Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Show & Tell: Fifty Years!!

This week's Show and Tell is along the same theme of anniversaries from two weeks ago, except that now it's my parent's anniversary. My parent's anniversary is three days after ours. Two weeks ago, my parents had their 50th Wedding Anniversary. FIFTY YEARS. The BIG 5-0. They have been married longer than I have been on the planet. I have a hard time comprehending that, having only been married three years. The picture above is from their wedding. My older sister now looks almost exactly as my Mom did in this picture.

In celebration, we had a family reunion with all their six children and almost all of the 15 grandchildren. Four of those grandchildren are stepchildren, two of those are mine. Yes, I have stepchildren, for which I am grateful. Being a stepparent is complicated, but I do get to express some of my mothering qualities with them. Although having stepchildren is not the same as having your own children, I treat them as my own when I am allowed and when I allow myself to. Part of treating them as my own was to bring them to the family reunion.

One of my brothers had the audacity to assume that we would not be bringing Magic's kids, my stepsons, to the reunion. He assumed that they didn't want to come. To me, that would be like saying that his children would not be coming if they did not want to. You drag your kids along if you have to, knowing that once they get there, they will be glad you did it. My other brother with the two stepdaughters understood how I felt about this, because he treats his stepdaughters as his own too. Originally, he told me that his two teenage stepdaughters would not be coming to the family reunion because they were busy with other things. I was pleasantly surprised to see them there this weekend. I can't help but think that my bringing my stepsons had something to do with it.

I felt sad at the reunion, seeing my brothers' and sisters' children and feeling pangs of longing for having a family of my own. Yesterday, my older stepson said to me, "I think your family is cool." I felt so good when he said that! He made a connection with my family and me. My Dad even made a point of saying how he had gotten to know my stepsons at the reunion. The circle had widened. I do have a family, even though it's not in the traditional sense of the word.

Monday, June 23, 2008


Rock: 1, Me: 0

I was reminded by Busted Babymaker's Show and Tell that I had a memorial tree to plant, to honor our lost ones. I set out to plant our tree in our yard, the spot that Magic and I had picked out. The story of my planting the tree had many metaphors to my life.

I thought, how hard can it be to plant a tree? I thought the same thing when I first knew I would have to do IVF. When I started digging, I realized how tired I was and that it was going to be more challenging than I thought. Certainly, IVF was a lot more challenging than I thought. I really wanted to plant this tree for what it meant to me, so I was inspired to forge onward! As I dug down, I encountered rocks. I thought, "I'm not going to let a few rocks get in my way!" I envisioned them as the fibroids that had grown in my uterus and I was removing. That was the first obstacle I had to deal with before I could even consider IVF. I felt vindicated as I pulled more and more rocks out the hole.

I was getting a pretty good hole, but I was still finding more rocks, until it all became one huge rock. I couldn't get a handle on how big the rock was or if it was a series of rocks. I brought out the big guns. I always thought of IVF as "bringing out the big guns". I was on pretty high stims my first cycle, but had a lackluster response and we converted to IUI. The second cycle, they threw everything at me, putting me on maximum stims with a few other goodies thrown in. I got out the rock bar, a six foot long bar of solid steel with a pointy end, and proded around the rock. I even managed to break up some of the rock, but in the end, the rock won. I wasn't going to muscle my way through the expanse of this rock that was covering the entire bottom of my hole. I also wasn't going to plant a tree in a hole where it couldn't put down roots. I sat at the edge of the hole, realizing I had to admit my limitations. I was going to have to walk away from this hole, and that is how it was for my pregnancy.

Eventually, I gathered enough strength to put the soil back in the hole the same way I had removed it. I cleaned up, moved the tree to a new spot and left it for another day. A part of me felt defeated, but what can you do when you have limitations? I really wanted to plant that tree yesterday, but I am not Super Woman. I could have beat myself up about it, but that wouldn't have done me any good. I'll get that tree planted some day, but yesterday wasn't the day to do it. Instead of pushing myself to get the tree planted, I took a nap, which is what I really needed. It's a hard thing to admit the reality of your limitations in the midst of your dreams. Sometimes, I think I should be Super Woman and I do beat myself up. Sometimes, I wish everything had turned out different.

I reflected on the metaphor of this experience. In the path of life, you sometimes come up against a rock wall and you can't do anything about it. All you can do is turn away and find a different path, even if it isn't the one you imagined. In the meanwhile, I'll keep watering that tree until I can get it planted.

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Show & Tell: Hay Fever

Making Hay While the Sun Shines

It's hay cutting season around these parts, and that also means that the pollen if flying fast and furious. I've got hay fever bad, and that doesn't mean I'm bellying up to a bale right now. Inspired by Lori's view from her backyard, I thought I'd Show and Tell the view from my office window. Can you name that peak in the background?

This is my favorite part of hay. Red clover has always reminded me of the uterus. Not only do cows like it, red clover is an herb that is good for both boy and girl reproductive organs. When I make my own "fertility tea", I include red clover, usually ones I've collected myself as it's hard to buy high quality red clover flowers. In the Doctrine of Signatures, they say that the shape of the herb mimics the organ it treats. Can you see the uterus in this picture?

A farmer reminded me recently of the saying "Making hay while the sun shines". I think this is a good metaphor for life. I'd like to live by that saying and try to enjoy life while I'm still here on this planet. I've realized that the whole baby making thing has occupied so much of my thoughts, efforts, energy, and finances for the better part of the last three years that it's hard to remember that I enjoyed other things in life. One thing that I really love is my job. This is just one of the great vistas I get to see on a daily basis at work. I work up in them there hills too!

I have felt grateful that my career gave me exactly the kind of job I wanted. If you had told me twenty years ago that I'd be doing this for a living, I probably would have not believed it. I didn't expect my career to move in the direction it did, but it all ended up working out perfectly. The whole baby making thing hasn't worked out as I expected either, and I'm hoping I can roll with the same ease in this part of my life as I did with the change in my career direction.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

"Empty Cradle, Broken Heart"

"Surviving the Death of Your Baby" by Deborah L. Davis, Ph.D

I appreciated the recommendation of this book after our loss. It allowed me to get in touch with my feelings of grief on a deeper level. I read passages of the book to Magic, and he too got in touch with feelings of grief he did not realize he had. When he did, I did not feel so alone in my daily sadness. This book offers a sensitive approach to families dealing with grief related to miscarriage, stillbirth, pregnancy interruption, selective reduction, and neonatal loss.

While I think the whole book is good, there were certain chapters that spoke to me the most. I'll include some excepts from the book here.

Painful Feelings

"Grief encompasses many painful feelings and some are especially difficult to express, cope with and work through. Feelings of failure, anger, guilt and vulnerability to tragedy are common among parents whose baby has died.

Three of these feelings - anger, guilt, and failure - arise from the belief that you are in charge of your destiny. Until a tragedy strikes, you may have thought you had control over what happens to you.

This sense of control is the source of many of your painful feelings. You may be angry that your baby died in spite of happier plans; you may feel guilty you could not prevent it; you may feel there must be something wrong with you that such a terrible thing could happen. If you interrupted the pregnancy or refused medical heroics, you may feel an additional sense of responsibility that can heighten these feelings. You may agonize over the questions "Why me? Why my baby?" You want answers to ensure more control in the future.

Another approach is to realize that you don't always have the power to prevent bad things from happening to you and that misfortune can strike even when you least expect it. This vulnerability to tragedy can be a terrifying feeling to face.

To avoid the fear and helplessness that come with vulnerability, you may want to hold on to anger, guilt or failure for a while. These emotions protect that comfortable illusion of being in total control. Later, as you begin adjusting to your baby's death, you will come to the painful realization that you don't have control over everything that happens in your life."

Making Peace with Agonizing Decisions

"If you faced life-and-death decisions for your baby, resolution of your grief may seem incredibly difficult.

Decisions Parents Face
Perhaps you enlisted the aid of reproductive technology. You greeted the news of conception with joy, only to be faced with decisions regarding the risky business of a pregnancy with multiple babies. If more than two or three embryos were implanted, you may have to consider selective reduction in order to improve the chances of any of your babies surviving. You may have taken a leap of faith and tried to carry all the babies, but none of them made it. Or perhaps you chose reduction, but all the babies died. Either way, or if there are severely disabled survivors, you may feel punished for your decision.

In our culture, there is considerable social pressure to reach for miracles and employ the most technology possible to save a life. Carrying multiple babies to near term is considered a brave undertaking where surely, healthy babies are the reward. Parents who take on the care of a severely disabled child are looked upon as "courageous". Extensive and invasive medical treatments for critically ill newborns are referred to as "heroic measures". In contrast, selective reduction, pregnancy interruption and refusal of aggressive medical intervention are generally not considered "heroic". As a result, parents who choose these options often feel judged, isolated and unsupported. The purpose of this chapter is to point out the heroism in questioning medical technology, the virtue of rejecting the goal to save every life, the sensitivity in recognizing the complexities of a situation and the wisdom in choosing to let go. Indeed, it takes a lot of courage to meet death head on.

Living with the Decision: The Doubts
While some parents may have felt that there was only one way to go, others feel torn. With all the options being terrible, you may have felt it was an impossible decision to make. Even after all is said and done, you may still harbor some doubts.

Since you feel so badly, you may wonder, would the other choice have been better? But really, you feel badly not because you made a bad decision, but because you had to make a tough, painful decision. Moreover, none of the options offered total solutions. Each one held its own risks and created its own problems. Most likely, you would feel equally bad or worse if you had chosen the alternative.

You may wonder later, "If I had more time, would I have made a different choice?" But even with all the time in the world, you probably would have made the same choice. You made the best decision you possibly could - under terrible stress - weighing all the information at hand and balancing many factors, including the welfare of your baby, your marriage, yourself, your other children and even your future children.

If you were pregnant with multiple may be haunted by media images of families with multiples, and think to yourself, "I could have done that". To be in this position is terribly difficult...You did the very best you could with what you had. And remember that television and magazines tend to idealize multiples, and belittle the risks, hardships and craziness of the pregnancy, NICU and parenting.

The Guilt
Guilty feeling are very common in parents who employ selective reduction, interrupt a pregnancy, refuse aggressive medical intervention or disconnect artificial life-support systems.

If you employed selective reduction you may feel particularly angry at yourself for not trying to carry all the babies. Or perhaps you refused selective reduction and you're angry that you didn't consider the risks of multiple gestation seriously enough. Try to remember that whatever your decision, you were trying to guess what route would lead to the best outcome, without any definite signs to show you the way. In making your decision, you did reach for a greater good. Also remember, your decision came from how much you loved and wanted those babies, not the opposite.

It may also help to remember that guilt is a nearly universal feeling among bereaved parents. It is normal to feel guilty: this does NOT mean you did anything wrong. Instead of being angry at yourself for the decisions you made, be angry that you were put in the position to make a choice between "terrible" and "horrible".

Support Networks: Coping with Harsh Judgment

When you make the decision to let go and say goodbye to a much-loved baby, you may worry that some friends and family will judge you harshly. Even if you try to keep it a secret, most social and family circles exchange information freely. As a result, it may be impossible to completely avoid judgment and harsh remarks. So how do you face everyone? Eventually, as your grief softens and you come to accept that the decision you made was best, it will be easier to be around others and talk openly about your experiences. In the meantime, however, you needn't withdraw until you resolve you doubts. You only need to learn to survive others' comments. To do this, try the following suggestions.
  • Gather insight into what drives those who judge you harshly. Many judgmental people are limited by simplistic thinking or their own emotional issues. They may cling to a black-and-white view: Life is good and death is bad. There are others whose capacity to reason shuts down when they hear the word "baby".
  • Learn to shrug off harsh remarks. Especially in the thick of your grief and doubts, it is normal to be upset by unkind remarks. You can reassure yourself by saying, " it doesn't matter what they think. It wasn't their body, their baby, their family, their decision."
  • Face your feelings. While shrugging off harsh remarks is a valuable skill, the other side of the coin is to examine the feelings that are brought up.
  • Remember, you don't owe anyone a list of justifications. Even if some people don't accept your decision, they can refrain from being hurtful to your."
Obviously, these are complex and difficult issues that the book discusses, but these situations are realities. Often, the consequences of fertility treatments are not widely discussed because they are so charged. If you feel like you resonated with the contents of the book I shared here, but don't feel comfortable leaving a comment, you can e-mail me. My e-mail address is in my profile (click on my name on the right sidebar to get there).

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Show & Tell Sunday: Honeymoon

I was going to Show and Tell our wedding in honor of our anniversary (still a good read), but this would now be our anniversary of our "mini" honeymoon. The picture above is the view from our balcony of our honeymoon condo. I specifically went and checked out rooms at this place ahead of time and requested this one because I knew Magic would love the view of one of his favorite climbing spots. And climb here we did! I think we climbed the smaller triangular looking slab of rock that is about a third of the way in from the left in the photo towards the bottom of this ridge. Can you find it? Of course, Magic wanted to climb the route named "Magical Chrome Plated Semi-Automatic Enema Syringe". Don't you love the name of climbing routes? Although it sounds hard from the name of it, it's actually quite an easy climb, which was good since I was exhausted from planning our wedding. If you can name this mountain ridge (no cheating, i.e. no googling), I'll take you climbing there, or at least take you out to lunch!

We actually took two honeymoons. One right after our wedding for a few days close to home, the mini-honeymoon, and one to Thailand later. Both involved rock climbing, amongst other things!! But first, let's flash back to the day after our wedding.

The honeymoon begins! If you haven't read the story of our wedding (really, you don't want to miss it), you might want to go check that out first. This is the view from my sister-in-law's backyard where we got married. You can kind of see the view of the Rocky Mountains in the distance from the clouds. In the foreground is the remains of our chuppah (pronounced like "hoop-ah"). I like how the top of the chuppah looks like clouds, which is kind of hard to see in the picture since they blend in so well. I'm not Jewish, but I loved having a chuppah. Ours was made from aspen poles that a friend had cut down for us, and was decorated with flowers. Instead of a wedding party, we had "The Chuppah Groupa". Magic and I each picked a man and woman friend who meant a lot to us to hold the poles. The meaning of the chuppah for me symbolized a sacred space to hold our new relationship in marriage, supported by our dear friends. It was also a symbol of Magic and I creating a life together, as in the Jewish tradition, it symbolizes the bride and groom's new home.

This was before I ever went to an RE or found out I would have to have surgery to remove multiple uterine fibroids before they would even touch me for fertility treatments. We took our "official" honeymoon to Thailand eight months later. By this time, I had had five opinions on my uterus, one of which I flew across the country to New York City to get. That was pretty much the clincher for me, and I decided on the surgery. I was waiting until after our honeymoon for the knife, but regardless, the glow of our wedding had vanished and the looming reality of uterine surgery and my declining fertility was already weighing heavy on my mind.

In Thailand, we visited one of the primo climbing scenes at Tonsai beach. We met throngs of climbers from all over the world; Japan, Isreal, France, Sweden, Holland, Germany, Slovenia, New Zealand, Australia, Canada, the US, and of course, Thailand. Magic even ran into an old climbing buddy there.

I'm not much into scenes, but the climbing was outrageous. Pulling down on stalactites and trying to smear on greasy limestone while sweating buckets - exciting to say the least. I wanted to climb the route that this woman below is doing the split on, but sadly, we didn't have time. The long grey phallic looking thing to the left of the cave is a giant stalactite. Outrageous!

Flashback to the last stop on our mini-honeymoon after our wedding (below). You guessed it, another climbing spot! This one required a hike through an area that had been burned in a wildfire and was now spectacular with blooming penstemons and other wildflowers. I didn't realize it until later, but I had visited this area when it was barren and charred. It looked so completely different now, that I didn't recognize it at first.

Reflecting back on this now, I see the analogy of something beautiful arising from the ashes, something that I wish has yet to be for my life.

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Happy Anniversary to Us!

Our wedding was one of the most memorable days of my life. That was a pretty awesome cake we had, but the things of our wedding is not what made it special. We got married at Magic's sister's ranch, with an unobstructed view of the Rocky Mountains. Having the wedding at her house was one of the things that made it special. It's a place where we had spent many days with family, and it's a place I felt supported and loved.

I did not know what to expect from a wedding. I did not enjoy planning our wedding particularly, and all the commercialization that goes with it. I wanted our wedding to be more than throwing the bouquet, which I forgot to do, and eating cake, though that is the first thing I ordered! Magic had been married before for many years, so getting married wasn't as important to him as it was for me, or so it seemed. I tried not to have too many preconceived notions of what our wedding would be like, good or bad.

On our wedding day, I experienced a tremendous state of love and heart connection that I have never experienced before or after. Magic felt it too. We felt it together. We really were in an altered state, of love and bliss. I had a permanent smile on my face the whole time. The feeling lasted into our mini-honeymoon, which is why I think now it is so important to take your honeymoon right after your wedding.

For awhile, I tried to remember that feeling from our wedding, but it was only experienced in the moment, and then gone. When we got our wedding pictures a couple of months later, I was disappointed. They felt two dimensional and flat. Where was that excitement that I felt? Where was that expansiveness of my heart and soul, connected to my love, Magic, and all our friends and family, and every molecule of existence? The moment was gone. The pictures could not capture it. Such is the trap of trying to hold on to an experience. The present moment was not that feeling I so wanted to tap in a bottle and drink from it's nectar.

Now that time has passed, I enjoy looking at our wedding photos. I can not feel that wonderful state of love that was experienced on our wedding day, but I have a memory of what it was like. Our pictures help remind me of what a special day it was. Magic's love for me blossomed after our wedding. For someone who was reluctant to get married a second time, he has poured his heart out to me in ways I never expected. This difficult journey we have taken together through fertility treatments, pregnancy and loss has brought us even closer together. To my beloved, Happy Anniversary!!

Friday, June 6, 2008

Letter to Aunt Flo

Dear Aunt Flo,

I’m glad you’re back. I haven’t seen you since January, and even then, your stay was brief. I guess you don't like it when I take birth control pills. I did kinda enjoy the break, but at the same time, it was weird not to have you around. Granted, I had visitors, and I know you don’t come around when the house is full. You’ve been my companion for 30 years, consistently visiting me once a month, whether I want you to or not. Now that I’m getting older, you don’t stay as long as you used to and you aren’t as obnoxious as you used to be. I’ve also come to appreciate your subtlies, like your color and qualities. I’ve learned through Chinese medicine that these are important things I need to notice in you. It’s your way of telling me if I’m healthy or I need to take care of myself better. I don't know what it is about you, but I've noticed that I'm much more emotional when you are around. Sometimes, you help me access feelings that have been under the surface and need to come out. Sometimes, you just make me crazy! I know you won’t be around forever, but I’m too young for you to go for good. This may sound weird, but I actually appreciate you more now that I'm older.

I was getting kinda worried about you being gone so long. I was worried that something was wrong with me, but now that you’re back, I feel a little relieved that everything will be all right. I just wish you wouldn’t be so crabby sometimes!

Wednesday, June 4, 2008


I had just seen my Wizard, The Shrink, and I was in our local groovy pharmacy today getting another prescription filled for anti-depressants. I decided to kill some time by perusing the store's book selection, and found this: "The Zen Path through Depression". The irony of me finding this book on Zen while waiting for my anti-depressants was not lost on me. I didn't know whether to chuckle at myself or to burst out in tears on how hopeless it all was.

When I first started taking anti-depressants three weeks ago, I was started out on Well.butrin. I felt the effects immediately. I went from 0 to 60 in a couple of days. I felt like the Energizer Bunny compared to how down in the dumps I was feeling before. Magic told me that he looked at the chemical structure of Well.butrin, being a wiz in this type of thing, and that basically, it's very similar to metham.phetamine. I needed to function, so the extra boost was welcome as I had a lot of catching up to do from the down time of my IVF cycle and pregnancy. That lasted for about a week, until the depression started creeping in again, but that may have been situational. My Shrink put the medicines in perspective for me. "We are just trying to get you to the shore," he said. "We aren't going to give you a speed boat, you'll still have to swim." I liked this analogy, and it made me think of Sharah's brilliant post on "Infertility Island". If you haven't read it yet, go read it now, or this next part won't make sense! I feel like I've been drifting in the current ever since my ferry capsized and haven't know which shore to swim to. I still have a lot of inner work to do, so I better get swimming, as that shore looks kinda far away!

I was prescribed another anti-depressant today, to cover all the neurotransmitter bases. The Well.butrin increases dopamine and norepinephrine. Too much norepinephrine can cause side effects, like interfering with sleep. I now have Cel.exa, an SSRI drug to increase serotonin, to mellow out the speed like effect of the Well.butrin, and hopefully make me sleep more.

As I was waiting for the Cel.exa prescription to be filled, I browsed through the contents of "The Zen Path through Depression". I gravitated towards the Chapter titled "Doubt".

" depression [my note: feel free to substitute with infertility here] all the reassuring and comfortable touchstones we had, or thought we had, in our lives are gone. We feel adrift, with nothing to believe in. The doubt within us sits heavily in the pits of our stomachs. We can't seem to get rid of it no matter how hard we try."
I have doubt about a lot of things. Doubt if we will try again. Doubt about my ability to be a good mother. Doubt about whether I really want to have children or that I want to live childfree. Doubt that I really know what I want in life, or that I really know who I am, for that matter of fact. Doubt that God or the Universe cares about me, that maybe I'm just the butt of a cruel cosmic joke. Doubt that I should have ever gone down this road of IVF with all the agony it's brought me. Doubt that I know what to do with my life next.

"We must be willing to reside in the midst of this enormous doubt and let it be all right. In fact, we must accept that it may never be resolved and that this will still be all right.

This means that we continually question; we never simply accept the answers others give us. It means that we do not hold on to the answers even when we have discovered them for ourselves.

If we can live with this doubt, we can then be continually ready to be surprised - by life, by ourselves, by our answers, by our experience."
The author describes how Zen koans, which are like riddles to meditate on that have no answer ("what is the sound of one hand clapping?"), are used to increase doubt. I feel that I have been given a koan to meditate on. I wanted to have children all my life and went to great lengths to achieve that goal. Yet, I had a lot of contradictory thoughts when I was pregnant. Was that prenatal depression? One book I have on depression and anxiety says this:

"Pregnancy does not protect women from depression. In fact, at no other time is a woman at greater risk for the onset or relapse of a psychiatric disorder than during pregnancy and the post partum period...For women who have Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, pregnancy and labor and delivery can also trigger flashbacks, nightmares, and intrusive thoughts about prior traumatic events."
What trauma was I reliving? I've already worked on my childhood issues a lot, so I was completely unprepared to deal with the intensity of emotions that surfaced around this during my pregnancy.

I know I need to find some answers about what happened to me while I was pregnant. I want resolution, though I know that it may never be resolved. For now, these questions, these koans keep me up at night.

Healing Anxiety and Depression, by Daniel G. Amen, M.D. 2003.

The Zen Path through Depression, by Philip Martin. 1999.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Show & Tell Sunday: Roses

The roses Magic got me because he is going to miss our anniversary. I think he also got them for me because of how sad I've been lately. He needs to go on this trip, so I'm trying to be understanding. I'll miss you Magic!