Waiting by the phone

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waiting 2It would be easy to think that the waiting periods would get easier after you’ve done this for a while. Like you’ve gotten good at it. But I’m finding that it seems to be getting worse as time goes on. In the beginning of this second IVF journey, I was optimistic and expected good results. After all, I had success with IVF in the past. But the longer this process goes on for, the more IVFs I’ve had, the more negative experiences I accumulate. After all, if I was getting lots of good news then we wouldn’t still be at this. So every time I have to wait for news – fertilization reports, 5-day progress reports, PGS results, beta results – my brain automatically pulls up all of the experiences and outcomes from my past waiting periods. It’s starting to feel overwhelming.

Yesterday it really hit me. I had been doing fine up until that point and feeling optimistic, but the day before my 5-day progress report (which my clinic doesn’t give until day 6, ugh), I started to recall my last 2 IVF cycles where none of my embryos made it to blast. Those conversations I had with the nurse when she told me rolled through my head on a loop. They even triggered other bad news conversations, like when my nurse called with my negative beta result. I dug into my bag of healthy coping skills and pulled out everything I could. I went for a walk, attended a yoga class, talked to supportive friends, made rational responses to the negative thoughts in my head, reminded myself of my inner strength, took deep breaths, prayed, cleaned the kitchen, drank a glass of wine (hey, red wine is kinda healthy).

And I made it. After waiting half the day today, my nurse finally called. Two of my 7 embryos made it to day 5 blastocysts and were of good enough quality to biopsy. They were hoping another would make it on day 6, but it ended up dying. The others didn’t last as long. So there it is. I have 2 going into PGS testing.

I’m grateful to have these 2 little embryos. Really. None of my embryos made it to blast in my last two rounds of IVF. So this is great. But I’m still really scared. I know that the rates of abnormal embryos are high for my age group. What are the chances that either of these 2 embryos are normal? Not good based on the statistics. But that’s the thing with statistics – they tell you the averages, the probabilities, but don’t actually tell you anything about you. I’m going to try my best to keep the faith and hold onto hope. We leave tomorrow to go on vacation and visit my family out of state, and I’m so thankful for that. It will be a good distraction to help me get through at least half of the waiting period for our PGS results. These are going to be a long 7 to 10 business days…

Another Egg Retrieval & Surprising Results

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Another egg retrieval down. My husband and I arrived bright and early at 7:30 am last Friday for the procedure. As per protocol, I had to give a urine sample. When they buzzed me into the back I saw my favorite anesthesiologist was there and shouted a welcome down the hall. The fact that I’ve been through enough infertility procedures to actually have a “favorite anesthesiologist” I find almost comical. Almost.  But it was great to know that I would be well taken care of, and as always, my RE and the nurses made me laugh and feel comfortable. The retrieval went well. We got 8 eggs, 6 of which were mature and they were going to try to mature the other 2 in the lab. Yep, that’s a thing. My RE was really pleased, and so was I.

That happy post-egg retrieval feeling typically only lasts one day until I get the fertilization report. Unfortunately, my fertilization rate has been really poor since beginning this process this time around. The best we’ve ever gotten was a 50% fertilization rate, which doesn’t leave you with many eggs when you begin with so few. This is a huge difference from my 100% fertilization rate at age 36. When the call came it was the embryologist on the phone. That was a huge surprise. He has never called me over the course of 5 egg retrievals. I paused and expected the worst. Was he calling because none had fertilized and he wanted to give me an explanation?

He told me that 7 ended up being mature…and all 7 fertilized! Wait, what?? I was shocked. I literally couldn’t believe it. He was very pleased and I cried. This means that this batch of eggs is of better quality than what we had been getting. In previous rounds, the eggs had a tendency of immediately dying when the sperm was injected, which is a sure sign of poor egg quality. Now I know we are far from being out of the woods. We still need to get some of these embryos to make it all the was to blastocyst. And since we are doing PGS testing, we will need to see if any come back normal, which is always a nerve wracking prospect since the results are based on a small sample of cells and there could be error. So there are many hurdles yet to pass. But this is a big win and sets us up for a fighting chance.

I am so beyond thankful for this chance. This is truly a synergy of science and miracles at its finest. Did we find the golden egg? We shall see, but I am hopeful. And now another wait begins.

The DHEA Debacle

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DHEA. It’s that supplement that’s often touted as a magical egg quality enhancer, and it seems there’s some good research to back that up. That doesn’t mean it’s good for everybody, and I’ve learned that the hard way.

I first read about DHEA in the book, “It Starts with the Egg,” which is a great book for women who are looking to improve egg quality and enhance fertility. Like every good student, I diligently read every word. Still, I was uncertain about DHEA as I knew it impacted hormones. My doubt was quickly set aside when my RE recommended I take it, along with a laundry list of other supplements, to help improve my egg quality when I first went back to him to begin the IVF process again at age 39 (and 8 months). I assumed that because my RE told me to take it that I should. Not really my smartest move. The problem is that my RE never tested my testosterone, which DHEA can increase.

I didn’t think much about it during my first IVF for baby #2. We got a PGS normal embryo and I thought all was well. After the FET failed we went right into another egg retrieval. When that one was a bust – resulting in zero blastocysts – I began wondering about my testosterone level. At the consultation to prepare for yet another egg retrieval I asked my RE about testing my level and he said we could. Then, unexpectedly, we changed protocols and started stimulation meds that same day. So there wasn’t any time for testing. During a monitoring appointment I asked the physician assistant who was doing my ultrasound if we could get that test done, and she said that it wouldn’t be good to do mid-stim cycle because my hormones would be all over the place. After that one failed too, I brought up the topic again with my RE. That time we had time to test as I waited for my period to start. I got the results on cycle day 1, which was also the day I began my meds for this current round of IVF.

When the results came back they were high. My intuition was correct. Honestly, I was irritated that they never bothered to test this before and I regret not testing it from the very beginning. The RE instructed me to stop DHEA cold turkey that day. I was told that high testosterone “could” suppress follicle growth and “possibly” negatively impact egg quality, though there aren’t definitive answers on this. He also said that my testosterone level would drop back to normal quickly, so that by the following week when my follicles are doing the majority of their growth, there won’t be a negative impact. What I didn’t ask was, “is the damage to my egg quality already done?” I’m thinking that since eggs take about 3 months to mature, it might not have been good that for the majority of those 3 months my testosterone was high. But I don’t know what, if any, impact testosterone could have at that early stage. I’ll hold that question for the next consultation if it comes to that.

I decided not to worry about this as I’m going forward with the cycle anyway, since the potential impact is really an unknown. There’s nothing I can do about it now. I’m hoping that I stopped in time to mitigate any significant harmful effect, and keeping my fingers crossed for finding that golden egg.

Tonight is my trigger shot for a retrieval on Friday morning. We are expecting about 7 eggs based on my follicle count and size. I feel like an old pro at this egg retrieval thing, but I hope this can be my last one.

Starting the New Year with More IVF

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I had a reminder about self-care the other day, and to be honest, my self-care has been slipping. The stress of multiple back to back IVF’s has been taking it’s toll. I found myself escaping into day dreams, which can be helpful at times to cope with the vast hardships that this process brings. But it can also make you miss the pleasures and moments that are right in front of you. I’ve felt disconnected, withdrawn, absent. With the long dark nights brought by a cold winter, I’m reluctant to go outside. Stagnation set in. Knowing that this isn’t the place in which I want to be, I’ve searched for a guiding light in the darkness.

In many circles, as the New Year approaches, I’ve encountered the idea of selecting a “word of the year”. This isn’t a new concept, but one that I much prefer to resolutions that are often forgotten and sometimes forced. The word of the year is meant to be an intention. A focal point that can help guide actions throughout the year. I’ve never used one before, but felt particularly drawn to try it this year. As I though of what my word might be – what intention I wanted to send out to the universe – I became stuck. I found it hard to find something that wasn’t directly related to an infertility outcome. Some words seemed to fit with how I would feel if IVF were successful: transformation, trust, faith, enjoy, connection, becoming, thankful. Other words reflected qualities I would need to carry me through IVF failures and the end of my journey toward a second child:  strength, endurance, courage, overcome, emerge, live. None felt right. I didn’t want to pick a word that reminded me of either outcome. I wanted something that was just me.

So what if I took infertility outcomes out of the picture? Could I find a word that embodies who I want to be? On what I want to focus. Would that not help me stay true to myself no matter what the outcome may be? And then, when I least expected it, it finally came to me: Revitalization.

WOTY

My Word of the Year Goddess by Brigid’s Grove & DF Inspirations

After going through the pains of multiple rounds of IVF, I am in desperate need of revitalization. And at the core of revitalization, at least to me, sits physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual self-care. When you’re in a rut, it is so easy to stay there. Or even sink deeper. It’s easy to right off self-care by saying “it’s too late to help my eggs this cycle”. I can’t be the only person that’s felt like that. But it isn’t too late. And regardless of the outcome, I want to care for myself. I’m putting my body through so much stress and I want to give something back. And I want to live my life.

I’ve started making some changes in the spirit of revitalization, and going back to some of the things that I know are good for me. I’ve put on my big fluffy jacket and gone for walks in the cold; pulled out my paints and let some creativity flow; soaked in a warm bath (not hot of course for fear of creating hard boiled eggs – can that happen?) complete with salts, candles, and relaxing music; and took in big belly breaths, filling my blood with oxygen and releasing tension.

As I move forward this IVF cycle and beyond, I’m reminding myself to choice actions that revitalize me.  During infertility and IVF, so many choices get taken away from us, but choosing my actions is something that I can control. It might not always be easy, and sometimes I need to give myself a little leeway, but I am strong – this process has thought me that.

 

A Disappointing End

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I told myself I wasn’t going to be anxious today. Today is the day that I find out if our one egg that fertilized made it to blastocyst. I said I wouldn’t be nervous because I was already counting it out. I’ve already ordered all my meds for the next cycle and the last of them will be here by tomorrow. I’m set to start my next cycle, pending a clear ultrasound, right after my period starts. It’s easy to not be nervous when your expectations are so low.

 

But here I am – sitting in my office, knowing that my phone could ring at any moment. And I’m nervous; my palms are sweating. Damn it. That means that deep inside, despite what I told myself, I’m hoping for good news. And I’m scared because I know the chance of getting good news is low. This process really takes a large toll on you. I know the feeling of being told that none of your embryos made it to blast, and I don’t want to feel that way again. I keep telling myself that I will be okay with bad news. I will get through it again. And I will. I just want my luck with this to change. I want some good news. I want it to work. And so I sit and wait…

 

Then the call came. The embryo didn’t make it. I’m not surprised and at least the wait is over. I can’t dwell on this. I can’t change it. Now I’m just going to have to focus on the next cycle. It’s all so disappointing. But where else can I move but forward?

But my body had other plans…

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My mini IVF cycle was really off to a great start. I responded excellent to the meds and at my first ultrasound I had 7 follicles. Even my left ovary, which tends to be sleepy, was producing well. It felt like this might be the protocol to do it. Each ultrasound was good and my follicles grew well and consistently. We got to last Thursday, did an ultrasound and labs to make the final decision of whether we would trigger on Friday or Saturday. My nurse called and based on my estrogen level it was decided that we would go one more day for optimal growth – trigger on Friday and retrieval on Sunday. I was right on schedule with my predicted calendar.

And then I got a second call late in the afternoon. Apparently they measured by LH in addition to my estrogen and to everyone’s surprise my LH was high – like ovulation peak high. Wait, what?! Despite the antagonist I was injecting daily, which blocks your brain from releasing LH, my brain decided to do it’s own thing. I was about to ovulate. Just two days before, my LH was low as they would expect. I was informed that my retrieval would be the next morning. I was stunned.

I spoke with my RE in the morning before the procedure. He said this happens in about 1% of the cases with antagonists. Of course I’m in that 1%. He told me of the one other patient he’s had where this happened. He waited 36 hours after the high LH reading to do the egg retrieval and ended up missing all the eggs because she had already ovulated. So, this time he’s doing it earlier – about 24 hours – in hopes of getting the eggs. Of course, the problem is you really don’t know when the surge began so there is guess work.

After waking from retrieval, I was informed that he got 2 eggs. I was devastated. And angry. Such great potential with this cycle – wasted. The issue wasn’t that I had already ovulated, rather my eggs weren’t fully detached from the fibers that hold them in the follicles. He scrapped, trying to release them, but only got 2. So we ended up being a little early. He told me to have sex since I have potentially 5 eggs that are about to be released, but I know that my chances for a natural conception are low, especially with my shotty fallopian tubes. We decided to not waste any time, since I don’t have much, and go straight into another stim cycle when my period starts in about 2 weeks. Is there a possibility that one of these 2 eggs could be the golden egg? Sure. But with stats like I’ve had, I’m not holding my breath.

This all feels surreal, as does most of the IVF process. How do we go from such a great start to this? Part of me is angry, but part of me just feels numb. And I go through the motions because what else am I going to do? After the epic failure of my last cycle, where none of my 9 eggs made it to blastocysts, this simply feels like par for the course. The fertilization report came the next day. One egg fertilized and is growing. In general, you’d expect a 50% drop off from fertilization to blastocyst. Humm, 50% of 1 isn’t looking too good. And if it did make it, would it be chromosomally normal? It’s a long shot. People have told me to have hope – that it only takes one. I get it, really I do. People want you to feel better. And they want to have hope too. But I’m getting tired. I had so much hope and optimism during these last 2 cycles and all the way up to retrieval on this 3rd. Each time I though that THIS was the one that would get me that baby. I really believed it. And all the hope and belief didn’t make it so.  I know I’m sounding really pessimistic here. But at some point, I feel like I have to protect myself from the pain. I don’t feel hopeless. I don’t feel like I’ve come to the end of my road. And neither does my RE. But right now, I need to feel neutral. I need to feel okay with a negative outcome so I don’t drown in it.

Today, I have no idea if this is going to work. I don’t know if I’ll ever have another baby. If my daughter will ever be the big sister that she so desperately wants to be. But I do know that at the end, whether I’m pregnant or not, I will have given it my best. I will have tried everything. And that’s the best that I can do.

For the next cycle we are going back to my original high dose protocol. It’s the same protocol that brought me my PGS normal embryo, as well as the failed cycle that ended in zero blasts. This will answer the question of whether that failed cycle was simply “a bad batch” or if it truly reflected a fast decline in my egg quality. My RE said that after 3 cycles of no good blasts, that’s when we would say that this isn’t going to work. I’ve had one cycle like that. I’m not counting this cycle that we just had, regardless of the outcome, because we were not able to do the egg retrieval at the right time. So I guess there is an end in sight. I truly hope there is a happy ending to this story. I’m not ready to think about the alternative.

IVF #4 – Trying a Mini!

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I went into my follow-up consult on cycle day five, just hoping for some fresh ideas to improve egg quality, and I didn’t want to hear anything fatalistic. I led off by telling my RE, “I know I’m 40 but I’m not coughing dust yet!” And like always my RE delivered. He’s not giving up on me or my eggs, and he was ready to change things up with my protocol. I have no idea if his new plan will work, but I am so grateful for this doctor who is compassionate, intelligent, humorous, and takes the time to really answer questions and explore options with me.

He reviewed the lab’s report for exactly how my eggs fertilized and what my embryo growth patterns were like. It was clear that we are dealing with egg quality, not sperm issues. He said he was really surprised that none made it to blast and they weren’t expecting that. The cycle before I got 1 PGS normal. Could it have gotten that bad in 4 months or was this a bad batch – he said it’s hard to tell now. But he created a new plan to move forward that focuses on quality over quantity.

We are doing a mini IVF. The idea here, which I’ve heard rumor is great for women over 40, is that less stim meds are used to create fewer eggs, and that hopefully allows those eggs to soak up all the resources and energy needed to improve their quality. I’m ready to try this and I was getting worried about the high doses of meds I had been on. Injecting all that stuff can’t be good long term, right?

While there are many different mini stim protocols, mine involves clomid and menopur, then later adding ganirelix to prevent early ovulation. Although I know clomid isn’t always great for women over 35, I’ve responded to it quite well at that age. Plus we are not solely relying on that. We’ll also be doing HGH a bit longer this time  – starting on day 3 of stims, simply because I wouldn’t be able to have it in time for day 1, and continuing until trigger shot. And the reason for not having it in time for stim day 1 is because I began my mini stim the night of my consultation! My RE didn’t want to waste any time so he had me start clomid that night and use some leftover menopur from last cycle. He whisked me in  for a baseline ultrasound which looked all good to go.

And so we are jumping right back in. I’m ready. The rush at the beginning to get my meds lined up was a bit nerve racking, but everything is ordered. I also had to use gonal f instead of menopur for the second day until my new meds arrived this morning because I didn’t have as much left over from last cycle as I thought. I was assured it was fine this early in the cycle since we are focusing on FSH at this stage, and both are FSH. My clinic would have given me the needed menopur but they were all out too, so gonal f it was.  I took my clomid at night for the first 2 nights and then switched to morning administration on the third day because my nurse said it’s better to take them in the AM before the ultrasounds. Changing the timing of the meds that much makes me nervous because I’m so used to them being very specific about sticking to certain times so the body has what it needs on time. But my nurse assured me that we have a lot of flexibility during the first 5 days of stims and that sticking to specific times is more important later. There’s nothing I can do about any of this now and worrying won’t change anything. So I’m letting it go and trusting that they know what their talking about.

My RE told me that there is a special medium filled with antioxidants and other goodies to “supercharge” my embryos as they grow. The idea is that this enhanced medium can better support “older” eggs in doing what they need to do. We didn’t use that last cycle because he didn’t anticipate that the quality would be as compromised.

We also discussed PGS testing and ICSI. I was concerned that maybe ICSI wasn’t working well for me and maybe we should go back to natural fertilization. My RE explained that it’s actually better on older eggs to do ICSI because the egg doesn’t have to expend a significant amount of energy pulling in the sperm. Who knew. I was pleased with our open discussion about PGS. He readily admitted that some embryos can self correct, although it is rare. He told me about a research study he did where they PGS tested embryos but put back some before the results were in to compare outcomes. He said they put an embryo back in a women and later found out it was abnormal (I forget which chromosome abnormality it had). They were all worried and expected her to miscarry, but instead she delivered a healthy baby. He explained that there are a few chromosome abnormalities that we know are incompatible with life and/or lead to significant healthy problems (I can’t remember the ones he said). Those won’t self correct. But the others, well, they just might. He said that when PGS results come back with multiple chromosome deletions or additions, then you can be confident in those results. But if the abnormal finding is do to just one chromosome issue and it’s not one of those dreaded few, then there is a possibility that the embryo could self correct or the result could be inaccurate.

I also asked about the studies showing significant variance in PGS results across labs, indicating that results just aren’t very reliable. He acknowledged those and said that you have to be careful in interpreting the results. He said that you aren’t going to find that anymore among top labs. And that’s when I put back on my psychologist “hat” and remembered what I already knew about research. People readily tout research studies published in peer reviewed, scientific journals as facts. But that simply isn’t true. A motto that was ground into my head during graduate school was, “the devil is in the interpretation.” There are issues with what the labs do, how the research is designed, and what statistics are used – even in published studies. Sadly way more often that you think, the conclusions that authors make to explain their research outcomes are simply not supported by the data. And yes, these are even published in top journals. There are often flaws in research methodology and statistics that do not support the reported conclusions. In every single graduate course I took, we had to tear apart published studies to find the flaws. They were everywhere. Now you might say, “yes but  that was psychology and this is a different topic,” however, the statistical analyses and research designs are all exactly the same. It’s math. The sad reality is that most health professionals do not have the statistical expertise to see study flaws in published work. My Ph.D. is from a research-focused program. It’s what we do.

Given all of this, I asked my RE what he would recommend to me. He said, “there are worse things than not getting pregnant,” referring to still birth, late miscarriages, and severe health disabilities.  That is true, at least to me. He advised doing PGS and agreed that we would review the results together to determine if any abnormal findings fall into the category of only one chromosome issue and that being outside of the “dreaded few”. If we have any like that – that could possibly self correct and/or be an inaccurate result – then he would do the embryo transfer if I wished. I’m comfortable with this plan as I believe it gives me the peace of mind in hopefully finding  a chromosomally normal embryo while reducing the chance of discarding one the could have made it.

So that’s the new plan for IVF #4. My first ultrasound is in 3 days!

The 6-Day Report

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And so IVF#3 comes to an abrupt end. The news didn’t go as I thought it would – I found out today that all 3 of our embryos arrested. How did this happen? All the egg quality supplements, the addition of HGH, and this cycle’s outcome was worse than before! Did my eggs get that much worse in the 4 months since my last retrieval? Or was it just a bad crop this cycle and the next will be better? I’m holding out hope that the answer is the latter. I just know there are good eggs in there – my RE just needs to find them! Initially I was feeling very sad and discouraged. I cried. But I’m not ready to give up. This isn’t the end of my journey.

 

I’ll be meeting with my RE on Nov. 27th and I hope he had some answers and ideas. Until then I’m going to take care of myself, try to focus on the simple pleasures in life, and hold onto my hope.

The Numbers So Far: Stims & Egg Retrieval

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I held off on writing about my follicle count during stims because I know how quickly it can change. But unlike last cycle, this one held pretty consistent. At each ultrasound I had 4 to 5 good size follicles and a few smaller ones. I kept hoping that the smaller ones would catch up. At my last ultrasound before egg retrieval, I had a solid 5 with 1 or 2 that might catch up in time, but I was told to not bank on those. I was actually okay with that going in and thought that perhaps my body was just putting in all the effort to grow these few high quality eggs, especially since we added in human growth hormone (HGH) for 6 days during stims to help with egg quality. Plus I’ve been on my egg quality cocktail of supplements – oh how I wish it was an actual cocktail – for so much longer at the time of retrieval. So I was ready for retrieval.

The anesthesiologist, however, was not. I sat there in the retrieval room, draped in paper gowns, and waited for this person to show up to my very important, and time sensitive, event. And then I waited some more. The RE assured me that I wouldn’t ovulate before retrieval because they calculate an extra couple of hours into scheduling specifically for uncontrollable events like this. Apparently there was a mix up with the anesthesiologists, or mine overslept – I’m not exactly sure. In an effort to get everything ready and save time while waiting on this person, a nurse came in to start my IV. She joked and said, “It’s okay, I’ve watch YouTube videos.” But then reassured me that she used to be a paramedic and I’m in good hands. Well I think dinosaurs must have roamed the earth back when she was a paramedic because the first attempt she hit a wall  and the second and third attempts were blow outs. My husband intervened and told her not to try again and that we’d like to wait for the anesthesiologist.

I got a little break, then my RE came in and told me that he had a “plan B” – if the anesthesiologist is much later, they will give me “lots of pain meds and a little something to forget”. Now, I know he meant well, and honestly I’d do anything to get the eggs, but I couldn’t help but have a few tears start to fall. I was scared. I know some women do egg retrievals awake, but I’ve never heard a good story about it. It would hurt and I’m getting a little tired of all the pain involved in this process. This was not going how I expected! The RE also said that either way, we need to get the IV started. In came a different nurse who was able to get the IV going on the first try, though not without some struggle. And let me just mention that I have great veins. I’ve never experienced anything like this. To my relief, the anesthesiologist finally arrived in the nick of time and we didn’t need to revert to the dreaded plan B.

I was shocked to find that they retrieved 10 eggs! Some of my follicles contained 2 eggs (bonus!) and I guess some of the smaller follicles caught up. It was great news. My RE said he was hoping to get 5 or 6 embryos growing from these. Ahh, if only. As last cycle, my excitement only lasted a day until I got the fertilization report. The good news was that 9 of my eggs were mature, but the bad news was that only 3 fertilized with ICSI. And I was crushed. Again. I just don’t get it. How can my fertilization rate be so poor? I’ve been taking so many supplements, as recommended by my RE and consistent with the book, “It Starts with the Egg,” and we used HGH. What went wrong? This fertilization rate seems lower than would be expected for my age, and a drastic reduction from the 100% fertilization rate (natural – not ICSI) that I had at age 36. I know I’m 40 now, but that really does seem a bit much. I want to know why, but I’m trying to not focus on that right now, and hopefully I won’t ever have to.

Now I have 3 embryos growing. One of them has to be my golden egg. It only takes one. I focus on that, but it is so easy to get pulled back into the numbers game of probabilities and percentages. That’s a scary game. So I’m putting all my energy, prayers, and intention out to these little 3. Coincidentally, or not, I happened to have 3 egg shaped bees wax candles left from the bunch I bought when I started this journey. Bedazzled with green glitter, rose essential oil, symbols for protection and blessing, and sprinkled with the herbal mix I created when I set my intentions for this cycle, which you can find here, I mindfully light these three candles nightly to send this love and energy to my embryos. Tomorrow I will find out how they fared.

3 embryos

Taking a Moment to Remember

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*Trigger Warning* – I just want to give an upfront warning to those struggling with infertility who might not be in a place where they want to read about another person’s experience with birth. This is that kind of post.

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It was 3 years ago today that I went into labor. Well by this time I had already been in labor since 2AM. My daughter’s birthday is tomorrow. So, yes, it was a long labor. About 32 hours. Each year since her birth, these two days have given me pause. They bring up such a mix of intense emotions – many of which are hard to name. This is the first time that I’m actively trying to conceive again during her birthday, and it seems like that is adding another twist to the emotions.

Like every good student, I studied up on all my birthing options and put together what I considered to be the best plan for supporting the beautiful, natural birth I had envisioned. I found an excellent team of nurse midwives who could deliver at my chosen hospital. The nurses who generally worked with the midwives were on board with natural, flexible birthing options. They were backed up by OB’s who respected their judgment. My doula was caring and experienced, and was studying to become a midwife herself. I wrote both a birth plan and a baby plan. I had practiced hypnobabies diligently in preparation. My bag was packed. My mind was filled with images of strong women crouched down, birthing their babies into their own arms. I knew to be flexible despite my planning, because things don’t always go as planned. I wasn’t that naive.

But I truly did not expect what happened. I spent thoughtful time after her birth processing what had happened. Long story short, although I was completely dilated, pushed for 4 hours, and could see the top of the baby’s head for quite some time, she simply would not come out. Due to the lengthy session of strong pushing, she was so tightly lodged in my pelvis that they actually had difficulty getting her out during the emergency C-Section. We later found out, informed by the OB who performed the C-Section, that the bone opening the baby had to pass through was 1.5 inches to small in diameter. It wasn’t that my child’s head was too large, it was simply my structure. He said I would never be able to birth a full term baby. My midwife actually agreed that there was nothing we could have done differently to have a different outcome. And we had tried every natural option and strategy they could think of. I felt okay at the time, knowing that the C-Section really was medically necessary and not a result of a cascade of medical interventions. While I was at peace with that knowledge, and felt grateful for the advances in medicine that helped me both conceive and birth my child – neither of which would have been possible years ago – that didn’t take away the birth trauma. I talked to both my midwife and doula at later appointments about what happened. I processed the trauma successfully.

Now, at this time of year, I light a tealight in a goddess candle holder that I only use for this purpose. For these two days I honor that birth. The birth of a daughter. The birth of a mother. I acknowledge the unbearable pain that I found the strength to bear. I remember feeling let down by the team I built around me who were supposed to give me support. I remember feeling alone, scared, and confused. I remember speaking up for myself even when I only had a few words. I honor my voice.  I honor my body for all that it did despite the parts that it could not do. I hold space for both the sadness and the joy.

Many people are quick to say, “as long as she was born healthy – that’s all that matters.” I am grateful beyond words that my daughter, who had to be revived three times after this traumatic birth,  came through it healthy and safe. I would have endured anything for that. But it’s inaccurate to say that that is all that matters. Birth matters. A woman’s experience matters.

I feel blessed to have gone through that transition into motherhood. And I honor it in all the chaos that it was. I hope beyond words that I get to experience birth again in all it’s raw beauty, power, and pain. I know many women on this path never get to give birth to a baby, and I am grateful that I have. And yet, still my heart yearns for one more child.