Adventures in making and raising our test-tube babies
Friday, December 19, 2008
As you can see, I'm glucose-intolerant.
Or so they tell me. I flunked my 28-week Glucose Tolerance test this week. It may be because I'm in Week 29, or may be because I ate a banana two minutes before I began the test. I found out several days after the test that I was supposed to have fasted for 12 hours before I got tested, but anyone who sees me can see there is nothing fast about me right now. And boy, did I need that banana!
The test is composed of my drinking a sweet orange beverage that tastes like off-brand Kool-Aid, then waiting an hour and having my blood drawn and analyzed. The analysis tells us whether I have gestational diabetes or anemia. Or rather, it tells us whether they can be ruled out. They can't in my case. Maybe because I ate before the test, maybe because I'm really diabetic and/or anemic, and maybe because I'm so intolerant on the subject of glucose. Bellicose on glucose. Belly-cose.
So next week, for Christmas, I am going to take the 3-hour Glucose Tolerance test. I fast, presumably, then have my blood drawn, drink the orange beverage, and have my blood tested every hour after that, for three hours.
And so, just in case it helps the results, I want to say for the record that what I said about glucose up there wasn't true. I love glucose. God knows I love all sugars (in spite of my troubled relationship with lactose). As far as I know, glucose has not affected our country or planet in the ways I listed above, and I do NOT advocate pouring salt on it. Or on slugs.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
I wonder if it was all too much pressure on the left ankle bone. So much so that it left. Something about it just wasn't right.
Saturday, December 13, 2008
I discovered it in the shower yesterday morning. I had had them the night before when I went to bed. As I shaved my legs, I sang, "Oh where, oh where have my ankle bones gone? Oh where, oh where can they be?" I took it lightly. I assumed they were still in my bed.
Then I remembered about my ears. They've been burning. Not like I have people talking about me -- though if that's true, it's a whole lot of people at once. No: like I'm a human furnace and my ears are the pilot lights. The day before yesterday at the doctor's office, I got so hot that I told the nurse I was going to take off all my clothes and maybe shave my head. I fanned vigorously at my ears, hoping the fanning motion wasn't increasing my overall body heat.
So now my concern is, maybe my ankle bones got too close to my ears and burned up.
It wouldn't have happened while the ankle bones were still in my body, because I don't really fold up that way any more. I bend at the knees and hips and I can slump my shoulders, but that's it. The threat of vomiting and heartburn prevent me from using what used to be my... oh, man, I've even forgotten what it's called. Um, waste? WAIST. That's it. Yeah. I don't have one of those.
Anyway, if you see my ankle bones I'd be most relieved. I don't need them right away, but maybe in February when the girls are here.
Thursday, December 11, 2008
For example, two nights ago I composed something in my head about the question of whether pregnancy was good or bad. It all depended on which pillow I was sleeping on, and whether I was sleeping on my right side or left side. Doesn't make a ton of sense, does it? Unless you want to treat it as modern art and "see whatever you want to see."
I did have a couple of coherent dreams in the last week that seem relevant to the blog. In one, I was in my grandmother's living room where all eleven cousins used to pile on the couch for our Cousins Picture. This time, the floor was full of babies, all about six months old, who represented the Next Generation of Second Cousins. There was one set of twins there, and at different times during the dream they represented me and my twin brother (David), my two twin girls, and one baby belonging to me and one to David. Now this seems like something you CAN read into. Each time I looked at them I wanted to find out which one was mine. Even in the case where both babies were "my twins," I still considered one to correspond to David.
In the waking world, the buns and I went to the OB yesterday for a regular check-up. Baby A's heartbeat was in the high 150s per minute, and Baby B's was in the 130s. Both are in the normal range, but they are clearly very different from each other, as the OB noted with amusement. We see this pattern in all our ultrasounds and heartbeat checks: Baby A is frenetic and won't pose nicely for a picture, and Baby B is calm and provides a perfect, docile profile for snapshots. Baby A kicks more than Baby B, though B is catching up. Their size and health are on par with each other, but their behavior is strikingly different.
The personalities that we have read into these little bits of information seem to be parallel to my brother's and my personalities. I'm the wild one. He's the calm one. I'm loud. He's not. I've raced all over the world. He's better at staying in one place.
I have long been aware of my role in the generational cycle, the genetic line, among my women forebears. The connection between my maternal grandmother, my mom, and me has been very strong and obvious. You can see both a subjective and objective progression -- and lots of continuity -- from one life, one lifestyle, to the next. On the other side of the family, as I watched my grandmother's casket lowered into the family plot ten years ago, I imagined her as a young woman standing where I was, watching her own grandmother put into the same earth. Woman to woman to woman, sharing that experience.
Ever since I found out I was having twins, I have found my psyche spending a lot more time on my brother and me -- recreating ourselves in a way that incorporates our spouses, in a way that blurs whose baby/ies really belong/s to whom. Our identities are blurred, the generations are blurred. It gets a little confusing, really.
When David's daughter was born last month, I found I could look at her forever. I wondered about her future, her personality, her life. I made plans for her to grow up with her cousins, who were still hanging out in my belly beneath her. I was surprised at the immediate connection I felt to her. I've thought before that when David and I got married to the loves of our respective lives, about six months apart from each other, we all became a group of quadruplets. It was like we both got to bring our best friends into the twinship. (Erin and James, I hope you at least feel you were forewarned). I've never been so happy! Maybe out of our twinship, our quadrupletship, what we're doing is producing triplets. Gosh, if I weren't about to pass out from fatigue, I'd get giddy right about now.
Three babies is a charm.
I'm going to take a nap.
Monday, December 8, 2008
Someone named Anonymous commented on my "How to Tell your Infertile Friends You're Pregnant" posting tonight. She broke the news to her infertile sister-in-law (SIL) that she's pregnant, but her SIL won't acknowledge the pregnancy. She wonders what she should do now.
Here is my one-person's opinion on the matter:
1) You've got a tough situation there. It sucks on every side: sucks to be the infertile SIL, sucks to be the fertile SIL. No matter what happens, there is no perfect solution, and no one will come out of this perfectly happy.
2) You are luckier than she is because you get a baby and an awkward family situation, and she just gets an awkward family situation. You can keep your irritated hat on (hey, our feelings are what they are), as long as you put your compassionate hat on top of it.
3) If I were the one pretending my sister-in-law weren't pregnant, it would be because I thought I would start to cry the second I acknowledged she was. Your SIL might think it's better to say nothing than to act sad or mad. It's kind of an extension of "if you can't say anything nice, don't say anything at all": "if you can't say anything without crying, shut your trap."
Or her silence might be a sign that she's in denial about the situation. If she doesn't acknowledge the pregnancy to you, she doesn't have to acknowledge it to herself. As my therapist has told me, sometimes denial comes in handy.
No matter what, I am a firm believer in getting things out in the open, though, so since she's not likely to take the lead, I think it's up to you. The next time you see her, take her aside and tell her how much you care about her, and how much you hate that you're both in this situation. Ask her what she's feeling, and what you can do to make it easier on her. If you don't think this would go over well in person, write her a letter to that effect... on real paper with a real envelope (it will seem more thoughtful than email).
Once you get the communication flowing, if you can, take your cue from her as to how much she wants to be around you or talk about pregnancy and infertility.
Short of that, I'm not sure what else to tell you. So I'll open it up to my girls.
Ye women of this hard-knocks community, what advice do you have for Anonymous?
Sunday, December 7, 2008
- Full-sized brass bed from my single days (and from my parents' married days before that) with a stunningly good mattress
- A large Ikea dresser that was so heavy when I got it that I had to take apart the box in the trunk of my car and carry each board, one by one, to my first DC apartment. It has gone through three paint jobs and now has a purposefully splotchy part-colorful-part-white look that made my mom cry out, "Oh, what happened?" when she first saw it.
- A LARGE filing cabinet, probably fire proof, the likes of which I dreamed of for a long time, holding old electric bills and transcripts and other stuff that I need quick access to.
- An armoire from Ikea that makes up for the fact that there is no real closet in the room. (It has a door with access to the master bedroom closet, but we've hogged all the actual storage space therein). The babies currently have very good access to our winter shoes.
- An Ikea "Robin"-style bookcase that is mostly full of law books. In particular, we have a stunning collection of 2004 Patent Bar Exam review materials. Anyone want them? Never opened...
- Two prodigious piles of framed artwork that I removed from the stairway when we were getting our new mattress delivered. I never put them back up, so we have a very pretty nail collection on the stairway walls now. The art is in two and a half piles on the floor.
- The beautiful Pottery Barn rug that I bought with my friend Leyla in New York in 1993. The cat has torn it up some, but it remains in tact in my heart. The function this rug now serves is to get bunched up from all the stuff placed on it and then moved, so that it makes large, trip-ready waves in the floor.
- Two big, flat boxes that will render two baby cribs once assembled.
- One Pack 'n' Play that my brother got from his neighbor. This "portable" crib and playpen is in a duffel bag with a few accessories piled on top of it. Not very stackable.
- A laundry basket full of plastic coat hangers. Just 'cause.
- Approximately seven clear plastic bins of my non-pregnant clothes, which should be transferred to the attic. The hold up on that is that the attic floor is covered with plywood on one side, and covered with no floor on the other side. When James saw it he declared that we were going to fix it before the babies came. Sigh. So the seven bins remain downstairs, capped off by the camping lantern we use whenever we venture into the attic.
- Four red and green plastic bins that I've transferred our Christmas stuff into. That was a real splurge: I've always thought it was silly to have Christmas-colored storage boxes, but in an attic like ours, I've come around to thinking it is genius. So I have plopped one cardboard box, duly packed last year with Christmas decorations, into each bin. Those bins will be opened and used soon, but in the meantime, why not keep them in the babies' cave?
- Two delightful bouncy seats that we received from our registry, each assembled and now holding a teddy bear. Those are perched on the bed.
- A plastic bin full of baby and maternity stuff that my friend Julie gave me years ago, which I had to hide for a long time because they were too sad. That's now on the bed.
- A weathered cardboard file box full of infant clothes that my brother and I wore as premies. Very polyester-heavy, with a few knitted items that may or may not disintegrate when worn.
- An extra U-shaped "boppy" pillow from my parents-in-law-in-law (my bro's parents-in-law). Apparently my brother and sister-in-law had plenty of boppies, and us, we are going to need more than one.
So would you like to know whether the room is large enough to accommodate all the stuff that's in it? It's not.
Last evening while I was taking one of my many naps of the day, I heard some, well, activity on the stairs. My husband in shining armor was singlehandedly taking the armoire downstairs to the basement, which is to be the new guest room. It is not an activity that can be slept through. I am pleased and proud to say that the armoire is now safely two stories below us, albeit upside down, and required only minor podiatric repairs from its trip.
When I look at the huge gap that the armoire's absence leaves in the room, it makes me want to buy more furniture. Maybe a rocking chair?
Thursday, December 4, 2008
Twenty hours per week now, four hours every day, I will be working at a law firm as a contract attorney, reviewing documents written in Portuguese. It's thrilling! It's professional work, mingled with the fun of speaking other languages. I get to dress in people-clothes (Ladies 3X, specifically; I've grown out of the universe of maternity wear) and brush my hair and talk to people in an office about grown-up things. I forgot how good I am at listening in on conference calls!
And through it all, my buns came with me. They actually let them into the conference room with me. We sat there and, the two times we were collectively going to pass out, we surreptitiously ate some goldfish crackers and drank some emergency apple juice. We maintained the open, alert, and serious look on my face. We nodded at appropriate times and I even asked two questions. And then at the end of our measly little shift, we announced Sianora and came home for a nap.
I love every bit about this. I'm pretty sure the buns do, too. I'm pretty sure they want to be attorneys now.
I'll see what I can do to discourage that. After the nap.
Wednesday, December 3, 2008
In one week about a month ago, a good friend had a major fertility setback, and another friend died of cancer. I felt like a boulder-sized paperweight had squashed me flat. I felt so terrible for both of them. In neither case was there anything I could do; sometimes even crafts can't right the wrong. In neither case did the catastrophe really have anything to do with me. My codependent self yearned to take responsibility for Making it All Better, but there was absolutely nothing to do.
In reference to the infertility pain, especially, I thought through my grief, "Whom can I ask advice from here? Who would know the best thing for me to do to help?" The answer, it turned out, was me. I remembered back to the advice I'd given other people about dealing with an infertile me. Support the person who is in pain. Write to her. Let her know you're behind her no matter what. So I did that. And then a few days later I awoke one night with a gasp: I had forgotten something. The rest of that advice was to keep your distance if you're pregnant. Let her set the tone and pace of the communication. Once you're displayed your support, get the hell out of the picture, because your presence cannot do anything but hurt. This realization, now that I was on the other side, sliced me to the core.
And so I finally sat down and came to the conclusion that there's nothing I can do to anaesthetize the world at large. Pain is out there. There's nothing more I can do about it.
That was a biggie. It was humbling, and it felt like a great defeat.
It made me rethink this blog.
"Achieving Conceiving." I used to think that once a couple conceived a child, all the hard stuff would be over. I was right in terms of how it feels to go through the world and see pregnant women and babies abounding. It's a whole lot better now. Not only do I not wince at the sight, but I get treated like royalty. People are extra solicitous and respectful of me. I've become very very special to a world of strangers.
What I didn't know when I started and named the blog was that conceiving does not equal having a baby (I learned about miscarriage from my friend Laughing4Heir). The physical rigor of pregnancy also surprised me, as did the fact that a lot of my existence became dictated by disabling nausea and fatigue. I also learned post-conception about what it's like to move to the other end of the infertility boat: the side where you aren't fighting for life, but your comrades on the other end are. There was plenty of stuff to say, but I resisted writing about it all; the infertility community doesn't want to hear about pregnancy experiences.
But I looked back at my blog through a lawyer's eyes and was glad to note that I'd put a tag line on the blog, in addition to the name. "Chronicling the Journey to the Light at the End of the Canal." Whew. Fine print that would allow me to continue my writing, even though I'd already achieved/conceived. But could I do it? What would my internal feeling-protecting censors let me say?
Let's review this entry so far:
1) New life abounds and fresh death abounds.
2) No matter what I do, I cannot protect everyone from pain.
3) My blog's focus must shift from discussing conception to discussing the rest of the pregnancy journey. Lots more needs to be said.
Iona Kathleen Bailey is my twin brother's new baby girl. She is sixteen days old today. I love her more than anything. I look at her and cannot wait for her to wake the hell up (she's a sleepy baby), grow, delight us with getting to know her, and become our future. I can't fathom that my little bitty brother helped make a new person with our family's DNA in it. I can't wait to see a mixture of him and his wife at work.
At Thanksgiving dinner, my stepfather said that he was thankful for Iona and the cousins I'll be producing for her soon. He said that the births of these babies gave him perspective on dealing with his own mom's final days. Me, when I heard that Mrs. Bollyky passed away, I pled with her son: please tell me that she knew I was pregnant. He reassured me that she knew.
Turns out that the world needs babies. Babies are the only thing that can counteract death. They are essential. As a former infertile woman, I need to acknowledge that. My desire to protect my infertile friends and readers from pain may be noble, but it's never going to shield them entirely. In the meantime, the rest of us need to hear about the babies. Just like we need to reproduce, as I've discussed ad nauseum, we need our loved ones to reproduce. We need an infusion of life wherever it comes from. As Iona teaches me, babies fill you with an automatic love and joy, hope and expectation.
So this light, this blog, is coming out from under the bushel. I owe it to you, I owe it to myself, and I owe it to our two wonderful, kick-happy buns in the oven.
Let this Christmas season be about life.
Saturday, November 29, 2008
I was a stress case. I had just finished a year of law school, working full time and going to school at night. My digestive system had all but given up on me, my chest felt so tight that I couldn’t get a full breath, and I saw no way to make it better. It never dawned on me that I could alter the path that I’d chosen, that I could be a little kinder to myself. If I let up on myself, my body would let up on me.
“Listen to your body. Your body knows.”
I got the same advice when I finally got pregnant. On my first trip to the OB – I could call the doctor the OB instead of the gynecologist! – we were talking about exercising while carrying twins. “Listen to your body.” When my body could handle walks or yoga or whatever trendy pregnancy exercise regimen there was out there, I’d know.
My body has let me know that it cannot handle anything like that. I am going into the third trimester soon, and I have experienced only a few weeks when I felt confident enough to walk down the block, sure that I would be able to get back to the house. I signed up for yoga and didn’t go to a single class because I happened to throw up on my way out the door every time. My small second trimester window of “I’m pretty sure I can stand up for 20 minutes” is closing.
Things have gotten dramatic here in this body. Earlier this week I woke up at 4:00 a.m. with a ligament spasm in my abdomen. The ligament that runs from the groin through the top of the uterus had stretched and stretched (at Baby A’s kicking insistence) until it could stretch no more. It popped back into place like a rubber band. It was like a Charlie horse – the cramp that affects your legs in the middle of the night. But Charlie horses in one’s abdomen and pelvis in the middle of the night are scary for pregnant women. Fortunately, by the time I threw up everything had relaxed and I could go back to sleep. (The adventure with the doctor on call is another blog entry).
The next night I woke up at 2:00 with what felt like gas pain right at the base of my rib cage. As I bounced around trying to dislodge any mercenary bubble, the pain became so intense that I threw up again. That shook things up enough in my abdomen that I felt better. The same thing happened two nights later, but I knew the throwing up trick this time. And since I can throw up pretty much on command (I squat at the toilet and voila!) now I know the system. Sure, it resembles bulimia, but desperate times call for desperate measures.
Horrifying pain and nausea aside, I can still say that every square inch of my body has changed throughout this adventure. My hair is fuller (the next stage will be for it to fall out). My face, shoulders, and neck are retaining “fat reserves.” My sense of smell is more acute, even as my sinuses swell up and make me snore – more. I am growing “skin tags” on my neck, arms, and chest. No explanation why, but apparently it’s normal. My chest, well, I won’t go into the things that have changed there, but I’ll say that I can think of at least four new weird things. Then we get to my abdomen, which is obviously huge and having lots of stuff going on inside it. I have gas and heartburn and nausea, plus a charming habit of hiccupping. My belly button (yes, the fake one) has become a horizontal scar line in the middle of my pear shape. Stretch marks radiate like rainbows over my hips and are now showing up under my belly.
The twins make themselves known in the middle of this human pear. I feel them squirm often, as if I have some muscle that’s twitching. Occasionally I feel a jab and see my stomach move out of the corner of my eye. My bladder, well, it doesn’t stand a chance as it jockeys with two tiny little girls who are lying on it. My crotch is not a thing that I will discuss in this forum, though come over to my house and I’ll tell you all about it. There I can think of four changes there that I never knew were coming.
My legs are thicker and have stretch marks on the front of my thighs where they meet my trunk, as well as on the backs of my knees. My ankles are occasionally swollen. My feet are not swollen, I think, but they have grown. A recent trip to a shoe store found me graduating to the men’s section. As I left the women’s section, the shoe salesman said, “You’re going to have tall babies!”
That’s the state of my body. I’m listening. It would be hard not to. And I love all the changes that are happening, except for when the pain or nausea is excruciating. Being pregnant sucks physically, but it’s amazing. And it makes me finally, finally, love my body.
While I was going through the two years of infertility, I hated my body. I felt like it had betrayed me. I could think of nothing good about it. It had completely let me down with the most basic human task. One could argue that I should have been good to it, nurtured a relationship with it so it would be happier to reproduce. Yeah. Go get infertile and see if that’s the way you feel about it.
Recently, my focus on bodies has shifted. Now that my body is working as it should, I’ve seen a lot of healthy, vibrant people whose bodies have gotten sick. The people are still themselves, their minds are still them, but their bodies have been taken over by cancer. The persona and the mind have to go to battle. Chemo pulverizes a body’s mutant cancer cells and may or may not leave a body that can bounce back. By definition, it’s devastating. Listen to your body? My God, cancer patients have to almost kill their bodies. Talk about betrayal – the body betrays them, they betray the body. It’s awful.
I have gotten pretty mad at cancer lately. It has claimed a lot of people I know this year, many of them after a very long, very painful struggle. At the beginning of this month, I announced that Fiber of Her Being, my business, was going to give out five free pillows to people undergoing chemotherapy.
I got the Chemo Pillow (later Comfort Pillow) idea from my friend Paul two years ago. His mom, Mrs. Bollyky, the one who told me first to listen to my body, had cancer. “It’s not good, Kay,” I remember him saying. Paul commissioned a cheerful pillow with pictures of her grandchildren on it for Mrs. Bollyky to take to chemotherapy. It would give her both physical and emotional comfort during the grueling hours of treatment. Paul suggested that my business offer a line of Chemo Pillows. I began it. And the pillows have flown off the racks.
It makes me very happy to be able to bring some comfort to people who are going through such tough times. I know what it’s like to have a chronic condition, and I know what it’s like to be scared and to be in pain. I don’t know what it’s like to have my life at stake. But I feel very strongly that I have some skills that can be of use to patients and their families, and by golly, I’m going to do what I can.
In the last couple of months, four recipients of my Chemo pillows have died.
Mrs. Bollyky died this week.
The Bollyky family adopted me back in college. They were very close to each other and enjoyed opening their home to strays. I enjoyed being in a family. I spent a lot of time at their house over the years, and my relationship with them extended past Paul to his parents directly, especially to his mom. She was the sweetest woman you’d ever want to have adopt you.
The last time I saw Mr. and Mrs. Bollyky, it was 2002 and I was staying with them for the weekend while my friend Betsy (whose sweet mom passed away from cancer three weeks ago) got married in a neighboring town. We talked about when the Bollyky parents were young, and matters of life and love. We talked about overcoming stress!
The last time I talked to Mrs. Bollyky on the phone, I told her about my struggles with infertility, and she told me that she had suffered too. She had tried to conceive for years before her three wonderful children finally showed up and her family blossomed into the huge expanse of love that it is now. She assured me that it would all be okay for me, too.
And she was right. My body and my mind, my soul, finally came together. Together they are doing the most miraculous thing that I can think of. They are helping me fulfill my dream and my evolutionary destiny. They’re making people, for heaven’s sake! I couldn’t be happier.
But Mrs. Bollyky’s body betrayed her. She never did anything wrong. She was pure goodness and love, but something bad got a hold of some of her cells, and that was that. She lived to see four grandchildren born, but she won’t get to see them grow up. She spent the last few years of her life frail and in great pain. I hate that. I hate it I hate it I hate it. I just don’t know what to do.
I got Paul’s message yesterday when I came to my desk to find an address. I was sending out one of my Chemo Pillows. This one is going to a pediatric nurse who took care of three sisters, and when they grew up, two of their little boys. She is someone who has devoted her life to helping kids feel better. As I cried about my dear adoptive mother, I gritted my teeth and addressed the package with this next pillow in it.
I don’t know how to conclude this blog entry. I don’t know how to summarize it tidily.
I guess I’ll say that, bodies aside, the life of my soul would not be the same if it weren’t for Mrs. Bollyky.
Thursday, November 27, 2008
Sunday, November 16, 2008
My brother and sister-in-law welcomed the first of a new generation into the family. Iona Kathleen Bailey was born this evening, November 16, 2008, about 8:20 p.m. She is 21 inches long and weighs 8 pounds, 15 ounces: she's just an ounce shy of nine pounds. Though she is a big baby, she is still smaller than our cat. She has long pink fingers and a beautiful pink face crowned with dark black curls. She is named after the abbey on the Scottish Isle of Iona, an important historical site in the history of the Presbyterian Church. Her middle name refers to family: one aunt (Megan Kathleen) and another aunt (me: Katherine). I'm honored.
We love Iona. We LOVE HER!
Mama and baby are both doing marvelously, though I think both could use a snack and then a nap. Congratulations and much love to all involved!
(Mama and baby got to hold hands for the first time)
(James arrived at the hospital and ran into his new niece in the hallway as she was headed toward the nursery)
Wednesday, November 12, 2008
Sunday, November 2, 2008
Friday, October 17, 2008
Friday, October 10, 2008
Wednesday, October 8, 2008
Monday, October 6, 2008
Here's me with my "moderate sized" baby bump. Happy as hell.
Friday, October 3, 2008
Our friend Chris, ignoring the social rule that you're always supposed to poo-poo your friends' references to their own fatness, said maybe I should lose weight first and then try to get pregnant. Well, he didn't know that I was a whoppin' 34 and had no time to lose at all. I was going to get pregnant RIGHT AWAY.
A year and some months later, I joined a gym. I was still not pregnant, and I had gained more weight from my year of hormone (horror/moan) treatments. The gym featured a WONDERFUL aerobics class in the 1980s Olivia Newton-John style, the kind of exercise I'd been raised on. I loved it. Loved it loved it loved it.
And so I went six times and then got pregnant. Maybe Chris knows what he's talking about.
After a few months, when the dust and nausea settled and I stopped being so bedridden, I found a prenatal yoga class at the hospital center a mile from my house, where all my prenatal care happens anyway. I quickly signed up. Very excited. It was scheduled for every Tuesday morning for six weeks.
Week 1. I had a "quick" ultrasound appointment that morning in the high-risk doctor's office, right around the corner from where the yoga was to be held. When I ended up vomiting on myself on the exam table during the ultrasound, I decided it was not a good morning to do any upside down poses that day. I skipped the class.
Week 2. I wanted to load up on breakfast so I wouldn't be hungry/weak during the class. Three minutes before I had to leave the house, I wolfed down my huge number of vitamins. Gagging on the eighth pill or so, I threw up on the floor of three rooms of our house. Every room downstairs except the bathroom, in fact. I opted against going to yoga right after that. Instead, I sat on the couch and cried.
Week 3. I had a regular OB check up at the hospital before the yoga class. It was about an hour of activity from the time I walked out my door to the end of the appointment. The yoga class would start in five minutes, and I was just waiting on the note from my doctor that said I was healthy enough to attend yoga. (I had not quite made it to pick this note up before either of the previous classes, for the reasons stated above).
As the receptionist handed me the folded letter documenting my physical competence, I swooned with weakness. I sat in the doctors' lobby eating my goldfish crackers and drinking my water, until I was strong enough to go to the Starbucks in the hospital lobby and get some apple juice. That was finally enough sugar and starch to allow me to take the elevator one more floor down, to my car in the parking lot. I drove a mile home and collapsed for the next three hours. Yeah, no yoga. Noga.
There are three more yoga classes. We'll try again Tuesday. Or maybe we won't.
This has been a vigorous blogging session. I think I have to lie down.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Several years ago I finally got the chance to try to make a baby, something I'd wanted viscerally for over a decade. So I launched into things blindly, based simply on my gynecologist's advice that I was most fertile 14 days before my period. Up until then, I really didn't know timing had anything to do with it.
And so began a journey of peeing on sticks (two kinds; both expensive), acrobatic maneuvers, charting basal body temperature, and being disappointed once a month. Then came a little more reading about hormones and body infrastructure, the details of the menstrual cycle, and some oral medication. From there we proceeded to invasive testing on both of us, then learning how to get a baby going from outside you. There are shots to the belly and butt (self-administered or husband-administered), reconstituting powdered medication, screwing with your body's own endocrine system, going to get your blood tested and your uterus ultrasounded every day, and finally leaving it up to Dr. Frankenstein to make it happen in a lab.
And that, because I was lucky, was only the beginning. What I thought was going to be a downhill slide from IVF turned out to be a very difficult trek through the desert. I won't say it's been an uphill battle, but it's no waterslide. Pregnancy can mess with your hormones as effectively as hormone shots. And the bundles of joy inside you can make you a constant threat for projectile vomit. In my case, as they subvert all my energy and nutrients, I've been left almost bedridden for months. For my trouble (and the trouble of my caretakers), we've gotten to see them move and develop on the ultrasound, watch my belly grow, and dream about our growing family.
The inner part is a dream come true.
But it's the outer part that I've actually been dreaming of since I was 25. And bizarrely enough, that's the part that feels much more real.
Out there in life, in the grocery store, in the airport, and among your friends, you see pregnancies and babies happen all the time. And for the most part, nobody is talking about the inner realm of pregnancy. Not to me. Certainly not the strangers in the airport.
For over ten years, ever since I felt a tingle in my hand walking down the street in New Orleans and knew that a toddler's hand should be inside mine, I have looked at pregnant ladies with awe and envy. Here's what I knew about them:
- Pregnant ladies get to buy clothes in maternity stores.
- Pregnant ladies get to have ultrasounds with the wand on top of their bellies instead of inside their bodies.
- Pregnant ladies get baby showers.
- Strangers put their hands on pregnant ladies' swelling abdomens.
- Strangers ask pregnant ladies, "When are you due?"
Because I was a girl who didn't really know what ovulation was until 2006, I wasn't expecting any of the inner stuff. But the outer stuff was a different story.
When I learned that I was pregnant, I could barely believe it. I heard it in a roundabout way from the pharmacist, so the news came as more of a puzzle than a declaration. I have thought and said that learning I was having twins, on the ultrasound table holding James's hand, was the happiest day of my life. But truthfully, I think the happiest day of my life was the day I finally had enough strength (barely) to go to the Motherhood Maternity clothing store in the mall.
I had literally been on the outside, looking in, to the maternity clothes shops in malls for years and years. I went in once, very briefly, feeling like a fraud, and quickly walked out again. Lots of times, I stood outside the window, looked at the clothes, and had to fight back tears. When I finally got to go to one legitimately, I squeezed James's hand again. As we got closer to the entrance my nauseated self started hopping with excitement. When we got inside among the racks of clothes, I could barely breathe. I looked around at the other shoppers, with bellies the same as or bigger than mine. I belonged. I wasn't a fraud. I was buying maternity clothes for myself because I was pregnant! (In the end, James bought them for me because I felt woozy and had to go sit outside and eat a granola bar).
Several weeks ago we ventured out of the house to go to an orchard outside of the metro area. We've picked apples there before, but this time we went to just go buy some. Actually, we went just for the drive. When we got out of the car, I was wearing one of my Motherhood Maternity outfits -- the kind that leaves no doubt in the viewer's mind that the wearer is pregnant. The woman selling the apples said, "Oh, when are you due!?" I reeled. I told her March, and she looked surprised. I was so big! I explained that it was twins. She was delighted. I was way more delighted.
Recently my neighbor Wendy came over with her new roommate to visit the pregnant invalid next door (me). She was so excited for me that she asked if she could touch my belly. I welcomed it. She spoke to the babies inside. The experience spoke to my heart.
I was going to wrap up here with my conclusion that -- for all I've wanted an actual baby (or babies!) on the inside -- what really makes me happy is the outer trappings. Those have been what I've known for much longer, and wished for for much longer.
But then, two minutes ago, at 4:42 a.m., I was sitting back, contemplating what to write next, and I had my hands on my belly. I have been concentrating recently, trying to feel the babies move around. Up until now, I haven't felt anything other than my pulse. But this time, I wonder. Maybe it was the glass of water that I just drank. But maybe it was my children.
I'll be damned. They're on the inside.
They really are!
Monday, September 22, 2008
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
Within a week of learning that I was pregnant, at the end of June, I started to get woozy whenever I stood up. A week after that, the feeling turned to nausea. If I were lying down (and not hungry), I was fine. If I sat up, or God forbid tried to walk somewhere, the nausea would come back. The way I understand it, I was subject to low blood pressure (the babies were taking my blood from me) and low blood sugar (they were taking my sugar, too).
It would have been okay if I had been able to remain in bed, but I couldn't. I wasn't working. I had no responsibilities outside the house and few inside it. But I started getting hungry at least once an hour. Desperately hungry. Hunger made me nauseous too.
And so at least once an hour I had to plan out in my head something that I could grab quickly and eat in bed. According to my "anti-nausea diet and lifestyle" instructions from my doctor, I was to have both sugar and protein in every snack to stabilize my blood sugar. So I would get a plan (apple and peanut butter, say), then dash out of bed to go realize it. I would slosh some water over the apple. I would grab the peanut butter, a knife, and a paper towel. If I were unlucky enough to be thirsty, I would start filling a cup with water and hope I could keep standing long enough for the cup to be filled. And then with superhuman speed I would sprint back to the couch or bed, lie flat on my back, practice deep breathing, and hope that my system would equalize before I had to throw up.
It was glamorous, to say the least.
All of my meals and snacks, for a full two months, were eaten lying on my back. I became devoted to straws and napkins. I have spilled yogurt on the neck of every garment I own. Once I burned the back of my neck and shoulder with a little chunk of chicken and a noodle from some soup. That was nice.
Confident that I would get better soon, I made a few plans. One by one, I cancelled them. I counted the days till the end of the first trimester, when I would definitely be better.
I am now about a month in to the second trimester, the time when some women feel exhilarated, better than ever. I am not feeling exhilarated; I'm not feeling better than ever. Fortunately, I have reduced my vomiting significantly, and I am much better able to stand up -- sometimes for an hour at a time! But I am beat.
Except for my utter fatigue, every other one of my symptoms lines up exactly with my pregnancy book. Expanding ribcage? Check. Stronger fingernails? Check. Nasal congestion? Check. Never has such a bizarre, new, weird condition in my body been so by-the-book.
But what about the fatigue? What about the fact that I've been waiting for months to be able to go back to work? What about the 15-minute errands that do me in for the rest of the day? My OB tested me for anemia and other conditions, my bloodwork came back fine, and she said I was just pregnant with twins, so I should listen to my body. I asked my high-risk maternal-fetal specialist whether I should be concerned about my desperately tired state. He said it was normal in pregnant women, and especially women pregnant with multiple babies.
That was yesterday. I came back home from that appointment and went to sleep for a long time. As usual. When I woke up, I saw that a book I ordered from Amazon.com had arrived: When You're Expecting Twins, Triplets, or Quadruplets. And it all made sense.
Turns out, pregnancy with twins+ is significantly different from pregnancy with a single baby. Supported by loads of data, the book made the case that nothing is more important in the health of newborns than time in the womb. How to prevent premature labor and other complications that would force multiple babies out? LIE DOWN. The book recommends that expectant mothers in this situation stop working and traveling at 24 weeks (that's 8 more weeks for me) and take three naps a day, plus a full night's sleep. Up until then, the more time we can rest rather than work, the better. Ten to twenty hours of work a week should be the upper limit.
Finally, something legitimized my need to rest!
Two days ago, when I attempted ONE task in the whole day (buying cat food at the pet supply store), I found myself inevitably thwarted. Seeing three whole aisles of catfood, I sat down on a big bag of dogfood and called James. It would be impossible to walk through three aisles. I thought about poor Central American women who had to walk miles and miles of tough mountain terrain every day to get a bucket of water for their homes. How could they do it when they were pregnant? What would happen to women who didn't have the cushy life I had? I wonder how the human race has gone on for so long.
I have been blessed, BLESSED, with the ability to take time off from work. And my mom has come over almost every day for months to do laundry, wash dishes, and feed me. James has done a double share of grocery shopping, errand-running, and invalid-attending. My whole family has been very doting. When I wondered aloud what women would do if they didn't have this support, if their normal duties continued as usual, my cousin Ashley said, "they just do what they have to do." The very thought makes me tired.
How have I gotten so lucky?
Monday, September 8, 2008
Then yesterday some other friends of ours whom we hadn't seen in a while called to congratulate us on our pregnancy, and tell us that they're expecting again this winter. They hadn't wanted to broach the topic. Again, I have to say I was glad I hadn't found out before, before I got pregnant myself.
The nicest thing the world could do for infertile couples is to stop reproducing. That would be a really kind gesture. Too bad it's insane. And impossible. The next to nicest thing would be for people to wait until the infertile couple is pregnant to break the news, start showing, or have their babies. But the same problems apply here, too.
As I discussed when I first started this blog, infertile people -- particularly infertile women -- are of two minds about other people's pregnancies. On the one hand, they're probably genuinely happy that their friends or family are having a baby. On the other, no matter what, they are at least equally sad to be reminded they they're not having a baby themselves. And while it's easier not to tell the infertile couple about successful pregnancies at all, it's gotta be done eventually. Worse than having to shoulder the bad good news is an infertile woman's feeling left out of her friends' lives. Yeah, it's complicated.
I want to tell you the story of how one couple did everything exactly right. That's my brother and sister-in-law.
They found out they were pregnant this spring, and were ready to tell the world in May, right when James and I were waiting to see if our second IVF had worked. They waited a few days and hoped we would find out good news before they broke theirs. My brother wrote me an email that week, saying he thought I was the "Greatest American Hero," not to be confused with the 1980s series. I thought that was really sweet.
It was a Wednesday when we found out our bad news. We told our families. Everybody was sad, but I felt eerily okay. As a student of my own psyche, I knew I was in a state of denial. I kept saying, "Yeah, of course it was negative: isn't it always?" I knew that a shoe would fall at some point and I would collapse into sobs. Probably in public, because I seem to like public crying.
On Sunday we had plans for a family gathering, a celebration of multiple birthdays. The day before it, I got a call from my brother. He sounded nervous. I listened. "We have some news. It's news about Erin..." I knew what was coming. "And the news is that she's pregnant." He didn't apologize exactly, but it was clear he knew he was telling us bad news. He said he wanted to tell me before we saw each other the next day at my mom's. He wanted to give us time to get used to the idea. I was grateful. Very grateful. I told him genuinely that I was happy they'd had an easy time getting pregnant; they didn't need the kind of drama that we had had. I told him I would take some time and get used to the idea and see them later.
But what happened was that I got off the phone and started crying. I wasn't crying about their pregnancy; I was crying about my own. The shoe had dropped. Boy, did I blubber. The next day, I couldn't go to the birthday party because I couldn't stop crying. It wasn't that I didn't want to see my beautiful pregnant SIL; it was that I knew that my teary waterfall wasn't exactly going to make her feel comfortable. Nobody wanted me to be sad, and they would hate to see it, so I took the time to grieve. My family is wonderful, and they all understood.
From that point, it took only about two more months for me to get pregnant. We had the pregnant couple over once in the meantime. After not talking for a while about the elephant (sorry, Erin) in the room, I asked her some questions about how she was feeling, how the pregnancy was going. I told her I was so sorry that her happy pregnancy came at the same time as pregnancy-related sadness for me. I was sorry it couldn't just be all happy. She said she knew; she was sorry too. And then we rubbed bellies so her baby-dust could rub off on me. It ended up being pretty fun and funny. And I think it might have been just the thing we needed.
Within a month, I was pregnant. And now it's really fun to hang out and compare bellies (see the picture post below). I couldn't have planned it any better at all.
I thank my brother and sister-in-law for caring about me so much, for being so kind and sensitive towards us. I thank them for giving us advance warning before we saw them, and for being brave enough to tell us, and thoughtful enough not to tell us in person. I thank them for understanding when we had to be sad, even in the midst of our happiness for them. And I thank them for letting us set the pace for how much we saw them, and how much talking about baby stuff we did NOT do when it was such a sore subject.
Now if their baby comes a month late and ours come a month and a half early, we could still beat 'em.
So here's a review, for use in your life. When you have to tell an infertile friend that you're pregnant, here are some tips:
- Don't do it in person. Your friend will need to be sad for herself even while she is happy for you. It's hard for her to make her face look happy when she's so conflicted. Let her get her bearings before you see her in person. Email is a very good method.
- Speak directly to her and acknowledge her pain. This means, don't do it in a mass email. Tell her (or email her alone) before you tell the rest of the world en masse. Go ahead and spit out the news, but don't be overly giddy about it. Tell her you won't forget how hard this is for her, and how you'll always support her efforts and be there for her.
- Let her set the pace. Take your cues from her as to how much you should see each other and talk about anything, especially your pregnancy. She might need a leave of absence from you. Trust that she'll come back to you when she's feeling stronger. Please don't take it personally. Her infertility affects everyone, and that means you, too. You're one of many people whose lives are different because of it.
- Don't ignore her and don't forget her. Even as you give her space, send her notes or call occasionally to check on how she's doing, or to let her know you're thinking of her. Invite her to your baby shower, because being excluded sucks, but let her know that she doesn't have to come if it's too hard.
- Ask her before you put her on your mass mailing list. She doesn't need to see the updated ultrasound pictures that you send out... unless she wants to.
That's all. See: nothing to it!
Boy, infertility sucks.
Friday, September 5, 2008
That Monday, June 30, when I was back home alone, I went to the doctor in the early morning for the pregnancy test. They took my blood and I went home and waited. That last day of the Two Week Wait is terrible. There is no way to distract yourself from the anxiety. I'd done been through this wait twice before and it had ended badly both times. I didn't expect this time to be different, but I did hold out that infernal hope. You know, the thing that keeps you hurting because you just can't stop caring, no matter how effective your pessimism.
I expected the phone call around 3:00 or 4:00 that afternoon, because that was the time slot the nurse had for calling patients. But at about 11:30 a.m. my cell phone rang. Caller ID told me it was the specialized pharmacy where I got my IVF drugs. I picked up.
"Ms. Bailey, this is Val at the pharmacy. We were just calling to see when you would like to pick up your Endometrin." Boy, was I surprised. I never heard of Endometrin.
"When did you get this prescription?" I asked. Val said they'd received the prescription from my nurse -- and she said the right name -- earlier that morning.
"Is Endometrin the kind of thing one might take if one were pregnant?" I inquired.
"Yes?" she answered tentatively, wondering why I was asking.
"Holy shit," I said.
"You're the first person to tell me I'm pregnant. I've been trying for over two years. This is what I've wanted my whole life."
Val got a little worried. "Oh... good!... Um, you might want to call your nurse to confirm, just in case."
Yeah, no kidding. I told her I'd call her back when I sorted this whole thing out. Then I hung up the phone and started the "could this be true" internal dialogue with myself.
On the plus side, when I'd found out I wasn't pregnant the first two times, the nurse told me to "discontinue the medications." There was never an instruction to take something new. That seemed to indicate that I'd be getting a new and different result. Of course, all the pharmacist knew was that she'd gotten a faxed prescription. She didn't actually know my test results, and the person who did -- the nurse -- was the one who could tell me for sure. What if it was a mistake?
I tended to think it wasn't a mistake.
At 1:00 I picked up James from the airport. Instead of popping the trunk and letting him put his suitcase in himself before he got in the passenger seat, I got out to greet him behind the car.
"Hi, Daddy," I said. He smiled, cooed, and then his face changed. He stopped. His eyes got big. They filled up with "are you saying what I think you're saying?" I nodded.
And then we hugged and kissed and laughed and laughed and laughed, right there in the pick-up lane. I dare say we loitered in an area of the airport where they like to keep the traffic flowing. We did the happy dance. We hugged again and laughed laughed laughed.
Later he thought it was prudent to call the nurse, just to be sure. When she didn't pick up, he assured me that I could call the front desk and have her paged. He'd never been aware of a more pressing emergency situation. When we finally found her, she confirmed that it was true: I was pregnant!
In fact, I was "very pregnant." The pregnancy blood test measures the hormone hCG in the system. A positive test is one that comes up with a score of 5 or more. I had a score of something like 1,620. That's greater than 5. That's a whole lot of hormones is what that is. Later I'd find out that it actually represented two concurrent pregnancies in my one body. Twins.
I called the pharmacist that afternoon and told her we'd be by to pick up the Endometrin, which turned out to be the new progesterone supplement that I'd be taking for the first 10 weeks. When we got there, I asked for Val and she came to the half-door window. We screamed and hugged. She gave me a book on motherhood, a picture book with cute photos of animals. I told her I'd never forget her my whole entire life. She made me promise to send her a picture of the baby when it was born. Heck, yeah! I almost asked her to be the Godmother. (Oh, did I mention I'd never met Val before?)
From that moment on, everything was different. Thus began my pregnancy. And I've been confused and giddy ever since. It's been a blessing.
DailyStrength.org, the online support group that provided me a community of infertile friends to compare and commiserate with, made a new sub-group this year called "Pregnancy after Infertility or Loss." That was to shield the still-tryings from the conversations of the newly-pregnant infertility-busters. It was also an acknowledgement that pregnancy after what we've gone through is different than just regular pregnancy.
We have our own set of issues.
The most notable, which I've felt and which I've seen over and over on Daily Strength, is survivors' guilt. Achievers' guilt. Those of us who finally succeed in getting pregnant are left a little bereft. Our dreams have come true. We've crossed that second pink line. We get to move on to experiences and annoyances that were off-limits to us before. We're going to have BABIES!
And we've become the people that used to make us feel so sad.
We have left our friends behind. We have put them in the position that we used to be in: happy for the newly-pregnant, but devastatingly sad for themselves. It's hard to be around friends who make you cry. It's hard to be reminded that other people get what you want. I know that a lot of people have been pulling for James and me, and by golly, they're ecstatic. So shouldn't we be? Don't we owe it to our still-trying friends to at least enjoy the tremendous luck that we've got?
So don't get me wrong: I'm awfully damned happy. I'm so happy I can't even fathom it. How did such monumental pain just seem to work out in the end? How did I wind up pregnant with twins -- the absolutely most wonderful outcome I could ever have not-dared to wish for? Why does it seem so easy, so meant-to-be now, when it was so, so hard for so, so long?
As my mom said when I told her it freaked me out to feel some foreign object in my abdomen whenever I crossed my legs, "Don't overthink it." I know the same applies here. But remember the 65 postings I wrote before this week. Why stop the overthinking now?
The purpose of this blog, as I recall, was to let my world know about what I was going through, what a big thing infertility is. It was to share the interesting ups and downs of invitro fertilization treatments. And it provided me a forum to get my thoughts down and make sense of them outside of my head.
I don't pretend that we're in the clear now. Lots of things could still go wrong, but in our fifteenth week, the odds are that we'll come home with healthy babies next Spring. In the spirit of playing the odds and erring on the side of hopefulness, we're not going to be talking about infertility for a while, if ever again.
So what's the blog for now?
You don't want to hear about the uncensored ravages of pregnancy, although I'll be happy to tell anyone the gruesome changes a body goes through, if they ask. You may or may not be amused by all my vomiting stories. You might not find it all that fascinating to read "Today I watched some more TV and then had a glass of milk."
Well, tough. This blog's educational outreach function may be done, but I like writing. And I've always thought that the details of my life ought to be of utmost interest to strangers and friends alike. So the "chronicle of the journey towards the light at the end of the birth canal" continues. But to keep things in perspective, to allay some of my survivors' guilt, I plan to frame the adventures in terms of blessings.
Never let it be said that I don't feel lucky to throw up in public. And never let it be said that I don't wish the same thing for my still-trying friends, from the bottom of my heart and stomach. I do. More than anything.
Thursday, September 4, 2008
Friday, August 29, 2008
We haven't -- nor will we ever -- forget the long, hard battle with infertility. And we won't forget our friends who are still fighting. But for the moment, let's celebrate one -- no, TWO -- successes, keep vigilant over the next six months, and get ready to welcome these little babies into the world on March 2, 2009.
Wednesday, August 20, 2008
So here they are: six historical moments or characteristics in the “not important but influential” category from my life:
I have a fake belly button. It’s a reasonable facsimile but you can tell it’s fake if you look at it. Instead of looking like the knot of a balloon, it looks like a small tuck with stitch marks along the vertical seam. I got this modification when I was three months old and had a hernia operation. My dear twin brother, David, also has this feature, but don’t think he’ll let you look at it if you ask. Me, I’ll show you. It’s my favorite party trick.
I speak Portuguese. I learned it because a college advisor said that no Latin Americanist should stop at just knowing Spanish. I lived in Brazil for six months, got a scholarship for a free Master’s just for studying Portuguese further, and now am saddled with a huge burden. That is, I was familiar with the Brazilian fruit (and related fruit juice and ginger ale-like soda) guaraná before it became the rage in U.S. energy drinks. Now my biggest pet peeve is hearing it referred to as /gwa RAH nuh/ instead of the Portuguese /gwah rah NAH/. Poor James has to hear me rant every time it’s mispronounced on TV.
I think that education is the most important thing there is. I don’t know why I’m not a teacher, except that I’m already a Latin Americanist/democratization specialist, lawyer, and artist. I hope to be a mother next, but after that I’ll need a fifth career. In the meantime, I serve on the board of a new NGO called the Washington Collaborative for Education. It’s an organization run by two amazing DC public school teachers, and provides summer programs for DC teenagers, to get them ready (and encourage them) to go to college. We just applied for 501(c)3 status from the IRS, so watch out! I may be hitting you up for a tax-deductible donation.
When David and I were born, we had an older sibling: John Wayne, the hound dog. When Mom and Dad laid us on a blanket on the floor, John Wayne would run around the house, carefully jumping over us when he got to where we were. When we were about five or six, John Wayne “ran away.” We had just gotten a free Purina red-checked plastic dog bowl, having sent away for it with coupons from the dog food bag. When John Wayne never came back (because he was dead, duh), we used the dog food bowl as a salad bowl.
Twenty-five years and two weeks ago, I had the mind-boggling good fortune of becoming a child star in my small home town. By “singing loud[ly] and smiling,” as per my mother’s instructions, I wowed the judges with my enthusiasm and won the lead role in our community production of “Annie.” It wasn’t so much that I was talented as that I was a ham onstage. I loved every minute of it. I loved the theater itself, the costumes, the dance rehearsals, the “drama majors,” and yes, the fame. The experience changed my life, giving me a deep – and useful – sense of self-confidence. At my wedding (when, yes, I gave in to the “demands” and sang “Tomorrow”), my sweet cousin Ashley told me that she admired how unselfconscious I was. I just plowed into every situation with gusto, without fear that people would think I was weird or wrong. I was very touched. I attribute this fearlessness to having had my enthusiasm rewarded at an impressionable age. And hell no, I wouldn’t have it any other way. Everyone should be a child star.
The love of my life, James, has blue eyes. I enlarged a photo of the two of us from our honeymoon and turned it into fabric art a couple years ago. James’s blue eyes now look at me from two fabric strips hanging on a curtain rod, on the wall across from our bed. I chose a beautiful deep blue paint color for our bedroom walls, to match James’s eyes. The walls cannot begin to hold the depth and tenderness that those eyes reveal, but they provide a good backdrop for the smile he starts every morning with. When we first realized we were having trouble conceiving a child, James’s mom’s reaction was not to worry: “God wouldn’t let those blue eyes die out.” I admit I didn’t think that was very convincing when she said it, but you know. Maybe she’ll be right.
Here are the rules of this tagging game:
1. Link to the person who tagged you:
Ashley at www.PlanetDavila.blogspot.com
2. Post the rules to your blog
3. Write 6 random things about myself
4. Tag 6 people at the end of your post and link to them
(tagging only the four bloggers I can think of: L*** at www.CityMouseCountry.blogspot.com, B*** at www.bethsits.blogspot.com, Polka Dot Creations at www.lisaclarke.net, and L**** at www.OutFromUnder.wordpress.com).
5. Let each person you have tagged know by leaving a comment on their blog.
6. Let the tagger know when your entry is posted.
Half my life ago, I was starting my academic career in Latin American studies in the Big Apple. Completely unaware that anyone ever had trouble having babies, I thought of fertility as a concept associated with agriculture and anthropology. I learned about the Aztec gods of the earth, rain, and corn. Although they seemed to always have plenty of people, I thought agrarian pre-Columbians were generally more concerned about the food supply. I know that in contemporary Mexico City people leave shots of tequila for Tlaloc, the god of rain, at his statue at the National Museum of Anthropology. No rain, no crops. (Apparently the tequila works frequently enough that people keep doing it).
We know that tequila can facilitate human conception in a lot of instances, but it never worked for us. So when all else fails in the baby-making business, one can always tackle the fertility thing by planting a garden. Even without any alcohol. That’s what James did this summer.
Gardening is a focus that the father characters in “The Fantasticks” musical strongly endorse over parenting. According to those two, each struggling with difficult teenagers, vegetables are dependable and fulfilling. They say, for example,
Plant a turnip.
Get a turnip.
Maybe you’ll get two.
That’s why I love vegetables;
You know that they’ll come through!
That’s in stark contrast to “children, [with whom] it’s bewilderin’.” So following the dads’ philosophy, this garden business should make James ecstatic. “A man who plants a garden is a very happy man.”
But it’s not so easy. When is fertility easy?
James planted his vegetable garden in June. Last year when he used that schedule, we got vegetables in July. This year we had to wait until August. And even then, they were slow and really not that promising.
The one golden boy of the garden was a huge tomato that hung out, green, on the vine for a long, long time. We would go out and admire it and wonder if it would ever turn red. Finally, its apple green took on a sunny twinge. It morphed to orange, and promised to be red any day.
In the meantime, the garden was providing James the only solace he had in his life. He worked hard at the office and brought his stress home all the time, but he loved the potential and promise of his garden. I’d find him in the back yard in the evenings, briefcase in one hand and water hose in the other, before he ever came in the house. The tomato was his baby, and he was just waiting to see it reach maturity.
One night, after a particularly hard day, James seemed beaten down. It wasn’t until we’d watched our share of SciFi channel shows on TV that James finally admitted what straw had broken his back.
“They got Big Red.”
It was the most unforgiveable, un-get-overable tragedy there could ever be.
Who “they” was was a mystery. It could be the chipmunk that James had “had his eye on,” or birds, or bunnies, or bugs, or squirrels. It didn’t matter. They’d taken it. Big Red the Tomato lived its last few hours, finally at the perfect shade of tomato red, on the ground in the garden, with its belly splayed open and half its mass missing. Ants trailed onto and throughout its remaining body. So sad.
In the month since that first tomato’s demise, we’ve taken prophylactic measures. We put up a big wire fence that keeps out not only the bunnies and maybe chipmunks, but also anyone who might want to weed the garden. When that proved insufficient (we’d forgotten about bugs), James bought an organic, non-toxic bug repellent. When that proved insufficient (we’d forgotten about birds), we draped a net over the top of the fence. When that proved insufficient (we’d forgotten about those squirrels), we secured that net every 12 inches with clothes pins. That seemed to work. The garden started to bear fruit.
We also learned a few tricks. Get the tomatoes out as soon as they turn orange. Vine ripening is a luxury we don’t have. Get the eggplants before they touch the ground. Get the green peppers before... well, don’t worry about the green peppers because we’re the only ones who seem to like them.
In the end, mid-August, you know what we had? We had vegetable babies. And we ate them.
Two nights ago I made a kind-of eggplant parmesan with three of our eggplants and one green pepper. That went hand-in-hand with lentil and rice salad, which also featured our basil and another green pepper. The tomatoes were so good that we ate them whole, with our hands, like donuts.
The meal tasted good, like victory. It was a feast the gods would have loved.
Next stop, we hope: growing a family.
We won’t eat the babies. We swear.
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
As I cast my elderly, ancient eyes back in time, I realize that it was only one year ago that James and I signed up for our first IVF. I was a new 35, so sprightly that my doctor said we could just consider me (and my probably success rate) in the 30-34 year old category.
Two weeks ago our third IVF came to an end. With my body thirty pounds heavier than this time last year, and full of gallons of natural and unnatural hormones -- some of them produced from the urine of post-menopausal women! -- I'm beat.
I'm resting. When you see my posts not appearing on this blog, know that it's because I'm not moving my arms that day. I'm napping. I'm taking a break from society. I'm regaining my balance.
Yes, you may send me chocolates. That would be fine. Or watercolor sets. Shrinky-dinks. You get the picture.
I'll see you when I wake up.
Saturday, July 5, 2008
The other day I saw a woman I worked with for one month, seven years ago. She was in the grocery store and immediately pointed to her new masterpiece: a two-week-old baby. She said, "This is what we've been doing." I accosted her with talk of babies and fertility. I told her about my infertility struggles, and it turns out that she did IVF too, and used my same doctor. "I'm 42," she explained. "Yeah, I'm 36." By the time our conversation had faded, we were at her car and her husband had unloaded all the groceries and snapped the child into the back seat.
The day before that I went to the chiropractor. My chiropractor is now on her second pregnancy via IVF. This time, she told me, it's twin boys. The first IVF rendered a little girl. She goes to the doctor we did our first IVF with. I think my chiropractic sessions run a little long because I don't shut up on the topic of IVF.
So in the meantime, our dear friend Eric Roston has come out with a book about carbon. It's called The Carbon Age: How Life's Core Element has become Civilization's Greatest Threat (order it on Amazon.com at http://www.amazon.com/Carbon-Age-Element-Civilizations-Greatest/dp/0802715575/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1?ie=UTF8&s=books&qid=1215267153&sr=8-1). We love Eric, and we love his book. My college friend, this historian-turned-Russophile, at some point became a science writer, and he has devoted the last few years of his life to researching every little implication carbon has in our world -- from the oil industry to low carb diets to plastics. When James said that Eric talks about carbon as much as I talk about IVF, well, then I knew that I talked about IVF a whole, whole lot.
And as I draw to a close here, I'm thinking that you're wondering how our pregnancy test went. It is with great physical concentration that I tell you, "We're not talking." You remember that I tried this last time: if the test were positive, we wouldn't want to tell you for 12 weeks. And if the test were negative, I couldn't talk about it, lest you be able to deduce from my not talking about it that it was positive. You see, right?
You may also remember that after about 3 weeks I broke down and announced the bad news on this blog.
Not this time, baby. You will not hear one peep out of me for 3 months. Not about the specifics of what is or is not going on in my body.
I mean it.
Wednesday, July 2, 2008
I have a lot of vivid dreams, too. Like MLK, mine have a lot to do with my struggle. Unlike MLK, they might not be all that coherent in waking. But that doesn't stop me from talking about them.
In the last week I've had a lot of dreams relating to my abdomen. I dreamed that the fuzzy blanket we had in the rented Rhode Island house was my endometrium (the uterine lining). I don't know what it's really like in there, but I don't think it's white and fuzzy. But if it were it would be great. Boy, that was a good blanket.
I also dreamed about how 20 embryos would line up in my belly if I had duodecimuplets. (I made that word up). If I had a really big litter, say. I dreamed they would organize themselves in drooping lines from one side of my waist to another, like a beautiful Athenian belt of stars. Like Orion's, but more bling'ed out. Never mind that my uterus is not at my waist level. With duodecimuplets, one has to branch out.
Finally, I had the strangest dream of all: that I was skinny again. I don't think I have to say much more about the weirdness of this one.
I've also had more existential dreams, like one in which my otherwise tolerant and sweet mom issued me a citation for insolence. Using her authority from her job in the State Department, she took out one of those old tickets they used to tear off a roll and give you at the movies. She wrote "rude" on it, and the time and place of my hearing. I didn't understand how asking "why?!" could be against the law, but she didn't back down. Fortunately, the hearing didn't take place because of some natural disaster that made people have to evacuate the State Department building. The evacuation prevented me from having to defend my constant asking of "why?" and also saved me from some kind of foggy situation in which I had lost one of my shoes and was trying to replace it with a lime green pump.
As I analyze these brilliant snippits of imagination, I am reminded of what Heart offered up to us in the 80s, in the song "These Dreams:"
These dreams go on when I close my eyes.
Every second of the night, I live another life.
These dreams that sleep when it's cold outside,
Every moment I'm awake, the further I'm away.
No, I don't know what that means or how it applies. Since when have dreams made any sense at all? But the melody sticks in my head.