It’s the most wonderful time of the year…If you’re not getting photo cards from all of your fertile friends.
What happened to sending a card with a tree on the front? We got five cards today and all five cards had pictures of our friends and their babies. Awesome. One after another, I opened them up and by the time I was done, I was in a miserable mood. So much for glad tidings and joy.
Though it’s seeming more impossible month by month…if we ever have children, I am thoroughly committed to not sending cards with pictures of them, or me for that matter. The practice of sending a photo card is something I’ve only witnessed from families with children and seeing them is another reminder that I’m not in the club.
In my experience, sending these cards is not something that childless couples do. I mean, I have never seen a photo card with a husband and wife. E-cards from JibJab where my head is superimposed over a character like Ralphie from the Christmas Story? Heck yes. But a photo card that comes in the mail? Um. No.
Can you just imagine me and my husband posing in front of the tree in matching sweaters and then mailing that to all of our closest family and friends? I can see an aunt opening that and shaking her head, “What a shame about these two…Harry, run this to the bedroom will you? I’ll have to write them a letter and see how they are. Did you see this picture of Karen and her kids? What cutie pies. Here. Put this on the fridge. I can’t wait to show the girls when they come over next week.”
And that’s how we couples who are trying to conceive live our lives. We end up in a place behind all our twenty and thirty-something sisters, brothers, cousins and friends who are having kids. All around us, those we love and care deeply about show off their growing families, their lives, their fertile accomplishments in Christmas cards, and ornaments, and homemade gifts from Toddler This and Toddler That while grandma and grandpa, aunts and uncles, and the “club” of mommies and daddies talk about how special Christmas morning is going to be.
And us? Those of us not in the club? Well, we pretend not to notice and we pretend not to care that everyone else is getting all the attention. We pretend that getting cards of our friends and their kids is not a reminder of what we don’t have. We pretend that we’re not dreading the family gathering where someone says “I’m surprised you don’t have a little one yet.” We pretend that seeing just two stockings hanging from the mantle is A-OK.
Ah yes. Tis the season for pretending. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have to go write emails to my friends telling them I got their cards and the family looks simply beautiful.
It was November 14, 2009 when I took my last birth control pill. My husband and I decided that 2010 was the year we were going to have a baby. I went to the OB in December for my yearly well-woman visit and talked to my doctor about our plans to try to conceive. She wrote me a prescription for prenatal vitamins and said, “It takes most couples your age six to eight months of trying before the they are successful. Just have fun.”
We continued to use protection until January and in our first unprotected cycle were blessed enough to get pregnant. I was that woman: the one whom women who have been trying to conceive for years, want to punch in the uterus.
Here I am, a year later, a year after stopping my birth control pill, one unsuccessful pregnancy later wondering, “What the hell happened?”
I know I’m being a whiny little…ahem. I know there are women out there who want to punch me in my uterus and say “At least you were able to get pregnant once. That means you can do it again.” I know that I have no room to complain because we haven’t been actively and unsuccessfully trying for more than 12 consecutive months and therefore, I’m not technically infertile.
But I do wonder, what if my first pregnancy was my last pregnancy? How does this story end? Is it happily ever after as so many people try to reassure me? Or is it simply The End? How do I know if I’m on the last page of the last chapter or if I’m just in the middle of the book?
My mom is the kind of person who reads the end of the book before she reads the beginning. If the end is worth it, she’ll go back and read the rest. I wish I could skip ahead to the end of my story to see what kind of ending it has.
In February, I had planned to spend a day or two in the hospital in October. Funny how things work out. Or don’t.
Walking into the hospital, my husband and I both realized that had it not been for the miscarriage, we could have been walking that same sidewalk at the same time but for a very different reason. “Right around this time, right?” my husband said. “Yeah, it should have been any day now,” I replied as I stared at the Maternity sign that hung just below the Registration sign.
As I laid in pre-op, my hands folded over my flat stomach and hubby by my side, I was surprised by how unemotional I felt about the fact that I wasn’t there to have a baby; that if things would have turned out differently, we would have been giggling nervously in anticipation of our newborn.
Without a crack in my voice, I recounted the details of my miscarriage to the pre-op nurse who asked three times if I had a dilation and curettage. “So they never went in and scraped?” she asked, adding hand gestures as if I was suddenly going to remember that I had a D&C when in fact, I did not. “No. It was a missed miscarriage and I took Misoprostal.”
“So they never went back and looked inside? They never cleaned you out?” For heaven’s sake lady, are you trying to get me to crack? Once we cleared up all the details and she determined I was healthy enough for anesthesia, the conversation turned to my People Magazine and how healthy Michael Douglas looked as he stared from the cover.
Just like that, my eight-month-long saga, one that I’ve told many times and in various emotional stages — my story – was nothing more than clinical pre-op details. Not worthy of People Magazine, just a medical chart. And you know what? I felt the same way. I felt so far removed from my miscarriage story, even in spite of the obvious irony of being in the hospital so close to my due date.
The surgery gave me permission to be the patient with the ovarian cyst instead of the patient who had the miscarriage. Describing my miscarriage, I was describing someone else. That was her story. The person having surgery – that was me – and boy was I glad to be me for once.
I’ve gone from, “I just had a miscarriage,” to, “I just had surgery.” It’s less emotion to reconcile with. This is a much easier place.
I’ve gone from dealing with a pregnancy loss to dealing with an ovarian cyst. For right now at least, I get to be the person recovering from surgery, not the person grieving from a miscarriage or trying to conceive after a loss. The best part? I. Feel. Free.
For months, I’ve grieved over losing my pregnancy and obsessed about becoming pregnant again. Isn’t that I what I’m supposed to do? Isn’t EVERY conversation supposed to be about my miscarriage and getting pregnant? Isn’t the white elephant ALWAYS in the room? Isn’t the world revolving around ME? I’ve felt like there was this unwritten expectation that I will get pregnant right away and that with each passing month I didn’t, I was letting the world down. I’ve felt like it’s wrong of me NOT to obsess over becoming pregnant again.
I’ve been looking for a way to let go without feeling guilty. I’ve been looking for an out. I’ve been desperate for a rest but didn’t want to admit that I was tired. Of course, now that I’ve had surgery, I don’t have to. For the next month, I don’t have to think about my temperature, or charting my way to conception. I don’t have to neurotically pee on sticks, or obsess about my cycle day. For the next month, I get to focus on healing. That feels good. I think it’s what the doctor ordered back in April but I’ve decided to finally fill the prescription.
There is no easy way to put this so I will just come out and say it. There is a 7 centimeter cyst on my right ovary.
I got this news in the same room that I found out my baby’s heart was no longer beating and from the same person who told me that I had a missed miscarriage. God. I hate that room.
I sat in the waiting room for about 35 minutes between getting the ultrasound and speaking with the doctor. I watched the ObGyn coordinator call newly pregnant couples to the back for their first appointments. There was one couple in particular – a husband and wife by the looks of it. The woman was just glowing with happiness. God. I hated her; I hated them.
I overheard another woman scheduling her next appointment. The receptionist said, “Oh! Your 20-week appointment! That’s an exciting one!” God. Get me out of here.
By the time I finally got to speak to the doctor, I was nearly in tears. She came in with nine images of my ovaries and said, “It’s pretty big.”
I have a couple of options to deal with this thing. I can do the old ‘wait and see’ and hope it shrinks on its own. I highly doubt it. This cyst is big enough to have its own passport. I can take birth control pills to shrink it. Something about that option sounds counterintuitive to getting pregnant. Or, I can have surgery.
The surgery is laparoscopic, outpatient, and fairly straightforward. I watched a video of it on You Tube. I almost vomited but I think that’s because I’m a bit squeamish. It didn’t really look that bad at all and apparently, there is no real recovery time. Aside from the risk of completely losing the ovary if the doctor makes a wrong move, and of course, death…I don’t really have a reason not to get ‘er out.
My ovaries are holding my eggs hostage. That’s what the doctor called to tell me last week. She didn’t say those exact words – that’s just my spin. What she actually said was, “Based on your blood work, it doesn’t look as if you are ovulating. I’d like for you to come in to talk about taking Clomid.”
I said, “Yeah. I figured as much. Twenty dollars, twenty ovulation predictors sticks, and lots of squatting over a cup with no positive result led me to the same conclusion.” OK, OK, I didn’t say those exact words, but that’s what I was thinking.
I have a routine down for dealing with bad news. It’s just happened so often during the past few months that I realized it’s an established protocol.
First, I call my mom. This is usually because I want to be dramatic and download. I spill a crescendo of conclusions, she (as a nurse) points out all the flaws in my logic and my misinterpretations of clinical possibilities (or impossibilities). I cry and ask her why she can’t just listen and validate my feelings. And then I hang up and call a girlfriend.
The girlfriend is great for validating the emotion. She will eventually get to logic and talk me off the ledge, but first, she wholeheartedly encourages the drama because she knows that to try to talk logic to a woman who is hormonal and unpredictable will do no good. She offers to come over and break dishes with me and knows that when I say, “No, don’t worry about it,” she can tread lightly on to the terrain of sense and sensibility. By the time I hang up, I’m ready to call my husband.
These are usually very short conversations because to try to explain how my ovaries and other girly bits are not functioning without a diagram and hand motions is pointless. We agree to talk at home later and hang up to return to our normally scheduled work programming as if nothing has happened.
All up, this takes about 26 minutes of phone time and is entirely necessary for me to go on functioning. From connecting with people who have experienced what I have, I can confidently say that behind every woman coping with and healing from a pregnancy loss is a strong cast of characters. They are the people who answer the phone, endure verbal abuse, sympathize and empathize, and simply show up when it matters.
I am so grateful to my supporting cast because they have carried me. To them, I say: Thank You for dancing in my ballet of grief and hope. You are the best in my worst of times.
We have an empty room upstairs. It’s supposed to be the nursery but I’m seriously thinking about converting it to war room and calling it Operation Conceive. I’ll hang wall-sized basal body temperature charts and dry erase boards to track the changes in my cervical mucus. I’ll set up a computer and several monitors that will show my most fertile times of the month based on complex algorithms that take into account the date of my last menstrual cycle plus the variables of progesterone pills, consumption of conception friendly foods, and my desire to conceive. Think about the Mission Control Center at NASA. That’s what I have in mind.
I’ll arrange to have a police escort on standby so that the moment the stars align, I can whisk my husband into the bedroom and we can get down to business.
I shared this plan with a girlfriend who doesn’t have children and has no desire to do so. She said, “Gee Em. Conceiving doesn’t sound very romantic.” Uhh. No. This is a science. In fact, I can’t imagine anything less romantic than calling my husband and saying “My cervical mucus looks like egg-whites. Get home now!” Sex is definitely not recreational anymore.
After having success with the progesterone pills, I decided to buy my first ovulation predictor kit (OPK). I actually have no clue IF I’m ovulating. My body is giving me mixed signals. My cervical mucus is all over the place. So is my basal body temperature. I’ve had random pain around my ovaries for the past five months so I can’t rely on that as an indicator of anything. Sigh.
The good news is, I will go back to my doctor on Cycle Day 21. She’ll blood draw that will tell me if I’m actually ovulating. In the meantime, I don’t want to miss my fertile window so I thought an OPK would be a good idea. I didn’t however, take into account how depressing a negative result would result would be.
Every afternoon I sneak away around 2:00 to pee on a stick and wait an agonizing five minutes to see if a line will appear giving me the green light to shave my legs and pretend I really want to have sex. So far, it hasn’t. I’m depressed and my legs are hairy. How long can a girl live like this?
“We need to get you pregnant.” That’s how my doctor opened our last appointment. She knocked on the door, sat down across from the examining table, put her hands on her knees, leaned forward and said “I can help with that.”
So there I was, sitting with a paper gown around my naked lower half and thinking, ‘Woah. What just happened here?’
Yes, I do want to get pregnant…but how about a little “Hi, how are you? How have you been sleeping? How are your emotions?” My desire for emotional coddling was quickly overridden by the straight-forward approach though. After all, the whole reason I was at the doctor, was to find out what’s going on with my body and to figure out how to correct it as quickly as possible.
After recapping every blow-by-heartbreaking blow, including the fact that I was now on cycle day 44 with no sign of what I’m now calling ‘the second coming,’ the doctor and I agreed that there were at least a few things we could do right away.
First item on the agenda: blood work. “I’m going to test your thyroid function and your prolactin — both hormones can interfere with your body enough to stop menstruation.”
Second: Prometrium, a progesterone pill. “You’re going to take two a day for 10 days. Then you’ll get your period.”
Third: Cycle Day 21 blood work. “Come back on day 21 of your cycle. We’re going to test your progesterone to see if you’re ovulating.”
“And if I’m not ovulating?” I asked. “I can give you something to help with that as long as you’re OK with a slightly increased risk of having twins,” she replied with a smile on her face.
So that’s the action plan. I’m still waiting on results of the initial blood work (much like I’m still waiting on my second post-miscarriage period) but I did pick up my prescription for the progesterone supplement. I don’t know when I’m going to start taking it though. I’m going overseas for the next week and I don’t want to be on hormone pills while I’m in a different country. The last thing I need now is to find myself hospitalized while traveling. No–that wouldn’t be good. So I think I’ll wait until I return. What’s one more week in the grand scheme of things?
This month, we should have been buying nursery furniture. We should have been painting the bedroom, transforming it from gift wrapping room to soft, comfortable space with a crib, and a rocking chair and tiny hangers in the closet. Instead we’re wondering when, or even if, we’re going to be able to conceive again.
If I had to pick one word to sum up the past four months of my life it would be “frustration.”
And on July 22, I called my doctor. “Uhh. Hi Betty. It’s Emily. I’m on Cycle Day 38. I’m really frustrated. How am I supposed to conceive again if I’m not having regular periods?”
I have a doctor’s appointment in a few days.
It’s day 3 without caffeine. I’m getting a head start on cutting out the two cups of coffee. I’d rather have withdrawal symptoms now than when I’m pregnant.
I’ve been thinking about what I’ll do differently next time. Cutting out all caffeine is one thing. There are too many conflicting studies out there. Some say that less than 200 milligrams of caffeine is fine. Others say that any caffeine at all causes in increased risk for miscarriage. I’d rather not take any chances.
I’ve also started to take my prenatal vitamins like I was taking my birth control: religiously, not at the same time every day, and with a swig of beer occasionally.
Next time I’m pregnant, I won’t take any baths. Maybe the bath water was too hot. And I won’t go to spinning class. Maybe my heart rate was too high at one point.
Looking at this list, I should probably just start on bed rest the second I test positive. I can’t be too careful can I?
I’ll probably always wonder if I did something to cause the miscarriage. How could I not? Sure, I’ve read all the literature and I’ve heard my doctor say it too: “Most miscarriages that occur before 12 weeks are the result of a chromosomal abnormality and cannot be prevented.” Blah. Blah. Blah.
It would be so much easier to deal with if I could just pinpoint the cause. I’d know not to do “it” again and I’d feel so much better about my sense of control. It would be so much better to hear the doctor say: “Yeah. It was the coffee. Don’t do that again.” Then I would know! And I could control it. But how the heck can I control a chromosomal abnormality?
This pregnancy thing is such a crap shoot. And frankly, with what I know now, I can’t believe there are so many people in the world.
It’s here! It’s here! It’s here! After a whopping 9.5 weeks, my period finally arrived. I haven’t been this thrilled about getting a period since I was 20 and forgot to use a back up method while I was on antibiotics (some antibiotics interfere with birth control pills).
Despite my best efforts to induce it weeks ago with parsley tea, red raspberry leaf tea, pomegranate juice, and a stint of wearing nothing but thongs, it took nine and half weeks.
I don’t think nine and a half weeks is average. From everything I read, and even from what my doctor said, four to six weeks is about average. Does that mean that I’m above average? Well, I’ve always tried to be a cut above the rest.
The minute Aunt Flo arrived, I texted my husband. “You might want to bring home a bottle of champagne. I finally got my period!” He was just as excited as I was though I think for different reasons. Getting my period meant that he didn’t have to make room in the refrigerator for the parsley bunches (parsley can supposedly bring on menstruation), or receive daily e-mail updates on possible signs of its impending arrival.
I think we both knew it was coming when I asked if it would be wrong to dip a spicy chicken wing in chocolate. Other than strange cravings and the worst breakout since I was about sixteen, I had no other warnings though and that’s what made the wait so frustrating.
Of course, now that it’s here there’s the little question of when we start trying again. One doctor told me to wait for three cycles and another told me to go for gold after one cycle. I guess the upside of waiting so long for a period was that we didn’t have to make any decisions about what we were going to do.
There’s a tremendous amount of energy that goes into thinking about these things. There’s logic on both sides of the coin. If we wait and I don’t conceive again right away, or worse, we have another miscarriage, I’m going to be angry that we waited. If we don’t wait, and I conceive, and we have another miscarriage, I’m going to be angry that we didn’t wait.
You’re probably thinking “Uh…isn’t it possible that you’ll conceive right away AND have a healthy full-term pregnancy?” Yes. It’s possible but so are the other scenarios.