xmlns:og='http://ogp.me/ns#'> Hesseology 101: 2010

Friday, December 24, 2010

Hope for the holidays

This isn't the Christmas I'd hoped for.

Actually, this is the third Christmas in a row that isn't turning out the way I'd wanted. For three years now, my vision of a perfect Christmas involved me being pregnant or being a mom. But apparently, my vision isn't God's will for my life, at least not this year, yet again.

This disappointment is made even more hurtful by the fact that God has answered others' prayers for pregnancy and a child, but not mine. They get to celebrate Christmas with their children and/or anticipate their children being born at some point in the future, but I don't know if I'll have children at any point in the future. For them, this is the most wonderful time of the year; for me, it's the crap, crappiest season of all.

For the past few weeks leading up to Christmas, I've pouted and pitied myself and gotten irritated with people asking me for gift ideas since I won't be getting the main gift I want. But then, I had a revelation, something that may come as a shock to you, as it did to me:

Christmas isn't about me.

This idea and its implications about the sinfulness of my sullen attitude have been validated through several experiences in recent weeks: reading the story of Jesus' birth at our small group Christmas party, listening to a sermon on God's promises represented by the post-Flood rainbow, and hanging out with friends who have kids but are going through other hardships that can make the holidays difficult to endure. All of this helped me remember that although I don't have a "perfect life" in the sense that I don't have a baby, my life is perfect in the sense that I have a Saviour. And more than that, this life isn't about pining away for the good things I don't have; it's about giving praise and glory to the Giver of all good things.

So, this isn't the Christmas I'd hoped for, but I do have hope in my Redeemer who gave me the greatest gift of all.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Remembering Emily

Lately I've lacked the time and motivation to do much blogging, but today I wanted to write a quick post in remembrance of my first sister-in-law, Emily Soule Hesse, who died in a car accident six years ago on this day.

My sister-in-law Emily reminded me of my own sister Emily in several ways: she was smart, beautiful, funny, and a stylish dresser. She was an extremely passionate person, always eager to talk about her interest in psychology or desire to help those struggling with eating disorders. Most of all, she was passionate about her faith, family, and friends, and when you talked with her over coffee, you could tell she was really listening and truly cared.

Emily also reminded me of myself in a few ways: she was sensitive and wore her heart on her sleeve, she hated to lose at putt-putt golf, and she loved a pretty sarcastic guy who enjoyed teasing his wife. She was my ally and friend, and I was sad when she left this home for her eternal one.

We will always remember Emily and look forward to seeing her along with other loved ones in heaven someday.

Today I have a new sister-in-law, another ally and friend, and I am grateful to have her join our family, to have another woman to talk to and hang out with when the guys are playing Call of Duty or lamenting the latest Seahawks' loss. I'm also thankful for Emily's sisters, Beckah and Jess, and my parents-in-law, and on some days, my brother-in-law Gavin. And of course I'm blessed with the greatest parents and siblings and other bro-in-law ever.

It's good to be part of the Hesse/Brandler family.

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Many thanks

I know I laid the whole grief thing on a little thick in my last post, and while I don't need to apologize for being honest about my feelings, I should reassure everyone that I'm doing OK. Not great, but OK. The initial shock is over; I've had several good cries and probably will have more. But my soul is not in the depths of despair, as the Psalmists or Anne of Green Gables would say.

The response of family and friends has been overwhelming. We've received calls, e-mails, Facebook messages, cards, food dropped off at our door, and offers from family members to hop on a plane and fly out to be with us. Being on the receiving end of such encouragement and compassion is a little strange for me, almost to the point of making me uncomfortable, because I like to be the one to help others and show them love. So this experience has been humbling as well as harrowing, which is a good thing – it's important to learn how to accept grace without feeling compelled to reciprocate.

While I am wholeheartedly grateful for everyone's kindness, I have to acknowledge that I can't repay it. I can't even respond individually to each person's message right now, though I hope to do so eventually, because it would take a really, really long time to call or e-mail all those who have been praying for and supporting us. I feel like the arrival of our children, however/whenever that happens, will be the most anticipated event since Brangelina's twins were born. (By the way, I would not mind if you prayed for us to have twins, as that has been my dream since I read Sweet Valley High in grade school.)

And of course we ask for your continued prayers. After we heard the news that we didn't get any embryos, I told Colin I didn't know what to pray for anymore with regard to our infertility struggles. His response was "Pray for the story of our children."

We don't have any children of our own to be thankful for this Thanksgiving, but the Lord has given us countless other blessings that we appreciate. In the latest Whitworth Mind & Heart, which is often written with the help of my PR whiz sister Emily, new school president Beck Taylor referenced 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18 – "Rejoice always; pray without ceasing; in everything give thanks, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." I cannot say that I rejoice in the fact that IVF didn't work, that I am thankful what might have been our last chance to get pregnant was a failure. I'm just not there yet. But I can give thanks to Him for pouring out His love on us through our family and friends, and I can thank all of you for being instruments of His grace.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

It didn't work

And I mean it really didn't work. Out of six eggs that were retrieved, only three of which were mature enough, none of them were fertilized. Even with the most advanced reproductive medical technique available – a procedure called ICSI, in which sperm are injected into the eggs – none of them were fertilized. We've achieved the ultimate fertility fail.

The retrieval was not extremely successful, either. Six eggs were extracted, several shy of the usual 10-12, which the doctor thinks may be due to my endometriosis. On top of that, my blood pressure dropped when I tried to get up after the procedure, and they had to do a blood test to make sure I didn't need a transfusion. I didn't; I was just dehydrated and in need of fluids. Thankfully, my friend Elizabeth and her daughter stayed with me at the clinic while all this was going on and kept me company until Colin could get off work and take me home. When we left, the doctor said she expected from those six eggs, we'd probably get 1-2 embryos.

We waited for the results the next day. I did a little work, read my Bible, listened to worship songs, and prayed pretty much every minute. Colin had to teach class and go to meetings, the last thing he wanted to do at such a tense, uncertain time. We waited until 3:30, when the doctor called me and said, "I'm afraid I have bad news. We didn't get any embryos."

I keep replaying this statement over and over again in my mind. Like the times when people have called to say that someone I love has died, I get stuck in that moment and feel nearly paralyzed with shock and devastation.

Our doctor was very kind, sympathetic, and apologetic. She said she wouldn't have told us she thought we'd have 1-2 embryos if she didn't really believe that would be the case. She said I had three "beautiful"eggs, and the sperm looked good, and the ICSI process went fine, so she didn't know why they didn't get fertilized. She said if we decided to try IVF again, she would use a different protocol of medicine to produce better stimulation, and she even convinced the clinic to waive the ICSI fee the next time around. She said she was sorry it didn't work. She said, "I wish I could just give you a baby."

I got off the phone and began sobbing. Colin held me in his arms and I wept until I felt numb. We sat on our living room couch for hours, while the sun went down and our phones kept ringing, not feeling like getting up to turn on the lights or check our messages. Poor Kaffy stared at us, whimpering, seeming to sense our anguish. Our little family stayed there, grieving in the dark, trying to process the loss of the ability to add to our family.

Neither Colin nor I had high hopes of IVF working. We recognized the reality that at most, there was a 50% chance of us getting pregnant. So we were prepared for the pregnancy test to come back negative. We were not prepared for the possibility that we wouldn't get any embryos, that we wouldn't make it all the way through the IVF process.

This probably doesn't make a lot of sense to those who haven't been through infertility, but in my mind, even having one embryo result from IVF would have been a blessing because it would've meant that Colin and I had at least one baby. And if we had been able to transfer the embryo, even if it didn't implant, at least I would have been "pregnant" for a short while. Of course, going through all that and not having the embryo implant would have been a terrible blow as well because a little life would have been lost. One scenario isn't better than the other; they are equally painful and disappointing. It's just difficult not being able to complete a process that you have invested in so much financially, physically, and emotionally.

It's also hard to grasp the implications of the failed fertilization. Are my eggs and Colin's sperm genetically incompatible? Is conception, whether naturally or in a Petri dish, physiologically impossible for us? It sure looks that way.

I absolutely believe all the verses that say nothing is impossible with God. He's the Creator of all life, for cryin' out loud; it'd be ridiculous to think He couldn't create a biological child out of our genes. It's not a matter of power; it's a matter of preference. For whatever reason, He is choosing to not give us a biological child.

And that is the hardest blow of all. I have prayed over and over and over again for a baby, and He has said no. Colin has prayed, our families have prayed, our friends and several others we don't even know about have prayed, and He has said no. He has answered many, many of my prayers for other issues in miraculous ways, and has always been faithful to love and take care of me even when I've been utterly faithless. He has rescued me from my sin and given me eternal salvation; I have nothing to complain about. I am not complaining that God hasn't given me something I deserve; I am crying because He hasn't given me something I've earnestly asked Him for, something that would bring me joy and bring Him glory.

I know what some people will say to try to comfort us because I've heard these standby expressions before in other situations: "When God shuts a door He always opens a window" and "God didn't answer your prayers because He has something better in store for you." First off, these statements are not necessarily true – some people go through life one trial after another, experiencing terrible suffering that isn't relieved until they get to heaven. Just think of all the missionaries who lived under persecution and were martyred for their faith. Secondly, these statements are not helpful or comforting. Right now, I don't see an open window, and I don't know what "better" thing God has planned for us. The future is uncertain; the present is painful.

I believe the Lord has a purpose in choosing to not allow me and my beloved husband to conceive, so I don't need any placating words of wisdom or suggestions as to what His reasons are. I just need time for God to heal my broken heart – my heart which He has broken. I need time to grieve over something I never had.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Big day tomorrow

Our retrieval is scheduled for 10 a.m. tomorrow. I don't have much to say other than that I'm thankful to be moving forward with this process.

We had another GracefulWait women's meeting this evening, and one of the main topics of discussion was fear and anxiety. If I'm a pro at anything, it'd be that. You name it, I've worried about it, especially when it comes to medical issues. Colin thinks I should get some type of filtering software – you know, the kind people use to block porn – and instead use it to prevent access to WebMD and health chat forums.

A ton of people must be praying for us, because as we prepare for the big procedure tomorrow, I am surprised to find myself not freaking out. I'm definitely nervous and concerned about the outcome, and wouldn't say I'm completely at peace about everything. Yet I feel like I am safe, that I'm being protected and cared for. It's hard to describe, and I can only attribute it to God's faithfulness and sustaining grace.

While reading through the Psalms, I recently came across a verse that I'll be clinging to over the next several days: "When my anxious thoughts multiply within me, Your consolations delight my soul" (Psalm 94:19). And I'll keep repeating my mantra that has gotten me through many an invasive and awkward gyno procedure: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:13).

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

You have 0 friends

First, the update: The ultrasound yesterday showed that several follicles were growing, though some were borderline in terms of the threshold size needed for retrieval. Also, my progesterone level was a little high. Given this information, our kind and thorough doctor explained that if progesterone levels are too high, it can affect the success rates of IVF, so she presented us with two options. We could do the retrieval on Wednesday and likely not get many eggs, or do it on Thursday and have more eggs but possibly have to freeze all the embryos and transfer them later once my progesterone levels were regulated.

This news was a little disconcerting, as it sounded to me like both options were less than ideal. To relieve my anxiety, my kind and caring husband called the doctor and discussed the situation at length. While I've heard that frozen transfers aren't as successful as "fresh" transfers, the doctor said that those studies refer to frozen embryos transferred after fresh ones, meaning that they already used the best-looking embryos. She reassured him that studies done with "freeze all" embryo transfers have not shown statistically significant differences in pregnancy rates from fresh embryo transfers.

Pretty confusing stuff, though I think I understood the point: The more follicles, the better, even if they aren't transferred right away. After talking and praying about it, Colin and I decided to go with the doctor's recommendation and wait another day.

We won't know for sure until the retrieval on Thursday; however, the ultrasound and blood tests today looked promising. So now we wait and see what happens, and pray that the conditions will be favorable for a successful retrieval and transfer.

Enough of the gyno talk for now; let's move on to the explanation for the title of this post: It's the name of a recent South Park episode poking fun at everyone's favorite social networking time-waster – I mean, tool – Facebook. In this episode, Stan gets sucked into a Tron-like Facebook world where he must defeat his virtual self at Yahtzee in order to delete his profile, while Kyle loses all his friends after accepting a friend request from a nerdy Farm Town enthusiast. It's pretty funny, but not nearly as much as this hilarious post from an IF blogger writing in response to a Washington Post article on infertile couples and Facebook. This is seriously the funniest thing I've read online of late, and I think that even those who haven't been through infertility will get a kick out of this fictitious stream of status updates and comments featuring the beloved characters from 90210 (original series, thankfully).

It's funny, and it's sad, because it's true. Facebook can be a great way to reconnect with friends and family and let everyone know what's going on in your life, but by enabling this open channel of communication, it exposes you to a world of hurt. For every person who posts a status update about something wonderful that has happened to them or been given to them, there is someone who has either had that same wonderful thing taken from them or has never experienced it and perhaps never will. Such is life: haves and have-nots, blessings and misfortunes, times to rejoice and times to weep.

This truism applies to any situation – work, school, family, friends, church, hobbies, sports (if you're a Seattle sports fan, you're more accustomed to the misfortune end of the spectrum). So it's completely natural for Facebook users to brag about how great their lives are, or conversely, complain about how the world is out to get them and make them miserable.

In my Facebook news feed, the overriding topics by far are pregnancy and kids, which is understandable given the demographics of my friend group. I can't blame anyone for doing this, and certainly wouldn't expect anyone to stop posting updates about any topic, children or otherwise, for fear of hurting a friend. It's nearly impossible to post something that won't bother someone in some way.

However, I do think it is helpful to communicate major news directly to those who may be going through a hard time instead of blabbing it to the masses. I'm referring specifically to pregnancy announcements, though this could probably apply to other scenarios, e.g. if you get engaged, call your friend who's single, or if you just landed a new job, e-mail your pal who's out of work.

You see, reading a Facebook status update announcing someone's pregnancy is equivalent to a kick in the junk. It produces a sudden, stabbing pain that leaves a lingering soreness and possible mental scarring. It shoves the fact that God has blessed that woman with the gift of a little life growing inside her directly into the face of a woman from whom God has withheld that gift, and compels her to send congratulations in the comments section to fulfill her duty as a loving friend. And if you think that's bad, consider the shock of going to the profile page of a friend who recently contacted you about a non-pregnancy-related topic, and discovering that her profile picture has been replaced with a sonogram image. Ouch.

When you're going through infertility or infant loss, these updates blindside you, and the resulting comments are no better. I appreciated how the blogger I mentioned earlier highlighted the disparity of comments on updates associated with pregnancy/children versus those pertaining to one's profession or industry. Post about your kids, you get hundreds of comments on how cute they are, what fun it is to be parents, etc. Post about getting a promotion or some major accomplishment you achieved at work, and you get maybe 2 likes and/or a comment chastising you for boasting about yourself.

Again, I think this is human nature. Talking about your children and posting photos of them is fun, and despite my grief over not having a child yet, I still enjoy hearing about my friends' families. It's just a heck of a lot easier paying attention to the Facebook activities of friends who have been sympathetic and supportive of us through our struggles. Knowing that they care and still want to maintain a friendship with me even though I'm not a mom yet helps me love them and their children without feelings of jealousy or bitterness.

Of course, I could take the Matthew 5:30 "if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off" approach and simply not log into Facebook anymore. As the Stirrup Queens blogger mentions in her post on this topic, some people question why these "barren b****es" don't just get over it and delete their accounts. I agree with this to some extent, but think it should be noted that disengaging from connections with family and friends on Facebook would only further isolate those people who are hurting and in need of support. And when you feel alone, like you're a social pariah who can no longer relate to most of your friends, breaking away from relationships and suffering in private only make things worse. Believe me, I know from experience.

That said, in lieu of upcoming events, I think I'll probably need to go off the grid for an indeterminate time period, especially if/when we're waiting to find out about the success or failure of IVF. To avoid any potential meltdowns, I need to become bubble girl for a little while and protect myself from Facebook-induced rages.

Maybe I'll switch to Twitter. Or maybe I'll convince Colin to start a Twitter account on my behalf: Bleep My Wife Says About Her Uterus, coming soon to a CBS station near you.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Retrospective Perceptions on Normative Family Constructs and the Impact of Revised Expectations: Reframing the Paradigm of Parenthood

Wow, time sure flies when you're getting three shots in the belly each day.

Actually, this was my first day of three shots. After my appointment yesterday, the doctor said to begin taking the third type of injection – an ovulation suppressant (called Ganirelix) – and decrease the dosage of another – an ovarian stimulant (called Follistim). These new orders came as a result of my ultrasound and blood test, which showed that things were "on track," with the follicles growing and my estrogen level rising. Apparently the doctor thought enough progress was being made that the Follistim could be cut back a tad and the Ganirelix regimen could commence to avoid premature ovulation. In other words, this was good news.

Five days into it, and we are already looking better than last time around, thank God. We still have a ways to go, with many more potential disruptions and disappointments. But for now, I can certainly be thankful for this one step forward, and pray that the Lord will continue to carry us each step of the way.

In the meantime, I've got plenty of bright ideas for blog topics, including a top 10 list of some of the most insensitive things people have said to us related to infertility and a rant against irksome pregnancy-deifying Facebook status updates. However, I recently discovered that November is National Adoption Month, and since I haven't talked much about that part of our story, I thought I should share how God has grown our desire to adopt a child. My criticisms of society and social networking can wait for future posts.

Colin and I started talking about adoption when we were dating. Obviously, we didn't want to do so at the time; we just discussed our views on adoption, how we considered it to be symbolic of God's love for us, and agreed that we'd be open to it if/when we got married. We tied the knot, waited a few years, and started trying to conceive. Then the you-know-what hit the fan, and it became apparent that this whole getting pregnant thing wouldn't be as easy as it looks.

Thinking back, I don't recall how the topic of adoption entered our conversations, though I do remember that it was a mutual initiative – both Colin and I thought it would be a good idea to start pursuing adoption even in the midst of beginning fertility treatments. So we did some research online, talked to friends and family (especially drawing on my mom's expertise as a counselor at Care Net pregnancy services), and discovered Bethany Christian Services, a large U.S.-wide agency that provides domestic and intercountry adoption.

We attended a Bethany informational seminar in April and quickly got the ball rolling on the paperwork for domestic adoption. It was incredibly time-consuming and exhausting filling out all the forms and procuring the necessary documents, and at times felt invasive, as we had to answer question after question about our personalities, our marriage, our infertility, our faith, and numerous other topics that were part of the home study.

But honestly, I enjoyed it. Not that I took a great amount of pleasure in rehashing my whole life story in the questionnaires or learning about the grief that birthmothers experience when they make adoption plans for their children or talking to the case worker about our childlessness and struggles with infertility. The adoption application and home study process wasn't enjoyable in that sense; rather, it was a blessing in terms of how it appeased my task-oriented nature and allowed me to do something working toward the goal of being a mom. I had been feeling overwhelmed with loss – loss of control, loss of fertility, loss of a biological child I didn't know if I could have – and adoption gave me hope that the Lord would redeem those losses and create a beautiful family for us, just in a different way than I had expected. Hence, the title of this post, with buzzwords straight from the pages of Colin's academic journals.

There's a lot more I could say about adoption, and I plan on doing so in the future because we plan on adopting regardless of whether or not IVF works. Of course, we're not just doing IVF for kicks – we wouldn't be spending this much money or investing such a ridiculous amount of emotional and physical energy into it if we didn't think there was a chance of success. We believe that God works miracles through biological pregnancies and adoption, and we know that He answers the prayers of those longing for children (see: Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, Hannah, and Elizabeth). We just don't know how or when He's going to answer our prayers.

In the absence of that knowledge, I'll continue to blog about IVF and adoption, and perhaps in the future blog about having a biological child or adopting a child. Hopefully I'll get to do both.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Once more unto the breach

Much has transpired since my last post – Colin and I wowed our friends with our super-creative homemade Halloween outfits (more on that later), we had our first GracefulWait couples meeting (much more on that later), Justin got accepted to the University of Washington medical school (yay!), and the Republicans shellacked the Democrats in the mid-term elections (double yay!). Oh, and we got the go-ahead to start IVF again this month.

This news was about as big a surprise as finding out we had to cancel our cycle last month. See, Colin and I had basically surrendered ourselves to the probability that we'd have to wait until January to try again, the reason being that the fertility clinic's embryologist would be on vacation during the week of Thanksgiving, and it wasn't that likely that we could get everything done before she left. Considering that she's the one who'll be manipulating and combining our eggs and sperm – a reproductive mixologist, if you will – we kinda need her around for the procedure. Because my period took awhile to arrive, probably due to the hormonal assault from going on and off birth control and then taking fertility meds, I figured it would push the schedule back too far and not provide enough time to complete the cycle before Thanksgiving week. And because of Christmas and all the holiday activities in December, I assumed we'd have to postpone 'till January.

Knowing that this was a possibility, Colin and I tried to soften the disappointment by taking the "count your blessings" approach and thinking about the potential benefits of doing IVF in January – how we'd have more flexibility with our work schedules and wouldn't have to deal with any holidays or trips. So when my period finally came and I called the doctor's office, I had already steeled myself for the nurse's announcement that we'd have to reschedule IVF for January. When she told me that I should come in for a baseline ultrasound on Friday, I was surprised the doctor would want to do that at this point. I was also surprised when they said my ultrasound showed no cysts since they had told me last month that I had an endometriosis cyst, which doesn't go away unless it's surgically removed. And then I was surprised when the nurse handed me the schedule, which estimates that the retrieval will be on Nov. 15 and the transfer will be Nov. 18, just in time for the embryologist to hit the road for her vaca the following week.

With this unexpected turn of events, I almost don't know what I should be feeling – excitement, apprehension, or frustration over the constantly changing circumstances and the need to rework our plans for this month, including an academic conference that Colin now can't attend and a trip to Grandma and Grandpa Hesse's that we now most likely can't make. I don't want to sound ungrateful for this answer to prayer, so I will acknowledge that it is definitely a blessing to be able to move forward with IVF, especially with my baseline ultrasound showing no cysts (my pessimistic side is telling me that there is one there, that it was just hiding during the ultrasound and will wreak havoc later on in the cycle). However, I want to be careful to avoid getting my hopes up too much, or getting carried away with my fluctuating emotions. We have no idea if the stimulation will work better this time, if we'll be able to do the retrieval and transfer, or if the embryo(s) will implant. It's all in God's hands, and there's no point jumping to conclusions or freaking out about what might happen. So my goal is to take it one day at a time, to have flexible expectations and trust in God's plans instead of my own.

Now I'm not a roll-with-the-punches kind of gal. I like my Google spreadsheets, iCal schedule, and comprehensive to-do lists. Heck, half my job responsibility is nagging people about turning stuff in on deadline (Colin would say the other half is nagging him about everything). So living life one day at a time without fretting about what I need to do now or in the future is a strange and frightening concept to me. I know I'll need an extra measure of God's grace to get through this time of immense uncertainty. This isn't an affirmation that those who say "Just relax and you'll get pregnant" are right; rather, it is a recognition that I need to tone down my Type A neurosis.

Perhaps I should emulate the laid-back, carefree attitude of Hungrybear9562, whose YouTube video provided inspiration for our Halloween costumes. This dude exemplifies the "live and let live" mindset and demonstrates how being relaxed and easygoing helps you really appreciate the beauty of creation. Smoking pot probably helps him with that, too.

Our Spooktacular party with our friends was a blast, as was our first GracefulWait couples meeting, inasmuch as you can call hanging out with other couples who've suffered the pain of infertility and infant loss a "blast." Seriously, we enjoyed talking with some friends we already knew and meeting new friends who are all on the same road as we are. We shared our stories and discussed how we wanted the group to be a source of encouragement for our relationships: with the Lord, with our spouses, and with other couples and families and friends. Talking about two verses in particular – John 10:10 and Ephesians 3:20 – reminded us that God has given us abundant life through Christ and that He does abundantly more than what we ask for or imagine, which aptly addresses our needs as couples facing infertility/infant loss to find contentment and peace in Him while asking Him to answer our prayers for a child. We are very grateful for this group and appreciate their support as we try IVF once again.

If you know your Shakespeare, you'll recognize the title of this post as a line from "Henry V." Beloved by Covenant High School alumni, this play describes events immediately before and after the Battle of Agincourt during the Hundred Years' War. I chose this title from the speech at the siege of Harfleur because in some ways, it feels like we're gearing up for another battle in our long War against Infertility, which feels like it's as long and fruitless as the War on Terror. Yeah, I know that's terribly melodramatic, but cut me a little slack for this English teacher-worthy analogy: To get through IVF and whatever happens afterward, I know we'll need a band of brothers – loving family members, empathetic infertile friends, compassionate fertile friends – supporting and praying for us. Thanks for your encouragement and patience with my nerdy literary references.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Waiting gracefully

I got a little hyperlink-happy in my last post, so this time, I'll restrain myself and only include one: the Facebook page for GracefulWait, the infertility and infant loss support group Colin and I are helping launch at our church.

God began leading us in this direction earlier this year when we attended an adoption informational seminar offered by Bethany Christian Services. A couple shared their story about how God blessed them with a daughter and son through adoption and explained how they formed and infertility support group at their church while waiting to be selected by the birthmothers. The group started out small and over time grew into a large community-wide ministry, far bigger than they had initially expected. Leading this group not only helped them pass the time waiting for their children, it also gave them the opportunity to comfort and enjoy fellowship with those who were experiencing the same struggles.

Hearing this couple describe how God used their heartache to console others while also blessing them in the process gave me the greatest moment of hope I've experienced thus far during the past two and a half years of not being able to get pregnant. It was an epiphany of reassurance, a spark of light promising a reason for the pain and tears and irrepressible feelings of loss. Realizing that I could do something with my grief, instead of wallowing in it and getting frustrated with my inability to fulfill my desire to be a mom, gave me purpose and a sense of relief that my life wasn't meaningless. (I know this sounds awfully melodramatic, about as angsty as something you'd read in Twilight, but that's how I felt at the time.)

So Colin and I introduced ourselves to this couple, Don and Pam, at the Bethany meeting and asked them for advice on starting a support group. Since then, Pam has called and shared tips, mailed us some great materials they used at their meetings, and emailed encouraging notes. We are so thankful to have another couple who has walked the same road we're on support us in getting this group off the ground.

To further aid our efforts, I ordered a booklet from Stepping Stones (Bethany's ministry for infertility/infant loss) full of helpful suggestions on starting and promoting a support group. The authors emphasized the importance of choosing a suitable name for the group to make people feel welcomed and comforted. This turned out to be a challenging undertaking, as I couldn't for the life of me come up with anything but inappropriate, borderline-crude names, such as:
  • Fertile in Spirit
  • Unplanned Non-Parenthood
  • We're Not Drunk; We're Infertile (see 1 Samuel chapter 1)
  • WTFF (Waiting To Form a Family)
  • Families Under Construction ... I'll leave out the abbreviation
Fortunately, the task of naming the group wasn't mine to fulfill. Coincidentally*, while we had been talking with one of our pastors about starting a couples infertility/infant loss support group, another woman at the church had been working with the care ministry to form a women's infertility/infant loss support group. Also coincidentally*, she had previously been involved in a Bible study with one of the women from our small group. (*coincidentally = God was obviously orchestrating this)

Kelly and I met for lunch and discussed our ideas, sharing our stories and explaining what had brought us both to this point of wanting to create a ministry for this group of people we identify with. That was a few months ago, and at this point, we've had two women's meetings and will be holding a couples meeting in two weeks. Already, it is clear that people are being blessed through this ministry, and I pray that it will continue to bring together women and couples so that we can carry each others' burdens and share the love and comfort of Christ.

Our group is called GracefulWait. Kelly, who has been a huge Godsend to me personally, came up with the name and created the Facebook page as a resource for those who want to get involved. It's a much better name than anything I could come up with, and it poignantly captures the purpose of the group: to help one another as we wait for the Lord to build our families. The problem for me is only He knows how long that wait will be, and I'm not a particularly patient person.

Interestingly, one of the topics at our college Bible study leaders meeting Thursday morning was about having an eternal perspective and believing in God's promises of a future life with Him. Then in our college small group we're leading, we covered the chapter in A.W. Tozer's Knowledge of the Holy about God's eternity and how He exists outside of time. So He's certainly not beating around the bush with this lesson about the importance of recognizing our trials are temporary and the need to trust Him during our sometimes seemingly endless wait.

Friday, October 15, 2010

It's hard to understand

Today was supposed to be when they'd do the embryo transfer, the final part of the procedure that starts the waiting period before they do the pregnancy test. Instead of sitting around worrying whether or not it worked, I'm sitting around worrying if we'll be able to start over again in a few weeks and licking my wounds after hearing a bunch of pregnancy announcements this week. TGIF indeed.

One bright spot in this mostly overcast week was Justin's acceptance into med school. I'm proud of my little brother for his hard work, perseverance, and most of all, his faith that God would guide him through this process. And he'll continue to depend on the Lord to give him wisdom about which school to go to (I'm sure he'll get accepted at several) and to give him strength for surviving the rigors of med school and residency, hopefully minus any Grey's Anatomy-type drama.

Being a good journalist, I figured I should report some medical news (albeit more than a week late) regarding Dr. Robert Edwards, the co-creator of in-vitro fertilization who was recently awarded the Nobel prize for medicine. Being a good hypochondriac, I thought I'd share what I found out about endometriosis cysts and IVF, which, from what I could determine after 15 minutes of Google research, seems to confirm what my doctor said: A cyst can cause complications but for the most part doesn't appear to affect IVF outcomes. Since Dr. Edwards' award probably has greater news value and broader appeal than journal articles about cysts, I guess I should focus my discussion on the former topic.

Dr. Edwards, a physiologist, and his now-deceased colleague, gynecologist Patrick Steptoe, developed techniques for fertilizing human eggs outside the body in the 1960s. Their work led to the birth of the first "test tube" baby in 1978 and about 4 million IVF babies since then.

Called a "milestone in the development of modern medicine" by the Swedish institute that awards Nobel prizes, IVF has sparked ethical debates about issues like the storage and destruction of human embryos since its introduction and continues to draw ire from certain religious groups such as the Roman Catholic Church, which stated that Edwards' award was "completely misplaced."

Now I'm no ethicist, and I don't feel up to the task of delving into that moral morass, though it's interesting to read Christian forums like Stepping Stones that discuss these ethical considerations. Obviously we wouldn't be doing IVF if we thought it was wrong, and we're trying to make God-honoring decisions as we go through this process. What caught my attention regarding this news about the Nobel prize wasn't the morality of IVF or the question of whether or not Dr. Edwards deserved the award, but how it brought infertility into the media spotlight and elicited some negative remarks about those who choose to go through fertility treatments. As what you would expect from the NY Times readers' comments section, the responses to their article on Dr. Edwards contained several inflammatory statements about infertile couples, such as "they should just adopt" and "maybe infertility is nature's way of controlling population levels."

These types of comments demonstrate a lack of understanding and empathy, which unfortunately isn't confined to the world of anonymous comment threads. I've got tons of ideas for another blog post all about the well-meaning yet dumb things people have said to us regarding our infertility, so I won't blab on much more about it. But I wanted to include a quote from a commenter at the Stirrup Queens blog (and you thought me talking about my uterus and ovaries was bad; wait 'till you read what these ladies have to say about their female parts). This is part of Megan's response to the post, "Will a Nobel Prize Change the Way People View IVF?":
Perhaps this event will lead to more discussion, less mystery, and in some people an acceptance of a practice that’s lasted long enough for children of IVF to become parents themselves. But to a majority of people (ie, the people who likely don’t have any issues with infertility) it’s still mysterious and “different” and they’ll quite possibly continue to carry negative views on something they’ve never experienced and don’t fully understand.
I know that many people can't understand the pains of infertility because they haven't been through it, or possibly don't know anyone who has. There are certainly some people I can't completely empathize with because I haven't experienced their struggles. I've never been diagnosed with cancer; I haven't lost my husband; I've not had an unplanned pregnancy and faced the heart-wrenching decision of raising my child in difficult circumstances or relinquishing them for adoption. All I can do is pray for those people and strive to be sensitive to their grief, and that's what we ask of others who have not had trouble conceiving.

Thankfully, there is One who can truly empathize with us because He knows us better than we know ourselves. And that brings great comfort to all who are hurting – that is, everyone.

Thursday, October 7, 2010

A blip

Chalk another one up to our list of Things That Haven't Happened in the Timing We Expected While Trying to Have Kids.

After the first ultrasound on Monday, when I found out about that pesky cyst, I figured my next appointment would be pretty critical in determining how and if we proceed with IVF. The little freak-out on Monday turned out to be beneficial in that it prepared me for the unwelcome possibility of needing to cancel the cycle. The ultrasound yesterday showed the cyst was getting bigger, and, more importantly, that the other follicles weren't.

My kind and efficient doctor, whose job I certainly don't envy, had me come into her office so she could explain the sitch in thorough detail, which I will try to summarize succinctly (a tall order, for me). First, she said the cyst could be more endometriosis that built up since my laparoscopy last year. It shouldn't be a problem unless it causes a lot of pain, and that type of thing hasn't been shown to affect the outcome of IVF. Of greater concern was the fact that the other follicles weren't growing much yet. She could have increased the dosage of meds and kept me on them longer, but lengthening the prototypical cycle by a few days has been shown in studies to decrease IVF pregnancy rates. So she wanted us to know our options: We could proceed with the cycle until the meds finally started taking effect or we could cut our losses, cancel the cycle, and try again, hopefully soon.

Her best guess as to why the follies weren't getting much action is because of the birth control pills she prescribed for me the month before. It's pretty standard protocol to do at least one cycle of BC before IVF; it helps many women regulate their body functions, but for others, it can delay follicular growth, according to the doc. It shouldn't be surprising I'd fall into the latter category, considering how sensitive my body is to any sort of hormonal changes. Case in point: I've had to buy a heck of a lot more Proactiv ever since I went off BC 2+ years ago.

Fortunately, my blood test showed my estrogen level was going up, so the medicine was working, just taking longer than expected. We don't know for sure if the meds would work any faster in a month or more, after the BC has worked its way out of my system, but considering how well I've responded to less powerful fertility drugs in the past, it does seem like there would be better odds.

While the doc said she would support us if we wanted to proceed or not, Colin and I didn't need much time to discuss our decision. Obviously, we want to do what will lead to the best chance for success, and, though it sucks to have to wait another month or longer, that's what we need to do.

The need to cancel after going through five days of shots is frustrating and disappointing. We had worked out the October IVF schedule logistically and prepared for it emotionally, and now we have to start over again, who knows when. Even if it's only a month later, that's one more month of not being pregnant and not knowing when/if/how we'll have kids. Another month for others to make pregnancy announcements and us to feel happy and yet left out.

That's the downside. But God has really helped me believe He's got a purpose for this delay, just like He's got a purpose for all of our struggles in trying to expand our family. And He's pointed out a few plus sides to this change of plans:
  • It's better for my work schedule.
  • The doctor knows more info about how my body responds to the meds.
  • Colin has gained experience giving me shots.
  • We won't be finding out if we're pregnant right before our first meeting of the couples infertility support group we're helping launch at church.
  • We only wasted a couple hundred bucks on the meds instead of thousands on doing the whole procedure with decreased chances for a successful outcome.
  • I've got more time to blog.
As my mom put it, this canceled cycle is just a blip, a temporary interruption in our path to parenthood, nothing insurmountable or impossible to overcome. We still face a lot of uncertainty, and are praying that we will be able to try again in November and not have to wait until after the holidays. I'm not a great waiter, so the best thing I can do at this point is to remind myself of verses like Psalm 62:5-6: "My soul, wait in silence for God only, for my hope is from Him. He only is my rock and my salvation, my stronghold; I will not be shaken."

I also need to think of some fun things to do to pass the time and keep me from worrying about when we can do the next cycle. For example, this Saturday, I'll be going shopping with a friend. We won't be dropping $10K this month, so why not pick up a new pair of shoes?

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

First ultrasound, first freak-out

Considering how many people describe the IVF process as an emotional roller coaster, I should have expected our cycle to start off with a steep, stomach-lurching drop. Yesterday, during my first monitoring appointment, the ultrasound showed a cyst and not much growth in the follicles. Unbeknownst to me, I had started the cycle with a tiny cyst (shown in the baseline ultrasound) that the doctors weren't worried about but now appears to be getting larger due to the meds. The nurse said they'd call me with the results of my blood tests, which would show if my hormone levels were normal and help the doctor determine if my dosage should be increased or if we would need to cancel the cycle.

For some reason, this came as a shock to me, perhaps because I'd only been getting the shots for three days and had just had an ultrasound done four days prior. I knew that cycles can be canceled if the patient doesn't respond well to the meds or delayed due to cysts or other problems revealed in the baseline ultrasound. But I didn't think I'd face this possibility so soon. As a result of my ill-preparedness for that major downer, I quickly became concerned, i.e., I freaked out and automatically assumed the worst: We'd have to cancel the cycle, and because of the holidays, wouldn't be able to try again until January.

Immediately after the appointment, while suppressing the urge to sob and fly out of control, I called Colin, who calmed me down and recommended not jumping to conclusions until we heard back from the nurse – in other words, to be logical about it. Logic is not my strong suit; however, with the help of my friend, Kelly, who has been through IVF, and her wonderful reminders that God is in control of this situation and is working through it for His glory and my good, I got through the couple hours of waiting for the nurse to call without a complete meltdown.

She had good news: My blood tests were normal and the doc wasn't concerned about the cyst. They just wanted me to bump up the dosage of meds to stimulate more follicles.

Today, the nurse called me once again to say the doc wanted to see me earlier than planned to make sure the boosted dosage was working OK. I'll go in tomorrow morning and find out if the follicles are fired up yet. So my prayer request for now would be that the ultrasound will show that the follicles are growing and the cyst is shrinking.

While we don't know yet if the shots are working, we've become pros at shot administration. After a minor mishap during the first attempt, when Colin accidentally used a larger needle than necessary and worried that he'd jabbed it in so far it punctured my intestines, we figured out a virtually pain-free method of injection: I pinch a chunk of skin and Colin gives me the shot, which stings for a few seconds and leaves a little red mark from the needle prick. Then he discards the used needles in the SoBe bottle we're using as a makeshift Sharps container and I scoop us up some ice cream as our reward for going through the whole ordeal.

Thankfully, I haven't noticed many side effects besides a few headaches and some abdominal uneasiness, but then again, my stomach is uneasy half the time, anyways, thanks to IBS-related issues. Colin is preparing for the worst in terms of hormone-induced mood swings, but that hasn't been too bad, either, in my estimation. He might have a different opinion. All in all, the process hasn't been entirely awful thus far. I just hope we will be able to continue and not have to postpone the procedure to a later time.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Green light

Had my baseline ultrasound yesterday and got the go-ahead to start the stimulation medicine today. So this evening, Colin will get the honor of giving me two shots in my belly – what better way to wrap up a Friday date night!

The nurse led us through an injection training session, during which Colin dozed off and didn't perk up until he heard the nurse say something about his prescriptions. He resumed napping once she reassured him that he would be taking oral medications, not shots. Of course, I am not looking forward to getting a couple of shots a day throughout the course of October; however, I feel somewhat prepared, having gone through a few years of allergy shots 1-2x a week when I was younger. I was that nerdy kid who couldn't play outside in the spring due to the sneezing fits I'd get whenever I breathed in the heady scent of Scotch broom pollen. But, as Emily reminded me earlier this week, at least I didn't have to wear an oxygen mask in public places and be shipped off to asthma camp like Justin.

Learning how to use all these injections was definitely daunting, and paying for them wasn't exactly a blast, either. Walking out of a pharmacy with a grocery bag full of meds was a new experience for me, one that I hope not to repeat. The sheer volume of drugs, needles, alcohol swabs, and other paraphernalia was so ridiculous I decided to take a picture of it all laid out on our table. Note: This pic was taken before I got more needles and an injection pen at my appointment.

Impressive as it is, this supply doesn't hold a candle to my mom's Port-a-Pharmacy she makes my dad lug around everywhere. She likes to have this cache of meds on hand for her autoimmune flare-ups and everyday emergencies – you know, like if someone happens to get typhoid fever and needs heavy-duty antibiotics. Big Pharma owes Mom a big thanks, as do I – she has set an amazing example for enduring health issues with grace and patience, an area I'd like to grow in as we proceed with IVF.

A few people have asked me if I'm excited to begin IVF, to which I would answer that I'm as excited as one can be about starting an expensive, emotionally and physically taxing process that has a 50/50 or less chance of resulting in us having a biological child. It is exciting to be moving forward in our path to parenthood and nerve-wracking to wonder if the procedure will work. Beyond that, it is comforting to have family and friends encourage and pray for us during this time of uncertainty. We are extremely grateful for your support.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Save the dates

I didn't anticipate the need to write again so soon after the most recent post, and was expecting to take a little break to recover from the emotional hangover resulting from my blog broadcast of our infertility issues. However, as with many situations in life, things didn't turn out the way I thought. And this thing isn't necessarily good or bad, just not what I expected.

But enough ambiguity; what I'm referring to is the schedule for our IVF cycle. For no particular reason, in my mind, I figured we'd start taking the meds the first week of October, and, not knowing how IVF works, thought it would take a month to complete. So when the nurse called and said she'd devised a schedule based on a start date of September 24 – as in three days from the moment she called – I had a minor freak-out. This was a pretty silly reaction, considering that the nurse said the schedule could be changed, not to mention that the whole reason we're doing IVF is because having a baby didn't happen when we had planned. Our ETAF (Estimated Time of Adding to our Family) was off by two or more years; starting IVF earlier by a week or so should be NBD (definition for the non-texters: No Big Deal).

Thankfully, the nurse was patient with me, and Colin even more so. After a couple iterations, we came up with a game plan based on a start date of October 1. Of course, all of this could be a moot point if the ultrasound they do on September 30 shows a cyst or something else that would make the doc frown and say "Hmmmm." Barring that, the schedule, which imported nicely into my iCal and will set off alarms every time I'm supposed to get a shot, has tentative dates for the retrieval, transfer, and the scariest of all, the pregnancy test.

As October 1 draws closer, I'm praying for peace and sanity, both for my sake and for Colin's. Lately I've been stressing out about trying to know what to do/what not to do so I won't be stressed during IVF. So, to reduce the stress of figuring out how to avoid stress, it seems the best course of action is to maintain routine activities and simply be less of a perfectionist, for once. The baseboards can go without getting dusted for awhile (or ever, in Colin's opinion).

If this post sounds a little scattered, that's probably due to the 15 minutes I spent watching DirecTV's RedZone Channel, which has got to be the most ADD-enabling program on TV. I'm not sure when my next post will be, but I have plenty of ideas for infertility-related topics to discuss, including some good articles I found as well as updates on the support group we're involved in at church. And I might try to throw in a post or two about non-infertility-related topics, like what's going on in our college small group and what new TV shows we're digging this season. For now, I've got something better to do than blog – cheer on the Seahawks. Yet another opportunity to moderate my expectations.

Monday, September 20, 2010

It's Missouri, not misery

After a year-long hiatus, I thought it was time to update the ole blog. Then I procrastinated for a few more months until I felt motivated to write something a bit longer than a tweet or Facebook status.

As most people know by now (if you don't, you are really out of touch, or maybe just wishing you had received the 2009 edition of the Hesse Holiday Herald, which regrettably was never published), we live in Columbia, Missouri, home of the University of Missouri, where a certain Assistant Professor of Communication Studies is plugging away at his research, well on his way to tenure and its accompanying academic fame and fortune. While Colin is running labs, teaching students, or playing on his university-funded iPad, I'm working from home, continuing to edit articles and do other editorial tasks for the company I worked at in Arizona. The nice part is the flexibility; the downside is the lack of human contact and interaction (Kaffy doesn't count, and even if he did, he sleeps all day and thus doesn't make the most engaging companion). But we do have many friends we are thankful for, and they almost make up for the lack of good Mexican restaurants in town.

If you are wondering about Columbia, you should Google it to save me the time of explaining what it's like. I will say that it's an exceedingly friendly community with an appreciation for football, the arts, and good BBQ. Several people gave us the line, "You're going to misery?" when we announced that we were moving here, and I can gladly say that I don't consider it to be a fair statement, especially after living in the 100+ degree temps of Arizona. Dry heat, humidity – doesn't matter which; they're both awful. But the difference is Columbia has four seasons, which is the right kind of climate for two native Washingtonians.

As I said earlier, and would like to repeat to dispel any doubts, we have been blessed with many friends here – Colin's colleagues, our church small group, and several nice neighbors. We've also started helping out with the college ministry at church, leading a small Bible study. It's great to be around college students and hear about their hopes, dreams, and fears, which reminds us of our college days and alarms us thinking about how long ago that was.

Some of you may be wondering why we haven't been posting pictures of our kids or updating Facebook with all the cute things they say. This would be due to the fact that we don't have kids, which I have to say is not for lack of trying. For more than 2 years now we have been in full TTC (Trying To Conceive) mode, with nary a missed period or positive pregnancy test. This, in a word, sucks. I could certainly make the typical Christian statements and say that God's plan is better than ours; He's in control; He'll work it out for our good – all of which I believe are absolutely true but do not always feel that way. Both of us desire to be parents and are not sure when/if/how that will happen, which is a pretty harsh reality to face. Without going into detail about how we got here, I'll just provide our current status: in an adoption waiting program but on hold as we might be trying in vitro next month. We would like to adopt no matter what, but we would also like to give the fertility treatment route a whirl before things could get worse and my uterus completely craps out.

I decided to share this part of our lives not to elicit several comments of pity – Lord knows I have already shown myself way too much of it – or even to ask for prayer, though that would definitely be welcome. The main reason to let the world wide web know about our infertility is so that other people who are experiencing it know they're not alone. Infertility makes you feel isolated, like no one understands or even cares about your situation, which is a lie, and one that I bought into because it's such an emotional issue. I discovered that this was not the case after attending an adoption seminar wherein we met other couples like us and after reading a friend's blog about her difficulties and setbacks on the road to parenthood. As we started talking to more people about it, we found that many have either experienced infertility themselves or know someone who has. And, according to the CDC, it affects 1 in 8 couples of childbearing age. In light of this, the whole concept of God comforting us so we can comfort others going through the same struggles (2 Corinthians 1:4-5) has become personally applicable to our lives and has demonstrated that there's at least one good reason why this is happening to us. So we are helping launch an infertility support group at church and hoping it will help others be encouraged and encourage us in the process.

It wasn't really my intention to make this into an infertility blog, but for the moment it will be, considering that it's a pretty big deal right now as we prep for IVF in a few weeks. And since Lost is over, I really don't have much material to work with anymore, save for Kaffy's misadventures leaving his mark around the neighborhood and going berserk over a fly in our house. I'll try to provide regular updates on what's going on, complete with entertaining anecdotes on all the crazy things we'll get to do, like Colin attempting to give me shots, which promises to be a great video opportunity.