A Happy Ending

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Even though I don’t always find the time to post as much as I would like to; I love this site.  I love the community that we’ve created.  I love the interactions on the Facebook page.  And I love the stories shared by all of you.  But there is one little thing that is sometimes hard.  Sometimes I find out that old friends, those I knew growing up, are also struggling.  In some ways, the familiarity makes it easier for them to approach me with their stories and questions.  But my heart aches for them in a different way.  While I shed tears for all of you who share your details with me, it really hits close to home when my childhood friends pop up on my radar…simply because of infertility.

Today and old friend shares her story – her happy ending.  After years and years and tests and more tests…after pregnancy and loss and fears and bed rest…after ups and downs and in betweens…she finally has her happy ending.  Truly – I couldn’t be happier.

Please welcome my old friend from Connecticut – I hope her words and story inspire some of you to JUST KEEP SWIMMING.

 

I’m no expert on fertility but I do have my own story and if it makes just one person feel less alone for even just a minute my smile will be a little bigger today. I hope that person is you!

My husband and I were married in the spring of 2008. About a month before our wedding my dad was diagnosed with cancer. He died almost a year to the day later. I tell you this because it was the main reason we decided to hold off trying to have kids right away. This was a big decision for us since my husband was 37 and I was 33 when we got married. Right after he passed we both decided the time felt right. And so our bumpy road began…

We started trying on our own in 2009 for about  6 months per my OB’s recommendations. I wasn’t sure how the game was going to play out because I went on the pill in college to regulate my periods. After 6 months with very irregular periods and no pregnancies my OB referred me to the “specialist” in their practice. After a  battery of tests I was diagnosed with PCOS. I wasn’t surprised knowing my cycle and family history. The next step was Clomid. I took it and went for my first ultrasound. At that point everything came to an abrupt stop when the ultrasonographer advised me to “stay away from my husband unless I wanted to be the next Octomom on the cover of People Magazine”. Yes, those were her exact words and no, she didn’t have to say them twice. Next stop: a Reproductive Endocronologist.  We got a referral and off we went.

Back to square one. Lots more tests and LOTS more waiting. The next part of the story is pretty monotonous: first IVF cycle- FAIL, second IVF cycle- FAIL, third IVF cycle- FAIL, and yes, the fourth IVF cycle- FAIL. All along I kept thinking there had to be something else wrong with me but my doctor kept saying “we just needed to get it right”. After our fourth cycle failed we decided it was time for a second opinion . So I gathered up my records and we started all over again.

During the first meeting with our new RE he asked what our doctor had said about the septum in my uterus. I’m sorry, the WHAT???!!!  Apparantly the ultrasonographer had written, “question uterine septum” in her notes and our doctor failed to address it. I can’t even begin to explain the amount of anger I felt in that moment. My instincts were right all along; there WAS something else wrong with me.  What an incompetent a**hole!!!! I had been to hell and back over the past 2 years  and it potentially could have been avoided?! After I stopped swearing and wiped my tears  I was able to listen to my new doctor’s plan: remove the uterine septum and try again.  Ok, sounded simple.  Can we do it tomorrow? Of course not.  Didn’t you know that everything in IVF takes twice as long?! Especially for me and my 40 day cycles. So in October 2010 I had my septum removed and then, you guessed it, we had to wait for my uterus to heal. At that point we decided to enjoy the holidays, drink LOTS of wine, do a bunch of skiing and start again after the New Year.

We started our fifth IVF cycle in January and on Valentine’s Day 2012 we found out we were having twins. TWINS! Oh my! Of course we always knew it was a risk, especially when we put two blasotcysts in, but we never thought it would come to fruition. After all, I’d never gotten pregnant before.

Next chapter: the IVF pregnancy. By this time I was what they call Advanced Maternal Age (AMA) or as I call it- OLD … 37 to be exact. I chose a new OB who was high risk since I was now old and carrying twins. All was going great. We were lucky, my husband was self employed so he was able to come to all my appointments. At 12 weeks I had my appointment with my OB in the morning and then my ultrasound in the afternoon. Since I worked in the hospital where my OB was it was easy to schedule things like that. I told my husband to only make the drive for the fun part; the ultrasound. During my appointment with my OB she said she wanted to “take a quick peek” at the babies. Ok, cool with me. I’ll never forget her face when she told me there was only one heartbeat. It’s all kind of a blur after that. After a day or two I picked myself up because Baby A was looking great and I still had a lot to be excited about.

Next stop:  the level 2 ultrasound. Look at all the cute baby parts and it’s a girl! Yay! Then, in walks my OB to tell us there’s a “bright spot” on the heart, also called a cardiac echogenic focus. She said It’s one of the many markers for Downs Syndrome. Are you freaking kidding me?! Is this a joke?! Without any other markers, which we didn’t have, the risk is very low, but there’s still a risk. And then she said because of the demise of Baby B there’s no way we could do the blood test to get the exact risk. Our only option was an amnio, which carries a 1 in 200 risk of miscarriage. Go home and think about it. Cue the tears. These tears were the ones I saved up from the miscarriage when I was trying to be all postiive for Baby A plus the tears of having to make a decision to have an amnio. In other words, there were a lot of them. My husband and I had many conversations about whether to do the amnio  but what it came down to was I could never forgive myself if the amnio was negative and then I had a miscarriage. Altough the risk for that was low, the way things had gone thus far I was convinced that would have been my fate.  So we decided against the amnio and hoped for the best.

Fast forward to week 25. I woke up one morning just not feeling right. I couldn’t put my finger on it but something was just not right. If it hadn’t been Friday I probably would have  blown it off but I lived almost an hour from the hospital and didn’t want to drag myself in on Saturday. So, I waltzed down to the clinic to let them know how I was feeling. They did an internal and hooked me up to the monitor. What do you know, I was in premature labor at 25 weeks. I had just bought myself a full ride to labor and delivery filled with steroids, lots of magnesium and antibiotics. All I kept thinking was after all this I could not have this baby at 25 weeks. It was way too early. She wasn’t cooked enough. Thankfully they were able to stop the labor but I’d be going home to bedrest for the next 15 weeks.

My OB said my ultimate goal was 37 weeks and after that this baby girl could come whenever she was ready. Well 37 weeks came and went and I was still pregnant. Now, I live in New England where we have a few hot months a year so central air conditioning doesn’t exist. At least not in my house. So by 37 weeks, in my hot as hell house, I was past ready to have this baby girl. And sure enough at week 39, in the middle of the night, my water broke. So off we went to the hospital. Here’s the irony of this whole story: after being on bedrest for 15 weeks I had to be induced. Ha! After a much needed epidural and 16 hours of labor, on October 23, 2012, our healthy, beautiful girl, Caroline, was born.

So here I sit writing to you. I’m not going to lie; it wasn’t easy. It was 4 years of heartbreak and physical pain. There were so many days I cried thinking it was never going to happen. All my friends were having their second and third kids and I was still trying to have one. There were lots of pity parties in my house and if you wanted to come you’d better bring red wine, and lots of it! It got to the point where friends didn’t know what to say to me anymore so they stopped saying anything at all. There were many days I felt like my husband and I were on an island and I wondered where all my friends went. I felt like they just didn’t understand.

I certainly don’t have all the answers. I can tell you that when I wake up to my beautiful girl smiling at me every morning I know it was all worth it. I equate it to labor amnesia; I remember it was horribly painful but I don’t remember the pain I felt when there was a hole in my heart. Only that it was there. Perhaps that’s what will make me do it all over again….someday.

It will all feel like too much sometimes because it just is. And on those days when you feel so alone try to remember that you’re not. Sometimes the most comforting words come from someone you’ve never met through blogs. So stay strong, trust your instincts and forgive yourself for whatever it is you’re feeling. You can do it.

Thank you, my sweet friend.  May motherhood be all that you hoped for and then some.  xoxoxoxo

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Facing the Loss

 

“I believe that my life’s gonna see, the love I give, return to me.”

-John Mayer

 

My wounds have healed as much as they ever will.  More often than not, I feel like I’ve finally reached some version of acceptance.

 

There will never be any making sense of it, and phrases like “all things happen for a reason” still drive me nearly insane, but I’m full of gratitude for what I have, and a little less consumed with what I could have had.

 

I’m putting one foot in front of the other and finding my way.  I’m in repair…

 

A very dear friend of mine is a big believer in karma.  It’s kind of her thing.  She finds karma in every little thing along the way.  I envy her that.  I would love to have that safety net to carry me through the ups and downs. It would be nice to be certain that everything will proceed as it should.

 

I’m not so sure about that, but I am sure about helping others.  I am certain that being there for others is exactly what I am meant to do…

 

But as much as I enjoy making the connections and helping in some small way, I wish that I could do more.  I wish that I could take the pain for all of you.  I wish that I could speed up the process and make the finish line a little bit closer.

 

Most of all, I wish I could make the losses stop.  While every little piece of infertility is devastating and all consuming, my heart breaks for each one of you when you write with news of a miscarriage.  I know that pain.  I know that heartache.  I know that tunnel of grief.  And all I really want to do…is make it better for you.

 

There is no easy button when it comes to grieving a loss.  There is emotion.  There is devastation.  There is denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and, finally, acceptance.  But there is no easy button to get you from here to there.

 

There is only time.

 

Give it time:  You have to allow yourself time to grieve.  This loss is no different than any other.  It doesn’t matter that you never held that baby in your arms.  You nourished him, spoke to him, bonded with him, and loved him.  A loss is a loss.  So go ahead and feel angry, sad, overwhelmed, and misunderstood.  Take your time; there is no race to the finish.

 

Be selfish:  Sometimes you just need to hide out and read.  Or take long walks and enjoy a mug of tea upon your return.  Isolating during those first few weeks is not actually a bad thing.  Hearing and reading stories about others reopens the wound repeatedly.  Or worse, hearing insensitive words from someone who doesn’t understand can really leave you feeling lost and broken.  Do what feels right to you.  Put your needs first as you try to find a way to heal.

 

Ask for help:  While some of you are working on a first baby, others have a little one running around.  Either way, help is essential.  With the pregnancy hormones dropping at an alarming rate, your body is likely left in a state of physical and emotional upheaval.  This is no time to be wandering the grocery store alone, foraging for food.  Lean on family, close friends, and your spouse.  Know when to ask for a little help along the way.

 

Accept the help that is given:  Yes, you need some time alone.  No, you are not ready for social engagements.  But that lasagna that your best friend really wants to drop off?  Might be just what the doctor ordered.  People feel helpless when someone they know and love has suffered such a loss, so they do what feels right.  Accept it.  Let them feed you and check in on you once in a while.  Even when you need some time to just be, it’s nice to know that someone else is thinking of you.

 

Pen a letter:  Many women find that writing a letter to the unborn child helps them release some of the difficult emotions that refuse to budge.  Share your dreams, your hopes, and your feelings now that all of that has changed.  Let it out.

 

Release a lantern:  Sometimes symbolism serves a purpose.  Many people experience a feeling of closure after releasing a lantern in memory of the baby.  Wait until you feel ready.  Only you will truly know when the time is right to finally say goodbye, but a lantern release can really soothe your soul.

 

Take care of you:  Eat well.  Sleep.  Get some light exercise.  Nourish your soul.  In times of great stress, we tend to eat poorly and rely on maladaptive coping strategies to pull us through the worst of it.  Coping with miscarriage is complicated by the hormones and changes that your body endured.  You have to take care of you.

 

Some people want to get right back into baby-making mode following a loss.  Others take the slow lane.  You have to listen to your heart, and to your body.  Allow yourself the freedom to do what comes naturally to you.

 

And don’t forget to hold onto hope.  Because hope is a very powerful thing.

 

 

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Four Candles

As many of you already know, today is Pregnancy and Infant Loss Remembrance Day.  It’s a difficult day for many of us. Although a day of remembrance comforts us, it also reminds us of the losses we’ve suffered along the way.

My sweet friend Jessica, whose loss is far greater than all of mine combined (and yet she listens to me anyway), organized a special event yesterday.  Lanterns were released in memory of little lost angels.  I spoke to her as she drove to the event.  The weather was touch and go.  It was sunny at times, but the clouds were rolling in.  She worried that the lanterns wouldn’t light, or that rain would stop the event from happening.

It didn’t.

And a little while after our phone call I received a tweet with a picture of the lantern she released in memory or my little boy…the one who made it 17.5 weeks.  The last little one who would have made three.

Tears streamed down my face as I stared at the picture for a while.  There goes a little part of my heart.  A little part that I hold tight…hoping to find peace with it one day.  I think of him almost every day.  He would be turning one next week…a fact that wakes me during the night and ignites silent tears under the duvet while my family sleeps peacefully throughout the night.

Tonight at 7pm all across the nation, people who have lost a pregnancy or an infant will light a candle in memory of that sweet little angel.  For at least one hour, those candles will burn to remember the little souls that didn’t make it.

Tonight I will light four.  Although that last loss stays with me day after day, the other three miscarriages will always be a part of me too.

We never fully move on, we simply start to move forward.

So tonight I will light four.  I will remember those pregnancies and the little heartbeats that I saw on the screen week after week.  13 weeks.  11 weeks.  7.5 weeks.  And 17.5 weeks.  I will remember each one of them.  I will pray that those little lost souls found their way to heaven where they can be comforted by my father and rocked by my Nana.

And I will probably cry just a little bit more.

Because even when you think you’re done…you’re never truly done.  The memories stay with us, even when we try to bury them deep within our souls.  Time heals all wounds, but some leave significant scars.

Sending good thoughts to all of you as we remember our losses and take another small step forward.

When a Friend Miscarries…

Miscarriage is devastating.

 

It’s painful (physically and emotionally), confusing, and heartbreaking.  It leaves a couple feeling lost, sad, and broken.

 

And then there are the hormones.  Pregnancy hormones tend to surge quickly, and they crash just as fast when the pregnancy ends.  Many women experience symptoms of depression and anxiety following a miscarriage, and those crashing hormones certainly don’t help.

 

Many miscarriages come with warnings:  Bleeding, cramping (sometimes even contractions), and a sudden decrease in pregnancy symptoms are all warning signs that can occur.  But some miscarriages are classified as missed miscarriages…this kind of miscarriage occurs without a woman knowing it.

 

The truth is that none of that really matters.  The truth is that miscarriage is devastating no matter when it happens, how many symptoms preceded it, and whether or not it occurs during primary or secondary infertility.

 

Miscarriage stays with you.  No matter how many months and years pass, no matter how many babies make it to term, no matter how much social support surrounds you…miscarriage stays with you.

 

It can be very difficult to be on the sidelines when a friend or family member suffers a miscarriage.  It’s hard to know what to say, how much space to allow, or what how to act.

 

In some cases, friends and family members simply step aside because they’re not sure what to do.  This can lead to feelings of loneliness for the person who recently miscarried…even though the intention was most likely to give that person some time to regroup.

 

There are a few things you can do to help a friend or family member who recently experienced a miscarriage:

 

Listen:  The single best thing that you can do for your friend is to listen.  Resist the urge to focus on the positive and just let your friend vent and cry as much as necessary.  Grief following a miscarriage can involve anger, sadness, and depression.  Allow your friend to move through her grief at her own pace.

 

Bring dinner:  Your friend might not be able to ask for help or company, as recovering from a miscarriage is overwhelming at best, but she will most likely appreciate a dinner delivery and the chance to talk.

 

Make it a movie night:  Chances are your friend is wearing a daily uniform of yoga pants and an old sweatshirt right now…put on your cozy clothes and come prepared for a RomCom marathon.

 

Help out:  When you’re that overwhelmed, keeping up with the grocery shopping, laundry folding, and dishes doesn’t always happen.  Offer to help.  Your friend might decline the offer…but it’s always nice to offer.

 

Take a walk:  Chances are your friend has been cooped up and hiding out.  When she’s feeling a little better physically, offer to have a weekly walk with her so that you guys can just get out and chat.  End it with a coffee or smoothie to keep the quality time going.

 

Share books:  Reading is the great escape.  Drop off your favorite books when you’re done with them to provide a little extra escape for your friend.  Added bonus:  Instant non-miscarriage related conversation during those walking dates.

 

Be yourself:  You don’t have to tip toe around your friend just because she’s going through something terrible.  In fact, she’s counting on you to just be you so that she can have some feeling of “normal” after such a terrible loss.

 

Avoid personalizing:  Even if you follow all of these tips, your friend might still hide out and ignore the phone.  She might even lash out once or twice.  Try not to take it personally.  Coping with miscarriage feels impossible in the beginning and we all make mistakes along the way.  Try to recognize that your friend is overwhelmed, devastated, and exhausted.  Give her time and just continue to offer to be there when she’s ready.

 

Pour the Cabernet:  Always remember the wine.  Enough said.  (If it’s really hot…bring white.)

 

If you’re here, you are already an amazing friend.  Clearly you care enough to find the best possible ways to help your friend cope.  Keep on doing what you’re doing and you will certainly help your friend get through this very difficult time.

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Empty

I was bleary eyed, exhausted, and hysterical when I walked into the office that morning.  It was a cool but sunny January morning.  Truly, I had no idea what I was walking into.

 

Just two days before, I was told that my pregnancy had ended.  I was 13 weeks pregnant, and ready to tell the world.  It didn’t occur to me, not even for one second, that I would be telling a much different story.

 

Or hanging my head in shame and self-doubt, and avoiding the world for a while.

 

I gripped onto my husband’s arm and spoke in whispers that morning.  Words seemed nearly impossible to form as I struggled to make sense of what happened.  What is it something I had eaten?  Did I exercise too much?  Not enough?  How did I get there?

 

An unfamiliar doctor entered the room.  In a cold demeanor she outlined the procedure without making eye contact.  She was clinical, short on words, and ready to get it over with.

 

When she left the room for a moment, I sobbed to my husband.  My baby deserved better.  I wanted my real doctor; I couldn’t handle this substitute.

 

Within minutes she returned to administer the Valium.  I slipped into a drug-induced state of partial alertness, aware of sounds and sights but not feeling much of anything.  I stared helplessly into my husband’s eyes as I willed the moment to pass.

 

The low hum of the machine echoed through my soul as it sucked the lost life from my womb.  Would I ever be able to escape that sound?  Would it remain with me for years to come?

 

And then…it was over.

 

Time seemed to slow down as I limped my way back to the car.  Although the Valium had yet to completely wear off, my senses were heightened.  Conversations between strangers in the elevator sounded far too loud.  The sun beaming through the catwalk windows threatened to blind me.  The scent of the musty parking garage turned my stomach.  I was powerless to escape any of it.

 

And then…I was left to heal.

 

For days I existed on tea and toast as I watched the world go by from the safety of my home.  I begged the phone to stop ringing, slept in minutes, and cried often.  My body healed slowly, growing a little bit stronger each day.

 

Eventually, I rejoined the world.

 

I dressed with care that first day back to work.  Black on black with just a pop of color from under my sweater.  I wanted to hide any evidence of the loss that seemed to follow me everywhere I went.  With careful precision I applied eyeliner, eye shadow, and mascara.  Would makeup hide the pain that enveloped my soul?

 

I slipped into my office and collapsed onto the couch intended for my clients, a ghost of my former self.  I scanned my desk for paperwork and stared down the blinking phone.  The voicemail would have to wait for another day.  For a day when other people’s problems seemed more pressing.  Would that day ever come?

 

I trudged through that day, allowing busywork to free my mind from self-defeat for a while.  When the sun began to set and the familiar voices of co-workers faded away for the day, I made my way back to my car.

 

I drove home in silence, watching the scenery pass me by.  As I pulled into my brick lined driveway and looked up at the darkened house, it finally hit me.  It wasn’t sadness, anger, or helplessness that I felt each moment of the day.  It wasn’t longing, guilt, or desperation.

 

I felt empty.  Like the dark house with closed shutters that stood before me, not a light on to indicate signs of life, laughter, or family and full of things that couldn’t be seen from the outside.

 

Empty.

 

I just felt empty.

 

 

 

 

 

Welcome to Clomid and Cabernet!

Welcome to Clomid and Cabernet!  I am so happy that you decided to stop by.

This little community has been on my mind for quite some time.  You can read my story here, but the short version is that my husband and I struggled for many years before we had our two children.  We lost four along the way, the most recent loss at 18 weeks gestation.  Needless to say, it hasn’t been easy.

We know that we are the lucky ones.  We were able to bring our daughter and our son into this world, and we feel grateful for them every single day.

Our infertility journey included many ups and downs, and some very, very absurd moments.  Let’s just say that we tried everything.  Legs in the air for 45 minutes?  Check!  Acupuncture for both of us?  Check!  Trying to get pregnant while on tour with a band?  Check!  Yes, we tried everything.

And don’t forget the importance of that very tasty Cabernet (or Merlot, or Sam Adams, etc.)…

Sometimes you just need to pour a glass...

My husband and I did as most infertiles do along the way…we remained fairly silent.  Other than our families and a few very close friends, we didn’t share the details of our journey.  We were frustrated, ashamed, and alone.  While I did try to join some of the infertility message boards along the way, I never quite found the right place for me.  No one seemed to be talking about the legs in the air thing…forget about the fertility monitor on the tour bus.

I promised myself that when I got to the other side of my journey through infertility, I would create a community for people to connect.  Clomid and Cabernet is for everyone:  The couples undergoing treatment, the friends who don’t know what to say,  and the family members standing helpless on the sidelines.  Clomid and Cabernet is a place where we can all come together to share our journeys, ask some questions, and hopefully find a way to laugh a little.

Features:

The Forums:  The Forums, or message boards, are the place to connect with others, build friendships, and seek support.  I recommend creating a profile and joining a group or two.  This is a great place to share you stories and get to know others traveling the same path.

The Eggfessional:  Located in the Forums, the Eggfessional is the place to vent your frustrations, share your absurd stories, and say the things that you wouldn’t otherwise say.  The Eggfessional is open to guests only, in order to protect your anonymity.  In other words, say anything!

Ask Dr. Marc:  Marc Kalan, M.D. is an infertility specialist in Los Angeles.  He is here to answer your questions and provide some guidance.  Dr. Marc is here for couples struggling with infertility, but he is also here for friends and family members who have questions too!  Send in your concerns and Dr. Marc will give you an answer.

Share Your Story:  Clomid and Cabernet is all about breaking the silence of infertility.  I would love to share your stories here.  Bloggers and non-bloggers are all welcome.  Please send in your submissions so that we can all start breaking the silence together.

This site has been on my mind for many years.  I truly hope to build a positive community where people can share their stories, connect with others, and laugh a little along the way.  Believe me, I know that there isn’t anything even remotely entertaining about infertility.  But I do believe in safety in numbers and sharing our stories.  We have nothing to hide.  We are warriors, and we are all in this together.

What do you say?  Will you fight the good fight with me?  Will you stand up and break the silence?

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Letting Go

Most days I choose to see the possibilities.  The room that could be anything.  The furniture longing to be purchased.  The perfect space for friends, grandparents, and, someday, sleepovers.

But some days, when I’m truly being honest with myself, I see the empty space.  The hole meant to be filled by one last little one.

Some days I stare longingly at the perfect spot to place the crib, just to left of the window, where the morning light filters through the soft white plantation shutters.

Some days I rock quietly in the glider, the one that I could never quite convince myself to give away.  Just.  In. Case.  Other days I catch a glimpse of it, frozen in time, and wonder just what to do.

By day, I enjoy each moment.  I lose myself in play, reading aloud, and endless art projects.  I listen to each word carefully, burning their little voices across my memory.  I watch with pride and fascination while taking screen shots in my mind, every chance I get.  I hang on tight as I watch them grow and change right before my very eyes.

Time escapes me, no matter how hard I try to hit the brakes.

By day, I build memories.

By day, I am reminded that my family is perfect just the way it is.

But when darkness falls, my broken heart emerges once again.

By night, I am flooded with emotions.

Images of the final loss threaten to crowd out the happiness I find within the day.  Memories of the event leave me shaken to my core:  The look of desperation on my husband’s face.

This can’t be happening…

The whispers of the nurses as they ushered me into emergency surgery.

We will pray for you…

The signing and more signing of last minute waivers.

You mean I might die in there?

The final goodbye.

Just.  In.  Case.

Some nights I lie awake, clutching my empty womb, while muffled sobs escape my aching soul.

Some nights, the empty space feels bigger than others.  Some nights, it overwhelms me.

I am the lucky one, I tell myself.  I am the one with two amazing children and a husband who loves me beyond compare.

I am strong, resilient, and always a fighter.

And yet, at times, the sadness creeps in.  The what-ifs cause my heart to race while the you-should-haves force the tears to escape.

Sometimes the letting go is the hardest part.

Dreams change.  Life moves forward.  But emotions stay with us for as long as we allow.

So, for right now, that rocking chair is staying put.

Because sometimes you just need to dream…

Note: This post originally appeared on my other site, Practical Parenting, on March 8, 2012.

A Friend is a Friend

A couple of weeks ago, I shared my journey through infertility.   The response was incredible.

Here I am, nearly 8 weeks after the loss of my baby boy, still trying to find my way back to “normal”.  I’m not sure that I know what that means anymore.

While my days are spent savoring every moment (almost) with my kids, the nights are long and often filled with anxiety.  The tears seem to creep up on me without any notice as I struggle to recall what exactly it was that I did every night before I lost him.

Meanwhile, the emails keep pouring in.  People want to know how to help a friend, a sister, a niece, or a daughter who is fighting infertility.  They want to know what to say and when to say it.

Infertility can be very isolating.

Many couples keep their journey private.  It can be difficult to open up about something so personal, particularly when it feels like you’re the only one.  Some couples fear the response they might get.  Others fear a constant barrage of unwanted input.  And many just feel that they need to get through it together.

People going through infertility are bombarded with shifting emotions on a daily, and sometimes hourly, basis.  Common feelings include:  anxiety, depression, loss of control,guilt, social isolation, low self-esteem, feeling misunderstood by more fertile friends, and increased stress across the board.

My husband and I chose to go through it alone for many years before we really started talking.  Only a few select friends knew what was happening.  Even during this most recent pregnancy we hesitated to tell anyone until it was truly over.

There’s no one “right” way to help a friend or loved one who is on this journey.  Everyone handles it in his or her own way.  I hesitated to share with friends because I feared that the response I would get would not be the response I wanted.  Sometimes I was wrong, but often I was right.

The truth is that infertility, in all of its forms, remains such a secret society that people just don’t know how to help.  People don’t know what to say, what to do, or how to proceed.  So they back away.  And wait.

The problem is that when you’re overwhelmed by infertility, the last thing you want to do is coach your friends and family members.  You just want them to know how to be there for you.  So resentment starts to build.  Often on both ends.  And the struggling friend or loved one becomes a little more isolated, a little more anxious, and a lot more depressed.  It’s as if the “normal” world leaves you behind.

Some people will argue that you should “follow her cues”.  To some degree, this might be right.  It’s probably not something she wants to talk about every single day.  The problem is that women experiencing infertility are prone to isolation.  Sometimes they need a friend to check in and keep the relationship going.

I don’t have all of the answers, because everyone has a different experience.  But I do have a few suggestions that might help along the way:

1. Listen:  It sounds so basic, yet it can be so hard to do.  If your friend confides in you, the single best thing that you can do for her is to listen.  Don’t ask 100 technical questions, don’t tell stories of everyone you’ve ever known who has gone through something “similar”, and don’t try to change the subject every chance you get.  Just listen.  Really listen.

2.  Avoid advice:  You might think you have all of the answers, and maybe you really do, but your friend isn’t looking to you for answers.  We have doctors, nurses, specialists, and sometimes even surgeons giving us medical advice.  We are being poked, prodded, and repeatedly tested, often with inconclusive results.  We don’t need referrals for “better” doctors, we like the ones we have.  We don’t need statistics or the latest “natural” treatment.  We’ve heard all of that before.  We just need support.  We need empathy.  We need someone to get angry when we’re angry and to cry along with us after yet another disappointing appointment.  We need our friends.

3.  Check in:  I am the queen of social isolation when the going gets tough.  It’s how I cope.  I read a lot.  I watch TV.  I clean and organize almost obsessively.  I dream of beach houses, vacations, and publishing my book.  But I always appreciate the friends who come looking for me.  There a few people who won’t let me slip away, and to them I am eternally grateful.

4.  Be a good friend:  One of the more difficult aspects of keeping up friendships during infertility is that often those friends have one or more kids already.  It’s as if the world moves forward while the infertile friend is stuck in a vortex of appointments, shots, medications, and procedures.  Get a babysitter.  Bring dinner.  Bring wine.  Go to a movie.  Grab a coffee.  Find a way to have 1:1 time that isn’t focused on your kids.  She loves your kids, I promise.  She just doesn’t know how to exist in a world where the one thing that she wants more than anything is the very thing that you can’t stop talking about.

5.  Learn the basics:  If your friend or loved one confides in you about her journey, get online and find some information.  There are few things more exhausting than repeatedly defining infertility terminology or explaining procedures over and over again.  It’s enough to make a girl hide in her house and isolate.  Learn the basics so that you can be the great listener that she knows you to be (she’s confiding in you, after all).

6.  Offer errands:  Sometimes just an offer is enough to make you feel heard and loved.  If you have a friend who just suffered a miscarriage, is in the middle of a long series of hormone injections, or is really struggling with depression during this journey, call her on your way to the grocery store.  It doesn’t have to be a big offer of support.  Just a simple, “Hey, I’m headed to Target, can I get you anything?” shows your friend that you care.  She might always say no, but the offer will truly be appreciated.

7.  Share in moderation:  As I said earlier, everybody experiences infertility in his or her own way.  Many people think it’s helpful to share the intimate details of their own journeys and how they got to the other side.  Sometimes it is.  But sometimes it’s just more overwhelming information to process.  Saying something a little more general such as, “I’ve been through something similar so I can understand how overwhelming this must be for you” opens the door without making it about you.  Your friend is choosing to talk because she needs to release her feelings and is hoping for a little support along the way.  Resist the urge to rehash your experience with the goal of instilling “hope”.  The truth is, she probably feels hopeless right now, and your story might not be as inspiring as you intend it to be.

8.  Watch your words:  I could write an entire post about this (in fact, my book contains an entire chapter).  Choose your words carefully.  Statements like, “it’s part of God’s plan”, “it’s God’s will”, or “maybe it’s just not your time” are rarely helpful.  The truth is that you don’t really know about another person’s belief system, and infertility can cause you to question your faith in a heartbeat.  Similarly, “you need a new doctor” or “does this guy even know what he’s doing” are generally met with resentment or frustration.  If we wanted new doctors, we would ask for referrals.  Refer back to #1 and please just listen.

9.  Support her decisions:  You might think that your friend is giving up and moving on to adoption too quickly or is holding out hope on IVF a little too long.  It’s not your decision to make.  Maybe she’s had all she can possibly take or maybe she truly feels that this round of IVF will be the one that takes.  Either way, support her.  Be there for her.  Refer back to #4 and be a good friend.

10.  Be thoughtful:  With email, Facebook, and all other avenues of instant gratification, people seem to have forgotten the power of a greeting card.  Send a card.  Show your friend that you’re thinking of her.  Send flowers for no reason.  Have dinner delivered just because.  Drop cookies, muffins, or something else yummy at her doorstep.  Simple gestures mean a lot to someone who feels alone.

Infertility is often a very lonely road.  But it doesn’t have to be.  Be there for your friend.  Don’t let her slip away.

How have you helped a friend going through infertility?  How have you been helped?

Note:  This post originally appeared in my weekly column at Mommy Moment on August 3, 2011.

Everything’s Not Lost

“I’m not afraid of anything in this world.  There’s nothing you can throw at me, that I haven’t already heard” –Bono, U2

We were young and naïve (make that ill-informed) when we decided to start “trying”.  I was 29 years young.  Old by mother’s standards, but right on target with my friends.  All around me people were having babies.  One by one my girlfriends announced their exciting news.  It was time for us to give it a try.  Who knew the word “try” would take on a whole new meaning?

My husband was sure that getting pregnant would be a breeze.  To some degree, he was right.  Three months into the process I saw those coveted double lines on the stick.  We hugged and cried and danced around like maniacs.  We were on the road to starting our family.

12 weeks later our dreams were crushed.  We walked into the ultrasound happy and confident.  We were ready to share our news with our friends.  We walked out with our heads hung low, a steady stream of tears pouring from my eyes.  No heartbeat.  The baby was gone.  We were sure he was a boy.

My doctor held my hand and told me what no one tells you until it happens to you:  25% of first pregnancies end in miscarriage.  We could try again.  The miscarriage did not indicate future miscarriages.  It was likely a chromosomal issue.

I had a D&C a couple of days later.  Nothing could have prepared me for it.  The drugs took away the pain, but the sound of the machine sucking that little life out of my body would stay with me for weeks and months to come.  Probably forever.

Still, we tried again

We (make that I) used ovulation predictor kits obsessively.  We (make that I) made it a project.  We (make that I) thought of little else.

Four months later we got our second chance.  We had ultrasounds every two weeks.  At 9 weeks, the baby was growing and that little heart was beating away.  We were sure he was another boy.  We named him James, for my father.  We couldn’t wait to meet him.  At 11 weeks, the heartbeat was gone.

Complete.  Utter.  Heartbreak.

They started to run some tests.  Because this miscarriage did increase our likelihood of future miscarriages.

Luteal phase defect.

What?  These are things women don’t discuss.  Everyone talks about the ease of getting pregnant, the sleep deprivation that ensues when you have an infant, and the overall joy of motherhood.

No one talks about miscarriage.  No one uses words like “luteal phase defect”.  No one tells you that if you manage to get pregnant again, you will become dependent on vaginal suppositories to increase your progesterone levels.  Come to think of it, no one even tells you what progesterone is.

The stress set in.  Baby-making became a full time job for me.

My husband watched quietly as his wife slipped away.  He tried to talk, he tried to distract, he tried to fix it for me.  It was an impossible task.

All around me, friends started to have second babies.  It felt unfair.  It felt like we were being left behind.  It felt like we were stuck in a moment.

And so we stuck together.  I took a leave of absence from work and toured with my husband’s band for 6 weeks.  We drank wine, we cooked nice dinners, we hoped, we (make that I) prayed.  We talked to each other, but not really to anyone else.

We did what everyone else did:  We suffered in silence.

We were broken.  We didn’t need the world to know about it.

Almost 10 months after that second miscarriage there was still no pregnancy.

The doctor put me on Clomid.  He said there would be an increased chance of twins.  He said there would be mood swings and possibly ovarian pain.  We didn’t care.  We wanted results.

I got pregnant on the first cycle of Clomid.

I used those vaginal suppositories without complaint, drank milk, took the vitamins, and slept as much as possible.

At 7 months, the bleeding and cramping began.  I was put on bed rest, followed by couch rest.  I rested and rested and rested.  We tiptoed through three anxious months.

Our miracle daughter arrived almost three years after we started trying.  I cried my way through the C-Section.  I couldn’t believe it was finally happening.  I held my breath and waited for those first screams.  I pushed my husband away and said, “Go, go hold our baby”.  And then finally, she was in my arms.  She was a dream come true.

Nine months later I was pregnant again.  We couldn’t believe our luck.  We just knew it was a boy.

9 weeks later, the heartbeat was gone.

We worried that our daughter wouldn’t have the gift of a sibling.  We didn’t want her to be alone.

But 21 months after the birth of our daughter, our son arrived.  Again, I sobbed.  He managed to make it through two weeks of heavy bleeding and cramping early in the pregnancy.  He was a fighter.  He was small, loud, and cute, and he snuggled into my arms immediately.  He loved to be held close.  He still does.

We counted our blessings.  Our family was complete.

And then…a funny thing happened.

We weren’t “trying”.  But we weren’t “not trying”.  We were just living.  Our daughter was just over 4, and our son was nearing 2 ½.  And we got pregnant.  Just like that.

And so we would get a third.  An unexpected blessing.

7 weeks in, the bleeding started.  But the heartbeat was just fine.  Every two weeks, the heartbeat was fine.  The baby was growing.  I was feeling good.  Things were going as planned.

He was a little boy.  Another beautiful baby boy.

At 18 weeks, he was gone.  Just as we prepared to share our news, he was gone.

They had to induce me.  I had to birth my deceased baby boy.

Words can’t describe the horror of that scenario.

The drugs used to induce me didn’t work.  They increased the doses and watched and waited, but it just didn’t work.

I started to bleed.  A lot.  More medicine.

Finally, with my big sister by my side, the lost life was freed from my body.  But the placenta…that just wouldn’t budge.  I continued to bleed.

I went into shock.  Three times.  I worried.  My husband worried.  We slept a little.

And then, at 4:30AM, they woke us.  I needed emergency surgery.

I signed away my uterus.  Twice.

I was told that I could suffer a fatal rupture.  Several times.  This time, we both prayed.  We prayed to anyone who would listen.

In a drug induced state I said goodbye to my husband of nearly 8 years.  I tried to find the best words…just in case they would be my last.  In my heart, I knew that somehow I would get through this.  Somehow, I would return home to my husband and my babies.

I did.  In the end, they saved my life and my uterus.

For a moment we felt relief.  Our family was whole again.  The horror was over.

Except that we had to cope.  How do you cope with something so traumatizing when two little lives depend on you every second of every day?

You suffer in silence for a little while.

You cry out loud…when they sleep.

You talk to your husband.  You seek comfort from your mom.

You watch your children like a hawk and pray that no such horror ever comes their way.

You find the small moments of greatness in each day and soak them up.

You call your girlfriends.

You reach out to someone who you think might understand and, thankfully, that person is willing to become your lifeline.

You stick close to your little family of four and remind yourself that they are your happiness.

You allow yourself time outs…because right now you need them.

And then you start to talk.

You write it down.  You reach out to others.  And you just keep talking.  Because you hope that, in doing so, you might save someone else from suffering in silence.  Because if 25% of first pregnancies end in miscarriage, you can bet that someone you know is suffering.

We will suffer in silence no more.  We will talk.  Because everything’s not lost.

Note:  This post originally appeared in my weekly column for Mommy Moment on July 20, 2011.