Any minute now I'll knock it off with the anniversary posts, but I just want to note that a year ago today, our lone embryo from IVF #1 was transferred.
It was, as people whose cycles have just failed like to say in bewilderment, 8 cells, no fragmentation, "perfect."
It had potential.
But I swear to you that if I'd known at transfer what havoc that little bastard was going to wreak, I would have squashed it under my thumb in its dish.
Fortune favors the bold. I, therefore, am screwed.
I am scared to start this last IUI.
I am frightened of all the usual things, of course the lackluster response, the likely negative, the novelty of disappointment as yet another unexpected disaster occurs. But I'm used to those fears by now. I've internalized them neatly into a series of attractive tics. Every time the phone rings when I'm cycling, I convulse like Shabba Doo circa 1984.
What troubles me now is bigger. It's taking more nerve than I expected to volunteer for this again, because if this cycle fails which is, after all, the very likely outcome I'm one step closer to the end of the road.
We'll try IVF at a different clinic. But if that doesn't work, which is, after all, the very likely outcome...what then? We might try again. But we might not. Depending on the way it fails, that could be it time to consign my exhausted ovaries to the glue factory, where they will be simmered into mucilage, to be used by resentful preschoolers in the ham-fisted creation of macaroni art.
I am not very good at living in the moment.
I feel like I'm on the threshold between the known and unknown, the comfortable and the inconvenient, the ineffective and the probably-also-ineffective-and-even-more-expensive. It's an awkward place to be. They talk funny here and their currency looks like Monopoly money, and we won't even talk about what passes for toilets.
I want this IUI to work because I want a child. I also want it to work because I'm terrified of what might lie ahead if it doesn't more disappointment, new and different kinds of grief, and ultimately having to settle for less than I want. Like Monica, I'm fighting the urge to see this as just another step along a progressively more tortured path. I am trying to believe this could work. Otherwise I might lose my nerve entirely.
Melts in your mouth, fucks up your cycle
Paul and I went to the supermarket a few weeks ago, and we parked next to a minivan that had a couple of utes in it two pre-teen white kids dressed in high rapper style. They had hip-hop blaring from the radio while Mom shopped inside.
"Look," I said to Paul, dancing a little jig of delight, "tiny white rappers!"
Paul paused, cocked his head to one side, and corrected me: "Peanut Eminems."
That is what I thought of yesterday when I asked him to tell me how large 19 mm is. Sure, he could have just said my cyst was about three-quarters of an inch. But because he knows my limitations well, he chose instead to use an example I could relate to: a peanut M&M.
Bitter but better
Today I am better.
Yesterday was a bad day. All at once I felt every one of the accumulated disappointments of the last several months not just the cancellation of this cycle, but the fiasco that was January's and the failure of November's. Most keenly and most surprisingly, I felt the grief of August's miscarriage, a sadness that had, I thought, receded. Not so, not so, particularly as we enter March, when I would have been due.
All of those defeats combined to knock me flat for most of the day. All those things I've lost. I cried in the car. I cried in the shower. I cried for a long time in bed. And this morning, like my friend, I got up.
Despite my fears about moving farther down the path, closer to the end, this isn't over for me yet. I won't get pregnant this month, but I probably wouldn't have, anyway. I won't get pregnant next month, but that was going to be a rest cycle, anyway. And in May, who knows what will happen? Even then, pregnant or not, I'm not out of options.
They aren't what I wished for, but none of this is. I have to work with what's at hand.
In January I had a cyst, too, though it was smaller and diminishing on cycle day 2. We went ahead with no apparent difficulty (at least not from the cyst). This one's different. This cyst is big. I can feel it. It hurts. Although I suppose I could have asked to have it aspirated, and I could have urged my doctor to do the bloodwork on the off chance that the cyst wasn't producing estrogen, I decided against it. I don't see the point of that. I choose to believe that my body is trying to tell me something important.
I can't believe it would work out well to try to overcome my body's objections this month. I don't put a lot of faith in the notion that things are or are not meant to be. If I did, I'd have been able to take my infertility with much more grace and behold the staggering irony would likely be a mother now through adoption. But I do believe this: you can only fight your body so hard. I know. I fight it every month. Most of the time it wins.
Instead I'll give it another month to rest. Perhaps I can lull it into an illusory sense of comfort you know, fatten it up, soothe it with expensive unguents, deck it with shiny trinkets so that when I mount my assault in May it'll surrender peaceably, with a minimum of rebellion, and a golden age of civilization will flourish thoughout my pelvis.
If not, I'm calling in reinforcements.
To think in such a place I led such a life
This morning I was over at Jo's alluding delicately to the promiscuity of my college years. This afternoon's mail brought an appeal for money from my university's alumni association. The back of the envelope says it all not, however, in the way they meant.
When I arrived on campus as a freshman, I was not entirely sexually inexperienced. That is to say that while my high school classmates were larding their college applications with sports and meaningful volunteer work, I was engrossed in extracurricular activities of another sort. There I was at fifteen in the front seat of a Fiat convertible the car had no back seat, and the front was so cramped that to this day I'm still not sure whether I lost my virginity to a red-haired senior who played in the band or the goddamn gearshift knob.
(Okay, even for me, that was coarse.)
By the time I arrived at college, I was an accident waiting to happen. No sooner had my parents dropped me off at my dorm than I was rifling through the phone book in a frantic search for the number for Planned Parenthood. Registering for classes could wait I knew what was important. Important: birth control pills so that I could avoid unwanted pregnancy. Unimportant: condoms so that I could avoid STDs.
I knew about them, of course; always a good student, I'd held my ninth-grade health class spellbound with my compulsory oral report on syphilis, which I delivered in verse. Either they were speechless with revulsion or awed by my brilliant enjambment; I admit it was a masterstroke to rhyme chancre with ...skank. Her...
In fact, now that I think about it, that little vignette foreshadows my college years nicely: a love for formal poetry and a flair for heedless behavior. Like Browning's duchess, I liked whate'er I looked on, and my looks went everywhere. And I do mean everywhere, from the earnest pre-med who tried to give me a thorough breast exam the next morning, frowning thoughtfully as he searched for lumps; to the out-of-towner twice my age with a red Mustang, a bottle of Jack Daniel's, and no ironic appreciation whatsoever for the cliché he embodied; to the brilliant bipolar who wooed me with a villanelle and liked me in leather; to the drunken bodybuilder who could achieve an erection only by concentrating very hard and rubbing himself between the soles of my naked feet; to the poor sad bastard I was maladroit enough to ask, "Is it in yet?"
And so on.
Aaaaaaaand so on.
I knew about STDs, but I didn't behave accordingly. While I was slightly concerned about AIDS, I thought the risk was minimal; I was only theoretically concerned about herpes, and not at all concerned about anything else. I can't really account for my cavalier attitude, apart from the irrefutable fact that sex without condoms felt really, really good. And that I was twenty, and attractive, and bored nigh on to death in a tiny Midwestern town. And feeling quite immortal, thank you.
Oh, how we all did laugh, then, when a routine checkup showed I had chlamydia. And oh, how we chortled when a later Pap smear showed I had HPV. Yeah, it was a riot when I had to notify all recent partners those whose names I knew, anyway. And, sweet Jesus, did we almost wet ourselves when I had to tell my parents, whose insurance would cover the necessary cryosurgery.
Things changed after that.
A year of embarrassed celibacy followed, in which I eventually stopped feeling contaminated. I learned to take pleasure in prolonged flirtation, developed a renewed appreciation for the humble handjob, and spent most nights alone. I met the jackass, graduated, grew up, moved on.
Even at the time I knew I was lucky. It could have been so much worse the only real price I know I paid was humiliation and inconvenience. I don't know whether any aspect of my infertility can be traced to the decisions I made in those days and I can't quite bring myself to care. I know a lot of "former slutty girls" spend anguished energy regretting their behavior, convinced that their inability to conceive is some sort of punishment. But I can't quite condemn the bright, impulsive girl I used to be. I could have been different, more prudent, less shameless. I just wasn't.
I can't even claim I'm contrite; I learned a lot, got off a lot, and amassed dozens of heartwarming stories to tell my grandchildren one day. ("Tell us about the time you did it in a crowded bar, Gran!" "Oh, no, not that one again!" "Pleeeeeease...!" "Oh, all right. Well, it sounds old-fashioned now, but in those days, it was the style to have seven or eight drinks with a man you barely knew...")
Beats the hell out of Pat the Bunny.
To the Virgins, to Make Much of...well, something
Hard on the heels of Monday's orgy of confession comes this timely little news item:
A researcher says 'Just say no' doesn't work in the long term, after finding that the rates of sex diseases for teens who pledge virginity until marriage and for those who don't are similar.
PHILADELPHIA - Teenagers who make a one-time pledge to remain virgins until marriage catch sexually transmitted diseases about as often as those who don't pledge abstinence, according to a study of the sex lives of 12,000 adolescents.
Those who make a public pledge to delay also wind up having fewer sex partners and get married earlier, the research shows. But the two groups' STD rates were statistically similar.
Item 1: Asking a teenager to be sexually abstinent is an awfully tall order. Asking a teenager to sign a public virginity pledge borders on insanity. When I was fifteen, I didn't even want to tell my parents what I did in school that day, much less announcing to the world my plans for sexual congress.
Item 2: The study found that teens who took a virginity pledge were less likely to use condoms than teens who planned to have sex, and suggested that would-be virgins paid less attention in sex education classes because they didn't expect to need information about safe sex and STDs.
Item 3: The study also found that would-be virgins married earlier than their peers who were under no such delusions. Just what America needs: a lot of torqued-up adolescents marrying young without first being sure they're compatible with their mate.
Item 4: The headlines that ran with this story in various outlets made my day: Virgin teens 'have same STD rate'. Study: 'Virgin' teens get STDs. Study examines STD rates of teen virgins. Like a virgin, but still with STD. I think "virgin" in quotes is a particularly nice touch. Do you think the copy chief at the Associated Press has a sense of humor?
Three signs that I might need a hobby
- Last night I dreamed Paul and I were in the local university library, where we'd been promised an evening of thought-provoking entertainment the dean of sciences was delivering a musical rendition of selected journal abstracts. Although I have been known to enjoy an operetta now and then, Paul and I bailed after the first number, an overture outlining the current state of ART backed with a ragtimey piano riff.
- Yesterday in Nature a study was published showing that female mice continue to make new eggs well into adulthood, thanks to stem cells in their ovaries. Although it won't be of use to me, it's exciting if it's found to carry over to humans, it will refute the current belief that we're born with all the eggs we'll ever have. In celebration, I spent much of the day tormenting Paul by earnestly squeaking, grooming my imaginary whiskers with my equally imaginary wee pink paws, and pretending to run through a convoluted maze in the restaurant parking lot before being granted the reward of dinner.
- I have started to use my cyst as an excuse. Don't feel like unloading the dishwasher? I blame the cyst. Haven't made it out to the mailbox with the mortgage payment? "Well, see, there's this giant, painful ovarian cyst that's slowing me down a bit. Would you like to hear ab no? Okay, well, do you think you could waive that late fee this month? Super." David Berkowitz had his demon dog. I have my Satanic cyst. It keeps me awake. It won't shut up. I live in terror that any minute it's going to tell me to go out and ice some brown-haired coeds.
I don't just have issues. I have subscriptions.
This morning I went to my local gynecologist to get some tests done before my next IVF in May. Since the practice shares a waiting room with a general practitioner, I had my pick of a wide array of current periodicals I was dazzled by the choices, much more varied than I'm used to.
Because I have a keen and questing mind, I went a little crazy.
First I decided to learn more about menopause. A brief flip through the thin and earnest magazine dissuaded me, though; despite the upbeat editorial tone, I just couldn't get too interested in the admonitions to use birth control even if you think you might be in the throes of perimenopause. Nothing like a reminder that plenty of 45-year-olds can still, despite it all, get pregnant. Seems like I have all the drawbacks of menopause hot flashes, hormonal fluctuations, and a vaginal dryness so profound that I'm feeling a little thirsty just typing about it with none of the possible payoff.
Grimly, then, I turned to the task of learning how to please my husband. Yes, my husband, for the magazine specifically insisted on spicing up my marriage. Good thing we're legal. Otherwise I might not have felt that the article really spoke to me. Not a moment too soon did Paul make an honest woman of me, in fact: I would hate to have missed out on a single scintilla of the relationship-saving excuse me, marriage-saving secrets the article divulged.
"Try experimenting with edible underwear," the author recommended. "A warm bath in candlelight will help put you in the mood." "Champagne, chocolate, and strawberries are sure to send sparks flying."
I am not making this up.
The tip that most intrigued me began thus: "Read aloud to your husband from Nancy Friday's My Secret Garden." Okay, fair enough although on a good day my own tastes veer closer to Macho Sluts, I can see how some might enjoy that. Nothing unusual there. The intriguing part came next, when that suggestion continued: "Memorize a favorite passage or two to whisper in his ear."
Memorize. I'm already supposed to light candles, ice the champagne, buy chocolate, wear impractical underpants, warm the massage oil, cue the saxophones, and slip steamy notes into his briefcase. (I am assuming "I'm ovulating so don't eat a heavy dinner, please" counts.) Now I have to memorize?
But I already know plenty. My mind is full of memorized pieces. I wonder if he'd like the Pledge of Allegiance. First 20 digits of pi. Gettysburg Address. Opening monologue from Iron Chef. The phone number we had when I was eight. The spelling of onomatopoeia. (You can sing it to the tune of "Old MacDonald," you know.) First paragaph of Gone With the Wind. The fates of the six wives of Henry VIII. The conditions under which you use the subjunctive mood in French. "It's Not Easy Bein' Green." My Social Security number and his what could be hotter than that?!
Once I'd learned to please my husband, I decided to branch out a bit. I directed my attention to a treatise on loving a black man. Although Paul is perhaps the whitest man in America, beating out stiff competition here in the Caucasian wasteland that is my small New England state, I value knowledge for its own sake, so I thought I'd take a gander. But before I could get too deeply into it, the nurse called my name.
As I gathered my belongings (purse, coat, veins, cervix), I tried to convince Paul to read the rest of the article so that he could report on it when I returned, but he firmly declined, pretending instead to be thoroughly engrossed in last month's Field and Stream. I was forced to conclude that he is either racist, homophobic, unnaturally fixated on water spaniels, or some creepy combination thereof.
When I confronted him with this charge, he refuted it with vigor and no small heat. It could be that I still have a bit to learn about pleasing my husband, after all.
I do but I couldn't say why
Do you hide your underpants when you disrobe in the exam room?
Cycle buddies? No, psycho buddies.
I have a confession to make.
Santa's Welty Crack Whores is not my first online buddy group.
When I was beginning IVF #1, I joined a group called Cupid's Babies.
I am not making this up.
I didn't know anyone online or off- who'd been through infertility treatments. I didn't belong with the cool kids on the message boards the few whose attitudes seemed as
shitty pragmatic as mine because while I was only approaching my first cycle, they'd all been through several. Yet I needed someone to absorb the white-hot intensity of my obsession. I needed someone to talk to.
As the group's name indicates, most of the women in the group were doing retrievals and transfers right around Valentine's Day. Mine wouldn't be until later, but I cheered with great gusto as most of them got positives and commiserated (though I didn't truly know how they felt) when some got negatives. Although I can't claim I honestly cared about any of them, it seemed the thing to do. BFP! BFN? Hugs.
No. Wait. With that I go too far. Even in my eagerness to fit in, I never offered hugs.
By the time my two-week wait was over, everyone else in the group had moved on, either to the pregnancy boards or to the next group of cycle buddies perhaps the Lucky Little Leprechauns or Fuzzy Easter Snuggleducks, whichever was more seasonally appropriate to their plan. There was no one left to celebrate with me when I eventually got my own positive. And there was certainly no one on hand to offer me virtual solace when it became clear the pregnancy would fail. (For that, I repaired to the pregnancy loss boards, which offered a queer but comforting mix of sympathy and practical how-to advice, while occasionally being a little heavy on the angel baby schtick for my tastes.)
Now my point. I'd like to apologize if my mockery has offended anyone who finds special comfort in friendly online groups. Their chief appeal, as I know firsthand, is that they can keep us from feeling alone in a situation that can be profoundly isolating.
Their main failing in my eyes is that I experienced them as communities based on coincidence rather than on any real affinity the kind of affinity I've found only here with my fellow blogging cranks. The effect overall is the same: I feel less alone knowing you're there. The only difference I see is that I like my buddies sharp, I like my buddies mouthy, and I like my buddies funny, with no hugs and no platitudes. Stormy Bloated Panty-Hiders forever.