Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Fear and Bitterness in IF Land

A lot has happened in the last week, the sum total of which is a general feeling of yuckyness and funk from which I am not sure how to recover. Suggestions are welcome.

First, my brother got married. Typing that as a negative makes me feel like a special kind of selfish and evil -- who sees her brother's wedding as a reason for bitterness? -- but there it is. Weddings, frankly, are not friendly to the IF crowd. All that talk about building their own family, looking forward to children, yadda yadda. It is all just so hopeful, it brings my back to my own wedding day when I was fresh faced and optimistic. And of course it now feels like there is this imaginary race toward birthing the first grandchildren. The multitude of questions I got from family and old friends about our "family plans" (this will never cease to amaze me) were also not helpful to my mood.

As Sunday night approached, with Monday morning's baseline -- the official start of my first IVF cycle -- hanging out there ominously, I grew more and more restless and less and less tolerable. You might think that by 32 I'd have learned how to manage my emotions and how not to convert anxiety over significant life events into virtual meltdowns over things like a missing sweater or a show that didn't TiVo, but you'd be wrong. And my husband (who, miraculously, still lives with me) would be the first to explain to you just how wrong you were.

Here's what did not do anything to improve things: waiting all afternoon to get the call with my baseline results, finally calling them in a panic at 4 p.m. when I still hadn't heard, finally getting a voicemail back at 4:25 when I really thought they'd forgotten about me, and having their message be different from my original instruction sheet (the Menopur that was on the original sheet was not in their verbal instructions). After several calls including a first-time-ever page to the on-call doctor and much hand-wringing over the confusion ("Is this the thing I'll look back on -- why did I not press the issue on the Menopur? What if it was the thing that would have made it work?"), I learned that it was simple human error. Apparently the order was never in my doctor's notes, and the nurse who wrote the instructions had included it completely inadvertently. Which makes me feel both better and worse, but I'm trying to move on.

All of this other angst is only aggravating my elephant-in-the-room anxiety over the impending egg retrieval. I simply cannot will myself to stop obsessing about it. It is the fear of the unknown -- I had the same consuming fears about my HSG test nearly a year ago, which turned out to be a breeze for me -- that is my worst enemy. I have learned to feel brave about everything else, from taking shots to all the morning ultrasounds and blood draws to the nurses telling me I'm not pregnant to relatives' voices asking me when I will be. I need to find a way to be brave about this part too.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Dear Infertile Friend (You'll Never Believe What My Kid Did!)

So I'm sitting at my desk on Friday, minding my business and writing remarks for our upcoming fundraising dinner, when my little Outlook window shows I have a new message. One look at the subject and the bottom falls out of my stomach. It's just one word, the name of the daughter of a friend of mine (let's call her Kylie). Though every instinct tells me to ignore it -- even delete it, send it to a cyberspace black hole filed under "emails about children insensitively sent to infertile people" -- I open it. It's a story, sent to about five friends of this friend including me, about Kylie. I will spare you the details (I already shared them with two IF friends and subsequently felt huge guilt for subjecting them to it -- I should not spread the suffering around on this one), but generally, it's a saccharine story involving Kylie and her discovery of the moon the evening before.

I had several thoughts at once. First, I will give my friend the benefit of the doubt. Though I distinctly recall a get-together with another friend in which I alluded to there being "challenges" in my reproductive department (And honestly, I have been married for eight years. Eight years! She has known me since junior high and knows I love children. Is sensing that I am infertile such a leap? Maybe I should wear a button or a t-shirt.), I have never had a frank discussion with her about what I'm going through. Though I would love the comfort of confiding in her, her mother is known as our hometown's gossip and the risk that it could slip out and get to her (and the loss of control over my story that would ensue) is not worth the reward. So I will assume that it never occurred to her that it could hurt me, her friend who is scared senseless about going through her first IVF cycle.

Still, why would I get this email at all? Having never been pregnant, I have never even come close to being inducted into "the club," so maybe someone can explain it to me. What happens to you where you think this kind of story will be appreciated by others who do not answer when this child says "mommy?" What makes you think it will be entertaining for them?

Playing devil's advocate, I can hear critics of this post say that I am cold, that we're talking about a child, that it's human nature to find children adorable and entertaining. And I say that is BS. Do I find it awe-inspiring that my friends have these kids who are walking and talking little versions of them? Absolutely. Am I so happy for them and the family lives they've been able to create? You betcha. Am I going to find every excruciating detail of said family lives interesting? Not any more than they would find a play-by-play of my 2 p.m. meeting interesting. But somehow, when you're talking about a child, it makes it okay to tell these stories, even to those who might be hurt by them. The implication seems to be that we should just grin and bear it. That to protest is to seem like a kind of misanthrope, a cold-hearted grinch.

There are baby and pregnancy references everywhere -- ours is a baby-obsessed culture. You can do your best to shield yourself from them, but short of never watching TV, reading a magazine or book, or going to the mall (Can somebody tell me how many more fancy baby clothes stores this planet needs?), you can't hide completely from them. But when it comes to your friends, don't you have the right to expect that they'll spare you the kind of cyber hand grenade that was the email I got on Friday?

I'm tired of trying to be brave, of swallowing the tears. Tired of bearing the burden. Part of me wants to play the infertile card, to tell these friends that I'm going through it and ask that they leave me off these emails (The snarky side of me wants to email back one word: "Unsubscribe."). But I am still fiercely protective of my story, and the vulnerability I know I will feel after delivering such a response always keeps me from hitting send. And I guess there is some self-critical part of me that thinks it's a little selfish to ask them not to talk about their kids while I don't have them -- will it be okay for them to do so when I do? If I don't have a summer home, is it not okay for my friend to talk about her beach house?

The fact is, I do have friends with kids who talk about them in a way that does not stir this kind of angst (I can think of a few who read this blog, and it's important to me that they know this is not a blanket criticism of any friend of mine ever uttering a word about their offspring). I don't know if it's their general sensitivity to my condition, their restraint when it comes to the frequency of these comments, or the way in which they communicate these details (no "e-bombs," and often a question first about whether I am in a mood to hear them), but the combined effect is that it is okay -- in fact, it gives me hope that someday I will be sitting in their shoes, listening to some child of mine yammer on about what the opposite of "raining cats and dogs" is. But I promise, if and when that day comes, I will not share whatever cute thing s/he says with you unless I sense that you really, really want to know.

(How do you handle babygrams from friends?)

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Someone to Watch over Me

When I was little, I loved to fall asleep in the living room with the TV on and others still watching. It was comforting and cozy to think that life was still going on -- and that it would still be there when I woke up. That I would open my eyes and find not a dark, empty room but life and warmth. In the same way, I love hearing the silken voice of the announcer on the soft rock station (guilty pleasure) say, "Continuous soft rock all through the night," and (stay with me) waking up to the stock reports from Asian markets. It gives me the reassuring sense that the world is turning as planned, that others are keeping watch by night, that the sun will keep setting and rising on schedule. That, when I am just starting my Monday, people in Asia are already wrapping it up. Monday came and went on the other side of the world, and nothing catastrophic happened. They led the way and lived to tell about it. They were keeping watch.

I have never longed for this feeling more than now. I want someone to keep watch, to make sure my world keeps turning even when it feels like it's about to stop. To somehow keep me on course, to lead the way as I fumble in the dark.

This longing was sharpened yesterday as I shakily attempted to navigate the complex maze of IVF drugs and instructions. First, there was the realization that today, October 15, coincided with day 21 of my pill pack -- not day 23, as was written on my instruction sheet. Which direction should I follow -- the written date or the written pill pack day? The nurse I spoke with only complicated matters: the most important thing was that I overlap the pill and the Lupron for seven days. Since I was to stop the pill on 10/22, that meant I should start Lupron this morning. I thought that answered that -- until I consulted the calendar and realized that (and since math is not my strong suit, this took a few manual counts of the days) 10/15-10/22 actually equals eight days of medication. I called the nurse back and this time I stumped her. While I usually enjoy impressing with my sharpness -- who doesn't? -- it turns out that when it's a nurse in charge of the process that will create your baby in a lab, it doesn't quite provide the same thrill. She left a message for the original faulty instruction maker (who happens to be my favorite nurse so she gets some slack) to call me back today (I have started the Lupron).

Yesterday, take two: Having noticed the absence of a friendly UPS email telling me enough injectable drugs had arrived on my porch to feed a drug habit for a year, I called the pharmacy. The very earnest gentleman I spoke with looked up my account and assured me that, yes, my medications were just approved by insurance and would be delivered Wednesday afternoon. "Um, yeah, no," I told him. "I told you when I called Friday that I needed them today, as I start the Lupron in the morning." One messenger and one husband pulling into the driveway just in time to sign for it, and I had my medications. But, hello? Where is my infertility secretary and what has she been doing all day? She is so fired.

It's hard to keep up. It's exhausting to be vigilant, to make sure the drugs get into my body when they should. And to be confident that this process will go as intended, that my body will perform and create life out of this. To know that I can be sure and steady when I need to be. I want someone to keep track of the details, to give me comfort through the night. Someone to keep watch.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Falling for Hope

There is something about fall that makes it easier to hope. Something about the crisp in the air that carries a sense of anticipation, a feeling that good things are just on the horizon. It makes me nostalgic for a time when this kind of weather would signal the need for school supplies, for Trapper Keepers and new corduroys and a glossy new lunchbox with the character du jour on the front of it. There was a sense of starting over, of wiping the slate clean, and this weather brings all of those memories rushing back. It makes me want to run out and buy number two pencils.

But it's harder now to think about what's ahead, because the stakes are so much higher. Gone are the days when my biggest problem is that I'm not crazy about my new math teacher. That my BFF isn't in the same homeroom. That my boyfriend is trying out for varsity track this year and may not have time to hang out.

On my drive to work, I look at the throngs of newly arrived students -- when you live in a college town it's impossible to avoid them -- and I just think, You don't know how lucky you are. Not that I would go back. I like being 32 and happily married and knowing now what I didn't know then. But would I escape from this limbo -- this time when I'm no longer a carefree 20-something with no real responsibilities but not yet a 30-something with the children I always knew for sure I would have by now -- if I could? Would I give up the burden of infertility and once again feel what it's like to live with unburdened hope ahead? In a heartbeat.

I don't know what to hope for anymore. As I prepare to start an IVF cycle -- something I swore I wouldn't do when we started this journey, before I felt the sting of failure and the irresistible allure of something bigger and better promising to deliver on my dream -- I am not sure if I dare to trust the better odds, the assurances that this is far superior to everything I've done before. In a way, it feels like I'm starting over, like this is where it might really get good. But I've been fooled into hoping before, and my horizon for hope beyond this is getting shorter and shorter.

I don't know what to hope for. So I'm trying to just enjoy the moments of this season that I adore, savoring the scent of dried leaves and apples and the veil of softer sunlight, and every so often, the sense it brings that something good might be just around the corner.