“This is What Infertility Looks Like….” (Reblog)

Infertility doesn’t end when or if you get pregnant.

Infertility doesn’t end when or if you get to bring a living child home.

Infertility doesn’t end if you are able to adopt as many children as the Old Woman In The Shoe.

Infertility doesn’t end.  It hides inside of you, always waiting to rear its head at the most inopportune time.

From This is What Infertility Looks Like…. at Still Standing Magazine.

I’ve been trying to articulate this very idea for my own blog, but this author does it so well, I will simply allow her words to speak to you. I may be pregnant, and I may have a healthy baby to take home in 4 months, but I will always be infertile.

“the cells from her miscarriages . . . We carry them for a lifetime”

Not long after my miscarriage, I read a scientific article that said fetal cells remain in the mother’s body after pregnancy and pregnancy loss. There was much more to the article than that, but that’s the core idea that stuck with me all these years. It’s given me comfort knowing that my first baby will always be a part of me.

Recently, I read this poem by Heid Erdrich, and it all came back to me again. I hope reading this leaves you with a feeling of wonder and comfort, as it did me. (The poem also references pregnancy and babies.)

Microchimerism

I
Nub of human,
shell pink fingernail,
whether you live
or all unformed
leave her body
she will never
be without you.

This, scientists tell us, is literally true:
. . . the cells from her miscarriages, her stillborns,
and all of her children . . . We carry them
for a lifetime. But the cells actually go both ways.

Nub of human,
your cells migrate,
are found at sites
hurt in the maternal body,
and in successive siblings,
even those you never knew,
even those who never knew you.

II
Nub of human,
shell pink fingernail,
she will never be without you.
 
Vivid dreams in her bed echoed,
a wall away and you felt her,
knew her wakefulness
through the quiet she maintained.

She knew it too and tried
explaining, “It is like she is in me,
knows my brain, and wakes me up
before she wakes.”
 
Darkness so soft she feels its nap
cushion her movements,
still she reaches you
just as your cries begin,
then you two are one again.
 
Or more correctly,
you never left:
your cells and hers
flowed back and forth—
blood river once between you
went two ways, scientists say:
 
The waves of fetal microchimerism
are just beginning to break
along the scientific shore.

Even in her milk,
her milk for you—your milk,
a million messages, recipes, connections.
 
This month you demand
brain grease, complex fats;
next month another mix
produced especially for you.
 
She should have known
when she craved avocado, salmon, sesame,
and cursed the invective against sushi.

III
Nub of human,
shell pink fingernail—

Who left cells in your mother
that she gave to you?

A million unknown others.
 
What makes us
our own sole and sovereign selves
is only partially us.

The search for God can be called off.

Now we know:
masses of genetic material not our own
inside us, always with us, like the soul.

I should not
have said that about God.
Forgive me, I
am not
myself.

Italicized lines from Dr. Judith G. Hall, 2002, and from Bruce Morgan’s profile of Dr. Diana Bianchi in Tufts Medicine, 2005.

 

From Cell Traffic by Heid E. Erdrich. © 2012 Heid E. Erdrich. Reprinted by permission of the University of Arizona Press.

Body Image

For as long as I can remember, I have been rather uncomfortable in my own body. Not in any way that could be classified as a psychological disorder – or maybe it could. I don’t know. Anyway, my point is that up until now, no matter my size, I’ve always been self-conscious about my body. I’ve always hated having my picture taken, and speaking in front of groups, and in general any situation where I might be “on display.” I don’t know if it’s because I’ve always been at least a little overweight (and more than a little in the last few years), or if I would have felt the same way as a slender person.

After my miscarriage, I not only felt uncomfortable in my body, I hated it. I knew it wasn’t my body’s fault, but emotionally I felt like it failed me and my baby. And then I had trouble getting pregnant and learned I had very severe endometriosis.  Add to that 7 (or 8 or 9) failed treatment cycles. More strikes against my body.

When I did finally get pregnant again, I didn’t know if I could trust my body. Would my baby grow and be healthy? If she died, would my body know it or would I again need help to complete the miscarriage process?

Now that my body is changing, my stomach growing with a healthy baby, I’m gaining much more confidence. I find myself wearing clothes that emphasize my swelling abdomen, rather than hide it like I used to do. I find myself looking down at it throughout the day and studying its shape and size in the mirror each morning. It’s not a vanity thing, nor pride. It’s disbelief mixed with wonderment and a healthy serving of gratitude. I still can’t believe this is happening to me, while so many other more deserving women are still struggling to get pregnant, waiting to start treatments, or grieving the loss of ever being able to carry a baby.

I remember what it’s like to look at a pregnant woman and feel nothing but jealousy and sadness. As much as I hoped and wished that someday I would be pregnant, it bothered me to think that I could one day be the source of another’s pain and sadness. Now that day has come. So, while I am much more comfortable and confident in my body, part of me still doesn’t want to go out in public or be seen by anyone. Part of me wishes I still looked just fat.

Don’t get me wrong: I am incredibly grateful to be where I am. I’m happy to be pregnant, and I look forward to all the ways my body will change (well, maybe not all the ways – incontinence, for instance). This is just one more example of how infertility ruins what should be a purely joyful time in my life.

All About Doulas

This post isn’t specifically about being pregnant after infertility, but my reasons for wanting a doula are indirectly related to my infertility experience. Since the whole doula thing is relatively new to me, I’m keeping things basic and posting lots of links to some great resources.

A while back, I posted about starting my search for a doula. Since then, I have visited with four recently trained doulas and decided to hire one of them.

What is a doula?

According to DONA.org, a doula is “a trained and experienced professional who provides continuous physical, emotional and informational support to the mother before, during and just after birth; or who provides emotional and practical support during the postpartum period.” Doulas are trained in a variety of techniques to help you labor comfortably and to have the kind of birth experience you desire. A doula probably has her* own labor and birth philosophy, but most will work with you whether your philosophies match up or not. So, even if your doula prefers a medication-free birth, and you plan on an epidural from the start, she will (should) respect your choice. Having a doula can be a positive experience, whether you plan on a vaginal birth or a scheduled c-section.

There are all kinds of benefits to having a doula, including shorter labor, fewer complications, and reduced need for interventions. If you’re the type who likes evidence to back up such claims, I refer you to the DONA International Position Paper on birth doulas, which references several studies that you can look up and read for yourself. I read a couple, but, to be honest, that a doula would improve the birth experience in those ways just made sense to me, so I didn’t need much convincing to know that a doula was right for me.

Doulas are not medical professionals. They do not offer medical advice, or interfere with the medical team treating you. However, one benefit of an experienced doula is that she can help you better understand what the labor and delivery team is doing and saying.

Some doulas offer extras, like photography, help with breastfeeding, birth classes, help with writing a birth plan, and help with writing your birth story (she will be able to help you fill in some of the gaps). Sometimes these are at no extra cost, but you need to ask.

Why hire a doula?

10 Reasons You Should Hire a Doula

8 Reasons People Don’t Hire Doulas

5 Reasons Dads Should Demand a Doula (Sorry for the heteronormativity; it’s still a helpful read)

I decided that I wanted a doula for a couple of reasons. 1) This will be my first time giving birth (assuming all goes well with this pregnancy). I can read and research until my brain melts, but I know that when the time comes, I won’t remember any of it. I want someone who knows labor and birth like the back of her hand, who can coach me and support me in having the birth experience I desire. 2) After everything I’ve gone through during my infertility journey, I believe I deserve to have the very best care and assistance while giving birth the way I want. In a way, it’s wrestling back some of the control I lost during the getting pregnant part. 3) A doula will help relieve some of the pressure on my husband to keep me comfortable and motivated, and even help coach him in techniques that will help me.

I should say a few words about the partner’s role in all of this. Obviously, your partner needs to be on board with having a doula. He or she may initially feel like the doula is meant to replace him or her, but a little education can go a long way in calming that fear. Your partner may or may not want to be part of the decision-making process. My husband basically said, “Your body, your decision.” So, I did all the interviewing myself. We will both meet with the doula a few times before I go into labor, so that we’re all on the same page.

How to find a doula?

Once you decide a doula is right for you – or even if you just want more information before making your decision – it’s time to start interviewing. I found a list of doulas at a local moms group on Facebook. I also emailed DONA International for a list of licensed and trained doulas. (Note: You can search DONA.org for licensed doulas, but you have to email the organization to find the ones who have training but are not yet licensed.) You can also ask your OB, midwife, nurse, or clinic receptionist, as well as friends and family. Of course, there’s always Google.

What questions should you ask?

During the interview process, you will want to ask lots of questions. Again, DONA.org provides a great list to get you started. I also asked about other work/jobs, since the doulas I interviewed were new to the field. I wanted to be sure they could be by my side the moment labor started. In addition, I wanted to know about their experiences (if any) with the hospital where I am planning to deliver, to make sure it’s doula-friendly. Lastly, this was a tough one, but I asked each of them if she would still be my doula if I knew the baby would be stillborn. (This is also something you should consider for your birth plan – how do you want to proceed if you know the baby has already passed?)

What does it cost to hire a doula?

The cost of hiring a doula varies based on the services they offer, level of experience, and geography. The doulas I spoke to range from about $400 to $800, but that’s because they were only recently trained and have very little experience. They need to assist a certain number of births in order to complete their certification and licensing, hence the reduced rate. You’ll have to do some research to find out what the going rate is in your area.

What happens after you hire a doula?

The doula should have you sign a contract that spells out the services she will provide to you and how and when payment is due. The doula will put you on her calendar, reserving the weeks surrounding your due date for you and you alone. If she doesn’t have a regular back up doula, you should let her know which of the other doulas you interviewed you would like to use as a back up, if needed.

In conclusion

I’m obviously a huge supporter of having a doula, but I know it’s not right for everyone. Some women may prefer to have a friend or family member provide support in addition to their partner, while others prefer only their partner. There’s no right or wrong way. I briefly considered asking my mom to be by my side, but her only experience was vastly different from the type of birth experience I want. I know she would provide awesome emotional support, but technical and physical support, not so much. I also like that a professional doula is emotionally detached from me, compared to a friend or family member.

Of course, only time will tell if the doula experience is all I envisioned it would be. I will definitely follow up to let you all know how things go in about 5 months or so.

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* I say her and she because the only doulas I know of are women. I wonder if male doulas exist somewhere?

My Awesome Day!

If you follow me on Twitter, this may be old news.

Yesterday was an awesome day! Around mid-afternoon, I felt the baby move for the very first time. There was no mistaking it for gas. It’s hard to describe the sensation, but it was kind of like someone blowing bubbles with a straw inside my uterus. It was ever so fleeting – though strong – but I knew it was baby. Cue happy tears.

Then, an hour later, I received a call from the clinic. The results of the Verifi test were ready (this is the one that tests for Down syndrome, Trisomy 13, and Trisomy 18). There were no abnormalities detected. We also opted to learn the baby’s sex through this test. Are you ready for it?

GIRL! 

M told me a few days ago to “just text” him after I got the call, but I just couldn’t. I didn’t want to do anything elaborate or cheesy, but I wanted something a little more special than a text message, so I bought a foil balloon that says “It’s a girl!” and gave it to him when I got home from work. Even though I’ve been telling him that I think it’s a girl for weeks now, he seemed stunned and a little disbelieving. I think reality is finally settling in. For both of us. We held each other tight for a long time.

We would be excited no matter what, but I have to admit that having a girl is extra special to me. She will be my mom’s first granddaughter (she has two grandsons), and we plan to name her after my grandmother (who was also named after her grandmother). This will be a huge deal for my mom and her sisters – and for me. My grandma was the most loving, caring, happy, positive, fun woman I’ve ever known, and I miss her every day. She was the nucleus of our family. Cancer took her from us 16 years ago, way too soon. It wasn’t until recently that I learned she had lost 3 children. I knew about one: he was her youngest, stillborn. The other two were miscarriages. So, I feel an extra special bond with her. I can think of no better tribute than passing on her name to our daughter, along with her intense love for and pride in her family.

15 Weeks & Stupid Pregnancy Movie

When the movie What to Expect When You’re Expecting first came out in May 2012, it had been one year since my miscarriage. I was faithfully attending acupuncture appointments and taking expensive Chinese herbs. We had just started testing for infertility: HSG, lots of blood work, and an SA for hubby. There was no way in hell I was going to watch that movie, despite my secret love for cheesy romantic comedies and my girl-crush on Cameron Diaz. Turns out, my instincts were right.

Fastforward to today. I figured it would be “safe” to watch the movie now. In some ways it was safer now, but in many ways, this movie still made me feel bad. Since it’s nearly 2 years old, I don’t believe I need to say spoiler alert, but I will anyway.

What are you waiting for? I already said it.

The movie follows 5 couples who find themselves on the brink of parenthood. First (and these are in no particular order) we have the infertile couple who has been trying for 2 years and hasn’t started treatments yet. They decide to take a break, get drunk, have sex in the park, and boom – pregnant. Because, of course. When they share the good news with his dad, they find out dad’s trophy wife is also pregnant… with twins… and they weren’t even trying. That sounds about right. Then there’s the infertile couple pursuing adoption. They have one home visit, during which they are told it would be a year or more before a baby is available. A couple weeks later, they get The Call. Because that always happens in real life. Couple #4 gets pregnant from a one night stand. Unfortunately, she has a miscarriage which breaks them up, even though they weren’t really going out to begin with. In the end she says she’s not sad, because she’ll have another chance to have a baby when she’s ready. Because it only takes a couple of months to get over a miscarriage. Couple #5 is way famous in this movie world. They get pregnant “accidentally” after being together for just a few months. Their biggest disagreement is whether to have their son circumcised. It almost breaks them up. But then she gives birth and it turns out the ultrasound tech was wrong – it’s a girl! Problem solved. Because life loves to work out just right like that.

It wasn’t all terrible. There was one very touching scene that captured the adoption ceremony in Ethiopia. I appreciated the fairly real and accurate reactions of the infertile couple when they learn about dad and step-mom’s twin pregnancy. But that’s about it. The whole thing was flat, shallow, and boring, even though one of the moms nearly dies after her c-section. (She ends up just fine. They don’t really address what went wrong.) I know it has to be difficult to accurately portray infertility in a movie, especially in a movie that’s all about pregnancy. And dealing with miscarriage in a movie that’s supposed to be funny has to be even more impossible. But it’s like they didn’t even try. Also, they totally ignored the fact that not all infertility journeys end with a baby. In fact, both infertile couples get lucky. Then again, it was a movie about pregnancy. I guess? I’m still not sure what the point of it was.

Don’t see this movie. Ever.

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15 Weeks Update

How far along: 15 weeks (due date August 28)

Total weight gain/loss: -5 lbs from pre-pregnancy weight (It was as low as -7.5 during the last few weeks.)

Symptoms: 

  • Nausea is improving, but I still have it, especially when I’m hungry.
  • I still don’t have much appetite, hence the weight loss.
  • Still tired all the time, though that seems to be improving a tiny bit.
  • Still very emotional.
  • If I don’t brace myself before sneezing, I get a terrible pain in my lower ab muscles.
  • Constant heartburn.

Maternity clothes: I stopped wearing the belly band (it wasn’t working well), and switched to maternity pants. So comfortable! I’m acquiring maternity tops one or two at a time to round out my wardrobe. I can’t just wear larger tops, since I’m tall. I need the extra length provided by maternity clothes.

Stretch marks: None yet.

Sleep: Sleep is okay. I have a hard time waking up some mornings.

Best moment: Every time I hear the heartbeat on the Doppler, it’s the best thing ever! It’s so reassuring to find it more easily.

Movement: Too early. (You better bet I’m paying close attention!)

Food cravings: Still no real cravings. I favor salads with pickled beets and honey mustard dressing for lunch, peanut butter wraps and a glass of milk for breakfast (or anytime, really), and by the time dinner rolls around, I’m too irritated and tired to want anything, though I will pretty much eat anything you put in front of me.

Sex of the baby: We will know soon! I had my blood draw for the Verifi test yesterday, which, in addition to assessing our risk of Down syndrome, Trisomy 18 and Trisomy 13, will also tell us the baby’s sex. My instinct says girl. My mom, sisters, and aunts agree. I’ll be surprised if there’s not a girl in there!

Labor signs: None.

Belly button: No change; still an innie.

What I miss: Enjoying food.

What I look forward to: Feeling movement and finally getting my second tri burst of energy.

Baby buys: Still nothing, and I’ve been too tired to work on the knitted blanket.

Milestones: I’ve started interviewing doulas. So far, it’s been a very positive experience.

More and more, I’m feeling confident about this pregnancy. I’m so very grateful that I haven’t had any problems or severe symptoms. I send out silent wishes every day that my luck continues.

I Met an Infertile!

Well, she’s a probably infertile (I guess I should say the couple is). She and her husband have been married for 9 years, during which time they have never used birth control, and never been pregnant. They have never really tried to get pregnant, but after 9 years not preventing, there’s bound to be something amiss.

This woman (or couple, I should say) are new friends (sort of). It’s a bit complicated. She is the aunt of one of my cousin’s many children, and her husband is a new member of my husband’s band. She has been friends with my younger sister (also in the band) for a number of years. (Did you follow that? Things get a little “familiar” in small towns.) I’ve only just started to get to know them.

She asked me a bunch of questions about how we came to do IVF, how we knew we were infertile, how much IVF costs, etc. I so wanted to urge her to start the testing process, even if they don’t pursue treatments right away, but I know how annoying unsolicited advice can be. And I know it’s something you have to be ready for, emotionally and financially. Of course, should she ever ask, I will definitely share my opinion. I did mention that there are lots of causes of infertility – some easy fixes, some not so easy, some can’t be fixed – so maybe that will encourage them to get started sooner rather than later. Either way, I’m so happy she opened up to me and that I can put my encyclopedic knowledge of infertility to use to help someone I know.