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It Feels Like Someone’s Missing: IVF Update (Finally) [Dear Thursday]

I’ve been going back and forth about writing this post. On one hand, I do feel that writing about this process not only helps me but other people. On the other hand, we are living in a time when folks are quick to scream “oversharer.” My favorite feminist blog Jezebel has done not one, but two posts about women who overshare by posting that they are pregnant before the first three months. Why this culture of oversharing some people ask? Why don’t people know how to keep things to themselves anymore?

I’m sometimes tempted not to talk about my situation for fear of offending someone with my oversharing ways. But I also take umbrage with those who are so quick to accuse people like me of oversharing. If you really feel other people are oversharing, why not hide them or simply defriend them? Also, why is it okay to talk about getting a new job, then losing a new job, without it being considered oversharing? I’ve seen people post some pretty gnarley wound pics (hey! look at my swollen, purple, broken leg!), but somehow saying that you had a miscarriage out loud is oversharing. Weird political views — that’s fine. Your pregnancy results before three months? Eww!

In a way, it feels that many “overshare” sore points are conveniently things that women are often interested in talking about: pregnancy, periods, relationships — they’re all on the “overshare” list. And, of course I also wonder why those sensitive to oversharing are even on social media. What kind of interactions do they want with their friends? Do they want to live in a world, where no one ever has anything icky or unpleasant to report, where everyone just says socially acceptable things and keeps it oh-so-polite? That’s not really friendship or community, in my opinion.

On yet another hand (like an alien I have five of them now), I do feel obligated to talk about this last round of IVF, because so many people have supported us during our struggle with secondary infertility. I’d be mad if a friend I’d been talking to about her infertility struggles just all of a sudden decided to take me out of the loop.

On the fourth hand, I just haven’t had time to update you. The problem with IVF blogumns is that they’re almost always long. The problem with long is that with my paperback release coming up and about a 1,000 projects on my plate, I barely have time to write long for profit, much less for my personal blogumn.

On the fifth (and possibly most important) hand, the reason I haven’t updated you is because I genuinely care about you. I don’t want my story to make you sad, or disappoint you, or upset you — especially if you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant.

In any case, this is what happened:

We found out that we were pregnant from our third and final round of IVF nine weeks ago. At that point, I thought about posting, but it was a Friday and I had a crazy weekend, so I decided to post about it the following week, once we got past the chemical pregnancy point.

I went and took the blood tests, and unlike when I miscarried back in February, my HCG levels were great and very high. At this point, I started eating more, just in case it was a twin pregnancy, and I decided to update you after I got through the all of my blood tests.

All the blood tests came back great. And I was told I would be getting an ultrasound at the 5-week appointment, which would tell us if we were having twins or not. So I decided to tell you after that ultrasound. On the way to the ultrasound, CH confessed that he was feeling superstitious and would prefer that I wait at least 6 weeks to tell you guys. CH and I are both Christians, but metawise, we are of two different religions when it comes to good news. He’s always very careful with the telling of good news, whereas I believe in letting everyone know immediately. We decided to meet halfway at six weeks. At the 5-week u/s appointment, we found one sac, which meant one baby (not twins), but there was fluid in one of my tubes, so the doctor asked for me to come back in a week, just to make sure the other embryo hadn’t gone ectopic.

At that point, I decided not to write about the pregnancy until we knew whether the other embryo had simply not taken or gone ectopic. At the 6 week appointment, everything looked great. The baby now had a heartbeat, and the fluid in my tube had decreased, but the doctor decided to see us again in two weeks just to make sure.

By the seventh week my stomach had already poofed out.(Showing way earlier is common with second pregnancies, I’d read). I had also become very tired. I was in the second week of potty training our daughter. No caffeine and even less time because the baby was forcing me to take daily naps, often right after eating breakfast. My work suffered, I could barely keep up with Fierce and Nerdy, and everything seemed to be falling through the cracks. I just couldn’t get organized. And because of the potty training, I wasn’t getting in my usual four hours a weekday of writing. The weekend before my 8 week u/s, I was just exhausted, and taking daily multi-hour naps. It got to the point that I decided to eat even healthier (no sugar/no carbs) in the morning just so I could get through an entire day without having to take a nap.

I started the no sugar or carbs in the morning thing on Tuesday, and to my surprise, I got through the day without a nap. And by Wednesday, the day of the appointment, I had actually gotten a plan in place to get all caught up with work and blog. While we waited for the doctor in her office, my husband talked about how his work buddies kept on asking him if he wanted a boy, how he told them after all we’d been through, he just wanted a healthy baby. I agreed — but not without adding that I totally wouldn’t be mad if we ended up with two girls being from a two-girl family myself. At the appointment, the doctor did a pelvic exam, apologizing for being paranoid about the possibility of an ectopic pregnancy. We assured her it was no problem. “We like paranoid,” I joked.

Then she did the ultrasound. Her face is always pretty focused and straight when she looks at the ultrasounds, but this time, I could tell almost right away that something was wrong. The exam went on for more than a minute, which doesn’t sound like a long time, but is in vaginal ultrasound terms. Finally she said, “I’m afraid I have some awful news.”

She turned the monitor toward us so that we could see that the baby no longer had a heartbeat. I’m not going to go into what an 8 week fetus looks like. I’m just going to say that it looks enough like a baby that seeing one without any heartbeat, just floating there in its sac is especially terrible, and outside of my mother’s body in the casket at her wake, it’s the most horrific thing I have ever seen.

I’m not a dramatic person in real life, but at that point, I told the doctor to get the ultrasound wand out of me. I jumped off the table and pulled on my clothes while she tried to talk to me.

“Where are you going?” CH asked me when I made moves to leave.

“To the car,” I answered.

I sat in the car, not crying, just staring until CH came out. Then he drove us home where the maid service we had hired for a one time (really late) spring cleaning was hard at work. I walked past my mother-in-law and my daughter without a word. I heard CH starting to tell his mom what had happened, but I closed the door on that conversation, and … went to work. I put in all the Fierce and Nerdy articles for the day. I answered emails about the recent spate of stuff I wasn’t done with. I emailed the head of Writing Pad that I wouldn’t be able to teach my class which had been slated to start the following Saturday.

About an hour into working, it occurred to me that life is beautiful and that we know this for certain when we are sad. I thought about my wonderful daughter and my loving, supportive husband, and I felt an overwhelming gratitude for them. The next time CH came into the room, I hugged him and we cried together with the two maids, who didn’t speak English, busily cleaning in the background, probably wondering what was going on with us. This is pretty much why I still believe in God, because when I am at my saddest, some glorious thought occurs to me, and it helps me through. And until they discover the chemical process in the brain that allows for this emotional turnaround, I ascribe that raising up to my concept of God.

I’ve talked a lot about how hard IVF is on your financial picture, about how you have to make an endgame plan beforehand and stick to it lest you become broke and destitute. But…

“I want to try to adopt,” I said to CH. Somehow I had come to terms with only having one child before I found out I had gotten pregnant with the last of our IVF embryos. But now with a dead heartbeatless baby inside of me, the one-child scenario felt untenable. “We’ll have to save up,” I told him. “But I want to try to adopt.”

Non-fostered-adoption is actually way more expensive than IVF. Actually, the least expensive option for infertile couples is fostered-adoption, but it most often involves a lot of heartbreak and bureaucracy to go from foster parents to adopted parents in California. At that point, I was willing to risk further heartbreak, but CH, for valid reasons, wasn’t there and doubts he ever will be — especially after a second miscarriage.

CH then went on to say that he hadn’t wanted to bother me so soon with the conversation he had with the doctor after I ran out of the exam room, but it could basically be summed up with these four points 1) The doctor was upset that we had already decided not to try again. Apparently getting pregnant with three out of four cycles of IVF is really great, even if two of the pregnancies didn’t go to term.  2) Both of our miscarriages were “good” miscarriages, in that a missed heartbeat or a chemical pregnancy means that there was something wrong with the baby itself and not with my ability to carry it or anything I had done. 3) I’m not going to go into the causes of our infertility, but something has happened medically for us, which doesn’t reverse the cause, but might lessen it enough that we’d be really good candidates for a fresh cycle. 4) I’ll be 35 next year, officially high-risk, so if we’re going to harvest more eggs, we should do it before then.

Basically, the doctor felt really strongly that we should try again.Throughout this process she’s shown herself to be a consummate professional, and we knew that she wouldn’t encourage us to try again if she didn’t believe that our chances of getting pregnant with a fresh cycle were really good.

Something else weird happened in the weeks prior to this.  After my many visits to NYC last year, I became obsessed with living in a walking neighborhood again, so we moved to a small townhouse right next to a busy retail district. A few months later, we switched cars, because the price of gas had gone way up and I never used my Ford Escape hybrid anymore, because I walked everywhere. Then a couple of months after that, our dealer called and asked if we were interested in selling the car back to them. CH, being CH (Mr. DIY) suggested dipping into our savings, paying off the car in full and selling it ourselves. We got our title in the mail, posted it on Craigslist and AutoTrader the Friday of Memorial Day Weekend — and sold it the very next day for more than our pay off price. Though our savings would take a bit of a hit, at that point we had just enough for a fresh IVF cycle and the first transfer.

We decided to discuss all of our options at length later. Now that I was talking again, CH also had to break the news to me that the doctor wanted to D&C the baby out, so as to reduce the risk of hemorraging. After some internet research and reading a ton stories about women who miscarried at home only to still have to do a D&C later, when they didn’t fully miscarry or hemorraged, I called the doctor back and they got me into outpatient surgery that night. This time the depression-related not-eating came in handy, because they were able to schedule the D&C sooner than later. Though, of course as soon as I was told that I couldn’t eat until after the procedure that evening, I became ravenous.

The D&C was terrible and hard (not so much physically — it was outpatient with twilight — but emotionally). However, to my surprise three out of the five nurses that attended to me that night had their own miscarriage stories. The first nurse told me to be kind to myself, because after her miscarriage, she cried at everything and couldn’t even watch a diaper commercial without losing it. The nurse that wheeled me into the surgery after CH kissed me good-bye told me about how she’d had two miscarriages after her first child, one a stopped heartbeat at 22 weeks. “I went a little cuckoo after that,” she said, “But I ended up with five children.” The male nurse that attended to me in the recovery room told me (while I inhaled rolls of the sushi that CH had gone off campus to get for me) that his first child’s heartbeat had also gone missing and that his wife had had to get a D&C, too. But now they had a two-year-old son.

I know I say this all the time, but in my experience people in general are wonderful, amazing, and kind. Lately, I’ve been just particularly proud to be a part of the human race.

So here we are one week later. We’re still swinging back and forth between trying again with IVF or saving further for adoption. There are pros and cons for both options, but it’s an either/or, we can’t afford to pursue both. Meanwhile, we’re having good and bad days. Some days are fine with just moments of sadness and some days are just brutal. Hard to get through. If I only have to call my best friend once a day to talk, then it’s a good day. On Sunday I called her once, but on Monday, I called her five times. Yesterday, just twice.

I often think about the last few days with the baby, how angry I got the Sunday before that Wednesday appointment, because I had so much work to do, but ended up having to take a three hour nap. It occurs to me now that he or she was working very hard, so hard to live, to grow, to get all the information it needed to continue on. For a full week it laid me low, forcing me to rest, so that it could do its work. In other words, it tried its best. It really did. And no matter how it turned out, I will always love and respect our baby for that.

Still, as MGMT sings below, it feels like someone’s missing: