Friday, August 29, 2014

One Good Folder

I'm organizing my office, finally. And part of that is finally, finally addressing the monstrous file folder of tests, procedures and sad outcomes that make up my infertility/miscarriage medical records. The folder was brimming over, and every time I used the drawer I would have to curse, because the papers would hang out and create problems when I tried to close it. So I'm sitting here organizing everything into categories of misery.

But for one. There's one new folder, now exclusively devoted to H's pregnancy, and even though that pregnancy had its own baggage, it makes me happy. In it, there's this photo. One of the embryos here is my H, the most hard-fought win I've ever achieved. My best work. We can all take an educated guess at which one he is, which one looks classically as if it would have stuck. But then again, we all know that in this game, surprises are everywhere.

One of those embryos is my H. I've had a rough week, been feeling emotional about the loss, feeling uncharacteristically whiny. And you know, no matter what people say about infertiles just needing to appreciate what we have, it's really ok to whine when you've lost a baby. Whether it's your first or fourth. Whether it was easy to conceive or not. But in the end, no matter what happens, this photo, this result, this family I have -- it's all that matters. Don't let me forget that, okay?

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

New World Order

The thing of it is, I think I've done pretty damn well. I haven't missed a beat with work. I've been very present with H and enjoyed so much of the summer. I have moments when I feel carefree, when I almost forget. I really do.

But it's still like a dark shadow. The...angst, I guess. The pain. The fear. I am so afraid of what happened, of what it means. And, maybe more than anything, I'm really fucking angry.

Every time I pay yet another medical bill ($500 for the second surgery paid yesterday...a drop in the bucket), I seethe. We'll finally be free of all these bills, we'd thought. Finally just have a normal year where we're not paying our copay for another D&C or our fee for someone to put our egg and sperm together and make a ball of cells that maybe, just maybe, might be more than wasted.

Every time I see someone with a baby I just want to demand to know why it was all too much to ask that I get my sibling too. That I be done. That I never have to spend another minute wondering about whether H will be an only child. That I close the book and return it to the Library of Sad Stories, satisfied with my hard-earned happy ending. Why.

And then I self-loathe over the sense that I shouldn't be upset about others' babies, that it shouldn't bother me. That I should be more graceful and less envious. But then I feel like I've spent so much time being happy for others, too, genuinely happy, and why can't I just add another baby to our family without having to feel guilty or greedy. I've been a good sport. And around and around it goes.

Today I was going through receipts and found one from a few days before The Bad Ultrasound and I had this odd urge to jump into the story and rescue the heroine from all the doom. Don't look now, but after you pay for those groceries you're about to walk into a total shit storm. Brace yourself accordingly.

And sometimes moments flash before me, like scenes from the battlefield. The moment I stood in the bathroom outside the OR before I went in, my round abdomen propping up the hospital gown like a circus tent, the last time I'd see myself pregnant. How I told him goodbye. And that I was sorry.

These are the things that keep me feeling different. That keep me clenching my teeth so tightly the pain travels up the side of my head and makes my jaw sound like gritty sand when I move it.

Our surrogacy plan is in question. It's not over yet, but there are some hurdles to climb. The future still feels so uncertain, and it's so painful to know I had the answer in me but we just couldn't get to the finish line.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Over the Hump

Would-be delivery day came and went, thank God. I spent it with old friends, wrapped in the comfort of familiarity. I didn't know what I'd feel like doing to commemorate where I should have been, and in the end, what I wanted to do was enjoy the day like any other.

I don't know if that's a betrayal or not.

I do know that I'm glad the phantom pregnancy is over. Now when I see a pregnant woman I don't have to compare where I would have been in mine with hers.

Only thing is, now there's a phantom baby. 

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Sadness still lurks.

Most of the time, I'm okay now.

But I miss him.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Hope's Summer Home

My due date approaches. I should be a month out from that baby's arrival. I should be huge, complaining about the heat, going for extra pedicures for my swollen feet.

I'm not. Everywhere I look, I see women who are. And there's always an initial feeling of dread when I see them. There was a woman the other day who embodied a catalog-fantasy version of pregnancy. Her bump was perfect, her skin was glowing, her maternity style impeccable. And I hated her for a second. And then, I just thought, the negative feelings are only hurting me. I'm not good at pregnancy. End of story. No -- correction. I was good at it once, good enough. One out of seven of them had the most amazing outcome. And so I'm coming to a place where it's okay -- all of it. This, for whatever reason, has been my hard thing. And it's over now, or at least almost over. Over for my body. We're good, pregnancy and I. We're good.

The other day, my husband and I had the psychological evaluation required to go forward with our surrogacy plan. The therapist asked me about conflicted feelings I might have about missing out on the pregnancy part -- whether I'd be jealous. There was really no way I could have driven home this point hard enough: I. Am done. With pregnancy. Done. The idea that someone I trust is willing to take this on for me? Is amazing. If by some stroke of Grace it all works out, I can't imagine a lovelier idea. It's sort of like starting a home renovation project yourself, realizing you're in over your head, and having a professional come and finish it for you. Do you really care, in the end, that your hands were not the ones to complete it? I think you're too busy enjoying your fabulous new space to care. Too grateful that there are those out there who know what they're doing.

Sometimes I do worry that someone out there was trying to tell me something -- five consecutive failed pregnancies, one of them a truly traumatic loss. But it's hard for me to reconcile that with the existence of four frozen, screened embryos and a friend generous enough to try to grow one for us. Why would those things not be the "sign?" I don't think I even believe in signs anymore, either way. Nothing amazing would ever be done if people followed signs. Every big thing that's been achieved had some obstacle before it. Otherwise it wouldn't be a big thing.

I have hope. At this stage of the game, it's all I can possibly ask for.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Grief Makes Room for Gratitude

"I am paying attention to small beauties, whatever I have--as if it were our duty to find things to love, to bind ourselves to this world." -Sharon Olds

Don't take what I'm about to say the wrong way. I haven't had some Oprah epiphany; I'm not about to tell you that losing a baby in the second trimester is some sort of gift that makes you a better person. The truth is, I think that in one way it may -- that ultimately the deep suffering of this loss I will grieve forever will help me to better relish the gifts of the present and future. But I'm pretty sure that if I'd been consulted, I still would have chosen door number two, which involved a delicious smelling newborn sleeping on my chest in two months.

Caveats aside, here's where I am. There are still moments of raw, relentless grief. It lives in the background more often now, like radio static, with some snippet of the song amplifying in full volume from time to time. When this happens, what I do -- and I am not necessarily recommending this, as for sure some might say I'm only delaying the inevitable -- is, I stuff it back down. I change the station. Right after the loss I let it move right in, unpack, stay a while. But I just can't live with it anymore. There is no good that can come of it. I have already felt the lowest lows, tried to see it in all its forms, as if bringing the grief itself to life, yielding to its physical presence, could somehow give me something more tangible to mourn than a shadowy ultrasound photo. I've cried the tears until the well ran dry. 

What I see, as close as I can come to the Oprah epiphany, is that gratitude is the yin to the yang of grief. When the loss happens, what you do is, you take stock. What do I have that will keep me breathing until it feels like there's more to wake up for than just getting through. In her truly lovely memoir Survival Lessons (which I will from this point forward gift to anyone going through any kind of hell in life), Alice Hoffman writes that when crisis strikes, you strip down to the bare essentials, you take only what you need for the journey. It rings perfectly true for me, and what I've found in doing that is, I see what I have more clearly than before. The simple joys aren't so simple; more than ways to pass time, they're exactly everything you have. And what follows, what you start to recognize bubbling up, consuming more and more of the grief, is gratitude. 

Losing this baby has brought into even sharper relief the true miracle -- not a cliche, a real miracle in the intended sense of the word -- that the one successful pregnancy out of my seven actually was and is. If you've ever felt in reading a post on this blog that maybe I was missing that point, maybe I didn't get that I should be happy with what I have, please know it was never lost on me. But if the memo was signed and sealed before, it's been delivered. I can no longer sacrifice quality of life, the ability to be present, to relish the family we clawed our way to, for a possible second child. Can no longer teeter on the brink of sanity, obsessed over lining thickness, fetal heart rates, placentas, AFPs. I always wondered if I'd know when I'd finally had enough, and now there's no doubt: When you know, you know. Emotionally and scientifically -- I'd say seven tortured, abnormal pregnancies (even if one was ultimately successful) is a pretty decent sample size -- it no longer makes sense to continue this quest with my own womb. And so please join me in wishing my uterus -- my poor, tortured, tested, poked, prodded, medicated, scarred, restored, instrumented uterus -- a very happy retirement, which it will no doubt spend playing shuffleboard and starting happy hour promptly at 3 p.m. each day.

That my own uterus must be released from duty has been as clear to us as anything possibly could be, from the moment the ultrasonographer ran the probe across my very pregnant abdomen and shook her head when I asked if there was a heartbeat. But in that same moment, I flashed to our frozen embryos, and I knew right away that the thing that could break me may not be the loss itself, or the realization that I can never carry another. It may be letting go of those embryos that took so much of our time, money and emotional investment to create, without giving them the potential to become the baby we still long for. We can try to look at the black and white of our finances a hundred different ways, and in no way is there somehow $100,000+ for surrogacy in the end. Not even close.

From time to time, I've seen stories of friends and family altruistically carrying for couples who'd been through some horrible hell trying to make babies. I always felt a tug of envy, not necessarily about pursuing surrogacy, because only with this loss has the idea of someone else carrying for us become the greatest relief, the best idea I can imagine. I think the envy was more that these parents had people in their lives willing to do something so big for them. I didn't have anyone in my family that would fit the bill, and I adore my friends -- they are there for me with exactly the kind of support I need when I need it -- but I just wasn't sure I could ever ask something so significant from any one of them (nor did I feel anyone was obligated in any way to save me from my reproductive plight), or that they'd be in a position to offer. Until one of them did. 

Talk about gratitude. When it comes to this offer, which feels so much bigger than us and makes it possible that this story may wrap up happily, with this huge act of generosity that sets us permanently free from the years of heartache, no words feel adequate. But hopefully -- and yes, I am filled right to the very top with renewed and relentless hope -- I will spend the next year or so trying to come up with the right ones. 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

More Sweet Than Bitter

I don't trust anyone like I trust a mama. There are exceptions, sure -- turn on the evening news and you'll find at least one -- but for the most part, having a child, whether it comes from your body or not, awakens something in you. For me, I feel more in touch with both the most enthusiastic joys and deepest sorrows of life. My heart is bigger, more encompassing, than before.

At a carnival today, I watched my little H walk up the stairs of this huge tower-height slide by himself, and I thought my heart would beat from my chest. I knew I had to let him do it, but every muscle in me was poised to run up those stairs and carry him back down. I felt sort of panicked, until I saw another mom go up with her younger child. Having a mama up there, even if it wasn't H's own, just helped me know he'd be ok. Because as moms, we look out for other kids. It's not even like an unspoken pact -- it's instinctive.

At the same carnival, I saw a mom I've gotten to know casually in my new town. She's lovely -- the friendliest girl you'd want to meet. I know she just had a baby, her third -- I remember her telling me she was pregnant last summer. I remember because of the way she told me, casually, confidently, yet with an excited sparkle in her eye. I remember feeling envious of her way about it, knowing I would never feel anything but anxiety at telling someone I hardly knew that I was pregnant. And I felt envious today, seeing her already looking so thin, back to normal, feeling light and happy after adding yet another child to her family. And it felt awful, because I hated having any kind of negative feeling toward her, because she is so lovely, and because I loathe the feeling of wanting something someone else has when I know I am so blessed, I know I have so very much.

Tomorrow, I'll celebrate another Mother's Day, and it will be bittersweet just like last year's, when I was recovering from my last loss. Tomorrow I'll be yearning for my missing baby, still feeling beaten up and tossed around. But I'll also be so grateful, because in a way I feel even more authentically a mother this year. It's as if losing another baby has somehow brought into relief my solid, card-carrying membership in this amazing club of women who wipe noses, dry tears and can't afford to let life bring us down for long, because our little people depend on us to carry on.

To all the moms, I am in awe of you, and so grateful for the wisdom I steal from you every day. To those who are fighting to bring home babies, I'm fighting for and with you. I promise you -- it is worth it.

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