IVF Blog

Long Awaited Maternity Session

Five and a half years ago, when we first started trying for a family, I was working as a wedding and portrait photographer. Many of my clients were coming back to me for their maternity sessions, and later their newborn and family sessions. I started dreaming of what mine would be like… who I’d hire… where I’d do them… what I’d wear. I was so excited to start planning it, even before we started officially trying. Sadly over the years as I was faced with negative pregnancy tests over and over again, I finally began to let go of my dreams of a photo session documenting my body doing this beautiful amazing and natural thing… carrying a baby. I began to not only doubt that I’d ever get pregnant, I doubted whether I’d ever be a mom. The dream of a perfect maternity photoshoot was no longer on my radar. It was not remotely important in comparison to the dream of being a mother, seeing Eric become a father. I had to step away from shooting maternity and newborn sessions due to the pain it caused me watching others hold what I so desperately wanted. It just hurt too much.

When we finally got that positive test back in December of last year, I was so consumed with fear and doubt of this pregnancy progressing, that I didn’t dare allow myself to believe I’d make it to the second trimester, let alone far enough along in pregnancy to do a maternity session. While others were hiring photographers for their “announcement” photos, I was crying into a camera sharing my most raw emotions with family, friends, and total strangers alike. This wasn’t something to celebrate… Not yet at least. Not in my mind.

When I hit viability at 24 weeks I began to believe more and more than my body was capable. I couldn’t doubt it’s ability to carry a child any longer… it was doing it! I was doing it! Although I still feared for how long and whether the baby boy inside me would make his way safely into this world, I couldn’t deny that I had accomplished something I has previously doubted possible. I was pregnant, and my baby was blossoming in the womb. That’s when I decided I would make sure to document this precious experience regardless of the outcome.

I found a photographer and we set up our session. For weeks and weeks I planned what I wanted. I picked a location. I searched for and found outfits. I contemplated hair and flowers. While going through all of these steps I realized just how much this session meant to me. I realized that the dream I had years and years ago never really went away. I just stored it away in a compartment in the far reaches of my memory and locked it up so as to protect my heart. But having photos of this time of our lives meant so much more to me than I ever really knew.

I spent the entire weekend getting organized and ready for our shoot. Eric knew just how important it all was to me and was so helpful and supportive, making it all the more special. My heart was pounding as we drove up to the shoot location. I had never worked with this photographer before. What if she disappoints? What if I’ve built up this moment so much in my mind that I’m unable to be happy with the result?

We did our photoshoot (having seriously lucked out with the weather… I mean outdoor session in Texas summer heat!? Plus the risk of storms… It could have been disastrous) and all went well. We hadn’t had photos done since our wedding in 2010 and were both a bit stiff at first. I definitely am far more used to being the one behind the camera… and Eric? Well he just needs a lot of direction. When I shoot him he’s very natural, but when it’s someone else he clams up a bit, but he did great all things considered. We both felt pressure to make these photos the best they could be given how much this pregnancy means to us.

Turns out, that pressure I was feeling was pretty real. I literally had nightmares about the photos not turning out and not having any tangible memories of this pregnancy. Of course that wouldn’t be the case, but you know dreams… logic is often completely obsolete. I woke up at around 1am from this dream feeling deflated. I had just done something I was so excited about, why was I feeling so negative and anxious!? It’s hard to describe, but I don’t doubt a large part of it has to do with the fears that still exist deep down that I may never truly get to meet my son. This sense that if I don’t have these photos, this pregnancy, and my baby boy, could have never existed at all. This may not make sense to many, but if you’ve fought through infertility and/or pregnancy loss, it may just resonate.

Well laying awake in bed, my anxiety turned to insomnia and there was no falling back asleep. I often find myself on social media in the middle of the night (so if you see that I liked your photo at strange hours… yeaaaaaa, that’s why), and last night was no different. What shocked me was to find my photographer had already posted our sneak peak. Wait, what? How? We only finished at 830pm… it’s 1am!? Turns out she was excited about our photos and how they turned out. Hey, I’m certainly not complaining but as a photographer myself I never expected that kind of turnaround. I was going to be patient, although likely burdened with photo nightmares until then it seemed.

Instantly all of my fears and anxieties dissipated seeing her beautiful work. She captured us perfectly, and I am so thrilled to have these memories to look back on. My heart couldn’t be more full in this moment. It was literally like a dream come true to receive these. I hope you enjoy them as much as we do. We truly feel so grateful and so blessed.

PHOTOS BY REBECCA OF R & J STUDIOS

A Beautiful Essay on Miscarriage

Melissa Rauch, who plays Bernadine on The Big Bang Theory, recently announced her pregnancy. In doing so, she also opted to open up about her miscarriage, sharing her experience through an essay for Glamour.

“During the time when I was grieving over my pregnancy loss or struggling with fertility issues, every joyful, expectant baby announcement felt like a tiny stab in the heart. It’s not that I wasn’t happy for these people, but I would think, “Why are these shiny, carefree, fertile women so easily able to do what I cannot?” And then I’d immediately feel guilt and shame for harboring that jealousy”

Although I have never suffered through the pain of a miscarriage (or stillbirth), as an infertility warrior I can’t help but hold immense empathy for those that have to endure such an experience. I’ve never been one of those infertiles who stated or proclaimed “well at least you know you can get pregnant!” I knew those words would be hurtful and insensitive, and I had no place to comment on a journey I had no experience in. That being said, if I’m truly being honest with myself and you reading this, I certainly felt that way at times. Feeling that way came from a place of hurt and darkness from my experiences of 5 years of never seeing a second line. It wasn’t fair for me to direct my pain that way though, and I knew it, so it was an emotional reaction I bottled up and kept to myself.

Over the years as I opened up about my fertility journey more and more, I learned about my fellow infertility warriors’ struggles, and gained much needed insight into their experiences with miscarriages. I can’t understand that pain, but I do try and imagine so I can empathize, support, and show compassion. We are all mothers without a child to hold, after all. We’re fighting the same fight, just perhaps in different ways.

Like Melissa Rauch, I too had difficulty sharing our positive news publicly. Although I’m no TV star, I still worried about the audience who would be hearing this news. I wondered who would be silently pained by our announcement and so for me, as an individual who had been so pained in the past, I chose to share our news while illuminating the difficult road we had navigated to get there. I also, like Melissa, held such fear throughout my pregnancy (and still do), because in the past my body had failed me. I had no concrete reason (such as a miscarriage) to warrant such paranoia… but it was there. The fear was real and it was strong. I had to learn to be gentle on myself and allow myself to feel however I felt through the process without judgement. Some days that would be hard when others would comment to “not stress, it’s not good for the baby,” or “you should be enjoying this time, you’ll never get it back,” both of which were guilt and shame inducing. As a result, I stopped openly sharing my fear, instead coping with it day in and day out privately until as weeks passed I felt better and better. People so often want to share in your joys, but they rarely want to sit with you in your pain unfortunately.

This essay by Melissa Rauch is a really important read. Sure celebrities have opened up about their journeys to a degree (“yes this is an IVF/surrogacy baby” or whatever minimal statement they may share), but for her to take the time to so eloquently describe her experience in an effort to break down stigmas and make others struggling feel less alone, is truly commendable. Being so open and vulnerable isn’t for everyone, and there is certainly no judgement if someone isn’t ready or able to do so, but it’s a great thing when someone does step forward and raise awareness so I’m very grateful for her courage!

Have a read here: https://www.glamour.com/story/actress-melissa-rauch-announces-pregnancy-and-reflects-on-miscarriage

On a separate note, VEGAS BABY is now on Netflix. For anyone who has struggled, gone through IVF, or wants to gain insight into the process an infertile goes through to conceive, I highly, HIGHLY recommend watching this documentary. Fair warning though; it is heavy, and you’ll likely cry! But it’s so wonderful to see such a raw, accurate portrayal of the difficult journey of infertility and IVF.

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Reflections on Mother’s Day

Where to begin… First, let it be said that Mother’s Day is a beautiful day to honor the strong women who have brought all of us on this earth into existence. Without our mothers, we wouldn’t exist. We take time on that day to acknowledge and thank them for all they have done, and continue to do for us, and they certainly deserve it. That being said, Mother’s Day is so very hard for so many women for so many different reasons. The one reason that strikes closest to my own heart, is that of infertility.

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Infertility can make a lot of situations incredibly painful, and Mother’s Day is certainly no exception. I thought that finally having fallen pregnant, the day would instantly be converted to one of pure happiness and joy. I was wrong. Unfortunately my last 5 mother’s days were spent yearning for what others had and were celebrating, and that shifted my perspective. Although this year I was pregnant and so beyond joyful and grateful for where I’d gotten to, I was also still deeply saddened by the pain of my past and that of my infertility sisters. I empathized with the mothers who had just had miscarriages, or the mothers who recently (or long ago) lost their child. I also felt anxiety for my own child I am carrying. What if something happens and this is all taken from me? It’s a horribly negative way to look at things, but sometimes after all you’ve been through, it can be hard to have faith, especially in your weakest moments.

I went througraincoupleh the day wanting to be in the mood to celebrate only to feel disconnected from the joy I was supposed to be feeling. We started with a nice brunch out, figuring maybe I just needed a little energy boost, but that experience only broke me further. We had a terrible server and experience that literally left me in tears. We can blame the pregnancy hormones for that I suppose. Once again I found myself just wanting to get through the day. So we went to Ikea… not exactly the vision I had for my first Mother’s Day, but it was what I wanted so as to not be focused on what was going on around me, or what we perhaps should be doing to celebrate. Eric wanted this day to be special for me, but he too felt the pangs of memories drummed up, and empathized with how I needed to cope.

I hope that Mother’s Day next year will be one that I can properly celebrate, but I wonder if part of my heart will always sit with those in pain on this day. I knew it too well, and lived it too long to forget. Although part of me wishes I could, and wants to enjoy the purity of the day that so many others blissfully can, unaware of the struggles of others… I’m just not sure that it will ever feel right celebrating without also honoring those in the wait or mourning.

Infertility opens your eyes up, and certainly taught me a lot about compassion. I don’t judge those who can enjoy this day blissfully unaware, I envy it to a degree. But I also wouldn’t trade in my perspective as I’ve learned so much about myself and what is most important to me in this life, and that certainly isn’t celebrating a hallmark holiday.

LISTEN UP – The Toll of Infertility

This week is one for which I hold a special place in my heart. Not only is it my birthday week (happy birthday to me!), but it also happens to be National Infertility Awareness Week. Was I destined for this path? Sometimes this particular week in April makes me feel so. But it doesn’t in any way take away from my birthday celebrations. In fact, I’ve always accepted infertility as part of me, and avoided feeling shameful or pained by that… until shortly before our last IVF that is.

See, I used to call myself Femme InFertile. I had a blog documenting my struggles, not so different from this one. The difference was, I chose to accept infertility as a major part of my identity. I WAS Femme InFertile. I was loud, I would raise awareness, I made myself a poster woman of the disease. I didn’t see anything wrong with that, but in reality, I believe I lost pieces of my old self along the way. I became so consumed by my infertility struggles that a lot of what made me ME fell by the wayside. No longer was I dancing, and painting and traveling the way I used to. I still forced myself to do those things, don’t get me wrong, but they lacked lustre. My involvement in these activities was almost half-hearted… forced. Fake it until you make it right!? Wrong.

See I learned that to truly heal you need to actually do the work. Faking it just wasn’t good enough anymore. When I was living in New York I had the great privilege to meet and worked with an amazing woman named Elaine. She single handedly changed my life. I will always feel a great debt to her due to the path she set me on. She does “reiki” but I put quotes there because really it is so much more than that. Part therapy, part healing, part mentoring, Elaine jumpstarted and guided me on my journey of self-healing that has made all the difference. That’s where my transformation truly began, but the work was just getting started. It takes time, and time I sure had a lot of. I began collecting crystals before working with her, but after our session my interest grew even more. When I moved to Houston one of the first things I did was take part in a past-life regression therapy session, something I had been wanting to do for years. It was INCREDIBLY healing. Various themes came up, some of which related to infertility and some just in relation to life in general. I felt a big shift after that session too. I was then drawn to learning reiki myself and took a two day course. Last week I took second degree to expand my practice even further.

If you’ve never experienced reiki it can sound a bit hokey or “out there”, but those that have had a session know how powerful it can be. Not only did I feel shifts in my body through these experiences, but also my mindset. Although infertility was a big part of my life, I no longer felt necessary to believe it defined my existence. Being infertile wasn’t my purpose. Living authentically, honestly, and wholly while coping with and working through infertility WAS. I wanted to chose positivity and changing my name from one with a “negative” term (infertile) to one of encouragement (living for the moment, and embracing each day fully) meant I could better embody my new set of beliefs. Infertility can be all consuming, but I learned it doesn’t have to be that way. As difficult and painful as the journey was for me and my husband, when we were able to acknowledge and appreciate the ways in which it facilitated our growth both as individuals, as well as as a couple, we found the journey much less frustrating.

Reaching this state of understanding and peace with our journey, we decided we would pursue a final IVF transfer. To say our final experience was different from all others is a gross understatement. Using affirmations and positive thinking to help us BELIEVE, we found a way to hope again. When coping with infertility for years and years, that hope can be hard to muster. We shared our journey more openly than ever, launching our YouTube channel as a way to reach and touch as many others struggling with infertility by being honest about the process and our experiences. I don’t want to pretend it was easy, as infertility and IVF never are, but we really felt in control of our well being through the process for once. Whatever way it went, we knew we had the strength and the tools to cope. Most of all, we had each other.

Infertility changes you, but in some cases it can be for the better. For us we’ve learned a lot along the way, but the one thing we weren’t prepared for was how it would change the way we coped with pregnancy. Prior to our success, I ignorantly believed infertility ended with a positive pregnancy test. I believed that once I finally got pregnant I would be like all other women and be able to relate to the average woman… the average mother. When we got our first positive test, I learned how untrue that was. To try and explain adequately the emotional turmoil of the first number of weeks to someone who hasn’t struggled to conceive can be very hard. All women worry in the first trimester of course. But what I couldn’t (and still can’t) make others understand is that for someone who’s body failed them so many times before, those early months are pure agony. Joy, fear, anticipation, disbelief, uncertainty, hope, and impatience are only a small number of emotions I cycled through. It truly took time for me to believe I was not only pregnant, but also that this pregnancy COULD end in a baby in our arms. Being part of the infertility community you become a lot more informed about all aspects of the early stages of pregnancy. You undergo blood tests for blood beta hcg levels every two days and look for doubling rates, you go for weekly ultrasounds starting as early as 5 weeks to see if theres a sac and fetal pole, you know target ranges for fetal heart rate and analyze fetal crown rump lengths and sac sizes. You know this all matters and you know where your baby stands before the average pregnant woman even has her first ultrasound! It is virtually impossible to sit in joy with this new glorious life budding within you. There is too much fear of the various possibilities to do so.

The unfortunate truth here too is that once part of the supportive infertility community (the only women you’ve been able to talk to openly and honestly through the process), becoming pregnant means your main support system channels often close. This is certainly not always the case, and my personal experience has not been so, but I’ve seen it happen to many others and understandably so. In my instance, I chose the route of sensitivity and that may be why I continue to have the support when I’ve truly needed it. Knowing first hand how painful it was with each passing cycle to see others be successful and to always be the one left in the dust, I didn’t want to impose my joy on anyone hurting. So the little pieces of joy that I did have, I repressed in a way. No longer was I only just guarding myself, but I was guarding others too. This can be a large burden to bear, but I always felt (and continue to feel) that empathy and maintaining status as a supporter for this community was more important to me than being supported. But the truth is, women who are pregnant after infertility need support too… and sometimes it can be hard to receive from those who don’t fully understand the journey you’ve been through to get there.

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Infertility Awareness Week is important to me. I never want anyone, in any stage of their journey to feel alone and ashamed. Infertility is so much more common that people realize, and being confronted with it can be both shocking and overwhelming. The more we talk about it openly, the more understanding and aware those who aren’t struggling can become. Infertility is a disease, and unfortunately pregnancy can’t erase the years of heartache that have been experienced. I am an infertility survivor, but I will carry my infertility journey as an imprint on my heart for the rest of my life. And for that I am not ashamed. I am proud.

Emotional Reflections: Stages of Grief through Infertility

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So we had a detailed 15 week scan with a MFM doc and all looks great. Was so much fun to see little man wiggling around and all his little features that are getting more and more pronounced as the days go on. We finally felt a bit more of the relief I had been looking for.

I’ve shed a few tears since that day. Happy tears. As I reflected on all of my years struggling to conceive, and as I really absorbed and acknowledged I was in the second trimester, I felt overwhelming in the best way possible. I finally made it! I am pregnant, and actually believing it will lead to a baby. It was the first time I allowed myself to truly be excited, and it was such a euphoric moment. But I still remember and feel the pain like it was yesterday, and in a sense it allows me to be more than happy. I feel eternally blessed, and immensely indescribably grateful.

When we first started trying to get pregnant I had these images of what our experience would be like. Maybe we’d try a few months… I’d secretly test and surprise Eric with the news in some cute memorable way. Well, as the months dragged on, the doubt started to creep in. At that time though, I think the doubt was more about how long it would take, and doubt of me having the image in my head come to fruition. I don’t think I yet considered it never happening for us. In that first year I was still certain I was meant to be a mom, and this was going to happen for us, and soon! I was in the first stage of grief for much of that first year. Shock that it wasn’t happening, and denial that it wouldn’t.

When we were finally referred to a fertility clinic a new picture was formed in my head. We underwent test after test and both Eric and I dealt with a lot of guilt and pain. Was it him? Was it me? Was it both of us? The blame game gets you nowhere, but in a way you hope it’s the other person’s “fault” so you don’t have to feel the guilt and pain of letting them down. You’ve already let yourself down in so many ways, it feels, you can’t handle that burden too. I’d overcome infertility. I’d go through treatments like the strong woman I am, and come out a winner. I’d defeat these obstacles… with some doctors help of course. The fertility specialists reiterated that nothing was wrong with us, and that this WOULD work. The first round failed. I was angry and pointing fingers. The doctor who did the transfer messed up. Our fertility doctor should have given us a different protocol. As we set on course for our second transfer, a frozen cycle, we moved into bargaining. We tried to control, “fix” and learn as much as we could from the last cycle in order to be successful. I made changes, we opted to put 2 day 5 embryos in despite doctor’s advice. If I put two in maybe I’ll be more successful. Another failed round later they were as confused as we were. My hope and faith were gone.

There is no way around it. When that cycle failed I was depressed. We took a long break from treatment and I tried to find purpose in my life again. Everything had become about fertility and I was very tired. All of my friends around me were moving on, and it became increasingly difficult to be around happy people. I wanted a change. I needed a change. As fate would have it, an opportunity came about for us to move and start a new life. We jumped on it.

Once settled in our new life in New York, we made the decision to push forward in our goals of parenthood. It’s an odd thing, pursuing treatments that you don’t necessarily believe will work. We still had very little hope. We were still in a sense depressed. As we met with a new clinic and a new doctor we moved into the testing phase. This would be our last attempt, and more than a hopeful one, it was really a “go through the motions” process of moving towards accepting our fate (which I at least thought to be inevitable at the time). We went through so much without any shred of certainty. Our experiences had taught us otherwise. A shred of hope could be found as new techniques by a new doctor were being applied. A textbook cycle, perfect in all ways, but yet still no success. This was the moment we had to really begin to accept that this may never happen for us.

That’s a very very hard thing to process, acceptance. Motherhood, something so many women take for granted, something so many women assume is their god given right. For me… I may never experience. If I was going to experience it, I had to accept it wasn’t in the way I hoped or imagined for myself. I began to process these emotions, picturing motherhood through adoption. The thing about infertility is you aren’t on this journey alone. There are two people, two sets of emotions, two distinct separate paths through the stages of grief even. I thought Eric and I had been moving through them at the same pace, but we hadn’t been. We went through a difficult patch trying to understand why were weren’t on the same page. I was ready to pursue adoption and became increasingly frustrated that he wasn’t on board. He hadn’t really ever gotten past bargaining. He still held onto hope this would happen for us.

The baby boy nestled in my uterus right now is a direct result of Eric’s persistence. He in no way forced me to undergo another cycle. In fact, through our discussions he began to work through and become excited for the adoption process. But I decided I could find the strength to do another cycle. Not just for him, but for us. This would be the last cycle for now, and I was clear on my expectation beyond that point.

Somehow, by miracle, our final cycle worked. The funny thing is, I began that cycle with a refreshed attitude. I made the deliberate decision to BELIEVE it could work. BELIEVE it WOULD work. And it did. I’m not saying that I willed it to happen, but I think the fact that I had worked through the stages of grief fully before trying this final attempt, allowed me to enter into it with an open heart…something I hadn’t been able to do for the years past.

So now sitting here, writing this, I become emotional because a dream I set out to achieve five years ago is finally coming to fruition. It hasn’t been easy by any means. It has been the most challenging five years of my entire life. But as I’ve said in posts before, I’ve learned a lot and gained a lot in the process. For all of it, I am grateful.

Second Trimester Begins

It’s been a long hard journey to get to this point, and I genuinely believed that once I entered the elusive second trimester, I’d feel better. I’d feel relieved or encouraged, or maybe even confident. Unfortunately, infertility has left more scarring than I once imagined, and my fears of my body failing me are more deep rooted than can be described.

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A few weeks ago we had our 12 week ultrasound. All went very well, baby’s heart was beating away and was measuring “on track” (at least, consistent with being behind in the first place). We were relieved for that moment in time. We made it to 12 weeks! That felt like a huge accomplishment. They drew our blood for NIPT (non-invasive prenatal testing) and sent that off and I was feeling pretty sure that all would come back clear for abnormalities and we would celebrate the gender and be well on our way through this pregnancy.

 

The wait wasn’t as torturous for me as it seemed to be for Eric. While I took reassurance from my gut telling me the results would be clear, he was anxious to hear confirmation and to find out the gender. For whatever reason, I was patient. I was calm. This being out of character for me, caused me to pause and reflect on potential reasons for my lack of urgency. Could I just be a changed woman? Hardly. I think I was ultimately afraid of finding out the gender and becoming even more attached to our precious little baby for fears of potentially experiencing more pain should anything go wrong. The results took longer than they should, but I was not bothered. Eric asked daily so I finally checked in to see if this had come in. They had.

Our results were indeed clear. This was a huge relief and one worth celebrating. But it didn’t give me as much confidence as I had hoped. Although baby is normal, I still am not. I’m still relying on medications to sustain this pregnancy. I still recall the years of my body doing one thing when it should be doing another. The nurse called back to leave the gender on my voicemail but I was in no hurry to listen. Waiting for Eric to come home was easy and I did so with ease.

When he walked in the door he wanted to know instantly. I had always envisioned some grand gender reveal, some unique moment that was captured that would celebrate this baby perfectly. Yet here I was and I no longer really cared. My priorities had shifted. It didn’t matter that I wasn’t going to have a grand get together with family and friends and cut a cake or pop a balloon… what mattered was that there was a baby inside me. A precious life that we had fought so very hard to create. We didn’t care if it was a boy or girl. What mattered was that baby was healthy, and we knew that already! This was just information to us. Strange how infertility changes your perceptions in life.

I was very shocked with the results but also very thrilled and excited… once the shock wore off of course. What’s most exciting is that this meant we could start picking names, and buying clothes and planning the nursery… all things I had been looking forward to for years and years. Yet I still have a hard time buying anything. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve online shopped only to put things in my cart and then close the browser window without following through. The fears are still there. “If I buy things and something goes wrong, I’ll have to return them… or worse… look at them and be reminded.” So I wait.

Waiting for the nursery items is easy to justify as we are moving to our new home in May. It doesn’t very well make sense to buy furniture just to have it moved, so that makes logistical sense regardless of motivation. But as we settle on a name it becomes increasingly more difficult to remain detached. And I don’t want to anymore. I want to embrace this pregnancy. I want to believe and be confident. It’s something I work on each and every day, yet I struggle. I try to not judge myself for that, tell myself it’s understandable, but I continue to work to improve my mindset.

Next week we have our first appointment with a maternal fetal medicine (MFM) doctor who will assess our risk. A week after that is our 16 week appointment with our OB. Although I’d like to hope after those appointments I’ll have the reassurance I need, the truth is, I’m not sure I ever will. And I need to find peace with that.

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Why “Try not to stress” is the worst advice…

For someone who battled infertility, the phrases “don’t stress” or “just relax” while trying to conceive are met with inner cringes. But they are also the most commonly offered words of “advice” or “wisdom” imparted when a couple finally shares their difficulty in starting a family. Well these phrases, turns out, aren’t just reserved for those hoping to get pregnant.

Let me start by saying if you personally have at some point or another told someone to relax or to not stress, it doesn’t make you a bad person. If you know me and care about me, you’ve likely even said it to me at some point in time in some context. Heck, I’ve possibly said it to you! But let’s look at what we’re asking of someone when we say those words.

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YOUR STRESS IS NOT VALID

First let’s understand what stress is. Stress (defined by good ole Mr. Google) is a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.

Alright… so in the context of a couple who is struggling to conceive within the first year this advice, though appropriate in theory, is still unhelpful. If you are under 35 years of age it is “normal” to try for up to a year given the fact that a healthy couple only has roughly a 20% chance each month if they time it perfectly. So stressing about it isn’t really accomplishing anything. But as each month passes, a couple naturally begins to worry that something is wrong or that they might be doing something wrong. This repetitive failure is not only frustrating, but also emotionally straining. “Did I ovulate?”, “Did we time it right?”, “Are my eggs any good?”, “Are his sperm healthy?”, the questions begin to cycle through a person’s mind. And the truth is they are valid questions. It is hard to not stress when you’ve been led to believe someone will wink at you and you’ll get pregnant. All those years of freaking out when you took your birth control pill 2 hours late… pointless.

Now let’s say a couple has been trying for over a year. This is officially a diagnosis of INFERTILITY. Imagine you, a healthy individual, no signs of concern prior to trying to conceive and now receiving the worst possible news in relation to your family building goals. You begin to think the worst… “this may never happen for us.” Sure stressing and playing out worst case scenarios in this moment isn’t exactly helping matters, but it is a natural response to the mental and emotional strain caused by such a diagnosis.

So here’s the thing, whether or not a person feels stressed is a completely individual matter. Two different people experiencing the exact same circumstances will inevitably react differently. Take snakes for instance. If Eric sees a snake he will literally push me in front of him for protection. I on the other hand assess the situation and whether it is a dangerous species, their proximity etc, and calmly go about my business. Massive spider and you’d see a complete reversal of that scene, me freaking out, him calm. Now these are fears, not stresses, and I can acknowledge the difference, but my point is that we all have experiences throughout our lives that have woven our fabric of being. They have built us into the complex, emotional, and intellectual individuals that we are, and that results in varying behaviours. If someone is feeling a certain way about something, there is inevitably a reason, regardless of whether or not you think (based on your circumstances and experiences) that reason to be valid enough.

But guess what. You don’t matter in the reality of someone else’s experience, only they do. So taking your own reality to formulate what another individual should or shouldn’t be feeling, is not only doing a disservice to the individual to whom you are ignorantly offering invalid advice, but also to yourself and the potential for you to learn and expand your understanding and empathy for another persons situation or viewpoint.

Pregnancy for me is a different experience from someone who got pregnant on their first month trying. Why? Because it’s taken me 5 years, a lot of money, a lot of failure, a lot of help, and a lot of perseverance and overcoming obstacles to get here. Pregnancy to me feels like a treasured commodity reserved for the elite, and I feel like an imposter holding on to the crowned jewels expecting the cops to show up at any minute and send me to jail. An expectant mother who didn’t struggle very likely feels grateful and is cherishing the process, but the delicate intricacies of the day to day experience of pregnancy is going to be inherently different… there’s just no way around it. And that’s okay. But it has to be okay for my experience to be different. And it has to be okay if I can’t be as trusting, excited, or happy go lucky as that mom.

 

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CONTROL YOUR FEELINGS

When we tell someone to “relax” or “don’t stress” we are essentially telling them to control their emotions. We’re asking them to stop feeling the way they’re feeling, and feel something else instead.

So why is this such a bad thing? Well, emotions are a natural instinctive state of mind deriving from one’s circumstances, mood or relationship with others. (Thanks again Mr. Google). Key words there are NATURAL INSTINCTIVE. So when someone is feeling scared… there’s usually a reason. Fear is founded in some basis of reality (however far reaching or abstract it may be). So when someone is feeling fearful in early pregnancy, or someone is scared they’ll never conceive… these are emotions that are set in motion by the circumstances that individual is in. They can’t control the circumstances… so you don’t tell them to. You know better. Yet in our minds, it seems, we believe a person can magically control the way they react.

It’s funny there’s a really popular quote – “You can’t control someone else, you can only control your reaction.” Except this would be better read “You can’t control someone else, you can only control your OUTWARD reaction.” In that immediate moment when someone does something malicious to you, you are going to react. It’s instinctual… it’s survival. But you can chose how you reflect and internalize that, and how you behave outwardly as a result, sure. When it comes to stresses and anxieties though, would someone really be better off bottling all that up to make those around them feel at ease? Feeling scared, anxious, angry or whatever someone is feeling as a result of dealing with infertility is not only valid, but also better out than in. At least in my humble opinion…

Instead of telling someone to not feel one way, perhaps you’d be better off asking what specifically is making them feel the way they are. Trying to understand where they are coming from, offering a sympathetic ear, or even just offering well wishes and prayers will undoubtedly be more well received than telling someone to feel a way they may believe to be impossible in the moment. Instead of feeling shamed for potentially harming their pregnancy (ahem… I’ve felt that way from the many comments I’ve received), or more pressure because it could be getting in the way of conception (been there too), they will feel as though you are a partner, a confidant… someone they can rely on if and when the going gets tough.

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BE HAPPY

I think this is the hard truth of this piece today. Ultimately… people don’t like to sit in others’ pain. It’s not fun. It’s like when you walk into a room with people who just had an argument and can feel the negativity hanging in the air. All you wanna do is turn on your heels and leave. Well by throwing out the phrases “just relax, it’ll be fine”, “don’t stress, it’ll make it harder” we’re essentially dismissing the negativity and saying, get over it and go back to being happy, because that’s better and more comfortable for everyone.

Well this leaves the person struggling feeling more isolated, shamed, and unsupported. Someone struggling with infertility wants nothing more than to be happy. I know throughout our journey we’d take breaks and I’d look for happiness in life in other areas, and surely I’d find it. But the hole in my heart was always there, and the pain and sadness I carried with me never let me fully enjoy or embrace all the amazing things life had to offer as much as I’d have liked. I lost a lot of my vitality over the years and I had to work daily at getting it back. Looking back I could feel bitter or resentful over lost time, but I also learned a lot in the process.

We so badly want life to be perfect, but life inevitably includes struggle. For some people its career, romance, or finances to name a very short few… for others, its fertility. When someone loses a loved one, we don’t tell them to stop being sad, we allow them to grieve. When someone loses a job and can’t pay their mortgage, we don’t tell them them to “relax”… and if you do or have, maybe you’ll rethink that after this post… I hope!

My point is, that it’s okay to feel negative emotions. They are all part of the human experience. Are they pleasant to experience in the moment? Heck no. But they give contrast. What is love without hate? What is success without failure? I read a really enlightening book called The Shadow Self by Deepak Chopra, Debbie Ford and Marianne Williamson. I love this excerpt and I feel like it perfectly sums up why I think living authentically is so important, even in the struggle.

We have been conditioned to fear the shadow side of life and the shadow side of ourselves. When we catch ourselves thinking a dark thought or acting out in a behavior that we feel is unacceptable, we run, just like a groundhog, back into our hole and hide, hoping, praying, it will disappear before we venture out again. Why do we do this? Because we are afraid that no matter how hard we try, we will never be able to escape from this part of ourselves. And although ignoring or repressing our dark side is the norm, the sobering truth is that running from the shadow only intensifies its power. Deny¬ing it only leads to more pain, suffering, regret, and resignation. If we fail to take responsibility and extract the wisdom that has been hidden beneath the surface of our conscious minds, the shadow will take charge, and instead of us being able to have control over it, the shadow winds up having control over us, triggering the shadow effect. Our dark side then starts making our decisions for us, strip¬ping us of our right to make conscious choices whether it’s what food we will eat, how much money we will spend, or what addiction we will succumb to. Our shadow incites us to act out in ways we never imagined we could and to waste our vital energy on bad habits and repetitive behaviors. Our shadow keeps us from full self-expression, from speaking our truth, and from living an authentic life. It is only by embracing our duality that we free ourselves of the behaviors that can potentially bring us down. If we don’t acknowledge all of who we are, we are guaranteed to be blindsided by the shadow effect.

So instead of telling someone to feel a different way, perhaps offer them strategies. Some things I personally do are meditate, use crystals, do fun activities I enjoy (dance, paint, play sports), or write in my affirmations book. Instead of just saying “relax” offer insight into what you do to cope with stress and even potentially take an active part in doing it with them! “You know what I find helps me de-stress, _________.” This will not only leave the person feeling much more supported, but also might actually help!

 

What do you do to cope with stresses and anxieties surrounding infertility or pregnancy after infertility? I’d love to hear from you!

Pains & Rashes

6th week is here and anxieties and fears are still running rampant. Unfortunately, this part of pregnancy after infertility is something I don’t think anyone could have adequately prepared me for. In the past, I would have perhaps even scoffed at the thought of being anything but grateful following a positive pregnancy test. And grateful I am, but early pregnancy also comes with many other less desirable feelings and emotions.

Today I should be filming my 6 week bumpdate for my vlog, but it’s already 3pm and for whatever reason I still haven’t brought myself to do it. I know a lot of my procrastination is rooted in fear. It is as though I refuse to acknowledge this pregnancy until I have been given unequivocal proof of its existence. That proof will never come, because nothing is certain in this life, and I know that. But yet I continue to guard my heart.

Part of why I am so guarded this week in particular is because in the last few days I’ve had some less than ideal symptoms.

1. RASH FROM PIO

Now if you are going through IVF or IUI and are put on Progesterone in Oil (PIO) shots, know that there is a strong possibility of you developing a rash from the sesame oil it is suspended in. This is “muscle fatigue” as some people like to call it, where you begin to develop itchy and bumpy rashes around the injection sites. Apparently this is common, and does not threaten the pregnancy in any way shape or form, but I am still very fearful and on edge. We’ve always suspected that immune factors were at play and so having an immune response of any kind, even localized, sent me into a panic. My RE is trying to get me a prescription for it in olive oil instead, so here’s hoping that helps. In the meantime I’m on Benedryl which is supposedly safe in pregnancy, but adds to the fatigue for sure.

2. SHARP INTERMITTENT PAINS IN LEFT HIP/GROIN/PELVIS

Ugh ugh ugh… as if I don’t have enough to worry about, now I’m left with my head spinning wondering what this could mean. Some possibilities:

  1. ECTOPIC PREGNANCY – where the embryo implants outside of the uterus
  2. ROUND LIGAMENT PAIN – due to uterus and body stretching to make room for baby
  3. COMBO – stretching in early pregnancy combined with former left labral tear injury
  4. CONSTIPATION/GAS – not even sure if this could be it since it’s sharp, but worth putting in
  5. MISCARRIAGE – ugh… let’s not even go there, but what do I know, it’s possible…

It is sharp and painful but not consistent. Hurts when I lay on my right side, better on my left, best on my back. Activity seems to aggravate it slightly, and although it’s not getting any worse, it also doesn’t seem to be getting much better. No fun, and scary as heck.

– – – – – 

So that’s what’s new in week 6. I definitely thought I’d be feeling worse by now, but turns out I feel pretty normal-ish. Today in particular I feel exhausted but that’s mainly because I got very little sleep last night between the pains, having to pee, and anxiety over these new symptoms. Tomorrow is another day and luckily I’ll be adequately distracted going to look at a few more homes before we start to potentially draw up an offer on a home. Wednesday is Ultrasound day and it really can’t come soon enough. I was half tempted to go to emergency last night given my pain and fears… I talked myself down though don’t worry 😉

Fingers crossed the next 43 hours pass quickly and end with fantastic news. ❤

 

 

Fears & Third Beta

So I woke up this morning feeling “less pregnant” than I have in a long time. I had energy, my boobs weren’t sore, I just felt kind of just fine… of course this was incredibly unsettling. The first thing I did when I popped out of bed was take a home pregnancy test hoping to ease my mind. Well that was a fail. It was lighter than it was 2 days ago.

Now I will admit, my afternoon tests seem to be consistently darker than morning tests. I’m not sure if that’s in some way due to the suppositories overnight, or my natural hormone fluctuations. Regardless an afternoon test from 2 days ago (well 1.5 if we’re being anal) in my mind should have been very similar to a morning test today. Perhaps I’m wrong, and a friend of mine tried to reassure me that she experienced the same thing and to not trust the sticks but it’s so very very hard.

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That being said, many women have suggested I get a third beta to make sure my levels are rising appropriately so I finally caved and asked my RE (reproductive endocrinologist – aka fertility doctor) for an order so I could go to Labcorp and have this done today. So that’s what I’m doing. My appointment is at 11:30am and even if he requests it STAT I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get the results today. I just know in the past I’ve gone at 9:30am and didn’t get my results until later in the afternoon and with my RE clinic on the East Coast they may not be able to get back to me until tomorrow.

This is a rundown on what my HCG should look like:
1st Beta Dec 27 = 192
2nd Beta Dec 29 = 379

This is about 97.4% increase in 48 hours. Those first two betas were drawn around 9:30am. Based on the same percentage increase:

by Dec 31 should of been around 783
by Jan 2 should of been around 1545

by TODAY at 9:30am (Jan 4) should be around 3050, so maybe a little higher by the 1130am draw.

And so more waiting. All I feel like I do these days is wait in limbo. Regardless, waiting for results tomorrow is much more manageable than waiting for our Ultrasound which is now scheduled for January 11th.

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Ohhhhh the ultrasound… so this has been fun. *insert eye roll* Because I’m new to Texas I didn’t yet have an OB-GYN. I hadn’t had time between finding an internist, getting settled, starting FET etc. Well a friend recommended a practice and I called them and because I’m still on Fertility medications until 10/11 weeks they won’t see me until that point in time. I was shocked. And they weren’t exactly nice about it, they basically said you can go get imaging done at a regular imaging lab center in the meantime.

Well that’s all fine and dandy but for someone who has gone through all I have to get here, I would like a bit of continuity of care and reassurance. It felt very very unsettling. I expressed my frustration too because if I had of just not told them about IVF then I would have gotten in for 6 weeks. I’m sure many women lie, but I do want my doctor to know my case and history and be sensitive to it so probably for the best in the end. Really horrible and stressful experience.

Anyways, I did end up finding an OB-GYN that has experience with high risk so I’m hoping it won’t be an issue. I simply booked in on Zoc Doc so don’t plan to explain the IVF/FET situation until during my appointment. Hoping that doesn’t affect their willingness to work with me on the day. Fingers crossed. I do have a letter from my RE “releasing” me from their care, and explaining that I’ll be on meds to sustain pregnancy thereafter, but man it’s complicated. Everyone’s just worried about being sued in the states I swear. They don’t give a crap that they’re causing undue stress.

So until further notice I’m waiting waiting waiting, and anxiously fearful that all that I’ve worked so hard to achieve is going to be taken away from me before I can even start to enjoy it.

 

*EDITED TO ADD

The lovely ashleymatics was kind enough to point out that beta levels beyond roughly 1000 tend to double slower. I did some research and found this info helpful so thought I should include it here:

  1. Within the first 2-4 weeks after fertilization, hCG usually doubles every 48-72 hours
  2. An increase of 60% in 48 hours is still considered normal
  3. Below 1,200 mIU/ml, hCG usually doubles every 48-72 hours
  4. Between 1,200 and 6,000 mIU/ml serum, the hCG usually takes 72-96 hours to double
  5. Above 6,000 mIU/ml, the hCG often takes over four days to double
  6. More than two in three normal pregnancies have a doubling of the hCG every 72 hours
  7. There is a wide variation of normal hCG levels. An hCG that does not double every two to three days does not necessarily indicate a problem
  8. A maximum level is usually reached by the 10th or 11th week.
  9. After 10 weeks or so, hCG normally decreases