so huge), and I could not stop crying no matter how hard I tried. I was so depressed and had this intense feeling of impending doom. I literally looked pregnant and it was soul-crushing for me to look at myself in the mirror. Was that the most pregnant I’d ever look? It was PMS on steroids.

And then our RE called. We were in a Safeway supermarket when he called. Everyone was shopping for the different things needed for the tailgate that day, and looking back I am so glad he called when we were in the store and I could wander off, rather than when the 6 of us were packed in the car. He sounded disappointed and told us we only had 2 embryos. Two. We started with 45 eggs. Our fertilization rate sucked, and the ones we did get were not making it. Despite our very best efforts, including Traditional Chinese Medicine, acupuncture, herbs, supplements, etc… the sperm quality just wasn’t good enough. Sure some of the eggs weren’t of great quality either. But 30-37 of them were mature and it was disappointing that only about a third of them fertilized. Our RE’s opinion is that it is more of a sperm issue still. Could those sperm have better fertilized someone else’s eggs? Could the eggs have been better fertilized by some other sperm? It’s all pretty much irrelevant at this point. It is what it is.

Everyone was super excited for the game and I was still determined for Alex to not miss it. I forgot to mention, although it was dry during the tailgate, just before going into the game the skies opened and it began pouring. It had rained the day before, Saturday, too. Living in SoCal, we rarely see rain and even when we do it’s about 2 drops and that’s about it. I couldn’t shake the added gloom of the weekend’s weather. I think I fail to appreciate how much Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) has not affected me since we moved to LA 4 years ago, but I was fully reminded of just how shitty that kind of weather makes me feel. I sat through the first half, miserable, and then I couldn’t take it anymore. I could not process everything that was going on in a stadium packed with people (and babies!). Between the cold, the pouring rain, and the self-destructive thoughts that I couldn’t shake, I took off and wandered around the stadium for halftime and the second half. For some reason, it was easier to be around strangers who knew nothing about me or had any inkling as to what I was thinking or feeling inside. I was so angry. I didn’t understand why this was happening to us. I was shocked and in disbelief that our IVF had not been the success I was so certain it would be. I felt so stupid for thinking this was a done deal. Yes, we still had 2, but the numbers just kept dwindling and dwindling and dwindling…I just had no hope.

Towards the end of the game, the rain let up and the sky finally began to clear. I was still wandering alone on the roof deck and took a few pictures of the sun beaming in through some of the clouds. It looked heavenly. I was hurting so much but had a sense it wasn’t over yet. The game ended and I made my way down to the bottom of the stadium to reunite with Alex and our friends. When I turned around to head for the stairs, I was shocked by the presence of a huge rainbow. Without much rain in CA, we don’t see many rainbows. I think it took my breath away for a minute. I grabbed a quick picture, which of course doesn’t do the actual sight justice. Angry as I was, I knew God had a plan. Many of my Kindara Sisters are touched by rainbows because they have lost babies and are longing for their rainbow baby. I don’t fall into that camp, but I know rainbows are a sign of God’s promise and I felt like that was enough to go on. (By the way, the Patriots won!)

Alex and I were flying back to LA and our friends were giving us a ride to the airport. A car behind us ended up slamming into the back of my friend’s Jeep really, really hard. We were shaken, but fine. The Mini Cooper that rear-ended us was totaled. If it had been a larger vehicle that hit us that hard, it could have been a lot different. It was a reminder that someone was looking out for us and we are actually lucky. What a weird weekend. It had not been at all what I had thought or hoped, and I realize now that I should not have gone. I felt so bad for being so miserable around our friends but I literally was not capable of being fun to be around and needed to be alone. Lesson learned. I was so relieved to get on the plane and go home.

Monday brought more bad news. Only one of the embryos made it to freeze. One. I could see the writing on the wall, and I was so done. What were the chances this one embaby would pass PGS testing and be able to be transferred? Even if it did, the RE gave us about a 40% chance of success – far from the 75% I know other ladies have gotten, which I was hoping for myself. Alex and I spent pretty much the entire day in bed, just crying and grieving and talking. We had gone through so much to get here. Physically, financially, emotionally. We had spent weeks injecting drugs into my body (looking back, I think the shots were harder on him than they were on me. Every night he would say “this is so f*cked up” when he was prepping the needles, I guess in disbelief that this was our life). He had been there when I woke up from the surgery, he was home with me when I was barfing my brains out and he somehow didn’t gag and run away. And I was there waiting for him every time he did a semen analysis. In a really weird way, all of these physically gross times somehow brought us even closer together. To say we saw the worst in each other and loved each other anyway, is an understatement.

In our day of grieving, we acknowledged how much we’ve put our lives on hold for so long now, even before IVF. Everything was planned around fertility. We missed us, and we decided we had to start living again. Of course we wanted this one little embryo to be our miracle, pass PGS, get transferred, and be born. That would be a dream come true. We also had to accept the possibility that this may not work for us. We may have put nearly $30k on the roulette wheel, and lost it all – and we didn’t even care about a dime of it anymore. We had to accept that we may need to learn a new normal, to shift our identities from wanna-be parents, to…something else. We didn’t know what. But we knew we needed to be us again, and start living again. We can’t just keep our lives on hold forever.

Later Monday afternoon, I went to my acupuncture appointment. I told Linda about everything. She told me that science is great, but nature is better. I think I agree. She knows I’m in excellent hands with my RE; she has worked with him before. She also understands the importance of nutrition and everything else, and gave me a book about fertility. There are chapters about toxins, diet, stress. Most of this, I’ve already read, but it always helps to re-read it, have it fresh in mind, and implement some of the nutritional recommendations. There are some great recipes in there too. She mentioned that since my transfer, if we have one, won’t be until January, we could try naturally in December. I truly had not even thought of that. On the one hand, I was thinking, “oh, yeah, we totally can!” while simultaneously thinking, “I never want to go back to TTC life.” I think the reason IVF was such a relief to me was because TTC was so stressful to me. TTC on my own made me feel like I had to control every little aspect of our lives, and I hated that. That’s not me and it’s not who I want to be. IVF was a relief because I felt like it was in someone else’s hands. I didn’t have to do anything other than sit back and follow directions. My doctor never volunteered numbers on blood draws or follicle counts, unless I asked, and I almost never asked. I didn’t want to know. I didn’t want to torture myself with Dr. Google. I wanted to just trust our RE and not have to worry about it myself. Getting pregnant was a task I delegated out to him, and I wanted no responsibility in it. I just wanted him to make us a baby and put it back inside me, because clearly we cannot do that on our own. So hearing Linda suggest this, even flipping through the book, gave me a bit of anxiety as I was unsure I wanted to take the reigns back in my own hands again.

She gave me a great treatment to help balance out my body. She acknowledged my “PMS on steroids” was real, and my levels were indeed plummeting and that I should feel relief when my period arrived. I had told her about the conversation Alex and I had about choosing to live again if this doesn’t work for us and she thought that was great. This treatment was to help cleanse my body of the synthetic hormones, and to really let go of the whole experience. It was traumatic in several ways and it was very necessary to detach from it. During my rest there, I kept envisioning white light, surrounded by darkness, and the white light had many strings that tied to the darkness. And I kept telling myself to let go of all the strings that were attached to the darkness, and only be surrounded by the white light. It was really nice.

After my acupuncture treatment, Alex and I met with our dear friend James that night, who is the therapist we’ve been seeing during our infertility journey. Who knew that a sweet, soft-spoken 70 year old man could make such a difference during this battle? Every time we meet with him, I leave feeling so refreshed and hopeful. But this Monday was different. I felt worse. I agreed that if the results of this embryo didn’t go as we prayed, we had to move on in life. But it was still a hard pill to swallow. And I couldn’t stop thinking about ridiculous things, like how I have no siblings and who is going to take care of me when I’m an old lady? I was terrified of being all alone.

And I was terrified of being with people, too. We talked about going back East for Christmas, and how I didn’t have the strength or energy to smile and make pleasantries with people. Fortunately, we will have our condo in CT back because our tenant is moving out. I have not been inside it in more than 4 years and I am so eager to go back to it, not just for the condo itself but because so many of our things are there – wedding gifts, scrapbooks, memories I haven’t been able to look at in years. Lots of sentimental things. All I want this Christmas is to hole up in our home there. For now we are a family of 3, Alex, me, and Charlie. Maybe that’s all we’ll ever be, maybe we’ll one day be more. But this year it will be so nice to be there in our place, not stay in our hometown where we would inevitably run into people from high school who will ask us the questions we dread (or run into people with their kids), but instead only be surrounded by our closest family and best friends whom we hope will come over and celebrate the holidays with us in our home. Alex promised we could get a real tree and decorate it, even though we’re only there for 10 days. (Side note: a fellow infertility warrior shared this post which is about Thanksgiving but can apply to Christmas as well. There is so much out there about why the holidays are so hard (harder than they already are) when battling infertility, and this was a nice reminder that that’s okay!) Along the same lines, I saw this photo on Instagram:

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Tuesday brought hope. The doctor called later than usual, and I wasn’t sure if this was a good thing or a bad thing, but it was a good thing. He informed us that a second embryo had caught up, and they were able to freeze a total of 2 to send off for biopsy. Of course there is still a chance that neither will pass PGS testing and we won’t have anything to transfer, but we are praying that these two embabies are actually the two perfect babies we’ve prayed for all along. It would be a miracle, and we really are hopeful. We will move on and live again if this isn’t it for us, but it would be great to move on and live again with our kids. Either way, we will start living again in 2017.

My new cycle also began on Tuesday. Linda must have really worked her magic, because neither my doctor nor myself thought it would start so soon after retrieval just one week earlier (guess those levels really were plummeting!). It was good to have my body cleanse those hormones and really let go of it all. I called the RE’s office to let them know, even though I knew I wouldn’t be transferring in December. The nurse asked me if I wanted to do another retrieval cycle, and I was totally caught off-guard. I know women who haven’t had the best IVF results will do multiple retrievals, but this hadn’t been discussed with me yet and I also was just unprepared without this thought in mind at all. My body was just beginning to feel like a human again, and the last thing I wanted to do was go through the same trauma I just went through, especially if the result would be more disappointment. Not to mention I didn’t just have another $20-something thousand dollars laying around to fork over. We do not regret doing IVF because we gave it our all and it was for a honorable cause, to create a family. We’ll never regret losing the money, if it ends up being a loss, because what we attempted was so great. But I also know that, even if we do decide to do IVF again, we are not ready to right now. We need a breather. Hopefully it’s a breather with babies, but either way we need the breather.

Yesterday was Thanksgiving. We had our friends over, the same ones we went to SF with last weekend, and it was nice to be with them. I had been in such a bad, dark place last weekend, and it was nice to be in a refreshed, hopeful, accepting mindset so that I could enjoy hosting the holiday. There was so. much. food! Of course I missed my parents, but I look forward to being able to spend much more time with them, both at Christmas, and in the new year now that our condo there will be vacant for us to come back to. I am so thankful for my parents and their health. I am thankful for my in-laws, who have offered their love and support to us and sent beautiful Thanksgiving flowers. I am so, so thankful for Alex and our marriage. He’s the only one I’d ever want to have a family with (and he makes a good turkey..2 years in a row!). And I am thankful for these 2 embabies who I kept in my mind all day, sitting on ice down the street in Beverly Hills. I am thankful for the hope and possibility that they are an answer to our prayers. There is a plan. PGS testing takes about a week, but because of Thanksgiving, it will be a little longer. We hope to know the results by the end of next week.

IVF has been a million times harder than I ever thought possible (yet I still may argue that it’s not as hard as TTC on our own). I read so many of those “things I wish I had known before IVF” blogs, and I really wasn’t anticipating surprises. Yet I feel I could write my own “things I wish I had known” posts, because I was shocked in so many ways. The ups and downs, twists and turns, have been insane. The physical effects were far greater than I had anticipated (though I guess I was a rare case, with 45 eggs). Emotionally, I don’t even have the words to describe it. I shared the recent part of our journey with my amazing fellow infertility warriors, who of course offered nothing but nonjudgemental love, support, and encouragement. They shared stories of hope, of success, of “the little embryo that could.” They have so much hope for me even when I don’t have lots of hope for myself. They are confident we will be parents. I think I agree with them. Anything is possible when you believe.

And today, on a day when I found it particularly difficult to get out of bed, get myself moving and convince myself everything will be okay, I was finally up on my feet because of a knock on my door. It was the delivery man, bringing me the sweetest, most thoughtful gift and note from the ladies who have been in the trenches themselves. It is a bracelet anchored with HOPE, and I will wear it every day to remind me there is hope, and everything will be okay. I am so thankful for these amazing women who came into my life. I seriously do not think I could have made it this far on our journey without them and their positivity. We will keep praying for the next call to be one of good news, of positive PGS test results, of hope that we will indeed have a transfer. It would feel so strange to have come all this way, gone through all we’ve gone through, grown all these eggs and had them all taken out, to not complete this IVF and have them put back in. We are in a good place now, accepting, and hoping. We are praying to be able to finish what we started, and have it end (or really begin) with our very first BFP. Our wedding song was “Lucky,” we have always felt we’ve been very lucky in love (and if getting married in rain is good luck, getting married in a hurricane is definitely good luck), and we still have so much to be thankful for.

2 thoughts on “Giving Thanks

  1. Love the bracelet…and no clue what doctor in their right mind gives 75% odds for IVF when it’s just not true.. even with donor eggs like we have, the odds are only 50/50 and that’s with no issues like thyroid, implantation, etc. We’re preparing for try #6, it’s the hardest thing we’ve ever dealt with. I hope your battle ends in a win!

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    1. Thank you! The woman who referred us to our RE was given “70% or slightly higher” chance of success, I believe because of many factors. They had done both PGD and PGS testing, did an FET with a 6 day blastocyst instead of fresh transfer, she was young and healthy, and had acupuncture performed immediately before and after transfer. I’m sure all of these factors and more contributed to their success on the first try. We are still praying for a miracle, for a similar outcome! Wishing you all the best with #6. I cannot imagine how trying the journey has been. Hoping it ends with a beautiful BFP for you!!

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