Saturday, June 23, 2012

The Plan

It was slightly surreal walking back into the Oregon Fertility Institute office a few weeks ago for our first follow-up appointment with my doctor since losing the baby.  We were starting from scratch, but not entirely.

It saddens me to say – but it’s nonetheless the truth – I did not feel the same excitement this second time around.  The first time I entered OFI, my eyes were set on the goal of getting pregnant.  I was determined and full of a fire to get results.  I could not comprehend the latent tragedy that conception holds and the sheer weight of the miracle of life.  Even when I was warned my chances of miscarriage were higher because of PCOS, I thought it could never happen to me.  The cynical side of me said it wouldn’t happen because I would never get pregnant in the first place.  But the deep down, underneath me secretly – desperately – hoped and believed I would get pregnant.  And that side of me was right, regardless of how things turned out.

So often, women experiencing infertility only focus on the getting pregnant part – it’s what has eluded and frustrated us for so long.  We will sacrifice everything in pursuit of this – our finances, our bodies, our time, and, ultimately, our big-picture reality.  We can’t see – can’t comprehend – anything beyond finally seeing those two lines on a pregnancy test, or hearing the magic number confirming that hCG level climbing above the negative.  I know I was not prepared for the possibilities. 

For those of you still following along…The Plan.  My doctor wants to take the exact same approach as before – same timeline, same dosages.  The bottom line: I got pregnant very quickly and very easily (relatively) with the hormone injections.  Everything internally developed normally in support of the pregnancy.  It just wasn’t an embryo that was meant to be. So we’ll trudge along as before, with a little closer monitoring of hormone and sugar levels for good measure.  It’s a sound plan – one I can’t argue with.  And at the same time, I continue with my shiny, new diet and weekly acupuncture sessions.  The difference this time?  My goal is not just pregnancy, but a healthy miracle to fill up my arms and my heart.  A challenge that is much more daunting knowing the true difficulty.

Going back to OFI the second time, after all was said and done, my worldview was – is – tremendously changed.  I am wary (and weary) now.  Older and wiser? Well, maybe not.  Afraid? Perhaps – mostly apprehensive.  A thousand and two “what ifs” now linger in my mind, all leading to the ultimate: What if it happens again?

I am resilient, but I am not immune to an erosion of hope over time.  And I don’t know if my heart can take that blow again.  I don’t think I have enough tears left.  Yes, I know I need to stay positive, but I also know a harsh reality I did not before. 

But here is the crazy, completely human, thing about hope that I have learned through all of this – it persists in spite of everything.  And after all, my resolve to press on outweighs my fears and doubts.  I know an even stronger “what if” would be the unknown of what might have been if we don’t try one more time.  Still the deep down, underneath me sees our child at the end of this long, dark tunnel.  And that is the only thing that matters.  Our journey may take us to places we aren’t prepared to go, but it will continue to shape our perspective.

So with these thoughts as one giant caveat, we will soon be starting our treatment again. We’re moving forward, mind, heart, body and savings account.  And truly knowing now we are not in control, we are committing to something much bigger than we can even understand.  The greatest investment in our lives, if for no more reason than we are putting ourselves entirely into the process.  And the end result? Stay tuned…

Friday, June 15, 2012

Happy Father's Day

I once saw a commercial - years ago - advertising greeting cards.  It must have been close to Father's Day.  It was the most perfect Hallmark moment: A young couple sitting down for coffee in a sunny kitchen, the young woman obviously up to something as she slides a card discreetly across the table to her husband, who is taken aback but nonetheless curious.  He opens the card and reads, the camera focused on his face as realization creeps in and breaks to sheer, astounded joy.  Break to a brief shot of the card that says something about congrats to the first-time dad. The young woman simply smiles, quietly, and sweetly says, "Happy Father's Day." Break to Hallmark logo on a black background (I'm assuming). 

The first time I saw that commercial, I must have still been in high school.  But it struck me even then, and I thought, "What a cool way to break that news." Since then, I've always hoped fate and timing would allow me to do something similar - maybe not Father's Day, per se, but a birthday, Christmas, take your pick of annual milestones marked by the candy and greeting card industries.  

Alas, here is another Father's Day - another year - upon me, and I have yet to find my perfect Hallmark moment in that bright, sunny kitchen.

What is it about the infertility journey that places so much attention on the woman - whether it be her fertility issue or simply her fragile emotional state through the seemingly endless frustration and heartache? For as lonely and invisible as we may feel, our male partners - for we, the most fortunate women - stand stoically, silently, strongly behind us, mopping up the puddles we leave in our tearful wake, holding our hands and expressing hope when we can no longer even comprehend the word.  This has been, at least, my very lucky experience. 

I don't know if I can truly express how badly I want to make my husband a father - he is childless through no fault of his own. When I think of the love, the qualities, and the life he has to pass on, it breaks my heart all over again.  And still he is the one to turn to me, squeeze my hand, and tell me it will happen - one way or another - no doubts.  For the women facing a similar struggle without that stalwart partner putting your needs before his own, I am truly sorry.  If I can imagine any way the battle of infertility could be any worse, it would be facing it alone. 

Growing up with the father I have, knowing what an incredible relationship that can be, thinking of the countless memories I cherish so dearly, the injustice of infertility stings me in an entirely new way.  And Father's Day, just like Mother's Day, resonates so much deeper in such a complicated, bittersweet way.

This Father's Day, I say thank you to my dad for being the epitome of fatherhood and for making me appreciate the kind of father I know my husband WILL be one day (soon?).  I say congratulations to the fathers new to the gig - you are blessed and deserve this happiness and this responsibility.  To the childless fathers, those amazing men - to my husband - I say know how vital you are, know you are loved and appreciated beyond measure, and know that your role in this journey is no less than the very source of strength we draw from when we have nothing left of our own.  To you, I can only offer whatever hope I have to share that you will soon be receiving your very own Father's Day card, accompanied by the coy, elated, relieved smile of your tired, adoring partner.  

Happy Father's Day.

Friday, June 8, 2012

It's All About Who You Know

I recently had a friend ask on behalf of a friend who we've consulted to help us conceive, and it got me thinking I should post these resources for others who may be in need of a new direction in their own pursuit.

Let me start by saying that, although we've suffered loss and numerous frustrations, and although we still have a long way to go, we have been extremely happy with the medical professionals who we've been seeing.

I will also say that making the decision to seek specialized fertility treatment, beyond what your regular OB/GYN or general practitioner can provide, is a huge step.  I know - we ambled on for a year and a half hoping less aggressive steps would be enough, knowing we did not have the over-abundance of funds it would take to see a specialist, but finally realizing it was not going to be enough. 

Biting the bullet and making that commitment to go to that first appointment is difficult for a number of reasons, not least of which being the revelation that you do need that extra help.  I felt as if going to a fertility specialist would be admitting there is something wrong with me.  Well, it turns out, there is something wrong with me.  And there's nothing wrong with that.  But once you do make that ultimate commitment, at least from my experience, it's difficult not to go all in. 

I've provided links to these services in previous posts, but here they are in a quick breakdown for easy access. If you are or know someone facing the seemingly insurmountable hurdle of infertility, I urge you to read on. 

Oregon Fertility Institute, the practice of Dr. Aimee Chang
9370 SW Greenburg Rd.
Suite #412
Portland (really Beaverton/Tualatin)

What We Love
Dr. Chang is reliable, straight-forward and very knowledgeable. I have never left her office feeling she hasn't been completely honest with me or that she hasn't given me the best advice.

The office is very small, so the one-on-one attention is incredible, both from Dr. Chang and her assistants. There is a very noticeable difference between her office and a larger facility, such as the Vancouver Clinic, in the attentiveness and genuine care I feel going to OFI. At a time when you are at your most vulnerable, this is one of the most valuable things you can get out of your doctor's office.

I have never had a doctor take time to call me herself to give me test results, let alone a doctor who would do so after hours, on her cell, driving home from work. And Dr. Chang’s medical assistants are very helpful and quick to call you back to take your questions or relay information you need. All in all, OFI is very personal, which is exactly what one needs when going through such a sensitive experience.

What I most wanted in a fertility specialist was a) someone who would be upfront and honest with me because leading on an infertile couple is the worst thing you can do; and b) someone to hold my hand as I entered such foreign waters. I believe I got both with Dr. Chang and her office. And they are open on Saturdays.

The Cons
The office is in Beaverton, so it's a bit of a hike, at least for those in the 'Couv.

A couple of the medical assistants are relatively new to the medical field, so their confidence in doing the more minor procedures, such as blood drawing, can be shaky sometimes.  But, I also have very tough veins to find, so part of that blame lies with me.

The Price
The price is steep for those without health insurance that covers fertility treatment. Our first round of treatment, out-of-pocket for ultrasounds, medication, consultations, bloodwork and interuterine insemination (IUI) was about $3,000.

Blossom Clinic

3531 NE 15th Ave., Suite A
Portland, OR

What I Love
I’m going to break this one down a bit. 

Generally, here is what I love:
See my previous entry about alternative medicine.  But overall, Blossom is a fabulous little corner of a shopping complex in North Portland anchored by a Whole Foods.  I have found it to be a balm for a tired soul.

The practitioners offer a variety of services to look at a patient’s health in a holistic manner.  They offer acupuncture, massage, nutritional guidance, herbal medicine, but also links to a community and a new perspective in a world monopolized by western medicine – all in support of women’s health.  They are women caring for women.

Through Blossom, I have discovered new ways of perceiving my body and the energies that impact my well-being.  I am confident that with the treatment I’ve received at Blossom, paired with the treatment I’ve received from Dr. Chang, I have surrounded myself and my infertility with the most complete plan of attack possible.  The only way we could have better odds at having a child naturally, at this point, is if we inherited or won about $15,000. I am so grateful to have added these two completely different and completely complementary weapons to the arsenal in my private war on infertility.

Liz Richards, L.Ac
Liz is my acupuncturist, but there are many layers to be found in that single word. She analyzes my condition from a Chinese medicine tradition.  She understands what is happening with my body on any given day and how to approach whatever the need may be at that point in time.  Liz treats your body, but she also cares for your mental and emotional health.  And she listens.  I have found myself on numerous occasions just venting my frustrations and knowing they were not falling on deaf ears or even ears that have undoubtedly heard the same frustrations from patient after patient.

Dr. Elise Schroeder, ND
Elise is a naturopathic physician, whose specialty lies in female hormonal issues.  She helped me find the most appropriate diet for my particular metabolism, which happens to go hand-in-hand with PCOS.  But beyond that, she helped me UNDERSTAND how my condition is affected by my metabolism, and vice versa.  And like Liz, she takes the time to genuinely listen and understand and offer the feedback you most need.

Again, I am blown away by how my perception has been so greatly expanded by going to Blossom Clinic.  It’s as if we were winding our way through a dimly lit tunnel, going on and on, and all of a sudden we turned a corner and discovered the switch to turn on the bright fluorescent lights showing us everything we’d been missing with such a narrow awareness.

They do not bill insurance; however, they make it as easy as possible for you to bill your insurance yourself.

They are not open on weekends.

Each practitioner sets her rates independently.  My weekly acupuncture treatments with Liz are $85. My insurance covers about two-thirds of my acupuncture-related costs. 

Sunday, June 3, 2012

"If music be the food of love, play on."

Or, if you like: "Music was my refuge. I could crawl into the space between the notes and curl my back to loneliness." ~ Maya Angelou

At the height of my loneliness and pain, comfort seemed very hard to come by except from the angels in my life.  And I'm not sure I can say I found refuge in music - the pain didn't lessen and the tears usually flowed even more freely - but I certainly found a kinship with two songs in particular.  Two songs that penetrated through my heartache and tears and soothed something deep down in a way that only music seems to be able to do. 

My husband and I recently discussed a revelation about music.  He turned to me as we were driving home after a much needed vacation: You know how they say smell is the sense strongest tied to memory? I think songs are tied just as strongly, perhaps even more. A particular song encapsulates all of the feelings and events of a specific moment in time in one's life. Well, these two songs will always remind of this time in my life and conjure the teeter-tottering emotions that have and continue to surround me. 

Knowing how I was able to repeatedly turn to these reliable aural allies, I wish to share them with those who might also find them a comfort. I continue to do so. And I urge, if these lines of poetry strike a chord (pun intended), find your way to the music and curl up in the notes as well as the words. 

I recently discovered Mumford & Sons, and "After the Storm" has a power over me now for which I will always be grateful.  

"After The Storm"
Mumford & Sons

And after the storm,
I run and run as the rains come
And I look up, I look up,
on my knees and out of luck,
I look up.

Night has always pushed up day
You must know life to see decay
But I won't rot, I won't rot
Not this mind and not this heart,
I won't rot.

And I took you by the hand
And we stood tall,
And remembered our own land,
What we lived for.

And there will come a time, you'll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.

And now I cling to what I knew
I saw exactly what was true
But oh no more.
That's why I hold,
That's why I hold with all I have.
That's why I hold.

I will die alone and be left there.
Well I guess I'll just go home,
Oh God knows where.
Because death is just so full and man so small.
Well I'm scared of what's behind and what's before.

And there will come a time, you'll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair.

And there will come a time, you'll see, with no more tears.
And love will not break your heart, but dismiss your fears.
Get over your hill and see what you find there,
With grace in your heart and flowers in your hair. 

And KT Tunstall has been a favorite of mine for years (LOVE her). She has always spoken to me, but I've rediscovered "Heal Over." 

KT Tunstall

It isn't very difficult to see why
You are the way you are
Doesn't take a genius to realize
That sometimes life is hard
It's gonna take time
But you'll just have to wait
You're gonna be fine
But in the meantime

Come over here lady
Let me wipe your tears away
Come a little nearer baby
Coz you'll heal over
Heal over
Heal over someday

And I don't wanna hear you tell yourself
That these feelings are in the past
You know it doesn't mean they're off the shelf
Because pain's built to last
Everybody sails alone
But we can travel side by side
Even if you fail
You know that no one really minds

Don't hold on but don't let go
I know it's so hard
You've got to try to trust yourself
I know it's so hard, so hard

Come over here lady
Let me wipe your tears away
Come a little nearer baby
Coz you'll heal over, heal over, heal over someday