Dear Self one year after IVF

Dear Self, One Year After IVF

Dear Self one year after IVF

I wrote this April 29, 2015, while waiting to learn the results of my first IVF cycle. It is presented without further edit. It has swears.

Hello Self,

It’s me—you from a year ago! We’re about to try IVF. Boy, we could not get pregnant naturally! We could not at all.

Well, we did once—after the HSG, which is the exam that can also clear tubes. Maybe you don’t remember what that is? Ha ha ha, just kidding, of course you do. We repeated it 15 months later—plus Clomid/IUI/trigger shot AND acupuncture—as a last-ditch effort to avoid IVF. Didn’t work, but, hey—we tried.

Anyway, we got pregnant once and not long after that we were in a Home Depot and our body decided not to be pregnant anymore. Nobody knows why. Things between us and Home Depot are still pretty weird, and that was 16 months ago. Sixteen months! How time does fly. Except when it doesn’t. Except when you’re waiting… and waiting… and waiting… for news that turns out to be bad.

Boy, we cried in the bathroom a lot! I think we do our best crying there. Probably 80% of all our crying is bathroom-based. The other 20% is random places: the office, the kitchen, the car at a Tove Lo song. It was super fun to cry for an hour in the middle of a Hawaiian vacation. No reason! Just found out we weren’t pregnant… again. It really shouldn’t have been a surprise at that point. But for some reason it really messed us up! It was the day before our husband’s birthday, too. Sorry, husband. Thanks for being there for the crying, no matter what.

We’re truly, deeply grateful that our husband was mellow through the whole thing. We read about depressed husbands, low-libido husbands, indifferent husbands, and we’re so glad he was supportive and gentle. We’re so profoundly grateful that none of this fertility stuff hurt our marriage. Our time together has always been happy. Our time together has always been a comfort.

It’s really our own fault we can’t get pregnant. The problem’s not that we’re so very old, although in reproductive terms we are ancient, we are Bible times, we are Lucy fucking Australopithecus. The problem is that we’re so old AND a woman. That was really dumb, frankly. That was just poor planning. There are a dozen guys in our world having their first kids at 40. We should have looked into that option. Googled it at least.

So much research to be done! We don’t know what people did before YouTube. Drug companies tried to make those self-injections simple, but damn if our hands weren’t shaking every time. The best medication was self-medication—wine, work, sushi, and a really frightening amount of Dragon Age. Did we have a weird dream one time about Commander Cullen? Maybe. Hope our husband can forgive.

The pages of IVF paperwork—35+, just like your age!—made us laugh out loud three times:

  • Indicating understanding that clinic is not responsible for loss of embryos due to earthquake or terrorist attack, which weren’t options we had considered
  • What to do with any embryos if both we and my partner died at the same time. Isn’t it romantic?
  • The list of “seek psychological counseling if you have these symptoms.” We had all of them. We had all of them off and on for about two years. Little late, paperwork.

We never saw ourselves doing IVF. We’d never admit this to the other women on our TTC-After-Loss forum but… we never wanted kids that much. We didn’t grow up around little kids. We look at babies and feel mild revulsion. We heard that “it’s different when it’s yours,” and we figured that was probably true. We figured nature would take care of everything.

So far nature hasn’t taken care of jack shit.

So here we are, financially committed to a cycle of IVF and feeling… nothing. I don’t have any hope for it. The doctor says the odds of me conceiving as a result of this cycle are 50/50. I don’t think I have the financial or emotional will to go through the whole monitoring/medication/X-Files harvest again. I sure would have liked having two kids. I sure would have liked a lot of things.

By the time you read this, one year in the future, you’ll already know. You’ll know how many usable embryos you ended up with. You’ll know if any stayed alive. You’ll know if they made it past the magical 13-week gestation mark, the point at which it’s reasonable to tell other people you’re pregnant, because your miscarriage chances are now below 1 in 5.

There’s a 1 in 3 chance you’ll find out what a C-section is like, because advanced maternal age + increased chance of multiples + IVF = well…

You’ll know if you carried to term. You’ll know if a baby was born healthy. You’ll know if it made it out of those fragile first three months. You’ll have weathered that all without God to lean on, because infertility and miscarriage killed your belief in a God with a plan.

I’m so jealous of you. I hope you beat a lot of odds. Over here, we haven’t beaten any odds at all.

But I know we agree on one thing. We’re really, really jealous of us in forty years.

Because in forty years ww’ll know what our family turned out to be.

And in forty years we’ll know more or less whether all these reproductive stunts we’re pulling—the IVF, the ICSI, the general oldness—affected the reproductive chances of our kids.

Lately we’re not that composed at the best of times, but when we think of taking that phone call from a kid… if we have one at all… by biology or by adoption… when we think of that phone call that says, “Guess what, Mom? We’re pregnant!” or “Mom, this fertility stuff isn’t going so great”… we really cannot handle our shit at all.

We are crying in the office right now.

We are glad our office-mate stepped out.

I hope things are well for you on your end. I hope you’re reconnecting with all those friends with small children. I hope you’re replenishing your savings account. I hope you found a way to deal with all this, because I’m not dealing with it so great.

I hope the Dragon Age: Inquisition DLC was fun.

I hope you’re still wearing soft leggings to work all the time, ‘cos that shit is comfy.

Love,
You From a Year Ago

Pregnant people swapping stories and I'm just sitting here being infertile.

Dear Infertile People

Dear infertile people, you are rad as hell.

I’m not here to tell you it’s going to be OK. I have no idea where your journey goes. That’s kind of the reason your journey is so difficult.

I’m not here to tell you how to get pregnant. Although if you haven’t been to /r/shittyfertilityadvice you should go there immediately.

For things like this.

I’m going to tell you my 5 Steps to Being Slightly More OK With Shit. Will they work for you? I have no idea. I had to get to a certain place before I was ready to do any of them. But my second IVF cycle didn’t rough me up near as bad as the first one did.* So here they are, if they help.

(If they don’t help, print them and rip them up and stuff them in a cat box.)

Pregnant people swapping stories and I'm just sitting here being infertile.

1) Honor what you’re doing right.

All these people out there giving you advice and not one of them’s gonna congratulate you on what you’re doing right. You’re doing a CRAP TON of things right. Let me tell you some things you maybe did:

  • You got help.
  • You waited until you were ready before seeking help.
  • You did research.
  • You got awesome at charting your cycle.
  • You know an OPK from an HSG.
  • You learned how much they skipped in health class.
  • You got through that baby shower without crying.
  • You knew you couldn’t get through that baby shower, so you had the courage to stay home.
  • You learned how to inject a medication from a nurse’s 30-second demo and a YouTube video.
  • You learned how to inject five different medications with different mixing techniques and needle gauges and injection sites.
  • li>You balanced infertility treatment and career and home life.

  • You balanced infertility treatment and career and a small child.
  • You heard your small child ask over and over for a little brother or sister.
  • You lovingly answered your small child’s questions about why Mommy’s tummy is flat again.
  • You tolerated that infertility website stock photos are 99.9% white people.
  • You got crushing news at 8 AM and still got to work by 9.
  • You and your SO managed to keep spark in your sex life.
  • You had excellent taste in choosing your SO.
  • Your SO had excellent taste in choosing you.
  • You and your SO took it one day at a time.
  • You and your SO talked about everything.
  • You and your SO are still wild about each other.

And that’s not even scratching the surface. Looks kinda badass to me.

2) Connect with other people in your boat.

This is easier said than done. For me, there was a real mental block to get over before I could join an infertility support community. It was like joining in made it real. No more keeping quiet because “next month might be good news.”

It wasn’t until after the first IVF failed and knocked me on my ass emotionally, mentally, and spiritually that I realized I had to do something different.

Step One: we admitted we were powerless over infertility, and that our lives had become unmanageable.

Step One: we admitted we were powerless over infertility, and that our lives had become unmanageable.

Finding people who had been through it, who were still going through it, and had worked out a general code of conduct for letting people share their truth in peace and understanding–no “baby dust”–brought me the sanity I was missing. I didn’t know how bad I needed it until I found it.

Uh, and therapy, too. Therapy is good.

For what it’s worth, over at /r/ttcafterloss and /r/infertility are some of the most beautiful supportive non-judgmental anonymous strangers on the planet. Struggling to conceive for 6 months? Welcome. Early pregnancy loss? They’ll never call it a “chemical.” Secondary infertility? Bring that kid. They’re like seven-foot drag glamazons of inclusion. Heal, diva.

3) Tell people

Like #2, this took getting over a mental block. Saying it out loud makes it real. But after that failed first IVF, slowly, one at a time, I started letting people know. As I’ve mentioned, reactions really varied. But some people poured out pure love and compassion to a degree that was really quite confusing. It was that love and compassion, with its waves of goodfeels and understanding, that let me know this “telling people” thing was the right track. You deserve that, too. I hope you find it.

It’s true that, along the way, I also had to mend fences with friends and family–friends I kept at arm’s length because I resented this or that; family I kept out of the loop because I was embarrassed to bring up the subject… or afraid of being hurt by their reaction. There was a certain amount of butthurt I had to get over, and resentment that it was my job–on top of treating infertility and not crying at work–to get over my butthurt. But maybe I grew up a little as a result.

Maybe.

But I still use the word "butthurt," so...

But I still use the word “butthurt,” so…

4) Redefine success.

All the pamphlets and financing options and NIH reports define success as pregnancy (specifically one that makes it 8 weeks and to a detectable heartbeat.)

That’s a damn narrow target to hit. If after all the time, money, and emotional stamina of a treated cycle the only measure of “success” is getting pregnant, no wonder infertile people feel like failures.

What helped me was celebrating when a cycle phase was done.

Had well-timed intercourse? That’s one week of waiting and one week of keeping romance alive on a schedule. That deserves a night out.

Weathered a two-week wait? That’s fourteen days of sweating and hoping and spotting a thousand pregnancy symptoms and yet not going insane. Sushi at least.

Had an IUI? That’s about two weeks, six appointments–including two mornings back-to-back getting up ass-early to perform against the clock and then hurry the specimen to the clinic–and two procedures on a full bladder. Couple scratcher tickets might be fun.

Retrieval complete? That’s at least two weeks, five appointments, three trips to pharmacies, twenty injections, and a surgical procedure. That shit deserves a pancake brunch.

Transfer complete? That’s about two weeks, four appointments, two trips to pharmacies, and an outpatient procedure on a full bladder. You’re not supposed to drink, have sex, have sex goodfeels, watch horror movies, or exercise, so… Dragon Age?

Seriously like 150 hours.

Seriously like 150 hours.

Reward every victory. Demonstrate that you deserve it.

5) Use your powers to help others.

I would have rather had the kid than the lesson, but I did learn a lot.

Now when someone tells me they’re struggling with something severe–loss of a loved one, divorce, chronic illness, any of the brutal stuff that happens for no reason–I’m more likely to rush in instead of run away. I can listen without trying to fix. I can be a better friend.

Not that I always will, but now I know a little better how to go about it.

Empathy is transferable.

Hope this helps.

Related:

  • (4/27) Dear Fertile People
  • (4/29) Dear Self, One Year After IVF [the reason I’m writing these posts, because without context it will be very confusing]

* My third IVF cycle SUCKED ASS. Just so you know I’m a huge hypocrite.