The Wreath

At Christmas time, near where I live, there is a giant wreath.  It’s made from neon lights on the frame of a ferris wheel.  With the exception of a year or maybe two, it has perched up on top of a river bluff during the holiday season for longer than I can remember.  They used to put it up the Saturday before Thanksgiving, and must do it earlier now, because it’s already been shining up there for a little while this year (not too surprising, since Christmas encroaches earlier into autumn every year, it seems).

When I was a small child, I viewed it with such innocent wonder and delight.  It was so big and so beautiful.  Reflected in my young eyes it just seemed so magical.  The wreath would show up, and other Christmas lights and decorations followed close behind, and Christmas itself could not be far off.

On the Saturday before Thanksgiving, the year I was sixteen, a man that I had a crush on took me to see it up close.  He drove us up the narrow, steeply slanted bridge, high above the ground to get to it.  I was dizzy, and not just from the height.  Then he took me back to his apartment and raped me.

I hated Thanksgiving after that.  It’s still not may favorite day, if I’m honest, but there’s a lot of food, and I like food.  I hated everything I had seen that day, every building I’d seen out of the car window, and every road I’d been driven on.  But most of all, I hated that wreath.  That damn wreath, shining like a beacon of holiday merriment from it’s lofty perch atop its bluff.  It was a symbol for everything I couldn’t feel anymore.  Joy, innocence, wonder, warmth, safety.

I couldn’t look at it.  When I went to college, and then moved away afterward, I would drive miles out of my way when coming home, just so I wouldn’t have to look at it.  As the years passed, I wanted to try to take the shorter path home.  My heart would race as I approached the fork where the bypass separated from the interstate, and my palms would sweat.  Still, I kept choosing the bypass.  Eventually, that path lost any solace for me as well, and I would have panic attacks, because I knew I was only on the bypass to avoid driving past my trigger.

Eventually I moved back to the area, and as more years flowed through the river of my life, I came to an uneasy truce with the wreath.  I could look at it, and driving past it no longer cause me to white knuckle my steering wheel.  After the passage of still more time, I even grew fond of it again.  The child like innocence and magic of it had been stolen away, never to return again, but it was pretty, especially if there was snow on the ground.

Then I tried to have children.  The holidays are incredibly hard for many struggling with infertility and loss.  First there’s thanksgiving, which is all about family.  like the family you’re trying to have.  I imagine it’s even worse for people who are keeping the infertility private.  I’m sure there are a lot of, “so when are you going to have a baby?’ questions from nosy grandmas at dinner tables all around the world.  And then Christmas.

Lets start with the fact that Christmas is undeniably a holiday about the birth of a baby.  To a virgin.  The virgin Mary could get pregnant and carry to term, but I couldn’t.  Not for a long time.  Also, Christmas is a time of year when everyone expects you to be happy.  Nothing is quite as depressing as forced merriment.  O Come All Ye Faithful makes me burst into tears whenever I hear it.  Why that one?  I have no idea.

Then I had my daughter and I learned the hard lesson that the intense joy I feel for her doesn’t make all of the bad feelings go away.  But now there’s a heaping spoonful of guilt to go along with it.  I’m happy, but am I happy enough?  I get upset, and pressure myself to cheer up.  I really struggled to get into the Christmas spirit last year, just a few short months after another miscarriage, and I hated that.  I knew things would be exciting for my living child, and I wanted to be excited for it too.  I only get a few Christmases with her while she’s little enough for it to be magical.  I’m supposed to soak those all up.  I worry that I’m not present enough.  Not enjoying the moment enough.

I was walking out to the parking deck after work last night, and I could see it.  The wreath.  That fucking wreath.  Mocking me.  Deck the halls, you sad asshole.  Tra la la la la, la fucking la.  Be cheerful.  Don’t have that dead expression on your face.  You know, the one that makes your toddler say to you, “Mommy, don’t be sad.”  Get into the holiday spirit!  Go Shopping!  Sing some carols!  Don’t think tomorrow being both yet another due date that never came to pass, and the dreaded Saturday before Thanksgiving.  Don’t think about the fact that you are supposed to be seventeen weeks pregnant right now, and exactly twenty three weeks on Christmas Day.  Fuck you, wreath.  Fuck you.

And you know what?  That wreath is both beautiful, and painful to look at now.  Like a lot of things about life after you’ve had to walk your path in darkness for a time.  The joy and the pain exist side by side.  Sometimes they even hold hands.  I wish more people understood that, but I’m glad for them that they don’t.

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Grieving the End

I lost another baby this week.  I was twelve weeks pregnant.  I thought I was in the clear.  I had a great sono at nine weeks, during which I saw a beautiful, strong heartbeat.  That’s only happened in one other pregnancy–the successful one.  So, as scary as it was, I ordered a “big sis” tee shirt for my daughter, and put her in it to finally announce to family last week.  I started telling friends and coworkers.  After years of lurking, I finally joined baby center and put that damn app on my phone.  I dug my maternity clothes back out because my regular clothes had gotten uncomfortable.  Little did I know, my precious baby had died about two days after that nine week sono.

I’d had a little spotting over the weekend, so I went in on Monday for a sono to check on the subchorionic hemorrhage we knew I had.  I hadn’t had any pain, so while I was a little nervous, I really thought everything was going to be okay.  Then I saw my little one on the screen, and the little flicker was gone.  I knew before they told me, there was no heartbeat.  After I went home, the pain finally came.  I’m not going to call them cramps.  I’m going to call them what they were.  Contractions.  It’s as if my body needed to be told that the baby was gone, before it could recognize it.

After my miscarriage last year, Kevin and I decided that should there be a next pregnancy, it would be my last, no matter the outcome.  I struggled with that decision through the last year.  I had been fine with only having one child, until I had another one taken from me.  Then I wanted another baby.  Badly.  When we discovered I was pregnant again, I knew our decision was the right one.  And now, in my fresh grief, it is still the right decision.  I can’t do this ever again.  It has already destroyed me.  It is the right decision.  I know that.  But oh, it hurts.

Not only am I grieving another child, another baby I was so in love with already, I am grieving that I will never have another baby.  I will never have another warm baby I have just birthed placed on my chest.  Instead, I knelt on the floor in front of my toilet, and held the last baby I will ever deliver in the palm of my hand.  My baby was so tiny, but had hands and feet and eyes.  He or she looked just like they should have, for their developmental age.  Later, I handed a plastic container containing my last baby to a lab tech at St. Francis, for burial.  I know they’ll treat my baby with love and respect, but it’s possibly the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

My last trip to Labor and Delivery was to receive a rhogam injection.  So I won’t risk developing antibodies to positive blood types, which could be dangerous to a future baby during pregnancy.  A future baby that will never exist.  A pregnancy that will never happen.

Earlier this evening, I watched my husband and my daughter chase each other around the backyard, squealing.  I was such a beautiful sight.  It filled my heart with love.  And sadness.  I tried to hold it back, but I couldn’t.  I cried.  I sat there with tears rolling down my face, because my daughter will never have a sibling to play tag with in the back yard.  Never.  Never is such a cold reality.

Every first my daughter has will be my last first as a mother.  There will only be one first day of preschool (though I will always know when all of the other first days of preschool should have happened).  There will only be one first lost tooth, one first dance, one graduation from high school, and on and on and on forever.  And I am lucky to get those.  But this time, I really thought I was going to get my dream come true.  And it’s such a hard dream to let go of.

 

On The Day You Weren’t Born

On The Day You Weren’t Born

 

On the day you weren’t born

There were no flowers or balloons

It was Cold

I went to work

I smiled woodenly at people

Didn’t think it looked real

But seemed to fool them

People asked how I was

I told them, “Good”

I wasn’t good

On the day you weren’t born

 

On the day you weren’t born

The sun didn’t shine all day

So the sun, at least, was respectful

I toiled through my workday

It was an ordinary day

How dare it be such an ordinary day!

Didn’t the universe know?

It was supposed to be world altering

It was supposed to be your Birthday

At the very least, it could have been not so boring

On the day you weren’t born

 

On the day you weren’t born

I excused myself to the ladies room more often

Cried alone in the stall

Why is this so hard?

I’ve done it before

Pretended my world wasn’t crashing down

Continued to function like a normal person

I should have known it would be this hard

After all, I’ve done this before

I should have taken vacation

On the day you weren’t born

 

On the day you weren’t born

It rained all the way home

The flags were at half-mast

“That’s more like it,” I sobbed

Finally I could let it out

This pain I’d held all day

But only for half an hour

I raged

I screamed alone in the car

But only until I got home

On the day you weren’t born

 

On the day you weren’t born

I got home and kissed your daddy

I hugged your sister extra tight

We ate dinner

We nursed and Daddy read a story

I held her warm, sleeping body close

A few extra minutes to feel her breathe

Before I placed her in her crib

I thought about the empty bassinet

Tucked away upstairs

On the day you weren’t born

 

Another Love Letter

Sweet Baby,

You were a surprise.  Your big sister was about 13 months old when Mommy didn’t feel very good.  My hands shook holding the test as I looked at that beautiful second blue line.  You were my first baby I found out about on a home test, instead of a blood test, so it was the first time I’d ever gotten to see two lines.  I was so shocked that it took me a while to register happiness.  I was very happy, though.  Just so very confused.  Daddy was happy right away.

Spontaneous pregnancy was a new thing for us, and we reveled in feeling like a normal couple.  I started progesterone and heparin the next day, which made me feel a little less normal, but I’d do anything for you, my little love.  Still, the early days of pregnancy were mostly relaxed and happy.  Of course I worried some.  With my history it’s hard not to.

At my nine week sono, I got to hear your heartbeat.  It was faint, irregular and slow.  Just 97 beats per minute.  And I knew that you would not live.  Your shaky little heartbeat was beautiful and heartbreaking in the same instant.  You were so tiny, more the size of a 6 week embryo than a 9 weeker.  I knew, that like all but one of your siblings, I would never hold you outside of my body.

I understood our time was limited, so I did my best to let go of the worry.  For the next week, I focused on loving you.  I stroked my belly, which was already rounded.  I talked to you.  I sang to you.  I loved you.  I tried to pour a lifetime of love into you.

I don’t know when you died, but a week later you were gone.  It was the first really clear look we got at you on the sono.  So still.  No flickering heartbeat anymore.  Still tiny.  I have a picture.  I’d rather have you.

Maybe those feeble little heartbeats I heard were among your last, and you were already gone by the time I got to the car.  Maybe the womb I sang to all week was already a coffin.  I’ll never know.  But that week…  I loved you with every fiber of my battered heart.  I’ll love you forever.

 

Love,

Mommy

The Long Road

I’ve been on vacation the last couple of weeks.  I intended to write a lot, but I didn’t.  I’d love to tell you that it’s because I was busy, doing exciting things out of the home, but I wasn’t.  The truth is, I’ve been binge watching The X-Files, and playing a lot of World of Warcraft.  Not terribly exciting, but they’ve been excellent distractions, for the most part.  I did forget how often fertility treatments are mentioned in The X-Files.

So, last spring, Kevin and I decided that we could, just barely, afford IVF.  It would wipe out most of our savings, but who wants a house, or vacations, or security anyway?  We decided to move forward with it, and put it to rest, one way or the other.  As I’ve mentioned previously, facing the end of the road is terrifying, but I had a tiny glimmer of relief that my four year long nightmare was almost over.  Come July, we’d be done, one way or the other.  Or so I thought.

The prep for IVF in July started in May.  After my May period, I was put on birth control to suppress my hormones until it was time for ovary stimulation.  In late June, they took me back off birth control, and did a baseline sono and labs a few days later.  The sono looked fine, apart from me already having a 14mm follicle on one ovary, but my estradiol ( a form of estrogen) level came back at 104.  It needed to be under 50 to start stimulating meds.  High estrogen might seem like a good thing, but bear in mind that birth control is estrogen.  So basically, I was making my own.  My R/E’s office told me not to worry, we’d check it again in 2 days, and it would probably have gone down.  Rather than having dropped, two days later it was over 200.  My R/E’s office told me we’d check it in another 2 days, but if it hadn’t dropped below 50 by then, we’d have missed the window for IVF.  I also hadn’t started a period yet.  On the day of my 3rd draw, it was 250.  Do not pass go. Do not spend $10,000.  Go directly to infertility purgatory.  I failed at IVF before I could even start it  A few days later, I finally started my period.  My R/E gave me a cycle off of birth control, and then put me back on it after my 2nd period, to get me ready for an attempt in September.  We chalked my estradiol levels in July up as a fluke.

It wasn’t.  When I came off birth control in late August, I had these sky high estradiol levels again.  However, this time, they had built more time in to my schedule, and we were confident it would come down in time.  Well, my body was not to be outfoxed, and my levels stayed high for even longer.  Two weeks after I came off birth control, I was given a shot of progesterone in oil (I’ve had a lot of shots, so I’m no sissy about them, but Damn, that Hurt), to kickstart my period.  It didn’t work.  We missed the window again.  Another two weeks after the shot, I finally had my damn period.

By this point I started googling.  I wasn’t actually looking for answers.  I trust my R/E, and I knew he was looking for answers for me.  I was looking for other women this happened to.  I needed to know that I was not alone.  As it turned out, I was alone.  Every time I thought I had found something, the story would turn out like this:  Woman has high estadiol, and is unable to start IVF.  On the next cycle, her R/E puts her on birth control the month beforehand, and it clears the problem right up.  I dug, and dug, and dug, and came up with nothing.  It’s lonely not to find anyone else with the same problem as you in the vastness of the internet.

I had a consultation with my R/E to come up with a new plan.  He was quite perplexed.  As I had been scouring google, he had been scouring medical literature.  He also came up with nothing.  I just have to be one of a kind, you know?  Anyway, he did have one idea, based on the only patient he had ever treated with similar estradiol levels to mine.  We would check my estadiol levels now, since I was on day 3 of my cycle (ironically long awaited for), and if they still came back high, we’d draw more blood, and send it to a reference lab, as he’d done with the prior patient.  That was how he figured out that her high estradiol levels were false results.  She turned out to have an antibody to mouse cells, and the test at her local lab used mouse cells in their test.  You want to know how you get antibodies to mice?  From eating cereal.  Because cereal is allowed to have a certain level of mouse feces in it.  I don’t know about you, but I’m having eggs for breakfast tomorrow.

My estradiol level came back appropriately low.  No need to send it to a reference lab.  My levels were not false.  In any case, the new plan was not to put me back on birth control.  It obviously was not producing the results we wanted.  Instead, we’d do some mid-late cycle blood work.  If that blood work showed I hadn’t ovulated (the expected result, since I’m anovulatory), they’d started me on Lupron injections to trick my body into thinking I had so I would start a period at the appropriate time.  It’s a strange feeling to switch from wanting your period to stay away, to needing it to start.

When I received the call about that blood work, I was actually sitting in Occupational Health, as I had fallen down a flight of stairs at work, on my way to get the labs drawn, so obviously I was having a pretty good day.  Oddly, the labs showed that I had ovulated.  What the Fuck, ovaries?  So the good piece of news there was that I would probably have a period soon.  It also explained why I spent a week thinking of nothing but sex…  No, that’s too polite a word…  Fucking.  Seriously.  I couldn’t focus on anything.

About a week later, I started my period.  We did a baseline sono, and labs.  Again, the sono looked great, even better than my previous ones.  this time, my estradiol was below 30.  I was go for IVF.  I’d made the November window.  I felt like I’d already run a marathon before the race whose starting gate I stood in.  I was supposed to be done with all of this back in July, one way or the other.  I am so fucking tired.

Is That the Light at the End of the Tunnel? Or is it a Train?

So, I mentioned a few posts back that I would talk about something that has been hard for me to talk about.  That thing is IVF.  This past spring, after the failure of my 15th IUI, my R/E told me that it was time to move on to IVF.  “We have to stop doing this to you,” he said, “It’s exhausting, I can tell you’re exhausted, and I can’t stand here and not do something for you.”  He’s a wonderful man, and he vowed to find some way to make IVF financially attainable for Kevin and I.  I asked if we could continue to do IUI’s while we worked out a plan, and he agreed to do so.  As it turned out, we only did one more IUI before attempting to prep for IVF.  So I’ve spent most of this wretched year trying to do IVF.  The details of that journey are for other entries.

The transition for IUI to IVF has made blogging really hard for me.  I was comfortable in the world of IUI.  I did 16 of them.  I was a veteran.  I am a small, scared child in the world of IVF.  Technically speaking, there are minimal differences.  The course of medication is very similar, and the transfer of embryos back into my body at the end of it all is remarkably similar to the transfer of semen into my uterus during an IUI.  The differences for me are one additional injection a day, much closer monitoring, and of course the harvesting of eggs.  Not so much more, technically speaking.

The reason IVF has been so hard for me to write about is that it is the end of the road.  It’s not the end of all roads, but it is the end of this one.  IVF is the big gun.  There are no other treatments after this.  This is our last shot in the dark at children that are biologically Kevin’s and mine.  Even with our R/E’s generosity (and the generosity of a couple of beautiful ladies who donated medication to me),  IVF is very expensive, so this will probably be a one shot deal for us.  So we are very close to the end of treatment.  It’s terrifying to be able to see the end of the road, but not know what is waiting there.

When I’ve told people about moving forward with IVF, for the most part they express excitement for me.  It’s okay to do so.  I understand that this is an offer of moral support, and I desperately need support.  Sometimes it’s just hard for me to explain to people why I don’t seem to be excited.  I’m cautiously optimistic, but I can’t jump up and down for joy.  This is the scariest thing that I’ve ever done in my life.  All of my most precious hopes and dreams are riding on this gamble (and make no mistake, IVF is a gamble) paying off.   I’m spending most of my energy trying not to wet my pants in terror.  So be excited for me, just be gentle with me if I seem prickly.  Resist the urge to tell me to think positive when I come off as the Dark Queen of Depression.  I do think positively, it’s just that thinking positive looks a lot different when someone in my position gathers up the courage to do it.  And it does take courage.  It takes courage to get up everyday, brush my teeth and put clothes on.  Sometimes I forget that.  Maybe I need to be gentler with myself too.  I know it’s not the easiest thing to support someone who is so raw.  That takes courage too.  I really appreciate all of you who have supported me, even when there is little reward.  I promise you, I will remember.

All of the Darkness in the World Can’t Overcome the Light of a Single Candle

I promise this entry is less painful than the last.  Today’s entry is about observing October 15th.  I say observing, because celebrating isn’t really the right word.  We’re remembering lost babies, and while some of us may have some happy memories associated with these lost little ones as well as the sad ones, it’s a solemn occasion.  One to be carried out with reverence.

So first lets talk about why we observe October 15th, and then we’ll get into how we observe it.  We observe it, because infant & pregnancy loss isn’t something we talk about much.  And yet, it happens with shocking frequency.  While there are different forms of infant and pregnancy loss, my primary focus is miscarriage.  Unfortunately I have a lot of experience with it.  One in four pregnancies will end in miscarriage.  There’s a meme which says, “One in four is not just a statistic, it’s me.”  I’d post it, but it’s not me.  With three consecutive miscarriages in the space of ten months, I’m at a whopping 100% of pregnancies ending in miscarriage,  In any case, one in four pregnancies ending in miscarriage means there are a whole lot of couples out there grieving, many of them suffering in silence.  October 15th is a day for us to break the silence.  It’s a day for us to remember our babies, and a day for others to stand in solidarity with us.  A night to light some of the darkness.

To observe October 15th, we participate in a wave of light.  At seven pm, we light a candle (Kevin and I will light three–one for each of our children), and leave it burning for at least an hour.  We leave it burning at least a few minutes longer than an hour, so that the next timezone’s candles will be lit before ours are extinguished.  With the light passing from timezone to timezone this way, candles should be lit around the world for 24 hours.

So tomorrow (today, for some of you), think about recognizing the lost babies.  If you know someone who has experienced loss, tell them that you are thinking of them today.  Some places do remembrance walks.  Participate in one if you are inclined, or just go to support the walkers.  Or simply light a candle.  Because all of the darkness in the world can’t overcome the light of a single candle.