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

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.