Monthly Archives: April 2011

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Busting a Myth – Stress causes infertility

This week, in honor of “National Infertility Awareness Week,” bloggers are uniting to expose and bust myths about infertility.  As I read through some of the suggestions on the RESOLVE website, I found myself shaking my head.  No one really believes that infertility is only a woman’s issue, do they?  I’ve never heard anyone say that children conceived through IVF are more likely to have defects or delays.  But then one jumped out at me.  One that I have not only heard many times, by many intelligent and compassionate people, but one that I actually believed myself until recently.
Stress causes infertility.

It seems to be a common theme in the infertility community.  We hear this line (or some variation) over and over:  If you just relax / stop trying / adopt, you’ll get pregnant. Everyone seems to know someone who went on a cruise or took a break or adopted a beautiful baby… only to go on to conceive seconds later.  And people insist on telling you the story when they don’t know what else to say and are trying to offer up some hope.  If you have said something along these lines to me, I forgive you.  But the rest of this post will be about how hurtful these comments are and why.  Think of it as an opportunity to educate yourself, and a chance to do better next time.
A woman who is trying and failing at the fertility game feels a lot of shame and a lot of guilt.  She walks around questioning herself – her past mistakes, her current lifestyle, that glass of wine after ovulation, those last 5 pounds she can’t seem to lose.  She is constantly fighting against all the many ways she can blame herself.  She believes that if pregnancy is not achieved, then she must have done something to prevent it.  She has been taught throughout her life that if you work hard enough at something, it will happen.  She lives with an internal struggle – between stress brought on by the failure to conceive and the belief that stress is preventing her from doing so.
When people suggest that a woman “just relax,” they’re just guessing, and trying to help.  In most cases, they haven’t experienced infertility in their own lives.  I read an article that cited research showing that women suffering from infertility have the same level of stress as cancer patients.  Yet no one would ever suggest to a cancer patient that if they just relaxed, their cancer would be cured.  Yes, relieving stress can bring all sorts of benefits and should definitely be part of any disease treatment plan.  But let’s be clear – infertility is a disease; it’s physical, not just mental.  Suggesting otherwise minimizes our reality and our struggle.  It places blame on the woman who wants so desperately to be fertile, to be pregnant, and to give life.  
John and I struggled with this myth for a long time.  For as loving and accepting and encouraging as he is, John believed our infertility had much to do with my stress level.  He held to the idea that there was something we could do (or really, something I could do) to fix things “naturally.”  We finally brought this concern to our doctor and here’s what he said: stress does not cause infertility.  Think of women in primitive times.  They might have been hiding out from a saber tooth tiger or unsure when their partner would return with food and they would be able to eat again.  Now, that’s stress.  And yet the species continued.  Humans reproduced, and continue to do so, even under the most stressful of circumstances.
It was so relieving for me to hear it explained this way.  I felt like a weight – or a burden – had been lifted from my shoulders.  I continued to do yoga and acupuncture and meditation, but I did it for all the right reasons.  Strength, clarity, peace.  I realized that these exercises served an important purpose in my self care, but they were not meant to “cure” me.  I try to relieve stress as much as possible in my life because it’s good for me, not because it’s one more thing I’m doing wrong and trying to correct.  And knowing that, believing that I’m doing all I can for my future family, is the best stress relief there is.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Meditations on the 2WW

First, an update.  We had our egg retrieval last Friday and were happy to learn that it yielded 14 eggs.  The next day we were told that 12 of those eggs fertilized, and that we had a long five-day wait to see how many would survive for our transfer today.  Well, we were very excited and surprised to find out that nine of our embryos survived the five days (Usually, from what I’ve read, the survival rate is about 30-50%.  Ours was 75% – John takes all the credit.)  So, we implanted two very good looking embryos (they have my eyes) today and will hopefully freeze the rest.  We couldn’t have asked for better results.  The procedure was a bit painful/stressful, but the doctor said that it could not have gone better.  I am now just resting on the couch for the next few days and praying to God and every angel I’ve got on my side in heaven that we will soon be pregnant with twins.

Which leads me to the subject of my next post – the dreaded two week wait (or, 2WW for you message board junkies).  Whether you have just started trying to conceive (TTC) or have made it all the way to IVF, no one escapes the grueling process of … waiting.  You wouldn’t think waiting would be so bad.  After all, waiting doesn’t take any effort.  It’s not like climbing a mountain or running a marathon or solving a really tricky math problem.  You don’t have to DO anything.  But on the flip side, there is nothing you can DO.  You are now in the hands of fate.  Everything you could control is now over, for better or worse.  And, in our culture of instant gratification, this is one of the very few processes that you can’t speed up.  Because whether the fertilization of the egg happens in your body or in a Petri dish, the miraculous process of dividing, implanting, nestling in and beginning to emit the pregnancy hormone that will show up on a blood or urine test, always takes about two weeks.   

For women who’ve decided that they’re ready to be mothers, this is a tough pill to swallow.  For women like me who’ve decided that they’re ready to be mothers AND they have what some might call “control issues,” this is torture.  Of course, ideally, there are healthy, meditative things you could do to pass the time.

You could take a long, brisk walk.  You will google “how soon can you take a pregnancy test?”
You could do yoga.  You will google “what are early pregnancy symptoms and how early might they show up?”
You could talk to a friend.  You will google “pregnancy due date calculator.”
The list goes on.  And in many cases, you won’t get outside or talk to a friend.  Because although you love them dearly (Friends – I love you dearly!!), unless they are right where you’re at in the process, they cannot completely empathize with the longing.  And the preoccupation with all things fertility.  However, there are other women out there just like you.  Women you’ve never met, but to whom you’ll reveal your most intimate thoughts and bodily functions.  Yes, I’m talking about message boards and online support groups.  I haven’t yet concluded if these are an incredible time suck that only add to my obsession and paranoia or a valuable resource for support, encouragement and information.  Probably both, but I have gotten a great deal of comfort in feeling part of a community of women warriors, fighting this battle together.
The 2WW is a roller coaster – one minute you’re up.  You’re thinking of baby names and how you’re going to announce the big news to your family and friends.  The next minute you are down – chastising yourself with pessimistic, self-deprecating judgment.  Every thought in your head orbits around the singular theme of wondering if you’re pregnant.  Is this cramping a good or a bad sign?  Is that spotting implantation bleeding, or am I about to get my period?  I feel nauseous – hooray!  Now I don’t anymore – ugh, it’s over.  I wish I had better advice on how to cope with this part of the journey.  If I did, I would give it to myself right now.  Because I’m not 12 hours into this 2WW and I’ve already googled, message boarded, emailed and blogged.  Patience is a virtue, but it is not mine.  Wish me luck!

PS.  For those of you TTC, let me save you some googling and provide you with links to answers for the above-mentioned questions.  Enjoy!

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

How it was supposed to be … and how it is

Happy Birthday to me.  I’m 32 today.  As making a baby has been the primary focus of my life for the past 2 years, I look at my age through that lens and realize… admit… accept… that I am not where I expected to be at 32.  Not where I wanted to be. 
At this point, I hope and pray that I will be giving birth to my first baby at 32.  Earlier today, I laughed as I remembered that my younger self expected to be giving birth to my fourth and final baby at 32.  It’s incredible how much certainty we have when we are making plans for our life in our early 20s.  The world is our oyster.  No panic has yet set in.  Everything still makes sense.
I was supposed to have a house and a family by now.  I was supposed to be a stay at home mom with a book deal or magazine column.  I was supposed to know, more or less, what the next few chapters of my life were going to read.  Instead I’ve been stuck in a holding pattern for 2 years.  Putting things off indefinitely.  Centering my life around a hope that holds no guarantee.
I am married to the man who was meant to be my partner in this.  He is the calm in the eye of the storm of uncertainty that swirls around us.  He is my voice of reason, my source of optimism, and my safety net.  He is becoming, more and more everyday, the perfect father for our children.  And as these 2 years have tested and strengthened our marriage, we are becoming the parents we want to be.
My sister gave birth 3 ½ years ago to the little girl who would become the light of my life.  When I am feeling my most unlovable and unworthy, she lifts me up with her smile and spirit.  She chooses me, her auntie, to be her playmate and friend.  I love every minute with her.  My sister’s other child, my Godson, is also incredibly precious to me.  Holding and cuddling him heals my heart.  And now my twin nephews – my little miracle babies – bring me hope and inspiration.  They remind me that what I wish for is possible, and what I’m going through is worth it.  All four of them teach me that my capacity to love only grows with each beautiful child that enters my life.  They make me yearn to be a mom, but grateful to be an auntie.
Am I where I wanted to be?  No.  But do I have people in my life that make it worth being where I am, worth playing my hand as it has been dealt?  Absolutely.  And what my struggle has given me is certainty that my desire to be a mother is unshakable.  My willingness to sacrifice has been tested.  My patience, my perseverance and my threshold for pain proven.  When our baby does make its way into our arms, it will know without question that no other child has been more wanted and more loved.  And we will know that things are exactly as they should be.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

All these things that I’ve done

To provide a glimpse into my fertility-focused world, I thought I’d list out all the things I’ve tried to improve my chances of getting pregnant.  From the scientific to the slightly absurd, you will see how this subject has grown from an interest to a pastime to an obsession. 

I’ve done fertility acupuncture, fertility yoga and fertility massage. Mayan abdominal massage, prayer, meditation, and mantra.  I’ve journaled, charted my temperature and tracked my menstrual cycle.  I’ve taken Chinese herbs, various vitamin supplements, and baby aspirin.  I made my husband take huge “Mega Man” vitamins.  I’ve even taken Robitussin off label (they say it increases cervical mucus)!

Speaking of cervical mucus (sorry, guys), I’ve become intimately familiar with mine.  I’ve also become a spokesperson for Preseed and Clearblue Easy digital ovulation predictor kits.  I’ve spent the extra cash on natural, unbleached feminine products.  I’ve tried eating certain foods (e.g. pineapple core), not eating certain foods (e.g. peas), and drinking a regimen of fertility teas.  I’ve given up caffeine and stopped drinking alcohol for at least half of every month.  I’ve consulted with a nutritionist, a reiki master and invested many hours and dollars in therapy.

I have thought about making a list of how much I’ve spent on trying to conceive (for my future book), but I realized that it would be nearly impossible to account for all of these expenses, in addition to my medical bills.  That’s what’s so crazy about this process – the money you spend at the doctor’s office / hospital only tells a small part of the story.  Oh, and to that end, I’ve done literally thousands of dollars worth of blood tests, had countless ultrasounds, met with various providers for opinions and second opinions, and most recently, began injecting myself daily with pricey medications.

Last week, I bought several pairs of orange underwear to wear to my doctor appointments.  I read on a message board that orange is the color of the second chakra, which is the one that is associated with fertility.  I try to explain it to John in a way that doesn’t make me sound like a weirdo, and he just smiles.  Nothing – I mean nothing – fazes him anymore.

Friday, April 1, 2011

The Beginning (which is really the middle, but could be the end…for now)

I struggled with deciding where and how to start this blog.  Do I go back two years to when we first started trying to conceive?  Recount our two miscarriages?  Profile our first visit to the reproductive endocrinologist?  There are so many significant steps along this journey and I want to share it all – both to provide information and support to those going through it with me, but also to document it for myself.  This has been a constellation of events that has changed the course of my life.  But I realized that I am a wordy, over-explainer (John asks – you are just realizing this??)  So, better to start in real time – where we’re at now.

We are currently starting our first cycle of IVF (in vitro fertilization).  Basically, it’s a process by which the doctor controls all your hormones with injectable medications, makes your ovaries grow a lot of follicles, goes in and surgically removes a bunch of eggs, puts them together with your husband’s sperm in a little petri dish and makes some embryos.  Then a couple of the embryos get transferred back into your uterus (the rest are frozen) and then you wait…and wait…and wait.  For 12 LONG days until you find out whether or not you’re pregnant.  Easy, right?

Not so much, I’ve been warned.  While so far I’ve only been getting a measly one shot per day (administered with a lot of love and just a bit of sadism by John), and suffered a few hormonal meltdowns – most directed towards my husband (hence the sadism), I’ve been told it gets much worse.  But I am physically and emotionally ready for whatever comes my way.  I welcome the shots, the side effects, the emotional pain – it’s my badge of honor.  It’s my way of telling the universe how very truly I wish to be a mother. 

I realized the other day that I have reached the top rung of the ladder.  There is nothing left to reach for, if this doesn’t work.  For each step of our fertility journey, there has always been a “next step.”  As in, if we don’t get pregnant doing this, we can always do that next.  Now I am standing at the top looking out over all the possibilities.  All the things we’ve tried up to this point.  I didn’t think about how it might feel to be here.  Powerful and very, very hopeful.  But also scary.  What will I do if this fails?