This is the face of a person who doesn’t get to choose the size of her family. She is heartbroken and tired. She’s had 11 losses over 10 years. She’s done 18 rounds of In-vitro Fertilization (IVF-regansglasbehandling), but she does not have 18 kids. She has 1, for which she is infinitely grateful. People remind her all the time that… Read more →
I’ve become so skilled at numbing myself in order to soldier on through more rounds of IVF. Another IVF cycle ended in failure about three weeks ago. And we have no more embryos left. I’ve stopped counting what number this round was. I sat, blankly, in the kitchen at work, as my dear friend from Paris cried for me. She was heartbroken on my behalf. I was envious of her ability to set the tears free.
I don’t typically allow myself to cry when I get soul-crushing news from the doctor’s office because I’m worried that if I start, I won’t stop. This is a credible fear because the sadness in my heart is that massive. There’s no unraveling “just a little bit.” In my mind, it’s an all or nothing game – keep it together, or have a 5150-level breakdown. I do not want that. I rationalize the numbness away by telling myself I’m just moving forward. I’m manning up. Not dwelling.
My expert numbing skills were honed at age 22 when my heart was broken for the first time at the hands of a boy. My first true love. When he left, I wailed on the carpet in the fetal position… hair matted, mascara smudged all over my cheeks, hyperventilating. I whispered to my mom on the phone, “I don’t know how to breathe.” I’d never touched such a grief before. The experience rattled me. It was my first encounter with a certain batch of untouched nerve-endings in my brain being stimulated and scorched all at once. When I recovered some time later, I was disgusted with myself. I was shocked at my lameness. My corniness. How cliché I had been, a helpless damsel on the floor of her Santa Monica apartment. Sobbing in the therapists office, panicking. I felt like a traitor to my feminist ideals. Someone take my NOW card now!
I swore to myself that I would toughen up. I watched Michel Gondry’s Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind and decided that if I couldn’t delete my sad memories like they could in that film (something I would have paid my life’s fortune to do) then I would have to forge a massive fortress around my heart and stop feeling my emotions so severely. I would need to be more strong. Less feeling. I rewired my brain to enter a meditative state of emotional avoidance, lest any event I encounter get too sad.
Years later, many losses later, highs and lows, and family-building trials that would take me to the edge of an emotional cliff, I find some kind of ironic safe harbor in the dysthymia (latent depression) I forced myself into. Life is just too sad. I cannot shoulder her boundless tragedies. And so, I numb. I digitize, I scroll, I flip and reddit and, gram and shop and scan. I nerd out on mindless gossip and ingredients lists; I escape into the destructive arms of the world wide ether, and I try not to feel.
I numb myself through my infertility and when people praise me for my strength and say, “Wow! 14 rounds of IVF! How do you do it?” the truthful answer I should give is, “I do it by walking around, numb.”
Numbness has also fuelled my full transparency with the whole-wide-world about my infertility. Because I don’t care, even in the slightest, who knows or doesn’t know. Numbness has let all my shame off the hook. I am indifferent – I neither love nor hate – when someone shudders at my infertility-overshare. I’m blank to the world’s response. Is that a good or a bad thing, I just don’t know?
When I admitted my “emotional avoidance” tactics to my fertility acupuncturist, she bit her lower lip and gave a blink that became a sigh. Some visits later, she slipped me the name of a good psychologist I could talk to. Maybe she’s on to something. I haven’t called her yet, but I tucked her business card in my purse.
Here’s what I learned in the last few months. Something really scary happens when you go numb. Brené Brown told me in a podcast she participated in for Dax Shepard’s Armchair Expert. “You numb yourself to the joy.” You become incapable of experiencing grief’s greatness counterpoint: joy. That ol’ elusive happiness.
And that is even sadder than feeling sadness. Just knowing the destructiveness of my survival tactic has nudged me toward a more emotionally healthy path, where I slowly express my sadness. Writing this down helps. Thank you for reading. One day soon, the rain will return to Denmark, and I’ll let the storm in my heart out. Until then, I just have to keep going and fight for my family. The tears can come when that part is sorted. xo
Three more rounds of IVF, post-Leif, are now done and dusted.
I’ll get right to the point with a SPOILER ALERT: I am not pregnant.
Friday was testing day, following an estrogen-priming “short antagonist protocol” that yielded 10 eggs (not too shabby, for this old bird). TEN is the most I’ve ever gotten from a single round of egg retrieval. I followed a modified Dr. Sher protocol, with estradiol “priming” beginning on Day 21 of the prior cycle.
We rocked this round a bit differently than all the others other, focusing heavily on acupuncture to boost stimulation response and egg quality (two usual bugbears for me). It paid off.
I had twice-weekly acupuncture with a lovely Finnish TCM practitioner who specializes in fertility and gynecological matters. I believe her careful tracking of my clinical protocol – in order to boost its effects with complementary TCM (and needles inserted in “just the right” places) – resulted in a markedly improved outcome. Our round of IVF this past summer ended in a last-minute cancellation before egg retrieval, due to my body not growing more than a single lousy egg. That round wreaked havoc on my hormones, caused daily migraines, and levelled a devastating blow to our morale when it ended in a shocking cancellation. I was too distraught to even blog about it or tell anyone what had happened, save for the women in my Copenhagen IVF Support Group who showed me such grace, love and support.
But this past round of IVF fared better.
I had two 7-cell embryos transferred back on Day 3. And while they failed to stick – and this round ended in another failure-tune that I get to hum – I am “lucky enough” to have two expanded blastocysts (day 6 embryos) now lovingly stored in the freezer. So all in all, we had a round that gave us 4 plausible embryos to work with. The first two failed, but we have our Hail-Mary chances on ice.
I had a good cry on Friday. I wanted so badly for this round to work. To not have to “use up” what could quite possibly be the last vestige of any normal egg I have floating around. But then I had a glass of wine and a good whine to Martin before deciding to look at the round as a resounding success for taking us as far as it did.
The problem with having a child as GLORIOUS as Leif is, it makes you want more. It makes Martin and me…greedy. We love Leif more than life itself. He is happy, snuggly, kind, gracious, good, easy-going, hilarious, sweet, tender, smart, and playful…we couldn’t have received a more perfect human being to raise. And because of that, we just want MORE. We want to give Leif the gift of a brother or sister to stick by his side his whole life long. We want this future child (whom we already love so much) to be wrapped up in the love and protection of big brother Leif. For all these deep and messy emotions that we don’t expect everyone to understand, Martin and I simply feel a second child is a necessity. But of course, it was never going to come easy again. If the 14 rounds it took to get Leif were “hard enough”…then I just don’t know if I’m ready for things to get hard-er.
When I started IVF treatment years back, after 6 failed rounds of IUI, I was surprised at how “easy it was” to endure the hormones, the shots, the retrievals…and even the subsequent failures that rolled in. And then rolled some more. But now, years later, with a much-older body and a tired, less resilient lifestyle, I feel the rounds more acutely.
I’m not as lithe and elastic, in my “AMA” years. I don’t snap back like I used to.
The hormones are much harder on my body than they were when I was in my early 30s. I get moody, I get insomnia, I get 50 times more emotional than I normally am…upsetting the usual calm demeanor that Martin has banked on our entire marriage. Life with Cammy during a round of IVF is just…harder. I sleep about 3 hours a night before waking and staying awake until sunrise. I battle tension headaches and pain behind my right eye. I get nausea from the high dose of estradiol that makes every scent I encounter an assault on my nose and spooky hound-like sense of smell. I walk around feeling like a half-alive zombie. I am lethargic with barely an ounce of energy to apply mascara, and yet I cannot sleep. I have to duck out of meetings at work, to sneak off to ultrascans. Or acupuncture. I have to shoulder so much stress and responsibility, while telling myself “not to stress.” The whole rigmarole is becoming…too much. I usually feel so strong, doing IVF. “I’ve GOT this!” I used to always chime. Now, I don’t got this.
Sadly, I know I do not have an infinite number of rounds left in me. My old refrain has always been: “I can do more IVF. This is my part-time job. It’s my duty to do IVF, to build my family.”
But the number of rounds I have left is very finite. It could be less than 1. I’m sad to say, I just don’t have it in me. At a certain point, I will have to opt out of more and more egg hyper-stimulation because I know my body is fighting back. It’s sending out all the warning signs that I’ve pushed her too far. She isn’t getting tired, she is tired. She’s wasted. Depleted. Done with all this mayhem.
So if our future Frozen Embryo Transfer (FET) does not work – which I shudder to even consider – we will have to consider long and hard what our next step is. Our doctor has made it very clear what he needs our next step needs to be, and he thinks it could end in a baby.
I’m just not sure about it. It breaks my heart on many levels. But I’m inching closer. In the end, if it will give us another miracle, it could be the right answer for our family.
Thanks for reading, for praying and hoping with us…