Tuesday, October 29, 2013

Guest post from Mr. M!! On "How to Live in a Post-Fertility World"

I'm excited to share with you my first "guest post" ever, written by my husband. =) He was just all of a sudden hit with an inspiration and wanted to share the following on my blog. "I wrote it for you!" he told me. I really love hearing his thoughts on this subject, and I hope you do too! Okay, other people's husbands' turn now...maybe this will start a trend? =)

Today, we do not just have a culture that is anti-child, but a culture that is post-child, or what I like to call it, “post-fertility”. More and more people say that they just don't see the point of having children. So many people don't see children as a gift, and they don't see fertility as a gift but as something to control and suppress. Many people seem to have moved “beyond” fertility – it simply doesn't matter to them. The so-called child-free life touting its narcissism in Time this August is a case in point (see “The Childfree Life: When Having It All Means Not Having Children”). The current stat, according to one author, is that 20 % of women now opt out of motherhood! What I want to address here is not how horrible this whole idea is (which it is), but rather how someone like me, who is struggling with infertility, should deal with all of these gushing, sickingly happy post-fertility comments floating in our society. Honestly, some of the greatest personal suffering comes when I hear people flounce the idea of not having children as the next big and great thing. No, it is not so great. Let me count the reasons to you why you are wrong and get really defensive and angry here about how horrible you and your ideas are as I turn your little Time article into a paper airplane sent into a big black hole known as my garbage can.

Okay, no this won't do. What is a better response then? Well, I turn to the gospel here for some guidance. This past weekend we were given a beautiful gospel about one way we can deal with all of these situations. It was the reading about the pharisee who in righteous judgment denounces the tax-collector for being a tax-collector and violating the law. Similarly, I realized that I am being that pharisee when I denounce someone because they are child-free and I, good Catholic that I am, and struggling with infertility, stand in righteous judgment, happy to know that I am being open to life. No, this just won't do. Being open to life is the morally right thing to do, but I am not better than the child-free person the moment I start comparing myself to them. That is ironically their whole problem that I just stepped into myself! That is, they are comparing themselves to the infamous “Joneses”.

The Gospel has a better idea for us – we need to stop comparing ourselves to others, like the Pharisee. In the end, I won't be judged by how well I did vis-a-vis my child-free friend or even my holy friends who are parents, but rather how much I imitated Christ. So in those moments we want to get upset at our post fertility, “child-free” world, let's not waste our time comparing them to ourselves (however valid those comparisons may or may not be), but instead like the tax collector compare ourselves to God and then beat our breasts in recognition of how far we fall short of being like Him. This must be our first response when we become aware of evil in the world or in ourselves. We must respond to sin by being more holy ourselves: “Don't be overcome by evil, but rather overcome evil by doing good” (Romans 12:21). Blessed are we that we don't just have the ability to compare ourselves to God or rest on our own capacity to accomplish this, but we can also become one with God through the mysterious grace of Christ.

But there is a second thing we can do: embrace this cross of suffering at the hands of our world who just doesn't get that children are a gift. As St. Teresa of Avila taught: “Once you embrace a cross, it’s no longer a cross.” At the moment of embrace, it becomes a joyful affirmation of a love and a hope beyond all suffering and pain. Again this is straight from the scriptures. St. Padre Pio commenting upon the scripture's presentation of the crucifixion says, “We all have a cross in life. It’s just what we do with it that matters. Be like the good thief.” It is worth pondering this line again and again.

Finally, we need to be thankful even for the suffering. Out of suffering comes life, comes love. Maybe it is for this reason that Jesus says to St. Faustina in a vision that “it is not for the success of a work, but for the suffering that I give reward.” In this, I take great hope. But what we always have to remember is that it is true that out of suffering comes life, fertility. We may not want to admit it, but the great saints were made out of the crucible of suffering. Christ Himself had to suffer. Perhaps this great horrible suffering of infertility has somewhere a bow wrapped around it? I'm still searching for that bow, but in the meantime I will thank God in advance despite all my feelings otherwise.

So my prayer for you both my dear fellow infertility companions and my post-fertility culture is that we look to no one but God and His will and pray with the hope and trust of a little child to be more like Him through His grace, embrace the cross of suffering we have been given, and find a way to be thankful for it. I know this is not easy, I struggle with it everyday so please pray for us as I pray for all of you, especially my brothers and sisters who don't see the real gift of their fertility and of children.

+Ecce Fiat's Hubby+

My Pre-IF Self

Way back when, when we were first married and I hadn’t given two seconds of time to thinking about possibly not having children…I was such a different person. It’s really interesting to me now to think back about things I used to do before TTC became agonizing and “infertility” become a regular word in my lexicon. Before I joined the ranks of people to whom childbearing does not come easily…all that seems so, so long ago.

Anyway, in the first few months of our marriage, after peak day, I used to go to those websites that predict your due date and find out when our baby we maybe conceived would be born. And then I would daydream about summertime outfits or bringing the baby to Thanksgiving or what feast day s/he would be born on.

I would plan up elaborate or simple ways to tell our friends and family “the news,” picture their faces, feel the joy…before our first Christmas, I had no doubt that we would share the news at least by then, and get to talk to our nieces and nephews about their new cousin, get to open baby gifts on Christmas Eve…

I also used to go to the library and check out books about pregnancy and fetal development, just to “get a head start.” I remember sitting on our couch one cycle during the post-peak time and looking at the early, early pregnancy photos and thinking how wonderful it would be if that little two-celled immortal soul was inside me.

And the baby names…even before getting married, I would doodle girls’ and boys’ names in the margins of my notebooks. One name we discussed on our honeymoon was “Giulia” (pronounced Julia) – that was the name of the street we stayed on during our honeymoon in Rome. My husband’s half-Italian and our last name is Italian, so it would work =) Until my first period as a married woman came, I daydreamed about telling little Giulia how she got her name…

There are other names that are dear to me, but that I’ve tucked deep within my heart. We’d love to name a son after my husband, with the middle name of his maternal grandfather; we’d love to name a daughter after our mothers and his grandmother (their names overlap somewhat!). And of course there are some dear saints’ names too.

I also have a few baby items tucked away. They’re in my parents’ basement, to be specific. I have two winter outfits, those one-piece snuggly outfits with ears. One is pink and one is brown, just like a baby-sized teddy bear. (It’s the ears…they get me every time.) I also have an old wooden child’s potty chair, complete with a toilet paper holder and a magazine rack! I saw it at a yard sale and couldn’t resist. And I have a hiking baby carrier that my mom encouraged me to buy at a yard sale. I hemmed and hawed and finally bought it, mainly because it was such a good deal. I feel a little silly having this stuff, but God knows I’ll use it if we are ever so blessed!

And I have two baby books: one to be filled out by the baby’s parents, and one for the grandparents. Once after IF became real, I filled out part of the book, which asks about my background and my husband’s background, how we met, and so forth. It actually was pretty therapeutic, although it seemed somewhat like a pointless exercise…but I think it helped me be grateful for our marriage a little more.

So yeah, these are things I generally don’t tell people. Things I used to do. Stuff I have for no apparent reason other except that giving them away would feel like a total defeat… I tend to clam up or walk away whenever the conversation turns to pregnancy and baby-raising. It’s just interesting to me to peer back in time at the person I once was…I miss that innocence, that feeling that every cycle could be “the” cycle, that anticipation and wonder. I’ve more or less shut that door of my heart at this point. But the memories are still there.


Friday, October 18, 2013

If you can't beat 'em, join 'em

We just spent a lovely long weekend visiting friends out of state. These friends have a 2.5 year old - their little boy, in fact, was born the day after our wedding! His dad was one of groomsmen but never made it to the church...and no, we will never let them live that one down!

They are expecting a little girl - our goddaughter! - in November. I'm so excited to be a godmother =)

My friend, the wife, has no idea what it would be like to experience infertility. To say it's a foreign idea to her would be an understatement - her life is filled with sippy cups, being pregnant, staying in her PJs all day, and playing with her son. Yes, I am jealous =)

So this sounds like the set up to an emotionally awful visit, right? Pregnant woman + little child = heartache and tears, usually.

But the thing is, we love them. All of them. Even with their magical fertility. Because they love us. My friend listened to me for an hour (during naptime) while I complained about our infertility, about the cost of adoption, about painful tests, about everything that she's never experienced. She got tears in her eyes (not the first time either) as she told me how sorry she is, and how she wished things were different. How much she hopes that I become a mother someday.

Yes, moms and non-moms can get along =)

And then there's the little boy...after the first half-hour of shyness, he decided that I was his new best friend =) He wanted me to hold him all the time - my arms are aching today! - he wanted me to put on and take off his shoes, to put on and take off his sweater, to play in the toy kitchen and with the trains, to hold my hand, and to change his diaper...I let his dad do that last one =)

We had the funniest conversations, about animals that live in the ocean and things outside the window, about his favorite gelato flavor (red) and his baby sister, about oreos and elephants. About his favorite food, which was potatoes one time and coffee another. I haven't laughed so hard in a while, hearing his cute little phrases! We went to the beach and dug a big hole, looked for seashells and made a sand castle. Every time we came to a red light he shouted "go!" And you should hear his imitation of a lion's roar...

Consider me completely smitten...

Yes, it hurt to be with a little child! Yes, my heart hurt - physically hurt - to think "I want this so badly..." Yes, it was painful to be in the midst of my dream deferred...to see his mom with her 8-month pregnant belly cuddling with her 2.5 year old...of course that hurt.

But you know what? I wasn't just on the outside - I was on the inside, too. Not "as" inside as his mom - but I know I mattered. I know I loved that little guy, and my plan is to be the "unofficial aunt" to him and however many kids my friends have =) Because when I was growing up, there were adults that mattered to me other than my parents! In fact, sometimes they mattered more than my parents! (teenage angst...) Yes, I want kids of my own. Now, preferably. No, yesterday. But...I can either mope and avoid friends with kids (which I do) or I can find a place in the tableau, not hate my fertile friends (or at least not too much...) and love their kids.

It's kind of a radical love, too - because I know very clearly that my friends' kids aren't mine. I have to give them back, they're going to run to their mom when they get hurt...but whose kids are really "theirs"? Isn't that the whole point, that parents "borrow" their children for a time?

I don't know...that all sounds too simplistic, and I'm certainly not saying that everyone needs to/should spend time with little kids. I just know that my heart - even though it still hurts - feels awfully loved after a weekend with a little boy who held his arms up to me: "Hold?" who wanted me to sit by him in the car, who snuggled on my lap while we read about dinosaurs and farm animals and trains (did you know that the Little Engine who Could was a girl? I had no idea.) No, I'm not a mom. But I can still do motherly things, and I like to think that helps tip the scales of the world closer to "happy."

IF makes me feel so left out...loving and being loved by my friends' kids makes me feel less left out, more part of the action. Valued. Important. Not a total ignoramus when it comes to taking care of a little creature =) Thank you, my friend, for trusting me with your son! Thank you for not leaving me isolated in IF quarantine, but inviting me into your home and not making a big deal about how great your life is...we all have to play the hand we're dealt, and we're both trying to do that with more or less success.

You're just lucky that I didn't "accidentally" put your son in our car before we left...I've got big plans for the baptism weekend! Trains, fishes, oreos, books...not to mention totally hogging my goddaughter! Feeling blessed.


Thursday, October 17, 2013

Weirdest cycle ends, and a 2nd opinion

The weirdest cycle is over. AF came right on time, i.e. on the day she normally comes. So strange - I didn't even think I reached my peak day and it's over already. I guess the one paltry day of CM was it for this cycle. But I really didn't feel "post-peak" at all...who knows if I even ovulated. If you get your period, does that mean you ovulated?

Anyway, bummer that CD1 is here (actually CD3 by the time I'm writing) but I'm actually glad my cycle didn't last and last and last. Good riddance, tamoxifen! I'd like my body's normal CM back, please. Sheesh.

A Second Opinion

On October 1st, I saw a new doctor. She came recommended to me by a friend that I met at a mass I helped plan for couples struggling with infertility. This friend and her husband had been trying to conceive for 6 years, had had two m/c's, and found out they were pregnant a few days after the mass. Everything is going well and I just got the invite for her baby shower (still thinking about whether to go or not). I like to think I had some hand in their miracle baby because I helped plan the mass =)

Anyway, my friend highly recommended this new doctor, Dr. S. Her practice is connected with a local Catholic hospital, and it's about half the distance compared with my other doctor (big plus). Also, the waiting room has soothing colors, magazines other than pregnancy and parenting mags, and pictures other than pregnant women and babies (huge plus!)

Dr. S spent a lot of time going over my history, listening carefully to all the tests I've already done. She did a basic exam and then laid out what she thinks are our best options right now:

1. Get the semen analysis done.
2. Have an ultrasound ovulation series to see whether I'm ovulating, etc.
3. Laparoscopy (which she called pelviscopy, but said they're the same thing).

Ideally, these three would be done in that order. She was surprised we hadn't done the SA yet (we attempted in February to no avail) and reminded me how important it is. I know, I know...okay, that's a good reminder to just do it already. Sigh. Not looking forward to that.

The ultrasound series shouldn't be too bad, just time consuming.

The surgery...well, it's a major surgery. I know many others have gone through it, so that's encouraging. She said she usually doesn't recommend surgery to new patients, but we've already traveled pretty far down the IF treatment road. She also said that 60-80% of women with inexplicable infertility have endometriosis, so that's interested. (We're not technically in that category since Mr. M hasn't been tested yet.)

I think this sounds doable (I'm in a positive frame of mind right now for some reason). Three things to do. Just one at a time. No more drugs.

(In the back of my mind, a big motivation for doing this "list of 3" is that I'd like to get close to exhausting our options before moving forward with adoption. I think I'll have more peace of mind knowing we tried to get some answers to our reproductive issues.)

Interestingly, Dr. S didn't seem to think that the polyps were that big of a deal...she said they "could" present problems, but did not encourage another hysteroscopy to remove them. She said you want to minimize uterine surgery (makes sense) and that it's not sustainable to keep surgically removing polyps (makes sense too). She said that if we do the laparoscopy, most likely she'd remove the polyps too - depending on their location, etc. I actually was hoping that someone would offer the more major surgery to me because if I have to have surgery again, why not the whole shebang?

So that's that. We're going to try step #1 as soon as feasible. Step #2 needs to wait through this full cycle because the Tamoxifen is probably still in my system, which means it probably won't happen until after Christmas. And if we get to step #3, I guess before Easter? I like planning with loose deadlines...

At the end of our appointment, Dr. S asked with genuine concern, "How are you doing emotionally?" I didn't say much - did not want to cry - but really, really appreciated her concern. So that's a plus too. I'm very positive about this. My other doctor was fine, but I felt like she was running out of suggestions and I don't mind not driving over an hour to feel like a sore thumb in babyland.


Thursday, October 10, 2013

Weirdest cycle ever

Well, so far anyway.

I'm on CD25 and I've had one - one! - day of mucus. And I was feeling generous in my scoring that day (10yx1). Whaaaaat is going on?

Usually my peak day is in the CD16/17 day range. A few months ago I had a day CD21 peak day. But it's never been stretched out this late. Or did I just skip over ovulation? So frustrating.

This is my third cycle using tamoxifen, by the way. Third and last!

When I shared these details with Mr. M, his immediate response was, "Maybe you're pregnant!"

Oh, my optimistic husband =)

While that would be nice, I think that would fall in the category of "verifiable miracle" because I don't see any signs on my chart that I've even ovulated, let alone conceived...plus, my body feels like it's in "pre-peak" mode, if you know what I mean. And I for sure had a real period at the beginning of this cycle. Nope, all signs point to "tamoxifen is doing freaky things to my body and I want it out of my system..." or "my body has decided to just give up and forgot to let my brain know."

Anyway, it's just frustrating.With my luck, peak day (if it shows at all) is going to show up this weekend, when we're visiting friends and sleeping on an air mattress in their living room...not a good place to get I's on the chart! Ack.


Saturday, October 5, 2013

Retreat. Relapse. Revelation.

We went on a retreat last weekend, deep in the mountain woods. We stayed at a big old home, normally meant for family reunions, I think. It was BIG! Eight bedrooms, a big kitchen, dining room, living room, basement. Mr. M and I got there early and he spent an hour transforming the basement "rec room" into a chapel =) Accomplished with the help of religious pictures from our home, gold-colored tablecloths, moving couches, stacking furniture, etc. (Forgot to take a picture!!) It was an incredibly peaceful room - you felt like you were tucked away from the world.

It's bigger than it looks from this angle. And there's a porch on the side and back.
 Context: the Wednesday before retreat, I had a painful test that yielded disappointing results. And the week before that, we had found out that our current apartment would probably not be approved in an adoption home study. Plus, being a married couples' retreat, our fellow retreatants were going to include a seven-month pregnant woman and a mother with her two-month old. (All the couples are good friends of ours, and they know about our IF struggles; but this was not going to be an infertility retreat, that's for sure!) So I knew this retreat would be intense - I was taking into it a very bruised and battered heart, bracing for more medical appointments in the coming weeks.
The retreat structure was simple: meals together, silence, talks by our spiritual director, time for silent prayer, rest, conversation with your spouse. The setting was so perfect. Tucked in the autumn woods, far away from traffic, no cell phone or internet service, ahhh. Lots of room to walk and think and pray.

View of the woods through the back screen door. Everything smelled so woodsy =)
I thought it would be intense...and I was right. 
The very first talk, Father walks us through a catechesis on marriage. "Matrimonial," he begins, "comes from the Latin word for Mother..." Oh darn it, why did I think I could get through this without tissues? I got up twice during that talk to blow my nose and dry my eyes. Once when the group was asked to describe motherhood, and all I could think was, That's not me, not me, not me

Father was quick to add throughout that a married couple's call to be father and mother does not depend on actually having living children. Its about their fatherly or motherly care for other people. My head gets that...my heart apparently does not. As Father talked, I felt this chasm open up in my soul, the oceans of grief bubbling up once again, threatening to spill out of my eyes. Why not us? Why not us? my heart pounded. Motherhood...that's a door I've locked and sealed, because to look behind it is too painful.

From that first conference throughout the entire day on Saturday, I grieved as I haven't allowed myself to do in a long time. Through Father's words, through silence, through having nothing to do but pray and be still, God invited me to go with Him to a place deep within that I generally keep under tight lock and key: the place where my heart is bleeding and crying over not being a mother...the room where I keep all my hopes for motherhood, all my dreams for a future child. Come with me there, I heard Him say. I'm there too.

Beautiful mountain scene to lighten the mood =) We took this from a panorama near the house.
Maybe some journal entries can give a better picture of the state of my soul during the retreat:

Thoughts (1st break)

I can't hear what anyone is saying b/c the sound of pain, heartache, grief  & rage is so strong in my ears. It blocks everything else out. And no one else hears it, which is all the more isolating.

I just want to start running & not stop until I am far, far away & have left the pain behind - except that's impossible b/c the pain is in me, in my broken body, my fruitless womb.

I feel like I'm living behind a thick glass window & am screaming at the top of my lungs but no one can hear me & everyone else is acting as if nothing is wrong, everything is perfect, words like mother & father & child are just normal, run of the mill words instead of arrows w/ such power, such beautiful force that they pierce to my very soul & leave me wounded, bleeding, swords in my heart like Mary.

I know the anger is hiding grief, because if I stop shouting, I'll weep.

For the record, Father's talks on marriage were great. I took a lot of notes and plan to ponder them. But from that very first morning, it became clear that my retreat was going to be about addressing my grief, and my anger towards God. I felt so raw that it scared me...

By the afternoon, I felt so weepy that I skipped out on the final conference of the day. (It turned out to be about suffering and hope, ha!) I'm usually not a skipper, but I was afraid that I literally would start weeping in front of everyone and I'm not humble enough to do that...

So I went for a walk in the woods, and I came upon a bench overlooking an idyllic fall scene.

The most beautiful place I've ever cried my eyes out.
I sat on the bench and just cried. Ugly cries. Cries you don't want anyone to see. Sobbing, sniffling cries. Cries from the heart - Why, God? How long, o Lord? Where are you?? It felt awful and healing and terrifying and refreshing all at the same time. 

I thought a lot about grief in those moments. About the fact that infertility is such a unique kind of grief. No one has died (of course miscarriage is its own kind of grief - I haven't experienced that, so I can't speak to it), so why all the tears? There's just a huge lack. Someone is missing. Someone whom you've never met. Doesn't that sound strange?

And the grief doesn't hit and then fade. There's no clear break - the person is dead - and then you know that that's what you have to accept, that's what you have to wrestle with. (Hopefully it's clear that I'm not trying to minimize the grief after death - just pointing out some differences with IF grief.) But with infertility, there's such an uncertainty, it's almost unbearable! If I just knew that we would never conceive, that would be the hardest thing in the world to digest. But at least it would give us a clear message, a clear "no," and we could grieve and move forward. But every month is a "maybe" - every month there's hope, and then grief - it's like I was crying over the accumulated grief of the past 29 months of hoping for a baby. That's a lot of grief! It's like barnacles on a boat or something - every once in a while, gotta take the hose and get those suckers off!

So yeah. I had a good cry. It was cleansing, in the end. And I felt God there, there in my grief, more than I have for a long time. I'm sure He was there all the time  - I just was too angry at Him to look.


I'd be lying if I said the retreat was fruitless. On the contrary. To my broken, wounded heart, Jesus gave me such a word that I'm going to live off of that for a while...

It happened during mass on Saturday. I was grieving, yearning for comfort, asking God, What about us? We're not mother and father. Our marriage isn't living out physical motherhood and fatherhood. What do we do now?

From the stillness of the cross, I hear...Love. Just love.

Great. What a Sunday School answer! "Love" Come on...it can't be that easy.

But then I got off my high horse and let it sink in. This is what I wrote in my journal later:

"Just love," Jesus says to my heart. "Just love and let me take care of the fruit."

Love is never wasted. There is always fruit. Sometimes that fruit is so physical, so tangible, that you give it a name, clothe it, feed it. ("That's the kind of fruit I want," I say to Jesus.)

But sometimes the fruit of love is intangible, unmeasurable, invisible. Invisible even in our own eyes. 

"How easy it is," I think. "How easy it is to have a child, to be able to point to someone and say, 'That is our fruit. That is our love, made visible.'" Again, my concern for outward things.

Love. A verb. Something to do, now. Small enough, big enough. Enough.

Love is suffering. Love is giving yourself. Love is entregarse [a Spanish word that means "to entrust yourself completely to another"]

So yeah. Love. That's the message I got from God. Love. Love my husband - maybe that love will be manifested in a child someday. Maybe it won't. Love those whom I serve. Love the poor. Love my friends. Who can argue with that? Love is always fruitful. That was the big word of comfort I received. I am not wasting my life!!!! it said to me. Even if I never become a mother, mine is not a wasted life because I can love!

It connects so well with my favorite line ever from Pope Benedict: The vocation to love cannot be impeded by an organic condition. (He's talking specifically about infertility there.) I want to cry with joy when I hear that. My vocation to love is not impeded by my inability to conceive, by the polyps in my uterus, by the lack of a child in our home! It's not!! I can still love, and my life can be beautiful.

In conclusion, I think I need a retreat about every month =) Barring that, just more time to be with God, to feel His comfort, to feel my own grief. This has been quite the journey, that's for sure.