Everybody Count to Three

Seriously. All together now…

Had my lining check in advance of the FET today. Long story short, I had to correct the RE and his staff for the millionth time that we are transferring day 3 embryos, not day 5 blasts – which today resulted in them discovering that I had been given the wrong prescriptions, and that discovery wouldn’t have happened if I hadn’t asked my RE about it specifically. If I hadn’t already had a cycle with a day-3 transfer and asked why some things were different.

I like my RE. I like my clinic. I don’t want to have a reason to question him or his staff.

But, dude!

I finally decided I would rather be pregnant than popular. I walked myself down to the labs and asked if I could speak to an embryologist. The lab director himself came out and visited with me, for which I was grateful. I asked each of the nurses I spoke to to confirm that they understood that these are day-3, not day-5 embryos. I asked – not for the first time – if they were sure these prescriptions were in fact the correct ones.

Some might read this and feel tempted to write something in the comments about looking for a new RE. I don’t think that’s what’s called for. I think he’s a very good doctor and that the clinic and lab are very good operations. Besides: it’s either watch like a hawk here to stop mistakes from happening, or watch like a hawk at a new clinic. I’m just frustrated that my case has wandered outside normal territory to a place where everybody’s making incorrect assumptions.

However, there was one rather beautiful bright spot. I can’t write about it in detail without betraying my own personal info or that of the nurse I was talking to – but she shared some rather lovely stories about her own 6-celled embryo, who is now 20 years old. I enjoyed that.

So, deep breaths. Calmness. Any significant medical endeavor always involves hiccups.

I think I’m going to leave messages for the clinic and the lab the day before the transfer, however, just to make sure they’re on their game. If this fails, it needs to be because of science, not because of human error.

Unexpected side effect

I’m taking a break from the DHEA while I’m waiting for the FET. Now that I’m off of it, I’ve noticed something. The DHEA gave me odd hair-growth patterns. I did my best to pluck those, of course, but one trouble spot was inside my nostrils.

It totally made my nose stud itch. Seriously: it itched like the dickens. Until now, I had no idea that was why.

/end insightful post

When a Man Loves a Woman

We have a form that needs to be notarized before we can proceed with the FET. Last weekend, we went to the bank to take care of it.

The notary at the bank took quite a while to puzzle through the form, which is titled very clearly at the top, “Frozen Embryo Transfer Consent” and is full of things pertaining to my uterus. Generally speaking, I’m not bashful (have y’all noticed this yet?) but I didn’t want to get any guff from the bank notary over a two-page consent form.

“Are there any questions I can answer for you about the form?” I asked.

“I was just confused,” she said. “I was trying to say if it says which one of you is the patient and which one of you is the partner.”

“Well…” I said.

It took her a moment. “Oh.”

Lest you all think I’m a complete jerk, she was actually quite nice and very competent after that. No hard feelings. I’m also grateful I didn’t have to give a quick run-through of the technologically assisted birds-and-bees game in the credit union on a Saturday at 11 a.m.

Tell me these kinds of things happen to other people. I’m beginning to wonder if maybe the fertility gods are prolonging my stay in Crap-Land because I fill some special cosmic purpose as a magnet for weird situations like this.

Look at How I’ve Grown

I went to the grocery store today. The computer that powers the cash register crashed right at the end of my purchase, once everything was all bagged up and ready to go. This entailed three employees making calls to figure out what to do, because my weekly grocery purchase was hanging in the balance.

After about 10 minutes, the supervisor, whose name tag said Marilyn, said she would have to go through and ring me up again. I suggested that this was not a cool thing to do to a customer. She got defensive. I followed her to an empty checkout line and unbagged all my groceries, then helped her rebag them after she had rechecked everything.

I was given a $5 gift card as an apology, which seems a bit silly. But it didn’t seem like that was the hill I wanted to die on, so I accepted the card with a sigh. As I took the card, Marilyn congratulated me. “You did really well,” she said. “I could tell you were about to get upset, but you brought yourself back down.”

Oh, Marilyn. If you only knew. Three daily estrogen supplements and $25K in debt by the end of the month (and that’s with an aggressive repayment plan in place since September) are making me contemplate things like throwing overly ripe avocados at small children the produce aisle. Or, there are towers of display items that really ought to get knocked down. You know, just… knock ’em down. Yell like a banshee and plunge yourself into the big pyramid of Cheeze-Its. Scream bloody murder and send piles of Nabisco products flying from the endcap.

But on the flip side: just a couple years ago I would have taken it out a bit more on poor Marilyn. Hell, I might have stuck it out for a $10 gift card.

But that’s what two-plus years of infertility will do for ya. The Cheeze-Its remained untouched.

50 percent

I am pretty well certain that everybody at my clinic has voted me as the weirdest and most “off” of their patients. I get chatty when in awkward situations, and a fertility clinic is nothing if not an Endless Supply of Awkward. That plus my amazing social skills while on medication has got to have put me in the running for “Oh no, here comes that girl and her vagina again. Who got the short straw this week?”

Which is all to say, I was willing to put myself out there at last week’s baseline appointment, all for the sake of sociological research. After all, I don’t have much of a reputation to lose.

After seeing the RE, I had a quick consult with the nurse to review meds for the FET. As we were leaving, I said, “Hey, I’ve been wondering for a while now. How many women here shave everything, and how many just let it grow?”

The look I got. Have you ever gotten it? That look where the other person just purposely blanks out her expression so she doesn’t get in trouble, but you can see in her eyes that she’s planning on running to the break room and immediately telling everybody what you just said?

And the ridiculous thing is, I find this to be SO MILD. I live in what might be called a pretty wacky city; it takes a lot in a given day to really get people wondering about you, in the normal course of things. Or maybe I just surround myself with strange folks, and my trips to the RE are the only times when I actually venture into the Land of Regular Social Skills and Expectations. I don’t know, but it doesn’t seem like that particular question should have earned me the Blank-Look-Before-Gossip.

And, don’t TELL me everybody else isn’t wondering that, too. Am I really the only person to have asked about expectations of grooming?

Besides. We’re coming up on a year of me being a patient there (Score! What do I get? What’s that? Nothing? Of course.) and I feel like that ought to earn me access to some privileged information.

In any case, I got my answer: “It’s about 50/50,” she said. More Blankness.

“Oh, good,” I said.

I’m not saying on which side of the 50/50 divide I fall, and I don’t particularly have any desire to know where you ladies choose to sort yourselves, either. But if your clinic is anything like mine, you can rest assured that (a) you are safe, either way, and (b) you don’t have to risk getting Blankness if you were thinking of asking for yourself. I have officially taken one for the team.

Depressed Bowlers Set New PRs

Before I’ve mentioned a coworker/friend whose son has a brain tumor and is undergoing chemo.

Where we work, there is a bowling alley close by.

This friend and I are turning into a Depressed People’s Club. A group of friends went bowling earlier this week, but that was too cheerful for us. So we agreed to go bowling today instead. Between frames, he told me about his son’s port surgery. I told him about my sad eggs.

By the way, we respected appropriate boundaries. Which is to say, I did not discuss the vag.

It was rather comforting, hanging out with another depressed person. Different situations, of course, but with enough in common to be useful.

And we both bowled personal bests. Don’t laugh: 134 is seriously good for me.

In other news, I thought I should mention that I asked my RE yesterday about those pesky cramps that last the entire luteal phase. In the event that you also experience this sort of crap, you may appreciate that he said it is, well, crap. In other words, it’s more like GI irritation due to progesterone, rather than uterine cramps. It isn’t until a few days before the period that you should really take the cramping as a sign of one thing or another. Now, my cramps feel pretty well identical across the luteal phase, and let’s just say I’m not one to get plugged up. However, I choose to believe him. I mean, if all I gotta do to avoid roughly 10 days of premature disappointment is pop a Colace every so often, then I’m in.

Hope that’s useful to somebody.

Questionable Optimism

Thank you, everyone, for your kind words yesterday. Or maybe it was the day before. Time gets meaningless, doesn’t it?

Had a CD3 monitoring check this morning. Another $200 out of our pockets, just like that. At least everything was clear.

I asked my RE to say something optimistic to me. (Yeah, I’m a pretty annoying patient. Stupid emotions.) He sort of did. I mean, he gave it the ol’ college try.

I have noticed that the only person I would actually like to be optimistic – who actually knows anything about my case and is not just somebody who wants me to stop acting so sad all the time damn it – is my RE. And it just so happens, he does not have an awful lot of optimistic things to tell me. Here at the intersection of Shit Creek and No Canoe, I have to take massive amounts of drugs to get any eggs out, and those massive amounts of drugs are hurting egg quality. Therein lies the problem that science does not know how to overcome.

The most cheerful thought I could eke from him was that he thinks that waiting (and waiting, and waiting, and waiting) for a cycle before the FET was a really good decision. He says that this clinic has found substantial benefit to letting the body recover from the stims.

So it’s still down to the eggs.

What’s the price of a miracle these days?

Tough Days

Yesterday was CD1. I called in, got the ball rolling for the FET. Got the first monitoring appt scheduled.

I wasn’t surprised by not being pregnant. I knew it all along. But somehow, I found a way to be sad anyway. I suppose this just shows that there is no way to protect yourself from sadness.

I’m sad because I can’t get pregnant like other women. I’m sad because I have to face the FET now and the only-too-real possibility of more grief. I’m sad because I do not believe this will ever end.

Sure, I get it. Treatment stops one way or another. But I am pretty sure this sadness is going to be the bedrock of my life forever.

Who’s Afraid of the Ending to Virginia Woolf?

Recently, I had occasion to read Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Viriginia Woolf?

If you’ve arrived at this post by googling for help with your research paper, you’re welcome to keep reading, but I don’t think it will have what you’re looking for. I know how to do academic research, but I haven’t really done that here. This is just a personal reaction through the lens of my infertility struggles. I’m not even quoting the original text!

My personal reaction is that I could barely finish reading it. It was too painful.

In the play, a middle-aged couple George and Martha have a routine of bitter fights in the way that only a couple who has been married for years can master. They dig at each other viciously, and it’s become so routine that they not only don’t stop when second couple Nick and Honey are present. Their fighting takes on a sharper edge as they wrap the younger pair into their manipulations and spite.

Throughout, they refer to their son. Only, they don’t have an actual son. Their son is a phantom of dreams from years ago. They could not conceive. They are infertile.

Finally, George “kills” their son. He ends the fantasy that Martha has clung to for years. He ends her ability to deny.

Albee does a masterful job of portraying a married couple existing in the years following a slow tragedy.

If this were a story written to empower infertile couples, particularly women, to find resolution to their infertility, I would complain that George is the one to rip off the Band-Aid that’s encrusted by years of denial and hurt.

But it isn’t. The infertility is a tool, a force of plot working on the characters. And it is not happy.

Albee himself was adopted and had a poor relationship with his mother. I have not prepared for this post by reading biographies of Albee or interviews exploring why he wrote Who’s Afraid the way he did, with George and Martha’s infertility as the hidden force driving the story. But I wonder if Albee – who is openly gay, was born in 1928, and I assume has not tried to reproduce genetically – understood infertility via his mother and chose to explore it, or if it was simply an awareness in his life, something to be used in his work.

I contrast Albee’s work with the stories of infertile women who have resolved their infertility and choose to live without children. These are women who blog or find other ways to tell their stories. If they are telling their stories, they are telling them from a place of resolution – something Martha never achieved. These women insist that their lives are full and whole. They experience sadness at times but they have found acceptance and peace.

Not every woman comes to tell her story as a story of empowering resolution. Some people hurt forever. If that weren’t true, it would lessen the triumph of those who frame their stories as a narrative of victory over grief.

I find both paths terrifying, frankly.

As far as Albee’s play goes, it’s a play about characters, not a social issue. And yet, I can see signs of George and Martha in my relationship with my husband. We joke with each other like George and Martha, but often the jokes have an edge. Sometimes it seems like a competition, to see who can tell the joke with the sharpest, deepest barbs, or to see who can withstand the worst dig. It’s not fun when someone finally loses.

It is frightening to think that this might be our future. And it is terrifying to think that we might resolve, some day, by ceasing to fight: each other, and this infertility.

Who is to say.

This time is different.

I’m expecting my period to start any day now, which means it will be time to start facing the reality of the FET. I’ve been both dreading and wishing for it: the uncertainty, the fear of failure again, the craziness of supplemental progesterone.

This afternoon, after a brief jog, I conducted a mini-ceremony for myself, to say goodbye to a February of Avoiding Reality: I showered and sheared shaved my legs for the first time since before the retrieval. (R. has been thrilled with that, let me tell you.) It was a quiet time of tending to myself, my body. I suppose I might have gone to church and prayed, or at the very least given my little Ganesh statue a nod of recognition. Oh, well: I am an imperfect pilgrim. (Obviously, if I’m mixing my religious traditions like that.)

This current cycle has been a natural cycle, without even birth control. I felt ovulation; I know exactly where I am in the usual pattern. For me, the luteal phase goes a bit like this:

  1. Within a few days after ovulation, the cramps start. They are vague and fade in and out.
  2. I google “implantation cramps.” I wonder if it’s possible for them to start two days after ovulation.
  3. The cramps continue. If it’s following a medicated cycle, I feel some extra twinges off to the sides. It’s fading ovarian cysts.
  4. I google “ovarian cysts early pregnancy.”
  5. The cramps fade out for an afternoon.
  6. I wonder if I imagined them to begin with. If maybe this cycle is different.
  7. The cramps return.
  8. I google “early pregnancy cramps” and begin to believe.
  9. The cramps return. They fade. They return.
  10. I believe.
  11. My mood crashes.
  12. My period arrives.
  13. I cry, wondering how I can possibly have hoped, after all this time.

This cycle, however, is different. No, not in that way. It’s that this time, I haven’t googled. I’ve recognized the impulse to hope, to wonder, to ask if maybe just maybe. I accept that I want to be pregnant so badly that I’ll fool myself into thinking it could be, just to have a few days’ comfort in believing and dreaming.

And I have stepped back. Otherwise, there is nothing different about this cycle.

Somehow, I’ve found peace in that.

This is not the same as accepting that I’ll never have children. I still don’t know how to wrap my mind around that, and the idea of it is devastating to me.

But it is accepting this cycle.

Of course, the cycle isn’t over yet. Tomorrow, the next day, maybe Wednesday. If I had to guess, today’s the final lull before reality.

My hope this time is that instead of desperate hope, I can instead try for peace.