Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Blast from the Past

It's official. I'm cursed.

In the latest installment of "The Miscarriage That Refused to Die," I visited my primary care doctor on Monday. Because how could I let a federal holiday pass without interacting somehow with a medical professional? I really don't want to say why I went to her, except that it's crucial to the punchline of the story, which I will get to in a minute. You see, sometime while I was taking those antibiotics after my D&E, I started having, ahem, digestive issues. And since the symptom hasn't yet gone away my RE's office recommended a visit to the old primary care doc, an idea that seems somehow quaint at this point.

At any rate, my doctor said it probably had something to do either with the antibiotics killing good bacteria in my stomach (why does this concept of good bacteria remind me so much of Glenda the Good Witch?) or some random thing I may have picked up during my stay at the hospital (which is encouraging, because I was really lamenting not having a souvenir). And then she said something truly awful: the only way to know for sure would be to bring a "sample" to the lab. On two separate occasions.

I don't know about you, but at this point, I am totally fine with procedures involving my reproductive organs. Want to put foreign objects in there, look around, take some pictures, redecorate? Totally fine -- just show me the stirrups and have at it. Want to talk about what I do behind the bathroom door? Um, no freaking way. I would rather have a daylong root canal in a dark alleyway than discuss and/or deal somehow with that. Which is why I tried to avoid it for the past two days, hoping and praying that the probiotics I started taking would kick in and eliminate my symptoms and the need to do what she asked. But they didn't, so tonight I somehow willed myself to do the dreaded deed, hurry in the car and run the atrocious package to the (mercifully nearby) hospital lab.

And here's what confirmed for me that either someone has a voodoo doll with my name on it or that I'm starring, unwittingly, in a revival of Candid Camera/a very bad sitcom pilot: Upon walking into the lab, I found myself face-to-face with a woman I went to high school with. And she recognized me immediately.

I don't know if finally mustering the courage to poop in a jar and then delivering it to a lab that coincidentally employs someone you haven't seen in 15 years is the most embarrassing thing that could have happened tonight, but I do know that I wanted (still want) very, very badly to make it unhappen. That being impossible, I wish I could at least have explained to her the whole story -- for some reason it seems more pitiable, and therefore palatable, that I was there as result of a miscarriage than some random thing gone awry in that part of my body. I obviously couldn't get into it, but she was very sweet, just like I remember her when we were both over a decade younger and several pounds lighter. She will probably not tell anyone else she saw me under these circumstances, if she even stays in touch with anyone else from my hometown. It doesn't really matter if she does or doesn't -- I know this.

Still, please pray she is not there again tomorrow, when I steel myself and deliver installment #2. And then please pretend I never told you any of this.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

From Patient to Nurse

A lot has gone down. (Many thanks to those who've checked in on me -- my lack of posting has been due mainly to my trying just to stay afloat.)

When we last left our (dubious) heroine, she was recovering from a miscarriage gone bad and remorse over spilling her sad story to her mother. Her husband was also about to undergo knee surgery, which she didn't even mention here because it never even occurred to her (perhaps since hcg was still running rampant through her system and her reproductive organs still recovering) that it would be a big deal. Do I even need to tell you that it turned out to be a very big deal?

To make a very long, boring story a little bit shorter and more tolerable, ACL/meniscus surgery will turn an athletic, relatively tough (relatively being key, since it seems to me that all men become big crybabies when they are ill or injured) husband into an immobile, totally dependent, pain-ridden patient. And you, dear wife, will become his 24/7 nurse. You will handle everything around the house since he cannot walk on his injured leg for at least three weeks. You may frantically call the doctor the day after his surgery because he is writhing in pain and cannot get off of the couch without nearly passing out (and you, being substantially smaller than him -- at least on a good day -- are ill-equipped to pick him up). You will lug a 20-pound ice machine from the couch to the kitchen for refills at least twice a day. Upon realizing that your refrigerator's ice maker cannot keep up with the demand, you may find yourself buying bags of ice at the gas station at 6 a.m. during an ice storm. When a soda-delivery guy makes a really unfunny joke while he watches you do this, you may tell him that no, you did not miss the irony (you may also mutter something about him being an a-hole, but quietly).

I could go on, but I will spare you. What I will tell you is that I am sick of hospitals, and being either a patient or a nurse. That I am sick of having my stomach in knots, and getting no sleep and feeling like everything is turned upside down. That I have both welcomed the distraction and resented the timing of all of this, that I wanted to fully finish out my own recovery, both physical and emotional, before turning my attention to some other problem. I get that knee surgery is not the end of the world, but I was already operating at diminished capacity, and the surprise of having my husband suddenly be the needy one (and how) has been startling.

As for how I am doing. It depends on when you ask. I've been mostly overwhelmed. There are times, like when I was sitting across from my RE at our WTF appointment last Monday (more to come on that), when I feel hopeful and determined, ready to go at it again. There are times when I feel numb, like there's some robot switch someone turned on that makes me walk and talk and drive to work but without the involvement of my heart and soul. Sometimes I laugh and it feels genuine, and then I feel guilty and strange for having done it.

Overall, I guess I'm just searching for pockets of joy. For something to grab onto while I'm in this space, to sustain me while enough time passes and whatever needs to happen happens to get me to my baby. I am getting together with my amazing friends and ordering lattes and buying fun magazines and getting my hair done (color and all). I am watching mindless, kill-your-brain-cells TV (to the producers of The Bachelor and American Idol: The timing of your new seasons could not be better). I went shopping today and bought new towels -- huge, decadent, spa-worthy towels -- and it gave me the kind of thrill that only consumerism of the domestic sort can. I lugged the gigantic bag into the elevator back to my car, excited to get them home and put them in the rotation. A couple came on with their deliciously chubby-faced baby beaming in her stroller. And despite my shopping high, I couldn't help but think: They're taking home that baby. And I'm taking home a big bag of towels.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Diarrhea of the Mouth

Today, I did something I swore up and down I would not do when we started this process: I talked openly with my mother about it. And now I wish I could turn back the clock and take it all back.

It had started to come out slowly. Several weeks ago, early in the IVF cycle, I told her I had PCOS and that we were "pursuing treatments" to try and have a baby. I suppose there's not a huge leap between telling her that and talking about IVF, but it seemed like talking about it in general terms left a veil -- however thin -- of mystery around it. "Treatments" could be almost anything -- injecting yourself every night with FSH before having your eggs harvested, or eating more broccoli. She didn't know the particulars, the mechanics.

Then came the miscarriage and I just felt like that changed everything. I found it impossible to get through Christmas Day without telling her -- it was an ugly elephant in the room -- so when we found ourselves alone that night and she guessed that I'd lost a baby, there was nothing to do but nod my head. I was tired of suffering in silence. And she made me glad that I told her. She was unconditionally supportive and it felt great to have another source of comfort, another outlet for expressing my overwhelming emotions.

She came over today to help me with a sewing project (lest you be impressed with the sound of that, rest assured that we didn't get very far with the sewing), and somehow I just started talking and it all came out: the Clomid, the failed IUIs, the arrival at IVF, the excitement of learning I was pregnant. I spent most of last night wide awake, thinking about everything that had happened, and I think it felt like a relief to talk about it for a while. To tell the whole story.

For a long time, I've wished that I could have my mother's support through this time. It just felt like too much of a risk to seek it. Our relationship, like many between mothers and daughters, is complex, and it makes me feel vulnerable to have shared all of this with her. I worry what she might do with the information, how she might process it, whether it might come back to bite me somehow. I worry about other people finding out. I'm not embarrassed about needing IVF (I've long been desensitized; it now seems more "normal" to me than doing the deed to get pregnant), and over the past year have grown more open about it. In fact, I see myself more and more as having a responsibility to share my story, as if in the telling I might somehow help another infertile woman somewhere. But I am still cautious; talking about it feels like revealing something deep and true about myself.

I wish I could take it back, but clearly my only option is to trust whatever instinct told me to put it out there today. And hope that soon, there will be a baby -- a child and a grandchild -- in front of us, and how he or she got there will be a distant memory and a minor concern.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Auld Lang Syne

It wasn't over. Even after the horrible night on Monday, even after passing what appeared to be all of my internal organs, it -- unbelievably -- was not over. And I have a night in the hospital, marks from three IV sticks and another surgery under my belt to prove it.

Like some sort of miscarriage vampire, my symptoms had again disappeared during the day on Tuesday, only to return like clockwork at 7 p.m. Tuesday night. This time it became clear there would be no avoiding medical intervention. The bleeding was alarming, and everything just seemed "off." My husband called the on-call doctor again to let her know we were coming in to the ER.

I wish I could say that I felt brave during the hours that followed. That I felt more like a mother (albeit one losing her baby) than a child. But truthfully, I felt vulnerable and small. What we learned through hours of waiting, testing and more of the same, was that while the main "products of conception" (i.e., the gestational sac) were completely gone, my endometrial lining was still too thick at 12 mm (they wanted it under 10). I was also developing an infection -- my white blood cell count was highly elevated -- and they suspected the cause as retained products embedded in that thick uterine lining. I needed to spend the night in the hospital ("night" being relative, since at this point it was 2 a.m.), they said, so they could administer IV antibiotics while I waited for a very necessary D&C in the morning. I don't know if upon hearing this news I became the biggest crybaby the ER had seen, but I didn't take it well. I was exhausted, starving (they'd banned food and water since I'd arrived, apparently having seen enough of these cases to know where mine was headed) and anxious, and I just wanted to go home where I could feel safe in my own bed. But of course I knew what I had to do. Smart doctors were taking all of the mystery out of it, and even with my fear there was comfort in knowing that the ordeal of this failed pregnancy would soon be over.

Combined, my husband and I probably got a half hour of sleep all night. Once I got admitted to a room at 4 a.m., there were countless interruptions for bloodwork and questions about my health history and noises from the patient next door. Despite my having successfully conquered my fear of anesthesia for the egg retrieval in November, I still had reservations about having it again. I was also worried about potential complications from the surgery, including scarring (the one ovulation problem is more than enough, thank you very much). But I was well aware that the D&C was no longer optional.

The anesthesiologists, surgeon and attending physician trickled into my room once the light started filtering into my window. Even in my fatigue-, fear- and fever-induced delirium, I was adamant about their using as little anesthesia as possible. I am sure they all thought/knew I was a huge nutjob, but in the end the experience proved what you'd think I would have learned by now but so clearly have not: that my fearful anticipation is always, always worse than the reality of an experience. It's not like the D&C was fun -- I mean, I wouldn't necessarily want keepsake photos or anything -- but it was painless and over in a flash (I ended up with local and very light "conscious sedation"). And I instantly felt 1,000 times better.

I'm not sure yet what the big lesson is in all of this -- all of the physical and emotional pain of losing this pregnancy. I did learn that taking the miso*prostol to try to avoid surgery did nothing but prolong the inevitable and wreak havoc on my body. And that ER doctors are not the gentlest with a speculum (I mean, really. No pleasantries, all business. And ow.). I also learned that morphine is a very nice drug if you ever find yourself in the ER with excruciating cramping (ask for it by name). Maybe a bigger lesson will slowly come into focus.

There have been several points along the way of trying to conceive when I have thought that if I got pregnant then, I would be able to look back and think that getting there hadn't been so bad. That all of the pain and frustration and physical discomfort I'd endured would sort of fade away, as they say about the pain of childbirth. At this point, I can safely say that that seems like much less of a possibility. Still, as I look out on the snowy afternoon of this first day of 2009, finally feeling like myself again, it does seem possible that someday -- and maybe someday just around the corner -- these days might seem like long, long ago.