A LOT TO TALK ABOUT

Hi, so life is busy.

Well, no. It’s busy but it’s also not. It’s fallen into this nice routine but I’m tired all the time, which is unpleasant and probably the fault of the nerve medication I’ve been on for a year at this point (more on that in a minute), but it also means that by the time I reach the end of the day, I’m a noodle who isn’t very good at writing things. And I have so much to update on and so much to talk about but again: noodle, living in a constant state of no bones.

So life. 

The kids have been in school in person for coming up on three months now, and it’s mostly been a pleasant time. We’ve had… mm, I want to say three Covid scares? Two that were everyone and one that was just Carrie. It’s a weird thing because I don’t like to send my kids into school sick anyway, but now in the time of Covid, you can’t just not send them to school sick, you also need to get them tested. And I am okay with that, just so we’re clear. It’s a pandemic, kids have only just started to get vaccinated, and I’d rather know one way or the other. 

BUT it does take a day home with a head cold to five days home because we couldn’t get in to get tested until 12 on Wednesday so the results aren’t back until 10 on Friday, so we’ve missed the last three days of the week plus the weekend, and by that point, all three children have gone completely feral and are jumping from couch to couch to couch to couch while scream singing “Grace Kelly” by MIKA.

Thankfully, our school has recently implemented a “stay and test” option for people who are just close contacts, but that does nothing if your kid has the vague “maybe it’s a cold or hay fever or Covid?” symptoms, so we just check everyone’s temperature in the morning and get really caught up in the mitigating circumstances of each and every symptom (e.g., our kids are hot sleepers, so if one seems warm but they were in bed all night, we wait another hour after they get up before doing a temperature check). 

Kyle and I are both triple vaccinated, so even with ominously named variants popping up all over the globe (seriously, if they’d just gone with Omicron from the start, I feel like this entire pandemic would’ve been taken a lot more seriously. Like I’m not saying that Covid isn’t a threatening name except it very much is not a threatening name), we’ve both felt comfortable and safe enough to go to the movies again and go out to dinner again and mostly resume our normal lives, sometimes with masks and sometimes not. And despite the handful of Covid cases in our schools, both of us feel pretty safe about our kids being back in person (and all three have IEPs, so even if schools went remote again, they’d end up taking the in-person option anyway, whee). 

Being back to school in person has benefitted Sam so very much. We weren’t sure how he’d take to it, since it was a full year away, but the phrase “like a fish to water” comes to mind. He picked up right where he left off with his best friend Hunter, and he’s made new friends (Declan and Eamon) in his class. His teacher has nothing but good things to say about him, even taking into account his reluctance to put away his scissors sometimes and his adorable motormouth tendencies. He comes home constantly with stories about the games he played at recess (apparently, Among Us is popular with the kids these days, which… okay, cool, it’s literally just Mafia, but cool) and the time he spent with his friends, which is enough to make my heart feel warm and mushy, but THEN you add in that he got the highest scores on their classroom testing in math and ELA and I’m just. Beyond proud. Is there a way to be beyond proud, because that’s me. I’m beyond proud.

I also feel a weird sense of pride because, as it turns out, Sam is also autistic.

Roughly around this time last year, his therapists asked us if we’d ever had him tested, which we hadn’t. Sam and Isaac are both similar in that, while they’re both definitely autistic, they’re also both really social kids. They like to make friends and be involved with other people, but where Sam was in daycare from the time he was a year old, Isaac was home with me. Isaac was also notably delayed from the start because he was a preemie, whereas Sam would’ve just stayed in for the next ten years if the doctors had let him. 

Anyway, we didn’t ever have Sam evaluated for autism because he’s such a social kid, and he learned from very early on that socializing means eye contact and it means language and it means doing things that autistic children typically aren’t seen doing. He had his pickiness sometimes and his need for routine, but we figured that was just typical toddler stuff. 

And then the pandemic.

And a fun thing with neurodivergence is that when those of us who fall under that umbrella get stressed, we don’t mask as well. Our divergences become more and more apparent, and as a result, people start to notice. 

The pandemic was stressful for everyone, and it was particularly stressful for Sam, who had his routine and life upended overnight and never quite found his footing again. Early on, we had him seen by one therapist who recognized that he has ADHD (both inattentive and hyperactive type, because we like to cover all bases here), and once he started receiving in-person therapy, his new therapists agreed with that and said that he also seemed to be autistic.

SO. 

It took a whole goddamn year to get him an evaluation because everything is absurdly backlogged and you can’t do an autism evaluation virtually. We went for the first available slot in Boston, and an hour and a half later, the doctor said, “Yep, autistic” and sent us on our merry way with a bunch of emails and links and information and suggestions about therapies and what-have-you. 

And, real talk, Sam is excelling so much in so many ways that I’m not super interested in pursuing therapy unless he asks for it. Talk therapy, sure, because I think that helps a lot with a lot of things. But ABA (gag)? Anything besides the OT he already gets? Nah. I think he’s doing pretty well on his own, and the diagnosis mostly just gives us a tool and a shield that we can use to say, “okay, because of this diagnosis, you cannot deny him services.” 

(not that our school district WOULD HAVE denied him services, but just in case)

Anyway, he’s doing SO well that we’re actually shifting his services to an “as needed” basis, meaning that he’ll still have the help if/when he needs it, but he’s transitioned so smoothly and is doing so well that we don’t need to force it on him. And my god, he’s happy again. Last year, it was like a cloud over him, but this year, the sun’s back and it’s so beautiful.

My health is also on the docket of things to talk about. A year ago this weekend, I was in the ER with nerve pain so bad that I couldn’t do anything but scream and shake, and in a logical world, they would’ve pushed me through getting an MRI and surgery ASAP because nerve pain that bad is a major red flag for nerve injuries that could become permanent damage.

But.

I got sent home with meds, celebrated Christmas and New Year’s, then saw a doctor in January. The doctor said it sounded like a herniated disc but I’d need an MRI to be sure, but the next available MRI appointment wasn’t until March. I would’ve taken that appointment, but it fell on the same day our insurance rolled over from one to another (not that the new insurance covered the MRI anyway?), so the MRI got pushed out to late March. Then I saw the doctor again in April, and he gave me the option of either getting injections to ease the pain while the nerve healed or having surgery. I said I wanted surgery, so I got to see ANOTHER doctor in May, and we scheduled the surgery for July.

So it’s already been eight months with this injury and things not really getting better, right? And then Kyle’s company laid off his entire department literally two weeks before my surgery and we had no insurance, so I had to postpone the surgery to August. And THEN we were in this kind of song and dance with MassHealth, where nobody was really sure if we’d be able to stay on it once Kyle received his unemployment payments (note: we still have not received unemployment payments), so we postponed the surgery indefinitely until Kyle got a new job and we were on that new insurance.

September rolls around, and Kyle gets his new job and good new insurance, some of the best we’ve ever had. I call to make a new surgery appointment, but first, I need a new MRI because it’s been, at this point, six entire months so who knows what’s going on in there? And I pay roughly the same for the new MRI that I did for the one with the shitty insurance, but whatever, right?

Within 24 hours, the doctor calls me back and says, “hey, you have zero herniation left. I’d do surgery on you, but it would be pointless because there’s nothing to remove. All you have to do is just wait for the nerve to no longer be inflamed.”

To get a clearer picture, I ask, “But what about the fact that I cannot feel anything on the inside of my left thigh and also at least two and possibly three of the toes on my left foot take a good thirty seconds more to get the message that I want to move them than the rest of my foot?”

“Oh, well, those are probably permanent, but in 90% of cases, the pain goes away completely within a year of pressure coming off the nerve.”

SO LET ME GET ALL OF THIS STRAIGHT. Because of insurance issues, I had to wait and wait and wait and wait on my surgery to the point where I’ve now been left with permanent damage and pain that has an okay chance of disappearing completely but nobody is really sure when that will happen?

I’m on this nerve medication, gabapentin, that makes the world completely fuzzy. I’ve been on it for a  year. You’re not supposed to be on it more than a few weeks because it makes you sleepy and messes with your memory (not permanently, thankfully, just while you’re on it). I don’t know when I can come off it because I don’t know when my herniation stopped pressing on the nerve because I had to keep putting off the surgery again and again and again.

And like. I don’t want to get into it about universal healthcare, but I’m pretty sure that my waiting would’ve been cut in half if I hadn’t had to change health insurance five times in the last year.

Whatever. I have an appointment on December 13 to talk to the surgeon and discuss my options. I want to see if I can get hydrotherapy of some sort to try and take some pressure off things, and I really just need to find a decent and quiet gym and go there in off hours to walk and slowly bring myself to a healthier level of activity. I’ve been in so much pain the last year (and still am sometimes) that activity feels daunting, but I need it to heal, and I need to find a way to do it that won’t scare me away. 

Meanwhile, I’m just keeping myself in a floating state of planning mode. Planning Halloween (Sam was a ninja and the twins were Spider-Man and Ghost Spider). Planning my birthday and a trip with two of my best friends to Cape Cod in the off season (was delightful but also very cold). Planning Christmas. Already thinking ahead to the twins’ birthday. Planning road trips. Planning planning planning. 

Planning that extends kind of far out as well, but only kind of. 

Kyle’s new company has some really great insurance, you see, and through it, we were able to cover PGS for our remaining embryos from the cycle that gave us Isaac and Carrie. Unbelievably, six of the seven embryos were healthy and there are exactly three boys and three girls.

Which brings us to the age old question of WTF are we going to do with all of these frozen babies?

I want one more. Not twins, please god not twins. I love the twins so much, and about 50% of the time, I love that they are twins (the other 50%, they are beating the ever loving shit out of each other for reasons that I do not understand, so I’m like, why couldn’t you be born one at a time so we’d have some buffer space?), but I physically could not do twins again. But I’d love one more girl as a coda.

BUT not for a while yet, if we did. Kyle isn’t fully onboard, which is fair because the twins are a LOT right now, and if someone dropped a baby in my lap right at this second, I’d be like, “WHY DO YOU HATE ME SO MUCH????” because I cannot infant right now. If we went ahead with one last transfer, it would be in 2023, no sooner. Too much is going on in 2022, and my health isn’t where it needs to be.

But it’s on the table now, and we didn’t know if it was on the table before. It was a daydream and now it feels like it could happen? I don’t know if it actually will, but it’s there. One last girl. 

Maybe.

Or maybe a puppy instead. I don’t know.

In case you were wondering

I mean to write about this every time a new abortion law gets pushed through somewhere, but I always end up chickening out for whatever reason (well. No. It’s not for whatever reason, it’s because I’m tired of discussing it with people who are coming from a position where their sky is a different color than my sky, so we can’t really talk about the conversation on even ground), but I’m tired and I’m headachey because of ragweed and Texas is being terrible, so let’s dive in tonight. This is the story of how I became pro-choice.

Because, you see, I wasn’t always pro-choice. I grew up in a moderately conservative Christian church (i.e., they didn’t make all the girls wear long skirts and prevent women from preaching, but they were Bible literalists and whenever I bring up things about my churched upbringing to people who didn’t share it as if they’re normal, I always get raised eyebrows) in the Nearest Moderately Sized City. Since it was the 90s, there weren’t a lot of major political issues for churches to get up in arms about besides abortion and who Bill Clinton was doing, and the former was easier to protest than the latter. Some subset of people from our church and other area churches would go stand outside the City’s Planned Parenthood and hold signs like “Abortion Stops a Beating Heart” and “God Forgives” and things like that. Never anything distasteful like “Abortion is Murder” because they didn’t want to be Like That, and they had to stand a not insignificant distance from the entrance because of the way things were set up, but the protests happened with some regularity.

I never attended one myself. My mom went a few times, I think, but I don’t really remember. I just remember that they happened, and I remember my earliest understanding of abortion was that it was killing babies (my understanding, not necessarily reality), and to my eight- or nine-year-old brain, that was ghoulish at best, and that understanding persisted well into my teenage years.

In high school, I was happy to play the Conservative Christian Girl role wherever I happened to be, though my views most frequently ended up challenged in history/government classes and English class. I went to See You At the Pole and prayed with people before drama club performances and had my purity necklace on and didn’t go on dates until I was 16 and didn’t listen to secular music or read Seventeen magazine, and I was against abortion. I had a little pin on my purse about it, a pair of tiny feet that were supposedly the size of a fetus’s feet at something like 8 or 9 weeks’ gestation. I liked it a lot because it gave me a chance to be like “I believe a thing” without being alienating; if someone asked me about the feet, I could explain it, but it wasn’t the same as having a huge red button on my purse that was like “I AM AGAINST ABORTION IN CASE YOU WERE WONDERING.”

College was really where things started to change, though probably not for the reasons a lot of more conservative people would expect (especially in a lot of churches–and other people from super conservative circles can back me up on this–the fear tends to be that higher education will brainwash a person to become a liberal. In reality, you’re just suddenly exposed to viewpoints and backgrounds that differ from your own while simultaneously, your prefrontal cortex stops being underdeveloped and catches up to your amygdala… eventually). I went to a small Christian college, so I wasn’t really confronted with a whole lot of people who were pro-choice there; if anything, most of us existed happily in our little anti-abortion bubble. 

Instead, I was confronted with people who were even MORE conservative than I was, telling me things that I knew weren’t true. I remember one time, a friend spotted my birth control pills (which I’d been on since I was 16 to control severe menstrual cramping, something I didn’t realize at the time was caused by my PCOS) and was appalled that I had medication in my possession that could cause an abortion. I responded that (a) you kind of need to have sex to get pregnant and you kind of need to get pregnant to have anything aborted; and (b) what. Birth control pills, I explained to her (as had been explained to me by my mom, by my doctor, by everyone ever, because it’s how they work), prevent ovulation, and if there’s no egg, there’s nothing to get fertilized and aborted. To which she responded that yes, they usually do that, but sometimes, an egg gets through and SOMETIMES that egg gets fertilized and then it gets aborted.

(please remember this because I’ll come back to it later)

And it’s weird, because I’d been debating religion and politics online and with friends in person for 2-3 years at that point and had been confronted with all sorts of ideologies more liberal than my own, and those had never come close to swaying me. On the other hand, having someone more conservative than I was come along and say something blatantly false about an issue I’d studied in depth made me feel… well, more than a little confused. I can’t say why now, any more than I could then. It just made the whole movement ring a little less true for me, like if they’re lying about this, are they lying about anything else?

Senior year of college, we all had to take a course on ethics that was… well, I’m not sure what it was designed to do in other years, but during my senior year, it was supposed to teach us to form our own ethical opinions outside of what the people around us believed and taught (which, honestly? Pretty good for a small Christian college to teach their students to think for themselves). The final project was to be a ~15 page term paper discussing both sides of one of the ethical issues we’d discussed over the semester and coming to our own conclusion about it. And, like roughly half of the class, I chose to do my paper on abortion (the other half did gay marriage, which had been legalized in Massachusetts the year prior). 

The trouble was that while the school said they wanted us to think for ourselves, they didn’t allow us access to resources that would give arguments for opinions outside the Christian status quo. I don’t know what people doing their papers on gay marriage found, but whenever I tried to search the internet for accurate information on abortions (which should’ve been easy, even in those Wild Wild West internet days), I was blocked from accessing those sites. The school library was no better–they had exactly three books talking about abortion, and all three were checked out well before I even got there. And, yeah, I probably could’ve half-assed a paper about abortion without doing any real research for the pro-choice position, but I wanted to be honest about the other side (I said to myself, remembering the birth control incident), and I couldn’t do that if I couldn’t even access real information about abortion. 

Around the same time, I read an article in one of my parents’ Christian magazines about a young woman who’d gone to a Planned Parenthood and apologized to its workers on behalf of Christians and realized in doing so that, hey, Planned Parenthood wasn’t some awful place where babies were being torn limb from limb and then devoured by a demon in the back room (which, like… that seems like a duh thing now, but when you’re in the thick of it, they tell a LOT of lies about what happens at Planned Parenthood, and demon buffets seemed about as likely as anything else) (also Jemila Monroe, if you ever Google your name again and find this, hi! Hope you’re doing well!). And that basically gave me the skeleton for my own term paper: I would go to Planned Parenthood, get information straight from the source, and come to my own conclusions.

And, well. I didn’t come away from the term paper fully pro-choice, but suddenly, the anti-abortion side of things seemed a little less… right. None of the horrors I’d expected from a Planned Parenthood had actually been there (and I know my experiences aren’t universal, but other than the necessary metal detector, it was one of the nicer medical facilities I’ve visited). They had information on adoption, abortion, parenting, all the options someone could choose. The girls at the front desk were friendly and sympathetic (though I’m sure also skeptical when the friend who went with me and I remarked that no, neither of us were pregnant, we just wanted to get information on abortions for a term paper, and no, we couldn’t just find it online because our school blocked every website that gave accurate information on it). They seemed to have resources there for people no matter what they chose, while the anti-abortion side didn’t seem to have many resources at all and also seemed to be teeming with people who were against social supports and sex education and birth control and all the things that would prevent anyone from ever having to consider an abortion in the first place. 

It made me think a lot. 

The true clincher, though, was my own struggle with infertility and both of my pregnancies. 

When Kyle and I first decided to try and start a family, I had what’s called a chemical pregnancy. It’s basically when an egg is fertilized but doesn’t implant for whatever reason. It’s absurdly common, and the only reason I knew it happened was because we were trying to get pregnant and I happened to take a pregnancy test super early (factoid for you: the most sensitive pregnancy tests can detect the pregnancy hormone, HCG, at about eight to nine days past ovulation, which translates to a little over three weeks pregnant; but that said, nobody is peeing on those tests if they’re not obsessively trying to get pregnant). If we hadn’t been trying to get pregnant, I would’ve assumed my period was just a week late, whoops.

After that, months went by, and I still didn’t get pregnant, and I consoled myself during this period by latching onto conception, pregnancy, and delivery as an autistic special interest. Anyone who knew me at all during that time period knows that I was up to my eyeballs in literature and websites and videos and, hey, did you know that Richard Armitage narrated a documentary about getting pregnant, and hey, did you know that humans form butthole first, and hey, did you know that the natural birth movement really took off in response to the twilight births of the mid-20th century and hey hey hey

Understanding fetal development did a lot of cement my pro-choice position, which I’d casually started to adopt in the preceding years. Since most abortions take place within the first trimester (and, really, within the first twelve weeks, which isn’t even the full trimester), it was kind of hard to argue for personhood when I knew that scientifically, a fetus isn’t all that developed at that point. Up until eight weeks, it’s technically not even a fetus–it’s an embryo–and organ systems aren’t even fully developed until around 12 weeks. The brain itself takes a long time to develop, which makes sense when you consider how big and complex the human brain is; the neural pathways that distinguish pain aren’t even developed until around 26 weeks, so previous arguments I’d heard about fetuses screaming in pain as they were aborted clearly couldn’t be true. 

(never mind that you have to breathe to scream… which you can’t really do when your lungs aren’t developed, which doesn’t happen until ~23-24 weeks anyway!)

Being pregnant myself cemented things even further. I didn’t even have a terribly rough pregnancy with Sam–ICP and elevated blood pressure towards the very end, but I was overall healthy. But BOY was I miserable. I can say confidently that my body is very good at building babies–but that it absolutely cannot multitask while doing so. A lot of the things I’d heard about pregnancy being the healthiest time of a woman’s life also seemed untrue, or at least like things my body hadn’t been informed of (like why was the alleged energy surge of the second trimester more of an “oh, I can stay awake past 9:00 again, but I still want to be asleep by 10, neat” instead of the “ALRIGHT IT’S TIME TO CLEAN YEAH” I was promised?).

And I thought: could I really force this on someone who didn’t want it? Because the usual response to “look, some people don’t want to parent” is to say, “well adoption, duh” (never mind that adoption is not as simple as that, but we’re not going into that right now), but that doesn’t consider that while some people have really great pregnancies where they feel fantastic all nine months, others among us have absolutely miserable times, where this gestational period is nothing but a means to an end that we’d fast forward through if we could. 

(and yeah, cool moments like feeling your kid kick for the first time are cool, but they do not in any way make up for the inability to sleep from about 25 weeks on, the heartburn, the nausea, the aches and pains that are sometimes downright debilitating, the restless legs, and alllllll the complications out there)

AND THEN came my attempts to get pregnant with our second child, attempts that would eventually result in the twins, and I got to experience an abortion procedure firsthand.

See, the first IVF cycle we had was technically a success, but I had a miscarriage, and rather than suffer through the pain of miscarrying naturally, I elected to have a dilation and curettage. 

And admittedly, in my procedure, there wasn’t much of a fetus to remove because I was only about nine weeks along when the miscarriage was confirmed (really, it probably happened closer to seven weeks), but again: most abortions happen around that time as well. There’s not much in there to take out, and in the case of an abortion, medication stops the fetal heartbeat before any procedure takes place, so the whole argument of them tearing a squirming fetus limb from limb doesn’t even work because it’s already dead by the time the lamina are inserted into the cervix for dilation. 

(and like. You can’t really sell fetal organs on the black market because they just aren’t developed enough for it? Like cool, you’ve given me this glob of tissue that may have someday developed into a liver, what am I supposed to do with this)

When we had the fetal tissue tested, we found out that it had a chromosomal abnormality called trisomy 16, which some fetuses can have and continue to develop up to a point, but it’s absolutely not compatible with life. What were we to do with that information, if that fetus had continued to develop and we’d only discovered much later on that it would be born horribly malformed and not survive even a minute outside of me? I don’t think my emotions could’ve handled going through with an entire pregnancy and delivering a still baby. I don’t know how the people who do suffer that kind of unimaginable loss survive it. 

We also had to confront the idea of abortion when it came to the thought of how many embryos we would end up with as a result of IVF. It’s all well and good to sing a song of let’s keep all six sprillion embryos that have ended up implanting (and we were fortunate enough to have very ethical doctors who had a strict policy against transferring more than two embryos at a time… good thing, too, when it came to the cycle where we eventually succeeded because yikes), but doing that runs a very real risk of losing all of them… or losing your own life. 

I’ll be honest: even if I were in a position where I’d have to terminate a pregnancy to save my own life, I would have a really hard time with it. As exhausted as it leaves me sometimes, as stressful as it can be, benign a mom and raising my kids is one of the greatest joys in my life, and if I could do it healthily, I’d gladly have whatever children Kyle and I conceived accidentally or otherwise.

But my life isn’t another person’s life. Kyle and I are in a fortunate and comfortable position (more on that next week) with a lot of support if we ever need it. Not everyone is so fortunate. And just like I don’t want anyone to force something physically, emotionally, and financially difficult on me when I don’t want it, I can’t abide by forcing people to go through with pregnancies when they don’t want them; nor can I see a good, objective, scientific argument for doing so. 

Personhood is not something that can be scientifically proven, and even if it were, it would be difficult to argue that personhood objectively existed in a first or even second trimester fetus, as their brains just aren’t well-developed enough; therefore, you can’t argue that a fetus is a person with rights because that simply cannot be proven and, if it could, would likely be something proven for a time well past what most anti-abortion groups find acceptable. Physically speaking, pregnancy is essentially giving up one (well. All, really) of your organs for 40 weeks, something that’s great to do willingly but not something anyone wants forced on them. It’s kind of like donating a kidney, even if you could get it back after a few months: a lot of people are perfectly willing and even eager to donate an organ for someone else to use, but nobody’s very happy to wake up in a tub full of ice with a huge scar on their side.

I don’t like abortion. I don’t think it’s a position anyone should find themself in, but we know from history that criminalizing abortion doesn’t result in fewer abortions but rather in the same number of abortions, this time performed in unsafe illegal conditions that kill people. Other countries with lower abortion rates aren’t the ones where abortion is illegal but rather the ones with strong social safety nets, universal healthcare, comprehensive sex education, and a general societal value placed on people rather than on control. 

So that’s how I came to be where I am today: I started to realize that a lot of what I’d thought about abortion was simply untrue, came to understand both fetal development and abortion procedures through personal experience, and had rough enough pregnancies that I wouldn’t want anyone who didn’t want to be pregnant to go through what I did. And at the end of the day, nobody has to agree with me or any of this; I just hope some of what I’ve written makes you stop and think for a moment. 

Until next time…

Decisions

You know, if you’d asked me six weeks ago what everyone in the house was going to be for Halloween, I’d have rattled things off so easily that I’d have seemed like a mythical Good Mom, someone who’s got all her shit together and actually does the stuff she pins on Pinterest. 

(I do not have all my shit together, and Pinterest scares me)

And now I’m in a wild spot because while Sam has committed to being Darth Vader (“I’m going to do every other year, Mom! This year, Darth Vader; next year, Jack Skellington; the year after that, Darth Vader…”), I cannot decide what to do with the twins. 

A few weeks ago, Sam decided that he wanted to be Peter Pan, and I thought, well, that makes things easier. He’s Peter Pan. Carrie is Tinkerbell. Isaac is Captain Hook. I’ll be Wendy, Kyle can be Mr. Smee, and life’s fantastic. 

Except the next day (fortunately, before I bought anything), Sam informed me that he didn’t actually want to be Peter Pan. He was married to Darth Vader as a costume. Historically, he’s been unlikely to waver from a chance to dress up like Darth Vader, so I went ahead and ordered that, and it should arrive any day. I’m hoping it arrives while he’s at school so I can lay it out during the twins’ nap and he can try it on once he gets home.

14222370_10153829612385592_6350598245219719049_n(the infamous Darth Vader costume when he first got one, three years ago)

So he’s set. It’s the twins. Wayyyyy back months ago, when I naively thought that maybe I could convince my five-year-old to go along with my Halloween ideas, I thought that we could do a Toy Story thing. Sam would be Buzz Lightyear, Isaac would be Woody, and Carrie would be Jessie. It would be adorable, we’d get some great pictures, everyone would have a laugh. But nope, Sam wants to be Darth Vader, and I’m not about to tell my five-year-old that he can’t wear what he wants on Halloween, and the Toy Story thing doesn’t seem worth the expense (because Toy Story costumes are expensive, at least when you’re buying them for more than one person) if we’re not going to fully commit. 

Some ideas I’ve had and discarded:

  • Luke Skywalker and Princess Leia. It’s the obvious choice, but (a) finding a Luke Skywalker costume is very difficult when your costumee is younger than nine; (b) making a Luke Skywalker costume involves time that we don’t have; and (c) I kind of want to save that for when they’re old enough to understand the implications of what they’re wearing. So nope.

    731h

  • Grapes, purple and green. On the one hand: cute, easy, and cheap. On the other hand: there’s no way the twins would do anything besides sob wearing a costume made entirely of balloons. So nope.

    tumblr_ofxlxzdpsa1teql7mo1_400

  • Peter Pan and Tinkerbell. If you want the costumes to match somewhat (like, look like they’re of the same quality and you didn’t decide to save on one twin’s costume so that you can splurge on the other), you’re SOL. Tinkerbell costumes exist at every price point for kids Carrie’s size, but Peter Pan costumes seem to only exist for kids Sam’s size and older, which makes no sense to me, but I only ever did B2B construction marketing, so maybe I just don’t know the market.

    1gsq

  • The tortoise and the hare. Cute, but what statement is it making about the child we dress as the hare?

    legitimatesaneitaliangreyhound-size_restricted(flesh of my flesh, blood of my blood, you’re an asshole)

  • Literally any famous male/female pairing in history. They are literally all romantic couples, and I cringe out of my skin whenever I find pictures of twins dressed as, like. Danny Zuko and Sandy or Fred and Wilma Flintstone or Mickey and Minnie Mouse. No offense intended, because finding boy-girl twin Halloween costumes is WAY harder than you’d think, but my twins are not Lannisters.

original(if you’re not up to speed on Game of Thrones, first: you are luckier than I am; and second: these are the Lannisters, Jaime and Cersei, and they are twins and they have three children together. My twins are not Lannisters)

I keep coming back to Carrie being a princess of some sort, which narrows things down basically not at all. She loves princesses and all things sparkly and traditionally girly, and a princess costume would serve possibly quintuple duty at Renaissance Faires and Disney World and a couple of Halloweens. Theoretically, I like dressing her as Rapunzel, and I like dressing Isaac as Pascal the chameleon to match…

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…BUT then it ends up getting to the heart of the issue, that being Isaac not having a lot of identifiable interests yet. Well, no, that’s not true. He has interests. He likes climbing and cleaning. He’s a voracious eater. He loves laughing and exploring and going into and out of things. He likes things being where they belong, whether it’s a shoe on a foot or toys in a toy box. He likes it when I sing “The Teddy Bears’ Picnic” to them at bedtime. 

But how do you costume any of that?

With Carrie, when someone asks me to describe her, I have the easiest time ever. Picking her up is like picking up a baby made of cotton candy and bubble gum bubbles. She’s a princess with delicate aires and a constant song, a love for sparkles and prettiness and animal companions, a need to have things Her Way Or Else. She’s a gremlin, picking up dirty things off the floor to eat, hiding in dusty places, making weird collections of stuff. She’s a bottle of Diet Coke and Pop Rocks shaken up. You can’t help but adore her.

But Isaac. He almost defies description. He’s determined and needs things to be in their place at all times. He needs his routines to be followed and will get genuinely upset if the Thing that usually follows The Other Thing does not follow The Other Thing. If he wants something, he will get it, no matter how much you try to deter him. He’s fast, voracious, and beyond clever. And then when he smiles, you just absolutely melt, because his smile is incredible, the kind of smile that makes you feel loved to the core. 

Which… I guess is a fine description, but honestly, which one is easier to costume: stereotypical bubblegum candy princess or a clever, determined, fast, voracious sweetheart? 

I think he can be a dragon. 

I know it doesn’t matter a TON one way or the other because they don’t even understand Halloween yet. When Sam was their age, I dressed him as an owl because I told myself, “oh yes, he likes owls!” which he didn’t super like owls, but whatever. He refused to wear most of the costume and cried about it a lot, and I got zero pictures of him in the full costume. It wasn’t until the following year, when he dressed up as Darth Vader, that he really started having fun with Halloween. 

So I know it doesn’t matter, and they won’t care, but I still feel a bit like I’m letting Isaac down because finding a costume that matches who he is and what he likes feels impossible.

So maybe he’ll be a dragon.

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In other decisions news, over the last week, I’ve been asked more times than I realized (at first) if Kyle and I were planning on having more kids. 

Honestly, I have no idea, which is what I’ve said. Whenever people asked me during my pregnancy with the twins, I’d say “NO” and wax eloquent about hysterectomies, but twin pregnancies are awful, and when you’re in the middle of one, it’s hard to feel positively about growing any more humans. Kyle and I were talking today about one incident during the twins’ pregnancy, when Sam told me “Mommy, the poop is everywhere!” and he’d gotten poop all over his bedroom and I was so pregnant and so exhausted that I couldn’t deal with it and begged Kyle to come home from work to save me. 

So I can say with confidence that, given a choice in the matter, I will never have more twins. Absolutely no, not ever, never. 

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And there’s plenty of reason to have an overall “NO” on the books. Three kids is a fine number. I have my girl. Our bedroom setup works very well with three kids. A fourth kid would be a wild ride, financially speaking. I don’t know how my body would handle it. I’m just starting to get my body back into normal person shape after spending upwards of seven years either trying to get pregnant or being pregnant (that’s an additional +60 lbs that came from those seven years, too, which is fun). I want to gain some sense of identity and self outside of making babies. I want to have days with all my kids at school and me writing (or playing video games or, like, cleaning I guess). 

But on the flip side, there’s seven embryos on ice, and I went through hell to make them. No, I don’t want seven more kids, but I’d love one more girl someday, if we’re speaking from an emotional sense. I’d like to go through a pregnancy where (a) I know what I’m doing (like I didn’t with Sam); and (b) I’m not high risk solely because I’ve got more than one baby in me. I’d like to just do things normally and not be in a blind panic and then do the newborn days on Comparatively Easy Mode (because after you do twin newborns, any singleton anything is Comparatively Easy Mode). I’d like to have a matched set, two boys and two girls. I’d like to go into a delivery room knowing what I’m doing and how I’m doing it and with a playlist that I didn’t get to use with the twins.

Also I love babies.

So. I don’t know. And we’ve got time to make a decision. As long as we keep paying the $85/month storage fee, our embryos will be stored indefinitely. It’s the only way we CAN grow our family again, if we decide we want another child in the future. But I’m not thinking about it now (and I very much know Kyle isn’t), not more than off and on, as a back of the mind kind of thing. I’ve earned a respite from thinking about what my uterus is doing outside of my once-a-month adventures, from spending money on pregnancy tests and obsessively charting everything my body is doing. And I’m going to enjoy that respite. 

Starting with the Halloween costumes.

The Rest

Around this time last year, my RE successfully transferred two embryos into my uterus, and those two embryos grew, over 34 weeks, into my delightful Isaac and Carrie. That IVF cycle resulted in more embryos than I’d ever had before, more than I’d ever had last as long as they all lasted–nine of them lasted until day 5, when Isaac and Carrie were transferred, and seven are still frozen, waiting for whatever comes next.

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Or, well. They are now. I’m finding myself having to decide about them a lot sooner than I’d wanted to decide.

Kyle and I had been operating under the impression that our seven remaining embryos would be kept frozen by the fertility clinic for two years, covered by our insurance. After those two years, we could decide if we wanted to keep them frozen, paying $85 a month for their storage; if we wanted to donate them to either science or another couple (I’d prefer an LGBT couple if we go that route); or if we wanted the facility to dispose of them (not likely). The $85 isn’t manageable now, since we’re barely making it from paycheck to paycheck while still buying groceries, but in two years, with Sam in school and the twins on cow’s milk? It totally would be.

But. The bill came early.

It came in the mail the other day, a bill for $170 for last month’s storage and this month’s storage, and I was baffled, because I’d thought things would be covered. I only opened the bill in the evening (opening mail when you have a little shadow in the shape of your four-year-old son is very difficult), so I couldn’t call to clear things up that night, and so I immediately guessed that our insurance must have changed policies on embryo storage. Maybe they only covered for one year instead of two now, which left us in an absolutely wretched spot: having to decide immediately to either get me knocked up again (no, or at least not right now) or where to donate our remaining seven embryos.

Kyle, fortunately, cleared things up in the morning: we just have to get authorization from our RE and send that to the insurance company ourselves, and once we do that, they’ll cover an additional two years of storage, giving us more time to decide what we want to do with our seven remaining embryos.

Seven potential lives, at least in theory. We don’t know the health of any of the embryos, since PGS was financially out of reach for us last year (and probably will be for a while yet, since it’s in the neighborhood of $3500). None or all of them could have aneuploidies incompatible with life, as with so many of our other losses. Some looked textbook good; but then, we’ve had perfect embryos before, and those resulted in miscarriages. The only two we know for sure are healthy are currently asleep in their bassinets, one probably flopped on his stomach and the other squashed into her favorite corner.

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Whether now or in three years, Kyle and I do have to decide what to do with these seven embryos, which is a weighty task. I know, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that I do not want seven more children. I have friends with nine and ten kids, and they are fantastic people and superhuman (how can you not be, when you have that many kids?), but it is not a path I want for myself or my family. I don’t know what number is our path (four is looking likely, one way or another, and I’ll get to that in a minute), but that number is absolutely not 10.

A less ethical fertility clinic might have popped all nine in me at once, and I could’ve attained international fame like Octomom–except doing that is unethical for a reason. The pregnancy would’ve put enormous strain on my body, and the likelihood of even half the babies surviving would be slim. Worse, the ones that didn’t survive could take the others with them, and then we’d have been back to square one again. So no, I’m glad that my clinic is good at risk management, and I’m glad that I’m not suddenly a mom to nonuplets, even if it means I don’t get my very own TLC show.

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(that’s probably for the best, honestly)

But that still leaves 7 embryos that we have to figure out what to do with, 7 embryos that we need to decide where they go. Logically, I know that even if we decide to try for one more pregnancy out of this batch (and it would be one more, not more than that, and no more twins), that’s six embryos that still need a place, and it’s just so… weird to decide.

I mean, look. I’m pro-choice as they come. I believe strongly in bodily autonomy and that, whenever life begins, personhood cannot begin at conception because everything that makes a person a person exists in one’s brain, and that doesn’t show up for at least six weeks, probably more (it’s been a while since I watched a baby development video, I’ve been kind of busy). My ethical qualms aren’t so much that I’m thinking of this in the same way as I’d be thinking of giving up my living, born children, but more in the sense that I’m trying to… I guess wrestle with the potential.

Most likely, even if we decide to have one more child from this batch (which wouldn’t be for a while… like, at least three or four years), we’d donate the embryos to other couples struggling with infertility. I’d prefer, as I said before, to donate to LGBT couples, but ultimately, I want to make sure they go somewhere they’d be loved. But then I wrestle with it because it’s like… how do you discuss that with an eventual child? Embryo adoption can be open, as can traditional adoption, but at the same time, just… it’s such a weird thing to try and explain.

“Well, Liam Neeson Smith Jones III, it’s not that we didn’t want you, but it was luck of the draw, and we ended up carrying Isaac and Carrie instead. And we wanted you to be with someone who loved you, and we chose them special for you.” And then silently you think about how it’s hard to look at them and see their father’s eyes and your mother’s smile and hear the same laugh that runs in your dad’s side of the family.

I think it would be an awesome chance, and I’d love to do it, but it’s something I’m wrestling with emotionally. Giving up a child for adoption is hard. Giving up an embryo is slightly less hard, but still weird. Weird is a good word for it.

Scientific donation is on the docket as well, and if we’re able to do PGS on the embryos before sending them anywhere, it’s what we’d both want to do with any embryos not compatible with life. Just the same, if we don’t meet requirements for adoption, it’d be the second best choice, but it seems… wasteful. Not because I feel like it’d be murder for science, but because my god, I put so much WORK into those, and maybe they’ll help scientific advances or just be testing ground for a new resident, but it feels like they should at least become people first?

(I wonder if this is how an oak tree feels if its acorns fall on asphalt, and it’s just like “Motherf– DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH WORK THOSE THINGS WERE???”)

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(oak tree when an acorn hits the pavement, played by Kristen Wiig)

That’s also why I’m not keen on the “eh, just trash ‘em” option. Those embryos are a culmination of two years of very hard work and physical and financial sacrifice. They are not going in anyone’s biohazard bag if I can help it.

I guess the hardest decision is whether or not we should reserve one for ourselves before donating the rest. If I were to get pregnant again, I wouldn’t want it to be until the twins are much older, and while your fertility doesn’t immediately bottom out once you hit 35, I’m already in a wonky spot where that’s  concerned. If Kyle and I want another biological child, these embryos are our best chance, and I’m having a hard time letting go of that overall.

We also know and have agreed that we want to adopt once our biological kids are older (read: 5+), preferably through the state foster system. So then the question becomes if we want five kids? I don’t think we do, and we both agree that we want to adopt, but

But.

But it’s just very difficult to let that go. The past six years of my life, up until March, I was so focused on getting and staying pregnant, and it just seems… weird and difficult to let it go.

Well. At the very least, I’m getting authorization for insurance to cover the cost of keeping the embryos stored for the next two years (Kyle said it’s my job to do that), because if nothing else, it’ll buy time to let go, to accept and embrace all of this, and to adjust.

Magic in a Jar of Dirt

So there’s a scene in one of the Pirates of the Caribbean movies where Jack Sparrow is trying to avoid Davy Jones. Tia Dalma, a voodoo priestess and otherwise witchy character, gives him a jar of dirt, as Davy Jones can’t set foot on land.

“Is the… jar of dirt going to help?” Jack asks, utterly skeptical.

Tia Dalma stares him down. “If you don’t want it, give it back.”

Jack clutches the jar to his chest protectively. “No.”

At that, Tia Dalma smiles and steps back. “Then it helps.”

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There’s a weird sort of power in that kind of talisman, in a real life kind of talisman. I don’t necessarily mean an actual power, but that comforting power… the idea that maybe this will help, that maybe it will make things go right. It’s come into play both in my infertility journey and in my parenting.

I had a lot of talismans for my infertility journey; the most important were green fingernails, for fertility, and my Princess Leia socks, for strength. I started wearing them this year, after last year’s IVF treatments kept falling flat on their faces. I don’t think they really necessarily did anything, but then again, I could be wrong. I wore them to my two embryo transfers in the first half of the year, but both of those failed. But then again, I also wore them to my egg retrieval and transfer for this actual pregnancy, so who knows? The point is that they made me feel better, good luck charms, if you will. They made me feel like I had some control over a situation that has long been completely out of my hands.

In truth, the success of this IVF cycle was a combination of things: Kyle’s semenalysis had much better results this go-around, we used the right medication cocktail, I took it easy and carefully throughout the earliest days. Did the socks and the fingernails have anything to do with it? Probably not; but you bet your ass that if something happened and I had to go through this again for any reason, I’d be wearing those Princess Leia socks and painting my nails green.

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(which is to say, next time, I’m totally going for beetle wing green)

Talismans, rituals, magic, all of that is pretty important when you have a little kid, too. They need things to comfort them, because they don’t always understand the world around them. It’s big. It’s weird. It’s sometimes scary. And they’re small and often powerless, so giving them something to hold onto that makes them feel more powerful, even if it’s not really magical or powerful… it helps.

When I was really young, I was terrified of thunder. Absolutely bananas terrified. My parents gave me magic to help with it: they called it a thunder stick. It was really just a paper towel tube, sometimes even a toilet paper tube. It was my weapon against the thunder, though. I could shake it at the sky, and I could yell, “Stop that thunder!” and eventually, the thunder would stop. I was powerless, really, against the weather (sadly, I was not a pint sized shaman), but believing that I had that power made me feel less afraid.

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(I was not this vulgar as a three-year-old, but if I needed a thunder stick nowadays, I would be)

Sam has his talismans, three that we see regularly and a fourth that we consider breaking out the big guns. The three regulars are his lovies: Puppy, the ubiquitous stuffed husky that Kat got him for his first birthday; Pillow, which is literally just a Star Wars pillow; and Blanket, one of the Aden and Anais receiving blankets we were given when we were expecting him. They obviously haven’t got any real magic or power to them. They’re tools of comfort, things that make him feel safe. And he won’t go to bed without them.

The big guns talisman is his Darth Vader bear. That one, though, I actually believe has magic in it.

Eleven years ago, when Kyle and I first started dating, a lot of people in our community cheered us on. We were pretty well known in the small, tight-knit group of RPers, and it seemed like everyone was thrilled to see us together. None, however, were more thrilled than our guild leaders, Veri and Ged. They lived thousands of miles from both of us, but we may as well have been down the street. They cheered us on more than anyone; I swear, when we announced our engagement, we could hear Veri’s squeal of delight from across the country.

And that’s to say nothing of when we told them we were expecting Sam. Veri greeted us whenever we talked by asking, “Are there going to be any baby bears?” (Kyle’s nickname among the group was Kody-bear… it’s a long story) When we told her that yes, a baby bear was imminent, I’m amazed that the joysplosion didn’t take out half the country.

A couple of weeks later, a package arrived at our doorstep, our very first gift for Sam. It was a box from Build-A-Bear, and inside was a black bear dressed in Darth Vader’s robes. The bear was, of course, from Veri and Ged, and came with warmest wishes for a healthy pregnancy and greetings for our new baby. As soon as Sam was born, I started to introduce him to the bear; in recent months, it’s his greatest comfort when all else fails.

Like tonight, when the wind and rain were making him nervous. I rocked him in my arms for a while and let him talk out his anxieties. He wanted some of the stuffed animals that he knew he’d tossed out in the hallway, so we walked over to inspect them, and then he asked me to bring them into his room while he got into bed. He didn’t even ask for Darth Vader bear, but when Darth Vader bear came into his line of vision, it was all he cared about. He touched the mask, the hands, the feet, gently and almost reverently. He asked me to tuck him in (moments before he’d been asking to go downstairs), and his eyes closed as I slipped out of the room.

So Darth Vader bear is special, even more special because Veri passed away last year. She was this beautiful light of a person who could make even the most stubborn of skeptics believe that magic was real, and there’s an ache whenever I remember she isn’t here anymore.

Darth Vader bear may be just a jar of dirt. It may be special because it’s a gift from someone who loved us, who’s gone now. Sam may feel comforted by it because it’s a plush Darth Vader, the only one he has at the moment. He may feel comforted because it’s been part of his life since before he was born.

But for my own sake, I like to believe in a little bit of magic. I like to believe that the most magical person I ever knew put love and blessings into this sweet keepsake, and that maybe, when Sam hugs Darth Vader bear at night, a little bit of that love and magic is hugging him back.

 

A Bottle of Whine

Even when you get pregnant through IVF and ages of effort and trying and stress, you still have to qualify any pregnancy complaints you have with the caveat that “I’m really happy to be pregnant! No, I really am! I’m thrilled, honestly! I can cope with the suffering as long as it means a healthy baby at the end!”

And it’s all true. This has been a long journey, and I’m happy to be where I am, but I’m also 100% miserably physically, and I’m going to whine about it for a bit.

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(sadly, not this kind of wine until May)

Two of my pregnancy complaints are normal and familiar: fatigue and nausea. The fatigue hits like a truck around 2-3 p.m. daily, without fail, which is fine on weekends–that’s Sam’s naptime, after all–and miserable on weekdays, when I’m using tape and prayer to keep my eyes open at work. Supposedly up to 200 mg of caffeine every day is alright during pregnancy, but most people think of that as coming from coffee, and I hate coffee. It tastes like licking the bottom of a muddy boot, and I can only stomach it if I drown it in enough cream, sugar, and chocolate to pretend that it’s not coffee at all but rather some sort of fancy chocolate drink with an Italian name that I can’t pronounce.

At best, I drink a Dr. Pepper at lunch, which is hilariously unhealthy (PURE SUGAR WATER HERE WE GO!), but it at least gives me a jolt that can keep me from completely disintegrating before the homeward commute… and then it wears off at 10 p.m. and I give up on my nightly activities of maybe doing some dailies in WoW (yeah, I’m still there, so sue me) or just puttering around aimlessly on YouTube watching British documentaries about reborn dolls and the women who love them.

(if someone held a gun to my head and told me that I had to invest in a reborn doll, I would buy one that looked entirely normal EXCEPT it would have glowing red eyes, so it would not only be the uncanny valley visit of “oh that’s not a real baby” but also “AAA IT’S A DEMON” and that’s hilarious to me)

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(or maybe this Voldemort one; take a moment to finish screaming, it’s alright)

Nausea complicates everything. I’ve had it since right after my retrieval, and it hasn’t really gotten better. I have my methods for coping (namely: peppermint candies until I die), but as a general rule, it just makes me miserable if I eat anything before 2:00 p.m., which is ridiculous because breakfast and lunch are things.

But nausea doesn’t care about that. Nausea doesn’t ask silly questions. Nausea just makes you incapable of functioning during the peak hours of the day.

And I do mean incapable. Twice this weekend, I had to turn around my plans for the day because I was so exhausted and nauseated that I couldn’t see straight. I never threw up, thank GOD, but I did go straight home and bury myself in blankets until I didn’t feel like complete crap, which took about 3 hours each time. I had so many plans–I had to exchange some maternity jeans that were too small for me, to swing by Target and Michael’s and various stores that may or may not have Halloween stuff out for me to ogle, to hit Barnes & Noble and pick up books about being a big brother so that Sam can get used to the idea–and they all fell apart because nausea.

Nausea and fatigue are both good, mind. They mean that your body is working as intended. Worse nausea is associated with lower risks of miscarriage and healthier pregnancies overall, which is comforting in a sort of “here are some positive facts about mosquitos!” kind of way. Like hey, it’s really cool that they provide a main diet staple for these neat birds, but maybe they can stop biting me now?

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(my opinion on this happening is not improved by the knowledge that a bird will soon be like “ooh lunch!”)

Abnormally speaking, I’m in pain.

Fortunately, the pain is also a good sign, even if it’s not a normal or typical sign. Unfortunately, that means that I basically have to grin and bear it with extra strength Tylenol and a lot of whining.

The pain is coming from two sources, as far as I can figure. First, it’s coming from my ovaries, those beasties. They’re still enormous from being overstimulated, still the size of fruit. When I’m lying down, if I gently press on my abdomen, I can feel them (and yes, it is very trippy to do so). They’re pressing against all of my internal organs and also are just IN THE WAY OF EVERYTHING, so if I sit upright like a normal person, they feel like they’re being crushed and I say “ow ow ow ow!” and then shift into a slouch or else go out to rest with my feet up because at least that doesn’t cause me endless pain.

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(do you know how difficult it is to get work done like this?)

My ovaries are also oversized because I’ve managed to acquire a large number of corpus luteum cysts, which would make sense for a normal pregnancy but not so much for an IVF pregnancy.

Basically, in a normal pregnancy, a corpus luteum cyst forms on the ovary after you ovulate. This cyst remains in place and produces progesterone until the placenta is mature enough to start doing that itself. It can cause some minor cramping or twinging in early pregnancy, but for the most part, it’s harmless and even a very beneficial sign.

The corpus luteum cyst is not supposed to form with an IVF pregnancy, or so they told me. That’s why I was on supplementary progesterone, or so they told me. And then when I went in to get my HCG checked, they saw that my progesterone levels were ridiculously high (on average, your progesterone is supposed to hover between 9-47 ngL for the first several weeks of pregnancy; mine was at 60) and stopped my supplementary everything because holy shit, what is happening here.

(this explains the high levels of nausea and fatigue and sore boobness I’ve been dealing with because guess what hormone causes those things? It’s progesterone :D)

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(YAYYYYY)

The second pain source seems to be a cyst in my uterus that may or may not be the other blastocyst not getting the hint that if it’s not going to grow, it should get outta dodge. I’ve felt that as a pressure in my pelvis that reminds me ever-so-keenly of when Sam was just days away from being born and decided to RAM his head into my pelvis as if by doing so, he could defy all laws of biology and physics and enter the world on his own terms. It hurts like the dickens, especially when I walk; the pain is only really eased if I bow my legs out and waddle about like a cowboy from an old timey cartoon (which I only do at home; I will cope with the pain to avoid being seen like that in public).

On Monday, we’re checking to make sure that the cyst is just a cyst and not the other embryo trying to be a pregnancy (it’s in the wrong spot and would pose a lot of health risks, which means I’d have to terminate, which HOLY HELL do I not want to do–I am as pro-choice as they come, but to get this far, to try this long, and then be told, “Whoopsies, it’s in the wrong spot! And if it stays you and the other baby might die!” is kind of a dick move, universe). If it is a cyst, I have no idea what the next steps are. Uterine cysts just don’t happen. Every time I’ve googled them, Google has come back at me like, “do you mean ‘uterine fibroids’” like it’s being smart. And no, Google, I do not mean uterine fibroids, but thanks for not helping!

Ugh. But the good news is that I’m still pregnant, I’m still pushing forward, and as far as I know, we’re still expecting to see good things on the ultrasound on Monday. We’re looking for an increased heartbeat and an embryo that’s gone through another week of growth, and if we see that, I may even get to graduate to a regular OB/GYN after this! Until then…

 

A Legume

In February of 2016, Kyle and I went to what we hoped would be our last ultrasound at an IVF facility. I was about 8 weeks along with our first pregnancy from an IVF cycle, and we expected to see a bouncy little bean growing healthily and to be dismissed from the IVF facility and picked up by our usual OB/GYN. Sure, some people struggled through years of IVF to get pregnant, but not us. We’d gotten pregnant right away and would have a beautiful baby in October of 2016. October 17 was the due date.

That… didn’t happen.

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(you start to ask yourself this a lot when you’re dealing with infertility)

Instead of an 8-week-old fetus, we saw something measuring about 6 weeks, if that, shaped like a flying saucer and not bouncing at all. We saw a heartbeat, but it was slow and weak, 65 bpm, very appropriate for a healthy adult, not at all for an 8-week-old fetus.

We had the cool ultrasound tech, the one we’ve had for nearly every ultrasound since then that’s brought us either good or bad news. She’s got a great sense of humor and was trying to keep us optimistic. “I’ve seen it go either way!” she said, but the doctor we spoke to afterwards was less than pleased.

“It rarely ends well when this is the case, but we’ll want you back next week to make sure. If the baby grows between now and then, we’ll take it as a good sign and just adjust your due date accordingly. If it doesn’t…”

So one week later, we came back, not expecting anything good, and sure enough, we got nothing good. The gestational sac was still there, but the weird little flying saucer fetus was gone. No heartbeat, no movement, nothing at all. We talked to the doctor again, who offered that I could wait it out, take a medication, or have a D&C. I chose the latter, not wanting to go through the pain of labor just to give birth to essentially nothing, not even remnants of fetal tissue.

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(it sucked)

In February of 2017, our first ultrasound for another pregnancy got bumped up a week because I’d started bleeding. A lot. I sat down on the toilet and it was like a murder scene. A clot the size of a lemon came out of me after I laid down and tried to slow things a little bit. The doctor wanted to see if there was anything left, if the bleeding had been the result of a subchorionic hemorrhage (a condition in which blood gets between the gestational sac and uterine wall and causes Problems).

I wasn’t surprised when nothing showed up on the screen. A clot the size of a lemon isn’t something that usually comes along with a healthy pregnancy.

Understandably, I’m a little nervous about these first ultrasounds. They’ve brought nothing but bad news so far, slow heartbeats, missing fetuses, nothing there. This morning, I’ve been shaky and tense since I woke up. I could barely eat breakfast, and only partly because of morning sickness. I couldn’t pay attention at work, and ended up pausing a lot of my tasks to just sit and breathe and try to calm down.

I got to the ultrasound place pretty early, but Kyle was running pretty late (like 15 minutes or so). Nothing distracted me or helped. None of the magazines in the waiting room held any appeal, Facebook and Tumblr seemed to just make me more tense, and I couldn’t even think of anything but “what if this is another miscarriage or failure? What if something’s wrong?”

Kyle finally arrived and we went back into a small room with dim lights. I changed and lay down on the warmed table, resting a hand behind my head and trying to stop shaking. I counted the tiles on the ceiling. The ultrasound tech–our favorite tech again–squirted warm jelly on the probe and told me, “alright, here we go.”

I saw it immediately, what I thought was a gestational sac. The trouble was, it didn’t have anything in it–no yolk sac, no fetus, nothing. That… wasn’t a good sign. At this point, we should’ve seen at least a yolk sac, maybe something more, but we saw nothing, just a dark circle surrounded by the grey of uterine tissue.

“Well, it’s something,” the tech said. “Let’s keep going.” She moved the probe around a bit, and suddenly, I gasped. There, right there on the screen, was a definite gestational sac with everything in place–the yolk sac, which provides nutrients for the baby until the placenta is fully developed, and the fetal pole, the beginnings of the baby itself. And flickering right there, in the middle of the fetal pole, was a heartbeat. Constant. Steady. And faster than we’d seen since Sam.

“98 beats per minute, which is excellent at this stage!” the tech announced. Faster than it had ever been with our first miscarriage last year. Steady. Strong.

We looked around a little more–I have some free fluid in my lower abdomen, likely thanks to my still-swollen ovaries, which are both still enormous (61 mm and 71 mm, respectively–that’s a peach and a pear in fruit sizes). The “gestational sac” we saw earlier looks like it’s actually a uterine cyst, which isn’t a bad thing but will have to be monitored as this pregnancy progresses. They want me back in a week to measure everything–to make sure the actual baby is growing and to make sure that the cyst is not (if it is, that might indicate that it’s an ectopic pregnancy, which presents its own set of Very Big problems).

But so far, it looks like finally, FINALLY, things are starting to go right, and I’ll finally have a baby legume come late April, 2018.

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(the legume in question, measuring exactly six weeks, one day)

Numbers

Everything about IVF is a numbers game, which is a fine joke on me because I’ve always hated math.

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Your numbers when testing are important: what are your hormone levels–progesterone, estrogen, glucose, TSH, FSH, androgens? What is your partner’s sperm count? What does your blood look like? What does your partner’s blood look like? Is it worth trying IUI first or should you just skip ahead to IVF?

Then during the IVF cycle, it’s nothing but numbers. You have the numbers of your dosages, of Gonal-F and Menopur and HCG trigger. You have the numbers during your follicle counts and blood draws. You watch those numbers steadily climb, sometimes to astronomical levels. And after you wake up from your retrieval, you have the number of eggs successfully retrieved.

That number goes down a lot. We had 54 eggs retrieved. 38 were mature. 31 fertilized. By day 5, only 7 remained to freeze, besides the two we transferred. What a plummet, but I suppose it’s fair–with that many eggs, things are bound to be imperfect.

When you have your transfer, you worry about other numbers, mostly the number of blastocysts they put in you and their grading.

And then comes that two week wait, the time where you wait and wait and wait until your beta blood draw, where you can hopefully see a good HCG number. HCG is the pregnancy hormone, and you want yours to be moderately high and to keep climbing.

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(what you don’t want on The Price is Right but do want when you’re getting betas back)

Last Thursday, my HCG was at 223, which is a definite positive. I tested again today, and though my HCG has increased, it’s not by as much as they’d hoped–I should be at around 900 today, but instead I’m around 700.

In early pregnancy, they look for your HCG to double every 48-72 hours, but ideally every 48. I’m doubling roughly every 59, so it’s not great, but it’s not the worst, either. I’m still in that normal range, but I’ve got the doctor nervous enough, with my history of loss, that she’s ordered an early ultrasound. Usually, they don’t do the first ultrasound until around 7-8 weeks, but she wants to make sure everything is progressing, so our first ultrasound will be at 6 weeks, and likely we’ll have another at the 7-8 week mark before I’m released to regular obstetric care.

The good news, despite that worrying news, is that my hormone levels are fantastic. I could’ve told you that–between the nausea, fatigue, and sore boobs, I feel like I’m closer to 8 weeks pregnant, not 5. All of those early pregnancy symptoms are caused by the excess progesterone in my system, and I apparently have a LOT of that, so I get to stop with my supplements, hallelujah. The supplements had nasty OTHER side effects that were just exhausting.

I’m still not counting any chickens; we’ve got to get through the six week ultrasound and then the 8 week; then maybe I’ll breathe easy. Until then…

Distractions

Probably the best thing to happen during early pregnancy, especially if you’ve got a history of loss, is to be buried under ten billion distractions.

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(see also: me when I’m pooping and Sam is outside the bathroom going “Mommy? Mommy? Momma? Mommy? Momma? Mom?”)

Some distractions are fun. For example, everyone is talking about the solar eclipse, and even though I’m nowhere near the path of totality (and won’t be heading there because work), it’s still pretty cool and exciting. I’ll probably have a live feed running on my work computer for a little bit, at least until totality, and then I’ll probably not care much. Eclipses take forever. I remember one in the early 90s–not a total eclipse, but enough of one that everyone got excited. My mom taped it, but it was just a little video in the corner of the screen alongside her soap operas (I think she was watching One Life to Live at the time? Maybe? There was a guy with a black, curly mullet, that’s all I know).

Fun distractions come in the form of media. Lucasfilms just announced an upcoming stand alone film about Obi Wan Kenobi, which has me VERY excited… though that excitement will 100% evaporate if Ewan McGregor does not come back to play Obi Wan (he’s the absolute best part of the dumpster fire that we call the prequels; he and John Williams were the only ones who came to work). And then, of course, I get excited reading about new developments at Disney World: Star Wars land opening in another couple of years, plans for the 50th anniversary in 2021, and look. If I can’t afford to go to Disney World all the time, I can at least live vicariously through people who do, right?

It all eventually winds back, though. Someone on a birth board I follow wondered if the solar eclipse might have a negative impact on pregnancies. I scoffed, of course, because that is literally impossible, but it all wound back. Star Wars and Disney World just remind me that I hope, I hope, I hope that the next time we go, Sam won’t be the only child. I wonder and daydream about logistics and I wonder if this pregnancy will continue and we’ll be able to go in late April/early May and have two birthday trips for the price of one.

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(birthday at Disney World is on my bucket list and also the bucket list of every child)

This has been a weekend, too, of bad distractions. Of literal Nazis, a president who refuses to condemn them, and me wondering what the hell I’m doing bringing more children into this world when there’s this much hatred from the top down.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the first things I learned about the United States when I was Sam’s age, maybe a little older. At that age, my favorite TV show was Reading Rainbow, because Reading Rainbow is an awesome show… and because I love books and stories, and Reading Rainbow was about books and stories.

Something about the show that didn’t even hit me until I was older was how determinedly diverse it was. Of course, that shouldn’t be surprising, considering its host Levar Burton, but it wasn’t the kind of forced diversity that a lot of us who grew up in the 80s and 90s were so familiar with. You know what I mean, when you had a team of kids and there was the Token Girl and the Token Black Kid and the Token Kid in a Wheelchair, and that was the entire sum of their personalities?

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(THE KID WITH THE WHEELCHAIR IS LITERALLY NAMED WHEELS)

Reading Rainbow did not have token anythings; when kids were featured on the show (a daily occurrence), they were just naturally diverse–from different backgrounds and ethnicities, all talking about how books and stories had impacted their lives. The episodes, too, celebrated diversity. There were episodes about West African culture, Chinese culture, Japanese culture, slavery, immigration, the works.

The immigration episode has been in the back of my mind a lot lately, along with that old Schoolhouse Rock song, “The Great American Melting Pot.” That was the first thing I learned about the United States, that it was a special country because it wasn’t homogenous, because we all came from different places, had different backgrounds, skin colors, religions, all of these things, and that was all okay because that’s what made the United States special. It wasn’t our military might, our history, or exceptionalism for exceptionalism’s sake. It was that everyone was welcome, no matter who they were.

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(ignore the quality of this gif making it look like everyone is white and an extra in a Charlie Brown special)

Of course, adulthood and further study have made me realize that’s not the case, but I think it’s the ideal that we should be aspiring to, where what makes us great isn’t that we have the most nukes or the most money or that we can posture and brag about how great we are, but rather where what makes us great is that we embrace our differences and realize how essential they are to the fabric of the nation (in the most optimistic view, of course).

And that’s a pretty simplistic discussion of it and doesn’t get into the nitty gritty of things (and I’m not going to get into that here because this isn’t a political blog; it’s a blog about making and raising kids), but it’s what’s been on my mind, distracting me from the worries I’d usually have at this point.

I had my HCG beta test on Thursday morning, one vial of blood drawn and sent off to a lab for testing. It came back with HCG levels around 223 (the average for a pregnancy at this point is 187), which is Very Positive. Something stuck, and I’m not sure if it’s both embryos or just one (or, as Sam posited because he likes scaring me, triplets), but for now at least, I’m pregnant.

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I have another blood draw on Monday to make sure that things are progressing. None of this necessarily means anything–last February, when I did my last FET cycle, my bloodwork came back high and great. I started to feel confident, and then I lost the pregnancy at six weeks exactly. I called out of work and spent several days curled up in bed, less sad and more just frustrated and crampy.

This time around is weirder. I can tell that the HCG is increasing because my ovaries are back to hurting. A lot. They’re not pressing up against my diaphragm anymore (at least not yet), but I’m extraordinarily uncomfortable, and if I don’t pee often enough, I’m in a lot of pain.

The nurse told me basically that the pain is normal for how many eggs I had retrieved and that it’s a good sign that the pregnancy is continuing. She said that it should taper off in a few weeks, but I’m still sitting here wishing it was gone today, because it hurts, damnit. It hurts, and I’m tired, and I’m glad to be pregnant (for now), but I really would also like to go back to bed and maybe spend the entire first trimester under general anesthesia.

Oh well. Point is: something stuck, and I’m waiting to see on Monday how long that’ll last. Until then…

Tips for Taking a Pregnancy Test When You’re Infertile

The most sensitive home pregnancy tests can detect HCG, the pregnancy hormone, at levels of 6.5 mlU. To be considered pregnant by medical professionals, you need to have a reading of at least 5 mlU.

The absolute best and most sensitive home pregnancy tests are made by First Response. They have pink dye, and really, you’ll do well with just about any test that uses pink dye over blue if you’re testing early (and if you are trying very hard to get pregnant, you’re probably testing early). They’re the most sensitive by far.

You’ll want to test first thing in the morning, not less than 9 days after you ovulate, or more than 5-6 days before you expect your period. If you test too far out, you may get a false negative. You’ll want to test first thing in the morning because the HCG levels in your urine will be more concentrated, so you’ll get a more accurate result.

Try to aim your pee well, and only pee on the test strip part of the test for five seconds. Anything more and you’ll risk getting a dye run. Anything less and you might cause the test to fail.

I always put some toilet paper or paper towels down on the counter, because no matter how much care you take, these tests get messy. If you don’t like getting pee all over your vanity, it’s a good step to take.

Set the test down and wait. You shouldn’t have to wait long. If you’re pregnant, a second line will show up pretty quickly, and even if it’s faint, you’re pregnant. I think there’s some confusion, that people think you’re not necessarily pregnant if you see a second line but it’s really faint, but you’re pregnant.

not-pregnant(if your pregnancy test does this, feel free to curse it out)

If you’re going through a cycle where you used an HCG trigger, your rules are slightly different. The HCG you used to trigger ovulation will stay in your system about one day per thousand units. If you used a 10,000 unit trigger, that trigger will stay in your system for ten days, so any pregnancy test you take before you reach the 10 day mark will be inaccurate.

A lot of people deal with this by “testing out the trigger.” This basically means buying a bunch of cheap home pregnancy tests (NOT First Response, they’re not cheap at all) and using them every day to observe the second line getting fainter and vanishing completely. Any positive test after that point indicates pregnancy.

Or you can just wait.

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You’re supposed to wait. You’re supposed to wait until you get your beta results back, because a home pregnancy test can’t tell you how much HCG is really in your blood, so you can’t obsess over numbers. And, really, a home pregnancy test is just a step. After half a dozen miscarriages within the first six to nine weeks, after chemical pregnancies and false hopes, it seems like a very pointless step indeed.

But sometimes, it’s just nice to know that, for now at least, you’re pregnant.

20800232_10154786184010592_5007638337323806010_n(six days past 5 day transfer)

Betas are on Thursday the 17th, which is 10 days past a 5 day transfer. The magic number is 100; if we can get there, betas part two will be 48 hours later, at which point, the magic number will be 200. And then 400. And then I hold my breath and pray something stays in place and wait until the ultrasound, where I hold my breath and pray for a strong heartbeat.