Saturday, March 23, 2013

a birthday of a different sort

Three years ago today, we lost Ethan.

Three years ago today, that pretty nurse practitioner pressed the doppler deeper and deeper into my belly, willing it with all her might to pick up on a heartbeat that just wasn't there.

Three years ago today, I wept on an exam table and Andrew laid flat on the floor to keep himself conscious.

Three years ago today, the doctor gave us two options - we could say goodbye to our baby in a maternity ward or at an abortion clinic.

Three years ago today, I called my parents to tell them that we lost the baby and to ask them to bring contact solution to the hospital. They brought two big bottles...because it was the only thing they could do.

Three years ago today, a nurse led us to a room far away from the other mothers and babies and put a butterfly on the door to alert the staff that the soul in this mama's belly had already taken flight.

Three years ago today, I held my son for the first time and the last time. I have imagined holding him since. I have held him in my mind, in my heart. But when it comes to my son, my arms are useless.

As I think back on that day three years ago, I see a girl with a broken heart, a girl who is me...but isn't. I feel sad for that girl. I even cry for her. But I don't cry for me. Because I'm not sad. And writing those words - I'm not sad - that's what breaks my heart.

How do you mother a child who is dead?

There are no carrots to puree, no skinned knees to kiss, no monsters to chase from under the bed. There are no pictures to take, no cowlicks to smooth, no sneakers to tie, no report cards to sign...

The first year, I mothered Ethan by being sad. I was sad all the time. I felt that grief down to my fingernails. I felt it shrouding my spirit. I felt it in every corner of my home. I grieved hard and long. I tried to be normal, to celebrate holidays and other people's babies. But inside, I was mothering my son.

I also mothered Ethan by talking about him. I talked about him a lot - with Andrew, with family, with friends. When strangers asked if I had kids, I always told his story. When I was pregnant and people asked if this was my first, I told them no. We planted a tree. We had a ceremony. I wore two necklaces engraved with his name.

I was a good mom. A really good mom to my baby in heaven.

And then that grief, that misery, that loneliness...lifted. It faded. It just sort of stood up from my couch and walked out the door, slowly and silently so that I didn't even hear it go. And the next time I tried to call on my sadness, it wasn't there.

Joy was.

That's where I'm at now. I'm happy. I'm grateful. I'm living and celebrating and hoping and I don't feel sad. I feel blessed to work where I do. I love my husband. I delight in my daughter. I'm a good mother to her...

But not to Ethan.

Maybe that's not fair. Maybe I'm being hard on myself. But that's really how I feel. I don't know how to mother a dead child without being sad. I don't know how to love him with a mended heart. I am ashamed sometimes of my grief, of my lack of grief. I am ashamed of the fact that when people ask if Harriet is our only, most of the time I say that she is. There are days when I am caught up in mothering my spunky little girl and I don't even think of Ethan.

Is this what the other side looks like? Is this what I wished for all those days and months when that ache felt too much to bear? When I told myself that someday it wouldn't hurt so bad, did I ever really think that it wouldn't hurt at all? I feel stuck in the goodness of my life because it leads to guilt - how could life possibly be so good with one family member missing?

And then there are moments...unexpected moments...when I ache for him.

Every Christmas, my inlaws donate fruit trees to a community that desperately needs them. They do it in Ethan's name and every year, when we open the certificate, I am surprised by my grief. I am surprised by how much the tears sting. I am surprised by how much I wish he was here with us, ripping through wrapping paper and sneaking Christmas cookies from the table. But more than that, I'm surprised by how much it means to me that they remember him...that they write his name...that they miss him too.

Ethan had Down syndrome, and when I see children who have that in common with my boy...oh, I want him back. I want him back so badly that just thinking of it now is making me cry so loudly that I have to put my hand over my mouth to keep from waking Harriet.

And soccer...I don't know what it is but there's something about seeing sweaty little boys chase each other around a soccer field that makes me think of Ethan and miss him so much.

So three years later, as I write these words, I am realizing that despite my genuine happiness and the deep gratitude I have for the direction my life has taken, my grief is still here. The tears are fresh in my eyes, multiplying with each word I type. It's so cliche, but this stage of grief really is a dance - a dance between loss and gain, heartbreak and gladness, a dance between what's not here...and what is.

So today, I picture myself holding a chunky three-year-old boy in my arms and dancing crazy around the kitchen table, admiring all the trucks and trains on his birthday cake. I wanted today to look like that.

But today looks a lot different. boy is dancing with Someone else.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

a quick question

I have a question for all of you bloggers who use Blogger. I hate the fact that the Followers widget and Google Reader are going away. I hate it so much that I'm strongly considering packing up and moving my whole blog over the Wordpress. I've heard a lot of good things about Wordpress but the main thing I find attractive is how easy it is to follow a Wordpress blog. All you need is an email address and Wordpress sends each post right to your inbox. Love that.

The problem is that it will cost a lot of money to move my design and all of my content (even though my content is pretty minimal at this point). So I'm trying to weigh my pros and cons.

So...those of you who use Blogger, what is your take on these changes and what are you going to do about it? How are you going to make sure all of your followers don't disappear and how are you going to continue following the blogs you currently read?

Maybe there are really obvious answers to these questions, but I'm not especially well-versed in this stuff, so I could use some help.

Thanks in advance!

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

infertile again

I haven't been feeling infertile lately. It was sort of strange going to the clinic, having the ultrasounds, taking the medications. I had a child a little over a year ago. The birth went well. Nursing went well. Motherhood entered into every single moment of every single day. So how could I be infertile? Also, lots of my blogging friends have been getting pregnant with their second child, many without treatments. I've often wondered if I'd be one of the lucky ones whose reproductive shortcomings are miraculously healed by their firstborn.

Despite a sluggish response to clomid, I was pretty confident the first treatment cycle would work. But it only took one negative pregnancy test to cure my denial and make me feel completely infertile again. The nurse called, and I could tell by her hello that the news wasn't good. So with one little word from a woman I've never met, infertility came crashing back into my life. 

My ignorance is gone, but my hope remains. In fact, I feel just fine about that negative pregnancy test. I told the nurse that I wanted to take a month off, so I’ll start my next treatment cycle after a round of birth control. I have this hunch that my body needs a reset after two years of infertility treatments, IVF, pregnancy, birth, a year of nursing, weaning, and then less than two weeks off before starting fertility drugs again. I’ve also heard that cycles following a month of birth control tend to be more successful. I mentioned that to one of the nurses a while ago, and her response was patronizing – “If that was true, we’d have everybody on birth control every other month.” Does anyone have evidence for or against this claim – anecdotal or otherwise?

Another benefit to taking a break from treatments is that it will give me a chance to really focus on getting healthy again. Two months ago, I weighed less than I did on my wedding day. I felt so good, super healthy and fit. I had been eating well, exercising regularly…and nursing was a big help too. Since weaning Harriet, I have gained 14 pounds. Actually, it’s probably more like 16 or 17 pounds because I had been carrying a couple extra pounds in my chest back then…which is long gone at this point. There was a part of me that was even a little worried I’d get pregnant my first cycle because I didn’t want to start a pregnancy in a place where my clothes are already way too tight.

I am going to work really, really hard this month to get my cardio fitness, flexibility, and strength back. I’m also going to eat well – lots of protein, very little sugar. Losing weight while doing fertility treatments is not only a bad idea, it’s impossible. So having this month of birth control will help facilitate a time-limited period of focusing on my physical health.

I also told my care team that I want to try a different stimulation med next time around. We’re going to do femara instead of clomid. I also requested to be put back on metformin, which is a diabetes drug that can help regulate blood sugar (women with PCOS often have blood sugar issues). I’m curious to see if it will make a difference. I’m feeling positive overall. But those fears still creep in every once in a while – What if this doesn’t work? What if another child isn’t going to be part of our story?

The biggest questions and anxieties center around my care. What if I’m on the wrong meds? What if my doctor doesn’t really know me? What if there’s a better clinic out there?

I have a friend who survived three failed cycles with my doctor (Dr. C) before starting treatments at the Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine (CCRM). She got pregnant there and she raves about them. Apparently her doctor said that Dr. C had her on the wrong meds at the wrong doses. What if she’s not the only one?

The Colorado Center for Reproductive Medicine has been coming up again and again and again as I read infertility blogs and do research. It seems everybody is either going to CCRM or getting a consult there. I even have a friend who is considering moving to Colorado in order to pursue treatments at this clinic.

CCRM has high success rates and their embryology lab is supposed to be exceptional. I’m not so sure about the lab at my clinic. During our IVF cycle, the doctor retrieved about 19 eggs. Once the eggs were fertilized and given a chance to grow for a few days, we only had three left. Three out of 19. They put two in my body, one of which didn’t make it. So then there were two – Harriet and the embryo they froze in the lab. But then Dr. C told us that our embryo was damaged beyond repair by some person or process or malfunctioning machinery. So now we have Harriet. From 19 to one. I just don’t trust our lab. My eggs are young! They should have been able to save more than just one embryo for us. One of my blogging friends spoke with a CCRM doc who said that their lab has success with embryos that would die in other labs…labs like the one at my clinic.

I like the fact that my clinic is allowing me to take ownership and make decisions about which meds I take. But on the other hand, I sort of want them to say, “Here’s the med and dose we want you on because we have studied you, your body, and your condition, and we are very confident that this is the best option for you.” Instead, they’re just like, “Sure, do whatever you want.” But I’m not a doctor! I have no idea what I’m doing!

So we’re considering switching clinics if we end up having to do IVF. But CCRM seems to be significantly more expensive. And then there are the travel expenses – plane tickets, long hotel stays. And the time off from work. And being away from home for long chunks of time. And figuring out how Harriet fits into all of this.

Part of me thinks, we got pregnant at our clinic! Their version of IVF brought us this priceless gift:

(I'm talking about the one on the left.)

But I just have this unsettled feeling in my gut about the care I’m receiving. Mostly, I just hope it doesn’t come to IVF. I don’t want to have to do that again. I don’t want to have to make those decisions.

Sometimes I even wonder if I should be doing my intrauterine inseminations somewhere else, not in another state, but maybe at another clinic in our area. Our clinic is considered to be one of the very best in our state, but who knows? Maybe it’s not the best clinic for us. I would love to hear people’s opinions on clinics, especially CCRM. If you have received treatments there, what did you think of them? Do you feel like you paid more than you would have paid elsewhere? I’m also considering sending my records to CCRM for a second opinion. Has anyone done that?

Nothing like a negative pregnancy test and all of these impossible questions to make a girl feel utterly infertile.

Saturday, March 2, 2013


The two week wait before a pregnancy test really plays games with a girl's mind. Yesterday, I was holding Harriet and jumping around. She loved it. Then, all of a sudden, I got this cramp in my belly and my mind started to churn. What if all that jumping dislodges an embryo?! I wonder how much force it would take...At the clinic, they said I could just go about my day as normal. They didn't even tell me to take it easy. I'm sure it's fine. I jumped up and down once more so that I could better assess the jostle factor. Hm...I don't think that's enough jostling to knock it out of the uterine lining...but what if it was a cumulative effect? How many times did I jump anyways? What if everything was fine, but that one test jump was the one that bumped it loose?! Then I reminded myself that there's only a fifteen percent chance of success with clomid and IUI, so there probably wasn't anything to dislodge anyway.

Later in the day, we went to the Children's Museum. I put my phone in my pocket, but felt it was too close to my uterus, so I stuffed it halfway down my pant leg. I was wearing leggings so it stayed put. I'm sure it looked really classy when I was digging my hand down my pant leg every five minutes to grab my phone so I could take pictures.

Thursday night at work, I was getting a bit anxious about my pants being too tight around my waist (This is a new development thanks to weaning + clomid + eating food). I worried I might squish the baby right out of my uterus. So I unbuttoned my top button like it was Thanksgiving. I even slid my zipper down a ways. Again, classy.

What makes all of this even crazier is the fact that it's totally normal. Paranoia is a pretty common side effect of infertility. We think that every little thing we do, eat, and even think will affect the outcome of our treatments. Many of us have experienced the agony of having a little life slip through our fingers for no apparent reason. Maybe it was the blue cheese in my salad. Maybe it happened when the dog sat on my lap. Maybe I shouldn't have done that flying crow in yoga class. 

A girl can go crazy thinking about this stuff. And if all of that anxiety isn't enough, there's bound to be someone, probably more than one person, who tells you that if you just relax...if you just stop thinking about it...if you just let go of the control, you'll get pregnant.

And that's really helpful because...totally kidding. It's not helpful at all. In fact, it makes you worry more. You start worrying about your worries. You start feeling anxious about your anxiety. And then there's the guilt...thick, heavy, sticky guilt.

If you're part of a religious community, those comments about relaxing are bound to be paired with a phrase or two about trusting God. And it's not just people you hear it from - those messages are on the radio, in devotional books, on Facebook, and on bumper stickers.

"God's in control. You just have to have faith."

"God's timing is perfect. I bet the day you stop wanting a baby so bad will be the day you get pregnant."

"Everything happens for a reason. Just trust God and it will turn out."

"Aren't you glad that you can trust God to be in control?"

But here's the thing...I can't trust Him.

Well, not the way I want to.

I can't trust Him to heal my cousin's cancer or make my friend's son walk someday. I can't trust Him to keep my mom's plane up in the air. I can't trust Him to keep Harriet safe and healthy for a full lifetime. I can't trust Him to protect my friend's unborn baby from miscarriage. And I definitely can't trust Him to bring us another child. He has not promised any of these things.

So then I have to this the type of God I want to serve? And the answer comes easily and quickly without much thought - yes. YES! Yes, this is the God I want a relationship with.

Though I cannot trust Him to always heal the people I love, I can trust Him to make their stories sing with His goodness and to give them joy beyond our understanding. Though I can't trust him to protect my family members, I do have faith that He will get us through any tragedy that life might throw our way. Though I can't trust Him to bless me with a long life on this earth, I can fully trust His promise of eternal life in heaven when this world washes away. And though I can't trust Him to give us another child, I can trust Him to make our lives complete and whole whether we have one child or ten.

I fully trust God to see me through any trial, any roadblock, any tragedy. I fully trust Him to be present with me, to give me everything I need moment to moment. Some days, that feels like more than enough to sustain me. And other days, I want the promise of healing and safety and ease. Some days I want to be able to fully trust that God will give me another child. Some days, I want to be able to trust Him to get onboard with my plan.

But that wouldn't be real trust, would it? Trust is powerful because it requires us to open our hearts, uncurl our fists and let ourselves fall full force into Someone Else's plans, knowing that our dreams may never come true. But also knowing that sometimes, our dreams are much too small for a big God.

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