Five Stages of Grief

Last month we were approved to go ahead with our third embryo transfer. This time we were given a 70% chance of success. We thought those were pretty good odds. Our embryo was pre-genetically screened and deemed “normal.” It was a fair quality embryo and our only girl.

Our transfer went smoothly. Post-transfer, I obediently rested for two days on the couch and used the time to pick out baby girl nursery decor. Man, oh man, I found the absolute cutest, sweetest little girl items to decorate our home. As hard as it was, I obediently refrained from picking up my IVF miracle toddler (much to both our dismay) so we could protect his little sis. Chris gave me shot after shot after shot to help keep my hormones at the perfect levels for our little girl.

As many of you know, there’s not much to do during this time but daydream, so we thought about our daughter a ton. We talked about what she might be like. Chris has always been crazy about the Fourth of July, and her due date was set to be right around that time. He was thrilled. We shopped online for cute little outfits containing more ruffles, floral print, and bows so big they go all the way up to Jesus. We were so excited to become parents of a little girl.

Beta Day was the day before Halloween, and just like that, our hopes were crushed in one simple email. Negative. How was this happening to us again? I felt numb. The news simply wouldn’t sink into my brain. I talked about it with a hollowness in my voice. I couldn’t believe it was true. The tears wouldn’t fall. I couldn’t laugh. All my emotions were frozen. For nearly two weeks I was deep into the first stage of grief: disbelief.

A phone call snapped me out of it. A relative told me she was in the early stages of pregnancy. Due early July. Like we should have been too. Something inside me snapped and all the sudden the suppressed feelings hit me like a Mack truck. Our daughter was gone. There would be no Christmas pregnancy announcement. My belly would not swell with the growing life of my little girl. There would be no big bows, and floral prints. The perfect name we picked would never go to a child of ours. Mason would never have a sister. We were simultaneously bummed for someone telling us their happy news at such an sensitive time, and utterly depressed that infertility has us deep in the clutches once again. I laid on the couch and sobbed for most of the weekend.

The stages of grief are no joke. I feel like my emotions are a pinball machine, and I find myself bouncing from one thought to another. The same thing is happening to Chris and not at the same time. There’s not a lot we can do except feel what we feel and try not to judge our emotions. We still have some grieving to do. We’ve talked to our family therapist, and she’s supporting us through this time. To be honest, most people really don’t comprehend our pain. And why would they? It’s not something the majority of the population has any experience with. Most expect since we have Mason already, we will be fine. He definitely makes us so happy, and we are beyond thankful for him. But our life will always be different moving forward. Part of us will always feel the absence of our daughter. Time may help us heal, but it will never give her back to us.

Our clinic reviewed out charts. Since this is the second embryo we’ve lost that was expected to be a successful outcome, they’ve decided they want to try some new options with us in the future. They want to try an endometrial scratch prior to our next cycle. This brought me to another phase of grief: bargaining. If we’d tried this procedure prior to our transfer, would she still be with us right now? They’re ready for us to move forward at any time. My heart is still broken and in mourning for my daughter. I want to process this. I want to move forward. I’m terrified of another disappointment. It’s hard to say what our next step will be, or when. For now, we are just loving on each other, praying, and trying to find a sense of peace.

Journey to Baby #2

Two and a half years ago I decided to start a blog about our struggle with infertility. Our name, Meet the Hopefuls came from my infertile play on the movie title Meet the Parents. At the time, we were still working toward receiving an official diagnosis. We were completely naive in our understanding of fertility treatments. We thought a simple pill or better timing would allow us go home and get pregnant the good, old fashioned way. Initially, we told no one about what we were facing. In fact, if you’d have told me two years ago that one day I’d be more openly blogging about our struggles with infertility, I wouldn’t have believed you. Or I’d have thought sometime in the future I was going to completely lose my marbles. Nevertheless, I sit here with a stomach full of butterflies as I type our first non-anonymous blog post about our current steps in our building family journey. In moments where I lack courage, Chris says, “get your butterflies to fly in formation!” Bear with me as I harness these fluttery little suckers…

For our first two cycles of IVF we hid in a shroud of anonymity. Very few people even knew we were infertile. Even fewer knew we were pursuing fertility treatment. Even fewer knew about this blog and those who did were people we would’ve openly shared our feelings with anyway. Writing with anonymity felt safe and comfortable. We never censored ourselves. When people in real life made painful comments, we openly wrote about and processed our feelings in the blog. When we were scared, we our fears poured out of our fingertips and onto the keyboard. When we were devastated, we journaled our sorrows. When we got pregnant with Mason, we hesitantly shared our success. We shared all these emotions without a filter because so few people we knew personally were reading our raw emotions as they transpired.

This time things are a little different. For starters, having Mason changed us in a big way. He helped us heal from some of the heartache infertility put us through, and validated our experiences. Having Mason also made us less shy about talking about infertility. We’ve  grown so much by opening up about our personal challenges. Now, our family and friends know about our struggle. Most people are hugely supportive of us. After coming out of the infertility closet, we’ve learned how truly “not alone” we were all along. A surprising number of people in our lives have shared their stories of struggle, loss, and infertility with us too. They’ve told us how thankful they are for our transparency. We hope we’re making the topic of infertility less taboo by our willingness to talk about our experiences. On the other hand, some people in our lives seem to be scratching their head as to why we would share something so deeply personal. Everyone is different, and I hope on some level even our critics can respect our decision and pure motives in helping other people who, like we once did, feel lost, hopeless, alone.

While we’ve come a long way since our initial diagnosis, recently we’ve found many of those old infertile feelings and emotions coming back into play. It all started when we decided to start trying for baby #2. To state the obvious, in our case that doesn’t mean bow-chicka-wow-wow. It means email the nurse coordinator and ask her what the first steps are in starting another frozen embryo transfer. I know, super romantic. Shortly after reaching out to the clinic to get the ball rolling, it hit me. Even after having a baby, we are still just as infertile as ever. That’s right about the time I started noticing the pregnant women–they’re everywhere. We are involved in activities with other parents and babies and children. We’re in a sea of fertile people. Mason gives us the appearance that we fit right in, but at the core we never will.

Our journey to baby #2 quickly brought me back to our old stomping ground; the fertility clinic. My nurse scheduled me for a mandatory hysteroscopy, mock embryo transfer, and cultures, prior to starting our next cycle. The procedures went well. The HSC revealed that there are no polyps or fibroids; my uterus looks good after an emergency cesarean childbirth with Mason. The mock transfer gave my RE the information he needs to place our embryo in the best spot possible. Going under anesthesia this time felt different. When I was told to bring my advanced directive, my heart sank as I thought about my miracle son. Even if the chances of problems are slim, I felt guilty for putting myself in harm’s way when I have a child. Yet, if I want to give my child a sibling, it’s the only way.

Prepping for our third FET coming fall 2017!

Being in the clinic again made the memories come flooding back. I vividly remember sitting and waiting for our first appointment–we were interviewing a new clinic after a failed cycle at the clinic from hell. We were so apprehensive, guarded, and afraid. Yet, we moved forward because that’s the only choice you have with infertility. I remember going in for our egg retrieval with a full bladder, as directed, and how badly I had to use the bathroom! The nurse finally caved and let me pee–just a little bit–so I wouldn’t wet the waiting room chairs. I remember Chris getting in his hospital gown for his second MESA/TESE procedure, and the phone call that followed telling us there were millions of sperm that time around. I remember waiting for blood draws and beta tests and ultrasounds. I remember the agonizing wait to see the doctor the day the nurses suspected I’d had a miscarriage, and what a horrible sense of loss and emptiness we’d felt, only to yo-yo back to security when we found out Mason was okay. I found out my symptoms were due to a disease called adenomyosis I didn’t know I’d had all along. I remember the day we were discharged from the fertility clinic, and how exciting and scary it was to be released to a regular OBGYN’s care.

We have been through a lot in that little clinic. It feels strange to be back. in some ways we feel like we beat infertility–we went on to have a successful pregnancy and healthy baby. At the same time, infertility still holds us captive. We haven’t experienced these feelings for a long time, but they’ve been silently in the background all along. I wonder what our future holds. We still have three frozen embryos–two boys and one girl. We just learned this week that our girl is our lowest quality at a 4BB. All along we planned to transfer her next. And when I found out her quality, all the sudden I found myself bracing for the emotional roller coaster ride. Regardless of our feelings in the matter, we’ll stay on this ride until we’re finished with our family building journey.

The difference a year makes.

infant-pumpkin

I have had every intention of updating this blog in the last several months, but a serious case of writer’s block has left me staring at a blank page and a blinking cursor every time I’ve sat down to write. Yet for some inexplicable reason, that block was removed tonight as I sat down to reflect on the events of the last 12 months. Maybe it’s that I finally found my creative mojo…or, more likely, maybe it’s the steady stream of kiddos running around our neighborhood in search of candy.

Halloween has always been one of my absolute favorite holidays. My parents made such a big deal out of it when we were growing up–this season fills me with nostalgia and happiness. Last year my teacher friends and I handmade the most adorable “three blind mice” costumes to wear for our costume parade at school. We planned them out months in advance, and got together in our off time to work on our creations. The costumes turned out to be adorable. We couldn’t wait to show them off at school.

After our second round of IVF I got pregnant, and things started getting a little scary. I started spotting and cramping at about six weeks into my pregnancy and wound up on a month of bed rest. As it turned out, I missed the Halloween parade at school. But my two trusty friends weren’t about to let me miss out on all the fun. They came over to my house, we threw on our costumes, and I was a captive audience on the couch as cute trick-or-treaters came by our house in throngs.

I remember studying their parents’ tired faces. I remember thinking just how grateful I would be if one day I could be in their shoes. I remember wondering if they knew just how special their little ninja turtle, princess, skeleton, [insert adorable kid’s costume] was. I was so jealous of them in that moment. Their child was there. Safe. Secure. Healthy. Would my little miracle baby be among them someday? I hoped with every fiber of my being he would be.

If I could go back in time, I wish I could give myself the reassurance that all would be well. That my 6AA would, in fact, hang in there. That he would grow to be a perfect, beautiful baby boy. I’d give myself the heads-up that his birth was going to go NOTHING as we planned, but that he’d arrive unscathed. I’d tell myself that my little boy would be wearing an adorable costume right along with all the other little kids in the neighborhood. I wouldn’t have to look at their folks and be jealous, because I’d join the ranks of parenthood, too. My heart would be so full it could burst. I would feel so incredibly thankful.

Just when we think we’re leaving the world of hopelessness of infertility behind, a reminder of the past in the form of a phone call from someone dear to us, who just experienced a loss brings us back to an unfortunate reality. Not everyone has an effortless conception. Some, like us, struggle. Even for those who conceive somewhat effortlessly, not everyone has a smooth pregnancy. Some will end in heartache and loss. My heart breaks for those hurting families. I wish I could look into the future and tell them happiness is ahead. I wish I could tell them the pain they are feeling is nothing compared to the joy that is coming.

Chris and I held each other close this morning. We talked about how unfair it seems that something as beautiful and hopeful as pregnancy can be shrouded by such difficult circumstances for some couples. It can seem incredibly unfair. We know some incredibly deserving, loving people who should never have to go through these situations. Hearing their stories brings me to tears. It can be so hard for me to look at. I know their suffering all too well. Other people will never feel the pain of this struggle. I know many people who have had healthy, flawless pregnancies and never experienced any suffering. Struggle. Loss. I look at them, and I am happy they are free from any trauma surrounding conception, pregnancy, and delivery.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not a contest or a competition. I don’t look at the fertile, happy couples and think “Gee, what I wouldn’t give to be them.” I can say to you truthfully, my son means so much more to me because our experience was a struggle. The struggle made me realize just how special this gift of a child is. I wake up every single day and I say to Chris, “Look at him. He’s perfect. I’m so happy.” We’ve lived through some dark, hopeless days to get here. But we never gave up.

Tonight we hug our little one a little tighter. We thank God more humbly. We hold those in mind who are suffering. We say prayers for those who are struggling. We hope that one day soon their rainbow comes.

P.S. Now that I have finally broken through the writer’s block, I intend to fill you guys in on the latest in our lives very soon. Stay tuned.

Mr. Hopeful Opens Up

“It’s OK, Cornelius. You can cry.”

Earlier today, my wife and I attended our first peer-led infertility support group. She found the group on Resolve’s website, and it just so happened that today they were encouraging spouses, husbands, and partners to join in. The meeting itself was held in an unassuming two-story community center with ample parking, a neatly-trimmed hedgerow, and two long, deep trenches in the sidewalk from where my heels had gouged the concrete as my wife dragged me in the side door by my shirt collar.

Am I supportive of my lovely bride? Absolutely; I’d march straight down to hell and bite the tongue off the devil if she asked me to. But was I excited for the support group? Not in the least. It’s not that I’m not a social person, but I really don’t like being put on the spot. During our drive to the support group, I imagined myself sitting in the middle of a circle full of coffee-swilling strangers, being peppered by questions about my infertility. And for a knuckle-dragging Alpha-male like myself, exposing to strangers my inability to reproduce is leaps and bounds more embarrassing than showing up in my boxers would have been. Maybe I would have felt differently if I wasn’t the reason that we are doing all of this in the first place, but as it were I was perfectly content to keep my support group attendance in the same category as my vas deferens—ABSENT!

Now, to Quentin Tarantino this story and jump to the end, I walked out of the meeting 90 minutes later and delivered to my wife the four simple words that every woman in the world delights in hearing: “You were right, dear.” As it turns out, I couldn’t have been more wrong about the support group. In no way was it like any of the support groups in Fight Club; nobody put me on the spot, there was no coffee, and I didn’t end up having to hug any strangers (no offense to strangers, I’m just kinda partial to my boundaries).

The truth is that the meeting was amazing in that it made me realize that there are other people out there who feel the same way that my wife and I do. Looking back, this sense of community shouldn’t have been as astonishing as it was, but I truly was caught off guard by how safe I felt the minute the talking started. As each individual and couple took turns sharing their story, I felt less like an alien and more….well, normal, I suppose. Those of you who are infertile can probably relate to the feeling of seeing children in public and feeling like an outcast, a misfit, and a failure. But when surrounded by others who are dealing with similar situations, I began to see that while there was a lot of sadness in the various individuals in the room, there was also a ton of strength. Each and every couple that spoke had clearly been tempered by the fires of loss and despair, and yet had bounced back up to try again (and, in some cases, again and again and again). My heart broke as many of the women burst into tears while talking, and yet I was encouraged by the compassion that everyone in that room showed. These may have been strangers, but they clearly had each others’ backs—and ours.

When it came time for us to share our story, my wife gave me an encouraging nod and I began recounting our journey, beginning with the phone call from our doctor on my 30th birthday letting me know that I had zero sperm. Interestingly enough, I sensed that I had more in common with most of the women in the room than the men, simply because the majority of the couples there were dealing with female infertility. I’d like to think that I gave the dudes some insight into how to hold their wives emotionally—primarily because I’ve got a bit of training in this regard, and also due to the fact that my wife has been such a complete and total rockstar throughout this process, having handled me in a very loving and empathetic manner and never once causing me to feel guilty or blamed for our infertility. One thing that was cool was that after I spoke, another husband in the room shared his story of infertility, and as he was talking I was reminded that I am not the only man on the planet who cannot have children the ‘natural way’. I understood what this guy had gone through, quite possibly better than his own wife in some ways because I could connect with the roller-coaster that we had both been on individually. Finding another person who had endured this pain and survived was strangely comforting, and I could feel the icy wall of isolation that I’ve felt for the past few months begin to melt away a tiny bit.

Overall, I was pleasantly surprised by this experience. Previously, any sense of community that I’ve felt during this process has been limited to online blogs and awkward, wordless encounters with other patients in our IVF clinics. But to sit at a table (not a circle of chairs, mind you) and discuss the issue with other living, breathing humans who truly understand what we’re going through was a very good feeling. As we exited the parking lot, I was struck by a profound thought: every single person in that room who showed up to participate would make an award-winning parent.

I pray to God that each and every one of us gets that chance.

You Are Not Alone

NIAW-CMYK

Four years ago, a dear friend confided that she and her husband were struggling to start a family. After a devastating failed IUI (intrauterine insemination) they decided the best thing for their family was to move forward with adoption. My friend had a lot of anxiety about the process, and was so eager to begin her journey into parenthood. While I did my best to support my friend, I admit I had no idea how difficult the situation was for her. My husband and I had never tried to have a child, and I thought infertility was extremely rare.

At the time, I asked myself what I would do if I were in her shoes. I remember thinking fertility treatments were costly, and seemed almost egotistical to me. It was silly even to ponder it–if we struggled with infertility, of course we would adopt. Sometimes when we think we have life all figured out, we get gain the opportunity to learn some humility. In fact, our own journey into the world of infertility began with a nice, heaping helping of humble pie.

Chris and I started trying for a baby at the end of summer in 2013. The first month we did not succeed, I thought our timing must have been off. So I read a few articles, and we tried again. The second failed month I was baffled. We tried harder. Again, we failed. I was already discouraged. I mean, in high school, hadn’t we learned that unprotected sex was a straight shot to pregnancy? Our phone rang, and it was Chris’s brother announcing he’d accidentally gotten his girlfriend pregnant. They were terrified. I remember thinking, “How was that an accident? We’ve been planning this out, and it hasn’t worked yet!” Little did I know, this was just the beginning of the journey.

After over a year of trying, we still had not made any progress. Family and friends had become pregnant and delivered their children within the time we simply tried and failed. Baby showers were starting to become torturous, and every pregnancy announcement stung. I remember our close friends telling us our time would come. It got to a point where I couldn’t get this advice anymore–it was simply too painful. Finally, we reached the breaking point and reached out for help from a reproductive endocrinologist.

After countless invasive tests, and blood work we were shocked to discover our problem was not just a quick fix. Chris has no sperm, a condition known as azoospermia. He was referred to a urologist for further testing. We were devastated. When we got the news I was rocked to my core. I lost my peripheral vision in a full-blown panic attack, and still had to drive myself home from work. The next few weeks I was living in a dark cloud. I looked around me, and all I saw were families. Every child I saw was a a reminder that I may never have the opportunity to be a mother someday. It was a lonely place to be. 

We all start somewhere. The fact is, when we first received our infertility diagnosis, I had never felt so alone in all my life. It is amazing how several months can change everything. In these five months, we have learned so much. First, we learned that men, like Chris, can be born without a vas deferens. Without this tube, it is essentially like a congenital vasectomy. We will have to use in vitro fertilization (IVF) to have a child. Second, we learned infertility is treatable. In the beginning, we thought we would never have a biological child. While we still have not proven that we can, we learned of treatment options that would allow the doctors to take sperm directly from Chris’s testicles. Third, we learned that science is pretty cool.  Although, there is still so much research to be done in the field of infertility, there are many people out there working hard to make a difference in the lives of others and enable people, like us, to become parents one day.

As we sit on the brink of the final phase of our first round of in vitro fertilization treatment, I can finally say with confidence: I am not alone. Why? This community is rock solid. When the diagnosis comes, there is a temptation to hide it, to feel shame, and to wish it away. However, there are so many people out there, one in every eight couples to be exact, who are going through similar pain. Their diagnoses may be different, but each of us share the common longing and desire to be parents. I have made friends in the blogging world who offer support every step of the way. I am also part of an IVF Support Group with over 6,000 members all going through the same treatment process I am. Who can feel alone with that many people sharing your journey?

I am not alone because I have an amazing partner. Chris and I are sharing this experience together. We may process the information at different rates, and have different coping strategies, but at the end of the day, we are a rock solid team. No matter where this journey leads us, we know we have each other. We are eager to see where this road will lead, but we are confident that we will be parents someday.

-Heather

To learn more about infertility visit Resolve: The National Infertility Association.

Click here to learn more about National Infertility Awareness Week

Reason #1,503,235 not to ask a woman if she is pregnant…

Sticks and stones can break my bones, but frankly; words hurt most of all.

Since I was a little girl, I’ve struggled with body image issues. My family was very appearance-conscious, and discussed weight on a frequent basis. In high school, my challenges with body image took on a whole new form. While my family never sought a diagnosis, but it’s fairly safe to say I had an eating disorder. I withheld food and nourishment, and became incredibly thin. I was depressed and felt worthless. It is the time in my life I look back on with the greatest sense of regret.

When Chris and I got married, I was able to heal much of these thoughts and feelings through counseling. I’ve come an incredibly long way in my journey with how I view my body, and my sense of appreciation for it.

Today, I had to remember how far I’ve come. I had to hold onto it with every ounce of my being, as I drove home from work clutching the steering wheel, tears streaming freely down my face.

At work today, I greeted a gentleman I ran into in the hallway. I haven’t seen him in a couple of months. After the typical, “hi’s” and “how are you’s” he took a long, hard look at my belly, and said, “Are you expecting a baby?”

It felt like someone knocked the wind out of me.

I managed to force out a, “No.”

“Not yet, hmm?” he replied.

I turned and walked to the ladies room. As I held tight to the sink, absolutely floored by how idiotic people can be, I tried to pull it together. I stood tall, and scrutinized myself in the bathroom mirror. “Okay, Heather, so you’ve gained a little weight,” I thought, “not the end of the world.”

I was keeping it together until I saw my favorite coworker. I told her what had happened, and completely fell apart. It was the kind of cry where you can’t breathe and your body starts doing that lovely convulsing thing. Not cute at all. She held me tight and told me how stupid men are, and told me I’m beautiful.

Thankfully, it was the end of the day, and I was able to go home.

Given my history, and our current status battling infertility through IVF, this was probably the most insensitive comment a casual acquaintance could have made. I keep telling myself he had no way of knowing what we’re going through, but it really feels like the universe is trying to kick me when I’m feeling down.

At home, I got some attention from my empathic fur-ball.  The second I walked in the door, Chloe started showering me with affection. We have a close bond and she can tell when I’m hurting. It is amazing what a little love and a furry best friend can do for the soul.

Who needs therapy when you have a dog? 💗

People Who “Get” It

Unless you’ve dealt with infertility firsthand, it can be really hard to understand and relate. Some of our friends know what it feels like to struggle with conception, but then have been able to achieve pregnancy without medical assistance. 

With my husband’s condition, we will never get pregnant without IVF. Many people don’t know what that feels like. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve been asked about my feelings on adoption, or if there was any other alternatives to IVF, I would be fairly rich at this point. Heck, maybe I’d even have enough money to pay for IVF! 

I read recently going through the process of IVF puts you and your partner in crisis mode. There are unknowns, fears, and new decisions around every turn. There’s the constant battle to make the best choice for you and for your family. It can be daunting, isolating, and just frankly overwhelming. Then add the physical component to all of that. Your body is going through additional hormones, and there’s an extreme sense of pressure to do it all right so that you are able to achieve success. 

Do you ever feel completely isolated by being an IVF patient? There are few people in my life who I feel completely supported by right now. Obviously my husband is at the top of this list. Next, would have to be one of my more senior coworkers. My immediate family is unaware of our journey because certain members probably wouldn’t be able to handle it. It’s a blessing for us and for them to keep it private. We feel much more relaxed without their involvement. 

Being in the blogosphere, I’ve found a great sense of relief by reading everyone’s journeys. It makes me feel like we’re not alone. There are many people out there who are going to the IVF process, just like us. Reading the success stories helps keeps hope alive. 

Yesterday I found out that my OBGYN conceived twins through IVF. I was in her office for my annual pap, and told her Chris and I are about to start the process. She was so excited and so unbelievably supportive. She said she and her husband went through treatments for two years and then finally decided on IVF. It was so amazing to feel like my doctor understands what we’re going through. It will be awesome when we’re transferred back to her care someday.