I wish I were making this up
I just got back from the pharmacy, where I picked up my birth control pills for May's IVF. In front of me in line was an elderly gentleman. I was standing too close to him, and was punished for my proximity by learning that he was purchasing:
- three (3) canned hams
I hope to God he hit a sale.
The icing on the cake was the music playing over the PA system: Leo Sayer's "You Make Me Feel Like Dancin'."
I feel like dancin' (Woo!)
Dance the night away...
Three. Canned. Hams.
The princess bribe
February was great, a break I needed. March, however, is dragging an interminable break I didn't want and am enduring with ill grace. We're standing still at a time when I'm impatient to be moving forward I know what the next step is and I'm ferociously eager to take it.
I wonder if she likes cake.
Confessions of a baby blogger manquée
Over at The Naked Ovary, Karen wrote:
Go read the whole brilliant thing. Go on. I'll wait.
What Karen describes is exactly why I started to write about infertility.
I began my online journal when I learned I was pregnant after my first IVF. I had the idea that it would be useful and entertaining to record the details of my pregnancy as it progressed. Useful? Entertaining? Ha. More like precisely as self-absorbed as every other pregnant woman on the planet with access to a computer and the conviction that her pregnancy is somehow unusually special.1
That matronly aspiration didn't last long it was a mere two days before it became clear that nine placid, bovine months weren't in my immediate future. At that point the Internet became an enemy, the wily Green Goblin to my bloated Spider-Man2, tirelessly confounding my every attempt to find reassurance and comfort. There I was frantically scouring PubMed, sifting through "ask the doctor" archives from 1996, and posting on message boards asking anyone who would listen if they thought it would all be okay. The respective answers: probably not; wait and see; and "I'm sure everything will be fine! Your hCG levels don't really have to double in 48 hours! Congratulations! You're pregnant!"3
As the days wore on and my situation grew simultaneously grimmer and more absurd, I found very little in the way of personal stories that I could relate to. There were a lot of women talking about their sadness, but too often it was the kind of sadness festooned with images of sleeping babies and MIDI renditions of "Butterfly Kisses" not the kind that relies on cockslaps and swear words for its fullest expression.
You know, my kind.
So I wasn't getting my questions answered and I wasn't feeling comfortable talking about my own experience in the established places.4 If I couldn't find a place where I fit in, where my preferred mode of despairing humor was appropriate, I decided I'd make my own. I wasn't going to be needing all this disk space for pictures of my expanding belly, after all, so I figured I might as well use it for something.
When I began, it was the simple need for catharsis that kept me going. But as people started to read the site and comment on what I'd written, there was suddenly a little more to it. Karen wrote:
I occasionally post about the ways people find this site. Some of the search terms are good for a laugh.5 But many of them are not: My hCG didn't double. Pregnant passing clots. Can you still be pregnant when hCG drops. Bloody miscarriage.
So many people in pain, looking for the one piece of information that will ease or at least validate their fears. Like Karen, I feel a responsibility of sorts. I want to soothe, I want to counsel, I want to educate. But I'm not qualified to do any of those things. All I can do is write frankly about what's happening to me and how I feel about it.6 The only things to be learned from what I write are that pain can be lessened by sharing; that laughter at the absurdity of an outrageous situation is just as legitimate a response as tears; and that few things in this life satisfy like a good hearty cockslap among friends.
Those things are well worth learning, and I take the responsibility of setting a good example as seriously as I take any other.7 But is there a responsibility not to frighten? I'm often uneasy about the picture I present although what I write is true,8 it reflects only my personal experience of infertility and treatment, which I suspect might be more harrowing than most.9 I imagine hordes of recent graduates of Clomid kindergarten finding my site and fainting dead away, imagining that this, this is what ART is like. And it is. Not always. Not, thank God, even usually. But sometimes.
When I feel that uneasiness, I tell myself that my greatest responsibility is to stay honest, that what readers take from this is ultimately up to them. Teaching and learning are valuable indeed, but they're byproducts. The only agenda I'm committed to is the same one I started with: catharsis and community. Anything else that comes out of it hard information, different perspectives, exciting new obscenities to learn and share is a gift from the goddamn universe.
I guess we'll find out.
That seems like kind of a lot.
1 Do you think I might have, you know, issues?
2 Paul and I went to a matinée showing of Spider-Man. In our row sat five or six young men from the local group home. Their severe retardation didn't impair their enjoyment of the movie one bit in fact, it seemed to enhance it. One of them was so thrilled to be there that he'd emit an excited interjection every now and again. "Spider-Man!" he yodeled, regardless of whether the hero was even on the screen at the moment. I think he even shouted it during the closing credits. The film was crap but I loved seeing how genuinely it pleased our fellow moviegoers.
3 See also, "A line is a line," "Spotting is nothing to worry about," and "Fuck the fucking fuck off, you nimrod Pollyannas."
4 Even had I wanted to fit in in those friendly chart-swapping communities, my attitude was poisonous enough that I doubtless would have been frog-marched out of them at thermometer-point with all deliberate haste.
5 Dumbass search term du jour: "little vergins [sic]."
6 ...With the inimitable flippant jackassery that is my very hallmark.
7 "Sure, Julie. Now let's talk about the time you ran out of heating oil during the coldest week of the year because you couldn't be bothered to send a check in on time, and how you got the delivery truck to make an emergency fill-up in the dead of night while Paul slept, oblivious to the fact that the temperature inside had plummeted to 50°, never one iota the wiser." No, that's okay. Really. Let's don't.
8 True, or funny, or in isolated abscesses, both.
9 Yes, indeedy, I am ten kinds of mighty badass.
The days are just packed
Number of medical offices I have called this week in pursuit of information about test results: 3
Total number of calls made in this pursuit: ~10
Number of medical offices that have returned my calls: 0
Amount this infuriates me: infinity
As getupgrrl says,
Why not me indeed? I'm not special, not blessed, no different from anyone else who gets a good old-fashioned cosmic ass-kicking every once in a while and by that I mean everyone else. Grief and blessings are random. Absolutely.
But here's where my feelings diverge. I derive comfort from the notion of an absolute and eventual balance in the universe. I do believe that the universe is ultimately fair and just, not necessarily in the short term but in the vague, theoretical distance; and not based on how "good" we are as people or how "deserving" we are of good fortune, but as something of a birthright. I do believe that every one of us has the chance to feel roughly equal measures of sorrow and joy in our lives. (Whether we open ourselves to those feelings is another question entirely.)
Believing in this balance sometimes makes it hard for me to appreciate all the numerous joys all undeserved, all random of my life. I keep thinking, "I would trade this happiness for another," as if I had the choice, as if I weren't inviting the old evil eye to pull up a chair and set a spell.
Even as I trust that it will all even out in the end, I find myself angry at the wait. I believe that I will have fulfilling joy in my life to balance the sorrow that currently drags me down. I just hope it comes in the form I wish for, and soon.
Because I look at the good news of people like Monica and even as I feel a sincere thrill of happiness for their good fortune, I would be lying if I claimed I didn't also whisper, "Why not me, too?"
Things I am doing to prepare my body for my next IVF:
- covering at least a mile a day on the elliptical trainer, when I feel like it
- drinking oceans of water
instead ofin addition to my beloved caffeine-free Diet Pepsi
- daily meditation (which my husband insists on referring to as napping, the bastard)
- staring really hard at the bottle of prenatal vitamins every morning as I brush my teeth
- eating a diet high in protein...and carbohydrates...and tasty, healthful trans-fats
Yeah, it's a goddamn temple in there.
There is some question about whether my local GYN ran one of the tests I requested. (For purposes of this equation, let "local GYN" = "Dr. Douchebag.") I had the results faxed to me so that I could check for completeness before sending them along to the new clinic, and a good thing I did, as one test appears to be missing. This would be the same test that required a huddled confab between nurse and doctor as they tried to figure out what the newfangled fuck it was for, so I'm not entirely surprised that they didn't get it right.
As I mentioned above, I can't get anyone in his office to give me a straight answer. I can't even get them to return my calls. Admitting defeat, today I called my local RE's office to beg their mercy, a thing I'd promised myself I wouldn't do. So much for my determination to forego the personal touch, to move on, to make a clean break. But all is not lost, because they haven't returned my call, either. It is nice to be saved from myself.
I am thinking of mailing my cervix directly to the new clinic so they can do the test themselves.
Update: It is I who am the douchebag. Turns out the test was run after all; it just took several days for the results to come in because it was a slow-growing culture. And if the notion of a slow-growing vaginal bacterium (for which I am negative) doesn't put you off your breakfast, well, there's not much more I can say.
Will my cyst need its own little suitcase?
It's finally happened. I knew it would. I'm only shocked it wasn't sooner.
This evening I was sitting in the kitchen, idly leafing through a magazine while Paul efficiently prepared dinner. Normally we cook together, but I delegated tonight's meal entirely to him in penance for my disgraceful lunchtime spree a bad business that consisted of a giant buttery slab of coffee cake, one cubic centimeter of a wizened Mimolette, and some whole wheat toast crumbs I dabbed up from the countertop with a spit-moistened fingertip.
(I was really very hungry. But also very lazy.)
Anyway, as he cooked I looked at magazine pictures of sparkling, deserted beaches and clear ocean water the color of Windex. I said, "I know this is contingency planning at its most extreme, but if this upcoming IVF fails, and if we then decide to sign up for a donor program, there will be a wait...so during that time I think we should take a trip."
(Imagine, if you will, how stratospherically high I must have been on delicate Ceylon cinnamon the only kind we had in the house when I baked yesterday to suggest that after we drop upwards of $15K on an IVF cycle that fails, and after we commit to spending even more than that on a donor cycle, it would be a great idea for us to take a lengthy and exotic vacation.)
Ah, but that wasn't what Paul picked up on. In fact, he agreed that it was a jim dandy plan. "A change would be nice," he said, wiping the remainder of the crumbs off the counter despite my desperate pleas that I was planning to eat those later.
He continued, "...Because when we're going through an IVF cycle, even though it doesn't take up that much of our day-to-day time, it does take up an awful lot of our mental energy."
I thought it was nice of him to say "our," instead of singling me out for my scary and consuming obsession. I was about to praise him for being so exquisitely sensitive. But he wasn't finished yet.
He said, "I mean, you're not quite becoming your ovaries, but..."
I knew right then that I have become my ovaries. For Paul to notice, it must be obvious, and for him to say so, it must be pretty bad as oblique a comment as that might seem, for him it's quite direct.
Don't get me wrong. I do talk about other things. In fact, I talk about my reproductive hopes very seldom. I try hard to keep my preoccupation under wraps, as I am well aware that it is unattractive, unhealthy, and probably more than a little frightening to the interested onlooker. But I think of other things only in short bursts, without a great deal of focus. The bulk of my attention is directed south of my navel. And Paul knows me well; I think he can hear what I'm thinking, as if my overactive neurons were making audible tapping sounds, sending out urgent Morse code signals to the outside world. Helllllllp meeeeeeee.
I am so busted. And disappointed in myself, because I'd hoped I'd stayed more interesting than that. And angry, because prevailing physical conditions leave me unable to ignore my insides happily, complacent in their smooth and reliable function. And embarrassed, as I'd tried not to be so naked in my absorption.
I suppose the humiliation will have been worthwhile, though, if I get a vacation out of it.
I don't like unpleasant things
First, an administrative note. Tomorrow I'm going out of town for about a week. It is unlikely that I'll update during that time, for two reasons:
- I won't have time or privacy to write.
- I doubt I'll have much to say beyond, "Holy mother of God, do these people ever stop being so motherfucking pleasant?"
I'm going to visit my grandparents along with my mother and my aunt. I love spending time with each of them separately; I love even more spending time with them together. But it presents certain difficulties. In my family, we don't discuss anything negative.
My grandmother is famous for once saying fretfully, "I don't like unpleasant things." You tell 'em, Grandma.
We don't talk about the sad and acrimonious divorces both of my uncles went through last year. We don't talk about my cousins, who are all more or less adrift in various ways. We don't even discuss the cancer that's taken up residence south of my grandfather's equator. And when I say "we don't discuss," I mean we do not ask about, refer to, or in any other way acknowledge that which will kill him in the not-too-distant future.
So if we don't talk about those things, those matters of moment that affect the entire family, we certainly don't talk about infertility or pregnancy loss.
On the one hand, I don't feel any great need to discuss it with them. I consider our situation to be mostly a private one. (By that I mean I'll happily expound at great length before people I don't really know, yet never breathe a word to my nearest and dearest.) Besides, I grew up in this family, so the strong tendency to accentuate the positive and flatly deny the very existence of the negative is comfortable, at least when I'm around them. Wackaloon, yes, but familiar.
On the other hand, it's unsettling to be among them knowing I have this other life, this separate sadness that goes entirely unacknowledged. My mother may have told my grandparents about my two losses, but I don't know; even if they were aware, they'd never say a word.
The stress of facing another cycle is taking a great toll on me; the stakes this time seem higher than before. The stress of hiding that stress in front of people who know me well is enough to make my head explode.
But the only alternative is openness and believe me when I tell you that that's the most stressful prospect of all.
So I will spend a week in a silent freakout, dutifully taking my birth control pills, counting down the days, imagining the best and worst of what the next two months could bring all the while smiling, making conversation, trying to seem interested in the world beyond my ovaries. Pleasant on the outside, roiling on the inside.
And trying not to talk about my uterus in mixed company.
Even cranks get thirsty.
Because of the way our grocery store is laid out, Paul and I usually end up marching down the baby aisle on our way to the checkout stands. (Sometimes, depending on my mood, it is an amble; sometimes it is a grim and speedy goose-step.) Today as I pushed the cart past a woman inspecting jarred baby food, I was ambushed by the wide and toothless grin of a baby girl seated in the woman's cart, almost hairless, wearing pink.
I realize I'm jeopardizing my status as an infertile crank by confessing that the sight of her delighted me. It didn't make me sad, didn't make me jealous it only made me laugh in surprise at seeing such a happy face on such a tiny person. It was enchanting.
I said to Paul, "You have to admit she's cute."
"Oh, yeah," said Paul, who is normally immune to the wiles of tiny people, whom he calls loinfruit. "Cuter than the kitten when he fetches."
But I must be an infertile crank after all, because when we turned the corner and saw the display of 8-ounce cans of caffeine-free Diet Pepsi, Paul and I fervently agreed that the pony cans were much cuter than even that happy baby.
The women's movement was something that happened to other people
A year ago tonight I was lying on the floor.
(A brief word of advice. If you are ever offered the chance to have an ectopic pregnancy, no matter how intriguing, how glamourous, how downright kicky it sounds, don't do it.)
Reading over my old entries, I am appalled to be reminded that I was lying on the bathmat in a puddle of my own gore, sure I was dying, and I let my husband sleep through the whole goddamned thing.
Not only did I let him sleep, I threw the sullied bathmat into the washing machine and swabbed up the carnage as best I could (hands and knees, damp towel, pink streaks, but I tried, I tried) so that he wouldn't be horrified when he went in to shower.
Not only did I clean up, I waited to turn on the washer until he'd finished his shower so that his manly hide wouldn't be scalded by an untimely surge of hot water.
When my doctor called, responding to the page we'd sent, I swore at him, made wretched by inadequate pain relief and then apologized.
While awaiting my imminent demise I'm tidying up. While politely knocking on death's door, trying not to bleed too much on its welcome mat, I'm thinking of others. While in the grips of the worst physical agony of my life, I'm embarrassed by goddamn it.
That there is some fucked-up shit. Some fucked-up, April-fresh, whites-their-whitest shit.
Be scared. Be very a-scared.
I am scared to death of my upcoming IVF cycle in New York. In no particular order, here's what I'm up against:
- Even 28 days of birth control pills and 10 days of Lupron will not suffice to bully my ovaries into submission. My baseline scan will reveal a giant and malevolent cyst working quietly but relentlessly to foil my plans.
- 10 units of Lupron won't be enough. It will quickly become obvious that I should not have second-guessed the original prescription of 20 units. The cycle will be cancelled and it will be all my fault for getting uppity.
- I will make a joke, sotto voce, to a companion about the other desperate-looking women in the waiting room. Someone unsympathetic will overhear and either burst into loud sobs, streaking from the room, or fly at me in a burst of hormone-stoked fury, talons flashing. Once again my big mouth will get me into terrible trouble.
- My hotel room will have an unpleasant odor that will give me strange and upsetting dreams.
- When I present my credit card for payment for this cycle, I will be told the charge was declined. The card will be seized and snipped into small plastic shards the better to injure myself with. With no ready credit, I will have to hitchhike home. When I offer a grimy trucker the use of my bloated body in exchange for passage, he will scoff in distaste, bringing his big rig to a squealing stop and depositing me unceremoniously by the side of the road.
- I will ovulate before retrieval.
- I will eat something weird in Chinatown weirder than usual.
- The hotel will have cable, but only the stupid kind (CNN, the Weather Channel, and ESPN).
- All my shoes will prove unsuitable for city walking. I will develop enormous and aggressive blisters that quickly begin to fester, turn gangrenous, and require swift amputation of both legs below the knee. (At least I won't develop edema during pregnancy.)
- I will undergo days and days of expensive medication, physical discomfort, and daily prodding, only to have the cycle cancelled at the last minute. The subsequent IUI will be painful. Although I should know better, I will remain hopeful, because an IUI has worked for us in the past. Therefore I will be devastated and inconsolable when it fails.
- I will run into someone I used to know but didn't like.
- I will run into someone I used to know and did like. There will be great awkwardness as I try to explain why I didn't say I'd be in town, why I didn't make plans to meet, why I'm staying in a hotel instead of with friends. It will all go very badly. Through the diabolically efficient grapevine, all my friends will quickly hear how strangely I'm behaving. I will feel even lonelier and more isolated.
- The doctors will dislike me, and their antipathy will be unmistakable. I will hear them in the hallway making sardonic comments about my naked need for reassurance and my haphazard pubic grooming.
- I will rendezvous with friends I've known only via the Internet. Their smiles will freeze on their faces as they frantically think, "I didn't imagine she'd be like this." They will make unconvincing would you look at the time?! gestures and beat a hasty exit. A volley of e-mail will ensue in which they tell each other incredulously, "You wouldn't believe how flabby she is / the dumbass thing she said / the way she accidentally spit on me while she was talking / her clothes, my God, her clothes." I will be blissfully and moronically unaware the better to feel the bitter sting of shame when I finally and inevitably figure it out.
- During retrieval I will be alert enough to feel intense pain, but not alert enough to complain about it.
- During retrieval I will look like Resusci-Annie. I will drool copious strings of ropy, adhesive saliva. My face will stick to the pillow of the gurney. It will make an unnerving Velcro sound as I pull it away.
- Only a small number of eggs will be retrieved. Only a small number of those will fertilize. An even smaller number of embryos will divide. Those will be unspeakably ugly. They will all arrest before transfer.
- This cycle won't work. There will be no easy explanation, as "everything looked good." No new information will come out of this cycle just the theory that maybe it will work next time.
- We'll have to decide whether there will be a next time.
- This cycle will work. Initial blood tests will be positive, but my hCG level will be very low, and will begin falling almost immediately.
- Initial blood tests will be positive, but my hCG level will fail to double properly. After a harrowing period of uncertainty, the pregnancy will fail before a heartbeat is detected.
- My hCG will double appropriately. There will be a heartbeat. And then, next time we check, there won't.
Yesterday I got my hairs cut. (The lovely middle-aged Italian woman who does my hair refers to it in the plural "Oh, they long!" Yes, they certainly is.) While I waited for my turn, out of anthropological interest I leafed through a parenting magazine.
Okay, wait. "Leafed through" suggests a casual breeziness. More accurately, I pored over it. I scrutinized it. In fact, I stared at it so hard that the infrared power of my unwavering gaze melted the clay coating on the pages, rendering it a useless slab of gooey pulp.
Of course, it was that before I even picked it up.
As best I can tell, the magazine seemed to address five main areas of inquiry:
- How to discipline your children without tipping them off to the fact that they are being disciplined. Apparently asserting one's parental authority must be done with the strategic cunning and the catlike stealth of a midnight ninja raid. "No" is to be avoided; rather than invalidating the initial impulse, redirecting it to more socially acceptable channels is strongly preferred. "You may not set fire to the dog" therefore becomes, "Wouldn't it be more fun to set fire to this nice heap of oily rags instead?" Got it.
- Your baby might die. The editors would probably call this motif something mealy-mouthed like "safety tips," but they might as well print it in giant red letters across the top of every page: Your Baby Might Die!!! Because that's what they're telling you. Unless you buy this product / employ this technique / adhere to this fashionable trend, you are jeopardizing your child's safety, sanity, and future earning potential. Enroll your child in a water safety class before she reaches six weeks of age, or your baby might die. Buy the safest automobile on the market without delay, or your baby might die. Eradicate all traces of peanut products from your home and a surrounding radius of at least three miles, or your baby might die. Keep your child in a car seat until she reaches puberty, or your baby might die. Are you getting the message, you monstrous, craven baby-killer, you?
- Relationship maintenance for dumbasses. "My husband won't change diapers! Help!" I trust you will be as shocked as I was to learn that the editors did not suggest chasing your husband gleefully around the house, brandishing a runny diaperload of excrement and threatening all manner of smeary mayhem, as a solution to this problem. No. Instead we are to seek out a division of labor we can all live with. "If changing diapers disgusts your husband, have him do a chore you don't like but that he doesn't mind." Brilliant. I get to hose down the nursery when the kid has fingerpainted the wall with natural by-products, and he gets to take the car to get its snow tires taken off. Thanks for the help, Madam Editrix.
- Shiny, happy things to buy. This particular issue focused on ways to keep your kids occupied on long car trips. This is a goal I can relate to, as I enjoy a good road trip and hope to continue taking them after I become a parent. But since word games, "99 Bottles of Beer on the Wall," and "Do I have to stop this car?" are in the public domain and carry no lucrative sponsorship opportunities, I quickly found myself out of my depth. DVD players for the car! Tiny MP3 players in alluring primary colors, molded in the shape of your children's favorite licensed characters! I'm surprised no one's making a portable cone of silence that descends from the roof above the back seat of your minivan, securing itself with a reassuring whisper, rendering inaudible the cries of "When will we be there?" and "No, I really have to go this time!"
- Food that looks like anything but. Every other page was an ad for some sort of convenience food, each more revolting and preservative-laden than the last. But it wasn't enough to hawk those products in their, ah, natural state. No, they had to be manipulated into looking like...things. Packaged pound cake and frosting from a can become...a "grilled cheese sandwich"! Cookies from a bag and frosting from a can become...wee little Easter bonnets, complete with a fetching bow! Breakfast cereal that looks like jewel-toned gravel, marshmallow fluff, and (you guessed it) frosting from a can become...well, I couldn't say, exactly, but it wasn't anything you'd ever accidentally mistake for food. Surely I am missing something, because it seems to me that if you're busy enough to resort to serving these disgusting processed "foods," you're also too busy to hone the delicate craft of edible millinery. Even the articles, which make an embarrassed effort to promote healthier choices, assume that a busy parent has nothing more pressing to do than to manufacture tiny umbrellas out of yellow bell peppers (cut hemisphere, cut scallops along the edge, et voilà), using a carrot stick for the umbrella shaft and piping ranch dressing raindrops all around the plate. I'm supposed to get out my pastry bag and my #2 Ateco tip to bamboozle a picky toddler into eating a goddamn vegetable?!