Testing Day

bloodWhy infertility hurts so bad. Reason #106.  When you start trying to get pregnant, you summon so much love for the baby that will come. Let’s call it pre-love. It swells inside you, growing bigger by the day. Every month, you follow the signs to see if you’re any closer to being united with that one you already love. But your baby just can’t find its way to you. And you feel so lonely.

Nobody knows that baby that you miss. They haven’t met or seen the child the way you have. They couldn’t possibly understand why you are mourning thin air. Missing, what isn’t there.

Today was the holy blood test day for our latest IVF cycle. 14 days ago, we transferred back two embryos, 4 cells each. Mild fragmentation, all even size. “Not bad chances,” said the embryologist. I’ve been on a dose of prednisone in the morning, estradiol tablets three times a day, and progesterone injections, also three times a day. I’ve had all the symptoms. Heightened sense of smell. Sore breasts. And then, the period. That didn’t come. The same period that comes every 25 days, on the dot, didn’t show up. The only time it didn’t come was when I got pregnant on IVF cycle #1, ART treatment #7. The other times, it always arrived, three days before testing day. Like a zombie, I showed up for those rote tests, knowing it was all over.

But this round? This was our chance. I felt amazing at the clinic this morning, proudly offering up a vein for the sweet phlebotomist to draw one full test tube. Martin squeezed my knee as if to say, “We got this.”

I overheard the 46-year-old patient before me tell the nurse that she had taken a home pregnancy test that morning. And it was positive! She beamed as the nurse rubbed her leg.

So I was not prepared for the phone call just one hour ago. It was nurse Camilla saying, “I’m so sorry, Camryn.”

It’s negative.

The hardest part of today’s event was having to call Martin. He is just as shattered.

We have so much love to give and nowhere to place it.

And I wonder if our baby misses us just as much.

Pregnancy, interrupted.

IMG_3613The day that I lost my pregnancy in 2014 I was rushed into emergency surgery. My beta-hCG hormone levels were rising rapidly, but at the 8 week heartbeat ultra-scan, my uterus was empty.

The infertility specialist treating me at Copenhagen General Hospital (not it’s real name, it’s actually Rigshospitalet) scrambled to set an urgent appointment, three floors down, with the chief of the Gynæcology department.

The silver-haired professor scanned me and offered us a blank stare. He asked when I last ate. He proceeded to say that they would perform laparoscopic surgery on my fallopian tubes later that evening to check for signs of a pregnancy outside the uterus. Such a measure was to save my life and avoid an even bigger surgery down the road. “And no, we cannot move the pregnancy from your tube to your uterus,” he chuckled. Answering something I never even asked.

That day, life came to a screeching halt. Our hopes and dreams and future and happiness were all tied up in the little being that was supposed to be beating inside of me. And then they told us, that little one was no more. It was over.

This can’t be happening, we thought: We had been triumphantly beamed up from our parallel universe of infertility madness? We had been given a 2-month breather inside the kingdom of smug, expectant parenthood. How could we be evicted? Tossed back onto the island of the infertile, where we had frantically been fleeing? Our heavenly reprieve, over.

Pregnancy, interrupted.

The anaesthesiologist roused me from my deep slumber after the surgeons made their exit, and he whispered into my ear, “You are going to be fine.” A porter wheeled me back to my hospital room where a relieved Martin gripped my hand. It was 11 pm. I was drugged up, loopy and wondering why I didn’t feel an urge to use the bathroom. The nurse showed me why, flicking the catheter chord beneath my leg. It would stay in through the night.

Feeling embarrassed, dopey and mopey, I sent Martin home to get some rest.

I dozed in and out of consciousness for the next few hours as Tine, the night nurse, scurried in and out of my room. She had been instructed to take my vitals every 30 minutes, as my blood pressure was scarily low.

And then it started: the primal screams. It began as a female voice, seeping through the porous tile floors. The volume swelled slowly, going from pale and faint to dizzyingly loud. She was screaming and then, another one was screaming. They were breathless, gasping for air in between ear-splitting lashes. The women were hurting. Screeching. Agonizing.

They were giving birth.

“Yes,” said Tine, glancing at her watch. “We’re directly above Labor & Delivery, so we hear all the screams.”

“Is this some kind of sick joke?” I wanted to ask. But I didn’t. I smiled – a release of tension at the brutal irony, agitating the usual equanimity I reserve for strangers.

In my sleepless Propofol-hangover, I processed the sensory inputs that were assaulting my freshly operated-on body of feelings: The tangy ethanol balm of my bleached up quarters. The thick, 80s-era curtains casting a cool blue glow on the un-hyggelig space. I lay there alone, hollowed out, stitched up, barren and broken. And one floor below me, a person was entering this mad world, under the lullaby of her mother’s heaving chest.

I let them scream for me.

The soundtrack of my ending pregnancy would be the murmurings of the alive-child, one floor below, entering a brightly-lit world of cold metal, tears, back-slapping and jubilation.

Life was chugging along. That damn circle everyone talks about. I could not escape it, nor would I want to.

This not-so-gentle whisper was all the prodding I needed. Yes, we had been robbed. Yes, we were royally f*cked. Yes, we had been evicted. But our journey wasn’t over. Babies would continue to make their glorious debut. And I was convinced now, more than ever, that one day, I swear to God, I would be back in there. One floor below.

And it would be my turn to scream.

Infertility & Marriage: I’m a Lucky Girl

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I have a theory about what happens to couples who go through years of infertility. It’s not grounded in any scientific evidence. It’s all experiential, based solely on what has happened in my marriage, and what I’ve seen with other fertility-challenged couples whom we know.

Two things can happen to a couple – you grow closer, or you grow apart. You will not stay in the same place. The status quo of married-life does not subsist like it once did, pre-infertility.

So there you have it: you come together or you come apart. It’s a tragic situation for a lot of couples who find themselves on the apart-trajectory.

Going through years of infertility is the ultimate marital stress-test. It’s always there, hanging in the room that you share with your partner: that one thing, that isn’t there. Your together-baby. Your baby is missing, but you both want that baby. You are both saddened by the absence of the baby. You grieve and you struggle – and you grieve and struggle differently. Maybe one of you is more crushed. Maybe one of you is more ready to throw in the towel. Maybe one of you is making herself crazy, mining blogs, journals and millions of pages of data on the World Wide Web, digging for clues. Maybe one of you is shirking other duties, on account of the obsession with that person who isn’t there.

With our baby Bjørn, a polar bear in Iceland.

With our baby Bjørn, a polar bear in Iceland.

There is a place in my heart that I reserve for all the couples going through infertility who are not on the same page. A woman in my American support group recounted that she has endured Clomid and 3 IUIs alone (her husband begrudgingly offered some sperm samples). But he is against the idea of working this hard to have a child. “Why don’t we just get a dog?” he asked his shell-shocked wife.

I can’t even imagine. I can’t imagine walking this deserted road alone, with no one holding my hand. Or carrying me, the way my husband has. I would not have lasted a month going through this agony were it not for my hübster, my musmus (my “treasure-mouse”). There hasn’t been one turning point on our journey where we were not aligned about what to do next. We somehow always manage to sync up. To  hold each other, process, grieve and research…and then synchronize our action plan. We handle the grief differently – sometimes at the same time (and that’s not very fun, when it’s 2 falling apart, not 1), but usually, we take turns. I get to fall apart when a round of IVF is cancelled right before transfer. I get to fall apart when the doctor with whom I’m assigned to rehash the implosion of a cycle doesn’t speak any English. I get to fall apart on the hospital bed when the doctor gives us bad news and I don’t know how to save face in the traditional Danish-stoic way.

My stone-faced husband gets to shudder after he injects me. He gets to grieve and scream in the shower after we lose a baby in the first trimester. And he gets to “stand on one leg” (our marital term for the über-dramatic flip-out) when coming to grips with the fact that he will soon be without a job. As if our bad luck couldn’t get bad-er. So we take turns being dramatic. Who has to be strong – and who gets to fall apart today. And I count my lucky stars that I am with a man sensitive enough to feel the depths of this ravaging sadness; whose bouts of frailty give way to my own spurts of other-worldly strength that I didn’t know I had in me.

Going through infertility with this man, I found out that I married an angel. A strong, steady, 2-meter-tall-Viking angel who will go the distance for me. And with me.

I found my happiness and my safe harbor when I found Martin. I would have discovered the gravity of that good fortune in time, without this fertility madness, but I’m grateful for the jolt of reality the last few years have delivered.

Before I got married, I often considered the old adage: “You need to find happiness on your own before you can find happiness with any other person.” As a single woman – pre-Martin – I needed to love myself and be happy, all by my lonesome. And I maybe did that. But I’m not really sure. Because my happiness entered another level when I got to have him, after several years of friendship.

Infertility has shown us that we can survive anything, as long as we are DSC02355surviving, together. On my darkest days and my gloomiest nights, Martin still strikes me as a miracle that I wake up to, every morning.

I do not have a baby, but I have him and that means: a minimum, guaranteed state of being okay and happy. Even when this infertility stuff is literally killing me softly, I know I will maintain some modicum of happiness.

Because I have Martin, and for that, I am extremely lucky.