Hormones, people. Ugh.

When I started the medications for the retrieval part of the IVF process my brother joked that I was going to be a bit of an emotional challenge.

It’s not an off-the-wall prediction to say that pumping extra hormones into your body might make your brain react in weird ways.

I actually braced myself for this in those first few weeks. I fully expected to be kind of an emotional handful for those around me. I was pleasantly surprised. Aside from what I believe to be very reasonable fears that the process might not work out, I actually felt pretty mentally stable. It was nice.

Of course, my brother didn’t necessarily believe me when I told him that I never really felt out of my norm. I believe his exact words were “I’ll see what Russ says about it”. That’s fair and it’s also not an unexpected response from a sarcastic brother.

As it turns out, this process I’m in now is ripe for the mental meltdown. I’m taking what feels like a boatload of estrogen – granted, I have no real concept of how much estrogen is normal and how what I’m adding compares – but this feels like a lot.

I’ve been on it for a few days now. It started with two pills a day. I’m now up to seven pills a day.

And I’m noticing.

This week has already been extremely emotional. We have some big changes coming over the next few days as our best buds move away followed by more great friends moving away a few days after that.

I’m not handling any of it well.

To put it lightly: I’m a wreck. I cried when I saw the U-Haul in our friends driveway three days before their actual move. I’ve cried because my body looks and feels different to me right now. I almost cried while Russ and I were running yesterday. I’m tearing up while writing this.

I said when I started sharing this stuff that I would be as honest as possible about the ups and downs. There’ve been a lot of ups. I have to believe that our experience so far has been about as good as it possibly could be. It’s funny how quickly we went from feeling this whole situation is wildly unfair to celebrating the little victories – perspective matters and ours has shifted like crazy over the past few months.

We’ve had a trend of getting better than expected news from each step of the process. It’s been great – kind of like winning the slowest heat in the 100m great –  but still, pretty great.

There are downs. This week is quite clearly one of the low points. I feel physically great, but I’m overly emotional about everything and that’s hard on me and even tougher on Russ.

I’m currently trying to reel it in because the last thing an embryo needs is to try to make a home in a stressed out body. Running helps. Little things like Russ cleaning the kitchen and turning on Jeopardy without my prompting help. Messing around in our garden helps. The new baby birds who just hatched in our yard help. Unexpected text messages from friends who are just checking in help.

We’re getting really close to the end of the first attempt at this whole process. I felt like a superhero during the first part. Giving myself shots without much hesitation really boosted the ol’ ego.

Of course, if you know me well, you know the fact that my emotions are the biggest challenge of this journey makes absolutely perfect sense.

If you’re the praying type, prayers help. Prayers for staying calm and positive and, if it feels appropriate to you, prayers that this whole thing works out. We’re so ready to love on a baby.

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Results (so far)

I can’t even tell you how many 400 meter hurdle races I’ve run in my life, but there’s a very distinct pattern to the emotion of my favorite race.

Like every track event it starts with the adrenaline at the starting line, a burst of energy or even a chill as you place your feet in the starting block and give your legs one last shake out. There’s the stillness before the gun goes off that seems far longer than it is.

Then you’re off and facing the first curve and the first hurdle.

You’re confident. At this point there’s no doubting you’ll easily clear all of the hurdles.

But it’s a brutal race. It’s a quarter mile at a full-blown sprint pace with 10 hurdles spread along the way.

When I coached track I always told the 400 runners “I love the 400 because it’s just long enough to make you want to quit and right about the time that feeling hits, you reach the finish line”.

For me, that desire to quit used to hit somewhere around the last straightaway of a hurdle race when I was far enough in to know what I’d already accomplished but tired enough to wonder if I might have trouble with the last hurdle or two.

I’ve never experienced anything like it.

Until IVF.

IVF is emotional whiplash. The process, if you’re lucky, is filled with highs, but each one is met with the almost-immediate realization that the next hurdle may take away everything you’ve worked through so far.

Right now, we’re somewhere in the final curve having cleared so many hurdles along the way.

Last week was huge. Russ had surgery on Wednesday and we learned, after months of wondering, that we might actually be able to have a kid (hopefully kids) of his own. I’ve never been so thrilled about anything, but it was followed by the very real fear that my Thursday egg retrieval wouldn’t pan out like it should.

Thursday went well too. They were able to get 19 eggs. 19 eggs! I was IV drunk after the procedure and I think I asked about that number about three times before I believed it.

But here’s the thing, numbers in this process change dramatically. We knew that. So, we reined in our excitement and waited for the Friday phone call about how many embryos we’d have.

16 eggs were mature enough to attempt fertilization. 14 were successfully fertilized.

We started with 14 embryos with the knowledge that the number would again be cut down and probably in a big way. The embryologist estimated five would continue to grow like they should until this week when they would freeze them for later transfer.

The embryologist was correct.

So here we are with a finite number. We have five chances. If you know anything about the statistics of pregnancy and IVF procedures specifically, you know that doesn’t mean five babies.

Though five used to be the number of children I always said I wanted, we’ll be thrilled to have just one and we’ll figure out the sibling thing later, ideally using leftover embryos, if everything works out.

Right now, we’re facing what’s ahead. I get to be normal for a few weeks until I start more shots ahead of the transfer process. I can run and enjoy some beer and just generally feel less like a pin cushion and more like myself.

Those last few hurdles are still there. We don’t know that the embryos will all survive the thawing process and we don’t know that any of them will lead to a successful pregnancy and I’m terrified that we have a maximum number of chances and it’s just five, but we’re also thrilled that it’s not the zero we thought was a very real possibility just 10 days ago.

If my over-the-top metaphor proves true, right about the time this process makes me want to quit, we’ll find some relief.

Update

A few years ago when Russ and I were newly engaged we spent Record Store Day in late April going from store to store in Greenville picking up records. I couldn’t tell you how many we bought that day, but there was a stack of three or four we were given for free.

They were sitting on a stool by the door of one store and had no price tag. I saw Lionel Richie’s 80s mustache on the cover of one and recognized the title as a song I’d done a dance routine to in high school.

The shop owner said he didn’t want to charge for any of the records on the stack, so we grabbed a few.

For whatever reason on night three of the stimulation phase of IVF I dug out Lionel Richie and blasted ‘dancing on the ceiling’ while i gave myself multiple shots in my stomach.

The nightly round of shots has become a little routine. I play music loudly and Russ sits in the bathroom and provides casual commentary while I rub an alcohol wipe on my stomach, fill a syringe to the right line, pinch some skin, insert the needle and slowly push the drugs I know so little about into my body.

I enjoy a bit of ignorance. I trust these award-winning doctors and I just really don’t want to know all of the details. I have gotten enough details about fertility to last a lifetime over the past few months.

Night three was only made easier by Lionel and the fact that Russ was actually in the room unlike the night before.

It wasn’t his fault. I told him he didn’t need to be in there while I did the shots. I didn’t need him to help me physically give myself shots, so I assumed I didn’t need him in there at all.

I’ve been wrong before.

As I was pressing the last of the medicine into my body by myself in our guest bathroom, the weight of everything we’re doing just to try to have one darn kid hit me in that suddenly can’t breathe, overwhelmed with fear kind of way. I leaned against the counter and cried quietly for a few minutes alone before I walked back into the living room to let him know I needed him there.

It was the only moment of its kind since I’ve started the medicine. I’m lucky in that sense.

The massive packet of information we were given at the beginning included warnings of emotional effects – things like depression, anxiety, disinterest in normal activities, even thoughts of suicide.

It’s funny to think I was so concerned about the shots themselves. I honestly thought that might be the most difficult part of all of this.

Sure, my stomach looks like a pin cushion, if pin cushions could bruise and sometimes I need a couple of deep breaths before I stick myself and I know the shots are about to multiply, but anything that can be made better by a little dancing to Lionel Richie and Russ sitting next to me discussing what the Patriots did at OTAs (or whatever) is a pretty small deal compared to what else may be to come.

I’m writing all of this knowing there’s a lot more ahead in the next several days and there’s still no guarantee that any of this will work, but we’re feeling optimistic. Last night I had a dream we were signing our kid up for kindergarten, so I guess even my subconscious is buying into the optimism – which is a pleasant surprise given the warnings.

Today I’ll add a third injection to my daily routine and given the fact I got off the couch like a very pregnant woman this morning – you know the lead with your legs and push off with your arms maneuver – I’m sure it’s only going to get more strange from here.

We’re still appreciating all of the kind messages, prayers and support and will continue to lean on those when we need it. We love all of you.

Fertility stuff: Update 3

Russ and I are both that type of big baby grown-ups who can’t handle needles.

Do we have tattoos? No.

Is it because we don’t think they’re cool? Nah.

It’s because I’m the kind of person who feels queasy at the idea of a needle touching skin and Russ is the kind of person whose medical chart includes a handwritten note in all caps that says “NEEDS TO LIE DOWN WHEN HIS BLOOD IS DRAWN”.

So we’re pretty much going to crush the next few weeks.

We had IVF orientation today and it was *a lot*, to say the least.

First of all, we had to pay for everything up front. We just put more money into this hypothetical baby than we put down on our house when we bought it last summer. (side note: please don’t be hypothetical, baby, we’re really going to work hard at being good parents)

That payment was terrifying, but we’ve learned that our best move is to just know we are lucky we can handle it and to quickly throw the numbers in our rearview mirror.

Plus, that giant payment is going to earn us a TON of airline miles before we use our loan to immediately pay it off… and in this process, we’ve found we really don’t have time to dwell on any small scary part of it because there’s something else right around the corner.

In today’s case, right around the corner was a whole lot more blood being drawn, peeing in a cup, a super invasive ultrasound and last, but not least, a deeply descriptive introduction to the many medicines I’ll be injecting into my body over the next few weeks.

I’m honestly not sure I’ve taken that much medicine in my entire lifetime. I’m not even an ibuprofen for a headache kind of girl.

How much medicine is it? So much that it came to me in chart form with amounts changing on different dates and graphic illustrations of how to fill the syringes and where to insert the needle.

The folder they gave us basically looks like the seat back in front of you on an airplane except there’s no sky mall and the safety instructions include needles… and I’ll probably actually read these… and I was probably listening to the IVF coordinator more closely than I usually listen to the flight attendant.

But I really did leave there feeling good –– about the process, about getting started and about the fact that the doctor called my uterus great!

It’s not every day someone compliments your uterus and when you’re only cautiously optimistic with the hope of transitioning to real, pure optimism at some point in the near future, you’ll take any good news you can get.

Russ said he wasn’t surprised.

We’ve definitely figured out its easier for us to be optimistic about each other’s side of things than our own. So the doctor just confirmed what he’d already assumed.

While things are still uncertain on Russ’s end, we also got some good news there. We found out today that he tested negative for the rare genetic disorder that would’ve guaranteed he wasn’t making sperm and therefore would’ve made his surgery unnecessary and the donor 100% necessary.

That doesn’t mean there’s definitely something there, but it’s yet another bad thing ruled out. We’ll take it.

We’ve also been pushed back to our original schedule. The last time I wrote here we’d been delayed by a month and I was trying to pretend like I wasn’t really sad about it. Well, last Monday we got a call from the doctor’s office asking if they could bump us back up to our original timeline, meaning we could forget about the delay.

Of course anything could go wrong to delay us again, but man, if I focus on everything that could go wrong, I’m going to go absolutely crazy.

With all of this finally about to go down, I actually worked up the courage to talk to my boss.

I checked with HR ahead of time to see what I was obligated to share and what might be more than necessary. I was basically told I could share as much as I was comfortable sharing, but I should at least give her a heads up that I might be missing some time for medical reasons.

I opted to flat-out tell her I’m going through IVF and it’s starting soon and I don’t know exactly what to expect, but I’ll have lots of doctor appointments and I’ll do my best to work them around my work schedule.

Y’all. Her response was more than I could’ve ever asked for. There was no concern of whether I’d get my work done. There was no mention of anything but total support and a genuine care for me as a human being. I mean, I know my boss is great. I’ve known that for a long time, but I went in her office and told her I’ll have to miss some work while trying to achieve something that *ideally* several months from now will have me missing a lot more work and her only reaction was to express support and encouragement and promise that she isn’t worried about whether I’ll do my job.

As I type that I am realizing that it reads like my boss was just being a human who genuinely cares about treating people well, but I seriously doubt this is the experience every woman has when having to share this kind of news and I practically skipped out of her office… like I said, I’ll take any good news I can get.

This is a lot of information and I know it’s not well organized. If you’ve spent any time with me, you know I prefer to write in story form, but my head is spinning and all I can do is blurt every little piece out.

P.S. I miss running.

P.P.S. What kind of tattoo should I get when this is all over? (Just kidding, mom)

 

Update 2

I swear we haven’t forgotten to update, we’re just in a waiting period.

That said, I couldn’t let Infertility Awareness week pass without saying something.

So here’s what’s going on —

The timeline has changed since the last time I wrote. We were originally expecting Russ to have surgery in late May and thought all of this would be behind us (provided there were no major issues) by the end of June.

As it turns out, that won’t be the case, but we’re lucky because the only reason the timeline has changed is scheduling issues. There are about a million little things that can extended the waiting period and many of them are far more frustrating than a doctor’s packed schedule. ((Full disclosure: this was not my attitude when we first found out about the delay, but I’m going to go ahead and blame that on hormonal changes and take credit for the fact that I realized relatively quickly that I was overreacting.))

In the meantime, we’ve been able to nail down some of the less exciting, but very important logistical things like…

-We secured our baby loan! We’re not big on carrying debt. We’ve been actively working to knock out a student loan and car payments and we cleared any credit card debt we had over a while ago, so adding a new loan isn’t the most fun thing, BUT we’re really thankful that these kinds of loans exist, because the payment is manageable for us and because a baby is going to be worth it – no doubt.

-We chose a sperm donor. This is still a backup option and we are still hopeful that we’re just paying for something that we’ll never actually need, but it was a necessary step and now it’s behind us. I’ll probably sit down and write about that experience at some point, but I’m not sure I’m ready to do that yet. It was surreal.

-We requested the necessary time off for all of these things. It looks like mid-June we’ll have a nice week of vacation with a side of everyone going through major medical procedures then watching a billion hours of Netflix on the couch.

On top of all of that, I’ve recently had two different in-person conversations with women I know who’ve been or are going through this process and those were incredibly uplifting.

One of them is an old friend I haven’t seen in roughly a decade who is just a month or so ahead of us in the process at the same clinic. We got coffee and spent an hour or so just talking through the strangeness of the process. It was an awesome chance to be candid with someone face to face and just share the ups and downs of all of this. It is also cool to be able to be a cheerleader for someone else’s process. I feel like I’m rooting for her success as much as I’m rooting for my own and I’m really looking forward to the day we both can share great news.

The other was a friend who successfully went through the IVF process twice more than a decade ago and has healthy, beautiful, happy children. She’s one of those people who just glows with positivity and a genuine appreciation for life. As someone whose optimism has waned a bit over the past few months, it was great to be able to talk with her about how she handled it. I left our lunch feeling like Russ and I can totally handle this – That’s an incredibly valuable thing to feel. I’ve been saying it, but to really feel it is different.

OH… AND… it turns out the nurse who will walk us through the IVF orientation process is a friend of a good friend. A familiar face is going to be so helpful, particularly when she’s giving me all of the details of the injections I’m going to have to give myself.

So that’s where we are. That’s a lot of good things! Plus we’ve reached a point where we’ve had long enough to process our situation that we’re feeling pretty calm about it right now.

It’s sort of nice to be in this quiet waiting period where all we have to do is make sure I take one daily pill and we continue to have honest conversations about this whenever either of us needs to.

There’s plenty ahead of us, but right now feels pretty good!

 

 

 

 

Fertility stuff: Update 1

If this seems like it’s out of left field, you might’ve missed my last post. This is an update.

We had an appointment today to get the process started and we both left smiling.

Seriously!

After having a few weeks to process what is ahead and realizing that we are emotionally equipped to handle it, we’re feeling very optimistic.

The genetic odds haven’t changed, but we’ve been able to talk through just about every outcome and process it together.

Not to mention the fact that we’ve had a few weeks of knowing there is literally nothing we can do right now to make this happen on our own and that’s oddly freeing. We’ve just been having fun and enjoying each other’s company – the way it should be and usually is.

Did I mention three years ago today Russ asked me to marry him? Engagement anniversaries aren’t really something we celebrate, but given our appointment happened to be today, it feels worth noting that saying yes to everything that comes with this partnership was and still is a good choice.

Now we have a timeline. In a couple of weeks, I’ll start a process of drugs that, oddly enough, begins with birth control and is followed by a couple of weeks of hormone injections. That part sounds really terrible to a person who just a few years ago cried before getting a tetanus shot (I’m not proud of that, but in the interest of keeping it all way too real…)

Honestly, the injections just sound like an opportunity to finally grow past my way too extreme fear of needles.

Other than that, my job is far easier than Russ’s, at least leading up to the pregnancy (we’ve chosen to believe that it’s going to work out at this point). He’s the one who has to have surgery and that won’t be any sort of party, but the recovery time is short and we really do believe it’s worth it to have a final answer on whether we can have his kids or not.

The biggest bummers (barring the things that *might* go wrong during surgery/implantation/pregnancy that we’re choosing not to dwell on) as we go through this are:

  • Not knowing how I’ll react to the medicines. I’m not a medicine person. I don’t even like to take headache medicine if I can help it. I’m sure my hormonal changes will make me a party and a half to be around for the next couple of months. I’ll do my best to keep those in check…
  • Not being able to run – I’ve gotten back into a really good routine of running about 6 days a week and it’s put me in a great mental space. The doctor says I’ll have to cut that out beginning the month leading up to egg retrieval and then again in the month leading up to implantation. This is a bummer because it means I’ll lose whatever stamina I’ve built up and likely have to forego running for the whole pregnancy since you shouldn’t pick something back up that you haven’t been doing lately. This is honestly probably my biggest loss in the whole process (provided the pregnancy actually works out), so I’m sad about it. But light to moderate activity is okay, so I’ll just start swimming more often, plan on more walks with friends and ramp up my yoga class attendance. And then post-pregnancy, I’ll start running again… from scratch.
  • Cutting alcohol – we’re not heavy drinkers by any stretch of the imagination, but we enjoy the craft beer scene and breweries/taprooms are common hangout spots with friends. Both of us will have to cut this out for the month leading up to retrieval (essentially end of April to end of May). The nice thing for Russ is he can get back to enjoying some beer after his surgery. As for me, hopefully I’ll have to hold off for another 10 months after May… because that would mean everything went as planned. That’s a price I’m definitely willing to pay… in addition to the actual $ price $ we’re having to pay.

So that’s the latest. If all goes as planned, we’ll start meds later this month. By the end of May surgery and retrieval will be behind us and a month after that we’ll start cooking up a little baby, barring any major speed bumps. The timeline is kind of cool actually, because it works out so that we could potentially have a positive pregnancy test almost exactly a year after the original positive pregnancy test that turned out to not be so. It would be nice to finally put that darn ‘What to expect when you’re expecting’ book Russ bought me to use.

Like I said, we’re feeling optimistic. We’re choosing to believe this is going to work out and it’s incredibly nice to be moving forward with a plan.

And we’re beyond grateful for the huge amount of support we’ve received.

To the people who’ve asked if we’re doing a GoFundMe or if they can give us money. We so appreciate your support and that you would want to help in such a way. The weight of that gesture is definitely not lost on us, but we’re also very lucky people. We are blessed to be equipped and supported in ways that we recognize many couples are not.We hope that you’ll understand that, while we so appreciate the gesture, what we want most is for you to keep being the amazing, loving, supportive people that you are.