Friday, February 26, 2010

Better angels

Dear Rowan,
Using my last post as a jumping off point, I will now tell you something else that happened on that trip to Sorrento last year.
I wish that I had written about it when it happened but a couple of days after our trip, I took our dear dog Lola to the vet for a teeth cleaning and she never came home. Such incredible sadness and grief took over and I never got around to telling this part of the story.
We had spent the entire day exploring the ruins of Pompeii and by the time we got back to Villa Oriana, we were tired and hungry. So we consulted our trusty Rick Steves book, which as it turns out, is not so trusty if it was published in 2005 and you're living in 2009.
Rick guided us to a restaurant he promised was laid back, inexpensive and yummy. We walked down from our B&B on the hill and into town, following Rick's map and anticipating a nice meal.
But when we reached the restaurant, it was shuttered and had been for some time. What to do? We backtracked to the center of town and began to bicker a little over what to do. You'll learn, Rowan, if you're ever in a serious relationship that many arguments start with "What do you want to (insert appropriate word here -- do, eat, see)?" and on this night, after a long tiresome day, it seemed we couldn't agree.
Finally, I remembered a restaurant we had passed earlier in the week and after we found it, we stood outside reading the menu and debating whether we should actually go in. Was it a tourist trap or the more authentic place we were seeking? Hard to say, but Greg was ravenous at this point and his stomach prodded him to say "We're going to eat here," and he opened the door.
The entire front dining room was empty, and we were a little worried but the host led us to a back room that was full. Only two open tables remained -- one in the center of the room and one along the back wall. Greg chose the table along the back wall for us, as we'd only be seated near one other table, as opposed to being surrounded by them.
As with most intimate Italian restaurants, the tables in this place were incredibly close together. We could hear the entire dinner conversation of our neighbors. They were an older couple, speaking English, but with an accent I couldn't quite make out. The man had crazy hair and wild eyes and a look that made me think of Grandpa Munster. The woman was petite and pretty and quiet, acquiescing to her husband's big personality.
Before long, we'd struck up a conversation. The man said they were vacationing in Sorrento for a few days before going further south to visit a friend who operated an Olive plantation. They were visiting from Dallas, TX. He told an off color story about an encounter he'd had with the Pope many years ago when visiting Rome. I inferred from this story that the man was a doctor. We told them that Greg is in the Air Force, that we were living in Northern Italy but would soon be moving to Shreveport, La. Well, isn't that something? We'll practically be neighbors!
Our conversation ended and a few minutes later, the man's cell phone rang and I couldn't help but hear his side of this long-distance conversation. "What were her E2 levels today?... I see... How many on the right?... The left? Ah. Well, I think we should proceed with the trigger as planned."
This man was speaking my language -- the language of IVF.
I couldn't help myself. When he hung up the phone, I said "Excuse me, I don't mean to pry, but I couldn't help but overhear your phone call. Are you a fertility doctor?"
"Guilty as charged," he said.
And, so we told him our story. And as I described the protocol used during our two failed cycles of IVF, he put his hand on Greg's shoulder and said, "your wife is breaking my heart."
It's a long story, I know, but it ends with him giving me his card, patting Greg on the back and saying "send me your records and let me worry about this thing from now on. We're going to figure this out."
And, as he shook Greg's hand, he passed him a 50 Euro bill to pay for our dinner. Of course, Greg tried to give it back, but the doctor insisted. "It's to thank you for your service," he said.
I can't tell you what this chance encounter meant to me at that time. It was as if the Lord above had sent me a clear message. I felt like I was on an episode of LOST, where all the characters lives are intertwined by something called "destiny."
How amazing that we would choose the restaurant where this doctor and his wife were having dinner. How odd that we'd choose the table next to theirs or that his phone would ring during dinner so that I could figure out he was an RE.
I had been searching my soul concerning our situation. Our previous RE had recommended donor eggs for any future cycles. I wasn't willing to go there. A second opinion was certainly in order, but was I willing to go through another round of IVF? Could we afford it? I was looking for answers -- for the right path to take -- and all of a sudden it seemed I'd found a map.
For the first time in many many months, I felt excited and optimistic about the potential of future cycles. Was this meeting chance? Or was it fate? Well, I leave that to you to decide. Personally, I believe it was directed by the divine, even though it didn't turn out the way I'd imagined.
I sent this doctor our records, I even scheduled an initial appointment. But, then I hit a wall -- our insurance wouldn't cover any costs associated with seeing this doctor because there is an RE here in Shreveport. Not that Tricare pays a lot regarding infertility -- it doesn't. But it does pay for blood work and ultrasounds and some of the meds (not the stims, of course). So, I gave up on my idea that fate had caused our paths to cross and I went to see Dr. V, who is a wonderful doctor and who used a protocol that gave us our best chance to date -- two blastocysts. The outcome, however, remained the same and here we are.
Maybe our chance meeting with the doctor wasn't a road map, after all. I now think it was meant to encourage us to press on, to have faith and to keep putting one foot in front of the other on this long and winding road.
I tend to think that God winked at us that night in Sorrento. His message, well it's a matter of interpretation I suppose. I think he said, "chin up, you two. Have faith that it's all in my hands. I know your struggles. I know your heartache. I have a plan for you and I'm here with you every step of the way."
And, I suppose this meeting is the best evidence I have that sometimes humans stand in the gap for the divine. On that night, the doctor was an angel, a messenger, if you will, even if he didn't know it.
I'll close with this, a quote from the doctor that night after we shared our infertilty story with him, "well, if this doesn't make you believe in divine intervention, nothing will."

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Somewhere over Naples

Dear Rowan,
It seems these folks out in blog land have something called Show and Tell that they do each Thursday. I have not participated in the past because, well, I don't know why but I decided to participate today. You can find other participants and info at Stirrup Queens.

So, Rowan, what shall we show?
Oh, I know. The rainbow over Napoli. It's sort of a metaphor for this IF journey. The road is long and twisty and sometimes it makes you sick. You experience things along the way you never imagined you'd subject yourself to, but you keep going. If you're lucky, a rainbow appears at the end of your journey. If not, well, you've made the journey nonetheless and you're a different, somehow better person for having made the trip. Here's hoping you're my rainbow.

And, if you're curious about this photo, here's the blog that I wrote that day:

Costiera Amalfitana. The Italians have a way of making everything sound more beautiful.

We were warned about the drive. A friend of Greg’s said he turned back after one too many close calls with tourist buses. He was driving a Mini Cooper.

We are driving our big Buick Rendezvous, the car we bought a few weeks before moving to Italy. Greg liked it because it had reverse assist. A ding warns you when you’re within 10 feet of a car, a wall, a person. When you get within five feet – ding ding ding! I’ve always been terrible in reverse – in driving and in general. I prefer to move forward. Reverse assist seemed a good thing at the time, but in Italy, you’re always within ten feet of backing into something. Now, I’m immune to the dings.

The Amalfi Coast presents a different driving challenge. It’s not what’s behind you that matters. The road winds precariously along the mountains overlooking the sea. If you can stop worrying that you’re going to die (or vomit) the views are unbelievable.

My trusty Rick Steves guide book calls this “one of the world’s greatest white knuckle drives.” Greg laughs when I tell him this because my knuckles are indeed white. There’s a reason it is called the “oh shit handle.”

Greg is a good driver -- defensive, attentive and at times aggressive. He is a master at parallel parking and backing – two things I have never been able to grasp. Even so, I’m worried the Amalfi Coast might be more than he can handle in our big American SUV.

“Don’t worry, honey,” he says, “eighteen years in the service driving tractor trailers in Saudi and Kuwait have prepared me for this.”

He’s almost giddy. He loves a challenge. I try to sit back and enjoy the view.

Before we left Aviano, I considered cancelling this trip. The forecast called for rain. I’ve been on enough sightseeing adventures at this point to know that rain ruins everything. But, after looking at the calendar we quickly realized there won’t be another opportunity.

So we loaded the car and hoped for the best. The day we spent in Naples started out overcast and dreary and ended up sunny and warm. We’re hoping for the same as we drive along the coast. It looks promising at first.

We stop to snap a few pictures and an old Italian man spots our license plate. “Pordenone?” he asks.

“Si, Pordenone,” I respond. He opens the trunk of his car and emerges with a large lemon, with the leaves still attached.

“Benvenuti Napoli!” he says as he hands me the lemon.

I’m humbled. After all those bad things I said about Naples, I feel guilty.

“Grazie. Bella Napoli!” I say and at that moment, I mean it.

Looking out on the sea from our high perch, it’s hard to imagine a more beautiful place.

We wave as the little old man drives out of sight. Greg takes my picture with the lemon.

“That would never have happened up North,” I say as we drive on.

Nearly to the town of Amalfi, I start feeling a little green. The hairpin turns and dizzying views are getting to me. Up ahead, we see a couple thumbing for a ride. I press Greg to stop – they are American. I can tell because he wears a barbecue joint T-shirt and she is a little too round to be Italian.

They thank us as they hop in the back seat. As it turns out, they aren’t American at all. They’re Hungarian.

How about that, Kellie Pickler? I’ve got two Hungarians riding in the back seat of my car -- further proof that Hungary does exist.

We see such strange things along the drive. Houses are so precariously perched on the cliffs that the owners park their cars on the roof. Vespas whizz by at breakneck speeds. Tourist buses make turns that seem impossible. But the strangest sight is four small donkeys being used to carry loads of rocks up a steep hill. Yes, donkeys.

The rest of the day, I think about those poor little donkeys. How is it that in 2009these people are still using donkeys for road construction? It reminds me of seeing men in Cancun trimming weeds with machetes. The world does not work the way we imagine.

By the time we drop off our Hungarian hitchhikers and drive out of Amalfi, I’m experiencing full on bouts of nausea. I never get motion sickness – airplanes, boats, cars, roller coasters – but this drive has done me in.

Besides, the view is gone. The gray sky makes the ocean appear to be the color of asphalt. A light drizzle begins to fall.

“We have got to get off this road,” I tell Greg.

We see a green autostrada sign pointing toward Ravello. Frances says she’s always on honeymoon in Ravello. I don’t take time to consult the map.

“Just go!”

The road toward Ravello winds and winds up up up the mountain. Maybe I should have looked at the map. The rain begins.

We get behind a boxy white van. It’s moving slow. There’s no way to pass. We get close enough to see this van is loaded with bales of hay. After the donkeys, I’m not as surprised as I might have been otherwise.

“Surely, we’ve seen it all,” I say.

Ravello. Supposedly, it’s a beautiful little town high in the mountains with sweeping views of the sea below. I wouldn’t know. We spend our time there looking for an open restaurant and trying to stay dry. No luck on either front. The Italians take their afternoon breaks very seriously, even in tourist towns.

I buy a soda with hopes of settling my stomach. The rain has soaked through my shoes to my socks, making a squishing sound with every step.

I’m completely miserable.

We drive on. Twisting and turning, following the green autostrada signs, sure that straight, four-lane road that leads back toward Naples is just around the next turn. But the road goes on and on and on.

We aren’t exactly sure where we are when we see a sprawling city below us. A rainbow stretches over the city. It’s so beautiful. I’ve never seen anything like it. From our high perch on this twisting mountain road, we’re looking down on the rainbow and the city beneath it. I take a bunch of pictures, but I know they will only tell part of the story.

That sprawling city under the rainbow turns out to be the suburbs of Naples. Finally, we’re back on the road to Sorrento. The relatively straight and narrow drive to Villa Oriana is a welcome change, but I'm already missing the view from that high, winding road along the Amalfi Coast.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Moving right along

Dear Rowan,
We have a cycle review scheduled for March 10 with Dr. V. I called nurse Cindy yesterday because I hadn't heard from them and it seemed like enough time had passed. Turns out, they don't do cycle review appointments unless you request it, which I think is odd. Even the docs at Walter Reed called us in Italy to go over our cycle.
Nurse Cindy said she'd tentatively put us on the schedule for an April FET, depending on what Dr. V has to say during our appointment. I just don't know if we should jump into our frozen cycle without first trying to figure out why our fresh cycle failed. It seemed so promising with two good looking blasts that I was sure were destined to be you.
I read somewhere that some women have more success with frozen cycles. The theory being that since you don't have to do the stim meds or endure the retrieval, your body is less stressed. So, fingers crossed, prayers said that it will be the case for us and you'll be on your way.
Odd that in doing an Internet search for FET success rates, I stumble upon a blog entry written back in 2007 by a woman who held little hope for her FET and after reading a few of her posts (her FET didn't work) I became curious as to how it all turned out for her. So, I fast fowarded to her latest post and lo and behold she has twins. Beautiful, perfect, snotty nosed toddler twins. One boy. One girl.
So, this stuff does work, Rowan.
I just have to keep reminding myself of that fact.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Chasing sheep

Dear Rowan,
This is one of my favorite photos from when we lived in Italy. I was out on our patio planting some geraniums in window boxes when I heard a strange noise, which sounded to me like an odd chain saw. At first, the sound was very faint, but it gradually got louder and I realized it wasn't a chain saw at all. It was a herd of sheep coming down the street!
I was wearing my house slippers, but I knew I had very little time to grab my camera and get the shot. So I took off down the street in my slippers, camera in hand, chasing that herd of sheep.
This is the best shot from that morning. In it, you can see the red markings on the backs of the sheep and you can see a baby sheep on the left trying to get a drink of milk.
In Italy, there was beauty everywhere. I rarely left the house without my camera for fear of missing a shot like this one. I was in constant awe of my surroundings and it seemed I learned something new about the Italians and their way of life every day.
I miss feeling that sense of wonder and adventure. Life in Northwestern Louisiana is not quite as wonderful or adventurous -- despite the tornadoes, the alligators and the unbelievable prejudice that persists here.
When we moved here and found Dr. V., I told myself, "this is why you're here." But, now I'm not so sure. My life lacks the purpose that it had before and it has been very hard for me to see the beauty in my life here.
I suppose it's up to me to find that sense of purpose and to seek out beauty where it doesn't seem to exist. For the past few months, I've been wishing my life away -- wishing we were back in Italy or wishing we were home in N.C. or wishing you were here. But I have failed to live in the moment. I have failed to find friendship or purpose in my life in this new place. That has got to change.
So, I have to find a way to move on from this quicksand of our failed cycle -- I need to find something fullfilling, something inspiring, something that gives me a sense of wonder.
Perhaps this photo will serve as inspiration.

Friday, February 19, 2010

C'mon spring

Dear Rowan,
It's such a beautiful day here in Northwest Louisiana. We had highs in the mid-60s and lots of sun -- not a cloud in the sky. It's been a long "winter" for us here. By that, I'm not necessarily talking about the weather even though my co-workers declare it's not normally this cold and wet here and that I must have brought this crazy weather with me. I told them we didn't have tornadoes and torrential rains in Italy -- though in reality we did have these horrible straight winds from time to time and our first October there I thought I would float away because it rained day and night. But, I'm rambling.
My point is that we've had a lot of crap to deal with since we moved here. Our only friends deployed back in September and we've been pretty lonely. My parents had to cancel their visit when my mother was hospitalized and we had to make an emergency trip back home. While we were back home in N.C., a tornado hit our neighborhood here in Louisiana and our house was damaged -- not severe damange, thankfully. But it was enough that we had to fight with our insurance company to get it all repaired. I was in not one but two car accidents that were my fault (I'm not a great driver and Louisiana's roads are absolutely rediculous as are the crazy drivers). My work hours have been cut to about two days a week (not even worth my time to drive over there, except I might go insane if I don't have a job). Greg hit a car in the parking lot at work and now we have to pay for the damages. And, of course, we had hoped to be pregnant and we're not. Mama always said, "when it rains, it pours." And, like always, she was right.
So, overall it hasn't been the greatest few months. And, I realize that I'm being terribly negative. But, that wasn't really the point when I started this. My point is that spring is on the way!!! The sun is shining, tulips are popping up from the ground and I even saw a red breasted Robin in our front yard. Spring always brings the promise of new life and renewal and I actually feel hopeful today for the first time in a while. I'm ready to put this long "winter" behind us and I'm hoping all that crappy luck is a thing of the past.
Our friends will be back next week if all goes according to plan and I'm sure we're in for warmer days and happier times. Spring will certainly be a breath of fresh air for us as we try to put down some roots in this new place. So, I'm anxiously awaiting the arrival of a new season, some old friends and some good luck.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Life before Italy

Dear Rowan,
I had a real career before we moved to Italy in 2005. I was a newspaper reporter. I majored in journalism in college and I always thought that I'd spend the rest of my life making my living as a writer.
My job was hectic and stressful, but I was good at it and it gave me a lot of satisfaction. I had a lot of friends at work -- people who I lunched with every day and drank with on the weekends. We celebrated every little victory together and we became something like a family.
And, of course, we had many friends from the base. Your dad had lived in Sumter S.C. for more than six years when we got married. I told my family he was like Norm on Cheers because whenever we'd walk into a restaurant or a bar or even Wal-Mart, we could often hear his nickname "Chubbs" repeated over and over. He had friends everywhere we went.
And, since my hometown was less than two hours away, we spent many weenkends with my family and never missed a holiday with them. Your grandparents visited often and it was truly a very blessed time in our lives -- we had the best of both worlds.
Our life was full and busy and that's the way I liked it. I rarely thought of you back then because I was happy with the way things were. We still felt more like newlyweds back then than old married folks. When people would ask, if or when we were going to have children, I'd sometimes tell them we didn't want kids. That way, they'd never ask again and I didn't have to explain any further.
And, at that point, I didn't feel any pressure to have children right away. I was focused on my work and my friends and when I felt the need to nurture, I could borrow any number of children from our friends. They were happy to oblige me, leaving thier babies in my care for the night or the weekend so they could finally get a break.
Our lives revolved around work, friends, family and softball (your Dad played year round in several different leagues). It was a good life and maybe we didn't really realize just how good back then. We were anxious to get out of there. Why? I'm not certain I remember now. Your father had lived in Italy for three years in the early 90s and he wanted one last overseas tour before he retired. He wanted to show me the world, and to me -- a girl who had never even been in an airplane until our honeymoon -- that seemed like an offer I couldn't turn down.
So, when the orders to Italy came in, we celebrated and we began to make some plans. We decided that since jobs for spouses were scarce over there, we'd throw out the birth control pills and try our luck at having a baby. And, that's just what we did.
Only, it didn't work out the way we had hoped and soon we were on this long and winding road of infertility.
And, in the mean time, I looked for a way to put my skills to work at our new home but found the only jobs available to spouses weren't very appealing. So I became a substitute teacher. I blogged about our life in Italy for family and friends and wrote the occasional article for a magazine pulished by my previous employer. And, I waited for the day when we could announce to family and friends that we were expecting.
And, here I am five years later, working part-time in retail and pining over the days when I had a real job. The bottom fell out of the newspaper business while we were away. My resume has a big gaping hole in it and I find I'm just not willing to work horrible hours for very little pay, as is the case in most every newsroom.
I do miss my old career, probably more for the sense of identity it gave me than anything else. In America, our self worth is closely tied to our occupation. But, I'm probably a healthier person for not being under the constant stress of the deadline.
So, one day, when you are all grown up, I will tell you all my best stories about the years I spent as a reporter and my life before Italy.

Monday, February 15, 2010

In the breakdown lane

Dear Rowan,
One of the problems with IF is that every where you turn there are little land mines -- things that remind you of the fact that you are not a mother. Some days, I feel very strong and I can overlook most of these triggers and not turn into a puddle of emotional goo.
But, there are days when it's all just too much. I had one of those days this weekend. My birthday always makes me feel very emotional. For the past few years, it has seemed that time isn't on my side and my birthday is a reminder of the fact that my life doesn't really look the way I'd hoped it would.
So, even though I was having a nice time during our trip to Dallas, you were on my mind, Rowan, as always.
That's how I ended up sitting on a bench at the mall, crying while your father rubbed my back and tried to figure out what in the world was wrong with me. I was too embarassed to tell him that the sight of something as silly as an "I love my bump" T-shirt in the window at Motherhood had reduced me to tears.
BAfter a few minutes, I recovered. Poor Greg never really knew what happened.
"I stepped on a land mine" didn't exactly explain the situation. And, when he asked me if there were any more stores I'd like to go in, I answered, "I don't think they sell what I want here," which prompted him to offer to take me to another mall.
If only it were that easy.
Later, when it was clear to him that we weren't talking about shopping he told me that he isn't a mind reader and that I have to do better at letting him in when I'm feeling sad.
But, sometimes, there's no way to explain the feelings that come up when you least expect them to.
Sometimes there's no where to go except the breakdown lane.

Friday, February 12, 2010

Icing on the cake

Dear Rowan,
As you can see, we woke up to a beautiful winter scene, a very odd thing for this area. This is our house covered in snow. I'm sure I looked funny out there in my pink bath robe and my garden shoes. I told your dad the snow was the icing on my birthday cake.
Brody, our Pug, loved the snow. He is very different from Lola, our Pug who died last April. She hated everything about snow. It offended her to have to step out into cold, wet snow. But, Brody just runs around and around, making figure eights in the snow, only stopping every now and again for a snowy snack.

I bet you would love the snow, too. Your dad was like a kid in a candy store as we watched the snow fall last night. I think it made him a wee bit homesick for Massachusetts, something that has only happened a few times since we've been married and that has only been when he watches the Red Sox play the Yankees at Fenway Park.
But, as you know, I'm a North Carolina girl. I like the snow, but only if it melts away like it should and doesn't stick around long enough to cause any problems.
I can't wait for you to be here to go sledding, build snow men and eat snow cream. Those were some of my favorite things to do as a child when it snowed and I can't wait to share those things with you.

Thursday, February 11, 2010


Dear Rowan,
Tomorrow is my birthday -- I'll be 33 years old. Your father will do his best to make it a special day. He's taking me to Dallas for the weekend. We're going to a concert, having a fancy dinner out and I'm sure we'll do lots of shopping. But, it won't be the birthday I'd hoped for.
This year held so much promise for us a month ago. And, I suppose 2010 still holds hope for us. We have three frozen embryos that could very well surprise us.
Since we started trying to conceive in 2005, each birthday has been a reminder of what's missing in my life and how time is quickly passing. I often think to myself that we made a mistake by waiting three years to start trying, but back then I was blissfully unaware of the effect of age on eggs and all that garbage. I was busy being a newlywed and I was happy to pursue my career -- which didn't really matter anyway in the long run (but that's a story for another day).
I think about all those birth control pills I swallowed and it turns my stomach. I was so naieve as to think that a medicine or a simple procedure could fix Greg's low sperm count. It wasn't until I decided the time was right for us to have a baby that I educated myself and discovered that there's no simple fix.
There have been times, Rowan, when I have regretted my carefulness in the past. What if I had been a little less responsible in my younger years? Would you be real now?
Of course, we can't dwell on these things. If I'd become pregnant as a young woman I may have never met your father. I might be stuck in a loveless relationship held together by the tinuous string of parenthood. And, if I'd never fallen in love with and married your father, I wouldn't be the woman I am now. Marrying a military man, changed my life. Because of him, I spent four beautiful years living in Italy, traveling around Europe and collecting many friends along the way. And, for that I'm so grateful.
The life I have now is not the life I'd envisioned. But, it's a good life -- full of love and laughter and adventures that I would have never dreamed for myself.
I have to trust that all things happen in God's time. I think of my parents, they had my sisters in 1963 and 1964 and then nothing for many years until a heart-breaking miscarriage in 1972. And, then, in 1976 when they least expected it -- a pregnancy -- with no medical intervention of any sort. And, on Feb. 12, 1977 I was born. My mother was 39-years-old.
"I thought the oven was broken," she often told me when I was growing up. "Your Daddy was so sure that I wasn't pregnant that he wouldn't even go into the doctor's office when I went for my test. He sat out in the car."
So, I know that miracles happen. And, I try to have faith that you are waiting somewhere in the future.
We can't anticipate the path our lives will take. What will age 33 bring for me? I can't begin to imagine. My best guess would probably fall far short of reality. I just hope that you're out there in my future.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

The things people say

Dear Rowan,
You can't imagine the stupid things people say to me concerning your absence. I try to forget most of the comments as soon as they are spoken because I don't want to clutter my brain with negativity. But some of them are too ignorant to forget.
I'm thinking of this now because a woman I met on Sunday at a Super Bowl party made me feel somehow unworthy of her attention after she found out I didn't have children.
The conversation went something like this:

"Hi, I'm Krista. I'm Sara's (that's the hostess) neighbor."

"Oh. I see. Do you have children?"



And, that was the last thing she said to me.

Just another little ding to my psyche.

Possibly the worst thing anyone ever said to me about infertility was during a vaginal ultrasound, performed at our base hospital by a very young man who seemed very uncomfortable with the whole procedure.

"Mmmm. Everything looks normal. You're ovulating. Do you have normal cycles?"

"Yes. Actually, I'm having this test done as part of a workup for an upcoming in-vitro fertilization cycle. We don't think I have any problems. My husband has low sperm count."

"Oh, well, that's an easy fix. Just leave your husband at home and go down to the Cal Bar on Friday night, have a few glasses of wine and see what happens. I bet you'd end up pregnant."

What an idiot!

The most hurtful things have come as a result of well-intentioned friends and family, who seem to think we must not be doing it right.

"Have you tried putting your legs up on the wall after sex?"

"You just need to relax and don't think about it. That's when I always got pregnant."

"You know, the key to making babies is that you can't make love. You have to fuck. I should know, I've had five kids."

Even my mom had some advice, "you have to let it soak in, honey. Don't jump up and run to the bathroom."

Unfortunately, when you're dealing with MFI, people tend to associate the inability to conceive with sexual dysfunction.

"Maybe Tony could give Greg some pointers on how to get the job done," one friend said.

"Well, honey, I don't know what to tell you except you should have taken a test drive before you signed the paperwork."

My mother-in-law found a way to ruffle my feathers even before we ever started trying to conceive. Out of the blue during a family dinner, she blurted out:

"I've looked into it. The only way you're ever getting pregnant is with IVF."

And, last, but certainly not least are the folks who have volunteered their husbands, boyfriends, brothers or themselves as potential donors.

"You wouldn't even need to go through all this, you could just use a turkey baster!"

I'm sure when you finally get here, Rowan, everyone will think it was their great advice that finally did the trick. In the mean time, I'm trying to ignore the stupid things people say and, of course, I'm trying to relax, because everyone knows that's how you get pregnant.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Not my baby

Dear Rowan,
A couple of years ago, when we were gearing up for our second round of IVF, I stumbled upon a book called "The Secret." The whole world was going crazy over this book because Oprah featured it on her show. There was a movie about it and everything. Basically, the big "secret" is about the power of positive thinking and the Law of Attraction. The book claims that the way to a happier, healthier, wealthier life is through positive thinking.
I figured a little positive thinking couldn't hurt. So, I tried to apply the tenets of The Secret to my own life. I made a scrapbook with pictures of me and Greg holding babies and I would look at it every day. I also wrote page after page of positive thoughts such as "I will produce many mature eggs," or "I will have a positive beta," or "I will be pregnant."
Sounds crazy. I know.
Of course, all that positive thinking didn't seem to make a difference in the outcome of our second IVF cycle, so I'm not sure all the effort I put into it actually helped.
For a realist like me, it's somewhat against my nature to believe all this New Age hokey pokey. But, there's one thing I learned from "The Secret" that I still practice even now.
In the past it was difficult to see a pregnant woman, a baby or a small child without feeling pangs of jealousy or being overcome with a sense of inadequacy and failure.
It's something that I struggled with for a long time, Rowan, and sometimes, I still find myself falling into that trap. But, for the most part, I've learned to deal with it by telling myself one thing over and over -- "that's not my baby."
When a friend announced her "oops!" pregnancy after my second IVF, I told myself over and over -- "She's not having my baby. She's having her baby. My baby is still waiting for me."
When a very young and very naive military spouse told me about the baby she gave up for adoption as a teenager while rubbing her giant pregnant belly and barely paying attention to her rambunctious two-year-old as he ransacked my house, I told myself "those aren't my babies. Those are her babies."
When my adult nephew called to announce that he and his new bride were expecting. I cried tears of joy and I can't wait to hold that baby boy. My mom told me that my nephew struggled with telling me, for fear that I would feel jealous or sad. But, I felt only relief knowing that my nephew and his wife wouldn't have to go through what we've gone through. They threw out the pills and were pregnant within a couple of months and for that, I'm so grateful. That's how it should be. And, besides, they aren't having my baby.
And, even though I think it's absurd to have 19 Children and Counting, I don't begrudge those fertile Duggars their brood of little humans. They didn't have my babies.
You, Rowan, are my baby and no one else can have my baby. Only me. So I cannot begrudge these women their seemingly easy paths to motherhood. It's not as if there are a certain number of babies doled out and they got in line ahead of me. Their fertility has nothing to do with mine.
So, I just go through life waiting for you and rejoicing in the births of their babies. To me, each conception is a little miracle. When you realize all the things that have to go right for a healthy baby to be born, you can certainly see that each birth is something that should be rejoiced. So, I try to always have a happy heart when I see a baby or a pregnant woman.
After all, you are still out there somewhere, Rowan, and you are MY baby.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

The party's over

Dear Rowan,
It has been such a lonely week for me. The news that our most recent IVF didn’t work left me feeling alienated. Friends and family are sympathetic, but they are so far away that their concern is of small comfort. The ladies I work with have largely ignored my failed cycle, though they were supportive and very interested in the entire process prior to the bad news. Only one co-worker offered an “I’m so sorry.”
Your father, well, he is so preoccupied with work this week. He’s working 13-14 hour days. He’s gone before I wake up and by the time he gets home, it’s late and we’re both tired. Last night, as he held me in his arms before we went to sleep he asked me, “are you OK?” Of course, I said I was, because I am. But then again, I’m not.
This loneliness is not new. No one tells you when you say “I do” to an active duty military man that you’ll have a lot of lonely days ahead of you. And, why should they? That would ruin all the fun of finding out for yourself just how difficult it is to move to a new place every few years and start over from scratch.
I adore your father. He is an attentive and supportive husband. He loves me when I’m not very loveable and he has always given me a soft place to land. He makes me laugh every day. When I think of all the paths I might have taken in my life, I know one thing is certain – I was meant to be his wife.
But, that doesn’t lessen the pain of being far away from family and friends -- especially in times like these. What I would give for a few hours with an old friend.
I guess that’s one of the reasons I started this blog – hoping to find some “virtual friends,” hoping we could help each other out with a kind word and an understanding heart. So I found myself this morning drifting along in cyberspace reading the thoughts of others who have traveled this road.
Wallowing in my own self pity, as I have been for more than a week now, I came upon the blog of a woman who finally got her baby – he was born last August after many years of treatments and failures and heartache – only to find that her husband has an incurable cancer. The treatments have failed to stop the disease and, barring a miracle, her husband will die. She is busy now, planning what will probably be their first and last family vacation and helping her husband make plans for his funeral.
The Lord gives and the Lord takes away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.
Mama’s pity part is over, Rowan.
Well, at least for now.

Friday, February 5, 2010

A very real reminder (Writeen Feb. 2)

Dear Rowan,
My period came in the night. Of course it wasn’t a surprise, but it was a very real reminder that you still don’t exist.
Not that I needed any reminders. The loss is very real to me. The pain is still very raw. I remember our second IVF, when we transferred three pitiful looking little embryos. They didn’t make it either. The grief was very difficult to bear. I searched for comfort in a book, “The Infertility Companion,” by Sandra Glahn and Dr. William Cutrer.
“If you have experienced a loss following an IVF cycle – whether your embryos didn’t survive, you had a miscarriage, or you lost one or more children in a multiple gestation – grief is a normal response to your situation. Couples who experience such losses have nothing tangible to connect them to their child – no lock of hair, no photograph – so they often struggle with the pain they feel, even doubting whether the pain is legitimate. It certainly is. That tiny life is of infinite, eternal worth to the Creator. A human life has been lost, and grief over that loss is real and valid.”
The words that struck me then, and again comfort me now are “infinite, eternal worth.” You are of infinite, eternal worth to me and to your father and to God. Even if no one else in this life recognizes that we have now lost seven children, we recognize it. I honor those seven little embryos each day in my heart. And, I hope that the three that are waiting – frozen in the lab – will survive.
Life goes on, Rowan, even as we wait for you to emerge. The demands of daily life continue -- work, home, bills, relationships. We can’t hide in our house and wait for the grief to subside. Instead, we go on. And, I begin to run through what our next steps should be. Should I have more tests to see if something is wrong with my body – is there a reason why my embryos can’t implant? And, I start to think that maybe Greg should see a specialist here in the states – someone who could offer more explanations and perhaps a treatment – that our Italian doctor could not.
But, mostly, I think of you and I feel such sadness.
I miss you, Rowan.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Not this time (written Jan. 29)

Dear Rowan,
Another cycle of IVF and you are still a figment of my imagination, not a real baby or even what precedes a baby. You’re gone. Poof. Just like that.
Of course, I knew. Or, I thought I knew, before the blood was ever drawn from my arm. My body had already told me you were gone.
I had hoped and prayed, even pleaded with God, that this time, the two little embryos that were gently transferred into my womb would become you – the very real, screaming newborn in my dream. I willed my body to make a home for you. I thought over and over during the transfer, “welcome, Rowan. Welcome, babies. You are loved and wanted. We will take care of you and make a happy home for you.”
It feels different this time. Maybe I am getting used to the bad news. I cried, for a while, but crying doesn’t change anything. It hurts, of course, but maybe the fact that there are three frozen embryos waiting for a chance to become you is giving me a sense of hope that I haven’t had before.
I feel so tired -- emotionally, physically – I’m spent. I don’t know if I can go through this again.
Your father is so disappointed. He was hopeful over these last few days even though I was not. He was still hopeful this morning even after I started spotting. He and the nurse at our clinic tried to make me feel more positive about the pending test results.
“I’m hopeful in my heart,” Nurse Cindy said as we walked out the door. Greg is the eternal optimist. Yesterday, he told me we would spend today eating cake and pizza in celebration. Instead, we spent the day as I had feared, mourning another loss.
I think about the picture of our two blastocysts taken just before the transfer. We had so much hope for those two little orbs. For the first time, we could actually see a clump of cells on one side of each of the circles – the clump that would become a fetus. The fluid filled space on the other side would become the placenta. Our embryologist called it a pregnancy in minimum, and that this is what becomes pregnancy maximus. I thought you were beginning to take shape, Rowan, when I saw that picture. I thought to myself, “this is our time. It’s finally our time.”
Our doctor shook my hand and said “you have a very good chance,” and I emphatically thanked him for giving us this kind of opportunity, so much more promising than the previous two cycles.
“Your intuition was right and mine was wrong,” Cindy said when she called with the news, “Your test was negative and I’m so sorry. You let me know when you’re ready to do that frozen cycle.”
And, I am hopeful that a frozen cycle could work, but I know it’s not as likely to result in a pregnancy as a fresh cycle. And, a fresh cycle, at this point, is just so out of reach. I can’t imagine going through this again right now. Are you one of those three embryos, Rowan? Or are you just a dream?
There is grief, so much of it here in our home tonight. And, yet, there is relief. Relief in the knowing. We’ve spent so much time over these past month wondering if it would work this time, looking for signs either way, praying, begging and even bargaining with God. And, now, we know.
But it doesn’t mean we want you less, or love you any less. Each time we try and fail, we grow a deeper appreciation for the love we share for each other and a deeper appreciation for what we hope will come to be one day.
Are we any closer today to you than we were a month ago, Rowan? I don’t know. I just don’t know anymore. But I send my love to you, out there in the unknown.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The waiting (written Jan. 28)

Dear Rowan,
The waiting is the hardest part. The IVF wasn’t so bad this time – the pain and discomfort was worse than in the past, but the difference was that this time, everything seemed to be going our way. They retrieved 35 eggs, a shocking 25 of those were mature. Twenty-three of those fertilized and we ended up transferring two beautiful blastocysts on Day 5. We never thought we’d have a blastocyst, much less two. We were so happy and so hopeful.
But. Isn’t there always a but? My body feels like it’s gearing up for a period. Two home pregnancy tests that I kept secret from your father because he didn’t want me to take them in the first place were negative. I had hoped to see that plus sign so that I could quit with the wondering and worrying and start on the looking forward to the future.
My BETA is tomorrow morning. Your dad says we’re going to sit around and eat cake and pizza after we get the good news. But (there it is again) I’m worried that it will be another tragic ending to a cycle and it will be especially hard since this one was so promising.
The good news is that we have three little frozen embryos and who knows? Maybe they can survive the thaw and become you or a version of you. Maybe I’m worrying for nothing. Maybe I’m getting ahead of myself. Maybe tomorrow, I will have a strong BETA. Maybe the tests I took just weren’t good enough to detect the small amounts of HcG in my urine.
I worry sometimes that I have wished you away. As soon as the transfer was over and we came home, my joy turned to something other than joy. I felt very nervous. Never had we been so close to actually becoming pregnant and I started to wonder if we were ready for the life altering state of parenthood. We are old and set in our ways. We have a nice routine to our days. We do whatever we please. We sleep soundly at night, all night. Are we really ready to give all that up? There’s so much freedom in adulthood sans children.
But (again) there’s so much we’re missing. I just know it. And, so I tried to push all those doubts about our readiness and our ability to parent away. I tried to let you know that you are loved already and that you are wanted. I begged you to stick around for a while.
I pleaded with God, something I haven’t really done in the past. I used to believe that God had bigger things to worry about than what’s going on in my uterus. But this time, I told him that nothing is too small for him and that I needed his help. I begged him to make you real.
Each morning I put my hands on my belly and I prayed that you were still in there, still living and growing and becoming mine. This morning I cried out to God from our silent bedroom, in our silent house. Lord, please, please let this baby be real.
I can feel my brain beginning the shift. I have never been one of those women who could easily move on to adoption. I wanted the pregnancy. I wanted the mirrored reflection of me and Greg in a baby’s face. I wanted to give birth. Now, I’m feeling like I have to decide – do I want the pregnancy or do I want to be a mother? Do I want to keep waiting on something that may never ever happen or am I ready to move on and create a family any way that I can? What is more important to me – the pregnancy or parenthood? Maybe to someone who hasn’t been here the answer would seem obvious. So many people, when they hear about our fertility journey immediately ask, “have you considered adoption.” They are so ready to make the leap. But they all have children – children that grew in their wombs, children they pushed out into the world.
For me, the shift is slow. I don’t know if it’s right for us. Maybe we should just be thankful that we have a good life, a good love here with each other. It’s more than many people can say. Maybe I should focus on that freedom we have – a childless life that allows for travel and plenty of self indulgence.
But what about years from now? No children, no grandchildren. No big Thanksgivings or Christmases. No graduation days, no weddings --- no family. Your cousins have always brought me a lot of joy, but they are not my own. I cannot count on them to fulfill my need to nurture. And, they are so far away.
So, here I am, Rowan, nearly 33 years old, about to become a great aunt and still not yet a mother. Please, please, please be there tomorrow. Please give me the chance to love you, to teach you, to give you a happy, healthy life.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

At last we meet. Well, sort of. (written in Dec. 09)

Dear Rowan,
I dreamed you, so I know you aren't real -- at least not yet. But for a few minutes, in the mystery of my dream you were very real. I gave birth to you, with every push, my big round belly deflated a little more and I could see your father standing near my feet. He was smiling. And, then you were in my arms, covered in goo with a patch of dark hair atop your head. You were screaming and I was crying. I called you by your name, Rowan, and heard a voice tell me -- "he weighs nine pounds!" My big, healthy baby boy finally in my arms.
It was a very happy dream. I woke Greg in the middle of the night to tell him about you.
"Roland?" he mumbled.
"No, Rowan," I said and then I tried to force myself to dream of you again, but you were gone.
The next morning I looked up the name Rowan. The only reference I have for that word is a county in my home state and a little blonde haired girl back in Italy where we used to live. Why was your name Rowan in my dream?
Turns out your name means "little red one." My heart sort of leaped when I read those words. Your great-grandfather, two of your great aunts, a great-uncle, your Aunt Carol and your cousins Nathan, Nicholas and Emily are all red heads. Could God be sending me a message? Will I one day have a little red head of my own?
I've been thinking about you a lot since that dream. All the hope and heartbreak of the past five years are funneled into what we think will be our last try -- our third round of in vitro fertilization. We start in January and will know before my birthday in February whether you will be a reality -- our greatest joy -- or whether we will mourn again for what might have been.
The thing I remember most from the dream is the weight of you in my arms, like a slippery, screaming, wiggling sack of flour. Is it possible to miss the weight of something you've never actually held in real life. Is it possible to fall in love with a dream baby that may not ever be real?
Of course, we must have hope, Rowan, that you will come to be. Like Emily Dickinson wrote, "Hope is the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul, and sings the tune without the words, and never stops at all."
I remember reading those words as a teenager in high school while studying Dickinson and over the years I've thought of those words from time to time, usually when I was lonely or heartbroken. So I suppose for now, you -- little red one -- are the hope that is perched in my soul.
I think of you every day as I go about my tasks. Sometimes, I imagine what life will be like for us once you are here. I think about all the things I want to teach you, all the books I want to read to you, all the songs we'll sing together. I hope you have your daddy's cheerful, giving nature and how maybe from me, you'll inherit a strong curiosity and my Aquarian sense of equality and fairness.
Who will you be, Rowan? What kind of personality will emerge from you? For me, that has been one of the most fascinating and rewarding parts of being an aunt -- watching over the days, months and years as your cousins became themselves. They are all so different -- such unique individuals -- as we all are. Who will you be?
We have waited for you for so long, but sometimes I'm nervous that I won't be any good at being your mother. I worry that I'm far too selfish. I worry that I won't be able to teach you everything you'll need to know to navigate this world. I worry that I won't be able to protect you from all the evil and pain that lurks out there.
But most of all, Rowan, I worry that we'll never meet face to face -- that years from now, this letter will be the only thing left of the dream that was you.
God speed you to us, little one. Perch yourself in my soul and sing and never stop.
All my love,