Another Letter to HB

Dear HB, 

Someday I will give you these handwritten blog posts as a gift. A collection of my writing over the past 9 months (and all the months to come)  that will tell the story of how loved you were before you were even you. Maybe you were expecting keys to a new car when you saw this small box, but this is so much better. Now hear me out.

The story of you is one of hope and perseverance – but most of all love. It’s a story of two imperfect people who refused to give up on you, no matter how hard the challenges became. 

You should also know that your story helped a lot of people in so many different ways. You helped women like your mama feel seen and that their story matters. You helped others walk in shoes that they wouldn’t have otherwise tried on. Before you were even conceived, you were growing compassion within others. 

I can’t wait to see all that you will accomplish when you have an actual voice of your own. I’m not talking about how much money you will have in your bank account or what kind of car you drive. I’m talking about you making the world better for somebody other than yourself. You see, that’s what it’s all about. 

When your mom gives you her 2014 Ford Edge as your first car, and you’re bummed because all your friends have flying cars that drive themself, find the kid that has to walk to school and give him a ride. Unless you’re a girl…in which case you’re not allowed to be alone with a boy in the car until you’re 30. Maybe go save a stray cat instead. 

I would say that I hope life is easy for you, but that’s not the way it is. Character is born from struggle and whatever life throws at you, you can handle. I promise. Just look at your mom. (wink wink) She went through hell and high water to get you and came out a badass. Okay, okay, maybe that’s pushing it. But she lived to tell the story, and THAT’S what truly matters. 

I am terrified that if you are a girl I will pass on my genes to you and you will find yourself exactly where I am someday. If you do, I am so, so sorry. But, also…you can do this. Perseverance is in your blood. Hell, I even have a guidebook of sorts for you. Who knows, by the time you’re old enough to have kids there may be so many medical advances that this won’t even be a thing. I hope that’s true. If not for you, undoubtedly for someone you know. 

You know, I’ve referred to you as HB this entire time I’ve been blogging – my Hypothetical Baby. I guess it’s about time I change that since you’re now about the size of a grain of rice. This last week has been the happiest of my entire life. Yes, I am constantly simultaneously feeling nauseous, hungry, sleepy, and needing to pee…but I couldn’t be happier. 

You’re no longer my Hypothetical Baby. You’re just my baby. 

And Baby, I can’t wait to meet you. 

See you in eight months! 

Love, 
Mom

A “P.S.”  for all my readers: Things are looking good. Really good. I am currently 5 weeks pregnant. I go in for a second set of labs in a couple of days to make sure things are progressing as they should, and next week we will have our first ultrasound. 

We are far from being out of the woods. Every day feels like a gift, and we are enjoying every single one. Who knew morning sickness could be so glorious? Call me crazy, but I have waited for this so long that I actually LOVE it. 

I’ve gone back and forth on posting this. This is actually the first time I’ve been hesitant to post something because I know it’s a bit untraditional to share the news this early. Every published work says to wait a certain amount of weeks so that you don’t have to retract your pregnancy announcement if something goes wrong – suffer in silence, if you will. I know the whole point is to protect your heart. But, the whole point of this blog is to be open. To tell the story as it’s happening – the good and the bad. 

If you could, continue to send us all the good vibes – we definitely need them in the coming weeks. 

(seven. ten. twenty-two)

Cat Distractions

About a week ago, Justin and I went out to dinner. The topic of our infertility journey came up when I mentioned that I was somewhat dreading all of the 4th of July festivities. Typically we love this holiday. In fact, Justin often claims it’s his favorite. However, this year it is falling at the same time that we will find out if this cycle worked or not. The Monday of the 4th of July is the two-week mark from our 3rd IUI. For the life of him, this statement did not make sense. I think I confused him more when I said that I am utterly exhausted from putting on my pretend smile and faking it all the time. 

He took this to mean that I am never happy, which is not the case. I sat there, silent tears falling in the middle of a restaurant because I was completely unable to express myself. And it was in that moment that I realized that this is something that is wholly unable to be understood unless it is happening inside your own body. Don’t get me wrong, we are in this together and he has been an amazing support for me. But I have realized that even those closest to you, and even those in the thick of it with you, cannot fully understand the all-consuming emotions. 

Even after all that we have been through in the last year, I consider myself to be a happy person. I think I have a can-do attitude that pretty much makes me feel like I can take on the world. I know this isn’t going to make sense when I say it, but just because I cry a lot does not mean I am not happy. I know, I know. It didn’t make sense to Justin either. 

He told me that I have to stop letting it control my life.

“I don’t know how. I really am doing the best I can.” This was all I could think to say. 

I know he was just looking out for me. And I know it can’t be easy for him to see me get my hopes up only to be heartbroken month after month. But this didn’t come with an instruction manual.  And even though I often feel like I am doing this all wrong, I don’t know that there’s a “right way” to do it either. 

I have tried to take his advice and “be less obsessed with the process” during the last couple of weeks. This is admittedly difficult when you’re still taking hormones twice a day, charting temperatures, and everything else that goes along with infertility. I took a short break from the blog, and I haven’t been analyzing “symptoms”/every tiny fluctuation of my body. 

I have, however, found a substitution for my obsession in the neighborhood stray cat. 

Yes, you read that correctly. A cat. I should preface this story with the fact that I come from a family that is openly, and quite strongly, not a cat family. I never really formed my own opinion because it was just something that was. I’ve never disliked cats, I’ve just never been around them. By default (and maybe a little by design), I too became “not a cat person.”

On the other hand, I (like my husband) am a complete sucker for any kind of animal. So when this stray cat showed up in the neighborhood, we had no choice but to feed it. I think this all started during the winter months when I just assumed her hunting options would become limited. We would see her watching us fill her bowl from across the street. Once we went inside the house, she would scamper over and eat up the food. 

A little over a week ago, as I was filling her bowl, she was sitting across the street, supervising and meowing….loudly. I assumed this was a critique of my speed, so I assured her that she would get her breakfast. 

At the sound of my voice, and to my complete surprise, she darted across the street and came up to me, rubbing against my legs. I was even more surprised when she let me pet her and followed me to the porch. 

Fast forward a week, she now has a name, is super affectionate, and lives on my front porch full time – which is fully furnished with a raised bed, toys, and of course food. And last night, Justin built her a wooden cat house for her to retreat to when she needs some shelter. I call her Gypsy because she still likes to wander. She always comes back though.

I’d like to say that I’ve been taking care of her, but I think she’s been taking care of me. She’s given me something to focus on – something new to be excited about. And I didn’t realize how badly I needed that. 

I honestly don’t know how this month is going to go. This morning began with a negative pregnancy test. And although there’s still a little time before we can officially count this cycle out, I really have no inclination one way or the other. If I’ve learned anything, it’s that your mind can be very deceptive.

Gypsy Weaver.

(seven. one. twenty-two)

5 Reasons Infertility is Like Being Stranded on a Deserted Island

  1. It’s not as glamorous as people think.

Seriously. Tell me you haven’t, at one time in your life, daydreamed about being stranded on a deserted island. There are even conversational games surrounding this idea: What are the three things you would take? Who would you want with you?  The allure may be subconscious, but there’s something there, right? I mean, no one is playing the game where they decide who you want with you when your boat sinks in shark-infested waters. 

There’s no secret that infertility (like being stranded) sucks. However, you would be shocked at how many times someone has given me the raised eyebrow and said “come on, at least you’re having fun trying, right?” Maybe you wouldn’t be shocked because maybe you’ve been thinking that same thing. 

Disclaimer: I’ve never been stranded on an island. Something tells me, though, that it will be less drinking piña coladas out of a pineapple (obviously one of my items was a magically endless supply of rum) while swinging in a hammock (item #2)*, and more trying to keep bugs from crawling into every opening on your body. 

(*Before you start doubting my ability to survive in the wild, my third item is obviously a two-in-one machete and fire-starter. Wait. Did I just invent something brilliant? Back off, REI.)

Likewise, sexy time during infertility is light on the sexy and heavy on schedules and stress. Basically, like gathering and boiling water on the island, it becomes a chore. In addition to worrying if you’ve correctly timed the fertile window so that you can start early enough, but then still have enough “gas in the tank” to get through ovulation and the two days following, there are other added layers of burden. Reproduction is a natural function of the female body. So, when that doesn’t work, there is no other way to put it…you feel broken. Defective. We’re following the user guide, but it’s still not working. 

  1. Life becomes about survival. 

I am not a fragile person. The cards I have been dealt have built a fortitude within me that I am damn proud of. I feel like I can push through most things with a smile – even if it’s a fake one. When things get tough, I remind myself, over and over again, that pain is temporary. The problem with infertility is that though drug side effects, painful procedures, and even negative tests are all temporary, the actual scope and sequence of infertility is unknown. I don’t know that there’s an end to this. While I know I won’t be undergoing treatments for the rest of my life, I don’t know that this is ever going to end. Statistically speaking, there is about an 85% chance that I will end this whole thing a lot poorer and empty-handed. (And honestly, that’s a generous number.) 

When I think about these things, which I do every single day of my life, I begin to feel fragile. To combat this, I have developed a list of coping strategies. I control the things that I can. I feel like if you were stranded, you would develop rules and rituals. Things you do to make you feel like you’re focused on survival. Keep the fire going. Boil the water. Collect palm fronds to patch the roof. (I’ve obviously thought this out.) 

There’s much about my body that I can’t control. This has led to an obsessive control over the things that I can, and drives my husband crazy. “You still have to live your life,” he tells me daily as I am sorting out my 23 different medications and supplements I take every day, or turn down a second cup of coffee because I’ve already had the one cup that I allow myself each morning. Even my nurse tells me to loosen up and that it’s okay to have a glass of wine or a margarita. What people don’t understand is that survival is a mental game. 

  1. You eat a lot of pineapple. 

Pineapple contains bromelain, an anti-inflammatory and anti-coagulation agent that *may* improve implantation by increasing blood flow to the uterus. If you’ve ever wondered why there are always pineapples on infertility gifts, trinkets, and social media posts, this is why. This is also why, during the two-week wait, pineapple becomes my go-to snack. I am pretty sure studies are inconclusive about the actual effects that pineapples may have on fertility, but, as stated in #2, sometimes feeling like you’re doing something concrete is enough to appease the mind. Therefore, bring on the pineapple! Not only is it delicious, its tough exterior protects the sweetness on the inside, and that feels a lot like infertility. 

  1. You feel a little bit crazy. 

No cheating. When I say the name “Wilson”, what initially comes to mind?

A. The neighbor on Home Improvement who is always peeking over the fence
B. Woodrow Wilson, the 28th president of the United States
C. Mr. Wilson, neighbor to Dennis the Menace
D. Wilson, volleyball BFF to Tom Hanks

Since this entire post is metaphorically about being stranded on a desert island, I may have been subliminally hinting that D is the correct answer. Which it is, obviously. A and C are too obscure for it to be the FIRST thing you thought of. And, if you chose B, you’re too smart to be reading this blog, so let me direct you to the Wall Street Journal

We all thought Tom Hanks was a little crazy for his attachment to the volleyball, but tell me you didn’t get a little choked up when his efforts to save Wilson proved futile. His crazy started making sense. 

The hormone fluctuations within my body do not have me talking to a volleyball…yet. I do, however, feel a certain brand of uncontrollable crazy.  

Prior to starting fertility treatments, I would have described my emotional state as “even keel”. Now? Now I’m a giant cry baby. I cry at everything. For the most part, I am able to conceal the mood swings that I feel raging inside of me. (Pipe down, Justin.) I am not, however, no matter how hard I try, able to control the tears. Some of my tears have been worth shedding. I will always cry at every single negative pregnancy test. So far, on this trip down Infertility Lane alone, there have been about 40. In case you’re wondering, they don’t get easier. I will never be calloused to seeing just one pink line. On the other hand, my days are also full of silly tears. For example, Justin can tell you about my complete and utter meltdown over news coverage of a cow stuck in the mud during some torrential rains a month or so ago. Inconsolable doesn’t come close.  

  1. It’s just so damn lonely. 

Unless you, first hand, know the pain of desperately wanting a family with every fiber of your being, but no matter how hard you try you can’t make it happen, there is no way to comprehend what this feels like. This is not a pity party. This is just the sad truth. 

Most days I feel like we’re stuck on this island while life is continuing uninterrupted for everyone else. I mean, here I am making a smoke signal and spelling out SOS in the sand, but the plane flying overhead is too busy scanning for a radio station that’s not playing a commercial to even notice. 

This is something that I have avoided talking about because, honestly, I feel a little guilty even mentioning it. There are so many kind people in my life who continually check on me. I chose to open up and share our story, and we are truly lucky for the outpouring of support we have received. Most people going through this are doing so in private. They, for all intents and purposes, are stranded on an island. I feel like we at least have email. 

I know the title of my blog is a self-deprecating joke, but there’s a little truth to it. I don’t know that there’s a way to be “good at” being infertile. It’s one of those “fake it till you make it” kinds of things. I also know that everyone on the outside kind of feels the same way and that my openness has made some people uncomfortable. Most of the time, people don’t know what to say so they just totally ignore it. And that’s okay, because, most of the time, I don’t know what to say either. I have learned that when most people check on me, they want the polished answer: “It’s a tough road, but I’m making it.” It’s easy to get behind the hero fighting a battle. But sometimes, I don’t feel very heroic. Sometimes I get really tired of kicking infertility’s ass. But I guess that’s kind of the point of this blog. And even though I often feel like I am sugar-coating things as I write, I feel like I am being about as vulnerable and open as I’m capable of being. I’m trying to paint a realistic picture for you.  

***

I suppose I should also include an update for those who are following along with my timeline. We have started the 8th round of fertility drugs. Since we had the miscarriage back in January, my doctor was pretty sure that I didn’t have blocked tubes. However, since we haven’t had any luck since then, we went ahead and did an HSG this week. The purpose of this test is to inject dye, via catheter, into the uterus and fallopian tubes. To quote my doctor, “This also acts as a ‘roto-rooter’ of sorts, and can increase fertility for three months.” This sounds like a simple procedure. All I have to say is that the next time a male doctor tells me it’s going to feel like period cramps, I’m going to be a bit more skeptical. To quote The Princess Bride, “I don’t think that word means what you think it means.” It was brutal but temporary. 

Thankfully, the test results showed no blockages. On one hand, that’s a huge relief. But at the same time, it doesn’t answer any questions as to why nothing is working. We did get the green flag to go ahead with another IUI. So, our fingers are crossed that the ovary-stimulating drugs will continue to do their job and cause ovulation. If all works out, we’re looking at another IUI in about a week. 

I know this post was twice as long as they usually are, so thanks for sticking with me. I also know this process has been longer than you probably expected. So again I repeat, thanks for sticking with me. 

(six. twelve. twenty-two)

This Is Not My Idea of a Good Time

This evening as I was cooking dinner, I chopped a red onion – a simple act that, for me, typically leads to aggressive tears and smeared mascara. Tonight? Nothing. So, obviously, I did the only rational thing, and googled: “Can a person run out of tears?” This search was, in part, born out of genuine curiosity, but more so out of hope. Hope that there’s an end in sight, and at some point, they will stop. 

For the official record, and according to the wealth of knowledge that is Google, the answer is no. Which, honestly, feels a bit fitting, because the only adjective that is coming to mind to describe this heartbreak is infinite. However, if ever there were a day that I could officially run out of tears, it would have been today. 

It’s been a while since I have blogged. Over two weeks, to be exact – the day of my last IUI. Life goes on for everyone and the world has continued to turn, so I am sure most people didn’t notice my short absence. But I’m assuming some of you did notice and have been hoping my silence was full of promise and meant good things to come – maybe I had exciting news I was trying to keep a secret. 

I’m afraid it is quite the opposite. To put it bluntly, I just haven’t been able to find the strength to write. A part of me feels like I owe you, my readers, an apology that I failed again and there is no good news to share. 

I was recently asked, by someone who genuinely cares about me, if each cycle gets easier to handle. My answer was an unabashed no. Sometimes I do feel like I am getting better at hiding it, but that is usually a fleeting feeling. This cycle has, by far, been the toughest. And in the last two weeks, I have hit my breaking point – a few times. 

This is not a “woe is me” post. And I am not going to detail all the things that have happened this cycle, nor all the places my mind has gone. And, rest assured, this is not a cry for help. This is just a tiny peek in the window that is infertility.

To gloss over just a small fraction of the high points low points: During this cycle, there were three nights in a row that I did not sleep due to intense ovarian pain (possibly and probably a fertility drug-fed cyst rupturing), but we can’t be sure because the left ovary could not be located on my ultrasound today. There were meetings that I had to excuse myself from because I felt tears in the back of my throat. There was poor communication from my doctor’s office, unreturned calls, and rude office staff that clearly could benefit from some sensitivity training. 

PSA to office receptionists: Calling someone “hun” does not cancel out insensitivity. And newsflash, I am not doing this for fun. I know this may come as a shock, but monthly transvaginal ultrasounds are not my idea of a good time. I am not intentionally trying to make your life difficult when I start my period on a Saturday and have to be seen by the doctor to start my medicine on Monday. I am, quite literally, at the end of my rope trying to do everything I can to start a family. So, if you can’t have a 3-minute conversation with a fertility patient without bringing her to tears, it may be time to invest in the aforementioned sensitivity training. 

Can you tell I’ve had a day?

Today I started the drugs for cycle #8. That’s seven failed cycles. Six times (the first one was a total bust with no ovulation) I have sat on the table with my feet in the stirrups, handed over all of my charting, and heard the same words: “This is textbook perfection. You did everything right.”  But six times it didn’t matter that my body responded to the medication. Six times it didn’t matter how perfectly timed my intercourse and IUIs were. Because there I was today, sitting on the exact same table that I did 9 months ago when we began this journey – the exact amount of time it takes to create and bring a life into this world. But, here I am with nothing in my arms but a collection of perfect charts and a box of tests with only one pink line. 

On Friday morning I am having a procedure in which they will do an internal x-ray, insert dye, and flush out my fallopian tubes. This may give us more answers, and it has the potential to increase fertility for a few months. I have heard that this is not at all a pleasant experience, but if it provides insight and increases my chances, I’ll suck it up with a smile. Which, to be honest, feels like the official game face of infertility. 

Though it’s getting harder to visualize this ending the way I want it to, I’m trying to remain hopeful. I really am. I’m to the part of the cycle where I usually start psyching myself up. I have a fresh chart and a new cycle to conquer. This shameless hope usually results in my purchasing a baby item or two. That little box is now overflowing and the lid no longer fits, and it’s starting to feel like a silly ritual. 

I want to end this long-winded post with words of appreciation. Thank you to all who continue to reach out and check on me. This is, by far, the hardest and loneliest road I have ever traveled. The small things, tight hugs, and encouraging words mean more than you will ever know. 

(six. six. twenty-two)

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)