Moving Forward into the Land of ART

IVFI like the acronym ART. It makes me think of paint brushes and canvases. As though Mother Nature will be creating a child for us, all pastel swirls and sweeping colour.

Our Assisted Reproductive Technology will be IVF. Yet another acronym — this one not as benevolent sounding, yet still full of promise. We were thrilled to find out that we received a coveted funding opportunity. This should bring the cost down to $6,000, since I’m to be receiving the Cadillac of Drug Cocktails to encourage my ovaries to produce, produce, produce. (They currently are floundering, which my specialist says is a result of endometriosis since my hormones are good). So we get the funding, and with all the excitement I decided to come out of the infertility closet and announce publicly (at least, on Facebook) that we’re exciting to be moving forward after years of feeling stalled. What better way to tell people you’re having a crap deal reproducing than by throwing a positive spin on it, right? I figured there would never be a better time, aside from possibly the birth of a child, but then it’s behind you and why talk about it… you’ll just make others in the same boat want to throw rotten food at you.

My announcement got a lot of likes and congrats and all the rest of the public support that drives narcissists to post selfies every day. I felt good! I felt liberated! I felt like somehow people would no longer be wondering what was taking us so long to reproduce (even though I know in reality no one thinks about you as much as you imagine they do). I felt like we could do anything, and that if we were to do it that day we would succeed based on sheer belief.

And now we wait.

We will wait 10-12 months before treatment starts. Folks, this is a long time. I know, I know: any time waiting for a positive pregnancy test is a long time. But to go from this high, this sense that we are doing the right thing, this feeling of moving forward, to just…. waiting….

I feel my euphoria fading. The doubts are starting to creep back in. The walls are coming back up, my emotional defences hardening for failure. I don’t want to be this person again. For a window of about a month I felt like my old self, the person who is positive and believes that whatever shall be shall be and it will all work out in the end. She was back! I had almost forgotten what she felt like, but there she was and I clung to her, hard.

And now she’s slipping away and I don’t know how to stop her from going.

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Between the sheets

sexualityThis blog makes it seem like I’m a bit sex obsessed. The truth is, I think we probably have had a normal sex life. A couple times a weeks is probably normal, no? Okay okay, sometimes it would be once a week. But this is after years together. The first few years of dating was just about non-stop… back when you scrambled to squeeze a few minutes between the sheets in between classes and part-time jobs.

I have been doing my best to stay interested in sex these last couple years. Dear God, now that I write that sentence it sounds horrible.

**takes crying break**

I’m back. You hear stories about marriages breaking up over infertility and you wonder what the hell happened to them. Aside from the horribly selfish (honest?) people who leave their partners flat out because they can’t conceive, how did these couples go from wanting to start a family together to filing for divorce?

My friends ask me occasionally about how our bodies work. Or should work. The irony of being infertile is that you end up knowing more than anyone should about reproduction. I share with them easily, telling them all I know while maintaining that I’m not an expert. It’s easy to talk about biology. What’s hard to talk about is emotion. I can tell them the 5 different ways I know I’m ovulating. What I can’t tell them is the struggle I go through every month. I see that beautiful egg white cervical mucus and I get mad at it. It’s a red herring. It doesn’t mean anything. I get an positive ovulation test and do my best to somehow let my heart remain optimistic (because otherwise my pessimism might be causing my infertility, right?) even while my brain tells it to smarten up: there will be disappointment in two weeks. My body doubles over in pain, releasing an egg that is most likely deformed, or gets lost, or isn’t strong enough to implant, and I feel betrayed before we even get started.

I read romance novels to try and stay “sexually available.” Foreplay is a lost art, and I read myself into arousal so that penetration won’t hurt, and so I’m good and lubricated to try and help those perfect sperm navigate the hellish nightmare of my uterus. I try not to think before, during, or after sex. I want to be taken away on a cloud of lust, carried away from thoughts of a family. I try not to think about what my husband is thinking. It’s no way to make love.

The truth is, when I think of sex now all that comes to mind is “what’s the point?” and, somehow simultaneously “what if this is the month a miracle will happen?” I’m mad at my body and right now I can’t think of it except as a failed tool. I could list the ways I think my husband is not helping the situation, but this is my blog… if he has his own that he vents on, I hope he would speak kindly of me, too.

We have an appointment to put IVF into motion this week. I’m scared about the outcome of assisted reproduction. Regardless of the outcome, will I be able to truly enjoy sex in the future without thinking that my body is broken? What if we have a baby and I don’t want to have sex anymore at all? What if we don’t have a baby and I don’t want to have sex anymore at all… but can’t stop out of desperation? What will happen to our marriage?

Waiting for news

fertile friendsA close friend of mine announced the other day that she is officially off the pill and trying to conceive. I really cherish this friend, because out of everyone, I feel she’s dealt with my infertility in a way that is most natural for me. She never skirts around it, and pity isn’t her style. She listens to my crazy stories, she asks questions, she is positive without being annoying, and, perhaps what is most challenging for people to navigate (myself included), she doesn’t shy away from talking about her own dreams for a future with children.

Like most women who’ve spent more than a decade preventing pregnancy, she believes she’ll conceive quickly and easily once the barriers come down. I envy her optimism at the same time that I question it. I wonder if having a friend who has been trying to conceive for years really has not shaken that belief at all, or if she’s just ignoring any doubt (which is healthy, and kudos to her for being able to do so).

I’m not proud of this, but part of me selfishly want her to take a little while to conceive. Not long — maybe six months or so. Just enough time that she can empathize a bit. I would never wish infertility on anyone. But at the same time, this camp often feels lonely. I realize that in the same breath that taking 6 months to conceive wouldn’t gain her entrance into “the camp” in my mind. It’s the odd thing that happens with infertility: we don’t want anyone to have to experience what we go through, but at the same time we don’t want to feel alone in what we’re going through, and at the same time we “class” people according to how entrenched they are: there are support groups if you’ve been trying less than a year, 1-3 years, 5+ years, IVF only, PCOS only, etc. It’s a weird world to navigate. It’s been 2.5 years for us. A lifetime for some, a blink for others.

So now while I go on with my regular life and soak up the last hot days of summer, enjoying outdoor BBQs and commuting by bike, I am also waiting for news that my friend is expecting her first child. And I hope that she will continue to let me into her life throughout the pregnancy, sharing her hopes and fears, and that being there for her will in some way help me through my journey as well.

Enjoying our sex life before children. Ha.

**Warning: Way TMI ahead.

Lately my period has been trying to psych me out. I’ve always had an impressively predictable cycle, even from the very first one at age twelve. They last 29-30 days like clockwork. There’s a lot of not-so-fun stuff thrown in there, including a lot of other days of bleeding, but the one thing I’ve got going for me are my regular periods. Go team!

Except that I’m not overly impressed with how things are going down there these days. I mean, let’s pull it together, okay guts? I used to have a moderate Day 1, a heavy Day 2, and then my version of normal for days 3-6… or 7… or 8… or 11. You know, however long it takes to remind me that there’s no baby in there. After my surgery that was a nice 6 days. Man, did I feel normal! Not any more, my friends. Not. Any. More.

No, now my period is playing games. It’s lulls me into complacency for days, making me think, “Could it be? Might this be all there is?” I have a couple (as in two) painkillers every few hours and I’m still standing. Unheard of. And this magical thing happens where I can wear a regular tampon for up to 6 hours. SIX HOURS! You heard me! After five days of this my flow starts to ebb and now the real mind games start: was that a period? Am I one of those women that gets her “period” while pregnant and that was it? But somewhere the logical part of me is saying, don’t be a twit. You know better.

And sure enough, Aunt Flow comes back with a vengeance. I soaked through a super-sized tampon in less than forty minutes the other day. I got that feeling, stood up, looked down, and sure enough: the faux-chinchilla blanket I’d been sitting on looked like it had been freshly shot. I wasn’t sitting on it naked, people. There were layers of clothing in between. How does that happen?! The complacency is how it happens. I was lulled into thinking there couldn’t be much left in there after my days and days of the “pretend period,” so I didn’t double up with a pad like I normally do. Essentially, I need a diaper AND a plug to even leave the house. And here I thought people had to wait for old age for that!

I had three other spillages in the next two days. Three. One of them in public. Then I almost ripped my vagina open after trying to insert a cardboard tampon that came from a public bathroom dispenser. Why? Because I didn’t have a small army of my own in my purse. Why not? The complacency.

[Sidebar: you would think that businesses would have sympathy for women who are reduced to buying a tampon from a dispenser in a bathroom, and at least supply them with a product that won’t rip their insides out. It was a cardboard tampon! Cardboard!!! I don’t care how much lubricant you’ve got going on there at the time, that hurts.]

My humiliation didn’t end there. Oh no. My period ended. For real. I went over 24 hours with not even a spot. Home free. Then my husband and I engaged in some spontaneous middle-of-the-night-sex. Now, for those of you who A) aren’t twenty anymore, and B) have been trying to conceive for the last century, you might understand the rarity of this situation. Middle of the night? Doesn’t happen often. Not even close to baby making time? Not worth the pain. This is the kind of sex that keeps you slogging through the not-so-good sex. It makes you remember the days when you were young and not broken and all you wanted was an orgasm. And it was glorious. It was! Until I realized we had a problem. I flipped on the light post-coitus and my husband’s face went from smug and satiated to horrified and nauseated. I stumbled to the bathroom with my hands full of linens and my knees pressed together, slapped a pad on with a little more violence than necessary, and spent the next 30 minutes  scrubbing our white sheets in the bathtub. The next morning I found reminders on the walls. The walls. I must have grazed them on my way to the bathroom. This is why when people make cracks about all the practicing we’re doing, and tell me to enjoy our sex life without kids, that I just bark out a laugh.

Right.

How are you?

I realized the other day that I actually wince when people ask that question. In fact, I’ve been wincing for over two years now (obviously I’m a little slow to catch on). It doesn’t matter if it’s How’s it going? or How’ve you been? or some other variant. In the past I paid no real attention to that question. It’s just something we all say, and I’ve always answered with great! or awesome! or pretty good! These days the question stops me in my tracks. I wince. Then I answer, fine thanks with a smile. No exclamation mark. And I feel a tad guilty for lying.

Two years is a long time to be lying about something so small huge. I’ve always though of myself as a happy person. Sometimes I even annoy others with my happiness. I’m the type of person who is genuinely happy most of the time. Back when I wanted to be a famous novelist, that trait was a bit crippling. Without struggle and conflict there’s not usually a good story. I was even told maybe I hadn’t suffered enough to really dig deep. It’s probably true. But after graduating I stopped being ashamed of being happy and just embraced the fact that my life was generally rainbows and unicorns, and when it wasn’t, there was lemonade everywhere. Wasn’t that the dream?

In the early years of dating my husband, we were talking one day about our life goals. He knew I wanted children. I’m not sure why this came up, but I distinctly remember telling him that the one thing that I felt would really, truly rock me to my core would be not being able to have children. I believe the words “empty husk of a woman” came out. It was a fun conversation that suddenly turned serious, one of the very few times that my secret, suppressed fear of being unable to conceive popped to the surface. I think it’s probable that many women have that fear. Maybe endometriosis made it stronger in me. Every time my body twinged for no reason, when a shooting pain spasmed up my rectum, or I was laid on on the bathroom floor unable to move until the painkillers kicked in, my fear crawled closer before I kicked it away again. That day I was in pain. Not the bad kind, just the sort of ever-present kind that you get used to but that you have to watch yourself around, because it makes you say stupid things. And a stupid thing popped out.

Because eight years later, I wonder if my husband remembers that comment. I wonder if it terrifies him on my bad days, when he sees me crying — giving up the fight for just a few minutes of self-indulgent suffering. I wonder if he worries that I really will become that woman. And I’m too scared to ask him if he remembers that comment because if he doesn’t, I don’t want to remind him. But if he does, I want to take it back to ease his worries. Of course I won’t be an empty husk of a woman if we can’t have children. People adapt. They adjust their expectations. They learn to thrive in a new environment. And I will, too. At least, that’s what I would have said a few days ago.

But then I realized that I’ve been lying for two years. And I wonder if this is how you turn into a husk if you’re not careful.

Father’s Day

Today is Father’s Day. My Facebook feed is full of joyful photos of friends and their fathers, grandfathers, and fathers-in-law. I’m now at the age when it’s also starting to be populated with photos of friends and their children. I’m still relatively young in the fertility game; at thirty, I have a few years left before everything around me truly becomes baby bonanza.

Yesterday I went to my parents’ to celebrate the unofficial holiday honouring dads. While my mouth was full of a juicy hamburger, my dad mentioned casually that he’d been thinking of taking a position about two hours away. He has just over two years left until retirement, but he’s feeling a little bored at work. Without swallowing, I looked sideways at my mom, who rolled her eyes and grabbed another handful of BBQ chips. I was careful not to look at my husband.

Everything these days is loaded. Four years ago I was getting married. My mother was thrilled, because to her that meant grandchildren soon. Four years later the only thing tying them to this place is me and my husband. Four years later and I feel like I’m the reason my parents think about moving… or rather, I haven’t provided a reason to stay.

How crazy is that? My days are spent pushing aside these  ridiculous thoughts as they come. Some days it’s exhausting. And so I’ve started this blog. So that on Father’s Days, rather than look at my Facebook news feed and wonder if my husband is sad, I can write out my feelings and then just put a cork in the rest. Because even though they say bottling isn’t good, I say it’s better than being someone I don’t recognize.