Monday, September 30, 2013

Pulling the Plaster off Slowly

It's been about a year now, and it's only been in the last few months that I am truly starting to deal with it. Some people pull a bandage (or plaster) off quickly, trying to get the sting and pain over with quickly. In this case, the plaster is coming off on its own, very slowly.

I had a positive pregnancy test once, during my third Clomid cycle. I don't remember the date, but it was a Sunday. I woke up early to test, and it seemed like forever before the pregnancy test showed its result. I must have looked at it 3 or 4 times before I really believed it said "Pregnant." Meanwhile my husband, laying in bed waiting, was wondering what was taking so long. I came out of the bathroom, not saying anything, then threw the baby Serta sheep at him. (To say my husband has a thing for sheep is an understatement; this was our agreed upon signal that the test was positive.) Apparently my aim was less then stellar, and I hit him in the face. Fortunately stuffed sheep are not injury inducing.

That was the beginning of our three days of joy. I called my doctor's office and scheduled the first beta for the next day. At Mass, my husband said that as he was giving thanks, he felt closer to God than he ever had, almost as if he could feel the hand of God on his head. Then came Monday, and the first HCG test; the number was low, but the nurse assured me that it didn't mean anything was wrong; it was probably just super early (her exact words were "you're like one minute pregnant"). I was scheduled for a second beta on Wednesday morning. I was a little worried, but I believed that it was probably just incredibly early and that second test would show the needed doubling. Wednesday after the blood draw I stopped to buy new bras; my breasts were so sore and swollen that I couldn't comfortably wear the ones I had. Yes, ladies and gentleman, I was in the dressing room, trying on bras to accommodate my pregnancy swollen breasts when I found out that there was something wrong. Though the HCG levels had increased, they had nowhere near doubled. Those three days of joy were over; a nightmare had begun. Instead of thinking about our baby, I had to re-frame my thoughts to consider "it" a "nonviable pregnancy." It was the only way I could cope with all the tests and decisions, though I just about lost it when I was sent to the regular ultrasound unit, with all of its rules and signs about number of people allowed to share the joyful occasion. Neither blood work nor ultrasound could identify whether it was an ectopic pregnancy or a miscarriage that hadn't yet happened (as my doctor so eloquently phrased it). 

I was given the choice between a D&C, with the caveat that if it was an ectopic pregnancy I would later need a methotrexate injection, or just going straight to the methotrexate injection to end the pregnancy. Since there was a chance it was ectopic, we had to consider my health at risk. No matter how much emotional pain I was in, or how much guilt I felt about ending the pregnancy, I had to put it aside to be able to make a decision about treatment. Since methotrexate would end the pregnancy either way, it seemed the better choice, rather than having the D&C and possibly needing the injection later. (Better to minimize how much treatment you need, right?) I was so much more comfortable in the cancer unit to get the injection than I had been in the ultrasound unit; though our suffering was different, everyone in that waiting room was hurting, either because they themselves had cancer or because they were there supporting a family member or friend. To get through it all I pretty much shut down emotionally; I had to focus on each step of testing and treatment, on following the doctor's instructions.

Though we purchased a memorial that we keep on our mantel to remind us of the child we had for such a short time, it almost hasn't seemed real at times. All we had was those three days of joy, of believing that we were going to have a baby. I didn't have any sense of whether the child was a boy or a girl, and we did not name the baby. As early as it was, there was no identifiable body, just a heavier than normal period. And then it was over. 

In June that it hit me that our child would have been due that month; I wouldn't have been able to travel to the family reunion. But I had to shut it away to get through the child/family centered event. Now I am remembering that it was about this time last year that our TTC roller coaster took a horrifying twist. The bandage is loosening; I am peeking at the wound. It hasn't healed completely, though it is no longer so raw that it cannot be exposed. Slowly the plaster is loosening; the scar will be there forever but in time it will no longer be debilitating.

Friday, September 27, 2013

A Foolish Hope

Years ago, long before TTC or IF, I was diagnosed with Hashimoto's syndrome. I was only on Synthroid briefly, long enough to clear up the skin problem that lead to the diagnosis; since then my doctors have pretty much ignored the Hashimoto's as my TSH levels were always in the normal range. At our first NaPro appointment, the doctor told me that I should go gluten free because of the Hashimoto's. To say that I was not happy about this would be a dramatic understatement. (I had heard that advice from others, but I was waiting until directly advised by a doctor to make the switch.) The first test the doctor scheduled was a full thyroid panel, including testing for antibodies. Of course I was secretly hoping that maybe that old diagnosis was wrong, and maybe I didn't really have Hashimoto's. Because of course if I didn't have Hashimoto's, I wouldn't need to go gluten free, right? (To my knowledge, I do not have celiac disease, PCOS, endometriosis, or any other condition that would require me to give up gluten.) The test results came in earlier this week; the normal range for antibodies is 0.0 to 9.0. Mine was 288.8, consistent with Hashimoto's syndrome. So much for that foolish hope. 

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Cousins and friends

I have six cousins, all on my mom's side; the oldest is 8 years older than me, and the youngest is a year older than my brother. I am the youngest of the three girls; we're clustered in the middle of the grandchildren. Though we didn't live that close to that side of my family, we saw my grandparents and my cousins at least three or four times a year while I was growing up. There are more pictures and videos of me playing with the E and J (the other granddaughters) and my brother playing with JM (the cousin a year older than him) than you can count. My grandfather really enjoyed breaking out those old, embarrassing videos when each of us brought our intended to meet the extended family. While I wouldn't say that it was something I thought much about, I guess I always assumed that my children would have cousins around the same age that they would grow up playing with.

I don't have the kind of close girl friends where we always expected to have our children around the same time and that our kids would be the best of friends. Once our friends started having kids, I thought that it would be nice if our children weren't too much younger, so they could play together when we visited those friends.

Our oldest nephew turned 13 this year. The bumper crop of children born the year we got married have either turned 5 or will be turning 5 shortly. Our youngest niece turned 1 this summer. Most of our family and friends are done having children. (The exceptions are other infertiles who are still trying.) While I know that many people make lots of new friends through moms' groups and other parents with children in the activities their children are in, it feels weird to know that if we do have children, they will be much younger than most of their cousins and our friends' children. The vast majority of our family and friends weren't that young when they had their children, so it feeds my fear of "Am I getting too old to be a mom?" It adds to my questioning of whether or not I still want children. Without trying to do so, I may have achieved indifference to whether or not we have children. That doesn't mean we're giving up trying or limiting what we're doing just yet (especially since my husband still feels strongly about having children), but it does mean that I am no longer crushed when the inevitable spotting that leads the way to day 1 appears. 

Monday, September 16, 2013

A Faith for the Fallen: Compassion

Lately I've been thinking about compassion; it seems like in our society we are trying to substitute "awareness" for compassion. The problem is that there are too many different struggles/problems/diseases/crosses to be aware of them all. Instead of trying to be "aware" of every last condition, we should offer compassion for all, no matter what their circumstances. As Christians, we are all called to be compassionate towards one another and our selves. It isn't always easy to be compassionate, but I think I'm getting better at it. (I can now even handle stupid but well-intentioned comments about IF, knowing that the person offering them is trying to help, though they don't know how or what to say.) I still struggle with a temper when people are willfully nasty (blame the Irish heritage), but most people aren't trying to be hurtful.

You have 10 kids? I can't imagine what that is like, but there must be all kinds of struggles, from financial to organizational and more. You have 2/3/4/5 (more?) under 2/3/4/5? That must be tough! You are still waiting to find the man or woman you will marry? I remember that loneliness and pain, and I'm sorry you are still suffering through it. You are unemployed or underemployed? It is a struggle, and the job market is still challenging. You are suffering from the loss of a friend or family member? I'm sorry for your loss; may I pray for you and them? You are hurting because you made bad choices? We have all made mistakes and felt that sting; I hope you will be able to find forgiveness and healing, though it isn't easy. Compassion means simply "I'm sorry for your struggles and pain, even if I may not be able to understand." In some cases, we may be able to do more, to offer assistance: to babysit, provide a ride, spend time together, a lead or a connection to help in a job hunt, a casserole so that you don't have to cook, an ear to listen, a shoulder to cry on. We may not always be able to offer that material aid, but we should always try offer emotional and spiritual support.

But here's the thing: we won't succeed, not all the time. While God is calling us to be saints, to listen to His Voice, and do His Will, He knows that we are not perfect. He knows that we will fail, sometimes spectacularly. We will fail frequently. That is why Christ was born, suffered, died, and rose again, to redeem our sins. That is why we have the sacrament of Reconciliation, to receive His forgiveness and find healing. It is all too human to compare ourselves to others, to wish that we had the good things that they have (even easier than ever with FB and the tendency of people to put just the highlight reel up for all to see); just because it is human and natural doesn't mean it is good or right, but it also isn't unforgivable. It may mean that it is time to consider how to avoid things that feed that jealousy or what you can do to better appreciate the gifts and blessings God has given. But it doesn't mean that you are a lousy Christian or a miserable excuse for a human being. It means that you are human, and a sinner. Sometimes it's hard not to beat yourself up for your failings (I do this far too often), but He offers this forgiveness to all us. Every single last one of us, as long as we ask.

Last year during Confirmation at our parish the Bishop asked one of the kids "Am I a sinner?" And the poor kid didn't know what to say, just stood there gaping until the Bishop answered his own question. "Yes, I am." We all are. So we go forth to struggle, trying to "sin no more," but knowing we will fail. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Infertility is not a boob job*

Infertility is not analogous to butt implants, or a nose job, or a tummy tuck either. And yet in our most recent insurance coverage update, our insurance company lists "Infertility" right next to "Cosmetic Surgery" in their list of non-covered procedures. To say this bothers me is an understatement; those who know me best have hear me rant extensively about it.

In fact, I get to a point just about like this when it comes to our insurance company.

At this point, my husband refuses to let me speak to our insurance company at all (or our former doctor's office for that matter).

I've finally figured out why the lack of coverage bothers me so very much. First is the way that it reflects the broader cultural problem where infertility is not considered a "real" medical problem. You would never hear someone facing cancer advised to "just relax" or "go on a cruise." But people facing infertility hear these unhelpful suggestions constantly, which downplay the seriousness of what they are facing. The second reason the lack of coverage bothers me so much relates to the fact that we have "really good" health insurance. As the HR person/company mom told my husband when he added me to their plan, other women have given birth and paid next to nothing. Looking at the coverage document, assuming one stayed in-network, there would no co-pays whatsoever for all prenatal care or labor and delivery. Believe me, I understand that infertility care is expensive,** but giving birth isn't cheap either (in our area $15-20k billed to insurance). Yet here I am, paying ridiculously high premiums for insurance that covers next to nothing I use. It's to the point that I have actively considered being uninsured (realistically self-insured) instead of spending so much on health insurance. The high price I pay is subsidizing those who can get pregnant and have kids; I get very frustrated by the multitudinous ways infertiles end up subsidizing those with children (paying higher taxes, countless government programs to benefit women and children like WIC, SCHIP, etc, not to mention the semi-voluntary gift giving and supporting fund raisers of children of friends and family). Coupled with that is the assumption of many that "oh, you don't have children, so you have all this extra money (sometimes implied: to spend on MY kids)."

I really wish that insurance could be purchased a la carte (same thing with TV channels, but that's a whole nother story). I would love being able to choose what is and isn't covered and whether the cost of coverage was worth the price. Realistically I probably wouldn't forgo maternity and child birth coverage just yet, but I would really like that option. Instead, my options are to continue paying $6,000 a year to be covered under the plan offered by my husband's employer, to forgo health insurance, or to take my chances on the individual market. I don't know about you, but I can think of a lot I could do with $6,000 a year. Others have told me that NaPro docs are better at coding treatments so that they don't end up as "infertility"and actually get covered, but I'm not getting my hopes up too high at this point.

* Alternate title: You bet your sweet bippy I'm bitter

** Please note that I am not remotely suggesting that the government mandate insurance coverage of infertility. I'm also not saying that I think insurance should cover the most expensive treatments, such as IVF, especially since their success rates are low. (Yes, I know and agree with the ethical arguments against IVF, but I don't know too many insurance companies that would consider those arguments.) I'm just saying that it would be awfully nice if insurance covered first line infertility treatments, such as Clomid and Femara and the monitoring required.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Cheap and Easy Ways to Help Catholic Schools

When we were house hunting, one thing my husband was absolutely adamant about was being close enough that we could send our children to a Catholic school. He attended a Catholic school through eighth grade; my first experience with a non-public school was college. At the time I didn't care that strongly one way or another, so we ended up living in an area with great public schools but not too far from a very good Catholic school. Compared to some, our local Catholic school is doing pretty well financially, receiving enough in donations and support from the church that tuition is reasonable, especially considering how expensive even day care can be. But you still frequently hear about the death spiral that many Catholic schools end up in, with diminishing enrollments and skyrocketing tuition, so we wanted to do our part to help keep tuition reasonable. We started back when we hoped to send our own children to this school, and now, even though we may never send a child to this school, we still want to help. We don't necessarily have a lot of money to give, though, and I don't think I have it in me to volunteer. Some days being around kids is just too much to bear. So what do I do? Cheap and easy giving via Box Tops, Labels for Education, and now Give with Target.

Box Tops 4 Education can be found on General Mills cereals, Pillsbury products, Ziploc bags and containers, Avery office products, and a lot more. The complete list is here.

Labels for Education can be found on Campbell's Soups, PopSecret popcorn, Pace salsas, Bic pens, and several more. Their list is here.

Most schools have a Box Tops Coordinator, and a quick call can confirm who you can send your collected Box Tops and Labels to. I send ours (and some from my parents and in-laws) in once year; altogether it's come to $50 to $80 each year. And even better, it didn't cost me an extra cent!

There's one more way I've been helping lately. Right now Target is giving away $5 million to schools across the country, and you don't even need a stamp to vote. All you need to do is go to
Give With Target, select your school, and vote. You can vote once a week. Once a school has reached 25 votes, it will receive at least $25 from Target; each additional vote is worth an extra dollar. (Caveat: it does want to connect via FaceBook, but you can set it so that only you see the posts.)