Heavy Heart

heavyheartI’m struggling today. My own grief over our recent loss combined with the grief and fear over the presidential election results are just too much. My heart is just too heavy.

I’ll admit, I haven’t been doing the grief work that I know I need to do in order to heal and move forward. My therapist and I talked about the importance of acknowledging the loss in some way, like a service or ceremony, or some sort of physical memorial, like a tree (or the tattoo I’m planning). She asked if the baby had a name, and I told her no. It’s true – we hadn’t officially decided on anything, though I had pretty much settled on one before we learned of her condition. I hadn’t told my husband, because I was afraid I might change my mind before she was born. I still haven’t told him, but now I think I probably should. I think I would like for her to have a name. And, as much as it hurts, I would like to talk about her more, and giving her a name would help with that.

We haven’t talked about trying again. I’m afraid to open that door, because I have a feeling he will want to slam it closed and weld it shut for good. I keep telling people that we’re not sure if we want to try again, but the truth is that I do want to try. I want to try with our embryos until we don’t have any left. If we don’t, I may grow to resent it. I worry, though, about the strain it may cause. My husband is already working like a maniac to support us. We’re far from poor, but paying for even one more FET would be a stretch. Not to mention the emotional strain. At this moment in time, however, my desire to have another baby is greater than my drive to avoid conflict or discomfort, greater than my fear of having another baby with a neural tube defect.

I used to think people who claimed fear or grief after an election were just being dramatic. I mean, I wasn’t happy when George W. was elected, but I was far from scared or depressed. But this year, I’m among those scared and despondent. Chief among the many reasons for feeling that way is what this means for reproductive rights. It was hard enough for me to get an abortion for medical reasons, I’m legitimately afraid of how much worse things could get not only for people in a similar position, but also for those seeking abortion for any reason. Not only that, I’m dismayed by how many of my loved ones support a president and other elected officials who would take away my right to choose to end my pregnancy. It makes me sick to think that people I love, who are supposed to love me, would force me to carry to term a baby with no chance of living. It hurts. Deeply.

I’m not dealing with all of this emotional turmoil very well. Writing this blog post is the healthiest thing I’ve done in a while. Mostly, I’ve just been eating my feelings, and then feeling terrible for it, and  then eating THOSE feelings. A vicious cycle.

10+ Weeks

Today has been emotionally exhausting. Leading up to my first OB visit this morning, I was actually doing just fine. Slightly anxious, but nothing to write home about. Then I got to the OB’s office. I was the only one in the waiting room for about 2 minutes. After that came the parade of heavily pregnant women. One after another, until there were 8 other very pregnant women in the room with me less than 5 minutes after I arrived. You’d think it wouldn’t bother me much, being pregnant myself. But that’s when the anxiety started to set in.

Once in the exam room, my anxiety just kept increasing. I was annoyed by the nurse’s questions about my history and current medications. (I know they have to do it every time, but when you visit the doctor frequently, it becomes tedious.) She kept saying, “Since you’re only 9 weeks…” and I kept correcting her, “No, I’m 10 weeks 3 days.” She kept saying, “Well, we have to go by the last ultrasound,” to which I replied, “My last ultrasound was only off by a couple days, so I’m still at least 10 weeks.” She insisted, “Well, that doesn’t change the fact that the doctor probably won’t even attempt to listen with the Doppler, since you’re SO early.” I realize she was trying to manage my expectations, but in some ways she just made it worse. (Oh, and the way she kept focusing on my last menstrual period, like she couldn’t get her mind around the fact that I didn’t get a fucking period before I started my FET cycle, because, hello, I’m infertile! Drove me mad.)

After the nurse left the room, and I waited for the OB to come in, I burst into tears. I tried to stay calm, but couldn’t. I kept remembering my first pregnancy, where the doctor couldn’t hear the heart beat at that first prenatal visit, and the ultrasound confirmed a blighted ovum. Even though I saw a healthy, growing baby 10 days ago, I still feared the worst this morning. Thankfully, my OB was very understanding. She tried the Doppler for about a minute, then wheeled in the ultrasound machine. It wasn’t the greatest image, but we saw the baby dancing around and heard the heart beating. That was all I needed!

We discussed VBAC, and she stressed that I was an excellent candidate, since the reason for my Cesarean was breech presentation. She raved about my doula when I told her who I planned to hire. I knew I made the right choice! (I should note here, this OB is different from the one I saw with my last pregnancy. This new OB was actually the on-call doctor who delivered my daughter 2 years ago when I went into labor before my scheduled Cesarean. I don’t dislike my previous OB, I just knew there was probably a better fit with someone else.) She officially took me off all progesterone and estrogen. (YAY!) I will continue the baby aspirin until a few weeks before my due date.

So…. Even though my mind is at ease right now, I still feel blah after all the crying from this morning. You know how it is, the crying hangover: exhausted, emotionally spent, a slight headache. From now on, I need to focus on more self care. I have the Circle+Bloom meditations already, I just need to download them to my phone and make time to listen each day.

Schrödinger’s Box (FET update)

It’s 24 hours before my FET. I’m sick to my stomach with fear. Fear that none of my embryos will survive the thaw. It’s an unwelcome turn of thought, as, just a few days ago, I was imagining myself crying happy tears at seeing 2 beautiful pink lines on a test, and crafting ideas for an announcement to friends and family. I’m trying desperately to recover those happy thoughts, but I can’t find them anywhere. I’m on the verge of tears. I can’t concentrate on work. I keep running through all the scenarios:

a) None survive the thaw. End of our family building journey.

b) One survives, is transferred, but doesn’t implant. End of our journey.

c) One survives, is transferred, implants, but results in early pregnancy loss. End of journey.

d) More than one survives, one is transferred, remaining are not able to be refrozen. Negative pregnancy test. End of the road.

e) More than one survives, one is transferred, remaining are re-frozen. Negative pregnancy test, but another transfer is possible next cycle.

f) More than one survives, one is transferred, remaining are re-frozen. Pregnancy achieved, but results in early loss. Another transfer possible.

g) One survives, is transferred, and pregnancy is achieved. Healthy baby born approximately 9 months later. End of family building journey.

h) More than one survives, one is transferred, remaining are re-frozen. Pregnancy is achieved. Healthy baby born approximately 9 months later. End of family building journey, except that we have to decide what to do with our remaining embryos.

I know it doesn’t do any good to obsess over the possibilities. Whatever is going to happen, will happen, and soon. Deep down, I know that whatever happens, I’m going to be okay. If it’s the end of the road, I’ll find a way to cope. If I get pregnant, a whole new set of fears will emerge, and I’ll cope with those, too. But, for now, I’m staring down at Schrödinger’s box, terrified of opening it, but terrified not to open it. (Does that mean I’m also in Schrödinger’s box? Kind of like those nesting Russian dolls. Nesting Schrödinger’s boxes?)

12 Weeks Later, It’s Still Not Entirely Real

I’ve been having this awful recurring daydream that C isn’t real, that she died or I miscarried, and I completely invented the last 3 months in my head as a way to deal with the grief. It happens in fiction, but is it something that could happen in real life? I just can’t shake the feeling that I’ll suddenly be faced with a reality in which C never existed.

Does this happen to anyone else? Just yesterday, as I was driving to an appointment on my lunch hour, I was suddenly afraid to look in the back seat, for fear I wouldn’t see her car seat, blanket, or any of the other random baby items that always end up back there. I thought, What if I look and it’s not there? What would I do? Call my husband, frantic, only to be told (reminded) that we have no baby? What if I show up at daycare only to find she’s not there, because she doesn’t exist? My mind delves even further into the abyss: What if this happens every day, and I have some weird form of amnesia, so my husband has to remind me about it all the time? What if I’m bat-shit crazy?

Is this normal? A form of post partum depression? It’s not constant, and it doesn’t interfere with my daily life, though it is a daily thought.

I know the root of the problem is in my history of loss and infertility. It doesn’t help that today is the 3rd anniversary of my first baby’s due date. But that doesn’t really tell me whether these thoughts are normal or if I should start seeing my therapist again. Do “normal” (non-loss, non-IF) moms go through something like this?

Coming to Terms with Never Having Children

The most recent Bitter Infertiles podcast (Episode 20: Living Child-Free) hit really close to home for me. As I’ve mentioned before, M and I have yet to discuss how far we’re willing to go to have a baby. So far, we’ve tried ovulation stimulation drugs, trigger shots, and hormone supplementation… things that don’t take much effort and are relatively inexpensive. On the hierarchy of fertility treatments, we’re still pretty low. We still have injections, IUI, and IVF to consider, as well as adoption. But what if we try all those things and none of them work? What if we can’t (financially or emotionally) afford to pursue all of those options? Most infertiles don’t like to think about it, but there is always a chance the journey could end without a child. It’s important to prepare for that possibility.

So, if we have all these options available, why am I even thinking about giving up? First of all, stopping treatments and choosing not to pursue adoption are not the same as “giving up” in my book. We all have our limits; identifying and respecting those limits is the responsible and healthy thing to do. No matter how far we decide to go in our journey to become parents, it’s important for me to come to terms with the fact that I may never be a mother. I will always have children in my life–nieces, nephews, the children of cousins and friends–but it will never be the same as having my own. For my sanity, for the health of my marriage, I need to accept that this journey may end with us never having children. We have to figure out what we want our life together to look like, if that life isn’t going to include children as we had originally planned. Even though there are in theory plenty of routes for us to try, the reality is that not all of them will be suitable. Nothing is completely off the table at this point, but if I’m being honest with you (and with myself), I have to admit that I don’t think we’re cut out for IVF or adoption. So, we’re left with a fairly short list of next steps, putting the finish line in view.

I’m not passing judgement on IVF or adoption for anyone other than me and my husband. Those are both wonderful options that are right for many people. And, like I said, they’re both still technically options for us, although probably not very viable ones. I won’t go into the details, but money is definitely one huge concern (we don’t have that much, and we don’t have equity). We also have to decide whether we’re willing to endure further physical and emotional turmoil, and whether we’re willing to commit to a long, extensive adoption process that will have its own unique set of emotional ups and downs.

I am not giving up or stopping treatments, but after yet another failed cycle, I’m determined to make sure that M and I make the best decisions for us. Most importantly, I want us both to be okay with saying It’s time to stop, free of resentment and regrets. In order to do that, I have to accept that I may never have children. It won’t be easy, and I’ll probably resist it, but I owe it to myself, my husband, and my family to do what I can to make sure this journey doesn’t break me or drive away my loved ones.

Parental Love (Or Lack Thereof)

I don’t love my dad. There was a time when I did, I suppose, but I don’t remember it. What I do remember is a constant discomfort around him, as if he were an inconvenient guest who had overstayed his welcome in our home. I never felt like I could be myself around him. If I was watching TV and he came into the living room, I would let him turn the channel and quietly leave, even if I really wanted to watch my show. I avoided the garage and the shed, both his territory. Even family camping trips felt odd, as if we (my mother, sisters, and I) were encroaching upon his domain.

My father was never cruel to us. He never hit or verbally abused any of us. Once, he compared my sisters and I to our much thinner, prettier cousins, which made me feel ugly and not worthy of love.

I don’t ever remember my parents showing affection to one another. That doesn’t mean that they didn’t. My memory is terrible, I will admit. Even though my life was relatively void of trauma until my miscarriage, I managed to block out quite a bit of my childhood. That said, I don’t remember my parents being very affectionate with one another, and I think that’s probably an accurate assessment. What I do remember is not arguments, but resentment. Lots of resentment.

My father resented having daughters. He made no effort to hide his disappointment about us not being boys. I guess it never occurred to him that he could teach girls to hunt, fish, and build things, just as well as boys.

That’s why it tore my heart a fresh wound to see his adult stepsons crying inconsolably at my father’s funeral. Having shed tears in mourning of my father’s emotional departure from my life, sporadically, yet fervently, over the preceding 10 years, I had none left to mourn his permanent, physical exit from my life.

My father had never taken an interest in me. He never attended a band concert or marching band performance (I played alto saxophone for 6 years), school play, science fair, or awards ceremony. Not a single one. I don’t remember having conversations with him about anything that was important or interesting to me. It’s no wonder I was struck dumb with how passionately his chosen sons mourned his passing. What had he given to them that he refused to give to us? That he couldn’t give to us? I couldn’t imagine that he was capable of having that kind of impact on someone.

As I said, I had already cried all my tears for the father I never had. I had forgiven him and moved on. That’s the only reason that my father’s suicide at age 57 doesn’t even come close to competing with my miscarriage as the most horrible thing that’s ever happened to me. In fact, I don’t consider it a traumatic event in my life. It was a traumatic event in his life, in the lives of his wife and stepchildren. But not mine.

That sounds cold, I know. I know we’re supposed to love our parents unconditionally. We’re supposed to be sad when they die. I don’t believe that’s right. I struggled for years to try to build a relationship with him, only to be turned away time and again. For some reason, he didn’t have the capacity or the will to love me. I was tired of being hurt, tired of trying to love him, tired of punishing myself for not loving him. So, I stopped.

“They” often say that women marry their fathers. That thought used to terrify me to no end. In fact, for four years I dated a man who, apart from his college education and physical appearance, was the spitting image of my father. He withheld affection, yet I hung on for dear life. I’ll save the details for another post, but my point is that I came dangerously close to spending the rest of my (or his) life with a man exactly like my dad.

It sends a chill through my body any time I see in my husband even the tiniest speck of my father. It would kill me if my own children experienced the heartbreak of a father who doesn’t love them. I know that won’t happen, but the fear is still there.

Vulnerability

During today’s therapy session, we focused on vulnerability, specifically how I tend to never show it, even when I want or need to. Learning to be vulnerable with the people I love will be one of the most difficult things I will ever have to do. But I am willing and eager to try. With that in mind, I offer the following message to my loved ones:

You wouldn’t know it from my sturdy shell, but I’m a big mess inside. This whole infertility thing is a bitch. It is seriously screwing me up and I’m not handling it well. I feel like a failure most of the time. I don’t expect you to understand, but I hope you’ll try. Knowing that most of you have achieved healthy pregnancies easily and without medical intervention makes me jealous, angry, and bitter. It’s not your fault. It’s not my fault, either. It’s just how I feel.

I know we’re not a family that often talks about things like this, but if any of you have had trouble getting pregnant or suffered miscarriages, now would be the time to open up about it. I feel so alone and broken. I am scared that I will never have children, that I will spend the rest of my life unfulfilled as a mother. Please don’t say “You can always adopt.” I’m not sure we can. Adoption is expensive and isn’t without emotional pain. Please don’t point out that I’ll always have my nieces and nephews to spoil and take care of. As much as I love them, it’s not the same as having my own. And, please, for the love of whatever you consider holy, please don’t point out that not having children means we’ll have more time and money to spend on our hobbies and vacations. Those things are small consolation for never knowing the unconditional love of a child, for never having the opportunity to live forever by leaving small pieces of yourself behind. Besides, we would never truly enjoy those things without children to share them with. I realize that I may one day be forced to accept that I will never have children. That scares the shit out of me. I’m not sure I could do it. At this point, I’m pretty sure I would live out the remainder of my days a bitter, angry, joyless person. I’m working toward acceptance, but I’m not there yet.

As much as I love every last one of you, it’s really hard to be around you these days, especially around the holidays. Every time we gather together, I fear a pregnancy announcement. No, I haven’t forgotten that at one time it was me announcing my pregnancy at a family gathering. I still feel guilty for doing that, not because I miscarried the very next week and had to tell everyone, but because I now know much it must have hurt a certain family member to learn of my pregnancy. I’m not saying that you can’t share your happy news just because I’m a bitter infertile. I just want you to know that I may react with tears rather than joy. I also tense up every time someone starts talking about being pregnant, giving birth, or raising kids. Those conversations almost always include well-meaning, though insensitive comments like “Be glad you don’t know what it’s like to push a watermelon out of your vagina!” or “You’re so lucky you don’t have to clean up projectile vomit in the middle of the night!” Yes, I know, parenthood is exhausting, terrifying, and gross. But, it’s also wonderful, awe-inspiring, and deeply fulfilling. None of you would trade it for anything. I wouldn’t trade those 3 months of pregnancy, for they are the only thing that gives me any hope that I will one day hold my child in my arms.

Sometimes it’s hard for me to accept that I was a mother (I  am a mother? Do you ever really stop being a mother, even after all your children are gone?). I conceived and carried a baby for 3 months, and when he or she left my body, it was a birth of sorts. I had all sorts of plans and dreams for my child, just like any parent. I was researching birth plans, reviewing breastfeeding information, and considering day care options. M and I seriously discussed names, and even talked about guardianship should anything happen to us. But we didn’t get to follow through on any of that. Does that mean we’re not parents, that we were never parents, or that we’re just not parents anymore? I struggle with these questions all the time, so I don’t expect my family to know how to treat me when it comes to this part of my identity. What I do know is that I don’t want anyone to forget that I did, for a time, carry a life inside me, and that I losing that life was the worst thing to ever happen to me. I don’t want to be looked upon with pity or treated with kid gloves. But I do want you to understand how hard this is for me, and to know that my strong exterior is just a facade. 

My family won’t ever see this message, because they don’t know about my blog. This was more for my benefit, anyway. Call it a practice run, if you want. Will I have the courage to say a few of these things to my family in the coming weeks?