The Box of Denial

On Sunday, I finally did something I kept meaning to do but couldn’t bring myself to: I unearthed The Box. The pretty patterned one I’ve been hiding for an inordinate amount of time given our predicament; the one I’d started filling with my “battle gear” several years ago. Filled with shiny covers and brimming with the promise of delivering the ultimate goal: a healthy, sustained pregnancy. When I first started buying some of these books, about 5 years ago, I told myself that it was just “in case” – I didn’t really need them because I wasn’t really that serious about getting pregnant just then (newsflash: that’s totally not true – I was just kidding myself. Flat-out D-E-N-I-A-L. Unsurprisingly enough, I’m sure.).

I was embarrassed to admit that I wanted to have a baby – or just how badly – and that the “magic” wasn’t happening. It would’ve been easy to glow with happiness if I’d gotten pregnant – then, only then, was it “safe” to admit how much I’d wanted it. But no such happy event for us. While everyone, it seemed, around us was getting pregnant again and again, I pretended that it wasn’t even on my radar – filled with the growing pain that only receded when it was punctuated by even greater heartache as people around me started dying (five in the space of two years, in case you’re wondering).

As time went on and all the other crap in my life came to a head, the unspoken issues that continued to keep us in our childless state became buried for a while – and so did the box of books. Periodically, I stealthily added another title – maybe something I picked up at a discount store or a used book store. Always when I was alone. Why? Because the books – just as the deceptively beautiful box they’ve been housed in – were something that needed to be hidden. Almost as if, just by being out in the open, it was a jinx – or inviting the prying eyes of others who wouldn’t possible understand in the boon of their own fecundity.

The truth, I finally realized this weekend – in one of those panicky-painful moments that make you get so choked up that even tears freeze before they can fall, so despairing and raw is the emotion – is that I was ashamed and in denial. I kept thinking that if I ignored the box and all the problems inside it, then like the mental trick for putting something out of your mind, it would just disappear.

Ridiculous, right?

But then, if like me, you’ve never been pregnant and are in the Mojave Desert of fertility (the cringe-worthy age bracket of 35-44), it’s hard not to panic. And I mean full-on, ripping-out-your-hair-biting-your-fingernails-to-the-quick-screaming-crying-sleep-depriving PANIC.

On Sunday, right before I went in search of the Box of Denial, I had a no kidding panic attack. I started sweating, my heart was pounding like a jackhammer, and I felt like I was either going to throw up or faint. I wrote in my journal. I tried to watch a bit of tv to distract myself. I tried to talk myself off the ledge. For what seemed like an eternity, I felt like I was going to let out a guttural, animal-like scream just to relieve the tension that made me feel like I was having a heart attack.

I’ve read – or half-read – a couple of infertility books in the last couple of years. One of them was so dysjuncted that I found myself having a hard time following the chronology of events. Another one – that I’m still trying to work my way through – keeps making me feel like gasping in exasperation and rolling my eyes.

The one that I’m actually responding to, though, is a book called Making Babies: A Proven 3-Month Program for Maximum Fertility; co-authored by Sami S. David and Jill Blakeway. To say that it makes me want to pick up the phone, book two respective appointments and get on the next flight to NYC would be an understatement. I started reading this book Sunday evening – and it’s definitely been eye-opening. It made me feel so, so incredibly vindicated about not sticking with Dr. Greedy McMoneybags (the RE we didn’t like but that, in the last couple of months, I was almost tempted to make a new appointment with – how’s that for despair??). As I continue reading, I feel both reassured AND freaked out: we waited too long; we don’t have convenient, easy, or even reliable access to the type of medical care (both Western and Eastern) of the kind that the authors favor: medical detective work.

I know from a lot of blogs and/or IF community forums that many women are frustrated by doctors who are proceeding too slowly for their liking – and if such delays are caused by greed (hey, let’s run a few thousand dollars worth of unnecessary tests, k?) or trying to disguise what is really actually a lack of knowledge, then I agree. However, so far I have found that the approach these two authors believe in is so much more in keeping with what I need and want (but am, honestly, petrified to consider because of my “advanced” age and previous DOR diagnosis): investigating the root of the problem(s) and looking for the least invasive way to fix them.

I found myself thinking back to the RE who never even suggested an IUI (even though I’d never taken Clomid in my life or had a previous IUI) and wanted to go in, guns blazing, telling me the only way we’d conceive was with IVF + ICSI (most expensive treatment outside of external issues such as egg donor or surrogacy – quel surprise!) and that he was planning to use the most aggressive protocol. Meanwhile, my anxious questions about side effects were met with something between a disinterested shrug and dismissive snort – answered as “just some minor bloating”. (Yeah, I didn’t really buy that, either.)

So now I’m in a bit of a weird, uncomfortable situation: on the one hand, I’m enjoying this book – as much as you can while feeling a metaphorical gun being held to your head – and learning about things I, quite frankly, didn’t have the faintest clue about; on the other hand, there’s that nagging voice inside my head saying you don’t have time to mess around anymore; should’ve thought about that years ago. I’m trying to calm myself down and think that investing in their suggestions may take time, but without doing so, I may not only be subjecting myself to repeated treatments in the future that may or may not succeed (to say nothing of the financial, physical and emotional trauma that IVF really represents) but also setting myself up for a lower chance of success than if I actually make the commitment I was starting to make at the end of 2012 before another part of my personal life went to hell in a hand basket last year.

Is it crazy to press the pause button at this point in my life? Is it insane to think, let’s take 3 months to really focus on our health, to consider Eastern medicine (acupuncture, Chinese herbs etc)? Do I want to do this for the right reasons or because I’m scared: scared of the uncertainty, scared of not knowing where to turn at this point, scared of the whole impact of IVF?

The two warring halves of my brain keep being locked in what feels like a deadly tug-o-war: between the “do it, DO IT NOW!” panic side and the peacenik that wants to try and approach this with a modicum of conservatism, meaning in this case to not overlook less invasive treatment options. Did I mention, previously, that no one has actually bothered – at all – to explain any of my labs to me, except to inform me that as a DOR “candidate” for IVF, I’d probably need donor eggs in the foreseeable future? That no one asked me about my cycles, about whether I’ve ever done a BBT chart (I haven’t), that no one bothered to actually do more than 1 set of labs to see if the values were consistently the same; that no one actually checked whether my pituitary gland was/is functioning properly at all, whether my progesterone levels are “normal” in the different phases of my cycle? Initially, I was told I didn’t actually ovulate, ever, at all – based on a single, solitary blood test. So is it really surprising that what I want, what I’m looking for, is an RE who’s going to put all the cards on the table – not just the ones with the highest dollar amount?

And…with that I also realize that I’m driving myself crazy. Last week was a bit of a haze – I was under the weather, feeling emotional even though I’m not yet anywhere close to my next period (which I no longer dread so much as I resent and pretty much hate it). Wrapped up in sweaters and blankets, feverish, I threw myself a pity party by watching Sex and the City. I cried when Charlotte had a miscarriage; I cried when she tried to put on a brave face at Miranda’s son’s first birthday party…until she came face to face with the silver Tiffany’s rattle her first husband had bought before she found out about her fertility issues. Got angry at the scene where this one woman swears by an acupuncturist and highly recommends him in between saying something about how all the IUIs and IVFs had driven her crazy – which made me think: really, how nice it must be to (a) not have to worry about the money part of ARTs (which, let’s face it, is a HUGE consideration) and/or (b) living in a big city where you’re not only spoiled for choice, whatever the type of medicine, but also nowadays in the case of New York City in particular, actually have IVF coverage if I’m not mistaken.

(Gremlin. Ugh. Still working on that…)

Needless to mention, I’m trying to stave off another pity party to coincide with the PMS that, I believe, has RSVPd for sometime next week. I’ve been feeling cranky all day, but I know that’s due to the mute terror I feel without knowing, really, how to find the kind of doctor (and I’d settle for a general one to start out with) who can actually be bothered to look at the person, not the dollar signs. Old-fashioned, you say? I know time is of the essence – believe me, I never thought I’d be one of those “biological clock” women, but there’s nothing like someone putting a question mark on your ability to have biological children that’ll not just make that clock tick but turn it into a dinner gong. Yet, personally, I’d rather have someone who isn’t all about turning you into a pin-pricked receptacle for toxic medications that may or may not turn you into Godzilla, Attila the Hun, Jack(ie) the Ripper etc. from the ensuing renegade hormone spin cycle.

Translation: I don’t want someone to waste my time but also not recommend a course of action before or without investigating other less invasive/costly options. I’m not saying that there’s a chance in hell we could conceive without the previous RE’s “recommendation” for IVF with ICSI (and I use that term lightly, since he might as well have been holding a gun for the amount of choice his “recommendation” left room for). But that book made me so glad, despite our continued struggle, that I didn’t agree to put my life, my body, my health, into the hands of someone who probably wouldn’t have had time to fit me into his busy schedule if I’d thought I was having symptoms of OHSS or some other serious side effect with the treatment.

So here’s my question: how far are YOU willing to go to have a baby?

Is it just about experiencing pregnancy for you? How important is the biological connection to your child(ren) to you/your spouse? And how far would you travel, how much would you be willing to spend, how many different doctors, supplements, medications, procedures would you be willing to endure to get to the sought-after goal?

I’m not being facetious – I really want to know. Because I’m thinking, is it really any crazier to travel out of state – or, even, the country – in the quest of motherhood than it is to contemplate being held ransom to the tune of $25-50K if you have to contemplate domestic infant adoption?

A Crack in the Glass

This weekend has been one of reflection for me. I’ve spent a lot of time reading about the struggles of other women who, like me, face the uncertainty of what life has in store for them as they muddle their way through, trying desperately to cling to a sense of themselves instead of letting infertility redefine them in a new, hollow sense of “normal”.

I wanted to wallow in self-pity. I wanted to go and buy myself a self-indulgent cinnamon roll (or three), scarf it down while fat tears rolled down my face, burning in my eyes as I pretended, for a second, that processed sugar could melt away my pain. But I didn’t. Not because I suddenly had a great proclivity towards nutritious food (I’m still working on that), but because I thought to myself, this is what I’ve always done, what I’ve BEEN doing: feeding the pain. Stuffing food on top of it until I’ve shoved it so far down that it’s been replaced by guilt or self-loathing – at times, unbelievably, a preferable choice over the constant screaming in my head that reminds me of the very real possibility that I may end up being one of the unfortunate ones, the ones who never make it across the finish line. No baby. Not now, not ever. Too painful to contemplate – especially when I realize that I miss my husband when he’s at work but am secretly glad for the time alone, when I can cry without seeing the pain in his eyes as he sees my misery, unable to do anything to help me. Sometimes I look at my husband and I think, why does he stay? Why does he still want to be here? I’m broken. There’s no 24-hour repair shop, no super glue, for this.

I took a stroll down memory lane as I sat in an arm chair and opened a journal I kept in 2008 – a burst of color, full of vibrant life, appointments and parties, social events, names I don’t even recognize anymore. I sat there and let my eyes rove over the pages, slowly going through the first few months of the year – the year that I know we wanted to get more serious about “trying” but that eventually started a cascade of personal tragedies in our lives. I stopped when I got to April – having wandered past entries for cards sent and received, birthdays celebrated, pictures glued in haphazardly because it didn’t matter if it wasn’t perfect. My life was messy, and I loved every minute of it.

I closed the journal and felt like I was in an empty hall, hearing the echoes of my past. The deaths that came, without warning. The people I thought were friends who turned away – too busy with their own lives, it turned out. Or maybe it was because I stopped being who I had once been. Maybe it was because they saw death reflected in my eyes. First, I felt nothing. Then I was hurt, angry, and felt betrayed. Where were the people whose children I’d comforted, whose birthdays I’d celebrated, whose pregnancies I’d cheered for?

Now, looking back, I think it wasn’t anyone’s fault. I couldn’t function, couldn’t cope – too many lossses in such quick succession. I couldn’t talk about it – still can’t – because I thought, who wants to hear about it anyway? Who would understand? Just like a woman who’s had a miscarriage talking to a young girl in college, or a women in her 80s whose friends have all died trying to explain the passing of time to a child. We can’t understand the experiences of others, and empathy – I’ve learned – isn’t something that comes easily to many.

I tried to fake my way through it. I tried to smile, “get back out there”. But I felt nothing. Surrounded by people, I felt as alone as on a deserted island. As someone who’s not religious, I found myself struggling to such an extent that I contemplated, not once, but several times whether I should talk to a minister. I needed…something. I knew, deep down, that God, religion, wasn’t the answer for me – but there was nothing else, either. I had no child to keep me connected to the cycle of life. All I saw, all I see, is death.

I’m supposed to reach out to others. I’m supposed to try to make new friends, to connect with other people. But I don’t know if I still have it in me. I feel like I’ve been trying to climb the same mountain forever, the end nowhere in sight, and every little progress I made the proverbial “one step forward, two steps back”. You’re not supposed to admit defeat. You’re not supposed to ask for help. You’re supposed to smile, take medication if necessary – but, as a woman, you must function at all cost. You must keep smiling, through the tears, through the pain, no matter what. It’s what you’re expected to do. We’re daughters, sisters, wives, friends if we’re lucky – and we’re expected to shoulder the burdens passed onto us as well as our own. Where others feel no empathy, no sympathy, no guilt or remorse, we pick up their lot and carry it too. We question our place in the world, our lives, our relationships – are we good enough? Are we worthy? Maybe if we just try harder. Smile just a little wider.

But after a while, there are signs of strain. I remember reading something about how continued, long-term stress actually frays the muscles of the heart – or something to that effect – and I had a mental image of electrical cables being severed, sparks flying, injuries ensuing. My heart is hurting. It has been hurting for so, so long. I’m not doing enough to heal it because I don’t know how anymore, I don’t know how to make it better. We retreat into ourselves when we hurt, and eventually, it seems, people just forget that it was ever any different. They forget that we were once vibrant, engaging people – interesting, loving, funny. I was funny! I was hilarious! I laughed all the time – unabashedly, unreservedly, without apology. I was open to meeting new people because it was my favorite part of being alive: the promise of new ideas, new friends, new adventures.Now all I see are strangers all around me.

Tonight, I thought I’d have some iced coffee. I had already poured the dry contents into my very favorite glass and was boiling water, which I use a little bit of to dissolve everything first before adding milk. I wasn’t thinking about anything in particular as I poured just enough into the glass…and heard a loud, unmistakable crack. I held up the glass, and sure enough, the boiling water had obviously caused it to crack. Now, this isn’t an ordinary glass – it’s a pretty hefty, thick glass, so I was shocked that it had cracked in the first place. But as I turned the glass in my hands and saw the extensive crack – splitting the bottom and running clean upwards diagonally about 2/3 to the top – I had another epiphany. The water was like a metaphor for all the crap that’s been happening in my life – all the drama, the ups and downs – and the closer it got to the boiling point, the more I was getting to my wit’s end. And when I poured the boiling water into the glass, it was like all the things that have happened in the last 5 years came together in a visual display of my broken heart. 

But then I realized something else. This is my favorite glass. Obviously, I’m mad that there’s a huge crack in it now – but as I ran my hands over the crack, over and over again, I marveled at the fact that the glass remained intact. In fact, no liquid spilled out at all.

And I realized that there may be a crack in the glass, but if it’s strong enough to hold together – so am I.