The first wedding anniversary is known as the paper anniversary. I am not sure what the tradition is for celebrating ART-related anniversaries. A year ago today I started Lupron injections for my first IVF.
It's hard to believe it's been only a year. I certainly have made the most of it.
But it's also hard to believe it's been an entire year, a whole year spent doing very little beyond trying to procreate, with little well, nothing to show for it.
Perhaps this should be regarded as the straitjacket anniversary.
You didn't know me then. May I introduce you to the Julie of January 2003?
Like everyone else, we embarked on IVF with the expectation that it would work. Oh, we didn't think it would work immediately, the first time out of the gate we were, we thought, fully prepared for the first cycle to be nothing more than a diagnostic tool. "IVF usually doesn't work," we'd tell each other in what was actually a twisted pep talk, "but we'll learn a lot from it." We'd plod through the first one, disappointed but determined, ready to apply that new knowledge to our second cycle, optimized to the hilt.
We were really rather smug.
I also believed wait, I'm laughing too hard to type that I'd make ahahahaha, doubled over dozens of perfect eggs and oh, my sides hurt a lively clutch of flawlessly dividing embryos, suitable for freezing. Oh. *fanning self*
My, how we all did laugh.
Recovering from the hilarity, I have to say that wasn't necessarily an unreasonable expectation based on my age and bloodwork. At 31 with an FSH hovering around 5, I couldn't have foreseen that I'd have only four mature eggs to work with. And at that point Paul's sperm certainly seemed able to swim the, oh, inch and a half from the edge of the dish to its egg-bearing center.
If I were inclined to be easy on my historical self, I'd say those facts might excuse my complacency. But, really, what was the January Julie thinking? We hadn't gotten pregnant. There was obviously something wrong. We'd expected IVF to uncover a cause for our infertility. It says a lot about my psychotic optimism that I was so blindsided when I learned there was a cause.
But I'm getting ahead of myself. That's the Julie of February. Quiet! Don't frighten her. If she sees her shadow she'll pop back down into her dank little hole and there'll be another six months of infertility.
Back to January. We didn't expect our first IVF to work, but we expected it to give us the necessary information to make our second cycle count. And we congratulated ourselves on our pragmatism.
My, how we all did la oh, you know.
I firmly believed I wasn't going to become one of those women, the ones who went through cycle after cycle, refusing to take the hint. I thought that if three cycles didn't work, I'd be smart enough to stop and wouldn't look back. I am embarrassed by that now, to have thought of "those women" in such a way. What can I say? I get it now. I get it.
And I swore it wouldn't change me. I resisted the notion of changing with all my might, in fact, and I can be one determined mofo. Well, I know now that infertility changes people whether they think they need it or not, and I can even grudgingly admit that some of the changes have been positive. But in January I knew better. I laugh to think about it. (Okay, by "laugh" I mean, "shudder, appalled, then look uncomfortable and change the subject.")
The sole saving grace of the 2003 model (with optional trim package) is that she knew she was strong. I didn't know how strong, though I didn't know how strong I'd eventually need to be. I believed I could handle whatever the process threw at me, without having the first idea of how bad it could get. The January Julie had spunk. ("Well, thank you." "I hate spunk.")
It's not exactly a good magazine
Move over, jackass sisters-in-law. You've been unceremoniously demoted. Now there's someone infertile women despise more: Oprah Winfrey.
An article about the manifold dangers of fertility drugs appeared in the January issue of O magazine. Poorly researched, deeply sensationalistic, and irresponsibly alarmist, the article is exactly what you don't want your mother to read if you've jacked yourself up on gonadotropins. It's a worthless piece of frantic muckraking expressly intended to scare women, particularly women already made vulnerable by the stresses of infertility.
In that respect, it's unforgivable, and if Oprah Winfrey had a cock it would need a good old-fashioned slappin'. On Friday. In Italy.
But should we expect anything different?
Oprah's magazine has immense reach and she herself has enormous influence (and enormous diamond earrings, but that's not important right now). In the best of all possible worlds, she'd use those powers for unalloyed good instead of highly purified intramuscular evil. But her disapproval of ART has been well established. Just like any lesser immoderate loudmouth, she's using every outlet available to her to promote her position. O's not a medical journal or a news magazine. (Sleuth that I am, the cover photo tipped me off.) It's an inch-thick glossy devoted to perfume samples and so-called service journalism, which is as prone to slant as any other kind, and probably more so.
I think it's a crying damn shame that women will read that article and be frightened (and, on a more harrowing note, that our mothers will call us, scared out of their collective maternal gourd, begging us not to get accidentally impregnated by a rogue doctor). But what might be a greater shame is that many women will rely solely on the good offices of Barbara Seaman instead of, you know, talking to someone who actually knows his or her way around a Fallopian tube, or reading something more intellectually rigorous than a feel-good femmey stroke book you can buy at the checkout stand.
Aren't we smarter than that? I know we're smarter than that.
When O gets its first Pulitzer nomination, let me know. Until then, I want to believe that women can be trusted to make informed decisions about our own health care, to give no undue weight to incompetent "reporting" when it rears its misshapen head, and to turn to O for nothing more important the latest scoop on the astonishing, newsworthy metamorphosis of Madonna.
Yesterday on an airplane I was seated next to a man who wanted to talk. Apparently he also wanted me to hurt him.
At first the conversation was innocuous, but then he started to rail about his ex-girlfriend. I conspicuously brandished my wedding ring.
And then he complained about being sent on a business trip to Florida, "where there's the highest concentration of AIDS in the country I was afraid to get out of my car." I asked him whether getting out of his car really required the use of his penis, his anus, or his mouth, then instructed him, friendly-like, about the normal vectors of HIV transmission.
And then he told me about his ex-wife and why he divorced her: "She lost two babies, and it changed her. She just wasn't the same person I'd married after that."
Realizing there was simply no way, in our cramped coach-class row, for me to deliver the roundhouse cockslap he deserved, I stood up, gesticulated wildly at my seatmate, and bellowed, "There's a terrorist on the plane!" And enjoyed my ringside seat for the savage beating that ensued.
I like my chocolates bittersweet
Today is my birthday. (If you must sing, I prefer Björk to the Beatles something about that scream gets me every time.)
Let's get this out of the way immediately before anyone starts cooing: There is nothing remotely romantic about having a birthday on Valentine's Day. Even if you buy into the hearts and flowers thing, which I do not, there are serious disadvantages. To wit:
- If your husband wants to take you out to dinner that night, neither of you will remember that reservations must be made months in advance. The day before your birthday he will be frantically calling all over town to find some place, any place that has a deuce open hope you like Denny's. You will be seated at 9 PM if you're lucky, just in time to watch other loving couples stare grimly into each other's eyes over death by chocolate. Your dessert will arrive as the janitors are stacking chairs and bumping your feet with a mop.
- If you'd like to see friends that day, you will have to satisfy yourself with only those who are unhappily uncoupled. The others, you see, all have plans, probably involving dinner out at a decent hour, floral offerings, and imaginative pubic topiary. When it becomes clear that a Hallmark holiday is of more significance to them than the actual day of your birth, you will feel more annoyed than is strictly warranted.
- If you expect double the presents from your sweetheart, congratulations! You have tapped into the motherlode of the purest crack in the Western Hemisphere. If you've bought gifts for your husband, you will wonder why the hell you're giving someone else gifts on your birthday.
- We don't go out on my birthday. The night before or the night after will suffice equally well. Okay, so there are no lovey couples to sneer at, but I don't have to feel underdressed in my usual uniform of jeans and a black shirt. (Bonus: utilitarian lingerie.)
- I don't even try to see friends. In fact, I've safeguarded myself entirely from disappointment by not having any friends.
- I buy myself presents, too. This year my hope addict wants something sparkly...something enchanting...I know! A fifth of Ketel One!
On Valentine's Day 2002 I had an IUI. It was my first IUI under the supervision of an RE (as opposed to the ones done by my OB/GYN, who babbled a mile a minute, bobbled his head like it was too heavy for his neck, and slipped his feet out of his clogs and put them up on the table while we talked). I had two Clomid-induced follicles, a great sperm sample, and enthusiasm on my side.
I actually thought it would work.
The IUI was excruciating. Since it was my first one at this clinic, no one had yet discovered that my anatomy demands a catheter bent just so "like a hockey stick." Afterward I clasped Paul's hand in my sweaty palms and said something naive about a pregnancy being the best birthday present a girl could hope for.
Laugh with me, won't you?
A year later, I was back in the same room, back on the same table, this time for my first ultrasound after starting stims for IVF #1. My follicles were growing apace, my E2 was increasing with appropriate decorum, and I saw, at that point, no reason the cycle should fail.
Again, I actually thought it would work.
This year I quailed at the thought of being back at the clinic. I am more relieved than I can tell you that I will not be celebrating my thirty-third birthday staring up at acoustical tiles, making a wish I'm no longer sure will be granted.
I'm aware that many infertile women can't stand to be around attractive small children or fulfilled parents it only emphasizes the lack in their own lives. I know it's hard to be reminded of what you don't have and may never achieve. If nothing else taught me that, the time I sat next to a new mother and her six-week-old infant while waiting to confirm the demise of my second pregnancy surely did.
But generally I don't suffer from that. I don't see everything through the lens of my own disappointments. Okay, almost everything, since I find I'm quite capable of relating anything to infertility. (Go on, try me.) But not that.
If there were a limited amount of fertility in the world, I might take other people's successes more to heart. If your having kids meant that I couldn't, yes, hilt-hating might well be in order. But my situation is entirely my own. No one else can resolve it, and no one's to blame for it. (Not even Ron Mitchell*, who gave me chlamydia in 1991 after meticulously palpating my breasts like he was looking for lumps.) So why should I begrudge you your joy in your kids, particularly when I want the same for myself one day?
If I thought I had no more options, I might feel different. Since I'm truly still hopeful, I can look at your kids and feel happy for you. Envious, yes, but happy.
Mindy, I'm so sorry for your loss.
All that I've written above sounds very gracious. But I'm really not so noble. While I like mothers in general, I confess I am biased: I really, really like mothers who've had to work hard to get there.
* Why, yes, that is his real name.
At least I know
Well...I don't know.
Is it more frustrating to endure the disappointment of bad cycle after bad cycle when I know I can get pregnant? For me, nah. I now know my body can do part of its job, with one hell of a lot of help, and that may in fact be what motivates me to continue. If I hadn't gotten pregnant on my first two IVF cycles, I don't think I'd still be pursuing ART now my past pregnancies are more inspiring than frustrating. Although they could well have been flukes, I prefer to see them as proof that perseverance may yet pay off.
At least you know you can get pregnant. I hear this a lot. And it's true. I do know that. I don't yet know that I can conclude a pregnancy with a healthy infant at the end, but I've already had more encouraging outcomes than many infertile women ever know. It's what keeps me going the deep desire to feel that bone-deep happiness again, and the knowledge that I still have a chance at it.
I'd love to hear what the rest of you say. We all wear our hair shirts differently, after all. (I like mine with a V-neck, please, to showcase my rather opulent rack, and nipped in at the waist so you can see that despite all odds, I still actually have one.)
My work here is done.
That's it. I'm retiring. I have accomplished something.
I want to post a couple of messages I got last night.
First, from someone on her third miscarriage:
Although I'm sorry you went through such agony it is comforting to me to know that SOMEONE else is having the same bad experience I am. I was seriously beginning to think I was the biggest wimp in the world when it comes to pain.
Of course she's not a wimp; she's a brave woman going through an almost intolerable ordeal. Plus, her doctors are sadistic jackasses.
Next came this one, which rendered me uncharacteristically speechless:
I've had some ethical objections to fertility treatments you've probably heard all of them before. Mostly I felt that infertility treatments and issues were a huge crock invented by the medical establishment. (I have issues with doctors.) I've been surprised to see the diversity of women experiencing infertility, and heartbroken to read the stories of those who couldn't afford in the first place or ran out of money halfway through treatments. We talk about sacrificing for your kids...I can't think of anything more honorable than trying everything, with enormous financial and emotional cost, in order to bring those children into the world.
I'm just glad that you helped me decide to help my sister.
I hope all of you will keep on talking those with blogs, those without, those who post on message boards, those who go to Resolve meetings. All of a sudden I believe it really matters.
My favorite year
A year ago today I had my first egg retrieval.
I'd prepared myself to be a fit sacrifice: manicure, pedicure, careful depilation, the works. Because the weather was bad and we didn't want to risk a delay, Paul and I had stayed overnight at a hotel near the hospital. I wore my lucky fleece socks. I was ready.
We were ready. I wish I could capture the feeling of tenderness Paul and I shared. We were careful with each other. No, careful isn't the right word; that suggests fragility when in fact we felt strong. Maybe reverent, maybe awed. We knew this could be big.
Because this was before I became truly obsessed, I don't remember how many follicles I thought I had; I knew I didn't ask how many eggs we might expect. Even then I had a pretty strong deterministic streak — we'd get what we got and move on. But at that point Paul and I were still having sober but excited conversations about how many we'd transfer, and how we would handle subsequent frozen cycles if this cycle failed, as we reminded each other was likely.
But then we didn't understand how many frightening forms failure could take. Although we read and signed the consent forms that warned of all the things that could go wrong — nothing retrieved, nothing fertilized, nothing survived to transfer, no pregnancy, miscarriage — we didn't give it a lot of thought. We knew the most likely scenario was a garden-variety negative, and concentrated on preparing ourselves for that.
Ah, the clean, close shave of Occam's Razor.
But we weren't thinking of failure as I lay gowned and tethered to an IV. I took off my garish socks so that I could admire my pedicure — Essie's Scarlett O'Hara, my favorite, the kind of color you'd paint a motorcycle. I annoyed Paul by singing Steely Dan.
I was in fine form.
When I was finally wheeled into the operating room, I was terrified — this was surgery — but composed. I counted the spots that flecked the acoustical ceiling tiles and sang to myself as my follicles were aspirated. It hurt despite the anaesthetic but I didn't care. I could hear the conversation of the doctors ("Yeah, there's another one") and even felt tempted to participate ("Don't nick my aorta, okay?"), but, no, counted flecks and sang.
Paul busied himself filling a cup. I assume he too was in fine form.
Afterward I was wheeled to the recovery room, where I was plied with juice I didn't want. They wouldn't allow me to leave until I'd proven I could urinate, so I pounded several ounces of cranberry-flavored sugar water and waited for the inevitable urge. While I waited, my doctor came in, patted my arm, and said, "Perfect stim. We got ten mature eggs."
I peed like Secretariat, got dressed, and left in a fog of optimism and Versed. We thought everything had gone beautifully.
A day later I was to learn that only one egg had fertilized. Almost a year later I would learn that we hadn't, in fact, had ten mature eggs — we'd had only four. Two weeks later I'd learn that I was pregnant. And that's when I started my journal here.
You've come a long way, baby.
Note to self: Buy lottery ticket
Nurse: Okay, hold on a minute... [Nurse puts Julie on hold. Julie sings along with the Muzak, appreciating the rich irony of hearing Elvis Costello's "Radio, Radio" as performed by 1000 Strings]
Julie: ...And the radio is in the hands of such a lot of fools tryin' to anesthetize the way that you feel...
Nurse: Um, Julie?
Julie: [Clears throat] Yup!
Nurse: I just looked in the closet we have ten amps of Follistim that will expire in April. You're welcome to have it.
Julie: Thanks! Oh, boy! Oh, boy! Oh, boy! [Remembers self, tries to act vaguely adult] I'd be happy to pay for it.
Nurse: No need. It would only go to waste otherwise.
Julie: [Vigorous hula of triumph] Great. Thanks! Now could you put Elvis back on, please? I need to have a word with him about The Juliet Letters.
The free amps won't be entirely sufficient. I'll need to order more at some point in the cycle. So what? At the moment I feel like the universe is smiling on me for at least these few brief days of the shortest month of the year.
Now if I know what's good for me I'll enter the Publisher's Clearing House sweepstakes, buy a Powerball ticket, audition for American Idol (flaming batons, check; spangled unitard, check), and hit Paul up for some one-sided oral sex. I'm feeling that lucky.
What do I know about me?
Have you heard the PSAs Planned Parenthood runs on the radio?
You hear a lot of different women's voices asking, "What do I know about me?"
"I know I'm ready." "I know I'm not ready." "I know I have choices." "I know my body." "I know I probably shouldn't be hittin' it doggie-style with that chancre-sporting Merchant Marine."
Okay, I made that one up.
The only thing I write about here is infertility. That's not because it's all I think about. I do have other interests I simply discuss them elsewhere. I've tried to keep this journal focused, since it's my only real outlet for the powerful feelings (and lame-ass creative impulses) my infertility has inspired.
Yet it's precisely this focus that gives a skewed picture of who I truly am. I'm infertile, yes, but the whole of Julie is greater than the sum of her crappy malfunctioning parts. So for just one entry, I want to tell you a little bit more about the rest of me, if only to prove that I can go five minutes without the barest mention of my vagina.
100 Things About Julie
- My name is Julie.
- You knew that already, but you probably didn't know this: it's pronounced in the French manner.
- I am well aware that that sounds pretentious. What can I say? I blame my parents.
- Try it: /zhoo-LEE/
- In my full name, there are two Xs.
- One of them is silent.
- I really hit the jackpot in the X department.
- Not so much in the "names strangers can pronounce" department.
- I only correct people when they matter.
- I kept my last name when I got married.
- I didn't want to lose a precious X.
- Plus, I'd spent many long years making my signature attractive and illegible.
- I didn't want to relearn it.
- I've only been married for fourteen months.
- I only got married, in fact, to shut people up.
- ...Okay, and because we're lazy and didn't feel like drawing up complicated legal papers when it looked like pregnancy was looming.
- There are worse reasons.
- We got married by a drunk Justice of the Peace in our living room.
- No one was invited.
- I have some lingering regret about not cashing in on the chance to be given expensive linens.
- ...But none about keeping it private and low-key.
- I wore jeans and Polarfleece.
- We shared cheeseburgers and shakes as our nuptial feast.
- I adore a good cheeseburger.
- I am an enthusiastic carnivore.
- However, I do not eat weird meat (organs, tongue, head cheese, and the like).
- I lost ten pounds on the Atkins diet but it bored the piss out of me.
- I felt faintly stupid eating big slabs of pork but limiting my consumption of salad greens.
- So I stopped.
- ...And accepted pasta once again as my personal savior.
- Carbohydrates and dairy fats are the twin pillars of the only religion I currently follow.
- I was raised Episcopalian.
- It's not a bad religion if you like to drink and get divorced.
- Mormonism is.
- My brother is a Mormon.
- I don't have the nerve to ask him if he's serious about it.
- Once when I was walking along minding my own business, I suddenly found myself surrounded by five Mormon missionaries riding bicycles.
- That's some fucked-up shit right there.
- I am not very respectful sometimes.
- In fact, I have a well-documented problem with authority.
- I've never been fired for being so damned mouthy, but I've probably come close.
- Although I can be exquisitely diplomatic, it's hard for me to act like I think bad ideas are good ones.
- Impossible for me to work well with people I think are stupid.
- It's really best that I work mostly on my own.
- I do have a job, believe it or not.
- I enjoy it, largely because I can do it without pants.
- I work at home.
- In college I worked at home, too, as a phone sex operator.
- I usually wore pants, but I'd lie when the callers asked what I was wearing.
- Nobody gets off on baggy gray sweatpants.
- Let's just say my love for swearing came in handy.
- I was, ah, a little immoderate in college.
- I had a lot of sex, took a lot of drugs, and nearly flunked out.
- Best goddamn years of my life.
- Um, that was a lie.
- I finally changed my major to English the path of least resistance and graduated, surprising everyone, including me.
- This was in 1993, when the Internet as we know it was just a baby.
- Straight out of college I got a job tending that baby.
- Since then I've never worked in any other field.
- (I did not get rich in the dot-com boom, but I was also never laid off, so I pretty much broke even.)
- I'm not qualified for anything else.
- ...Unless advanced housewifery is now a paying gig.
- I bake. A lot.
- I garden.
- I throw a damn fine dinner party. I have even mastered the delicate art of not getting any drunker than my guests.
- I make things, mostly quilts, mostly for other people.
- Very often for other people's children.
- Like my nephews.
- Domestic goddamn goddess.
- Paul, who could happily live in a single room furnished with milk crates and concrete-block-and-plank bookcases, appreciates me for other reasons.
- I met him online.
- Hated him at first, but quickly changed my mind.
- He is much smarter than I am, but never makes me feel stupid.
- Frivolous, yes. Stupid, no.
- We moved in together in Manhattan in 1996.
- He was mostly concerned that he wouldn't like the cats.
- There were three of them then.
- We still had all three when we moved away from the city.
- But then there were two.
- Now there is one.
- Too bad he's not the good one.
- I'm a little embarrassed by how much I loved that cat.
- Sometimes I had a funny way of showing it.
- I don't always have good judgment.
- But I will do almost anything for a laugh.
- ...Including abasing myself before strangers.
- I was on a game show twice.
- First time was as part of their teen tournament; second was the tenth reunion tournament.
- I lost both times.
- But both times the guy who beat me went on to win the whole thing. I could have been a contender, if I hadn't, you know, sucked.
- I doubt they'll ask me back again; I embarrass myself on camera.
- The first time I talked about roller disco.
- The second time I said I'd met a few guys as the result of my earlier appearance, but implied that one of them was gay.
- When the guy in question sent me e-mail after seeing this, I deleted it without reading it.
- My hairdo has improved, but I'm still the same old jackass.
- The woman who cuts my hair now is a middle-aged Italian who refers to my hair in the plural. "Oh, they long today!"
- Yes, they is, relatively speaking.
- But short overall, as they has been for most of my life.
- I've needed glasses since I was 18 months old.
- And been cranky since a very early age.