Friday, June 2, 2017

The Land of “IF”

At our first consultation, the news hit me like a truck – premature ovarian failure.  Wait, what?? I’m only 35. How? Why?  Of course, these questions didn’t come to mind until hours and days later.  Long after I sobbed on Derek’s shoulder in the middle of the parking lot.  

First, I was numb.  Clarity and some awareness came later.  I remember I got a bad vibe when I was there.  The doctor seemed dismissive, quick to write off my initial (and partial) blood work as the end. Minimal explanations. And a pitiful, “I’m so sorry. It looks like premature ovarian failure. Your chances of conceiving are less than 1%, unless you use donor eggs.”  
What? Donor eggs? Only half my child? How does that even work?

Thus began our journey navigating the land of “IF” - INFERTILITY.  That taboo word and situation that no one wants to talk about.  In truth, I prefer “fertility challenged,” because, you know, I like to be different.  This was April 2016.  We had been married almost a year. And I wasn't getting any younger (as I was reminded frequently).
I realize this is awkward. And probably uncomfortable too.  Maybe people might read it.  Maybe no one will read it.  But you know what, who cares?!  If you are still reading after I mentioned OVARIES and INFERTILITY, maybe you’ll stick around for more awkward stories!  (If you stick around, it will be worth it - I promise!)
After our first meeting at the first clinic, there was no question:  We wanted another opinion.  Thankfully, the second place put out a much more calming feeling. From the initial conversation with the patient coordinator to the doctor to the ultrasound tech, I felt more comfortable.  Well, as comfortable as I could feel, given the circumstances and tests prescribed.  Cue the consult, more blood work, ultrasound, waiting for my period to arrive, semen analysis for D, cycle day 3 testing for me, the HSG, and that isn’t even a lot compared to others I know going through even more difficult fertility problems than I have.  New diagnosis: ovarian insufficiency.  That’s not as bad, maybe…? Dr. DiGirolamo seemed to think there are good eggs in there, but we just need to access them.  
Ok, but how??? Answer: Medication. Lots of hormone meds. Like the kind you inject into your stomach, the kind that make you fat and make coworkers and random strangers congratulate you on expecting and you’re like “Nope. Just fat. Thanks!”
Fast forward to November.  The game plan was IUI (intrauterine insemination).  Given my situation/diagnosis, I didn’t seem to be a candidate for IVF (which, btw, is what EVERYONE thinks of when you mention fertility treatments.  Not the only option, folks.) We were ready for our “Hail Mary” play (Dr. DiG’s words, for serious).  After a few months of cancelled cycles due to a (massive) cyst and wonky hormone numbers, we were good to go.  
(Still with me??  Good! It will be worth it!)
The roller coaster that is the land of the fertility challenged is an interesting and surreal one.  There are a lot of assumptions made…. For example: fertility treatments = IVF.  Yes and no.  IVF is a type of ART, yet not the only method.  Not many people know what IUI is.  The surreal, for example, is waking up super early on Christmas morning because that is when your doctor wants you to come in for your next mid-cycle blood work and ultrasound monitoring (btw - The Land of IF has zero holidays off).  Surreal is also being one of a dozen women visiting the clinic for the same monitoring on said Christmas morning.  The Land of IF does not discriminate - all people from all walks of life, all cultures, ethnicities, races…There are as many types and causes of infertility as there are different people navigating this journey.  It is both sobering and comforting.  Those navigating the Land of IF are part of a special, secret club that no one talks about (think: Fight Club, without the soap-making front).  
Ok, back to the plan. We navigate the holidays and several back to back IUI cycles. As my 36th birthday approached (in early March), I was having a hard time.  We had done 3 medicated cycles.  My body responded well, but not awesome. We had negative after negative test.  A few days after my birthday, we were scheduled for IUI #4.  By now, we knew the drill.  Rest and relax for a couple weeks...no alcohol, no crazy exercise, and see you in 2 weeks for blood test to see if the procedure worked (or not).  

We did 4 back-to-back cycles. Back-to-back roller coaster rides of the ups and downs. The hope, and then the defeat.

Moral(s) of the story:
  • Even if curiosity is killing you, please don’t ask if someone is planning on having babies or when they will have babies.  Oh, and please PLEASE do not assume someone is expecting. Unless they tell you personally that they are expecting. Just don't. They may be navigating the Land of IF and your inquiry is not helpful and will make the one being asked just feel worse.

  • If someone entrusts you with their fertility story, please just listen. Don’t try to fix it, offer suggestions, or share stories of your mother’s cousin’s best friend’s daughter’s mailman's next door neighbor who got pregnant right after making an appointment with a fertility doctor.  Your heart may be in the right place, but just listening truly demonstrates you care.

  • There is no “one size fits all” in the Land of IF.  Every person, every diagnosis, every treatment is different.  In the United States, 1 in 8 couples struggle with infertility.  So much can be said for modern medicine (science is real, peeps!) and hope.  

  • Be an advocate for yourself.  Getting a second opinion is OK.  Questioning the prescribed treatment is OK.  Ask questions, learn about your body, be your own champion. And if you don’t feel comfortable with your doctor/the clinic/your treatment plan, get another opinion.

And… in the end… our journey was worth it. <3  
Baby Girl M will be joining us around December 1.

Friends - if you are still reading, and perhaps on your own journey in the Land of IF - reach out. It’s lonely out there. You don’t have to go it alone.  
I was (and still am) fortunate to have wonderful support along the way, and I realize not everyone has a strong support system.  Not everyone’s journey ends with a happy outcome.  And as you travel this road, it is OK to not be OK sometimes. You don't have to explain yourself. Just know that it's OK to be what you are.
Find your strength, lean on your tribe, and protect your heart as much as you have to.


Additional Resources
Here are some resources I found helpful for information, support, sharing with others, and hope.

Monday, December 15, 2014

It's beginning to smell a lot like Christmas!

As an adult, Christmas stresses me out more than it did when I was a kid (duh, obviously Amanda!).  There is more to do - gifts to buy, decisions on whose family to see when, working full time, trying not to eat every sweet treat in sight so that the pants still fit come January 1...  Know what I mean??   

In truth, Christmas was wonderful in our family when I was a kid (it still is!).  We had a big family breakfast will all the aunts/uncles/cousins/grandparents you could fit into my parents' cozy old house.  Then we'd trek over to my grandparents' home for an all day, open house - family and friends would stop by all day, we'd eat, nap, and eat some more.  Pasta, sauce, braciole (or involtini, to be accurate), cookies, cakes... It was amazing.  A big, loud, Italian-Irish Christmas.  I only regret one thing...

I never appreciated biscotti!  Silly, I know.  Those crunchy, twice-baked Italian cookies that my mom always made.  Now, as an adult, I don't know how I wasn't enchanted by the sweet, almond-apricot treats (that is the flavor I remember mom baking), the zing of the apricot brandy and chunks of dried apricots in the biscuits.  

A couple years ago my mom shared with me the Almond Apricot Biscotti recipe that she got from my aunt, Bethann, many years ago.  I dug it out and made a batch last night. Of course, I can't leave well enough alone and had to dip the finished cookies in melted white chocolate to make them even more enticing.  I instantly craved a strong cup of coffee and wanted to eat the whole batch.  


These do take some time to make, but trust me, it is all worth it! Check out the recipe at the end of this post. 

So, in addition to my Sunday baking bonanza, I made my annual hand-dipped, dark chocolate-covered Oreos.  Um...yes.  These are always a favorite of my colleagues.  I dipped close to five dozen cookies in some delicious Ghirardelli 60% cacao chips, melted until smooth.  My technique as improved quite a bit over the years. When I first started making the chocolate-covered Oreos, it looked like a toddler did them (true story!). 


And finally, I experimented a little and made my own biscotti creation - dark chocolate cranberry.  These taste every bit as good as they sound...even if I was a little heavy-handed on the chocolate. ;)  

Yes, that is a 3 pound bag! 






There is a bunch of sugar  in these cookies, so I opted for the reduced sugar Craisins


Chocolate cranberry biscotti - before the first bake

Almond Apricot Biscotti

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

2 3/4 cups flour
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 tsp ground ginger
1 tsp salt
1/2 cup chilled, unsalted butter
2 1/2 tsp baking powder
3 1/2 oz (about a cup) white chocolate (I use Ghirardelli chips)
1 2/3 cup sliced, toasted almonds
2 large eggs
2 tsp almond extract
1/4 cup + 1 Tbsp of apricot brandy
6 oz chopped dried apricots

Mix together in a food processor flour, sugar, ginger, salt, baking powder, and butter.  Pulse until blended.

Next, mix in white chocolate and toasted almonds.

In a bowl, mix eggs, almond extract, and apricot brandy.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry ingredients in the food processor.  Put the mixture in a large bowl and carefully mix in apricots.  It might take some muscle, as the dough will be quite thick now. 

On a foil-lined cookie sheet sprayed with cooking spray, shape the dough into 3 logs - about 2" x 12" each.  Refrigerate for 30 min.  

Then, bake for 30 min. until golden brown.  The logs will be kind of squishy in the middle.  Transfer to a cooling rack and cool.  Reduce oven to 300 degrees.

Cut into 3/4" wide slices.  I use a serrated knife and cut carefully!  Bake for 10 min. on each side.  Cool, then store in an air-tight container for up to 2 weeks (if they last that long!)

*Dark chocolate cranberry version - use dark chocolate instead of white chocolate, and dried cranberries instead of apricots.  I eliminated the almonds, used vanilla extract instead of almond, and used Grand Marnier in place of apricot brandy. 



Saturday, September 6, 2014

Fridge Dills!

Hey party people!  This year, I decided to purchase a CSA share from a local farm through a program at work.  For a set price paid in advance, I get a bucket of local fruits/veggies every week for 20 weeks (June thru October)!!! How cool is that?!?!  It worked out to be about $15 a week for hubs-to-be and I to get a bin of fresh veggies, locally-grown at Nourse Farm.  That's a win in my book!  

Anyway, for a couple weeks I got some pickling cucumbers in my bin. Being that I (and hubs-to-be) LOVE pickles, I figured "Why not try to make my own??"  I found a plethora of recipes for refrigerator dill pickles on Pinterest and the interwebs.  I decided to modify a couple recipes and create my own blend of perfectly "dill-ified" cold and crunchy cukes!

The finished product!
The process was super easy - as in, I was surprised it didn't take more work - but I'm not complaining!  The hardest part was waiting 3 DAYS to try these dilly, crunchy snacks.  

Here are some photos of the process, and the recipe that I used. 


The goods!


Boiling and waiting for it to cool was the loooonngest part!

Sliced the cukes and packed the jar while I was waiting for the liquid to cool.
All packed up and ready for the pickling liquid
Refrigerator Dills

3 ½ cups water
1 ¼ cups white vinegar
1 Tbsp sugar
1 Tbsp sea salt
4 cups cucumber spears or slices
3-4 cloves garlic, whole and peeled
3-4 sprigs of fresh dill
1 Tbsp black pepper corns

Mix water, vinegar, sugar, and salt in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Let it cool completely. Put all the cucumbers and spices into a mason jar or jar with tight-fitting lid. You might need to divide the cukes and liquid between two jars, depending on the size of the jar.  Pour liquid into the jar(s). Refrigerate for 3 days.  

Caution - once opened, the pickles are irresistible.  They will not last long. You have been warned. ;) 

Mangia!

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Better late than never! (a.k.a. Boston Marathon Weekend 3 months later)

Tomorrow it will be 3 months since I took a little run from Hopkinton to Boston.  I have been meaning to blog my feelings and reactions to that day, but, ya know, life gets in the way!  

Alas, here I am: 3 months post-Boston Marathon and I am finally writing about it.  I remember it with amazing clarity.  Slightly warmer than ideal, horrendous traffic getting into Hopkinton, nervous energy, oh yeah, and a terrible chest cold!! :(  I started to feel "not right" the Thursday before... I was burning up, felt super tired, and just blah.  Friday morning I woke up to a full blown cold.  In April. 3 days before I got to finish what I started on April 15, 2013.  There was only one thing I could focus on: I was going to finish that damn race!!!

I rested as much as I could, tried not to laugh (because that induced massive coughing fits), and drank water and tea, and anything laced with vitamin C like a fiend.  I HAD to feel better.  Saturday night was the highlight of my runner geek life - I was going to meet Hal Higdon!  You might remember his book, 4:09:43, that he wrote soon after that life-changing day.  He selected my story to be part of his book, a walk (er, run) through the day from the eyes of those involved: runners, spectators, officials, all of us.  


I rallied on Saturday to visit the expo, get my number, and have dinner in town for The Gathering of the 75, as our group was dubbed from Mr. Higdon himself.  I felt like death, but as many of us runners can be, I was stubborn and was not going to miss this opportunity for anything.  


We went to dinner and met up with the man himself.  Such a great guy, approachable, and fun.  We met a few new friends - Mary and Dave from Milwaukee, John and Helen from Scotland, and of course Janine who organized the whole shindig.  


I definitely made out in race schwag! 

Run like Hal!
Mary and Dave


John and Helen




After muddling my way through Easter Dinner with the in-laws-to-be (I'm sure I was in a medicated fog), marathon Monday was upon us. Traffic was awful getting into Hopkinton - CRB had to drop me off a mile from the center of town and I gave a State Trooper a coronary because I was carrying a backpack.  He let me continue on my way to the branch when I nearly burst into tears on the sidewalk.  

After the obligatory 3+ hour wait, it was time for us wave 4 folks to head to our corrals.  

Raquel and yours truly
Raquel, me, Henry, Stacy


I really wanted to finish in under 5 hours, but when the evil death cold descended into my chest a few days before, I knew that was not going to be possible.  I decided to sight see, be careful (as careful as one can be while running a marathon), and just run for that painted line on Boylston Street.  

I took my time, knowing where friends and family would be stationed.  It turned out to be warmer than any of us expected that day.  I saw my work friends in Natick.  Huge thanks to Nick for replenishing my sport beans and coconut water stores! 

I saw my amazing friend Amy in Wellesley where she was volunteering at the Mile 14 water stop.  Water and a hug - exactly what I needed right about then!

I saw my dad and my CRB at Newton-Wellesley Hospital.  I stopped to chat a little and take some water. Dad said I looked good, so I knew I wasn't looking like death. (He's pretty honest about stuff like that). Patty gave me a cheer at Mile 17-ish right before the Newton fire station turn onto Comm Ave.

I struggled the whole day, but I really started to feel bad around Mile 20 or so.  I saw my friends Jo and Amanda right before then, and they reassured me I looked great.  Hey, I might not be fast, but at least I still looked OK at Heartbreak Hill, right?!  A guy offered me a beer, and I actually considered it at that point.  I mean, I had 6-ish miles left, it was hot, I was tired...how much worse could it get?  Well, 200 yards past my girls, it got worse.  I hurled.  Sitting on the curb halfway up THE hill, I actually thought for a minute that I was going to see the inside of a medical tent that day.  But no. That wasn't an option.  Crossing that painted line was my ONLY option that day. 



Surprisingly, I felt better after I got sick.  Once I got past the hills and began my final descent into the city, I knew I was going to finish.  Not fast, and not pretty, but I would finish. (If only that nagging side cramp had subsided, it would have been SO much better!)  

I worked my way through the route, getting closer and closer with every step.  I was amazed at how many fans were still along the course.  It was amazing.  Once I saw the Citgo sign, I knew I was almost there.  When I hit Kenmore Square, that's when the emotion really hit me.  This is where I was stopped last year.  The Sox game had been over little while, thus Kenmore was packed with energy and emotion.  The tears started then.  

At the "1k to go" banner, I saw blue singlets.  Could that be Tedy's Team, and my friend Christine?  Nah...I hadn't seen her since we loaded into the corrals at the start.  But it was!  She and I stuck together with other Tedy's Team peeps for the final .62 miles.  I saw my family when I took the right onto Hereford.  Mom, Dad, CRB, Andy, Aunt Beth...all there for me.  They were there last year and were closer to the tragedy than I was.  They showed up again to support me and the tens of thousands of others for the love of the event.

Taking the left onto Boylston, I was in awe of what I saw. People, 10 deep, lining the street, cheering for complete strangers, cheering because they were there.  After what happened last year, I was worried.  Worried that the finish line wouldn't be the same, that the energy wouldn't be the same.  I had been on Boylston to see my brother finish the Boston Marathon in 2009.  I felt the energy, the amazing vibe, just everything.  I had hoped that wouldn't change.  And it didn't.  Maybe I was delirious by then, but I think I ran my best in the last 386 yards than I had the entire race.  I saw the NF Inc. Northeast ladies just before I got to the finish line.  Cheering like crazy!  

Then, at long last..... that line of paint. I had it. No one could take that away from me now.  

Hugged Christine, made sure she was ok, and then I was off to find my family (albeit very slowly).  

Since it was later, and so many people had already finished, grabbing a bite to eat of something other than Sport Beans or post-race snacks in Boston was out of the question.  CRB and I bid farewell to my family and made our way to the car to head home.  Back in Hudson, I thoroughly enjoyed a draft and dinner at Rail Trail Flatbread Co., proudly wearing my jacket and my medal.  Smiling and nodding when other patrons, who realized what that neon jacket meant, asked, "You ran today, right? How did you do?"  And to the awesome woman who insisted on buying me a beer and/or dessert, much love. I opted for a beer. :)


Since the marathon was right after Easter, I felt a Peeps donut was warranted. 

I had purchased this shirt in 2013 at the expo, but never wore it.  I hadn't had the chance to take that right, and that left.  But now, I will wear it with pride.



Oh, and I am now the proud owner of some pretty sweet tan lines.  No, I am not wearing red socks. Yes, this is what happens when you forget sunblock on your legs.  Oops!  (P.S. It is July 20, and I STILL have lines on my legs.)


And an amazing gift from my future MIL's friend, Terri.  She works for the sign company that makes all the banners for the marathon.  She had this made for me.  What a wonderful gift. 



Everyone has asked, "Will you run it again?"  Training for and running a marathon is no joke.  I'm not what you would call a "typical" runner.  But you know what, I run.  And I will run Boston again.  

Sunday, March 16, 2014

March Musings

Here we are - 36 days away from Boston...  

Pre-15 miler! 
This winter has been harder for me than last year.  As far as marathon training goes, it has been one thing after another.  A head cold that morphed into a sinus infection, nagging IT band tightness and pain that resulted in a new knee pain, and my stomach now hates me after any run longer than 10 miles.  BUT, here's the thing - mentally, I'm in a better place.  Last year at this time, I had my first marathon meltdown. Crying, self-doubt, yelling, pity party...yeah, it was NOT one of my finer moments.  I feel like I've been able to weather the storm of Boston Marathon training better this year.  Sure, I have done less running and have had more pains, but all in all, I'm okay with that. 

A few months ago I made a choice.  I decided to keep my head in the right place.  What does that mean?  Well, I made a conscious decision to keep my mindset positive. Yes, s#!$ happens, but it is all how you handle it.  I keep making this choice every day to stay positive about what is going on around me.  My results?  I feel fantastic.  Of course I have had some bumps in the road to a more positive outlook, but I keep coming back to my decision to keep my head on straight, as I like to call it.  

Don't be fooled - reality still exists.  I don't pretend like everything is sunshine and rainbows all the time.  I know this.  But I choose to not let negativity get the best of me.  We all have choices to make, and I choose to keep moving forward.  


Just as negativity breeds more negativity, positive attitudes do the same.  Positive vibes are contagious.  Spread the love. 

Ok, enough of my soap box for now! :)   This week, the B.A.A. announced bib numbers and wave/corral assignments.  Woohoo!!!  


Given the increased field size, there are 4 waves of runners - I am in Wave 4, which starts at 11:25 am on Marathon Monday.  A little later than the last wave usually goes off, but there are 9,000 more registered runners than last year.  Now that I have my number, I am getting excited for Boston.  I will run my best, and I will cross that finish line on April 21. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Viva Las Vegas! (or A Dashed PR and a 3-State Moose & M.G. Adventure)

It's been a while, folks, did you miss me??  Kidding....I've been up to my eyeballs in work, finishing up school, etc...oh yeah, and the Vegas trip!  As you may remember, I didn't get to finish the Boston Marathon last April. The Rock 'n' Roll Race Series granted those like myself a FREE race entry to any Rock 'n' Roll race held before the end of the year.  My Original CRB mentioned she was going to run in Las Vegas.  My "bucket list" radar went up (I have never been to Vegas, but have always wanted to go...at least once) and I was in!  Another friend who runs for Tedy's Team was going also, so we figured, "Girls' trip! Why not??"  


Paris Las Vegas
Having never been to Vegas, I knew I was in for an experience.  Apparently there is no open container laws there, and there are people on every corner handing out cards for call girls.  So, as we strolled down the strip with our beverages (because we could!), we were surrounded by bright lights, tourists, and half naked "ladies."  Quite the people-watching experience, for sure.  


Picking up our race numbers
We picked up our numbers at the race expo on Saturday, saw the sights there, and then headed back to the hotel to grab dinner and plan for the next day.  If there is one this that is certain, you will never go hungry in Vegas.  If you can't find a food that suits your fancy, there is probably something wrong with you. Seriously. 


Pre-dinner selfie!

On Sunday, we laid low by the pool and prepared for the race, which was at night - difficult since every other long race I have done has been in the morning.  I chose the half marathon, where my travel companions were running the full marathon.  

The race atmosphere was pretty cool.  It started around sunset, and that night there was a full moon.  With the moon rising over the mountains, the sun setting, and the bright lights of the strip, the first half of the race flew by!  We covered the entire strip and Old Las Vegas, with plenty of singing Elvises and little white chapels along the way.  

I was pacing pretty well, but still wary that I would best my goal time.  I felt good, but I knew I was pushing it.  I drank at every water station because I was thirsty.  Knowing we were in the desert, I felt like I always needed to replenish.  My body was used to November in New England - even on a "dry" day it was still more humid than it ever is in Vegas.  Around mile 11, things went south.  My stomach felt awful, I was getting nauseous, and my hip began to hurt.  I slogged along, knowing now that a PR was not going to happen that night.  

I finally finished and found some space to sit down (which was bizarre because they shut down all traffic on the strip for the entire afternoon/evening).  I plopped down, and my stomach finally staged its revolt.  I had a slight chuckle with the girl next to me as she said, "Oh man, I feel the same way," as I watered the bushes with a special water/Gatorade mix. :/ Ugh.  I knew D and C weren't going to finish the marathon for a while, so I took my time and found Jav.  We both succumbed to the same fate - Late-run/post-run stomach issues.  We were a pretty sad looking pair, sitting on a curb looking at the lights and water show at the Bellagio (which was pretty cool, btw).  We finally managed to get ourselves up and heading back to our respective hotels, making sure we texted each other that we made it safely to our destination (me, just in time...). 

Alas, I did not PR that day.  It was actually close to my worst half marathon time of the 7 half marathons that I have run.  But I finished, and really, the trip was more about the experience (that's what I keep telling myself anyway).


D had a marathon PR!! Woo hoo!  

The next day Chris had a spa day planned with the Tedy's Team ladies, so Dayna and I hit the road to Zion National Park.  Best quote of the day: "This is the antithesis of Vegas." ~D.  And it was so true.  As we rode out Interstate 15, which is a convenient drive through the upper northwest corner of Arizona into southwestern Utah, the mountains rose up around us.  D, a.k.a. photog chic, snapped pics along the way.  When it got warm enough, we put the top down (yes, Christine had snagged us a Mustang convertible!) which facilitated capturing the glorious mountains easily. 


Warning: gratuitous selfies abound!

State #3 of the day - and the second time zone!
Utah = Mountain time, Vegas = Pacific time


Thelma & Louise shot

Welcome to Zion 
Of course, we didn't hike that much.  Just a little jaunt up Canyon Overlook Trail, took our obligatory "boot" picture, and saw a whole bunch of big horn sheep!






Trust the boot! (or sneaker!)

Peek-a-boo!


Pictures do NOT do this place justice. At all. 

Yes, he was really that close to the road. Just having a little dinner.

And it wouldn't be a Moose and Mountain Goat adventure if we didn't finish our day with beers and nachos.... at Zion Canyon Brew Pub.



And even caught a sunset on our way back to Vegas.



So, maybe my 7th half marathon wasn't so lucky, but I was definitely lucky to experience a race in Vegas and a gorgeous National Park with great friends!