Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Invitation

I just declined a baby shower invitation. I got it a couple of weeks ago, right after I found out. I wasn't surprised at all when I found it in the mailbox, both because I was expecting it and because I've come to expect that the universe thinks it's funny to mess with me.

This shower is for a former co-worker, the loveliest girl you'd ever hope to meet. This is her first baby. She was the only person at work who knew I was going through infertility when I was going through IVF for H. She gave me an ear when I was desperate for one during the work day and, although she wasn't married at the time or remotely in the realm of babymaking, she was sympathetic and thoughtful. But the shower is next Saturday, I'm still walking around with a dead fetus in me and it just feels ill-advised to go. I just keep thinking of the advice we received in my mind-body program for infertility, to look at times like this with an eye toward self-protection. We got permission to say no to events like baby showers, without guilt.

So then why do I feel like such an asshole?

This feels just like the time when I said no to a college girlfriend's baby shower, when I'd just found out about my pregnancy with H -- I was pregnant, for crying out loud, with a good pregnancy -- and everything felt so tenuous and fragile, and I was still terrified. I just couldn't handle sitting there looking at baby stuff when it was so uncertain whether it would be mine too, in nine months or ever. And as soon as I hit send on the decline, I felt selfish, like a miserable person whose happiness for friends was contingent on her own fortune, an even fertility score.

What, exactly, am I so afraid of? I am not prone to public meltdowns. I'm pretty sure I can avoid a Kristen Wiig/Bridesmaids moment and restrain myself from knocking over the chocolate fondue fountain or attacking the giant cookie during the event. I'm already miserable, so even if I cried in the car all the way home, it really wouldn't be much different from what I'm doing now.

I definitely wouldn't attack the cookie. I could be gracious. I can be happy for others. I am. But I just couldn't bring myself to go and sit and look at the onesies. I couldn't say yes.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Mean Old Man

Today was find-dead-fetus-on-ultrasound day. What to wear, what to wear when going for dead fetus ultrasound...I settled on J. Crew corduroys in charcoal, a Splendid ruffled knit cardigan, teal beaded necklace and fuschia smoking-slipper loafers. I put on cover-up, lip gloss and mascara. Because grief doesn't have to be ugly, people.

Do I need to state that walking into the hospital, I felt bitter and angry? Like a teenager forced into some outing with her mother, I really wanted to turn around and run. Where would I have gone? Probably shopping, though there was a not insignificant piece of me that wanted to go put on heavy eyeliner and smoke cloves where I might get caught.

But I pressed on. And even though I felt angry enough to keep tears at bay, turns out they were right on the surface. A group of developmentally challenged people were walking, accompanied, into the hospital in front of us, and seeing them just nudged those tears right out. I just thought, Life is hard. And sometimes so sad. And so, so unfair.

I made it to the women's imaging center, and that's when I felt angry again and became that old guy. You know that old hospital patient who won't cooperate, who barks orders at everyone, who refuses to put in his dentures or tie up his johnny? I was that guy today. I told the front desk staff I wasn't going to be participating in their go-change-unnecessarily-into-a-johnny-and-wait-by-yourself-with-roundly-pregnant-women charade -- I would be staying in the waiting room with my husband, thank you. I also informed them that their clever system of making you check boxes on a form as to whether you were going to somehow fall in the process of getting an ultrasound, along with a bright yellow slip of paper reading "FETAL" was an abject failure, since in reality no one ever collects those pieces of paper and you end up finding them in the bottom of your bag every time you get home. I just dared anyone to push back, lest I tell them all about my being there to find a dead fetus.

Then, when the ultrasound lady asked me if I would mind if a student came in the room, I told her yes, in fact I would mind, I was there to confirm a miscarriage and I wasn't in the mood. I then refused to let her do an abdominal ultrasound, telling her that I pay a steep co-pay for everything they do, and since they weren't going to confirm anything abdominally anyway, I would not be having that one, thank you for offering, since I would rather spend that money toward the designer handbag I so deserve to buy myself right this very minute. Incredibly, she asked the radiologist and they agreed. I think by the time the radiologist entered the room, he was slightly afraid of me.

They did the scan and the radiologist came over to me, and I think he thought he was breaking news to me, because he said in a very measured voice that he was very sorry but what they thought was happening happened, that the heart stopped beating and in fact the fetus had already started breaking down and was not terribly measurable. He went on to describe that a fetus that has died sort of becomes more like a cyst in your body with some sort of fluid process, all of which I could have done without knowing. But then he said they would go as fast as possible for the rest of the ultrasound and take limited pictures so I could get out of there ASAP. Spoken like someone who's maybe had a loved one on the wrong end of an ultrasound.

I went up to see my doctor. She asked me if I'd given more thought to resolution, again pushing me more toward trying to wait it out rather than risk the implications of more uterine scarring. She then handed me one of those "hats" they have in the hospital, the plastic things they put on the toilet to catch and measure pee. I'd asked for it, but the fact that it was on her table in something that could have been a gift bag struck me as both hilarious and grotesque. Anyway, if I'm going to have to catch this thing at home for testing, I'm going to need a bigger container than they originally gave me, because I'm definitely not fishing around in the toilet for it.

So I agreed to wait, but I told her I didn't think I had more than another week in me. She encouraged me to try to forget about it now, now that we know for sure it's really gone. To just let go, have some wine, go out and do something fun. I think I may have given her a bit of a hard time today too. I was sort of not at the stage where I could be totally pleasant to make everyone else feel better. Because something really unpleasant is happening to me right now, and drinking wine and going out for dinner won't make that go away. Maybe I was a bit immature today. But pushing back a little made me feel more like a force of nature than something nature is having her own miserable way with.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Ignorance and Bliss?

There's a mom of one of H's preschool classmates (more on preschool at a later, more clear-headed time) that found my last nerve the first day I met her by asking two questions: Was H my only child, and did I have plans to have more? Little did she know she bought two passes to the lion's den by raising the topic. I polititely danced around the latter question, still having the I-just-met-you-and-will-give-you-a-pass generosity of spirit. When she asked me for the third or fourth time on the playground one day, I was much more firm. I told her it was a very complex and difficult topic and I really didn't want to get into it.

That silenced her for the time being. But several weeks ago I bumped into her again on the playground and she took the first opportunity -- any opening that might somehow relate in the most general sense -- to non sequitur her way to an announcement of her pregnancy. Clearly, her earlier questions were simply a proxy for her discussion of her own situation and family plans, had I the politesse to ask her back (which I did not). What came out of her mouth next, though, mesmerized me for a full minute: She was telling me, a virtual stranger, that she was eight weeks pregnant. She added that she hadn't had an ultrasound yet. What.

The fact that I myself had just learned I was pregnant and thought there might be a chance it could actually work did little to quell my irritation or wonder at her hubris. Frankly, from an empirical standpoint I was fascinated. I sort of wanted to take notes for some sort of yet-to-be-determined anthropological study. Naturally, I was 100% certain that her hubris would be rewarded with an uneventful pregnancy.

Now, sitting here losing my own, I'm not so sure where I stand on it. Part of me wishes I'd had even one more day of ignorance about this doomed fetus. One more day of letting my mind inch toward an optimistic thought here and there, allowing it to round the corner and peek quickly at the possibility of a frilly girl's nursery or H sitting with his brother. One more day of maybe.

But would I really want to walk around not knowing that the baby I pictured was actually a fading fetus? Isn't it better somehow to know? I'm not sure. I worked hard to protect myself this time by really staying detached, at times almost eerily so, and I just don't know that it impacted my grief one way or another.

I do know that the experience of suffering on my way to motherhood has made me a better mother in all kinds of intangible ways. I love that kid fiercely. I'm bonded to him, the way you're bonded to someone you've fought for.

Still, I think I wouldn't mind a little ignorance and hubris now.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Due Date

Today is 11/11/12, the day I'm grieving the loss of another much-wanted pregnancy, the loss of a promise I had -- and part of me believed in -- for just a moment, of holding my warm, sweet-smelling baby next summer. It also happens to be the due date of my last loss, the other seemingly healthy pregnancy I said goodbye to earlier this year. And it's the one-year anniversary, almost to the day, of when the betas went south and I took a shot of chemotherapy drug to end my first, surprise natural pregnancy. I'm on a continuing loop of loss, milestones of these shadow pregnancies building up and overlapping, marking the calendar with sad observances for which there is no adequate ceremony.

Today, I could have been in a hospital room. I could have gone in early this morning, dawn barely breaking in the ashen sky, shaking and chilly from nerves but also from the intensity of the moment, the moment right before you meet the baby whose outline you saw in your mind's eye, even as all the heartbreak whispered to you to give up, walk away, cut your losses, move on. The baby you believed in. I could have been told to change into a gown while my husband went to another room to put on surgical scrubs, an absurd costume for an otherwise tough guy who becomes queasy at the sight of blood. I could have giggled slightly at this irony, but also prayed earnestly that he not pass out in the OR. I could have walked into the OR, once again struck by the surreal sterility of the room where, in just a few short moments, all the drama would unfold. I could have had a spinal, and then the opportunity to remain more calm this time, be more present when my baby emerged. A nurse could have walked over with my baby, pure joy and love in eight pounds, and I could have marveled at how much s/he looked just like H.

I could have been brought to recovery and held my baby on my chest, all that bliss flooding back to me as if no time had passed at all since I held my sweet little H, making me love him even more even as my heart made room for his sibling. I could have felt once again like I'd unlocked the secret of the universe, shaking my head and wondering how I could be so lucky. And all the pain I'd endured with the loss before this pregnancy, every hard step toward motherhood could have melted away.

I could have had this, and to me it would have been miraculous, but the truth is it wouldn't have been out of the ordinary. Because today, in hospitals all across the world, this is unfolding for mothers new and experienced, those who had to work at it but also those who have known no pain in their quest toward motherhood. And it would have done the universe no harm -- no one else would have had to suffer anything for it -- if it had just let me be one of them.

But no. Today, I sit in front of my computer, wrecked, trying to keep my mind away from my abdomen, where another fetus lay either dead or dying. Waiting to see how it will come out of me. Wondering whether there is any way to stop this loop of loss, whether we can change the course of a future pregnancy toward the above outcome, instead of arriving in this sad place again and again and again. Wondering if a due date will ever again bring the arrival of a baby to fill it up.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Beauty Tip for the Bereft

I hope this never happens to you. But if, like me, you one day find yourself grieving a dying fetus, you may look in the mirror and realize you look like Night of the Living Dead. And you may realize this is not a good look for you, and though you may not care a whit within the confines of your four walls, when you decide to venture outdoors in hopes of feeling half alive, you may not wish to frighten small children.

So you may wonder: What beauty product is designed to help you look half alive after you've had a miscarriage? They do not have signs for this at Sephora. So I will tell you what the answer is. NARS lipstick in Dolce Vita. I hope you never need this beauty tip, but in case of emergency, please break glass. You're welcome.

Friday, November 9, 2012

The Aftermath

The worst part of finding out that the fetus inside you is dying is knowing that the fetus inside you is dying while you're carrying on. Your mind goes all kinds of dark places you wish it could never find. Like, Is it happening now? Does it feel anything? When will my body realize it's dead?

Also, you still feel pregnant. I'm still hungry, ravenously, insatiably hungry, yet having to eat like a pregnant person now disgusts me. This morning I saw that my boobs still think I'm pregnant too -- they're still killing me and ballooned up, apparently gearing up to nurse a baby that will never exist. I actually swore at them, dropped an f-bomb at my own body parts, I was so angry at them. My body hasn't gotten the memo yet, and it feels like another betrayal.

I forced myself to take H out this morning. I knew it was my duty to do so, but I'm not sure it did me any good. I saw pregnant people everywhere, and I hated them all. And then I loathed myself for it.

This could have been it. I could have been done. Once again, I was so close, it was so within reach I could taste it. Now I have two choices: Subject myself to more pain and heartbreak or walk away from my heart's true desire -- not only for me, but for H, who deserves a sibling. The latter still, incredibly, doesn't feel like the right answer. But I'm brittle, and I don't know when I'll break.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Groundhog Day

A few days after my last post, at the end of my cycle and still not bleeding, I decided to take a pregnancy test, frankly because I was 100% sure it was not positive and wanted to self-medicate with chocolate, caffeine and possibly copious amounts of alcohol. Except it wasn't not positive. It was positive. Maybe. Very, very faint. So I sprang for a FRER to see if I could get a more definitive answer. It was definitive.

My hcg the next day was 42. I think I know everything now, so I thought that was bad, but my doctor said no, this was a natural pregnancy, we have no idea when we're catching it, it's fine. So for the past few weeks I've watched yet another pregnancy unfold that has seemed perfectly healthy. Betas more than doubling. An intrauterine pregnancy at last Thursday's ultrasound, albeit an early one with a just-started-beating heart rate. Everyone had a good feeling about this one.

I didn't write about it here (or talk about it with friends IRL) for two reasons. One, because I was doing everything in my power to ignore it. I just refused to get attached to the idea this time. And maybe along with that, I was hoping if I didn't talk about it, avoided black cats and only opened umbrellas outside, I might be spared further agony. Also? I just didn't want to bring everyone along for the roller coaster ride. I just thought, maybe if I don't talk about it even I can stay off the ride. I can just coast, somehow stay above the fray.

Anyway. This morning was Groundhog Day. Another ultrasound, a bundle of nerves walking in, stripping, leaving my dignity at the door and laying on the table, bracing myself for the answer to all my wondering about the fate of this pregnancy. News came quickly. Growth was three days shy and the heartbeat is decreasing. Another bad ultrasound, another public breakdown, crying openly as I walked from imaging to my doctor's office. Another day ruined by shitty reproductive luck.

As usual, this isn't the end of the shittiness. Once we confirm the heart has stopped beating through a follow-up ultrasound next week, I have two choices. I can opt for a D&C, in which case we may get more answers but possibly also more uterine scarring, which could be bad enough to further impede my efforts -- there's just no way to know. Or I can take the whole "expectant management" route, in which case they've encouraged me to try to capture the tissue in a small jar with saline solution that they then expect me to keep in my refrigerator until I can get it to the hospital. I told them this is fine if they also want to send an ambulance to take me to McLean's, because that could be the thing that finally sends me over the edge.

What else is there to say? There is nothing to say. There is nothing that won't make me feel grief, or worse, pitiable. I don't want to be pitiable. I have a beautiful son, who missed me like crazy while he was in school and I was at this horrible appointment finding out about his ill-fated sibling. He ran up to me, jumped in my arms and told me he missed me, chin quivering, choking back tears. I fought them back with him.

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