At Least I’m Not as Crazy as Tom Cruise

Y’all, 

I am tired. I’m talking mentally, physically, and emotionally drained. I don’t even know where or how to begin this blog post. In fact, I’m currently typing this long-winded and unnecessary introduction in hopes that something creative comes to me. 

Nope. Nothing. 

Well, shit. I thought eloquent Stephanie might make an appearance tonight, but it looks like you’re stuck with exhausted Stephanie. She’s a lot more real, but at least she’s funny. 

I’m assuming that most of you probably already know that I work in public education as an Instructional Coach. In my district, this is the last week of school for students and teachers. I still work some next week, but for all intents and purposes, we have hit the home stretch. This is my eighteenth year in education, so I can say without hesitation that “End of the Year Teacher Tired” is a thing. The memes don’t lie:

I can also attest to the fact that I have never experienced complete and total fatigue like I am living through right now. When I say that I am holding on by a thread, I am not referring to a braided paracord friendship bracelet. It’s more like the strings that stretch across a ripped knee in jeans. The ones that you idly mess with until they come apart in your fingers. Honestly, even that may be giving the thread a bit too much credit. 

Today alone I have had a mini panic attack over the following things: hypothetical spilled sperm, my doctor’s choice of adjectives, and grey hair. 

Eleven months ago, this whole ordeal began with a big health scare. Eight months ago, we officially started fertility treatments. As of today, we are in the middle of the seventh medicated cycle. We also had our second IUI this morning. I know eight months may not seem like a substantial length of time, but as I sit here right now, it feels like an eternity. (Keep in mind that in reality, we are twelve years and eight months in, but I am just talking about our current trip down this road in this blog.) And thanks to these eight months, with a handful of workdays left in the 21-22 school year, I am feeling very Jack Nicholson-y. 

I should probably preface (or clarify) that, though experienced, we are by no means experts. And while we may be frequent fliers at the fertility clinic, we’re still just figuring it out as we go. I’m pretty confident in my ability to chart, graph, color code, and plan, but this cycle has put me in a bit of a tailspin. Leading up to this month, ovulation has occurred almost identically in every previous cycle. The timing on this one has been completely different. The tests have been reading less consistent and everything is occurring much later. One could argue that since all the other cycles have failed, maybe this is a good thing. Nevertheless, I’m still (maybe irrationally) nervous that something is not right. In fact, I have spent the previous three or four days sick with nerves thinking that the medicine has run its course and stopped working for me, as the previous types did. I am still holding my breath in hopes that ovulation has occurred today and the IUI was perfectly timed. Temperature charting in the coming days will be the only way to confirm this. 

Keep all of this in mind as you read the rest of my story. It might help you be a little less judgy over my crazy moments. 

Since we had an IUI this morning, Justin and I had different appointment times. He had to be at the hospital an hour earlier than me to “take care of business.” Last time, he called when he was finished to let me know everything went well and that he was waiting on me in the lobby. We didn’t talk about it, but I just expected the same phone call this morning. As I got closer and closer to the hospital my phone never rang. *Cue the overthinking.* My string of thoughts began with “what if he’s having performance issues” and ended with me being convinced he spilled the sperm. I was, however, NOT going to call because on the off chance it was the former issue I didn’t want to “interrupt matters” with a phone call. Turns out, he was finished in less than 20 minutes and just sitting in the hospital lobby waiting on me. Clearly unnecessary panic. 

The second overthinking-induced panic came from the word “fine.” In my defense, it was used twice. (Twice!)  Justin’s sperm count was “fine”. (Last time it was “good”.) Also, my cervical mucus was downgraded from “great” to “fine”.  Everyone knows that if you ask a woman what’s wrong and she answers with fine, she is not, by any stretch of the imagination, fine. Fine was not a word I wanted to hear being used to describe our reproductive conditions. So naturally, I did the expected “I’m-fine- woman-thing” and smiled and made small talk about Tom Cruise with my doctor. (Yes, my doctor was talking about Tom Cruise and Mimi Rogers as he was pulling the catheter from my uterus. I do actually appreciate that he uses small talk to ease the tension. And for background purposes, it all started when Justin checked the vial and asked if they had any sperm from better-looking men because we want a cute baby. The doc assured him that I would still choose his sperm over Tom Cruise’s. True. But mostly because Tom is bat shit crazy and I refuse to be part of an HBO special about Scientology and custody arrangements from sperm donors. Also, I doubt Tom Cruise goes to the sperm bank for a few extra bucks.) The second the doc walked out of the room, and as I’m laying with my feet propped up, I sharply looked at Justin and said, “why did he say “fine”?” 

The third mini panic attack came from looking in the mirror as I was getting dressed after the procedure and seeing far too many grey hairs glistening at my roots. I had the same thought as I always do when I look at myself in the mirror at the clinic: “I am too old for this shit.” Some days, time feels like my ultimate nemesis. 

Time and my own body: Two things that make me feel like I just can’t win. 

I told you exhausted Stephanie is real. But, I do hope my crazy gave you a few chuckles. Upon rereading my words, it’s quite possible the thread I’ve been holding onto for dear life, just broke. 

I’m sure Tom Cruise would agree. 

As would Jack Nicholson. 

(five. seventeen. twenty-two)

Mother’s Day

Mother’s Day. 

Two words that shake me to the core. I don’t know that I can, in one post, adequately and eloquently get the words out of my head and heart and onto my computer screen. But here goes my best attempt…

My first major panic attack happened on a Mother’s Day. I didn’t know that’s what was happening at the time. Instead, I chalked it up to hormones, and blamed myself for being overly emotional, because this day had not really previously bothered me–at least not to this extent. I think this was around the time of our second trip down the road of infertility treatment, but to be honest, over time, the details have become fuzzy and, perhaps out of self-preservation and an attempt to keep moving forward in this journey, I have blocked so much from my memory. 

Over the last decade or so, Mother’s Day has been a series of triggers for me. And, if I’m being totally transparent, it’s a day that I am also filled with extreme guilt. I want to celebrate others. I really do. But indulge me for a minute. Borrow my shoes for a short walk…

Mother’s Day at churches:  We’ve probably all attended the Sunday sermon where roses or carnations are passed out to all the mothers. Practically every woman proudly walks forward, smiling and taking her flower. You, on the other hand, sit still and smile, trying to find something to count to distract the tears from falling– ceiling tiles, beams, freckles on your arms. You try to make yourself small and pray that no one is looking at you. Sometimes, though, they pass out flowers to all the women who enter, and you panic, wondering if you should explain that your lady parts don’t work, and then wonder if that’s a weird thing to say to the 60-year-old deacon with a bucket of carnations. (Answer: Yes!) But, they’re also handing them to little girls too, telling them “someday you’ll be a mom.” Ten-year-old Stephanie smiled while taking the flower and thought that was true. Hell, Nineteen-year-old Stephanie thought that was true too. In fact, allow me to interrupt this post with an excerpt from 19-year-old Stephanie’s journal that she wrote while teaching English in Africa. 

Oh, sweet girl, you are so naive. Those words don’t even feel like my own, and as I read them I have this strong desire to protect her from the heartache that she’s going to face in the coming years. In a couple years, she will learn that having children “may be difficult”, but no one, maybe even including herself, will take that warning seriously. Little does she know that her optimism was just given a shelf life. Also, let’s not tell her that even though she is currently pursuing a degree in Communication and Business, she will, upon graduation, reflect upon this very experience and decide to teach English, so she needn’t stress about that six-figure salary and “career woman” mentality. I still can’t read those lines without cracking up. For the record, 40-year-old Stephanie is damn proud of the career I have built. 

Family/Friend Gatherings: Cue the guilt. You want to be happy…especially for your own family. You try to pick out perfect gifts and gather to celebrate all who have entered the exclusive club that is Motherhood. These feel a lot like baby showers. You smile and pretend. Your situation is ignored because, frankly, it makes others uncomfortable to talk about or acknowledge it. Sometimes there are jokes and often there are unintentional hurtful comments. Sometimes they say things like, “Well, you’re kind of like a mom to all the kids you teach.” You smile and nod, knowing they mean well, so you refrain from screaming that it’s not the same at all, and this day is the single worst day of the year. All you want is for someone to say, “I’m sorry this day sucks so badly for you. It’s really not fair.”  That doesn’t happen, though.

Restaurants (or any public place, for that matter): Everyone tells you “Happy Mother’s Day” because you’re a grown woman. You have gray hairs peeking out at your roots and wrinkles around your eyes. You are clearly well over the expected childbearing age, therefore you must have children. Those are the rules of being a woman. So, again you are instantly panicked with whether you should just smile and say thank you (like a normal person), or do you issue another explanation of your lady parts. (That’s never the answer, Stephanie! No one needs a detailed report on your lady parts!) We obviously don’t eat out on Mother’s Day. 

Okay, you can take off my shoes and give them back now. I’ll need them to get through the rest of my journey…whatever it holds. 

I am actually writing this post on April 30th, about a week before I will post it on the blog. I can’t anticipate what my headspace will be like in seven days, because I already start shallow breathing just thinking about it. I do, however, have much to say. 

This Mother’s Day, for the first time in my entire life, I will be taking care of me. While this has always felt too selfish of a thing to do, this year it feels necessary for survival. And I am going to try my best to not feel guilty for protecting my heart. That doesn’t mean that I don’t love all of you who are mothers. I do. Wholeheartedly. My own mother deserves an entire month devoted to celebrating how gracefully she handles motherhood. 

My hopes are that each and every one of you are doted upon by your children and families.  Cherish your Motherhood Membership card. Take the carnation with pride. You deserve it. Being a mom is hard work. But, if it’s a hard day for you (for whatever reason) and you need to bow out for a day to protect your heart, that’s okay too. 

(five. six. twenty-two)

Two Weeks

What a difference two weeks can make. Eighteen days ago, I was filled with hope. Nervously laying back on the table with my feet in the stirrups thinking how weird Science is, but so excited that this could be the exact day our baby was conceived…via catheter. You remember the story. 

This morning, I sat on that same table, bleeding and heartbroken. Today was the first appointment that Justin was unable to make. While he felt bad, I assured him that it was not a big deal…I’ve done this before. After discussing all the necessary information and future plans, my doctor began writing my prescriptions and getting me fresh charts. Still writing, he asked if I had any questions. I’m sure he was expecting my normal, “Nope! I got this down.” Perhaps a clarifying question about the next IUI or my supplement regimen. What he was not expecting when he turned back around was to see me sitting on that same table falling apart. 

I don’t mean a few tears cutely rolling down my cheek. I mean ugly uncontrollable crying. This picture is embarrassing. But this, Readers, is what infertility looks like. 

While his resident grabbed a box of kleenexes, the doc took me in his arms in the way that one would awkwardly hug the crying girl covered in a paper sheet whom he had just violated with a plastic wand. In all fairness, I am sure that my tears are far from the first shed on that table. I took this photo as I was getting dressed and trying to pull myself together so that I could show my husband “how it went without him.” 

Moving forward, the plan is that I will try two more IUIs. He feels that three attempts is a fair chance to see if it will work. I don’t know what the plan is after that…or if there is a plan for after that. So, for now, I am just hoping there is some truth in “lucky number seven.” 

Next to the miscarriage back in January, this cycle has, by far, been the hardest disappointment to face, and this week has been one of the toughest to get through. In my heart of hearts, I really thought an IUI would be the answer. And I wholeheartedly thought I would be pregnant by Mother’s Day. Let’s just say the exam table is not the strangest or most inappropriate place I have cried this week. I am drained and I am exhausted. 

But, like I said in a recent post, I feel like I live my life in two-week increments. And in about fourteen days, I will find myself back on that same table, full of hope and excitement once again. And that is the roller coaster of infertility. Then, a few days after that, I’ll start to have new cravings and new symptoms that will convince me I’m pregnant, and secretly crying in the staff bathroom will seem like a thing of the past. 

Maybe this is how I keep going…because no matter how hard it gets, there’s always something to look forward to in two weeks. 

(four. twenty-nine. twenty-two)

Lists, Lemonade & Lemonade Lists

It is currently 8 in the morning, and I’ve already had two good cries. This could mean one of two things:

  1. Today is going to be a long emotional day. 
  2. I’ve gotten the crying out of the way early, and it’s only uphill from here.

Only time will tell. Coincidentally(?), Justin has decided to brave the 30+ mph winds and go fishing today. 

This morning, I took my first pregnancy test since the IUI on April 11th. As one can probably deduce based on the first sentence of this blog post, it was negative. While chances may have grown slimmer today, I suppose all hope is not lost. It will not officially be “two weeks” for two or three more days, and since my cycle is a few days longer than normal, I’m not due to start my period for another five days. However, I am currently in the window where most people would start testing positive if they truly are pregnant. 

While curled up in a ball and in between sobs, I kept repeating: “I don’t know why I can’t do this.” And dear readers, that’s as real as it gets. I don’t understand why.

I am doing everything I can. Everything. With his hand on my shoulder, Justin continued to reassure me that next month is a fresh start and that it’s not my fault; even though technically (and medically), it is. All these years in, and I still don’t know how to process this. 

The mind is a powerful thing, and this month I convinced myself that I was pregnant. Though I hesitated to let myself believe it, and I even told people I didn’t think it worked, deep down, every bone in my body told me I was finally pregnant. This, like all rational thoughts, is based on these two facts:

  1. Lemonade
  2. Naps

The hormones that I am on can cause cravings. If you know me at all, you know that I have researched every possible side effect ad nauseam. However, my recent cravings for lemonade have been unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. It is the only liquid that remotely tastes good to me, and I. Cannot. Get. Enough. Prior to this, my lemonade intake occurred primarily once a year at the state fair (if you know, you know). I don’t even want to know how much lemonade I’ve consumed in the last week. Though I am not picky in the type, I have become quite the lemonade connoisseur. In case you are reading this and your mouth started watering just thinking about lemonade and summertime, here are my recommendations:

  1. Simply Lemonade. (Hands down my favorite. However, it has sugar, which I have been drastically limiting, so I only allow myself a little of this at a time. But it truly is the perfect balance of sweet and tart.)
  2. Nature’s Twist Sugar Free Strawberry Lemonade. (This is only found at Sam’s, and I only have a Costco card, therefore I have been relentlessly propositioning people to be my hook up.)
  3. Crystal Light Lemonade. (95% of the time, this is what I’m drinking. Good classic (sugar free) lemonade. No further description needed. Plus, since you mix it into a water bottle, it’s essentially the same thing as drinking water, right? PS, a bottle of vodka is approximately 60% water, so if you need to use my reasoning to justify your Costco size bottle of Tito’s, feel free. PPS, next  time you make a vodka tonic, try a squeeze of lemon instead of lime. You’re welcome.)
  4. Marketside Lemonade (from the Walmart deli) and Milo’s Lemonade. (These are both delicious, but are also loaded with sugar.  So, see #1)
  5. True Lemon Lemonade Mix. (Not my favorite, but sugar free and will work in a pinch. You know…a lemonade pinch.) 

Fatigue is also a huge side effect of infertility. In addition to being a leading side effect of PCOS, the medications combined with the emotional and physical stress of this process is enough to wear a woman out. Every day this week, I have fallen asleep sitting up in my chair when I get home from work. Even knowing all of this, I just knew it meant I was exhausted from making a human. As of now, it appears I was wrong. 

This was my last chance to possibly have a baby in 2022. This was also my last chance to be pregnant by Mother’s Day. I know it’s not fair to my body to give her a timeline, but that’s how my mind works. To put it in terms that will bring it to life for you: I feel like I am suffocating. Every month my lung capacity seems to diminish. I honestly think it’s all the heartbreak taking up so much room in my chest.

I will always be an English teacher at heart, therefore I am pretty sure it is in my blood to despise cliché sayings. I know the one about lemons and lemonade. And although it is actually annoyingly appropriate, and lemonade is the only thing on my mind right now, I’m not going to say it. And even though, instead of coffee, I’m about to go pour myself a giant glass of lemonade, I am thoroughly sick of all these damn lemons. Can’t a girl catch a break? 

I guess I should end by clarifying that this is not a sponsored post. All lemonade endorsements are solely my own opinion. However, if any lemonade company wants me to be your spokeswoman, I accept. But, you better call quickly. This time next month I may be craving green beans. (Jolly Green Giant, get that sponsorship ready.) 

(four. twenty-three. twenty-two)

Randy Travis, Test Tubes, and Baby Goats

It is safe to say that I never imagined so many people would be involved in my attempt at procreation. However, on Monday of this week, with 5 people in the room, four of which with eyes glued on me (my eyes were obviously focused solely on counting ceiling tiles), I gave it my all…once again.

I guess I should clarify that my opening paragraph is less salacious than it sounds and is, in fact, referring to my IUI–which, I assure you, is a very unromantic procedure from beginning to end. And though clinical, we are very hopeful that this may be the thing that makes the difference. 

The last couple of weeks have passed in a blur. Two weeks ago, I turned 40, and as mentioned in a previous post, this day (admittedly irrationally) held a lot of weight for me. The anxiety leading up to this birthday was suffocating. Thankfully, it came and went with minimal tears, and though the number is different, both me and my eggs feel exactly the same. 

To celebrate, we had a fantastic weekend away in Dallas. For the first time in months, I didn’t think about reproduction. I didn’t stress. I didn’t worry. Through all of this, I have proven to myself just how strong I actually am. But, I have to admit, doing it without the everyday, up close and personal support of family has been very challenging, so being surrounded by people who love me on this tough day after another dose of tough news, was just what the doctor ordered. Also, I met Randy Travis!! **insert starry eyed emoji here**

When meeting with the doctor for my monthly ultrasound and new dose of meds after the last failed round, he suggested that we try an IUI this cycle. Willing to do whatever it takes, we agreed with his reasoning and decided to give it a try. Our directions were to continue with the meds and all the monitoring and charting as usual, and to go in for the IUI the day before ovulation. 

The ovulation predictor tests turned positive this past Sunday, so I paged the doctor and we set up the appointment for Monday. 

If you’ve never been through this, you probably have no idea what an IUI even is. I realized that when I shared the news. Some people thought this meant IVF, while a few others thought this meant I was actually pregnant. Neither of those are the case. 

An IUI is an intrauterine insemination. I will do my best to tactfully explain the whole process, as we experienced it…

Justin was told to come in at 10 and make his…. “donation to mankind”. Out of curiosity, I asked MANY uncomfortable questions. Turns out, this room is exactly as it appears in tv shows and movies–complete with a puppy pad on the leather couch.

After which, they ran the goods through the lab where they counted the sperm, cleaned, and concentrated it. Encouragingly, Justin’s numbers were very good! We were told that we needed a minimum of 2 million healthy sperm to do an IUI with any chance of success. Justin’s sample contained 12.51 million. I literally high fived him,  “Atta Boy” style, while sitting half naked on the exam table. Super classy, I know. 

My directions were to show up at 11 for my half of the process. After running it through the lab, and having both Justin and I verify that it was, indeed, his name on the vial approximately 47 times, a catheter was inserted directly into my uterus, saving the swimmers the apparently daunting task of swimming past the cervix, and putting them close to the egg right before it’s release. 

All of this with an audience of: my husband (who, to be fair, I always assumed would be a part of this process), my fertility doctor (obviously necessary), his nurse (who is quickly becoming one of my favorite people), and a med student who was encouraged to (and I quote), “get down and really watch this process”.

This is a very simplistic explanation of this procedure, and I am sure I am leaving out some major science behind it. But, to be fair, in my mind the whole thing works exactly like the introduction to Look Who’s Talking. Therefore, please direct further questions to Google. Or the med student. They had a front row seat. 

Even with ALL of this, we still only have a 15% chance of success. I am cautiously optimistic. The dice are, after all,  more in our favor than they have been for the previous 5 cycles. 

As always, we will not know anything for 10-16 days. The other day, I told Justin that I feel like we live our lives in a series of two week increments. And we are now at the hardest part: the beginning of another dreaded “Two Week Wait.” I had planned on booking a massage to ease some tension in this cycle’s wait, only to find out that they are booked up until mid May. So I suppose I am going to have to survive this TWW with my yoga mat and Whataburger cinnamon rolls. 

Hey, my hormones are raging…so no judgment on my cinnamon rolls. 

Hormones are a weird thing, y’all. I have never felt more like a marionette in my life. One minute I’m at the zoo laughing as I watch an ostrich chase a baby giraffe through the exhibit grounds, and the next minute I’m exiting the children’s petting zoo as fast as I can, sobbing. The only explanation I could give was that there were just too many babies crying in an enclosed space and I felt like I was drowning. I really am diligently working on getting my anxiety under control, but some days it’s harder than others.  

This post feels like a rambling mess. But to be fair, it is a painfully accurate representation of my brain these days. But here I am, doing the best I can to get through each day, and maybe pet a baby goat without crying.

(four. thirteen. twenty-two)

This is Forty.

In my heart of hearts, I thought it would happen before 40. Especially when, back in November, on our second round of this new (to me) drug, I began successfully ovulating. (Something that never happened in either of the two prior attempts at treating my infertility.) But here I sit, on the eve of my 40th birthday, very much not pregnant.

And I am heartbroken. 

I have never been one to dread birthdays or aging. Cliche as it may sound, every year I feel more comfortable in my own skin and more confident in who I am. I didn’t blink an eye at turning 30. In fact, I was excited to leave my twenties behind me and push forward into a new chapter. And while I have absolutely LOVED my thirties, I thought I would feel the same about turning 40. But, I am going to be honest with you, something is sitting differently with me this time, and I’ve felt the anxiety and panic sneaking up on me the last couple of weeks. 

I don’t know how to best explain my apprehension. There is a (sometimes small, sometimes large) part of me that feels like I have failed–like I had this *thing* to accomplish that is still not crossed off my list. Not only have I failed myself, I have failed my husband.  (I want to make it very clear that he has NEVER, even for one second, made me feel like any of this is my fault, even though we both know that the reason we do not have a child is, medically, on me.) 

Instead of greeting this new decade with an open-armed embrace, every time I so much as think about it, I struggle to breathe. While I might question the functionality of my lungs, I can say, with assurance, that my tear ducts are in working order. In fact, Justin just walked by and asked why typing my blog is making me cry. Answer: I don’t know…or, I do know, but it hurts too badly to say it out loud. 

Rationally, I know that my eggs will not wake up tomorrow needing a walker or a clapper light switch. I also know that it is not fair for me to put this kind of pressure on my body. 

For cycle one, we hoped to get good news right before Thanksgiving– talk about something to be thankful for! That one failed very early on. Cycle two would have brought good news mid-December–the greatest Christmas gift I could imagine. (Remember the baby stocking I bought *just in case*?) We actually conceived on cycle three–on New Year’s Eve (!!). But, our new beginning ended at five weeks. Though Justin and I aren’t really big Valentine’s Day people, that would have changed for the rest of our lives if we had gotten two pink lines instead of one on our Valentine’s Day pregnancy test. I still had hope, though—one more cycle before 40. Cycle 5 would have brought a pregnancy in my 30s making every birthday wish for the last 13 years come true. *see paragraph 1* This brings us to today… I am now 5 days into cycle 6, which puts us finding out towards the end of April. This is the last chance of being pregnant by Mother’s Day. This is also a thought I can’t stomach at the moment, so I will cross that bridge when I get there.

I really am trying not to put pressure on my body. I know she’s doing the best she can. 

We went to the doctor on Monday to begin yet another round. No rest for the weary–literally. Due to my age and repeated unsuccessful attempts, we are upping the ante. This cycle, in addition to the drugs and hormones we’ve been trying, we are adding in an IUI. (Basically, artificial insemination.) Trust me, you’ll want to tune in for that blog post here in a couple weeks. It’s sure to be quite entertaining. 

I’m not sure how I feel about this yet. Part of me is excited to try something new and hopeful that this is what does the trick. Another part of me is devastated that I failed at yet another thing, and disappointed that we even have to “take that next step.” 

Sometimes that next step is all it takes. 

But, before that step, I am going to do my best to enjoy my birthday. Instead of hiding out and pretending that it’s not happening, I planned a weekend getaway to Dallas where we will be hitting up museums and shows and restaurants. My family is meeting us there for the celebration. What I need most right now is to be surrounded by those that love me. 

Well, that, and a strong drink. Preferably one with tequila. Hey, it’s my birthday. 

(three. thirty. twenty-two)

Conquering Infertility (or something like that)

I started reading a book tonight that my REI (Reproductive Endocrinologist)’s nurse recommended a few months ago. The book is called Conquering Infertility by Alice Domar, PhD. Reading is my escape. When I open a book, I want to experience a life that I will never know. Maybe that’s why this book–along with her other book, Self-Nurture, and a third book called It Starts with the Egg by Rebecca Fett–have sat on my book-shelf, unopened, and collecting dust for months. The thought of using my precious free time, my rare moments of escape, to read about infertility has been enough to drive me to tears.

About a week ago, when I started fearing this cycle was another failure, I moved the book to the side table by my recliner. Tonight, being 99% sure this cycle has failed, I opened it and began reading. I have officially passed the TWW (two week wait), and all tests are still negative. 

Maybe there’s something in it that I am not doing. 

In the last few minutes, I have read the first 30 pages. While I’ve taken a short break to do some writing, I think I can do it. I think I can stomach this book. And, even more so, I think it may help. 

I’m not going to find a secret miracle cure hidden within these 285 pages. It’s not that kind of book. Instead, it focuses on a mind/body approach to conquer infertility. And by that, it does not mean “get pregnant”. It means pursuing infertility in a way in which my mind and body do not feel like they have been taken hostage. 

Dear Reader, I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but I have been blinking twice for help for months. I am amidst a full-blown hostage situation. Feel free to send in the crisis negotiator, but if he opens with: It seems to me you’re feeling angry about something, I can’t be blamed for throwing an empty Kleenex box in such a way that the pointy corner is aimed for his eyeball. 

In the introductory chapter, the book likens the stress and anxiety of dealing with infertility to that of driving and having to dodge a deer that jumps in front of your car. Over and over again. Maybe when you read that sentence you felt that little jolt in your heart, similar but more intense than the one you get when you fly by a cop on the interstate (Pretend you didn’t read that, Justin, and just imagine me only ever driving 5mph over the limit like you prefer.). Whether it’s a deer or a cop you’re picturing, I am sure you can relate to the feeling. You also know that, while it may take a few miles, your heartbeat eventually leaves your ears, making its way slowly back down to your chest. Imagine this exact scenario happening every 45 minutes of a long drive. THIS is exactly what infertility feels like. When I read these few pages, I felt seen. It is a constant cycle of high stress and heartbreak. Sometimes I feel like I can’t even breathe. 

I am hoping that, through reading this book, I learn some strategies that work for me in managing this stress roller coaster. Even if it’s just being cognizant of my energy and the energies around me. 

I have never understood those adults that seem to thrive in negative energy and gossip. As I have been going (read: trudging) through this journey the last 6 months, I have become hyper-aware of my stress levels. I have been intentional in those with whom I surround myself. My plate is full and my shoulders feel heavy, but by choosing to not be around negative people and energies, I have been able to move forward, and though sometimes it’s really damn hard, hold my head up. 

I don’t think this advice is specific to those battling infertility. Take a look at the people around you. What is their energy? What is your energy? What are you putting out into the world? 

Don’t start rolling your eyes at me just yet. I can assure you that I am no Mary Poppins. I am not taking a spoonful of sugar with my overflowing handful of pills and supplements every day. I still cry and scream and complain that this whole thing is (insert 4 letter word here) unfair. I still struggle with major anxiety and have days where I doubt myself. I avoid looking at babies  and get a full on catch in my chest every time I am out in public and hear one cry. And I have a few people in my life who I have let in enough to see the dark and ugly side of what I am going through. 

BUT…I also do believe in the power of positive energy. I am learning to breathe. And I am *trying* to control my stress as best as I can. I wear three bracelets everyday that say: Strength, Fearless, and Hope. These words are my mantra. 

And while none of this has exactly worked out for me yet, it’s given me the hope to think that it still might. And it’s giving me the strength to conquer infertility. Or at least be fearless enough to poke it in the eyeball with the pointy end of my Kleenex box. 

(three. twenty-four. twenty-two)

Ten Things I Have Learned Through Infertility

(In No Particular Order)

  1. We are all stronger than we think. Before we decided to give this whole procreation thing one last try, I spent days agonizing over this decision. Am I strong enough to go through this again? Can I stomach the heartbreak month after month? Answer: yes. Six months of repetitive heartbreak, and guess what? I’m still standing. Sometimes I feel like the day is literally going to consume me. But, for every bad day, I have several good ones full of hope and nursery planning. Through all of this, I have not had one day in which I thought, “I don’t think I can do this anymore.” I’ll take that as a win.
  2. Being vulnerable is a risk worth taking. I am headstrong and independent, and this one does not come easy to me. But, mostly through being open and sharing (or oversharing) on this blog, I have learned that more people care about you than you think. It’s not always the people who you expect to be your support system that show up for you. To the people that are holding me up (you know who you are)…I love you. Seriously. You check on me constantly and don’t let me get by with an “I’m fine”. I am as strong as I am, largely because I have learned how to let others care for me.
  3. Desperate times call for desperate measures. There is nothing I will not do to make this happen. I quit drinking alcohol and coffee overnight back in October. However, this is probably best exemplified by the fact that last week, in the midst of ovulation testing, I found myself, on my hands and knees, frantically dipping my ovulation tests in a puddle of pee on the bathroom floor. I suppose I should provide context: Leading up to ovulation I have to test my second pee of the day. The first one contains yesterday’s hormones, so the second one is the most potent sampling of today’s hormone levels. However, I rarely have to use the restroom a second time before work, so those few drops are necessary and precious. This all occurred (obviously) on a day I was already in a rush. After collecting the tiny amount, I set the cup on the floor and reached for a test. In doing so, I knocked it over. Cursing and screaming, I scrambled to open the foil packages before the puddle spread. (I test with two or three different brands each day, just to be sure that I don’t miss my window.) This was so comical that if you saw it in a movie, you would think that it had to come from someone’s imagination. Unfortunately, this wouldn’t be the most unbelievable thing in the movie of my life.
  4. Hormones are no joke. Also, ASPCA commercials are unnecessarily long. When watching Naked and Afraid on the Discovery Channel, I have learned to change the channel during commercial breaks.
  5. Listen to your emotions. I’m not (or wasn’t) much of a crier. But I have learned that crying is okay. Sometimes I don’t even know why I am crying. Usually those tears pass as quickly as they start. I have, however, experienced some pretty severe panic attacks lately. A couple months ago, I found myself coming home from the hospital and it was as if a switch flipped in my brain. I didn’t know where I was and I didn’t know how to get home. I called Justin hysterically telling him I was lost. You can imagine his confusion at my panic when I was describing a part of OKC that I know very well. Like my puddle of pee on the bathroom floor story, this is just one instance of many. I am still no expert, and I am still learning how to handle them when they hit, but I am managing them better now. Or trying to.
  6. Boundaries are healthy. I think sometimes we think that “putting others first” means “putting yourself last.” I used to attend every friend or colleague’s baby shower. I would do the dreaded game of guessing the belly circumference with yarn. I would sit and watch every gift be unwrapped. Each game and each gift felt like a knife in my ovary. I sucked it up, though, because it was expected of me. Almost every baby shower that I have ever gone to has ended up with me having a panic attack that night. I have learned that it’s okay, and healthy even, to say no. I can send a gift and be supportive without putting my own mental health at risk. I can also walk away from inconsiderate conversations and politely stand up for myself. As wrong as this felt at first, I have learned that it’s totally okay.
  7. There is nothing even slightly romantic about this process. I’m just going to leave it at that. (But, for the record, never tell an infertile woman, “At least you get to have fun trying”. I’ll spare you the details, but there is nothing fun about this.)
  8. Insurance coverage of fertility treatments is stupid. Sorry, HB, we spent your college fund trying to conceive you.
  9. Experiences can shape you without defining you. I’m still working on this one, and probably always will be. It is hard to not feel inadequate as a woman and a wife when your body doesn’t work like every other woman’s seems to. It is hard to not feel broken when scrolling through Facebook and seeing nothing but pictures of babies and children. It is hard to breathe steady and keep the tears inside your eyeballs when the baby in the basket ahead of you in the Target check out line tries to make eyes with you. All of these things feel defining. It gets to a point after twelve years of this, that it just feels like “who I am.” I am learning, though, that shaping and defining are two completely different things.
  10. This is not my fault. And no matter how hard I try, I can’t earn a baby. Accepting this has been difficult. I could, and probably will at some point, write an entire blog entry on just this idea. I have spent most of my adult life secretly thinking that I wouldn’t make a good mother. After all, how many times have I heard, “Things happen for a reason? I didn’t know what the reason could be unless it was either (A) me not being deserving of it, or (B) the fact that I wouldn’t be good at it. However, through writing this blog, I am learning that there just might be some other purpose to it.

***

Update: For those that are trying to keep up with the timeline, my fertile window for this cycle has ended and I have officially begun another “Two Week Wait.” Fingers crossed. 

(three. thirteen. twenty-two)

A Little Stitious

Dear HB

I have a baby box–a small tub of things just for you. The lid doesn’t even fit on it anymore. It just sits underneath it, like a coaster, catching onesie spillover. Today when I got home, there was a package waiting on me. Someday, you’ll come to realize that this isn’t an all too uncommon occurrence. Typically, I rip into the box right away, eager to try out a new face cream or to start a new book, but today I left it on the counter for a long while. Repeatedly I walked past it, sometimes looking at it, and others avoiding eye contact altogether.  I’m not superstitious (but I’m a little-stitious), and I couldn’t decide if opening it would be a jinx. 

I knew what was inside. It was something for you. Something to put in your box.

Amongst a couple other baby-things, there were two tiny shirts–actually, the same shirt in two different sizes. They say: “Wishes Come True.” 

Do you know how many candles I’ve blown out wishing for you? Or how many 11:11 and eyelash wishes that have gone into the universe in your name? I couldn’t tell you the exact number, but let’s just say you won’t be learning to count that high for quite a long time. 

Today was a rough one for me, HB. I’m accustomed to the mental and emotional strain of this process, but sometimes I get hit with the physical side of it just as a reminder of what I am putting my body through. Today was an extra-long day at work, and I spent much of it looking at the clock, willing myself to make it five more minutes. And then five more after that. In increments of five minutes, I made it 12 hours. Twelve hours in which I did not faint or throw up, even though I knew one (or both) was bound to happen at any minute.

You know what, though? I say all of this to tell you that it’s worth it. You’re worth it. And I don’t even hesitate saying that–not for one second. 

Every pill,

Every stick, 

Every doctor’s appointment and exam, 

Every disappointing month, 

Every tear–

…These are all things I would endure, blow away on an eyelash, and endure again just to see what you look like in the shirt (which is now opened and in your baby box). 

This tough day is almost over. I have learned, through all of this, that regardless of how hard a day is, it will always end and tomorrow will be a fresh start. I will hold you and tell you this story someday when you need to learn this lesson.

As I sit here writing to you, I’m looking forward to tomorrow. I’ve taken my twenty-something pills to prepare my body for your arrival. I’m wearing my favorite oversized red t-shirt–the one with the little lantern on the pocket. It’s soft and cozy, and I just feel better when I put it on, and I can’t help but smile as I think about the words on your tiny folded shirts…

Wishes do come true, HB. Someday, you’ll be all the proof I need. 

Love, 

Your HM

(three. three. twenty-two)

Storms

Today we braved another storm. A literal one this time. In the middle of Oklahoma Winter Snowpocalypse 2– and on ice-covered roads– we made our way into OKC so that I could see our fertility doctor to start round five. 

Yes, unfortunately, you read that correctly. Another round. Which means that the last one failed. Again. 

To be quite honest, all of these storms are really beginning to wear me down. Just like every Oklahoman, I am totally sick of winter. And like all Okies, with every new melodramatic meteorology report, I can see seasonal depression, wrapped in her winter scarf, sneaking closer out of the corner of my eye. But, even more so, it’s these damn metaphorical storms that are really taking their toll. And they’re not creeping in…they’re running right at me full speed. 

Failed cycle. After failed cycle. After failed cycle. After failed cycle. 

I think we all need some sunshine. I know I do.

Two days ago, (and despite all the encouragement I heard about being more fertile the month after a miscarriage) I learned that this cycle was unsuccessful. This news came about an hour before I had to present three different Professional Development sessions for teachers at my school. To say I was rattled is an understatement. But I did what I always do–pretend it’s all okay.

I’m getting really good at pretending.

Infertility is changing me infinitely more this time around. I’ve been down this road before…twice, so I’m not exactly sure what makes this trip so different. I think (read: know) a lot of it has to do with my age. Being older, I’ve lost the security blanket of time. I turn 40 in about 5 weeks. I’m well aware of the implications that number has on my eggs (and overall fertility). Unfortunately, my eggs could not care less that I now have a decade’s more worth of wisdom under my belt. They don’t care that I could enter motherhood confident in who I am as a woman and as a human. My eggs just don’t care. The audacity.

In some ways (and possibly most ways), I am proud of the changes that have occurred within me over the last several months. I am stronger. More resilient. Like a wind-worn tree, I have bent but not broken. 

In other ways, though, it makes me sad. I see the strength on the outside, but I also see the version of me that you don’t see. The one that bursts into uncontrollable sobs in the middle of dinner for no apparent reason. When Justin looked over at me with an expression of shock and asked, “What is wrong? What in the world just happened?,” I could only answer: DNA. (For the record, I was watching the Olympics. A human interest story was on (as they often are), and it was talking about some athlete, whom I no longer remember, and how the sport “ran in their blood”. His mother was also an Olympian. All I could think about: My DNA is going to end. No brown-eyed little nerd who reads incessantly or fills up notebooks with rambling sentences. Cue gut-wrenching tears.)

I know I am basically taking the maximum dose of the hormones I have been prescribed. Rationally, I understand that my irrational tears are beyond my control because of this. And I know that makes some of these storms feel bigger than they actually are. 

In recent days, I’ve had a few different friends ask me when I plan on stopping. You may be wondering that too. Every time that question is asked I feel a pang coming from somewhere in my soul. It’s one of stubbornness, not relief. One that tells me, with certainty, that I am nowhere near breaking. Unless forced by my doctors, I’m not quitting anytime soon. 

I know what springtime in Oklahoma means. I know that storm season is just beginning. But, I know if it happens, (and while I may cry into my spaghetti about it later)  I can look any tornado square in the eye.  (Note: This act of bravery applies to metaphorical tornados only. If it’s a real one, I’ll meet you in a storm shelter with a bottle of wine.) 

Tomorrow is day three of cycle five, which, for me, means day one of more drugs. The doc added another hormone to this round (sorry, Justin), so hopefully, it makes the difference. In the meantime, I’m putting on my rainboots and doing the only thing that I have left–hoping against all hopes that 5 is my lucky number.

(two. twenty-three. twenty-two)