Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Grow Baby Grow

This past weekend, I finally planted my garden.  It was hot, humid, and a typical New England summer day.  I bought some tomato and zucchini plants a few weeks ago, after the seeds I started earlier in the spring got scorched the first day I put them outside. (whomp whomp...#gardenerfail)  

In truth, I had been a bit aggressive in my gardening plans earlier this spring. I started tomatoes (2 varieties), heirloom carrots, fennel, broccoli, green beans, pickling cucumbers, zucchini, lavender... yeah, a bit much given my 20' x 8' plot.

I have always loved gardening. When I look at the talents of the older generations of women in my family - my mom is an exceptional seamstress, my grandmother is an equally gifted knitter - I felt like I was letting the family down. I can sew a hem and a button, and knit in a straight line, that's about it.  And then I fondly remember my great grandmother, whom we all referred to as "Gram" or "Sadie" (short for her given name, Sarah).  I was lucky enough to know Gram in my young life, as she passed away when I was 17 and a senior in high school.  I grew up in her former home, where everyone in our family knew about the gardens at Berkeley St.  So, although I can't knit or sew amazing creations, I'm pretty darn good at growing things in the dirt. I'd like to think I inherited that from Gram.

As I was turning my plot of dirt yesterday, I was gleeful to discover earthworms nearly a dozen times in shovelfuls of dirt.  This is huge, since when we moved in and I started working this plot, I realized it was mainly gravel and clay, rocks, weeds, mulch, and random junk that filled this 20' x 8' box next to our patio.  When I'm out in the garden, digging, weeding, and getting dirty, I think of Gram and hope I'm making her proud. 

This time, I couldn't help but think about where I was last year, doing the same digging, weeding, and getting dirty. I remember tears streaming down, as I struggled with why I could grow vegetables, yet my body couldn't function enough to grow a baby. Wishing all the hormones I was taking would work, and by some miracle we could cultivate and grow our family tree without significant medical intervention.  (As you know from a previous post, such was not the case.)

This year, although it will certainly become more challenging as the summer wears on (as I type I'm already nearing 19 weeks pregnant), I am determined to dig and weed and get dirty; determined to grow my vegetables.  Even though it will be a smaller crop than I originally planned. Even though it may take me longer to weed, and I need more breaks to rest.  And you know what, that's ok.  

The funny thing about life is that while we try our best to cultivate the gardens we have always dreamed of, nature has a way of showing us ways to appreciate what we have, even though it may not be the way we had planned. 

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.