Adventures in making and raising our test-tube babies

Monday, June 30, 2008

Well Rested and Anxious

We are back from Rhode Island feeling well rested, well vacationed, and anxious. No, we still don't know the results of this round of IVF, but we will soon. And heck no, we won't tell you when we do know. Not on the blog anyway.

In the meantime, here are some observations about a beach vacation with the in-laws and my hormones:

1) When we ran out of alcohol wipes for preparing my shots, we used vodka and paper towels. That's the closest I came to a drink.

2) I slept about 16 hours a day: 10-12 hours per night, and the rest (so to speak) in one or two naps during the day.

3) We saw lots of family, official and otherwise. That included people who had been adopted, conceived by IVF, and brought into the family the old-fashioned way. None seemed weirder than the next, but it was a small, especially weird sample.

4) It was a lovely week.

Leaving the state, the world of computers, and often wakefulness is a very good way of avoiding the things that make us anxious. I think that's why people take vacations. But coming home-sweet-home is inevitable, and we'll soon be coming to the end of this dreaded two week wait.

A psychologist told me once that the most powerful (disasterous?) combination of emotions is fear and hope. I hope more than anything to be a mother. I hope that it will finally happen this time. I fear that I will never be one. I fear that I'll get my hopes smashed into pieces again. Again. These thoughts coil around each other in my head and have started giving me nightmares. I've gotten jittery and am taking it out on a piece of gum. Which I found, unwrapped, in our car armrest.

We have come to the part of infertility I hate the most: the moments of truth. We have a whole lot riding on the pregnancy test. Two years of trying, tens of thousands of dollars, multiple surgeries and procedures, and going on two hundred needle pricks. To say nothing of the hope, that deadly dagger that keeps the wounds fresh.

If you don't hear from me soon, I may have gone back on vacation. Check Rhode Island.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Disruption in Service

My dear friends,

I'm going on vacation. I know, it doesn't seem like "me," but I'm going anyway. I'll be back in a week. In the meantime, be well, keep keepin' those fingers crossed, and don't think that I've forgotten you or that I'm dead. Neither will be the case.

Love, Kay

Pins and Needles

When the anaesthesiologist put the IV into my arm a few weeks ago, he said, "I bet you're feeling like a human pin cushion."
Little did he know that I had thought about that a whole lot.
You see, pins and needles are my profession. I'm a fiber artist, after all. Not a day goes by (well, not a good day) that I don't use pins and needles to attach fabric together, either temporarily or permanently. Although I know it's supposed to be just for fabric, I have twice used the sewing machine to puncture my own finger. Chalk that up to accident.
Someone also mentioned that I must be on pins and needles waiting for the results of this round of IVF. Well, yes, especially since I'm always on pins and needles. Again, usually that's by accident. Damn gravity.
So here's what I've been thinking about in terms of being a human pin cushion. Pins are used to keep something in place. They stay in for a while. Needles are used to go in and out of something. They are usually just a medium for a binding agent, namely, a thread.
In IVF, I've been mostly a needle cushion. Since this time last year I calculate that I have had approximately 180 needles put into me, either to put medicine in or to take blood out. No thread, fortunately.
I have also had my share of pins put in me. Sure, they were called acupuncture needles, but they didn't help transfer anything from place to place. Just by virtue of their presence in certain places in my body, they encouraged my own bodily processes to do certain things. The pins stuck in the ears, for example, energize the ovaries. Go figure. I reckon I had a total of 100 acupuncture pins put in me over a few months. Note that I don't do acupuncture any more. Although acupuncture is proven to improve one's chances of success at IVF, it's too much of a full-time job just to use the real needles.
And so when the anaesthesiologist called me a human pin cushion, I had a bunch to say to him. I dare say that when he was finished putting the numbing gell and then the IV needle in place and hooking me up to some saline solution, I was still talking.
About a half an hour later, I heard the guy wheel his little cart over to my sister in the next pre-op bay, separated only by a curtain. "I bet you feel like a human pin cushion by this point." "Yeah," she said simply.
Imagine what our lives would be like if I didn't talk as much. I know, you wouldn't be reading this blog!
(Note: pictures shown are James preparing a butt-shot injection, the "pin cushion" belly shot area in its heyday, and my forehead during acupuncture).

Thursday, June 19, 2008


No, of course we don't know whether this cycle will actually render any babies. But it has rendered something we've never had before. EXTRA EMBRYOS! We had two perfect little blastocysts to spare, and they have been stored away in frozen bliss up there in chilly Maryland.

That means next time -- whether we're still working on our first child or are starting back for a sibling -- I won't have to take the belly shots and do the egg-extraction surgery. And James won't have to produce another sperm sample. (Sorry, James).

FET (Frozen Embryo Transfer) -- or "fĂȘte," as I'm thinking about it -- does not have as high a success rate as regular embryo transfer. But it requires one less month and about 30 fewer shots, less bloating, and less complaining.

So yea! Something went right!

Brace Yourself: A Narrative (Part I)

Brace Yourself: A Narrative (Part II)

Video of Human Ovulation

One of my faithful readers and friends sent me a very interesting video link this morning. It tops the "facts of life" movies the girls had to watch in the cafeteria in Fifth Grade while the boys saw a puppet show in the gym. The recording purports to be an endoscopic video of a woman's ovary and fallopian tube as she ovulates, though it's hard to make out the microscopic egg in this life-sized show. In the interest of science and nitty-gritty reproductive fun, I've included the link here:

Thank you, bzzzzzgrrrrrl!

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Bed Rest

There was a room at my old office called the health room, which I thought should have been called the rest room. It had a bed in it. I went there once after a painful procedure that shouldn't have been painful, and I had to leave when I thought I was in danger of falling asleep and staying there all day.

From Sunday noon to Monday noon, I was on strict bedrest. I was allowed to walk from the car to my lying-down place, park myself, and not get up except to go to the bathroom. (Restroom). While I was on the bed, I could be in a seated position as long as my legs were stretched out in front of me. Otherwise I was to remain reclined. I'm not lying.

Those of you who know me know that I am an excellent sleeper. I am neither a night person nor a morning person. I am a mid-afternoon person. I go to sleep early and get 9 to 10 hours of sleep per night. If I don't get at least nine, my wrists hurt the next day. So you might think that I'd do well with bedrest.

But I am also a free spirit, and I do not like confinement or captivity. I have a mild mania for doing productive, creative activites. But I'm not supposed to do them. Even now that the strict bedrest period has been lifted, I am under husbandly orders to lie around. Don't tell James I've written a blog post, for example. When I told him I felt guilty because I hadn't done XYZ charitable mind- and computer-related work, he told me tough. My job, my raison-d'etre, was cooking buns. I can sit still for a week if that's what it takes. These buns are expensive (I added that; "expensive" was always the motivating factor from my childhood). And when it comes down to it, I suppose this is the essence of productivity and creativity. If it works.

Now I consider myself on couch rest. That means I must spend most of my time on the couch. I do not have to recline, but we all know that's really the only way to be on a couch anyway. I am allowed to go to the kitchen, bathroom, bedroom, and even the office (picture me here). I put in a new kitchen trash bag but didn't take out the full bag of trash. I can get dishes dirty, but I can't wash them. I am at half-capacity. And that is about all I have to give. Whenever I walk up and down the stairs, my arms get so tired they want to fall off. Blood pulses in my ears. It's the progesterone. It makes me worthless. So I'm going to try to accept the physical worthlessness as I put all my energy into my uterus. Worthfulness.

When the babies come out, they will know a lot about home and garden TV. So excuse me as I must get back to the couch.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Bringing Home Buns

I have two baby buns in the oven! And I love them dearly.

We had the embryo transfer today. This is our third IVF try, and it's the first time that the doctor thought we might actually get to freeze a few runners-up. Our seven embryos, which have been growing for the last five days, were all going strong still. We had two perfect blastocysts (that's a more advanced stage of embryo) and we had those put back inside me.

The remaining five embryos were all at a healthy pre-blastocyst stage, which I think is incredible. In the past we might have had one like that, amongst a few extras that were just duds.

Because the quality of the whole batch seemed so good, the doctor recommended transferring just two embryos. Although this was our third IVF attempt, he didn't recommend putting three in (the more "aggressive approach") because these looked so good. So that's good. As my friends in the online community have been reminded in a very sad way in the last week, multiple births (twins and triplets) represent a real risk to mother and babies. The fewer the embryos, the smaller chance that we'd have to deal with the risks of multiples.

I'm feeling battered and bruised, but happy and full of life. I'm on bedrest for the next day, and will be taking it easy for a week after that. So no more lawn-mowing. So sad.

Thank you to all my friends and relatives who have been thinking of me and praying for us, to say nothing of the people who have actually contributed food. Aw, yeah.

Happy Father's Day! Here's to parents!

Saturday, June 14, 2008

Yogurt with Blueberries

In the days since my egg retrieval, I've felt like yogurt with blueberries. I don't mean that I felt like eating them. I felt like I became yogurt with blueberries. Here's how.

Imagine a cup of plain yogurt. Or vanilla, if you need to. Then put ten or fifteen blueberries in the cup and stir. Now imagine that the yogurt is my insides from my belly button to my pelvis. The blueberries are the internal bruises.

This has been a very exhausting business, and I've gotten a lot fewer things done this week than I'd planned. When we go in for the embryo transfer (and the news here is that the embies are doing really well) I'll have to endure a day of bedrest. But the embryo transfer doesn't hurt. I'd think they'd suggest the bedrest, instead, for the surgery that had to precede it. They probably know that you're not going to want to get out of bed anyway.

Today, on the fourth day after the surgical egg-sucking-out, I decided that we could not live with the lawn the way it was. It was embarrassing and unsightly, and with all this talk about home maintenance (the three kids and the principal came by yesterday to apologize again for the broken window and give me apology letters), I should do my part.

So I mowed the yard. Just the front yard. But boy, did it do me in. Wear me out. One of those. When I crawled into bed tonight, I inspected my two lawnmower blisters on my hands. It's so nice to be wounded in a way that's completely unrelated to fertility.

And may I say that blisters hurt a lot less than blueberries. Who would have guessed?

(Postscript: I should note that James volunteered to mow the lawn, but I literally pushed him away from the lawnmower. That's just the way I am. The yard looks delicious now, but it is hard to see from my bed).

Friday, June 13, 2008

Kids Rock

Two days I posted about the kids in the school looking like Easter eggs. Eggs and stones have some similarities. River rocks look like eggs, especially if they've been bleached in the sun. Both eggs and stones are used as euphemisms for certain body parts: never ask a waiter in a Mexican restaurant if he has eggs. Yes. Eggs and rocks seem inherently connected.

So it can be no surprise that one of those pretty Easter egg kids threw a rock through our window.

I found out yesterday at about 3:00 when the most remorseful little girl showed up on my doorstep. She did not knock, but the cat sensed that she was there, so I went to check. I opened the door and she remained silent, couldn't look at me. I thought she'd been in an accident and was asking for help. But her mother was standing halfway toward the street. "Can I help you?" I asked.

That's when the remorseful, very very soft speaking began. She and a boy were playing on the playground. She threw a pebble. She told him to throw a bigger rock. He did. They think they might have broken one of my windows. I asked her and her mother in, and we went to the back yard to check things out. Sure enough, my upstairs bedroom window -- you know the one I look at the gaze longingly at the children during my bedrest -- was smashed into a zillion pieces. When I confirmed that it looked like the window was indeed broken, her little frame shrank even more and the look on her face morphed into, "yes, this is the worst day of my life."

Here's the thing. I really like people. I like unusual situations because they're interesting. I liked my colonoscopy years ago. I liked the time I had a flat tire on the Interstate between New Orleans and East Texas. I liked having my window broken. My cheerful mother came out in my singsong response, "Well, the most important thing is that no one was hurt." The girl silently agreed.

The mom and I exchanged contact information and made a plan of action. I told the little girl that she was very gutsy for having confessed and come over to tell me. I tried not to be TOO happy because that's weird. Later in the day I got a call from the school and from another mother, and they've made it clear they'll pay for the window and will offer up the children for manual labor around the house. I do have some weeds to pull...

But when did I become the adult woman whose house got the rock/baseball thrown in its window? When did I cross the kid-to-adult threshold so clearly? In a movie, there is no doubt that my role would be played by an adult, in stark contrast to the kid role. So if I'm such an adult, why don't I have kids? How come those aren't my kids causing trouble and having to apologize to the people they wronged? I wanted to cling to the little confessor and say, "Don't you want to come live with me? I don't have any kids. I'm child-starved." But that would be way creepy. I think then I'd have to apologize to her mother. And maybe the cops.

So I'll just get secret enjoyment out of my proximity to the school and all the antics that happen there. And this weekend I'll get some little 100-celled trouble-makers installed in me. Maybe they'll grow and prosper and develop their throwing arms.

In the meantime, be assured that only the outside pane of glass got broken. The inside is still in tact, so as long as we don't open it, we're still secure and well-airconditioned.

And looking forward to childhood.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

In Eggshellsis Deo

The production of eggs is such a difficult thing that James has vowed to buy free range chicken eggs from now on. As he says, "The chickens have been through so much already. It's sad that they would also be in cages while their bodies are working so hard."

Like a good chicken, I produced a perfect dozen eggs yesterday. I pranced my bloated self into the operating room, and tried to complete my thought before the sedation took my brain. (Last time I think I was in the middle of a sentence about whether people snored in the operating room). They made me stand up, say, "Katherine Bailey," my social security number, and I added a "good night." Then I sat back down and conked out.

Twenty years later ... wait, I meant twenty minutes. Twenty minutes later I was back in the recovery room, trying to put my clothes on without the benefit of balance. James whisked me away to McDonalds and I was sleepy enough to not even get a shake. We got home, I downed my Big Mac, and I was off to dream land.

This morning I found myself looking out our bedroom window, through the thick summer foliage, to the school playground behind our house. With blurry, sideways eyes, I saw a series of colors parade by on the other side of the leaves. Blue, red, yellow, pink. They looked like Easter eggs. No, they were kids in t-shirts. Human kids. But every one had started out as an egg.

A people egg. Like mine. The kids all used to be eggs. That gives me hope.

This morning I got a call from the clinic and they told me that our 12 eggs rendered eight healthy embryos. Eight little babies. We'll monitor them and hopefully have a few nice-looking blastocysts to put back in by the end of the week.

That's something to dream about.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Off to Sleep

Just wanted to let the interested public know that I'll be going in soon to get the eggs sucked out of me. That is, "retrieved." They call it surgery. I used to call it a procedure, but now I'm more a believer that surgery is the right descriptor. It really knocks you on your back.

I plan to be asleep for a few days, so wish me happy dreams. I don't think I can go wrong: in the last few days I've dreamed that I was a cartoon mouse stealing food and that I was writing a blog post that made a pun out of "anti-occident" and "antioxident." Neither of those scenarios works in the real world, so it's a good thing I'll be in my own one.

See you when I wake up.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

The Other Side

For all our talk about egg retrieval, we don't like to talk about sperm retrieval. It's much more low tech, and a bit more taboo. But an anonymous friend has contributed this picture that he took at Massachusetts General Hospital. Much like a library, this public institution has contributed to his literary development. In particular, he said that until now, he did not know that "White Trash Magazine" existed.

Friday, June 6, 2008

Bunches of Eggs

Today we have a visual aid, which caught my eye this morning in the refrigerator. These grapes represent what's growing on my ovaries. At slightly under 2 cm in diameter, they're the target size we're going for. When the follicles get to look like this (except probably a different color, and without the stems), I'll get the shot that triggers the ovulation. That lets loose the eggs that are inside. Like the grape seeds, let's say, except microscopic. At the moment my follicles are about 1.2 to 1.5 cm, so it will still be another few days. At the beginning of next week we'll probably go to harvest.

Meanwhile, it's gotten a little uncomfortable on the inside of my belly. You can tell that there's something out of the ordinary going on in there. Just a little squished. On the outside I'm still contending with the injection sites where I get my three shots a day. One of those shots leaves welts; the other two just leave little bruises. Wearing a seatbelt is not fun. Not to mention a waistband, but you know how I feel about waistbands in general.

To protect my little eggs, I'm off caffeine, raw cheeses, alcohol, all those things you're not supposed to take when you're pregnant. I'm eating healthier things with vitamins and minerals. High anti-oxident content. Like dark fruits and vegetables. Grapes.

It's almost cannibalistic.

We do what we have to do.

Thursday, June 5, 2008

View from Above

The elevator in the clinic's building has a mirrory-brass ceiling that I always look up at, and watch myself from above. Today I was alone in the elevator so I took a picture.

So that's what I look like from above, perennially with my camera, heading to work after a trip to the doctor. I'm wearing the 2XL maternity dress that Mom bought me at Target last time. There is not a waistband in sight, nor could my waist ever get to where it was straining to get out of that much fabric. It looks like a conservative nun's maternity dress. It's just what I want to wear, as I grow my bunch of grape-sized egg sac follicles on my ovaries.

The picture makes me wonder what infertility looks like from above. An omniscient God might be able to see all the details. But if the audience were, say, looking down from a blimp, I think infertility would be invisible.

We all go to the clinic, all of us professional 30-something women who postponed motherhood for one reason or another. We sit in the waiting room and don't talk to each other. Instead of acknowledging our common plight, we silently watch CNN on a flat screen mounted to the wall. There is not a shred of babyness mentioned or referenced in the office, except for the logo on the door. That's a line drawing of a three-person family. Without that, you might just think this was a dentist's office. For women. Of my age.

From the sky-high view you would not notice that the people coming to this clinic every morning are the same women, over and over. There are thousands of us, but when it's the right time in our treatment cycles, we go to the clinic every single day. You'd think we would develop a bit of camaraderie. But infertile women are shy about it, even with each other. I don't really get that. But I'm special that way.

From above, it might look like we were calm. Ha! Use your binoculars. Check out what's happening in our bodies. We're worried, worn out stress cases. Occasionally one of us will burst out in tears in the waiting room, but mostly we keep it in. We're so cool that if you're just three feet above us you won't see it. It's only when you look in our eyes that you see the sadness and the hope.

If you're not paying attention, you might start to ask us whether we have children, and when we say we don't, you might make jokes about baby-making. You would announce your pregnancies to us joyfully, not knowing what a serrated knife that is digging into our sore, bloated flesh. You'd tell us to sit back and relax, that it would "just happen." And when you weren't paying attention, we'd go to the doctor yet again, and give ourselves three more shots that day, and get up and do the same thing the next day.

So I call to you, my fertility-challenged sisters, make some noise. Make a commotion. Point your finger up to the sky and wag it up at the clouds. Say, "not without a fight," and go back to the doctor. And talk to your sisters in the waiting room.

That's what I'm going to do. And by golly, I'll make sure the heavens know about it. I'm going to make a stink and let everybody know what infertility is and why it sucks. I'll let us all know we're not in it alone. We'll get this message to rise all the way up to cyberspace. And we won't be invisible for long.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Seventh Heaven

A quick note to say that things should be looking up. Today the doctor told me that I seem to have seven follicles (future egg sacs) growing on each ovary. That's double lucky, if you ask me. And as I left, I noticed that the doctor's office is located on the seventh floor of its building. Tell me that's not a sign.

Monday, June 2, 2008

Injustice, and Other Pouty Observations

Saturday I got into the thick of things again. I went to the doc for my first major "monitoring" appointment. They checked to see how my ovaries and environs were, and took some blood to test my hormones after a week and a half of shots.

Maybe I'm just "hormonal," or maybe the world is filling up with things to irritate me. Here are some of my irritants:

1. As my nurse took my blood, we talked about how there are lots of Katherines that come into the clinic. Her name is Laila, and she said there were lots of Leyla/Leila/Lailas in the Muslim communities in the area. She is African-American and her father is Muslim. I started to get mad at the socio-economic injustice that keeps minorities out of expensive fertility clinics. Why do only Katherines get to go through this hell?

2. I sat by an African-American patient while I waited for my ultrasound. This time my injustice flag went up because she had a pink bandaid on her dark arm. Why don't they make bandaids in different colors? That's just no fair.

3. I went to get my prescriptions and paid an arm and a leg for them. Maybe even some ribs. It was a huge blow as I feebly held out the credit card and closed my eyes. I went home mad that these medicines weren't available in generic form, to keep the cost down.

4. I called another nurse to confirm that it was okay to use Repronex in lieu of Menopur. That's what the pharmacist gave me. The nurse explained that Repronex was the generic version of Menopur. They don't like to prescribe it because it's not as pure as the brand version. And lo, it does leave a big red welt and hurts longer. Stupid generics.

Ah. Bear with me as I bear with myself.