Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Trying to Connect to Mary

As Rebecca pointed out in her beautiful reflection on the liturgical year, Advent, Christmas, and so many of our Holy Days of Obligation focus on Mary and the birth of Jesus. Not long after Christmas is the Feast of the Holy Family and the Feast of Mary the Mother of God, as if making it through Advent and Christmas weren't hard enough. Honestly, all the focus on Mary's pregnancy and maternity can make it hard for an IF gal to connect to her. (We're not pregnant, may never be pregnant, may never raise a child, much less be the perfect mother.)

While we can't and shouldn't remotely ignore Mary's role as the mother of Jesus, neither should we let a focus on her pregnancy and maternity interfere with our relationship with her. Mary is held up as the mother of the church, mother to all mankind, an example we should emulate. I think that there are two particular moments in Mary's life that we can focus on that can help us better relate to her.

1) Fiat - "Let it be done to me according to your will." - This is the obvious one, and the one that we struggle with regularly. In a very visible way we are called to surrender our desires, hopes, wishes, and plans for a family to God, and to accept His will for our lives. When well meaning others suggest contemplating this part of Mary's life, it can cause us to go ever so slightly ballistic (as they are sitting there with their seemingly perfect families, exactly how they planned them). That doesn't mean that it's not a valid point and not something to reflect on. It just means that it's hard.

2) The Pieta 

Mary holding her Son's broken body, though perhaps not literally a moment in Mary's life, evokes the second point of connection. Mary was witness to the death of her child and mourned the loss of His life. Whether we literally mourn the loss of our children (through miscarriage) or do so more figuratively (in the loss of the children we had hoped and dreamed for), we can join Mary, knowing that even though her child was grown when He died, she suffered the same pain and agony of her child's loss. Did she feel guilt, knowing that her words at the wedding at Cana began Jesus' public ministry and the path towards his death? Our guilt is slightly different, but similar in that it can feel like our "fault" that our children do not live. Earlier, as the crowds clamored for Jesus' death, did Mary feel shame? Not understanding how God's plan is playing out in our lives, it is easy to be ashamed as others make assumptions about the reason for our lack of children, such as contraception, selfishness, sin, or a curse. Before the Resurrection, did Mary understand what God was doing through her and her Son? Probably not. We can join with Mary in confusion and pain and loss pictured in the representation of her as the Pieta.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Success Stories and Hard Cases

(I had hoped to post more frequently during IF awareness week, but the antibiotics led to a lot more days of good CM [as well as more digestive problems], so my time for writing was more limited than I had hoped. My half-formed [hopefully not half-baked] posts will probably be trickling out over the next couple of weeks.)

The human mind isn't wired for facts and figures; we're wired for stories. That could be why we are so often treated to anecdotes about so and so's friend/cousin/ neighbor who adopted and then got pregnant/tried x,y, or z and then got pregnant, etc because a) most people don't know the facts and figures and/or b) what sticks with them is the story, even if it is an anomaly rather than the rule. 

Most of us have seen this graph (top of the page) focusing on NaPro Technology's success rates for various underlying causes of infertility. But let's face it, a graph and numbers aren't the easiest things to connect with on a visceral level. It's the stories that hit us hard; the stories that we deeply connect to. In our little corner of the blogosphere, we have success stories (like Katie, JBTC, Sarah, and others), hard cases (like AmyJelly Belly, and Kat, amongst others; in this case, I am using "hard cases" to describe those who have tried extensively, in some cases to the limits of what is available medically), and those of us who are somewhere in the middle, still exploring options and trying to identify the underlying problems. 

I would argue that those of us in the middle need both the success stories, to give us hope, and the hard cases, to keep us grounded. Depending on your personality and where you are in journey, you may connect more closely to either the success stories or the hard cases. Both because of my age and my temperament, I more strongly connect to the hard cases rather than the success stories. Yes, I know that NaPro has helped even women in their 40s conceive, but I am still enough of a scientist to acknowledge that the probability decreases with increasing age. (It probably doesn't help that many of the success stories that I am familiar with are women a decade or more younger than I.) 

That may also tie into my reasons for strongly preferring the term "infertile" to "subfertile." To my mind, "subfertile" suggests that if you just try long enough, do enough medically, you will succeed. According to the facts and figures, most couples, including those with infertility, will eventually succeed (past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results, as all the mutual fund commercials say). And right now predicting who will eventually be able to succeed or what a couple's odds are is mostly educated guesswork. Infertility has a concrete clinical definition, which is part of why I prefer it, though there's nothing wrong with preferring subfertile. (I'd be curious to see if those who prefer subfertile are more likely to feel a stronger connection to the success stories than those who prefer the term infertile, but that psychology experiment isn't one I plan to run.)

We need both the examples and reasons to hope and the awareness that we might never succeed. Or, as Dolly puts it, "something lifting me up, something holding me down."

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Never Give Up, Never Surrender

Normally, this is the kind of "advice" that would just piss me off. (Sorry for the blunt language, but I didn't want to pussyfoot around. I can be something of a curmudgeon, if you hadn't realized that before.) Honestly, it's the kind of "advice" that annoys a lot of people with infertility; I would put it in the same category with "I just know you're going to be parents someday! Don't give up!" (Really? Do you have a crystal ball or some special in with God?)

But coming from this friend... well, I just couldn't get upset. Quite frankly, I have absolutely no freaking idea how the heck she is as positive as she is. She's the only person I know who is more positive than my husband, which is saying something, since I have been known to refer to Husbandido as "The Infernal Optimist." She's only a couple (few?) years older than Husbandido and me, and yet she's had more back surgeries than I can count. If I think I spend a lot of time laying on the sofa feeling lousy, well, I'm a complete piker compared to her. It seems like she ends up flying to Germany at least once a year for back surgery. On top of all that, in her most recent letter she admitted that the last surgery went well, but there were problems with the recovery. Post-surgery she was in a coma, but "just a little one." (Her words, not mine.) It "only" lasted overnight. Also while she was in the hospital recovering, there was a mixup in medicines, which caused a severe reaction. Even now that she is home, it is hard for her to write even a short note. Coming from someone who has undeniably suffered so much more than I, her comments were humbling. 

But what does it mean to "never give up, never surrender?" I think most of us would acknowledge that there may very well come a time to stop treatment, and not everyone is called to adoption. To me, it means waiting and making decisions when you are in the right frame of mind, not when it is CD1 when the loss is overwhelming, and maybe not when you are overwhelmed with hope because your doc has come up with a treatment that really should work. It means being able to weigh your chances against the costs (monetary, physical, and emotional) and make a good decision. It means praying for guidance and peace, listening to that still, small, voice, and letting Him answer. Getting to that point can be a real struggle, but it may be the only way to make a decision that won't either leave you utterly spent or with niggling doubts about "what if we had tried just this one more thing?"

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Half a Marriage

Welcome! If you're here for the first time, thank you for visiting. This post explains the reasoning behind my blog's name. I'm afraid I don't have a concise summary of our infertility timeline, but this post should give you a few details on our background.

This Saturday we will celebrate our sixth wedding anniversary. We've spent over half of those years trying to conceive (TTC). Half of our married life has been measured not in days weeks or years, but in cycles and two week waits. Each month is split into 3 parts: the depression, cramps, and loss that comes with another period/another failed cycle, then a marathon of trying, and lastly the dreaded two week wait. 

We started TTC before Husbandido had found a job. It was scary, but we had both felt little nudges indicating that it was time. The strongest push we both felt was after my grandfather died; it's hard to describe exactly what we thought or felt at that time, but we returned home secure in our decision to start trying. After about 6 months, I started getting concerned; we had been charting Sympto-Thermal since shortly after we married, so we knew to properly time intercourse for conception. I was also 34; 35 was looming, with its dreaded decrease in fertility and diagnosis of "Advanced Maternal Age." I was fortunate that my GP was willing to refer us to a reproductive endocrinologist (RE) after only 6 months. Part of her rationale was knowing how long it would take us to get in for an initial appointment, which was about 3 months. I was confident that the RE would find the source of our problems (likely my thyroid), and we would be set in no time. I was shocked when we were labeled "unexplained." During our year and a half working with the RE, we had one nonviable pregnancy (which I wrote about here). When she indicated that our best option was to move on to injectables (at $5,000 a cycle), we knew it was time to switch to Creighton.

The few months between when we started learning Creighton and our first NaPro (Natural Procreative Technology) doctor's appointment were wonderful; we could step off that roller coaster for a little while. NaPro has begun to give us answers, but with those answers have come renewed hopes and the greater heartbreak that accompanies it. This is my first cycle back on Clomid (I was on it for 9 cycles with the RE), but it's getting harder to hope. But if you don't hope, you don't try, and really what is the point of spending all this money on medicine if you don't try? NaPro still takes sex to make conception happen. 

Some days (many days) it feels like infertility has eaten my marriage. It often feels like infertility is one of the things we talk about over and over and over... I know IF has made our marriage stronger, and made us more comfortable with each other's physical bodies, but it has also taken many of our hopes and dreams. 

Monday, April 21, 2014

(Amidst the Suffering,) An Easter People

He is Risen! Alleluia!

We are called to be an Easter people, living life joyfully, secure in the knowledge that Life has triumphed over Death, that there is a God who loves us so much that he suffered to the point of death for our sins. The deciding victory has been won.

And yet... still there is sin in the world, and suffering. Oh, is there suffering. Whether it is the loss of a child, or infertility, or cancer, or unemployment, or a million different things, there is suffering. How do we reconcile the world we live in with the knowledge that Christ has won? That is the question that so many of us struggle with; some it drives away; others hold close to their faith, even without answers. Julie has a great post about seeing our lives here on Earth as living under enemy occupation. The Father of Lies is still in the world, still seeking the ruin of souls; still we face temptation and the challenges of a fallen world. 

But how do you live life joyfully when your heart is breaking? One way is to make yourself more aware of the small things in life that make a difference, like the Little Happies hosted by the other Stephanie at Blessed to Be. Another is to cling to those who love you, those who would listen and be willing to truly suffer with you. Yet another way is by not doing it - not forcing yourself to be grateful for the blessings that you have and simply accept that you are angry at God, that you don't begin to understand His plans or His timing. As so many have said, it's okay to be mad at God; He can take it. What He can't take is when you stop talking to him and turn away. He loves us enough to give us that choice: we can turn away, choose another path. That is what truly hurts Him. He wants us to turn to Him, to accept His will, to bear our crosses gracefully. But He knows our hearts and our flaws; He loves and forgives us despite them. If you come to him in tears, He will ask you "Woman, why are you weeping?" (John 20:15) And He will listen. 

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

3rd Generation IF?

To someone unfamiliar with infertility, it may sound bizarre that someone could be second or third generation infertile, since many people think infertility is a complete inability to have biological children. However, since the medical definition of infertility is an inability to conceive after 1 year of unprotected intercourse (or, alternatively 6 months of fertility-focused intercourse), it is possible, even likely, that infertility runs in families.

I didn't know that I had a family history of infertility until we were filling out the gigantic stack of paperwork for the reproductive endocrinologist. Part of that paperwork was the most comprehensive medical history I have ever completed. Not knowing many of the answers, I did what most of us with living parents would do - I picked up the phone and called. That was the first time I had any idea that my paternal grandparents wanted more children; my grandmother was not particularly motherly, so I always assumed that she didn't want any more children, especially since my father had hearing problems from a young age (due to an infection early in life). Instead, it turns out that she suffered from secondary infertility; my father was conceived shortly after his parents married, but no amount of trying was enough for them to have another child. (Apparently even back in those days people would ask about wanting more children; my grandmother started answering that she was worn out from trying.) It took a little while, but a slow burn started inside of me. How could my family have kept this from me? If I had known earlier, would I have made different choices, lived my life differently? Would I have waited so long to start trying or would I have prioritized marriage and family? I've known I wanted children my whole life, but I assumed I had plenty of time. 

It's taken some time for me to get over my anger. Who would or should have been the one to tell me? My parents had no problems having the two children that my mother wanted (Dad wanted more, but Mom said "only if he carried them."), so my mother had no reason to bring it up. My grandmother died before I married; besides, such things were not so much discussed in her day. My father? I suspect that the idea that his mother's difficulties could be passed on to his daughter never crossed his mind. 

Recently my great-aunt (my paternal grandmother's sister) revealed that her mother had difficulty conceiving after a certain age, significantly before menopause. I don't know exactly what age that was, though she did have three children. However, both my grandmother and great-grandmother married much younger than I did, so what manifested as secondary infertility in them seems to be showing up as primary infertility in me. In some ways, it's hard to know how to respond to this information. Resignation? I think that's part of it; that's part of letting go of the anger, knowing that I can't change the past. Gratitude? That's part of it, too; I am grateful that even though there is much to be learned about fertility, so much more is known now than in my grandmother's and great-grandmother's day. Sorrow? It's hard to think that I may pass this on to any children I might have, though I know that I would make sure that they know about their family history from an early age. Wonder? Despite the problems that my grandmother and great-grandmother had, I am here; it's somewhat amazing that I exist, given my family history.

Hello, my name is Stephanie, and I'm a third generation infertile...

Friday, April 11, 2014

First Flower Friday

I know I've been cranky lately, not to mention negative. So I thought I'd end this week with some pictures of the first flowers starting to bloom here. I love the smell of hyacinths; they are probably my favorite early spring flower. As much as I love tulips, I know better than to try growing them here; the deer like them even more than I do.

 Both of these are Hellebores, which are also called Christmas roses, variety unknown.

Helleborus Onyx Odyssey

Helleborus Peppermint Ice

 Pulmonaria (Lungwort) and Hyacinth

 Chiodonoxa Pink Giant

More Hyacinths

Narcissus Ice King and Chiodonoxa Pink Giant

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Because There Is No Answer

I loved this quote, from Fr. Dwigh Longnecker's post and wanted to share it.
"Because the devil is the father of lies there is not truth. None. Nowhere. Therefore the suffering he causes is irrational and absurd. This is why the suffering hurts so much-because there is no answer."

Wednesday, April 9, 2014


It's been a rough week or so. Last Tuesday I got some really lousy news from the doctor's office. This higher dose of Femara that caused even more side effects not only didn't help, but it cut my P+7 estrogen level in half. Yup, I just love spending gobs of cash and feeling like crap to have a medication have exactly the opposite effect than that which was desired. (Technically, that's only half true since my progesterone level was fine, but I've been in no mood to focus on the positive.) I spent pretty much the whole afternoon weeping in exhaustion and frustration. 

To top that glorious day off, I had a pastoral council meeting to go to that evening. I knew I was in no shape to go, but I didn't feel like I could skip it since I had promised to fill in for the recorder/scribe/secretary. It was so not a good meeting - I was in no shape for a discussion that basically implied that we may more or less be scrapping everything we had been working on for the last 6 months (more than 20 hours of meetings). On top of it, during a discussion of how to get parishioners more involved and on fire with their faith, our director of religious education pretty much implied that we weren't busy people (didn't have lives?!?!) and didn't have problems. (The direct comment was something to the effect that people who don't do more than come to Mass are "very busy people and are dealing with major problems.") I nearly handed in my resignation on the spot. Honestly, I am still stewing over her comment. Why the blethering hells am I giving up so much of my time and energy if it isn't valued, and if I am just going to be insulted? I spend a lot of my time feeling like crap, and I don't want to waste what little time I have if it isn't worthwhile.

Later that week I found out that Husbandio will probably have to go on a business trip to upstate New York around mid-May. Based on my cycle, it looks like our options are to take the month off or have me accompany him. His employer doesn't have any problems with me going along, but he will be working long hours while there. The area where he will be working is kind of the middle of nowhere, so there wouldn't be a whole lot for me to do. What few historical attractions exist do not open until June. Then there's the challenge of food; I can do reasonably well when I'm at home, but I'm less confident about eating out for a week. Plus there's the expense of eating out for a week... Not to mention my fears of how tired Husbandido will be after long, stressful hours working off-site; he does need to have a certain amount of energy for things to work. There's also the question of how I will handle all the medications. It's bad enough feeling miserable when you're home and you have your familiar things and pets around you; it's something completely different to be miserable by yourself in a hotel room. There's also the question of when I will need to start the HCG and whether there will be a fridge in the room. (As you may recall, my last experience traveling with reconstituted HCG did not go so well.) Who, me, worry much? I'm just not that excited about going, though I know that it's probably the best choice. Those grains of sand keep sliding through the hour glass. 

Yesterday while puttering around online I discovered that the adoption agency that has been our Plan B is gone. Their website is no more, and the phone is disconnected. I'm not usually one for signs and portents, but part of me can't help take this as an indication that adoption may not be for us. (Other agencies either completely blew me off/never followed up when I requested information or handle very few adoptions per year and have very long lists of prospective adoptive parents.)

On top of it, I received a somewhat snarky reply when I asked the president of the other organization I am doing volunteer work for a simple question. What is it with people and their whole "busier than thou" crap? Is it just a way of making yourself seem more important? (Especially in this case - I was looking for a simple yes or no, not a dissertation.)

Somewhere there's a bright spot... the sun is out, birds are singing, and the flowers are starting to bloom. But it's CD3, the first day of medium/heavy flow, and I'm about to start Clomid again. In a few more days, I'll start the double dose of antibiotics. (I just love reading the side effect information, don't you?)