In my last post I promised that I would share the reason(s) why my posting had slowed so much. And so I will.
It's been nearly a year since I mentioned those three letters here on the blog that have greatly impacted our lives: IVF. Back then I had decided that I wouldn't share more on the subject until I had something good to share about it. I honestly didn't think I would have to wait very long, but as far as any baby news goes I am still waiting.
When I met with my doctor last October after our first cycle didn't work, we discussed the option of a salpingectomy, which is basically the removal of the fallopian tubes. When there is a hydrosalpinx, a tube that has fluid in it, the outcome of IVF can be affected because there is the possibility of inflammation in the tube(s) and that can cause the embryo(s) not to implant. It is still possible to get pregnant when you have a hydrosalpinx, but generally after one failed attempt the option for the salpingectomy is on the table. I was definitely open to this and as with all surgical decisions, once I've made up my mind I'm ready now. That was not possible this time, which was frustrating but I was willing to wait.
The day of the surgery was November 19, and it would take place in a hospital three hours from home. Our doctor actually brought in another surgeon to assist him, one who was going to try and make this a laparoscopic procedure (which it normally is) rather than having to, for a fourth time, open my abdominal scar. They were even going to see if they could untwist the left tube and give us any chance possible at natural pregnancy, but I was well aware going in that I might come out of this with no tubes and a reopened incision, and unfortunately that is what happened. The tubes were beyond saving, but now we had a new start with IVF. I was excited at first, but this surgery, for many reasons, was by far the most emotionally difficult one I'd had. I knew that if the next cycle didn't work it would be much harder to take, and I didn't know how I'd handle a bad outcome what with all we'd put on the line.
Because of the recovery time and circumstantial things, Casey and I weren't able to begin our second cycle of IVF until February of this year. I was eight days into the injections, which is a good deal into the process because everything starts a few weeks before that, when on March 8 I got the call that they were canceling the cycle. I remember the day well because I learned of our friends having just had their second child within minutes of that, and as happy as I was for them I was devastated for us. My body wasn't responding well to the meds, so we had no choice but to stop and wait to start all over again.
The third cycle, which I actually consider the second since the previous one wasn't completed, began in mid-April. I had been doing a lot of exercising since December (training to walk a half-marathon) and probably felt the best that I had in a long time. I was ready, and I just knew this would be our time. We were anxious but joyful to make it to the embryo transfer and have two 'gorgeous' embryos, as the doctor put it. We even had the option of transferring a third embryo, but there was such a fear in us of having all three implant that Casey and I looked at one another and said, "No, that's okay." I go back to that moment every now and then and have my 'what might have been' thoughts.
As had happened the first time around, we had no embryos make it to freeze. That is, none of the remaining few embryos did not progress far into the blastocyst stage, which would have made it possible to cryopreserve them for another cycle. The phone call with this news always comes during the nine days between the embryo transfer and the pregnancy test. In other words, The Longest Wait Ever. I've said many times that those nine days are more difficult than the tests, procedures, injections (close to 50 of them in less than two weeks, all done by me)...yeah, the waiting is the hardest part.
On May 20, I went in for my blood test and made the long drive home (the fertility clinic we visit is three hours away). It was an anxious time, full of uncontrollable foot-tapping and tear-filled prayers. I was literally one street away from home when the call came: the test was positive. We were pregnant! At first I was speechless, but couldn't stop smiling. I had waited more than two years for this news, had gone through two major surgeries and two in vitro cycles to hear what we'd been longing to hear and it was all worth it.
The next few days were surreal. Every hour, every moment, I was trying to grasp our new reality: this dream was coming true. Not only did I say to Casey more than once, "We're pregnant!" I would look at Miles and then say quietly, "He's going to be a big brother!" and I tried to picture it all. We quietly told family and a few friends. There were tears, celebrations, thanks to God...and yet we knew we needed to wait for that second blood test and first ultrasound to share our joy with the world. I couldn't wait -- and not just to tell people that I was pregnant, but to praise God in their presence for this blessing.
This is the hardest part to share. My heart actually hurts with each beat as I type this...even five months later it feels like yesterday down into my very bones. I went in for the second blood test on May 27, one week after the first test. Keep in mind that a week is a long time to be allowing happiness over a realized dream sink into your heart. I remember being on that final elevator ride up to the doctor's office: it's inside a large hospital, and you can't walk down the halls of this area of it without seeing several pregnant women. I think I recently counted 10 of them in just a few minutes.
I was on the elevator with four or five pregnant women, but in my mind I was thinking, "But they don't know there is one more pregnant woman here," and I smiled quietly at the silliness of myself. I arrived at my floor and -- this part will forever be etched in my mind -- I saw a woman leaving the doctor's office with who I'm assuming was her mother, and the woman was sobbing uncontrollably. It was no quiet grief, but open and raw, and it drew me in to the point that I wished I could go to her and comfort her. My only guess was that something had gone very wrong with her IVF cycle...possibly she'd had a miscarriage. My heart went out to her, and I felt a twinge of guilt at now being the woman in whom she would find no comfort.
The second blood test, I should explain, is like the first in that it is quantitative rather than qualitative. The qualitative blood test gives you a 'yes' or 'no' whereas the quantitative test measures the level of hcg (the 'pregnancy hormone') in a woman's blood. The general rule is that any number higher than five means there is a pregnancy, although four weeks into pregnancy it's good to have a higher number than that for it to remain viable. The number on my first blood test was 40 -- not a bad number, but not the best number. The doctor hadn't been too worried about it, just wanted to wait until that second test to make sure the numbers were doubling like they should.
The call came later that afternoon when I was at home. I felt a shock and a numbness as the nurse explained that my number had dropped and was below five. She said the words 'chemical pregnancy' and that she was very sorry, but I just kept nodding and answering and saying 'thank you' to her words until the conversation was over. It was at that point that I felt myself crumbling, falling apart. I was sobbing and calling Casey, who had been out on a walk but was on his way back, and I told him that I needed him to come home without telling him why. He arrived to find me crying on the floor, and I told him it was over...it was all over.
Though we could grasp that a chemical pregnancy is a very early miscarriage -- the embryo attempts but fails to implant, so the body begins producing the hormone that gives you a positive blood test -- our hearts were utterly confused. My first reaction, that night in fact, was to try talking Casey into diving back in to another IVF attempt right now. Well, of course that was a bad idea given my emotions and what I'd just been through physically, but I didn't care. Casey and our doctor did, though, and after talking with both of them and waiting a few days I realized that they were right. I didn't want to hear it, but I knew that a few months off was best, and for a little while I decided that taking an anti-depressant would be a wise choice for me as well.
There is still more to share. Casey and I spent a wonderful few days on a much-needed anniversary vacation in August, and by the middle of the month began a third in vitro attempt. With nearly a year having passed since our first try, I was blown away at how much had happened...and still no baby. One cycle, then major surgery, then a canceled cycle, then a chemical pregnancy. This one had to be it. Right? Just over a year before this, I was so averse to the idea of IVF and now here we were actually going for attempt number three.
So much was different this time, even too much to get into. A major difference was how well my body was responding to the meds, so well that I was told to back off on the injections. I only made two visits to the doctor's office before they said we were ready for the procedures. Our embryo numbers were slightly higher, giving us a better chance at having some make it to freeze. It was hard not to feel like this really could be it -- how could it not? But we'd thought that before, hadn't we, and then had been disappointed. Still...so many things pointed to this being our time. Finally.
The third time was far from charming, and when I got the call just five weeks ago yesterday I was of course crushed. Knowing that it was easier to take than having the rug pulled out from under us like it was in May didn't take much sting out of the disappointment, but I was relieved at not having to go through the highs and lows of that moment again. Still, there we were, grieving once again. And I do mean 'we' because Casey is in this just as much as me -- maybe not physically but certainly emotionally, and we were both crying out to God and sharing our anger with him at our deep disappointment.
I've learned so much, and each time I've learned something different. To be honest, I'd much rather have an easier way of learning...but I know that's usually not how God works. He does his best work in our brokenness. It's unfortunate that I've been so stubborn at times as to not allow his lessons into my heart, but I strive to be better and always will.
Now, there might be those of you who will want to bring up the subject of adoption. Let me assure you that I am well aware of that option. I have friends who were adopted, I have friends who have adopted and it is a most awesome thing in my opinion. But before you share with me your wonderful stories, please consider the idea that my heart might not be there. Wanting another baby does not necessarily mean that Casey and I are ready for adoption. We've certainly discussed it, I've researched it and asked questions...but I cannot force myself to do something I don't feel ready for. Just like deciding to have a baby of your own, adopting a baby is a huge and very personal decision. I won't say never, that would be foolish of me. But I do want to make others aware that just because something is good doesn't mean it would be everyone's choice.
I don't know why now, why today is the time I chose to share all of this. When it feels time to share, that's when I share. I have held back so much in the past year, but I did it partly to protect myself. Now I feel a bit stronger, and now I am ready for everyone to know what's been going on. I think it helps me to help everyone understand, which goes back to what I've said before: we all want to be understood. You have your own experiences, and part of the healing comes from those around you simply understanding where you've been. If you are able to take from this some kind of new understanding of our lives, then I've done what I set out to do.