Tuesday, November 4, 2014

In Sickness and In Health

The vows on our wedding day were normal enough. We did the typical, straight from the book set: "For richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, 'til death do us part." I think seriously now about what they meant. I didn't think I'd have to deal with any of them, especially the sickness and health part. Especially the way it has impacted our marriage.

Most people think about sickness and think about terminal illness, debilitating accidents, tragedy that unexpectedly strikes. In those terms, we are incredibly fortunate. More so than a lot of people. I know the "sickness" we face is not life or death in normal viewpoints. But in a way, it is. Fertility issues create the possibility that the life you have dreamed of for years is dying. A life with a family, a dream of having children of your own, is given a slim chance of survival. Life or death exists in fertility. Life or death means living how you dreamed, or mourning the loss of what you hoped would be your future.

In August, Cody was tested for fertility issues. My doctor called me on a Friday afternoon and said to call them back, that it was nothing serious. When I called they were already closed. The weekend dragged and first thing Monday morning I called, anxiously wondering what they had to tell me.

The nurse: "Well, your husband's sperm count, motility, and morphology are still low."

In my brain: "STILL low?! He's never been tested before! How can they be STILL low when he's never been tested?"

Out of my mouth: "Okay," and the room swirled around me.

Cody was hovering in the doorway, now realizing that my doctor was calling me about his results instead of calling him. He wasn't pleased.

The nurse spouted off some numbers, telling me where his counts were. I can't remember any of them. Getting Cody tested was just a precaution - something we had to get out of the way so we could find out what was wrong with ME. It was surreal, thinking this whole time I was fine, even though the fertility tests I had been through were normal. I still have a hard time wrapping my brain around the fact that I am fertile.

I got off the phone and told my husband. He was angry. They should have called HIM, not me, and I agreed. I was speechless; we never thought that it could be Cody. We confirmed an appointment with a urologist and a good male fertility specialist. Because of work, I couldn't make the appointment with Cody. I regret that decision immensely.

Cody sat in the waiting room for hours. His appointment started late and ended with a diagnosis: varicocele, grade 3. Essentially, a vein grew and twisted and knotted around his spermaticord. Repairing it required surgery.

When trying to conceive, life is thought of in cycles, not calendar months. Twenty-six days encompass an array of emotions: the hope in the beginning, and for us, the tears in the end, and thinking, "maybe next month it'll happen." Two cycles after his diagnosis, Cody surgery was scheduled. It was a cloudy Monday, the day before my 27th birthday.

The night before, we stared at each other in bed, contemplating the realities of Cody being put under for surgery, and the recovery that would follow.

"What if I don't wake up, Jill?" he said.
"You will," I said, swallowing my mutual fears.

 All of the pain of the past 21 cycles, almost two years of not knowing why we were not parents, spilled onto our cheeks. 

Before the surgery, the doctor met with us and gave us a timeline:
1 month follow up appointment
6 weeks no lifting anything over 20 pounds
4 months and then we retest to see if the surgery worked
....and the big one: 40% chance of getting pregnant

40%......That's more than a lot of people. That's less than a lot of people. I can handle 40%.

I should have asked: "In a year?"
"What were our odds before the surgery?"
"When do we move on to the next step, if this doesn't work?"
 "What do we do if this doesn't work?"

But again I just said, "Okay."

They wheeled him back and a phrase echoed in my head:

"In sickness and in health."

In our case, replace sickness with doubt. Health with certainty.

"In doubt or in certainty."

There is no guarantee one way or the other the surgery worked, and I have come to terms with that. Cody is optimistic that this will solve all of our problems. I am terrified that by getting my hopes up, I will crash and burn if it doesn't work. I am trying to attract the positive vibes I need to get through this by thinking, "It will work." And I am trying to ignore the tiny voice in my brain that says, "What if it doesn't?"

We may be joyously celebrating this time next year. Or mourning the loss of the lives we dreamed of, both for ourselves and the children we desperately want. Couples facing fertility issues are constantly going through highs and lows. Every cycle is a new beginning, then a harsh, reality-check ending.

Lately, the smallest things have been affecting me. Women on my Facebook feed who complain about the negative aspects of pregnancy, for example. I am so tempted to comment, "Trade you."

People at work with unplanned newborns or pregnancies that happened before their weddings who say, "We didn't expect life to be like this." I am so tempted to say, "Me neither."

The babies in their Halloween costumes this past weekend, the one-year-old birthday parties being announced by mothers who started trying the same time we did, the new sonogram photos being shown off. It stings. Badly. And all I can think is: someday, it will be us. Whether or not it happens how we originally thought. Whether or not our positive pregnancy test costs tens of thousands of dollars, or an adopted baby fills our lives with happiness.... all I can do to stay optimistic is think, someday, it will be us.

We have done all we can for now. Until February, it's the same was it was before: a hopeful waiting game.

In doubt or in certainty.
In sickness or in health.


Sunday, July 13, 2014

My Favorite Fertility "Tips" From Others

I know this part so well. I linger in the shower purposefully, not wanting to face the day yet. When I emerge and wrap myself in a towel, my husband opens the door and reaches his arms out to me.

"We'll get through this," he says. "Just like last time."

Sure, we will. We will survive. Not how I want, though, and with what feels like a blast of ice to my heart.

It's month 17 of no conception, our anniversary month, one month after the fertility tests came back and said what I dreaded:  Everything was normal. I'm totally fine. Then why, dear doctors, do I not have a child?

People in every part of my life have answers to this question for me. My friends, family, coworkers, dental hygienist, chiropractor, and even strangers on the internet have offered up advice. Some of these are people I love and respect, and their advice lingers. Some of these people have no idea how infuriating their "advice" can be. So here are my favorite pieces of advice that I have been given in the past 17 months:

#1: You should chart your cycle and know when you ovulate. Done. Agreed. The best advice I have received by far is to know everything that's going on with my body. I have an app and a $400 fertility monitor. Unfortunately, something hasn't clicked.

#2: Watch what you eat. This is really important, and it has changed my life for the better. My husband and I went totally organic. The food is much better! It tastes better, cooks better, keeps longer... but I break the diet with some things I crave. (Sour Patch Kids, Gushers and Fruit Roll Ups. Don't judge me.) The lack of hormones and artificial crap in the meat, dairy, and vegetables I used to eat could have an impact on my own hormones. So they've been deleted from my diet.

#3: Reduce the stress in your life. Wow did I need to do this!! Experts say stress plays a huge part in fertility. When I got overwhelmed with everything, I started going to counseling. I also see a wonderful chiropractor who does soft tissue to help reduce the physical stress I carry. But the biggest thing I did was leave a job and a career that made me feel horrible and worthless every day. I also eliminated several people from my life that caused me anxiety. I'm a better person for all of these things, and I can honestly say I have never been happier.

#4: Manage your chronic illness. I have TMJD, which means my face, neck, and jaw hurt on a daily basis. It is chronic, which means it will never go away regardless of the therapy I do. I can improve my condition, but doing so with pain killers is not helping my chances of becoming a mother. I have found that massage therapy, yoga, and low-dose Tylenol on bad days really helps. Some days really suck, but I'm better and I can actually eat now (yay!).

#5: Gain some weight. I know most people are the opposite, and losing weight if you're overweight while trying to conceive can help. I had a major problem when I was undergoing therapy for my jaw. It hurt to eat so badly that I lost a significant amount of weight. It's not healthy to be underweight or overweight while trying to conceive, and I have now added a measly 8 pounds to my frame. I'm proud of it, but would still like to gain more. Think it's weird to read those words? I'm so comfortable in my own skin and with what my husband thinks about me that I am excited to add more curves! (And a baby bump, dangit.)

#6: Stand on your head after intercourse. This was by far the most hilarious piece of advice that I have received. Guess what....I tried it. Super sucked. Didn't work, either.

#7: Get tested. I got my hormone levels tested last May, and again this June. both of them revealed that according to medical testing, I am completely normal. Now it's my husband's turn, but the urologist can't see him until mid-August. After that, we will have to pay out of pocket for all fertility related testing because our insurance doesn't cover it. Crowd funding...garage sales....extra night shifts for Cody...whatever it takes, we'll do it.

#8: Go on Clomid. This is the only piece of advice I haven't followed. It scares the crap out of me. I know not everyone reacts the same way to medications, but I have heard some dreadful things about the mood-altering side effects and menopause-like symptoms. However, at this point I am willing to try anything and am on the verge of calling my doctor to start. My only fear is I get three cycles with it and then it's on to more serious and invasive forms of fertility treatments. I guess there's only one way to find out if it'll work.

#9: Stop trying. Did it. And this was the most obnoxious and frequent piece of advice we received. First of all, for the first six months of trying, all I did was make note of when I should expect my period. I tried it again for three months this year - no charting, no monitors, no apps, not even marking on my calendar when my period should come. It didn't work. I'm tired of people who say we should stop trying and it will happen because 9 months of not trying didn't work for us, which is a sign that we may need more help.

#10: It will happen when it's supposed to happen. This isn't necessarily advice, but people say it all the time. I understand and fully agree that things happen when they are supposed to. However, my biggest fear is that I sit back and "let life happen" and I'm 50 and childless. My husband and I have decided to take a proactive stance regardless of how others feel. In the end, I know we are supposed to be parents.

Am I supposed to have children with no medical intervention? I don't know. Is there a child that needs me to adopt him or her and that's why we haven't gotten pregnant? Maybe. In August we will know more after Cody gets tested. I may finally cave in and call my doctor about the Clomid. I haven't decided. Until then, we will enjoy our 2nd anniversary in Maine, and try not to think of this as yet another month without our yes.

It will come, and it will be sweeter than any yes we've ever had.



Sunday, May 18, 2014

Why I Use the Good China

My mom, Claire, had an amazing week last week. She did some remarkable things: She won a public service award and graduated with a master's degree in education with a 4.0. So we threw her a party, and bought her a dress (not from the sale rack!).
But in my opinion, the most remarkable thing she did was this: she bought herself something. A gorgeous, huge, stylish, impeccably "Claire" piece of furniture. She bought it to house her prized collection of Fiesta Ware, most of which she inherited from my great-grandmother, Cartha.

Why is this remarkable?

Because this woman is selfless. And I was incredibly proud that she did something for herself, especially when I saw the smile it put on her face.

It reminds me to get excited about the little things in life. Sure, Mom would bust out the circus-colored dishes for special occasions, or sometimes just for a picnic in the yard. In our childhood, we had ice cream in the 50+ year old bowls. We'd scrape the plates clean after a meal she made. Thinking back on it, it was pretty special to have a mom who decided to just use the dishes. If they broke, chipped, or cracked, she'd say..."They're just dishes!" This kind of mentality has resonated with me.

More importantly, it has made me realize that using the special things I own makes me feel fantastic. Why shouldn't I use those things every day? So I do. I use the Lenox Chirp China we registered for our wedding for, and when my grandmother asks if I want more, I usually shriek "Yes!! I use it!"

I also wear my mom, aunt, and grandma's vintage clothing. And the designer stuff I own? I don't wait for a special occasion to bust it out. I wear it. All the time. I wear the fancy stuff in my closet until it's threadbare. I wear the onyx ring that is a family heirloom. Why wait for the right moment? What if it never comes and twenty years later, you're thinking, wow I should have used/worn/shown off that fill-in-the-blank. I simply don't feel like waiting.

Life is far too short to keep the China on the shelf. Wear your best clothes. Highlight your heirlooms. Wear grandma's pearls. And, like my momma, buy the damn furniture.



Monday, February 24, 2014

Getting Personal: A Key to a Blue Door

Well, world, it's been awhile.

For good reason. Winter has had its share of struggles for me. I didn't want to write because I didn't have anything particularly happy to say. I have been through a lot lately, and after knowing how much it can help others to share their stories, I have decided to share my own. Let me tell you this is not a good news post, but I feel that it is necessary.

My husband and I have been trying to start a family for over a year. Like any young married couple, we were excited and nervous to begin our journey and to start what seemed like "real life" to me, at least.

I have to pause as I write this because it's hard.

We haven't had any luck.

Every month, I get so excited thinking about myself as a mom, Cody as a dad, and I think: Wow, this could really be it. This could be the month that we share that moment with each other. The butterflied-stomach, heart-pounding moment that changes our world and grows it, too.

I had a dream the night my niece Bennett was born. A phone call from my sister woke me from it, and she told me she was in labor. On a white marble floor I dreamed a blurry vision, seen as if through thick leaded glass: three bassinets. The first one holds my nephew, Sean. My brother's first child. In the second is my niece, Bennett. My sister's first child. The third is a boy. I can only hope it is my first child.

I still dream that dream, but it has changed: Now, I see a bright blue door with a thick clear window. A golden knob with a keyhole. A concrete step. I stand on the step with Cody, holding his hand tightly, looking inside. We cup our free hands around the window of the door, our breath making clouds on the glass. Inside on the white marble floor the three bassinets sit. But we can't move, we can't even try to get through the door. We just stand, holding hands, peering in on our tiptoes. Looking at our future. Lacking a key.

And every month, the door stays shut.

This dream used to make me very sad. Now, I have had help from a friend, and a co-worker, and my own doctor, who all experienced infertility and were brave enough to say, "Hey, I struggled, too." It is heartening to have allies.

It is difficult to watch those who do not want their children, or those who have families so easily. Or worse, those who assume that we are waiting, selfish, or purposefully childless. It is difficult to be around those who do not understand our struggle.

If you've struggled, or worried, or wondered, or hoped...I understand. Others do, too. It's hard to talk about it. It seems taboo, even to those who love you and are close to you. No one likes to hear about "that" personal side of your life. More importantly, however, no one likes to know that you're hurting because of something you can't control. I encourage anyone who has struggled with fertility issues of any kind to seek help. Get brave. Say something. You never know who will open up to you about their experiences and who can relate. They make it easier. They offer hope...if they don't have children, they offer the reality of alternatives. If they have children, they offer a unique perspective. They know how hard it is, and how special it can be.

Both offer this: Life goes on. It is still beautiful.

Don't let anyone tell you your struggles aren't important, or that you should relax and it will come to you. Don't let anyone downplay your hurt or your heart's desires. No one is allowed to question your journey, because it's yours and yours alone. Take every bump (road bump or baby bump!) as a blessing. You will realize either way that you are stronger than you imagine.

As spring comes, Cody and I hope that the blue door I dream about will open on its own. That the frozen golden knob loosens in the thaw and the door swings open with the gentlest of clicks. If not, we will find the key. In the mean time, I still stand on my tiptoes, peering through to our future.

Here's to the coming spring, and whatever lies behind the blue door.

- Jillian