When I first started breastfeeding, I was faced with many challenges, from a NICU stay due to failure to latch, to a milk protein allergy that had my doctor telling me to quit. But I persevered, and by around five months had established breastfeeding as a comforting (for both of us) routine and ritual. I loved it.
The thing about breastfeeding for me was that it helped prove to myself that my body was capable of doing something right, after years of infertility and miscarriages. It helped heal me, in a way. I was able to feed my baby, to make him grow. All that weight he gained? That was from me! It was an amazing feeling.
After I got laid off and decided to stay home, I ditched the pump and the bottle, and continued to let LM nurse on demand. Breastfeeding was a big part of our first year or so together, a way of bonding us together. This was something special only we shared.
As he passed a year, the age at which most babies are weaned, many of my mom friends stopped breastfeeding. But I didn’t see any reason to stop, so we kept going. Luckily, I faced no pressure from my husband or family to wean. They were supportive of my decision to keep nursing.
Eventually, though, in the back of my mind I started to think it might not be a bad thing if he weaned. Nursing a toddler is not as calming as nursing an infant. There is a lot of twisting, kicking, pulling, twiddling and general gymnastics going on. I wanted to tell him, “Just stay still!”
Plus, I wanted to think about having another baby, which would entail fertility treatments yet again. Now, doctors will generally tell you to wean before attempting an IVF for two reasons. One is concern about the medications, and another is that a raised prolactin level may impede your lining’s growth and make implantation less likely. But, both of these concerns are greater when you’re talking about an infant who gets all of his nutrition from nursing — less so when talking about a toddler who nurses once a day. Plus, although there haven’t been any studies on fertility meds one way or another, the little research I could find said that the drugs, which are naturally occurring in a woman’s body anyway, are safe.
There seems to be a bit of a “don’t ask don’t tell” attitude when it comes to fertility doctors and nursing. I was worried when we saw our RE (reproductive endocrinologist) that she would ask me if I was nursing, but she didn’t. I talked to a few other moms who cycled while nursing toddlers. I felt confident that I was producing so little milk that LM would not be at risk from nursing, nor would my prolactin level be too high (and bloodwork showed it wasn’t).
Then in a serendipitous turn of events, LM started weaning as I geared up for my fertility testing. The first to go was the nursing around naps. Our routine became such that he would fall asleep in the car on the way back from our morning activity, and then I would transfer him inside. When he woke he would sometimes ask for it, but after telling him no a few times, he stopped asking. He still threw a big tantrum after waking up from naps cranky, but he didn’t seem to connect that with needing to nurse anymore. Then, because he started staying up super late when he napped, we started encouraging him to go without napping anyway.
Then it was the morning. Because I’m lazy, I would generally take LM back to bed with me to nurse. But on the days Foggy Daddy got up with him, he just took LM straight downstairs. And LM didn’t seem to miss it. One Saturday morning LM burst back into our room after Foggy Daddy changed his diaper. I was still in bed, and he hopped up, asking to nurse. FD asked if he wanted to go downstairs with him. LM thought about it for a minute, said, “downstairs,” and got off the bed. He actually chose his breakfast (or his father) over me.
That left nursing before bed. It just so happened that last week my sister was visiting my parents, so we spent several evenings there. We’d change LM into his pjs before leaving, and he’d fall asleep in the car on the way home, and we’d transfer him to the bed. One night as I went to lay him down he woke up. “Mama, lay down,” he instructed. Here we go, I thought, believing he wanted to nurse. But he just cuddled next to me and went to sleep.
The last night at my parents’ house I decided to stay over. LM stayed on an airbed on the floor, and he made me sleep next to him. But, he woke up throughout the night, frequently asking to nurse. Because I had put my foot down on night nursing a long time ago, I felt comfortable refusing. In the morning, though, he asked again, and the desperate look in his eyes made me give in. A few sucks, a few minutes, and he was done. I was so tired I had my eyes closed the whole time, but now I wonder if I missed the last time he would ever nurse.
The real test would be putting him to bed at home. So far, two nights have passed in which I’ve put him down without nursing. The first day he asked, settling into position in the cradle of my arm, but I asked him if he wanted to read a book instead and he popped back up.
Last night he didn’t even ask.
So this might be it. This morning he did briefly ask, but I gently redirected him and he was OK with it. I don’t quite know how I feel about it. Part of me is glad — now I can pursue fertility treatments without worrying about it. But what if I can’t cycle after all, or if I don’t get pregnant? I feel like I would have encouraged him to wean for nothing. I could have maybe had a few more months of nursing my baby.
I will miss that special relationship. I tell myself that if I’m determined to have another child, I will nurse again. Even if our second child ends up being adopted, I will try to induce lactation, or at least feed him or her with a supplemental nursing system (in which a tube is taped to the nipple through which breastmilk or formula flows) in order to experience some of the same bonding I had with LM. There is no reason a baby can’t be nursed for comfort, even if he or she gets her nutrients elsewhere. I recently read about a tribe in Africa where the fathers actually nurse the babies when the mothers aren’t available.
So maybe it’s just time. There were no (or few) tears. True, there was gentle encouragement from me, but LM seemed to be going down that path anyway.
So, breastfeeding, thank you for allowing me to feel like a woman again. Thank you for giving me the opportunity to bond with my baby in that way. Thank you for this special gift that not everyone is able to experience.
I will miss you.
(Of course, there is a chance that LM could ask for nursing again. In fact, by writing this, I’ve probably jinxed it. So stay tuned.)
Extended breastfeeders, how did you feel when your child finally weaned? Did you have to encourage your child, or did he or she do it on their own?
The front-page New York Times article on “leftover embryos” from infertility treatments earned an eye roll from me. The story explores what happens to extra embryos that are frozen after an IVF cycle – usually they are used if the fresh IVF doesn’t work or ends in miscarriage, or for a sibling or two down the road. For some couples, though, they have more embryos than they know what to do with. Hence the ethical dilemma.
We never had to make that decision. My cycles yielded a grand total of two frozen embryos, and that was after I begged and pleaded for our clinic to freeze something (they have “high standards” for freezing, which I fear may have meant that some viable embryos were thrown out instead of frozen, but that’s another story). These frozen embryos were created after my last IVF, from which I miscarried. I then used both frosties in my last-ditch FET (frozen embryo transfer). One of them became my son.
Now, faced with questions about whether to do a fresh cycle or to adopt, I wish I had the problem of too many embryos. It seems a much better problem to have than not enough. I can hear you now, though, telling me that’s a selfish way to look at it, that I’m only considering my own feelings and not those of the (potential) children frozen in time and space, just waiting to be born.
The thing is, even if you have lots of embryos that you think you won’t need, you may. FETs don’t always work. Miscarriages happen. Six frozen embryos could turn into only one live baby. So it’s really a moot point until you are done having kids. And even then, knowing my morbid nature and my tendency to hoard things, I would probably keep them for a long while just in case something happened to my living children.
Eventually, though, a choice would have to be made. And while I agree that it is difficult morally and ethically, I just don’t think it’s the sort of crisis that warrants a front-page New York Times story. Yes, there are some aspects of assisted reproductive technology (ART) that hold certain dilemmas. But it bothers me when the media choses to focus on those parts of ART when the general public still doesn’t even have an understanding of the basics. It just reinforces the weird and scary of this misunderstood process, and neglects the fact that ART has helped create thousands (millions?) of happy families over the years. One lawyer quoted in the piece even mentions an “‘ick’ factor.” Really?
I would like to see a greater effort to promote understanding and acceptance of ART, but that doesn’t sell newspapers. You know what does? Fear. Controversy. For every celebrity battling in court over frozen embryos (like Sofia Vergara), there are thousands of families living quietly and happily as a result of their own frozen embryos. Why do we have to pick out the rare occurrence and use that as a moral directive? And the issue of frozen embryos is not even new, so why is it being covered now?
But you’re still skirting the question, you might say. What about the frozen embryos no one wants? I think embryo donation is a wonderful thing. The whole “Oh, but what if they grow up and marry their sister?” thing is, again, an uninformed way of looking at it. As with children of adoption, psychologists now advise that children born as a result of donated eggs, sperm or embryos be talked to early and often about their origins, obviously in age-appropriate language. As more children born from donors grow up, hopefully society will catch up with the times and it won’t be a big deal. So if two donor children meet maybe they would be open with each other about that. True, many donations are anonymous, but there are usually enough clues to piece it together. Besides, the likelihood of this happening are rare to begin with.
If a couple just can’t wrap their head around embryo donation, though, I believe that donating to science is a wonderful thing that could improve infertility treatments in the future and maybe even save lives. I would feel OK about this option.
The NY Times article also mentions a clinic in California that is creating embryos which are then made available to couples. Patients like this program because it is quick and has a money-back guarantee. But one fertility lawyer quoted said it was commodification and one step removed from a “mail order catalogue.” To me, this is insulting to the couples themselves. Couples looking for embryos are at the end of the line. They just want a baby. They are not looking to pre-select a baby from a catalogue, choosing a child they think will be tall and blond and blue-eyed and smart. They are not sitting there thinking about creating the “perfect” child in some kind of Brave New World. When they imagine their child, they are probably imagining a baby who looks like them, imperfections and all. It’s not about selecting traits. It’s about finding a child to love who just somehow belongs in their family. Who is theirs. What is so wrong about that?
OK, but what of this child – shouldn’t he or she have a say how he was created? How will he come to view his origins? Well, first of all, none of us had a say in how we were created. And I would venture that far more babies are born “unwanted” the natural way than through ART. Couples going through ART really, really want a baby. You can bet that they will love whatever child comes into their family. And as for how these kids will view their origins as they grow, well, that depends more on us than on them. Children have to be taught that something is wrong or unnatural or weird. If we all accepted ART as a wonderful way to make a family, so would the children born of ART. They would only think it was weird if we tell them, consciously or subconsciously, that it is.
Do you agree that, once again, the media is perpetuating the belief that ART is controversial and weird?
While going through infertility treatments, I was surprised at the lack of compassion and understanding of some friends – and surprised at the compassion and understanding of some who I didn’t even know very well. This made me realize that people’s reactions had less connection to how good friends we were, and more to do with their innate or learned sympathy for others’ feelings. In honor of National Infertility Awareness Week‘s theme “You Are Not Alone,” here are ten ways to be a better friend to an infertile.
1. Remember: It’s not about you. She’s going through something terrible, so cut her some slack if she wants to distance herself from you if you’re pregnant or have kids. It’s not personal – it’s about self-preservation. Yes, it’s hard to be the friend of an infertile, but suck it up. What she’s going through is way worse.
2. Let her be selfish. Don’t pressure her to come to your kid’s first birthday party or your baby shower. It doesn’t mean she’s not a good friend. And if she acts on edge, is irritable or is even a downright bitch, remember that she’s acting out of frustration at the shitty situation she finds herself in. Let her vent, even if it’s about you, without taking offense. Forgive her for being mean. Remember that she’s on lots of hormones!
3. Ask how she’s doing. Many times infertility is the elephant in the room. Gently broach the subject and see if she’s interested in talking. Maybe she is, maybe she isn’t.
4. Tell her you’re pregnant through text, email or FB message. It seems impersonal, but it will give her time to react privately before offering up a smile and a congratulations. This is much better than telling her in person, or even over the phone, when she’ll have to hide her initial reaction.
5. Don’t complain about your pregnancy or your kids. Yes, pregnancy can be rough, and (as I’ve been learning lately) children can be a challenge. But she would give anything to have them. Don’t even joke, “Do you want my kids?” Because she does (well, not yours, but her own).
6. Speaking of joking, don’t. It’s really hurtful to hear stuff like, “Are you sure you want kids?” I promise you, she does, even while watching yours misbehave. It’s just not funny.
7. Make an effort to read about infertility. There are resources out there for friends and family of those going through infertility treatments. Educate yourself so you have a better understanding of what her life is like. Check out resolve.org.
8. Remember her on Mother’s and Father’s Day. Those holidays are especially rough on couples who can’t conceive. A “thinking about you” note or phone call is totally appropriate.
9. Realize you don’t know the future. It’s tempting to promise, “It will happen for you someday,” but the truth is, you don’t know that. Stay away from platitudes. They’re just not helpful and not reflective of reality.
10. Rephrase “I can’t imagine what you’re going through” with “I can only imagine what you’re going through.” This is one of my biggest pet peeves (I may devote a whole blog post to it some day). The first sentence makes the listener feel excluded and isolated, like what she is dealing with is so horrific that someone cannot even attempt to understand because it is so out of the realm of normality. The second one implies that even though you haven’t been through it yourself, you can utilize the skills of your creative mind to attempt to understand. This is a notable difference, so please use the latter phrasing.
You can imagine what it’s like. Put yourself in your friend’s place and think about how you would want to be treated. Just like with any other health issue, having simple compassion, sympathy and forgiveness for a friend dealing with the hell of infertility will go a long way in giving her the strength and support she needs to make it through.
My latest Huffington Post piece is Why I Did 7 Rounds of IVF, which was first posted on this blog. I reposted it in honor of National Infertility Awareness Week and this year’s theme, “You Are Not Alone.”
I want to add that while my story does have an against-all-odds happy ending, it’s not always that way for everyone going through infertility treatments. I’m not sharing my story simply to say, “Don’t give up!” because that can honestly be some of the worst advice to give to infertile couples. It’s OK to decide to move on to other options like third-party reproduction, adoption or living child-free. It’s not quitting and it doesn’t make you a loser. As I said in the HuffPo version of my piece, each of us has to make the right choice when faced with a very wrong situation. That choice isn’t going to be the same for everyone, and it shouldn’t be.
There is another post on HuffPo a couple down from mine in which a woman says how after three doctors told her she’d never conceive, she got pregnant on her own, twice, and now has two children. Maybe I’m super-jaded, but this kind of story just brings out my bitter side. How is this story supposed to help other infertiles – is it supposed to inspire them to keep trying when there is no hope? More likely it will make them feel bad because their situation didn’t work out the same. How is this story supposed to benefit those who are fertile trying to understand what it’s like to go through infertility – to make them feel better about everyone having a happy ending? Guess what – happy endings don’t always happen, and they often don’t happen the way you think they’re going to. We need real stories that show us the pain and heartbreak, the hard choices. Not the miraculous conceptions. This woman didn’t even go through fertility treatments. Sorry, but that’s just a completely different perspective – not that it’s not valid, but it is not reflective or representative of most fertility patients’. In my opinion, it’s not a useful story to help others understand infertility.
What do you think, fellow infertiles – do you agree?
For more about infertility, click here.
For more about National Infertility Awareness Week, click here.
A story about a 65-year-old carrying quadruplets caused quite a stir on one of my Facebook groups the other day – and surprisingly, this group is made up solely of women who had success after fertility treatments. Some deemed it crazy, some called it irresponsible, some said “meh,” and some said that they supported her right to make her own decisions about her body. Some also felt that stories like these, propagated by the media, just give a bad name to fertility treatments as a whole.
I’m in that last camp. Do I think it’s crazy to have quads at any age, and that doctors have a responsibility to do what is in their power to reduce the risk of having high-order multiples? Yes. Do I think that having a kid at 65 (your own kid, not serving as a gestational carrier for someone else) who you will probably not see very far into adulthood, and who might be burdened with your care at a young age, is cray-cray? Uh, yes. But do I think rules should be made against it? No.
Why? Because cases like this are really, really rare, and if we start down the road of, “Let’s make a bunch of laws that people have to follow when using fertility treatments,” soon enough the reproductive rights that we all enjoy today will be trampled on. And that is not something I am willing to risk. The reason a story like this makes news is that it hardly ever happens. This wasn’t even in this country – it was in Germany. We had to go across the pond to find a story as out-there as this. We don’t need laws to protect against it.
But that’s the thing about the media (which, technically, I’m a part of) – they often don’t care how a story really, in actuality, impacts people; they only care about how people will react to it. Will they click on it if it’s online? Will it grab their attention on TV? This is not responsible journalism – it’s sensationalism. And when it comes to fertility treatments, I’m tired of it.
Stories like this put ART (assisted reproductive technology) in a very negative light. They add fuel to the fire of the anti-ART camp, especially those who are against third-party reproduction (donor eggs or sperm), because this woman used donor eggs. The argument becomes, “See the ethical and moral conundrums that ART brings about? See why it’s bad? See why you have to watch out that it doesn’t go too far?”
This is fear-mongering.
People are afraid of what they don’t understand. As I have said often in this blog, infertility is not something most people understand. Most people don’t talk about it. It is still cloaked in shame and secrecy. The media runs a story like this – or something about the wrong couple’s embryos being transferred during IVF, or Octomom, or a doctor using his own sperm instead of the husband’s, or some other wacky stories like that (notice that I’m not putting links to these stories) – and all it does is confirm people’s fears.
I could come up with lots of news stories about irresponsible parents who had kids the old-fashioned way – but that doesn’t have people saying that no one should get pregnant, does it? So why condemn a whole branch of medicine because of a few wack-a-doos?
These are the stories that wouldn’t make the news, that wouldn’t generate clicks or FB group discussions: The thousands and thousands of couples around the world who now have happy, beautiful, well-adjusted families because of ART and third-party reproduction. It’s not weird. It’s not scary. It’s not unethical. It’s creating a family through love, just like any other.
So please, media, stop sensationalizing fertility treatments. We’re having a hard enough time going through them without you, thank you very much.
After reading this article about whether celebrities should “come clean” about their infertility treatments, I then made the mistake of looking at the comments. Despite my usual motto when it comes to the touchy (and for me, very personal) subject of infertility – don’t read the comments – I was curious to know what the general population thought about the piece.
Not surprisingly, most bashed the story, saying, “Why should anyone be forced to share something so personal?”
While I generally agree with this, the problem is that infertility is still so surrounded by shame and secrecy. It is, in many ways, still in the closet. The general public does not understand infertility treatments, thinks they’re weird or icky or that they go against “God’s plan,” and can’t comprehend why infertile people don’t “just adopt.” There is so little understanding, not to mention compassion, about what it’s really like to go through this particular struggle.
I might compare the question of whether celebrities should open up about infertility to the question, “Should celebrities reveal that they are gay?” I could argue that their sexual orientation is no one’s business, which is true; but would they deny being heterosexual? Of course not, because it’s the cultural norm. But celebrities who’ve come out of the closet have, no doubt, helped thousands of other gay people to feel that they are not alone, that if so-and-so can open up about it, so can they. By throwing off the cloak off shame and fear of rejection, gay celebrities have helped it to be much more accepted than it was in years past.
Infertility is in many ways the same. We hide it under the heading of “it’s personal,” but the real reason we are so hesitant to talk about it is because we are ashamed and fearful of what others might think. Would we hide the fact that we had cancer? Probably not, since there is no real stigma attached to cancer. So why should infertility, also a medical condition, be any different?
Celebrities are of course under no obligation to talk about their private life. Maybe they don’t want their children to suffer in any way from revelations about how they were conceived. Maybe if their children were conceived with donor eggs, which, let’s face it, is the most likely way so many celebrities have had babies well into their late forties – it’s just not statistically very likely that they would be able to conceive otherwise – celebs are especially wary about making it public because of how it may eventually affect their child. (Although child psychology experts tell us that children conceived through donor eggs, like children of adoption, should be told early and often in age-appropriate ways so that they don’t remember a time when they didn’t know. It just becomes part of their identity.) But children learn what they live, so if no one gives them the impression they need to be ashamed about how they were conceived, they won’t be.
There’s no question that opening up about something that society deems weird or strange requires bravery, and maybe celebs don’t want to deal with that. This is understandable, but it also keeps the circle of shame and fear going.
Plus, so many middle-aged celebrities having babies perpetuates the notion that it’s easy. It’s not. It’s not impossible – but it’s just very, very unlikely. Many commenters to the article I read responded with anecdotes about people they knew who had a baby late in life, but anecdotes are just that. Knowing one person who had a baby in their forties has no bearing on the fact that most women didn’t have babies in their forties.
But female celebs need to appear young. Telling the world that you needed help conceiving because you’re peri-menopausal could negatively affect your career. Our youth-worshipping culture has made it difficult for women to feel valued past their child-bearing years.
So, whatever celebs’ reasons for keeping quiet, those of us that used IVF feel betrayed by these famous IVF-deniers, like they could have had our back but chose not to. It leaves us feeling even more isolated than we already do. In contrast, those celebs who are open about it make us feel that we are not alone, raise awareness and put a human face on infertility.
Celebrities are in a unique position to influence public opinion, like it or not. So when they do “come out of the closet,” they further societal acceptance of whatever it is that they are opening up about. Should they do it? That’s a loaded question. But it would be great if they did.
Do you think it would help others if celebrities opened up about the personal issues they’re dealing with, like infertility?
I was talking recently with a friend who is having some fertility testing done – not because she is currently trying to have a baby, but just so she knows where she stands – and she remarked on the grim mood of her doctor’s waiting room. “There was one woman who seemed really upset,” my friend said. “The nurses were going over to her and asking if she was alright.”
As my friend spoke I started having flashbacks to the waiting rooms of the four REs (reproductive endocrinologist, i.e. fertility doctor) I saw during my infertility journey. In this purgatory where your reproductive fate is to be determined, no one speaks or even looks at each other. You’d think the women there would want support from each other – but instead we are all alone together, staring down at our phones or the magazines in our laps. It’s a tense, lonely, scary place to be.
The waiting room I remember best is Cornell‘s, which is on the Upper East Side of NYC. I’m not sure why this one sticks out in my mind – maybe because of how packed it was, full of women from all walks of life. I had to leave my house before the sun came up so that I could be in the city by 7:30 am (any later and I’d get stuck in traffic). I would park in a garage (parking for medical treatment is tax deductible if you can claim medical expenses) and walk to the building. I’d get off the elevator and sign in with a key card at the front desk. The chairs were covered in a mod orange-and-brown print. I would search around for an empty seat, which was sometimes hard to come by. It was as if half of the women in New York needed fertility treatments. The nurses would come out and call us by our first names, lots of nurses, one after another. Everyone had their heads down – except for the Orthodox Jewish women, who somehow all seemed to know each other and would carry on conversations. There were women in burkas and saris. Some had husbands with them but most were alone.
Anyone who brought a baby in a stroller got a lot of nasty glances. Rule number one of the RE waiting room: Don’t bring your baby. It’s hard enough to be here without having your success pushed in our faces. We’re glad you’re trying for number two, but please, for the love of God, get a babysitter (now that I have a child I can see how this would be difficult, but I also remember how soul-crushing it was to see babies there, so if I ever try again I would do everything in my power not to have my son with me). If you must bring your child, do not make cooing sounds at him. Pretend he is invisible, like the rest of us are trying to do.
In glancing around the room, I’d observe some women who seemed unfazed and stoic but still aloof. Some looked like they were about to cry. Some just looked anxious, tapping feet and fidgeting. Some seem happy and hopeful – those were the newbies doing their first cycle. I’ve been all of them in the waiting room, depending on what was about to happen. See, when you’re in the middle of a cycle, you need to be monitored about every other day, usually with bloodwork to read your hormone levels and an ultrasound to see how your eggs (at this point they’re called follicles) and uterine lining are developing. Based on these things the doctor will decide when to do your insemination if you’re doing IUI, or when to do your egg retrieval if you’re doing IVF. The men have it easy – after an initial workup to determine how their sperm looks, all they have to do is show up the day of and give their sample.
Then of course there’s the blood test to see if you’re pregnant. I was always one to POAS (pee on a stick) ahead of time – I didn’t have the patience to wait. So the initial beta didn’t usually make me too nervous, because the first number doesn’t really mean a whole lot, unless it’s super-low. It’s the second number that would freak me out, because it needs to double. If it doesn’t that likely indicates a “chemical pregnancy” (i.e. early miscarriage).
So depending on what’s going on with you that day, you might be a bundle of nerves. If you are pregnant, you might be there for your first ultrasound, which is probably the most nerve-wracking experience of all. If you’re miscarrying, that’s obviously the saddest, and I bet what was happened to the woman my friend observed.
Forget purgatory: The RE’s waiting room is basically hell on earth. The only good experience I had there was during my first and only IUI. We were sent to the waiting room on the floor above. It was empty and strangely quiet. While I waited for my husband to do his thing, I pulled out my book, settled into one of the comfy chairs and put my feet up on the coffee table in front of me. I was reading Julie and Julia, which coincidentally has an infertility storyline. (Although at the end when Julie’s husband tells her that of course they can make a baby – because if she can accomplish mastering the art of Julia Child’s French cooking she can do anything – I laughed at the naivete.) But in any case it was actually a relaxing moment for me amongst all the madness of cycling.
If I go back to try again, I don’t think the waiting room will elicit the same feelings of dread and desperation, because I already have my prize at home. But looking at the other women in the midst of it all will surely bring back the feelings of the darkest time in my life, one I’m so glad I’m past.
Fellow infertiles, what was your experience in the RE’s waiting room?
That was the thought running through my mind two years ago. On December 14, 2012, I had what was to be my final IVF transfer, the procedure in which the doctor puts the embryo back in (please do not call this an “implantation,” because no doctor can “implant” an embryo – the embryo has to do that itself – but I digress). It was the day of the Newtown tragedy, and I couldn’t help but feel that was a bad omen. It was already a risky move psychologically to do the transfer around such an emotionally charged time of year as Christmas. How would I handle the holiday if I didn’t get pregnant? It was, after all, our last shot.
After the transfer, I lay in the recovery room listening to the woman next to me giggle to her husband with the excited voice of someone doing their first IVF. “Honey, can you believe I have two babies inside me right now?” she exclaimed. Rookie, I thought, then tried to block her, and the negative thoughts that she was causing in me, from interrupting my valium-induced happy place. I wasn’t sure if the embryo could feel my mood, but I only wanted to be sending it positive vibes.
But I still didn’t really expect it to work. It was our “closure cycle,” a FET (frozen embryo transfer) of two embryos left over from my summer cycle, which ended in miscarriage. Because that was my final fresh cycle, I begged the embryologist to freeze something, anything. Thank God I did.
My beta (i.e. pregnancy blood test) was on Christmas Eve, but I had taken a home test days before anyway. Even a positive pregnancy test was not enough to make me feel happy, though, since I had had five positive tests in the years before, and none of them had led to a live baby.
Because I already knew I was pregnant, the first beta never really made me nervous. It was always the second one that freaked me out. The initial number doesn’t matter that much – what matters is that it doubles on the second test. So I went through the holiday with a sense of trepidation. It seemed too much to ask for a Christmas miracle. Too cliche. Too cheesy.
My next beta was right after Christmas, and sure enough, it barely rose at all. I cried, but also felt a sense of acceptance. I had literally done everything I could. I emailed the adoption agency we’d decided to work with and told them we were on board.
Two days later I had to go for another test to make sure my levels dropped appropriately. I had had a previous ectopic pregnancy, the telltale sign of which is erratic betas, so that was a concern. After the early morning blood draw, my husband and I went out to eat at our local breakfast spot. While there, my phone rang. It was the doctor on call, who I didn’t know and who obviously didn’t know my history. “Good news,” she said. “Your beta doubled and everything looks good.” Huh?
I went outside in the cold without my jacket so I could hear her more clearly. “But,” I protested, “this is my third beta. My second didn’t rise at all. It’s supposed to be going down.” She didn’t have an explanation for me, and told me to come in in another couple of days.
Now I was angry. Just when I had started to accept what was happening, and was resigned to the fact that I would never be pregnant and that we would be adopting – the universe had to mess with me again. It was pouring salt in the festering wound that had been my years of infertility treatments and miscarriage. Why was God being so cruel?
On New Year’s Eve, my husband and I went out to dinner, and I toasted with ginger ale instead of champagne just in case. I was pissed that I couldn’t even get drunk on New Year’s. The waitress, who by the end of the evening admitted she’d had a few to drink, asked us if we had kids. We told her no, and she replied, “Tonight will be the night for you guys! You’ll see. I predict you’ll conceive tonight!” Thanks, drunk waitress, I thought, for making me feel even worse.
Next beta. It went up again. And the next – up again. It didn’t make sense. Looking at my chart, the technicians would always miss the second test, and start talking excitedly as they drew my blood. I’d have to remind them that things were still uncertain. Didn’t they notice that glaringly strange second test, the one that didn’t jump at all? The one that told me my baby didn’t make it? The only explanation was a “vanishing twin,” in which both embryos implanted but only one of them kept growing.
There wasn’t one specific moment when we knew the pregnancy was stable. I wish there had been, so I could have cried tears of relief and joy and felt a weight being lifted off my shoulders. But the first ultrasound only showed a tiny sac and no heartbeat, and then I had some bleeding. It wasn’t until almost eight weeks that we heard the glorious swish-swish sound of his heart, and even then because it was very slow we weren’t out of the woods yet. Through it all, I felt like I was waiting for the other shoe to drop.
And to be honest, I still feel like that to this day.
Other IVF moms, tell me about your “two week wait” and beta story!
I spent six years trying to get, and stay, pregnant. I went through seven IVF cycles. I had five miscarriages. Putting it that way, it sounds crazy. Why would any sane person go to such extremes to have a baby? And if the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over while expecting a different result, does that mean I was nuts?
Looking back now at everything I went through, it does seem a bit insane. But in the moment it didn’t feel that way. It starts as one problem to solve, one IVF cycle. Then it turns out there is another problem to solve, then another. Every cycle is going to be the cycle, the one that fixes the issue you didn’t know about before. It’s a strange sort of addiction, and the habit is hard to break.
Adoption seemed to require giving up more – not only my genetics but my biological urge as a woman to grow a life inside of me. I desperately wanted to do what I believed women’s bodies are created to do: become pregnant and bear children. The IVF process was likely to be a lot quicker than the potentially years-long wait for a child through adoption.
But as time went on and cycle after cycle ended in failure, wasn’t it time to give up? What were we doing this for? We had spent so much time, energy and money on cycling. We had grown apart from our friends who had had kids. I was an emotional wreck who couldn’t stand any reminders of babies or children – and those reminders were everywhere. Clearly, something was wrong with my body that it couldn’t sustain a pregnancy. But all the losses were different; because they didn’t fit a pattern, no doctor could say what was ultimately causing them.
Eventually all our options had been extinguished. I had to decide what I wanted: to be pregnant or to be a mother. We had two frozen embryos which we would use in a “closure cycle” while we pursued adoption. I grieved the likelihood that I would never experience a baby growing inside me, never feel kicks, never give birth.
We pulled out all the stops for our frozen cycle. I went on a gluten and dairy-free diet to help reduce an inflammatory response. I took Prednisone for three months, which puffed me up and made me gain weight, for the same purpose. I took blood thinners. I continued the acupuncture that I had done for the past several years. I saw an immunologist who recommended using the cancer drug Neupogen off-label. My fertility doctor didn’t like it, but at that point I was in a position to insist.
Once again the pregnancy test was positive. But my second hormone “beta” level hardly rose at all, an indication of an early miscarriage. Resigned to the end of my fertility, I emailed the adoption agency we’d chosen to tell them we were on board. I followed up with more blood tests to make sure the levels went down.
But they didn’t. They continued to double. No one could explain why the second test hadn’t risen – a vanishing twin, in which both embryos implant but only one keeps growing, was a possibility. In any case, my ultrasound showed a baby with a heartbeat, and he became our son.
I know I would have been a mom even if I had not been pregnant, but that was a dream I had a very hard time relinquishing. Another woman might have chosen to move on sooner, and I wouldn’t have blamed her. That might have been the smart thing to do, and saved me years of emotional turmoil. But in the midst of everything, it always seemed that if we just fixed this issue, if we just solved that problem, things would work out. And eventually they did, although now I don’t attribute that to anything other than sheer luck.
Some might call me desperate or crazy, and maybe I was. But you can’t see your way out of a maze when you’re in the middle of it.
What was your TTC (trying to conceive) story? Any other infertility or miscarriage survivors out there?