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.

The Science Part

Tomorrow is Mother’s Day, and it’s kind of disorienting to me that Mother’s Day this year falls on the fourth anniversary of the day I became a mother.

I remember four years ago on Mother’s Day, I did NOT want to go into labor. I figured, that would be all anyone would talk about: how I’d given birth on Mother’s Day, how I became a mother on Mother’s Day, and that just… it squicked me out. I was still in that place of not knowing how I’d balance motherhood and my own individuality, how motherhood would integrate with the already fully-formed me, so such a twee coincidence was singularly unappealing.

At the same time, though, I was miserable and desperate to be done with pregnancy. I was two days past my due date, and my body had already decided it was Done being pregnant. That last week, I gained 30 lbs in water weight, my blood pressure skyrocketed, and my skin was raw and red from how much it itched due to ICP. I had a recurring pain behind my ribs that I’d later learn was my gallbladder begging my body to kick out the adorable parasite wreaking havoc on my system.

In short: I felt wretched and hated every minute of the last days of being pregnant.

(retrospectively, the fact that I only felt that bad for a couple of days instead of several months was a blessing, but I digress)

And Sam wouldn’t leave! I fully believe he would’ve stayed comfortably tucked beneath my ribs until I passed the 41 week mark, at which point, he would’ve been well above 9 lbs, thus rendering the newborn clothes we had for him beyond completely useless.

But! My body went haywire, my doctor induced me, and Sammy arrived, practically perfect in every way, at 5:42 p.m. on May 13, 2014.

IMG_0340(shown here in the only newborn size hat that ever fit him, looking very much like Isaac currently looks. Yoda for size comparison)

It’s odd how much more difficult things were when he was a newborn, largely because neither Kyle nor I knew what we were doing. We kept doing silly things like trying to sleep through the night while I fumbled through vain attempts to breastfeed. We were both of us exhausted; I don’t know about Kyle, but I have no memory of those early weeks beyond vague impressions of hooking myself up to a breast pump or rolling out of bed so many times in the middle of the night.

This compared to the twins, where we already have our survival strategy in place, where they’re already on a schedule and have been since they were born. You’d think that twins would be harder overall than a single baby, and they probably are if you have to figure out schedules and survival strategies on your own, but since we haven’t, they’re so easy. The only thing that’s difficult is the realization that sometimes, you have to let your baby cry.

(time for a sidebar, folks!)

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(it’s just like that sometimes)

With Sam, I never let him cry, unless he was crying over a mandatory thing, like a diaper change or a vaccination. At the slightest whimper, I ran to him, picked him up, cuddled him, coddled him, and did everything in my power to soothe him entirely. I sleep trained him a little bit (that is: I didn’t let him cry-it-out, but I did let him cry a little until he fell asleep), but I still had that niggling guilt for not running in and rocking him to sleep every night.

But with twins? That guilt is gone.

Why? Here’s the situation. The twins eat within half an hour of each other because I don’t want to spend 24 hours straight mixing bottles and feeding babies. I like being able to, say, take a couple of minutes to use the toilet or eat a Pop Tart. Or sleep. Anyway, if they’re asleep at the beginning of any given feed, the one who’s being fed second (it’s usually Carrie because she takes a decade to eat) will wake up halfway through the first twin’s feed and start first whimpering, then yelping, then screaming. And when they scream, they SCREAM. Carrie will, at least, tire herself out with the screaming within a relatively short period of time, but Isaac could go on for hours if we let him.

It’s the kind of thing that would get me strung up by my toenails in attachment parenting circles, but y’all, it can’t be helped. I only have so many arms and only such a reach. If one baby is in the middle of eating, it’s not generally considered a wise move to stop completely in order to pop a pacifier in the other baby’s mouth. They just have to wait it out, screaming and crying and all, and yes, it tugs on my heartstrings, but…

Well. I’m not Doc Ock here.

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(sidebar over)

We started celebrating Sam’s birthday today with a trip to the Museum of Science in Boston. He’s a space kid–loves the moon, stars, the sun, planets, rockets, everything. He’s fallen in love lately with a Pete the Cat book about Pete going to the moon in a space capsule, and–smart mom that I am–I realized there was a space capsule that you could actually go inside at the Museum of Science. Combine that with the Charles Hayden Planetarium, and I figured I had a pretty good birthday plan for this kiddo.

And we did! The last time Sam went to the Museum of Science, he was a small whelp of barely 20 months. He was mostly interested in running because he’d only just learned how; nothing science-like held his attention for more than a few seconds, even among the brightly-colored objects around the museum. This time, though, he was really into the entire experience. His favorites were the space capsule and the Dora the Explorer science playground…

…and, of course, the planetarium.

The planetarium didn’t catch his attention much at first, but then the tech blew up their image of the sun to be enormous and take up the entire planetarium screen, and Sam just whispered, “Wow!” And then came the Northern Lights and he breathed, “Wow!” And he remained hooked throughout the rest of the presentation, despite overenthusiastic audience members and people trying to come back in and out throughout the presentation (the presenter sounded like she was about to strangle one guy who took his kid out, since she’d only told us we couldn’t keep leaving and coming back about 500 times by that point).

They say that space and dinosaurs are the two gateway drugs for science, and I genuinely hope that’s true and that Sam doesn’t find himself turned off to science by school the way so many people do. I don’t know that I can, in good conscience, encourage him to go for a science degree (when my own student loans are a dark shadow lurking over every financial decision I make), but in the imaginary scenario where I win the lottery and can afford for my kids to have awesome academic experiences without going into debt up to their eyeballs?

I’d like to think that, in that case, I’d have an astronaut for a son.

The Harvest

I think egg retrieval is my favorite part of the IVF process. It means a full day off from work (and granted, you feel crappy during that time, not great, but it’s still a day off), and it means sleeping, and it means seeing the fruit of your annoying-ass two weeks of injections.

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(mostly it means sleeping)

I had my retrieval on Wednesday, as I’d mentioned before. They set it for pretty late in the day, which is unusual–my last several retrievals have been pretty early in the morning, so we’ve had to fight rush hour traffic to get in on time. This time, though, the road was clear, and we made it in with a good 20 minutes to spare, which was a great change of pace. I sat in the waiting room with a whole bunch of people who were theoretically just like me (you could tell the ones coming in for procedures–they had on comfortable clothes and warm socks. Conversely, the ones who were in for just consults or the like were wearing nice work clothes and heels), and Kyle went back to what I’m calling the spank bank wank tank to make his contribution to the furthering of the species.

(he took a video of it that he showed me when I woke up from the procedure. There was a chair covered in sterile paper, a counter with a cup and Roku remote control on it, and a 36” flatscreen TV mounted to the wall)

And then I got called back and had to strip down and don a johnny, bathrobe, and slipper socks. I spent pretty much the entire morning pantsless as multiple people came into my waiting cubicle to ask me Important Questions like “do you ever die during anesthesia?” or “which vein is best for an IV?”

(the nurse didn’t listen to me at first and tried to go in my left arm, but when I pointed out my Best Vein on my right arm, she went there, and things were good)

The big thing I always do before procedures is tell everyone I can, “I will puke unless you give me an antiemetic in my IV. I will wake up from anesthesia, and I will puke on you and everything you love, unless I have an antiemetic.” I think I repeated this about five times before the procedure, hoping that it would mean the anesthesiologist would give me that antiemetic so that I wouldn’t throw up, and so that Kyle could take my woozy self to Friendly’s for lunch.

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(I’m just saying that I totally deserved some fried food and ice cream)

(spoilers: I did not get Friendly’s for lunch)

But once I made sure that everyone knew that I would definitely throw up if not given an antiemetic, a nurse came to give me a little blue beret and escort me back to the procedure room.

Egg retrievals are really weird compared to other surgical procedures, in that you need to make sure your legs are securely way up in the stars before they give you the good night juice. I spent a lot of time positioning myself on a surgical table that seemed to be designed for only people weighing 100 lbs or less and then trying to assist the nurses as they hoisted my feet up into slings that would keep my legs way up high for the duration of the procedure. I was strapped down, and some blessed individual placed an oxygen mask over my face.

(retrospectively, it smelled a little sweet to be oxygen, so it was probably some nitrous oxide, which is GOOD STUFF)

They placed electrodes on my chest to monitor my heart, and then the anesthesiologist said, “Okay, you’re going to start feeling really sleepy, really fast, alright? See you on the other side.”

“Okay,” I answered, closing my eyes for a glorious nap. “Good night.”

The next thing I knew, I was back in one of the waiting cubicles. A nurse was talking to me, and I don’t remember what she was saying, but I do know that my knees were bent. I remembered that the waiting cubicles had reclining chairs in them and asked her, “Do you think you could help me put the footrest up?”

“Oh, sweetie, you’re in a bed,” she explained, and I opened my eyes to see that yes, I was in a bed.

“How many eggs did they get?” I asked, because this is the most important thing when you wake up from an egg retrieval.

“I don’t have the exact number yet, but I know it was at least 40.”

Forty eggs! Holy crap! When I’d gone in for my last monitoring ultrasound, I’d only had 37 follicles; another three must have popped up overnight. I eagerly awaited Kyle’s arrival and, when he sank into the chair next to my bed, told him the good news.

“We got forty eggs!” I exulted. He called me a spider mom.

The nurse was quick to correct me, though: we’d gotten at least 40 eggs. They were still counting. A few minutes later, she came back and told us that they’d retrieved a total of 54 eggs.

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Kyle and I said, in unison, “Holy shit!” We said this very loudly, and we were probably not appreciated by anyone else in the little recovery area.

The nurse went on to tell us that this was the second largest retrieval they’d ever done; the largest was a woman who’d had 83 eggs removed (bless her, she must have been feeling even more arachnid than I do). She told me that they’d get back to me the next day and let me know how many of those 54 eggs successfully fertilized.

I was concerned about this. I asked Kyle if he’d gotten 54 sperm when he did his do in the room with the paper chair. He told me that yes, he’d gotten at least 54 sperm, though he hadn’t counted.

Unfortunately, it was around then that I started feeling nauseous. The nurse had given me some Tylenol for the cramping in my abdomen (because you don’t produce 54 eggs without some cramping), and my stomach was unsure what to do with this new addition. “Did the anesthesiologist give me an antiemetic?” I asked when the nurse returned. She told me that no, he hadn’t, but he’d given me fentanyl in my anesthesia, which made me more than a little nervous: fentanyl is one of the drugs I’m supposed to avoid when on my antidepressants.

But I was more nervous about my stomach’s newfound enthusiasm for puking. “Can I have an antiemetic now?” I asked. The nurse rushed away and came right back with a syringe full of Zofran, which she injected into my IV. “That’ll take a little while to work, but you should be alright afterwards.”

Even so. The nausea did not go away as quickly as everyone hoped, and I shuffled back to the car carrying a plastic bag for “just in case” purposes. Kyle instinctively took a back road from the clinic to the highway, and the twists and turns and bumps did me no favors. “Maybe next time we can take a main road?” I whimpered as Kyle winced and apologized with every bump.

But I got home safely and slept the day away to the peaceful rumbles of a line of thunderstorms. That night, I got my Friendly’s, and even Kat–who hates Friendly’s–came along for the ride. I sent an email to my office as a reminder that I’d be in late the next day, since I couldn’t drive or shower or literally do anything for 24 hours after having anesthesia, and then I went back to bed.

While I was sleeping the next day, the clinic called me back with fertilization results. Of the 54 eggs they’d retrieved, 38 had been mature, and of those 38, 31 had successfully fertilized. Suffice it to say that I will not be doing another stim cycle again for a lonnnnnng time, even as those numbers continue to drop.

It’s been two days, and I’m feeling… meh. Not my best. If I had my druthers, I’d ruther be at home, still in bed and only getting up to replenish my supply of purple Gatorade and pee, but work calls. I’m tired, and my stomach hurts, but I’m mostly functional and can distract myself from both of those facts. I’m probably going to have a pizza for lunch because health? What’s that?

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(besides, pizza)

Assuming I don’t get worse over the next couple of days (today and tomorrow are supposed to be the worst days), we’ve got a transfer scheduled for Monday, two blastocysts. With any luck, my IVF journey will end there; here’s hoping. Until then…

Days of the Month

I bought a calendar for my office today. Here it is:

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It’s a necessity, really. Without going into too much detail, my work is deadline-based, and if I’ve got too many deadlines approaching at once, it ends very badly for myself and the people I’m working with. As the saying goes, you can have it good, fast, or cheap–pick two. So I fill out the calendar with due dates for various projects, and I color code them: pink for proposals, green for qualifications, teal for presentations, mauve for meetings, blue for holidays, purple for appointments, and orange for personal things (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.). I really like colors.

As I flipped through the calendar, I started vaguely thinking ahead, first about the immediate future and then about later days (because that’s how we look at time, in order, unless we’re writing science fiction, in which case, everything is made up and the points don’t matter).

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The immediate future is all medication, monitoring, retrievals, and (hopefully) transfers. I started my medications last night, and man, what an adventure. My computer wouldn’t turn on, and the site with injection instructions wouldn’t load on my phone, so I had to sit at Kyle’s computer with a bunch of syringes and needles and vials of medication while he messed around with my computer and made sure that Sam was sleeping comfortably. Last year, I didn’t have this problem, because I did so many IVF cycles in such a short window that I never unlearned the process of mixing medication, drawing it up, injecting it, and disposing of the waste.

This year, though, it’s been almost a year since the last time I did this, so I was sort of all thumbs. I got diluent all over the place by accidentally drawing too much air into a syringe, and then I don’t think I mixed one medication correctly. I dropped stuff all over the place, and by the time it was over, I just wanted a nap. That desire doubled about two hours later when the first hormone headache came on–not quite as bad as a migraine, but unpleasant nonetheless.

I’ve got a least another 10-12 days of this (leaning more towards 12; my doctor really likes to push me as far as she can when it comes to stims), if not another 18 (she talked about “coasting” me for a while to give eggs a better chance to develop without me developing OHSS again). At some point in there, I’ll take a trigger shot to tell my body to mature the eggs for retrieval, and 38 hours later, I’ll take a blissful nap and wake up to hopefully hear that they got a spider’s worth of mature eggs.

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(I refuse to put a picture of a bunch of baby spiders on here. You’re welcome)

Assuming I don’t develop OHSS again, and assuming that those eggs are mature and good, we’ll do a transfer five days later. We’re going to transfer two embryos this time because so far, we could’ve transferred every single embryo we’ve created at once and had exactly zero children. There’s a risk of twins, which I’m not thinking about right now (dear everyone who’s like “aw, I’d love to have twins”: ARE YOU CRAZY? I’d be fine if we had twins, but I’m definitely not actively desiring that), but I don’t think that risk is very big for us. Really, we’re just hedging our bets to try and get one.

So that takes us through the middle of August. In that time, I’ve got things to keep me occupied–date nights, wedding receptions, work meetings, the usual–but it’s not too busy. I don’t feel really stressed right now, which is a big difference between this cycle and the previous several. I hope it helps.

If this cycle works, my due date would be somewhere between April 24 and April 30. I thought about that and realized that if we went as late as we did with Sam, and my due date was April 30, the baby would be born on May 4, which is auspicious.

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(I’m not naming twins born on May 4 Luke and Leia, but I wish I could)

(and anyway, twins are always born early, so that wouldn’t happen)

(but can you imagine? They’d save the entire galaxy. I’d probably name them Mark and Carrie)

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(like as long as I’m not giving birth in an ice cream cone, I think things will go well)

So with that in mind, I kept flipping through the calendar, doing the mom thing of jotting down birthdays, vacations, anniversaries, and appointments. All the while, I was keeping track in my mind of potentially important dates.

Assuming a retrieval date on August 4, I’d have a transfer date of August 9.

They’d do a blood pregnancy test around August 19. I’d know that day if I was pregnant or not. I’ll probably know earlier because I’m impatient and will buy a bunch of pregnancy tests, maybe at the Dollar Store, and watch my HCG levels go down from the trigger and hopefully rebound.

They’d do an ultrasound to confirm the pregnancy, tell us if there’s one or two, somewhere around the first week of September. That will be the worst week, even if the pregnancy test is positive, because that’s when I’ll be afraid that we’ll see a repeat of what happened with Finley–a slow beating heart that eventually stops and disappears into nothing.

But maybe it won’t. They’ll transfer me to Dr. Solano then, and maybe I’ll have another ultrasound, and maybe I’ll see another little chicken hawk or two bouncing around inside of me like I’m the home of Cirque du Soleil now. That’d be the beginning of October, probably. I’d have a nuchal translucency scan around then, too, and I’ll want to do one of those blood tests to make sure everyone’s chromosomally okay. Maybe we’ll find out the gender(s) then. If we have two boys, I will feel a sense of panic because that’s three boys.

(also because we have plenty of girl names in mind but zero boy names)

Late October, when we go on vacation to Texas, I’ll be at the beginning of the second trimester and feeling great. We’ll get back, and I’ll count down until the end of November, when we’ll have the anatomy scan. If we don’t do the chromosome test, that’s when we’ll find out the gender(s). Hopefully, everything will measure alright and we’ll keep trucking along.

In February, I’ll have a maternity photo shoot. February is a good time to do a maternity photo shoot at a science museum, I think. I imagine standing underneath a giant T-Rex and feeling less than planetary compared to such a gargantuan lady.

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(needs more feathers, though)

The last month of pregnancy will be the worst, I’ll bet, because that’s how it was with Sam. I’ll be miserably rolling from place to place, tired and sore and cranky and ready for it to be over. And then it will be, and our family will grow again, and that will be awesome. I’ll be more prepared this time–every baby is different, but certain things are the same: the lack of sleep, the difficulty of the first couple of months, the gradual development of a routine, the way things eventually find an orbit and stay there for a while.

These dates might mean nothing, but they might mean something. We’ll see. In the meantime, it’s 200 units of Gonal F and 75 units of Menopur tonight and every night until my next monitoring on Monday.

Tests

Infertility and testing go together like peanut butter and jelly (or peanut butter and marshmallow fluff, depending on where you’re from). The tests start roughly around the one year mark, when you bring up to your doctor that, hey, we’ve been trying to fulfill our biological imperative and propagate the species for about a year now, but no dice. What gives?

These tests fall into one of two basic categories: giving someone else your bodily fluids or having things shoved delicately inside of you to take a peek around. The latter is usually the less pleasant option, if only because it takes a lot longer, but the former can be an adventure, too.

In terms of giving someone else your bodily fluids, the ovary-haver usually only needs to offer two types of fluid: blood and urine, like this is some sort of terrible German porno. The blood work has to happen about once a year, and it’s a LOT of blood–my most recent testing required a grand total of ten vials, and six of them were for fasting bloodwork (in other words, I was going in there with no food or drink in my body). The urine–I’m not really sure what they test when you pee in a cup, to be honest, but once you’re pregnant, the cup peeing becomes a monthly and then weekly and then daily thing, so if nothing else, I figure it’s just to get you used to it and help you develop your technique.

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(tip: aim better than this)

The sperm donor has to contribute blood as well, but he also needs to have his semen analyzed. This particular facet of testing is ripe for comedy because there is no way to make wanking for the spank bank not funny. In the best of times, a fellow can make his contribution in a pleasantly lit room at the infertility clinic. This room is, inexplicably, soundproof. The best clinics have rooms with sterile furniture; the worst clinics have wicker, of all things. They all have magazines with the covers torn off and DVDs of questionable content.

I won’t go into detail about the worst of times.

When we first started testing, way back four years ago, the clinic actually refused to give us the results of Kyle’s test because he didn’t yet have a primary care physician in Massachusetts (long story short, we had very bad insurance back then). He had to go through the whole process a second time (this clinic did not have a room, so he had to bring his donation with him, tucked under his arm to keep it at body temperature), and we still didn’t know the results until we reached this IVF adventure.

(his results: A+ quantity, but very poor motility and morphology–a.k.a., the guys are drunken mutants, the wrong shape to fertilize a single egg, if they could even find it)

But fortunately, that’s where the testing ends for the sperm donor. For the ovary-haver, the testing has just begun; because, you see, sperm donors don’t need to have anything delicately shoved up their danger clam. Ovary-havers? We do.

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There are three basic “things inside you” tests (in order from least horrible to “WHY WOULD YOU DO THIS TO ME?”): the sonohysterogram, the hysteroscopy, and the hysterosalpingogram.

The sonohysterogram is entry level invasive junk testing. In this test, a tech fills your uterus with a saline solution in order to check your uterine lining for abnormalities that wouldn’t otherwise be seen on an ultrasound. The test takes a grand total of five minutes and is less unpleasant than it is just very wet. At my last one, the tech told me to think of it as a spa treatment, maybe like yoni steaming or something like that. I’ve never desired to try yoni steaming, and the combination of that metaphor with the weird “seashore” sound effects she played during the procedure just made me uncomfortable.

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(if you’ve never heard of yoni steaming, it’s basically perching with your lady bits over boiling hot water for like. Gwyneth Paltrow reasons or something)

But as the tests go, the sonohysterogram is easy as pie. You get in, you get splashed, you get out. Boom, boom, boom.

The hysteroscopy is a little more involved, because it requires a camera. With a hysteroscopy, your doctor inserts a light and camera to have a look around the inside of your uterus. This is never not weird. It’s a relatively painless procedure; maybe there’s some cramping because there’s a camera in your uterus, but all in all, it’s not bad. At my last hysteroscopy, my doctor even let me watch the monitor that showed the inside of my uterus (I told her, I wanted to look my uterus in the eye after all it had put me through). Truth be told, it was less red than I expected. It looked more like a pale piece of undercooked chicken, which is apparently normal. And I suppose that makes sense, but after twenty-something years of periods, I expected more carnage.

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(more Carrie, less Food Network, really)

But the hysteroscopy and the sonohysterogram pale in comparison to the worst of them all: the hysterosalpingogram.

On paper, it sounds simple. They squirt dye into your cervix and uterus, it travels up your fallopian tubes, and then they take an X-ray of the whole system to make sure nothing is blocked or broken. The dye then leaks into the rest of your abdomen, where it presumably makes your internal organs look really funky. Easy, right?

No, no, no. This procedure is terrible. It starts the morning of, when you take a huge antibiotic pill–one of those ones that kills e v e r y t h i n g–and that makes you sick to your stomach. Shortly before the procedure, they give you hospital grade Tylenol to dull the pain, but this does exactly nothing except make you mildly loopy (if you’re me, at least, and get loopy at the suggestion of medication).

You go into a weird sort of OR for this, and I say weird because it’s a radiology lab, so it’s very different from the pleasant OB/GYN offices you’ve been visiting all along. Everything seems normal, though: you put on a johnny and lie down on a cold metal table. You put your legs in stirrups, and someone explains what’s going to happen. The doctor tells you, “Whatever happens, don’t move,” and that sounds easy enough.

Then comes the speculum and the iodine to clean your cervix, and so far, everything seems normal. Even the dye tube seems normal at first, but then they squirt the dye in, and I will tell you that this ranks third in worst pains of my life (first was gallstones, second was when my epidural didn’t work when I was giving birth to Sam). It would have ranked higher, except it doesn’t last very long. It’s a fiery, cramping sensation, not entirely unlike menstrual cramps, but much more sudden and much more severe (and for those who’ve never experienced this level of menstrual cramping, imagine the cramps you feel when you’ve got severe diarrhea, and then multiply by about ten).

And you’re not supposed to move. Every instinct in your body tells you to curl up and fight this pain, but you cannot move. At all. They take an X-ray of your abdomen, and then it’s over, but the pain lingers in the back of your mind, to the point where you can’t help but say, “I’m so sorry,” if anyone ever mentions a hysterosalpingogram in your presence.

That’s one of the silver linings of IVF, too: it doesn’t matter if your fallopian tubes are blocked. You don’t need to have a hysterosalpingogram. You can just go on with the sonohysterograms and the hysteroscopies and be happy about your life because your life does not involve hysterosalpingograms anymore.

Anyway. Today is a testing day. Kyle did his testing this morning, and I’m heading in for a hysteroscopy after lunch. Fingers crossed it’ll show that we’re free and clear to keep moving forward.

Sick Days

Sam was sick this weekend, one of those vague childhood illnesses that isn’t really anything definable but that still had him whining and sleeping a lot during the day both Saturday and Sunday. He didn’t eat a lot either day (we couldn’t even entice him to eat by giving him cookies for breakfast, which shows both [a] how crappy a mom I can be when I’m desperate to get my son to eat and [b] how desperate I was to get my son to eat), and on Sunday morning, he slept until 8:30, as opposed to his usual 6:30. He was fine after his nap on Sunday, but we still spent most of the weekend working our way around an almost!three-year-old who wasn’t quite sick enough to merit being called “sick” but was still too sick to act like his normal self.

He almost never got sick during his first year of life, or at least nothing that I would call “sick.” He spit up a lot, just a little bit after every feeding, and we were concerned about that until his pediatrician pointed out that he was still in the 65-70th percentile in terms of weight for his age and size, so he must be getting some nutrition. He was something of a unicorn baby in that and other regards–he slept through the night at three months (by which I mean, he slept from 10 p.m. until 5 a.m., which totally counts) and was an excellent eater. He was healthy, and it was great.

He got his first cold about a month before his first birthday, the same weekend that we had the funeral for my beloved grandmother AND the same weekend we celebrated Easter. The pictures I took of Sam from that weekend are the saddest thing ever: there he is, in an adorable Easter outfit (featuring Thumper from Bambi because what’s the point of being a mom if you can’t dress your kid in adorable Disney clothes?) with bright red eyes and nose and cheeks, looking stoned out of his mind.

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Colds quickly became routine for us, as Sam started daycare about two months later. I forget when he brought home his first cold, but it was quickly accompanied by his first ear infection, which quickly spread to me and resulted in me missing a total of four days of work during my first month. Understandably, my bosses weren’t exactly fans of this and told me that I needed to make sure I was available or else. I don’t blame them for this; I worked remotely as a call center representative back then, and a lack of presence on my part would result in a more difficult time answering call volumes, especially since it was the busy season.

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(call center work is a special type of hell)

Busy season or not, Sam kept bringing home colds and ear infections at predictable three week intervals. He’d get a cold, it would turn into an ear infection, he’d suffer miserably, get better, and then have a week of being healthy before another cold turned up. As I understand, this is par for the course during the first year of daycare, but it was exhausting. We saw our pediatrician so many times during the first year that she now actually gets excited if it’s been more than a month since she saw us last.

Eventually, we had to face the fact that Sam had inherited his dad’s eustacean tubes (those are the tubes that go from your ears to your throat and drain excess mucus). They clogged easily and would have to be held open by ear tubes, which he got the December before he turned two. The procedure was quick and painless, and Sam hasn’t had an ear infection since–and we’re to the point now where he may have to get surgery to get one of the tubes removed, since it’s still firmly in place a year and a half after the fact.

I’d happily keep it in there forever, though, because it’s just that nice to have gone so long without having to go and get a bottle of the pink stuff or having to negotiate whose deadline was less important and therefore who’d stay home with Sam because the daycare won’t take him if he has a fever or is contagious. That’s not to say that he hasn’t been sick at all since getting the tubes, but his illnesses have been… well, let’s just say both rarer and more dramatic.

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(if a three-year-old could express this sentiment, he would)

For example. About a year ago (a year ago today, how ‘bout that?), I started a new job at as a marketing assistant at a construction firm. Not a week after I started, Sam had a nasty bug that acted very much like the flu, even though he’d gotten his flu shot that year. The flu stuff went on for about a day, and then he started to get spots around his mouth, on his hands and feet. He’d contracted the dreaded hand, foot, and mouth disease, and guess who had to take a week off within the first month of her new job because she also contracted hand, foot, and mouth disease?

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Things went back to normal for a while after the spots all went away (they are TERRIBLE, they feel like someone is pricking your fingers and feet with needles if you put even the slightest pressure on them), and they remained normal until this winter, when Kyle and I noticed that Sam, after a few days of a minor cold, had a spotty rash on his torso. Sam’s fully vaccinated, so we didn’t expect measles or anything of that ilk, but we did rush him to the doctor, just in case it was something very serious that we’d never heard of.

As it turned out, we had heard of it, just not in a modern context. The spotty rash on Sam’s torso turned out to be a sign of scarlet fever, as if our son had decided it was actually 1917 rather than 2017. Fortunately, a case of scarlet fever in 2017 is very different from a case of scarlet fever in 1917–Sam just got a bottle of the pink stuff and was declared fit to return to daycare the next day. Go figure.

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(meanwhile, in Little Women, scarlet fever eventually leads to Beth dying, so I’m glad it’s 2017)

All-in-all, he’s a healthy kid, and that makes me exceptionally grateful for vaccines. They have a vaccine for rotavirus now–that’s a stomach bug, the one that causes really bad diarrhea in babies. Sam got that vaccine right on schedule, and even though he’s had some pukey bugs, he’s never had a proper stomach bug, which blows my mind. I’d always heard tell of stomach bugs so bad that a kid would be confined to a tarp for the duration because it was just that hard to keep them from puking everywhere. That’s never happened to us, and it’s amazing.

And then I think of the stuff I had when I was a kid that Sam won’t have to deal with because he’s been vaccinated. There’s a chickenpox vaccine now; isn’t that wild? I missed my sixth birthday because of the chickenpox, and I remember that chunk of time as miserable, itchy, and boring. Sam won’t have to deal with that. He also won’t have to worry about coming down with certain types of pneumonia, which stole a good month of my life away when I was seven and has left me with bad lungs, like I’m the protagonist’s sister in a Tennessee Williams play.

I just really love that there’s technology now that prevents these illnesses and that keeps Sam from having to suffer the way that people suffered in the past–or worse. I hate him being even whiny sick like he was this weekend; that I’m able to prevent him from dealing with more severe illness is legitimately so awesome to me. Science is amazing.

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