Monday, March 23, 2015


     When you are navigating the twisted, poorly lit path from infertility to parenthood, it can feel as if you're in a distorted version of Robert Frost's "The Road Less Traveled".  Instead of two roads diverging- two roads sound wonderfully simple!-there are multiple paths, forks, bypasses, and alleys to consider.  Do you skip this month's try because you have fewer mature eggs, or do you bet on the one good egg you have?  Do you discontinue IUI procedures and save up for IVF and, if so, how are you going to get that money when the roof also needs replacing and your car insurance payment is due?  What about embryo adoption?  Is it time to quit trying to get pregnant and instead focus your money and energy on adoption, which is expensive but the closest route to a sure thing that you've got?
     This line of questioning could go on and on, and for someone like me who can't figure out where she'd like to eat in a small town of about ten restaurants, the options get excruciatingly overwhelming.
     That's why I'm feeling a bit relieved to have recently closed one door to parenthood.  And by closed, I mean slammed.  Dead-bolted.  Vacuum sealed.  Padlocked.  Just two weeks ago, I ended all chances of carrying my own child by having a hysterectomy.  And I have absolutely no regrets.
     Although I stand firm in my decision, I would be remiss to claim no sadness in choosing it.  The women in my family usually give birth to deliciously fat babies, and I have done more than my share of daydreaming about nuzzling plump cheeks, counting arm and leg rolls, and wiping food and dirt from underneath rippled chins.  I have longed to sit in a rocking chair while breastfeeding and singing lullabies.  Though it is terribly vain of me, I always thought I'd make a cute pregnant woman- all baby and darling in my maternity clothes.  And now all my visions will remain just that: sweet visions, not reality.  It's sad and it's not fair, but it's also out of my hands.  I find more peace in accepting that fact than in rehashing those old daydreams or painting myself as wronged by the universe.
     That said, I can assure that I did not wake up one day and decide to have a hysterectomy.  I blame the whole thing on the fibroids.
     During my first, hopeful ultrasound appointment with the fertility doctor, he asked me, "Did you know you have uterine fibroids?"  I did not, and my heart sank as soon as his words touched my ears.  Danielle had just tried ten times to get pregnant, and with no success.  Now, it appeared I had a fertility obstacle, too.  However, the doctor assured me that the location of my particular fibroids would not hinder a pregnancy, so I blindly- even blissfully- continued with IUI procedures.
     A few months in, I could feel a small mass in my abdomen that was hard to the touch.  I brought this to the attention of my doctor, and he identified this mass as my largest fibroid.  Though it was disconcerting to feel this lump in my belly, he assuaged my concerns by telling me that, because of my petite size, it would be easier for me to feel my fibroids, that they would be a bit more obvious in my body than in the body of a larger person.  Again, I deferred to him and did not worry much about it.  After all, he measured the fibroids at many of my appointments, and he still felt I was a good candidate for IUI.  As time passed, I began to unbutton the top button of my jeans when I felt too full and tried not to panic as I felt the mass growing from the size of a fingerling potato to the size of a fist.
     Because the growth of my fibroids was of such concern to me, I made an additional appointment with the fertility doctor.  The left side of my body was filling up with fibroid tumors; where, I wondered, could the baby fit if I got pregnant, and how could pregnancy be anything but highly uncomfortable at this point?  When the nurse midwife and fertility nurse felt my belly, I could see concern and alarm on their faces, which felt validating.  However, when the doctor came in to examine me, I got the same party line: Because I am so thin, the fibroids are easier to feel and will seem more prominent, and their location should not affect my chances of becoming pregnant.  With this information, I chose to have my fifth and final IUI attempt.  However, my intuition told me that this try had little chance of success.
     Two weeks later, we learned that my fifth IUI try was, as I had suspected, in vain.  Financially and emotionally depleted, Danielle and I stopped trying to get pregnant and put our plans of parenthood on hold.
     In the interim, we made a few overtures toward growing our family.  The April after the August failed IUI attempt, we visited a different fertility doctor for a second opinion.  He was thorough and attentive and gathered more information about my fibroids.  He corroborated some of what our original doctor had said about the location of my fibroids but also confirmed some of my worries.  While my fibroids did not disturb the function of my ovaries and would not affect my chances of becoming pregnant, this second doctor said that he would not perform IUI on me until the fibroids were gone because I was at high risk for miscarriage or pregnancy complications as long as these tumors were hanging around my uterus.  This information rang true and validated what my intuition had been telling me for months: I had no business trying to get pregnant while my body was housing these problematic fibroids.
     At this second opinion appointment, we also discussed the possibility of harvesting my eggs (I don't mean to brag, but I had an awesome store of healthy eggs.) and having Danielle carry an embryo made with one of my eggs via IVF.  She had the great uterus, and I had the great eggs, so this option was a viable- albeit expensive- alternative for us.  Of course, due to the cost, we needed some time to mull this decision over.
     In July, we met with our original fertility doctor to discuss IVF as well as the possible removal of my fibroids.  At this appointment, we sat across from him in his office, a dark wooden desk separating us.  He did not feel my belly to check on the growth of the fibroids, and he did not measure them on an ultrasound.  Again, I heard the message that it was not medically necessary to remove them, that it just depended on how symptomatic I felt I was.  We didn't leave that appointment with much resolution, but Doctor 1 put in a phone call to Doctor 2 about scheduling an appointment to discuss surgically removing my fibroids, as Doctor 2 would do this laparoscopically, yielding a faster recovery time.
     As it turns out, I never heard back from Doctor 2, and although I was instructed by Doctor 1 to contact him if I did not get a response from Doctor 2, I ended up doing nothing.  Doctor 2 practiced in another state, and I worried about insurance coverage should I cross state lines for a surgery.  Furthermore, the words not medically necessary repeated in my mind on a loop; how could I justify spending my family's money on a surgery that wasn't truly needed?  It felt selfish even to pursue this route.
     I ended up waiting a year and half to act on my worries.  For eighteen months, those insidious fibroids grew.  And grew.  And grew.
     Without ultrasounds, photographs, or any kind of measuring equipment, I could mark the expansion of my fibroids.  Over time, the lump in my abdomen spread all the way from my pubic bone to the inner edge of my hips and was about the length of my hand when measured from my wrist to the tip of my middle finger.  The entire left side of my belly was full, so much so that there was a visible and noticeable slant to my abdomen when I lay on my back in the bathtub.  In fact, sometimes I avoided taking a bath because the sight of these fibroids pushing against my skin unnerved me so.  I looked like one half of my body was pregnant, only without the amniotic fluid or the joy.  It seemed an unnecessarily cruel joke: something was, indeed, growing inside my body, but instead of a baby it was a scary, ugly, painful, and unwanted thing.
     I decided that I needed to be a better advocate for myself and my health, so I made an appointment to see not my fertility doctor but instead my local physician's assistant.  She is a kind and empathetic listener, and she does not rush to over-treat or overprescribe.  I wanted to get her opinion on this matter.
     Perhaps it should have been frightening to me to hear her exclaim, "Oh my God!" when she pressed on my belly and felt my fibroids for the first time.  Instead, I felt great relief.  Finally, someone was taking this seriously, and no, I wasn't crazy to worry.  "This has got to come out," she kept repeating.  Before the appointment was over, she had already made arrangements for me to get an ultrasound as soon as possible, and she referred me to a local gynecologist and surgeon for further examination.  While I was thrilled to finally be making headway against my bothersome fibroids, the physician's assistant said a word that caught in my throat each time I tried to talk about it: hysterectomy.  Because my fibroids had grown so large, she couldn't see another way to get them out.
     The reality of this potential surgery and the permanence of it left me in a daze for the rest of the week.  At 33 years old, I was not prepared to walk away from any chance of carrying my own child.  While it was true that the pregnancy ship had pretty much sailed for me anyway due to the fibroids and the expense of orchestrating a pregnancy around them, I was not prepared to let go of my dreams of chubby cheeks and maternity dresses.  I was in a very real state of shock, and many of the emotions of infertility that had been sleeping over the past several months woke back up with a start.
     After a colorful ultrasound appointment in which the technician exclaimed, "Good Lord, Sister!" when photographing my fibroids, it was a real mercy that I had to wait about two months to get an appointment with the surgeon.  By this time, I had had some time to process and accept the possibility of my needing a hysterectomy.
     I cannot speak highly enough of my surgeon.  At my initial appointment, he spent an hour talking with me, discussing my symptoms, feeling my belly, and gathering his own ultrasound data.  He told me some of the same things I'd heard from the first two doctors, but he did so in a more thorough way that also acknowledged that my fibroids were, indeed, pretty large.  Instead of hearing that surgery was not medically necessary, he told me that it was not medically necessary, but......
     I would be fine to wait to remove my fibroids, he said, but they would continue to grow due to my age and hormone health.  Surgery was not medically necessary, but I would become more symptomatic as the fibroids grew.  I could postpone surgery, but the surgery would get more complicated as the size of the fibroids increased. I could live with fibroids in my body, but they could grow up past my waistline and bellybutton.  I did not have a medical reason to have surgery, but I could make the choice to have the fibroids removed if it would improve my quality of life.  He did not push me into having surgery, nor did he push me into making a quick decision.  However, now that the words not medically necessary were followed by additional information, I felt more prepared to act.  At the end of this initial appointment, the surgeon set up a follow-up appointment for the sole purpose of talking about options and answering any questions I had. He was wise enough to know that additional questions would arise once I'd had some time to digest what we'd discussed at the first appointment, and I was most appreciative of his thoroughness and care.
     Given all the hoops Danielle and I have tried to jump through on our path to parenthood, it should come as no surprise that babies were on my mind as I awaited my follow-up appointment with the surgeon.  Now, at 33, I felt comfortable moving forward with a hysterectomy, but would I regret my decision at 37?  Were there other fertility options for me, and how drastic would they be?  Once I agreed to a hysterectomy, there would be no turning back, so I needed confirmation that I was making the right choice.
     At my follow-up appointment, instead of asking questions about the length of the surgery or the type of procedure the surgeon would do, I peppered the doctor with questions such as, "If you didn't do a hysterectomy, what type of procedure would you do, and what would my chances of pregnancy be?" and, "Would it be possible to harvest my eggs later since I am keeping my ovaries?"  In typical fashion, the surgeon did not answer in absolutes.  Yes, it might be possible to remove the fibroids without taking my uterus, but it would involve a trip to see a highly specialized surgeon at a facility like Duke or Chapel Hill, which is not a quick or convenient drive from our home.  Even so, the size of my largest fibroid and the way it was pushing on my uterus would make it a difficult surgery and one without a guarantee that my uterus would be spared.  Likewise, it might be possible to harvest my eggs at a later date, but again, this would take a great deal of skill and specialized knowledge.  As the doctor spoke of these options, I saw dollar signs and a lot of unwanted emotional and logistical stress.  I have never been a big believer in taking drastic measures when it comes to medical decisions.  I would not want to be kept alive on a ventilator if I were brain-dead, for example.  Likewise, my desire to carry my own child was not strong enough to justify driving several hours to doctor appointments, paying for hotel rooms and gas for the car, taking time off of work, and re-entering the ups and downs indigenous to the terrain of infertility.  Even then, all that effort would be put into a chance- just a chance- of getting pregnant.  I felt a sense of peace as I remembered my real priority: becoming a parent.  I knew I could still be someone's mom without a uterus and, with the fibroids gone, a healthier one at that.  With a sense of calm and certainty, I scheduled my hysterectomy.
     I am now almost two weeks post-op and feeling great.  The type of surgery I had, a laparoscopically assisted vaginal hysterectomy (LAVH), typically takes about an hour to perform.  Due to the size of my fibroids, the surgeon predicted that my surgery would take between two and three hours.  In reality, I was in surgery for six hours as the surgeon tried to break apart and loosen that stubborn largest fibroid.  My fibroids had already grown up into my rib cage, and the lover of gross science in me cannot wait to get a final weight count on the total mass of the fibroids.  My mom said that the largest fibroid was actually the size of a small melon, which would go a long way in explaining why my pants were getting so tight.  (And there I was blaming chocolate and wine!)  All this is to say, it's good I had surgery when I did.  I cannot imagine how complicated things would've gotten had I waited longer and let the fibroids continue to grow.  By having the hysterectomy now, I have spared myself from a more invasive, painful surgery.  For that, I feel deep gratitude.
     Strange as it seems, I feel such relief to know that I will not be able to carry a child.  If I hadn't already experienced the upheaval infertility brings to one's life, I am sure I'd be devastated right about now.  However, I have grieved enough over unsuccessful pregnancy attempts to last a lifetime.  In many cases, it wasn't the failed attempts but instead the long periods of not knowing that were the most taxing.  It is excruciating to know you are about to experience either deep grief or great joy and that the whole process is beyond your control.  To hope is scary but to self-protect seems cynical.  You don't know what to think or feel- or you feel it all- and, to further challenge you, you can't have wine or coffee.  In the end, letting go of that pendulum feels like mercy and grace.  There is a certain peace that comes from simply knowing.
     And here is what I know: I know I won't be able to get pregnant.  I know I am through with checking my temperature and tracking my cycle.  I am sure I'll never need an ovulation predictor kit again.  It is certain that I am through with fertility appointments and hormone medications.  I know, without a doubt, that I will not have to utter the words "two week wait" again.
     I also know that Danielle and I can move forward with adoption now that pregnancy is not an option for us.  As our options narrow, so does our focus.  Our goal becomes clearer and the steps to take more obvious.  The "what if's" are fewer, as are the number of roads diverging.  No, we are not out of those darned woods yet, but the paths are becoming easier to see. 
     One day, I hope we'll find the one that will make all the difference.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

A Wedding in Three Acts

     Act I
     Our first wedding was beautiful.  It happened on a sunny September afternoon on a farm with 125 supportive friends and family members surrounding us.  People traveled to our Carolina celebration from as far away as Boston, Delaware, Pittsburgh, and Pensacola.  We rented a huge tent, bought tablecloths, sewed table runners, and topped every conceivable surface with mason jars crammed with local wildflowers.  A food truck catered dinner, and we made little paper bag lunches for the kids.  At the fire pit, guests roasted s'mores, and as the sun went down folks gathered around the fire to play instruments.  Aside from people who like to dance (We, being your typical uncoordinated white people, had neglected to even think about providing a proper space and proper music for dancing.), everyone had a great time and lots to do.
     The ceremony was sweet, too.  Danielle got choked up saying her vows, and I saw glimpses of many of our guests getting teary-eyed as well.  The words we spoke were beautiful.  I love you.  I trust you.  I delight in you.  For my part, I avoided any kind of emotional expression by obsessing over the amount of gnats resting on my arm on this muggy, late-summer day.  I felt like I had pin pricks in my skin running all the way from my shoulders to my wrists and wasn't sure what to do about it.  I'm no Emily Post, but I'm pretty certain it isn't good form for a bride to swat at bugs and flail her arms incessantly while solemnly swearing  faithfully to love and support another person for the rest of her life.  (And can you imagine how the pictures would look?)
     Gnats aside, it was a lovely day.  We got to visit with friends we hadn't seen in a long time, receive countless hugs and well-wishes, have fabulous hair, and feel incredibly validated and affirmed.  Our outdoor wedding had no trace of rain, and our guests lingered to talk, eat, drink wine, play music, and just savor the last remnants of summer.  It was pretty much perfect.
     However, legally speaking, our vows held the weight of a heaping helping of diddly-squat.
     There have been many times when this fact has angered and saddened me.  The extreme of unfairness of denying marriage rights and protections to same-sex couples is downright infuriating.     
     And yet, today I feel grateful.
     Why the change of heart?  Because on February 14, 2015, I got the chance to say my vows all over again.  And it was even better.
     The road to being able to legally marry in our state was a windy one.  Less than three years ago, our state passed a constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage.  Danielle and I had serious talks about moving from a home we love- and living farther away from our families- in order to reside in a state where we could legally wed.  Temporarily, our love of place and family won out and we stayed put, but we were left feeling vulnerable in the absence of legal rights.  We discussed traveling to Maryland over the summer to obtain a legal marriage license, but we knew the futility of such a trip: the license would be null and void as soon as we crossed over the state line.
     So we carried on in this state (no pun intended) of legal limbo for some time.  Then, one day this past November we started seeing Facebook posts about gay marriage becoming legal in our state.  Perhaps past experiences had conditioned us against optimism because our first response to the news was incredulity. Surely there was a catch.  Perhaps this was one organization's take on a recent court ruling and not the voice of the state speaking.  Yet post after post kept popping up in our feeds.  Apparently, a regional court ruling coupled with our Attorney General's refusal to defend the state's gay marriage ban had indeed paved the way for us to legally marry on our home soil.  We were, of course, thrilled but also shocked.  We had no inkling that a court ruling was in the works.  There was no gripping story line we were following, no waiting with bated breath.  The day we had long been waiting for had arrived, but anticlimactically so. 
Act II
     Fast forward to December 31, 2014.  To end the year, Danielle and I paid a visit to the Register of Deeds office two counties away to obtain a marriage license, although the getting there almost jeopardized our relationship. (Okay, not really, but it makes for an entertaining story.)
     On one of our last days off for winter break, Danielle and I decided to make it official and headed to a county office about an hour from our house to take care of the legal paperwork.  We did this for two reasons.  First, we wanted to avoid getting our names in the local small-town paper, and secondly, the other county has better restaurants.  So we decided to have a celebratory brunch at one of our favorite breakfast spots.  En route, we stopped by our local health department so that I could get my blood drawn as part of preparation for an upcoming surgery.  This blood panel involved fasting, something I don't do well.  After getting blood drawn, Danielle drove my coffee-deprived, empty-stomached self an hour down the road to get a much-needed hearty brunch. 
     Something to know about me: I am an eater.  I do not skip meals.  I do not forget to eat.  How does a person forget to eat?  That's like pushing a gas-depleted car down the road for miles and then saying, "I didn't know the tank was empty."  I could be asked to sing in a concert with Patty Griffin and Emmylou Harris, my two all-time music idols, and I would make sure I had a pre-concert snack.  By the end of the show, I'd also be hoping the ladies would wrap up all their unnecessary singing so we could go out and get a nice dinner.  I'd be planning possible restaurant options and thinking about what I might order in each establishment.  When I am hungry, food pretty much trumps everything.
     All this is to say that Danielle found herself in a pretty precarious position that late morning in December when we arrived at our destination only to discover our restaurant of choice to be packed and overflowing with customers waiting outside in the cold just to get a table.  Outside.  In the cold.  I can't remember my exact response, but I'm certain I did not handle this well.  On our way there, we had passed another breakfast place I was interested in trying, so we decided to go there instead.  However, my warped sense of direction caused me to advise Danielle to park about a mile away from the aforementioned restaurant.  We walked several blocks in the cold and wind before confirming my error, so we had to get back in the car and drive our caffeine- and carb-craving selves to a closer parking space.  When we finally arrived, we discovered a line, but at least this one was indoors only.  The place was crowded and cramped, and we were a little grouchy because we didn't know the procedures and couldn't find a menu.  In other words, it was a wonderfully romantic start to our wedding proceedings.
     Eventually, a menu got passed our way, we chose wondrously decadent meals and fancy coffee drinks, and we shared a cozy meal together.  Danielle took photographs of the designs in our ultra-creamy lattes, and I loaded a biscuit with innovative toppings like tomato jam and strawberry-rhubarb preserves.  My hunger satisfied, more sane feelings like gratitude and joy rose to the surface of my consciousness.  Now that our blood sugar levels were stabilized and our capacity for being loving wives was restored, Danielle and I walked starry-eyed back into the cool air and headed for the office of the Register of Deeds.
     This should be the ending of this part of our happy story, but our legal paperwork-y day included an unexpected twist: a visit to the bank.  (You know how the song goes, "Goin' to the chapel and also to the bank, and we're gonna get ma-a-a-ried"?  Yeah, me neither.)
     When we reached the Register of Deeds' office, we were greeted warmly and congratulated by one of the office workers.  She asked if we were getting married in the state within the next 60 days, which we confirmed.  "Great," she said, "then all I need to see is your driver's license and Social Security card."  I opened my wallet and produced both of these items, but Danielle said, "What?"  She had her driver's license, but her Social Security card was in a lock box at hour's drive away.  The lady at the front desk then suggested that she could also accept another item with Danielle's name and Social Security number on it, an insurance card perhaps?
     You would be amazed by how many personal documents do not contain your Social Security number.  In general, this is a good thing, but it was most inconvenient at this specific moment.
     Finally, the woman at the desk suggested a last-ditch solution.  If we banked at a local bank, we could get a typed letter on company letterhead listing Danielle's name, address, and Social Security number.  This solution was workable, and as luck would have it, Danielle's bank was just a couple of blocks away from the Register of Deeds' office.  So we moseyed down the street to obtain the letter, took a selfie in front of the bank, and returned to complete our legal paperwork.
     In keeping with the anticlimactic nature of our same-sex marriage, filling out the requisite paperwork was a breeze.  In fact, I'm a bit disturbed by how easy it is to get married.  There are virtually no hoops to jump through, unless you are no longer able to recall such basic personal information as your address or your mother's name.  (In which case, you may have some more pressing matters to attend to.)  Paperwork obtained, we were ready to embark on the final step of our legal wedding: the ceremony.  Because we wanted to have close friends and family around for this final step, we opted not to go to the Justice of the Peace and instead contacted our priest.  We were ready to set a date.
     In choosing a date for our legal and final wedding, we had no particular preference within the 60-day timespan, so we asked our priest what dates might work for him.  He offered up a lineup of Saturdays, but one stood out: February 14th, Valentine's Day.
     Valentine's Day has never been a favorite holiday for either Danielle or me.  In high school, my friends and I referred to the date as "Singles Awareness Day," and my college dorm friends and I even created a fake sorority, DDW (Dateless Dirty Whores) to commemorate the day.  I have never craved gifts of roses, giant cards, and stuffed animals, and I doubt I ever will.  Still, Danielle and I never pass up a holiday that might allow us to go out for a fancy dinner date, so we do observe Valentine's Day as a couple these days.
     Danielle and I already have two anniversaries we celebrate.  The first, on September 17th, marks when we officially became a couple.  When planning the first wedding ceremony, we had hoped to use that date, but the venue we wanted was not available at that time.  Therefore, the anniversary of our first wedding falls on September 24th.  Not looking for another anniversary date to remember, Valentine's Day worked perfectly for us.  It was a date when we would go out for dinner anyway and a date the card industry won't let us easily forget.  Besides, we could do worse than publically professing our love for one another on a day dedicated to the celebration of love.
     This second ceremony was so much easier to plan than the first.  Just a few friends and family members were invited, and we decided to do a potluck brunch for an after party.  Because of the new state laws, our sweet, small, and simply beautiful Episcopal church was available as the location of our same-sex marriage ceremony.  Our kind and patient priest gathered the appropriate liturgy for a marriage service and generously accommodated our last-minute decisions regarding readings and music.  I found a passage from Rabbi Harold Kushner that I felt summed up our relationship, and when I read it aloud and it made Danielle cry, I knew it belonged in our service:
"I was sitting on a beach one summer day, watching two children, a boy and a girl, playing in the sand.  They were hard at work building an elaborate sand castle by the water's edge, with gates and towers and moats and internal passages.  Just when they had nearly finished their project, a big wave came along and knocked it down, reducing it to a heap of wet sand.  I expected the children to burst into tears, devastated by what had happened to all their hard work.  But they surprised me.  Instead, they ran up the shore away from the water, laughing and holding hands, and sat down to build another castle.  I realized that they had taught me an important lesson.  All the things in our lives, all the complicated structures we spend so much time and energy creating, are built on sand.  Only our relationships to other people endure.  Sooner or later, the wave will come along and knock down what we have worked so hard to build up.  When that happens, only the person who has somebody's hand to hold will be able to laugh."
     My parents, who were tremendously supportive of our first wedding, seemed even more excited about the legal ceremony.  My mom called me multiple times to ask what they could bring for the brunch, if they could bring a cake, and what colors should be on the cake.  I think every daughter wants her mom to be involved in her wedding, and it was so nice to experience her enthusiasm and joy about our big day.  My folks also read the readings we selected for the day, and they teared up in all the right places.  Our one regret from our first wedding was that we didn't have a toast, so we got my parents to give a toast as part of our brunch.  They said very heartfelt and meaningful things, and one of my friends confessed that she had to reach for another tissue each time my parents got up to speak.  The whole thing was very, very sweet.
     Danielle outdid herself by making platters and platters full of food for the brunch.  My mother felt so sorry for her slaving away in the kitchen, and Danielle tried to explain the phenomena of actually liking to cook, an affinity that does not seem to run in our family.  Danielle also took the day off of work before the wedding and bought tons of flowers for decoration.  (Another benefit of a February 14th wedding- there is no shortage of access to flowers.)  Most of what she purchased were live plants, so her gardening wife looks forward to planting our wedding hydrangeas, Lenten roses, Calla Lilies, and azaleas very soon!  It will be lovely to walk around our yard, see the plants in bloom, and remember our special day.
     And what a special day it was!  Surrounded by arched wooden ceilings, glorious natural light, and the beaming faces of our dear ones, we said our vows. This time, I wasn't thinking about gnats.  I wasn't worried about how long it would take to clean up or even how I would look in the pictures.  In this quiet, holy place, I focused on looking into my wife's eyes.  I cried happy tears freely and openly.  I was present.  I paid attention to the words I said.  Again, the words were beautiful: I do.  I will.
     I still mean them, and I always will.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Independence Day

When you are in the thick of sadness and difficult circumstances, the reminder "Time heals all wounds" can feel like advice that has the sturdiness of wet cardboard.  Yet, those words turn out to be true and solid enough to stand on.  I won't swear that time completely heals the wounds and that you won't be left with some pretty gnarly scars or walk with a noticeable limp, but the passage of time does make the sting less sharp and you, much stronger.

Case in point:

Last year, I was a blubbery mess on the Fourth of July.  That afternoon, I discovered that yet another pregnancy attempt had not worked out.  (This was our "lucky" thirteenth failed try.)  While I know that I cried through basically the whole day, my strongest memory of that time was going to watch a big fireworks display with my aunt, uncle, and cousins, whom we were visiting in Florida.  We were at the beach, and the whole shoreline was terribly congested with people.  Not surprisingly, much of the crowd was made up of parents bringing their children to watch the fireworks.  This normally happy scene was course salt scraping my wound.  I saw a father holding a chubby baby close to his chest, and my bottom lip started trembling as I watched the infant snuggle his head more deeply into his father's shoulder.  Would I ever get to hold my own child?  I spent the evening wearing a constant frown, interrupted only by sporadic and embarrassing bouts of weeping.  Let's just say that I was not so subtle in my grief.  My aunt, full of compassion but at a loss for how to fix the unfixable problem, passed me a Dum-Dum sucker from her purse and asked, "Will this make you feel a little better?"  I wrapped my frowny lips around the candy and tried to suck it up in more than one way.  That night and the two subsequent failed pregnancy attempts in the following months marked a real low point in my life.

I'm not sure that I can articulate how or when I crawled out of that hole, but I do know that, gradually and with time, I am not where I once was.

To continue with the case in point:

This Fourth of July, we spent the evening at a friend's house celebrating her sister's 50th birthday.  A number of mutual friends also came to the party.  There was lots of food, laughter, and conversation.  Some people played music outside by the fire pit, which only added to the festive atmosphere.  We drank wine and ate leftover ice cream cake, a personal favorite of mine.  My friends had purchased a semi-arsenal of small fireworks, and the teenagers at the party were excited to set them off.

Once the sun went down, we all gathered around the fire pit to tell stories and enjoy the cool of a summer evening in the mountains.  Farther down the hill from us in a large white farmhouse by the creek, a local family was having a huge reunion celebration.  Around the time we were began firing Roman candles and bottle rockets, these neighbors started shooting off professional (read: illegal) fireworks.  I'm talking the real deal of fireworks- the same stuff we watched at the beach on the previous Fourth but with more pauses for reloading.  Pretty soon, our now measly fireworks display was doing a comical call-and-response with the neighbors' superior pyrotechnics.  Each "Boom!" and "Pow!" from down the hill was answered with a "fizzzz...." or "hisssssss....." on our end.  We began laughing hysterically at this mismatch.  We decided that, if this were a battle, we were clearly losing.  The teenagers who were in charge of setting off our fireworks thought we were just laughing as a result of funny conversations and did not know we were doubled over because of the tiny, farting explosives they ignited.  The whole scenario brought me to tears- the good kind, this time.

I do not know exactly when it hit me, but somewhere perhaps between a sip of white wine, a giggle, and a bite of ice cream I realized that I was feeling deep, abiding joy instead of the bottomless sorrow I experienced just 365 days prior.  I took in a long breath of mountain air mixed with smoke from the fire and felt true gratitude.  Gratitude for the healing process.  Gratitude for the support of friends.  Gratitude that life, at its core, is kind.  Gratitude that trouble doesn't last forever.  Gratitude for the other side.  Gratitude for my own strength and tenacity.  And ever so grateful for the ability to laugh.

It was then that I realized this July Fourth was my own Independence Day.  I declared my independence from feeling like a victim.  My independence from hormone pills and ovulation predictor kits.  My independence from going broke due to constant medical bills.  My independence from letting the rhythm of my life be dictated by cycles of procedures and two week waits. My independence from basing the whole of my identity on whether or not I was a parent.  My independence from ignoring all the blessings present in my life.  My independence from feeling like a hopeless case.  On a day in which we give thanks for freedom, I experienced my own little emancipation. 

So yes, the medicine of time does heal wounds.  I cannot say that I don't still have residual tenderness at the wound site, but I know that I am getting better.  I might still feel sad and jealous when someone announces a pregnancy (Why is it so easy for so many?  Why wasn't it easy for me?), but I am learning to be happy for others again.  Sure, trying to become a parent is still a part of my life, but I am not letting the process become my whole life.  At long last, I am happy to report that the darkness I once walked through is now filled with great bursts of light.

It's bright and beautiful and enough to put all of the fireworks in the world to shame.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

A Torch Song for My Baby

I'll start with a preface: Danielle and I are not giving up on trying to have a baby.  However, we've not done much recently in the way of discussing next steps and have no idea when our next try will be.  If I'm being honest, we're probably afraid of making the next move, of taking that risk that's never paid off.  In the meantime, I've been spending a good deal of mental energy preparing myself for the worst case scenario- never getting to be a mom.

I don't think that this story will end with no children in our lives.  Still, I like to be prepared.  (Perhaps my background in scouting is to blame.)  Losing the chance to become a mother would be the greatest loss of my life, so I am trying to face that possibility head-on.  The way I play with my demons and try to make sense of them is through writing and making music.  Thus, the damn baby gets a torch song.  Imagine emotive orchestration or a finely played piano accompanying these lyrics.  And perhaps Trisha Yearwood's voice, with a well-placed catch here and there.  Sure, the song is a sad one, but I kinda like it.  And I can get through it without crying.

Take that, demons!

If You Don't Love Me
If you don't love me
If I'm not your choice
If you won't come running
when you hear my voice

If I just keep calling
and you never show
If you don't love me
baby, let me know.

I have been waiting
like a common fool.
You're like the summer
and I'm still in school.

I've got a yearning feeling
that only seems to grow.
If you don't love me, 
baby, let me know.

Should I move a little closer or just move on?
Are you right around the corner or too far gone?
I wish you'd tell me.
Won't someone tell me?

Seems all around me
are starry eyes
from a dream come true
or a sweet surprise.

Am I the only candle
that can't seem to glow?
If you don't love me,
baby, let me know.

Should I move a little closer or just move on?
Are you right around the corner or too far gone?
I wish you'd tell me.
Won't someone tell me?

If you don't love me
I'm gonna take it hard.
So let me go on,
let me get through the saddest part.

Right now I'm drowning
in the ebb and flow.
If you don't love me,
baby, let me know.

I just can't keep drowning
in the ebb and flow.
Do me a favor.
Baby, let me know.

Monday, September 2, 2013

The Case for Selfishness

I am considering renaming this blog "Redundance" because I have the same news to report this month that I seem to report every month: we are not pregnant...again.  This puts us at 0 for 15.  If we were a sports team, I'm thinking our playoff hopes would be dashed already because our record stinks.

And to tell the truth, our hopes are a little dashed at the moment.  Before we got paid this month, we were down to $32 dollars in our bank account.  This has never happened in my adult life.  Simply put, we can't afford another IUI procedure, much less go the more expensive (but much more effective) route of IVF.  And adoption?  Between the daunting legal process and the roughly $20, 000 price tag, I can't begin to wrap my head around that option.  All that seems certain is this: it will be a long time until we get to meet our child.

This is a difficult reality to face.  After all, just because we aren't getting pregnant doesn't mean a national moratorium on pregnancies will go into effect.  We will still see baby bumps on Facebook, and close friends and family members will continue to have babies on the way.  Our future is sure to include baby showers we will try to smile through or birthday parties for children we thought our kids would grow up with.  Some days, we will handle this well.  At other times, we may not be able to get off the couch.  Regardless of the consequences, however, stepping away from the infertility roller coaster right now seems very, very necessary.

Even though our finances were the deciding factor in our taking a break from trying, this forced hiatus may, in fact, turn out to be a Godsend.  For the past two and a half years, we have invested nearly all of our money in baby tries.  We have given up taking trips together and have not spend much money at all on our house.  I have been dying to get some end tables to put by the couches, but getting a little extra furniture was never in the budget.  We need to re-glaze our tub and clear some brush on our property.  We'd like to fence in our backyard.  We're not talking about huge renovation projects, and yet we have not tackled anything on this rather modest wish list.  The damn thieving baby took all of our money.

Well guess what, Butterfinger Baby?  Mama's about to spend some dough on her own damn self.

I must admit that it feels quite good to be spending my energy looking forward to furniture-hunting or backyard landscaping instead of counting down the days till I ovulate.  It's nice to be reminded that I can get excited about other smaller adventures and that, baby or no baby, there is and will continue to be excitement in my life.  It's wonderful to go out on a nice dinner date with my wife without being overly cautious about the price of what I order.  Let's face it: sometimes, you just have to indulge.

In the coming months, Danielle and I have some big decisions to make.  Do we continue to try to get pregnant via IUI?  Do we scrimp and save for a year or two for an IVF try, which is more likely to result in a pregnancy?  Do we quit gambling away our money and begin the adoption process?  At the moment, I have no idea of which route to take.  And that's okay.  Because I can assure you of our next steps.

I am going to drink wine with my dinner so that I can unwind from the stress of my workdays.  I am going to have a strong cup of morning coffee without worrying that I am negatively impacting my fertility, and if the day is especially difficult, I will help myself to a second cup.  I will take steaming hot bubble baths because there is no fetus to damage.  I am putting away the prenatal vitamins and ovulation predictor kits.  I am going to hug the heck out of my dogs and kiss the heck out of my wife.  I will take her on a real date every now and then and even plan a little getaway.  And I will do this until I can remember and relearn the simple truth: we have a happy and whole life just as we are.  Yes, we want to have children very badly, but we were really, really thrilled with the state of our lives before we ever started trying for kids.  My goal for the moment is to get back to where we started.

All of this is not to mean that we won't be getting back on the roller coaster at some point.  In fact, when we look at end tables, I'm sure we will choose something with rounded edges to make sure no clumsy little toddler foreheads get cut.  We will shop with durability in mind.  Yes, I fully expect our end tables one day to be covered in tiny little fingerprints.  At the moment, however, the tables will boast glasses of wine and little plates of semi-pricey cheese.

And I am prepared to drink to that.

Monday, August 19, 2013

Lessons of the Loon

     If you asked my friends about me, I think they'd concur on a couple of things.  A) I am a terrible bowler and B) I am, in general, a pretty positive person.  It's not that I don't complain about my job, my car, the baby disappointments, financial problems, etc.  I certainly do.  However, I can usually find some type of silver lining in the midst of a mess.

     Case in point: At the moment, Danielle and I have a little ant problem in our kitchen.  We have sprayed, bought ant traps, and cleaned out drawers and cabinets.  In the process, we ended up getting rid of a few kitchen gadgets while separating the remaining tools into neat little compartments.  So, when I open our now nicely organized drawers, I smile and say, "Thanks, ants!"  (Granted, this doesn't keep me from squashing the little buggers when I see them crawling on the counter, but I still think the anecdote is illustrative.)

     This is why it's such a shock to my system to experience a deep depression each time a baby try doesn't work.  Fortunately, the feeling lasts only 24-36 hours before life gets more or less back to normal.  But those hours can be a doozy.  Once, I went grocery shopping almost immediately after finding out I wasn't pregnant.  Big mistake.  I wandered the isles like a zombie and almost had a a meltdown because I honestly couldn't remember where to find the chips.  (Psst!  They have a whole isle for that.)  My thought bubble was something along the lines of "I still don't (sniff) have a baby, and NOW... I ...CAN'T... FIND... THE... FRITOS!  WAAAAAH!"  Ridiculous.  I also wavered between being numb-but-calm and on the verge of an ugly cry.  It's a wonder no one found me wailing and drooling and dripping copious amounts of salty goo from my nose next to the cool refrigeration of the organic vegetables.  I was not, shall we say, at my best.

     Sadly, we had yet another failed pregnancy attempt.  (That was try # 13 for anyone keeping count.)  We found out the "blessed" news while vacationing at the beach and visiting my aunt and uncle.  I had thought that the distraction of the beach might offset the usual blues, that the reliable sound of crashing waves might be of some comfort.  That standing of the edge of the world and looking out into all that vastness might make my problems seem smaller.

     What I hadn't counted on was bad weather. During our week long stay in Pensacola, Florida, we had exactly 6 days of pouring rain.  We're talking non-stop, torrential rains, dangerously flooded streets- the works.  On our second-to-last day of vacation, we'd planned to have a day at the beach and then get together for dinner with some friends who were vacationing nearby.  This get-together fell right within my 24-hour depression window, so I was looking forward to a bit of daytime sea salt therapy before putting on a happy face for my friends at dinner.  That morning, Danielle and I set out on a rainy drive toward the coast.  The weather, we figured, might clear up by the time we arrived.

     To be fair, it was not raining when we first arrived at the beach.  It was cloudy, extremely windy, and chilly, but there was no precipitation.  We couldn't engage in our favorite beach activity- lying out and reading- because the wind would've made it impossible to keep the pages of our hardbacks stationary.  Therefore, we began a somewhat grumpy walk along the beach.

     Within 10 minutes, even the luxury of this activity was rendered impossible as the rain cranked back up.  Instead of spending additional time at the beach, we decided to have a leisurely lunch date and then head on to see our friends.  Using the GPS, we quickly located one recommended restaurant, only to balk at its prices and cuisine.  (Sorry, but I don't go to the beach to eat French food.)  Still determined, we entered the address of another restaurant into the GPS.  This time, we were not as lucky and were incorrectly sent away from town and access to restaurants.  When we turned around to head back toward civilization, we found ourselves in heavy traffic.  Between beach goers and cautious rainy-day drivers, the cars just inched along like run-on sentences punctuated periodically by red lights.  If driving in traffic is like reading, this experience was War and Peace.

     At this point, I just wanted to go home.  I wanted to be off the road and in my own bed.  I was in a constant state of either crying or being on the verge of tears, and the rain was, let's just say, not helping.  Worse, I could see that my mood was bringing Danielle's down.  I felt guilty for ruining our beach day.  It was in this pouty, weepy state that I texted my friends to let them know we were grabbing a quick bite to eat before driving to their condo.  Their text back did nothing to improve my state of mind.  While Danielle does the most accurate and hilarious impression of my reaction to their text, I'll try to replicate it in writing.

     "They said (gasping sob) there's a tornado warning (bigger sob) for Fort Walton Beach (gasping sob) and that we (gasping sob) should just come on over and have sandwiches.  (Bawling ensues.)  I'm okay (gasping sob), I'm okay......"

    Ladies and gentlemen, meet the low point of our trip.

     About an hour later, we finished traveling the mere eight miles to our friends' condo.  What a comfort it was to see familiar faces!  Turns out, they, too, were pretty bummed about the gray week of rain.  We swapped crying stories and laughed at our pouty moments.  Rain on vacation?  A total First World problem.

     Our superhero friends swooped in with snacks and mimosas (Which I, not being pregnant, could now enjoy.), let us borrow cozy sweaters and warm socks, and put on a movie.  Eventually, there was a lull in the rain, so we all went out for a walk on the beach.  Sure, it was cold and gray, but it was also beautiful.  The water was this earthy green-brown color.  I'd never seen the beach this way.  We collected a large cup full of intact and unique shells.  We slowed down.  We looked around.  We noticed beauty.  We leaned on friends.  We breathed deeply.  It was wonderful.

     As we walked near a jetty, we noticed a bird that seemed to be injured.  Our friends told us that the strong waves brought on by the heavy rains had washed the bird onto the rocks that morning.  A good Samaritan had freed the bird from the rocks, but it just sat on the sand as if nesting. Small crowds huddled around the bird from time to time, but no one seemed to have a solution to the bird's predicament.  Eventually, our friend called Fish and Wildlife and described the problem over the phone.  It was determined that the bird (possibly a loon) was not used to being on land and would move best in water.  With the help of a kind stranger, our friend carried the bird to the shoreline and set it on the sand a few feet from the water.

     As if driven by an ancient instinct, the loon began to pull itself across the sand by its wings, its impotent legs dragging behind its body.  At last, the bird entered the water and began to swim.  Instantly, it looked healthy, safe, and at home.  In that moment, big concepts like Grace and Redemption took on feathers and a beak.  And I got to witness the whole thing.

     As you might imagine, the rest of our vacation was marvelous.  We shared a big, messy, delicious meal with our friends.  We spent the night on their pullout couch in order to avoid driving in the rain after dark.  We swam in a pool, performed fake synchronized swimming routines, and took one last walk on the beach.  We devoured homemade peach ice cream that tasted like summer and childhood and happiness.  The next morning, Danielle and I had a delicious breakfast date at a diner our friends recommended. 

     Though the getting there had been difficult, the trip was well, well worth it.  Pouty self, take note: there's a lesson here.

     As I write this, my mind keeps returning to that poor loon stranded on the sand.  Each time we find out we've had another failed pregnancy attempt, I am not unlike that bewildered bird: immobile, scared, and entirely out of my element.  But, even though I look injured, I'm really going to be okay.  After all, I have friends and loved ones to pick me up, flailing wings and all, and carry me back home.  Eventually, instinct kicks in and I remember to laugh and hope, dive and float.  It might take cajoling, mimosas, or comfort food, but I will come around.

     By the grace of God, sea salt, and love, it happens every time.


Thursday, June 20, 2013

Dear Damn Baby

If you've not seen the movie The Waitress, I highly recommend it.  It's about, well, a waitress with a no-good husband and an unplanned pregnancy.  Throughout the movie, the main character (played beautifully by Keri Russell) composes "Dear baby" letters in her head.  When life is particularly rotten, it's "dear damn baby".  Now that Danielle and I are entering our third year of the baby trying/ infertility process, I've been writing some "dear damn baby letters" of my own.  Here are a few.

Dear Damn Baby,
This is your mother speaking.  Listen, we've spent all of our savings trying to get you here, and I suggest you start cooperating soon.  You're already coming home from the hospital in a 1996 Corolla.  If you don't want to drive that car to high school, you'd better get yourself here.  And if you hold out much longer, you will be taking a segway to school.  And no one will make out with you in the back of a segway.
Please make a good decision.

Dear Damn Baby,
Would you rather be named "scholarship" or "Pell grant"? 
Thanks for your feedback,

Dear Damn Baby,
We need a new roof.  Could use your help in this matter.
p.s. The plumbing is gone to shit, too.

Dear Damn Baby,
Don't make me put you in hand-me-downs for the rest of your life.  Sure, it's all well and good when you're a baby, but you may feel differently when you're the only kid in your middle school wearing Hammer pants.  This is not a threat.

Dear Damn Baby,
We are treating the dog like she's our first-born.  She hates those little doggie outfits, but we break down and buy them when we're feeling particularly child-deprived.  Your mommy even holds her like a baby, which just causes the poor pooch to scowl and tuck her tail.  If you don't get yourself born soon, I am afraid we will be one of those weirdos pushing a baby stroller... with a dog in it.
Please do the humane thing,

Dear Damn Baby,
Every time I see a pregnant woman smoking, I want to kick her in the belly.  Multiple times.  While cursing a blue streak.  My resolve is wearing down.  Get here now, or you may find yourself being born in prison.  And you don't want to wind up in the foster care system; trust me on this one.
Just a suggestion,

Dear Damn Baby,
We are considering naming you Prius since that's what we could've bought with what we've spent in medical bills so far.  And I mean the nice new one that has more room.  Believe me: when you see what kind of car you could have come home in, you are going to shit yourself.  (Who am I kidding?  You're going to shit yourself anyway because you will be incontinent the first 2 or so years of your life.) 
Just remember this: if it gets to the point where we could name you Lexus LX, I am going to start garnishing your allowance.
Think on it,

And a final word:

Dear Damn Baby,
If you are reading this, first of all, congratulations!  You are a great reader!  If you can read, you should be old enough to have realized that I am full of shit and that this whole correspondence is a load of bunk.  Here is the only part that is true: if you find yourself going through a dark time in your life (which you will, as much as I'd love to shield you from it), please arm yourself with an equally dark sense of humor.  It may be just the thing to see you through.  Take it from someone who knows.
With love,
p.s. If you want to get a job when you are in high school, I would be totally okay with that.