In the Trenches

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The blogs of those women who’ve had their miracle babies either grow stagnant or else morph into parenting blogs. I unfollow many infertility-turned-mommy blogs. To some women they’re a source of encouragement, but I’m not in a place where I can handle baby/parenting posts in my newsfeed. It’s not personal: we’ve all been there at one time or another.

It seems like most of the IF blogger women I’ve befriended have resolved, and I feel isolated. I begrudge no one her happiness in overcoming infertility. I also realize that many suffer from survivor’s guilt, and aren’t sure how to reconcile these two starkly different worlds. They don’t want to inadvertently cause pain to those of us in the trenches. They feel like they can’t relate anymore. And in a way, they can’t relate:  these women have moved from fellow infertility friends to “the others.”  Mothers. The connection that once bonded us together is lost, and our sojourns take differing paths.

While it can be daunting and lonely to realize I’m still in the thick of things, I keep a peace deep inside that it will ultimately be okay. If nothing else, the long experience of infertility has taught me to seek God in a different kind of way. It’s happened gradually. And I don’t mean seeking God in a “gimme” entitlement attitude, or as a magical genie to grant my personal requests. Instead, it’s caused me to search deeper for answers into what His plans are for my life. I’m learning to be content whether or not His plans include children. I have peace.

While I’m believing Him to make me a happy mother of children, if it doesn’t happen, that’s okay too. I don’t believe infertility is His perfect will for me, or for anyone. But it is something He’s allowed me to experience for purposes that I may not realize this side of heaven. Although the pain of childlessness isn’t assuaged by this, it does become more manageable. The impossible demands that I place on myself to get pregnant are truly above my pay grade; I hold no power. But I do maintain faith.

The point of this post? That I’m still here, still walking among these trenches, still awaiting my miracle, and still awaiting yours, too. When I come out on the other side, I promise not to make this a mommy blog. I will not forget.

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Photo Walk: Newtown, Pennsylvania

*Note: Non [in]fertility post. I need a break from the madness.

This month I participated in my first ever Photo Walk. After learning about Photo Walks from fellow endo warrior Lisa over at Bloomin’ Uterus, I just knew I had to sign up for one. They’re free, open to anyone, and held in cities, towns, and countries all over the place. A Photo Walk is a group of people who meet up for a couple of hours to take photographs of an agreed upon area. Attendees can take pics with fancy cameras, digital cameras, old school cameras, cell phone cameras… there’s no real rules.

Now I’m no photographer, and all I can claim as a bona fide camera is a decade-old digital model, but I do love taking pictures. So I figured why not?! Someday sooner than later though I would like to buy a nice camera. I really enjoy photography and definitely want to develop it into an actual hobby (see what I did there?).

My Photo Walk location choices came down to either Philadelphia or Newtown, Pennsylvania, which is a tiny suburb about 40 miles north of the city. I chose Newtown since I live in Philly and kind of see it all the time. I’d only been to Newtown once before and remembered it as being very charming and quaint. An afternoon of strolling and photographing far away from the hustle and bustle sounded lovely.

When I arrived to meet with my fellow Photo Walkers I was slightly disappointed. There were a dozen of us and, at 35, I was by far the youngest person there. (Silver lining: no babies or preggos!)  Our walk guide handed us maps of the historical area where we’d be photographing and off we went exploring, cameras in hand!

A few people—the professional types with their fancy lenses and camera bags—dropped out after only a few blocks. I have to admit, I too bailed halfway through because my group was moving so slowly and everyone seemed vaguely uncomfortable. But I did get to see several historical spots, meet some nice people, and enjoy an overpriced almond milk latte from an adorable cafe. That said, in the future I might sign up for a walk in a bigger city after all; maybe even stay for the entire walk next time.

Here’s some pics from my Photo Walk. You can click on any pic to enlarge it. As you can see, for reasons unknown even to myself I seem to have a penchant for taking pictures of doors… And if you look really closely, you might even catch a glimpse of yours truly (unintentionally) reflected in one of them.

Enjoy!

Commemorating Life

With the “-ber” months marking the start of so many holidays, the end of September always ushers in a particularly special time of year for me. I married Jake on the very last day of summer 14 years ago, September 21.  So this part of September is kind of like our personal celebration kickoff to the seasons of autumn and winter.

This year, our anniversary also happened to fall on the Jewish new year. This was especially meaningful to Jake and I because we look toward our own new beginning as a family, what with Jake’s transition into a new career and planning our next house move. We’re not Jewish, but it made our anniversary feel extra celebratory this year.

Two years ago, our first embryo transfer fell on the very first day of autumn and the day following our wedding anniversary, September 22.
This year on September 22 I wasn’t thinking about the 2-year milestone/anniversary/commemoration of our embryo transfer. Instead, Jake and I were outdoors riding our bikes. I was lost in thought reflecting over our wedding anniversary the night before and its correlation to the Jewish new year.

Suddenly I remembered back to two years ago today.  On September 22, 2015 I certainly wasn’t out riding my bike on a gorgeous sunny day! Instead, I was nervously anticipating my embryo transfer, brimming with excitement to bring home a baby in nine months’ time.

In November 2015 I had miscarried naturally at home at 11 weeks gestation, although the embryo had stopped living inside of me at the 5 and a half week mark. I didn’t know what to do with the product that I eventually miscarried. To flush it down the toilet was appalling. To save it was horrific. So I placed the remains in a small jewelry box and waited.

A few days later when the physical pain had subsided, Jake and I drove the box to a secluded sandy spot near the river. We found two identical “parent” trees with a tinier “baby” tree growing between them. There by the baby tree we buried the box deep in the sand. We held a small memorial service—just the two of us—then we left town for three days.  I’ve rarely visited the site since. Being there tends to make me cry.

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The river near the spot, but not the actual spot itself.

This year, it happened that Jake and I were riding our bikes very close to where our embryo is buried, on the exact two-year anniversary of its transfer. What kind of monster would I be not to visit the site on such a day?

Jake and I each stopped to pull handfuls of white and yellow wildflowers. Then we biked to the spot by the three trees. In two years, the baby tree had grown some, although it was still dwarfed by its “parents.”  We placed our flowers on the ground before the baby tree and weighted them down with a small rock. We said a prayer to God. I cried a bit. We walked back to our bikes in quiet solemnity.

Our burial site visit was unplanned. I’m thankful that the Lord had us near that spot on the exact day. Being there doesn’t hurt quite like it used to hurt. The sadness is etched less deeply with the passage of time. It’s now a scar, no longer a fresh wound.

I’m thankful that we marked the anniversary, impromptu or not. Because as Jake and I look onward to our new beginning—our “new year” so to speak—I don’t ever want to forget the old, our baby’s life (and babies’ lives).

To me, it matters.

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It’s the Most Wonderful Time…

… of the month: ovulation day! ** Obviously. It’s way too soon for The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, although the stores don’t seem to know that and are already peddling their holiday wares. Sending a shout out to this all-important monthly milestone and the many accouterments that go along with. There’s a lot of bad in the world these days. Why not celebrate the little things?

Women (i.e., me) with one ovary really do ovulate every month! Like a person with one kidney, as soon as an ovary is removed the remaining ovary takes over the work of both. I’m amazed how God saw to it to design the human body with these capabilities. While it might be overtaxing to my lone ovary to be doing all the egg releasing itself during these last 13 years, I’m just grateful it’s still doing its job.

Here’s what a typical month looks like for me at ovulation, in pictures:

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One of my most-used apps. The shooting uterine pains I could’ve done without though.

 

Baby making makes you good at math.
Recently added to my fertility routine. I recommend consuming by disguising them in smoothies (wheatgrass) or stirred into coffee or chai tea (maca), because these supplements taste pretty nasty on their own.
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Fortunately, bromelain and selenium come wrapped up in foods that actually taste good! Here’s my monthly pineapple purchase, accompanied by a handful of Brazil nuts.
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The battalion of my supplement army, lined up and ready for battle
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Trust, but verify.

Let another two week wait begin.

Peace. ❤

 

** The most wonderful day of the month actually occurred 4 days ago.  I delayed publishing this because it seemed too trite to post during either the hurricane or on the anniversary of 9/11. 

3 in 1: Kate 3, Marixsa 0

My initial reaction when reading that Kate Middleton is pregnant yet again? Jealousy. Not a pretty thing to admit… but let’s be real. After all, she’s managed to have/is having three babies in the span I’ve been trying for just one.  It’s like a special little punch every 1.5 years or so when she has another baby/pregnancy and the media ogles over every.single.detail, ad nauseum.

This world is an unfair place. The sun shines and the rain falls on us all: the fertile and the infertile, the royal and the average, the easy pregnancies and the ones borne of needles and clinics and dwindling embryo counts.

Once I got that ugly part of my humanity out of the way, I began thinking how being pregnant can be hard.  I found myself even feeling sorry for Kate!  Now I don’t follow celebrity news, but I don’t live completely under a rock either: I know that she’s suffered with extra crazy bad morning sickness during her pregnancies.  And I’m sympathetic.  Remembering back to my own short-lived pregnancies and how physically ill I felt, I can’t imagine enduring that feeling on a larger scale for a much longer duration. It can’t be fun, no matter how easily conception happened. 

I’ve also read some very unkind comments on here from my fellow IF community about royal pregnancy #3.  I completely get the sting, because I felt it too: it’s like a regular painful pregnancy announcement, except on crack. But it makes me sad to read such harsh posts from others who’ve walked the hard roads of IF treatment and difficult pregnancies themselves. 

I totally agree that it’s “unfair” how she gets yet another one. Life is unfair, God certainly promises us that. It’s full of ugliness, full of perplexity, full of opportunities to be resentful. So to extend congratulations to someone for her “easy” pregnancy—royal or otherwise—seems like the right way for those of us suffering with infertility to push back just a little. To resolve kindness in place of inequity, even when it stings.

This isn’t some misplaced chastisement for the real pain that this overblown pregnancy announcement can have on us. All I know is that, since all this infertility business started in my own life, I’ve handled waaaaay more than my fair share of pregnancy announcments badly: I’ve been jealous, envious, angry, bitter, and probably some other unlikeable adjectives. But looking back, I can see that secretly harboring those reactions and feelings got me nowhere. In fact, carrying such negative weights actually made the fight harder than it already was (well, is). 

Six years into this thing and I don’t want to live that way anymore. That choice is mine: it’s one of the few choices I get to make when it comes to babies and pregnancies and how I’m going to walk out this sojourn. 

Peace. 

All the Little Things: Chemical Purge

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In my 6 year quest toward resolving infertility, I’m always looking for new ways to help my body prepare for a pregnancy.  One major part of being TTC is watching what chemicals and hormones I allow into my everyday life.

Things like phthalates, parabens, silicones, tricolsan, GMOs, pesticides, foaming agents,  plastics, BPA, etc. that are lurking in our daily lives are scary stuff.  In fact, it’s overwhelming! Just try to spend a day—even an hour—living completely free of any of those things. I dare you.

Since I want to do everything possible for my egg health and reproductive system, I’ve gotten mega serious about reducing the amount of chemicals I’m exposed to. Sometimes I wonder if my efforts are too little too late and the damage has already been done. But then I determine to do the best that I can, regardless. Even though I can’t live in the protective bubble that I’d like to, there are things I CAN do to reduce my exposure.

Every few months I go on a mad purge of my home. I’m constantly finding new chemical-laden things to say goodbye to. I’m smack in the middle of a purge right now, and am discarding anything questionable in my path—including all of Jake’s personal care products, which he’s surprisingly okay with. Guys tend to get upset if they don’t think their swimmers are up to snuff. And those swimmers are a major part of the baby equation!

Here’s the things I’ve either tossed or replaced since starting this kick. It’s a long list, but that just shows how prevalent chemicals are in everyday life. By the way, none of the brands I’ve mentioned has given me anything to endorse them. I share this list with you in a genuine effort to help anyone who may be reading think about her reproductive health in a new light:

What I Tossed Why I Tossed It How I Replaced It
Dish soap and hand soap Contains foaming agents and tricolsan, an endocrine disruptor. Replaced with brands The Honest Company, 7th Generation, and Elmore Mountain Farms.

 

Dish sponges Contain tricolsan, in addition to taking like a trillion years to decompose in a landfill.

 

Replaced with triclosan-free, sustainable sponges by Full Circle Home.
Plastic cutting boards Studies show that plastic cutting boards actually hold more bacteria than wood! Plus, eating BPA particles if I accidentally chop the plastic board isn’t very appetizing.

 

Replaced with a 3-set of bamboo cutting boards, sans wood glue or any coating. Glass is probably okay to use, but I think food slides around too much on glass cutting boards.
Nonstick pots and pans By now, most people know that the coating on nonstick cookware (especially once scratched) leeches some seriously nasty chemicals.

 

Replaced with stainless steel. One day when I’m rich, I’ll get the really good stuff.
Plastic cooking utensils BPA and other endocrine-disrupting chemicals. Replaced with wood and stainless steel. Tossed any Solo cups, plastic eating utensils, etc. lurking around my kitchen.

 

Hand sanitizer Triclosan and other endocrine disruptors. Stopped using altogether. It’s worth the so-called “inconvenience” to wash my hands with the healthier soaps I mentioned above.

 

Household cleaners Tested on animals, full of scary chemicals. Replaced with brands such as 7th Generation and The Honest Company. Also stocked up on hydrogen peroxide and vinegar–they get the job done too!

 

Hair products This one’s a biggie for me! My hair is mega curly and unruly, and I’m forever seeking the perfect concoction of haircare products for it. I avoid anything tested on animals, with animal-derived ingredients (like keratin), and with phthalates, silicones, parabens, etc.

 

Work in Progress. I still use some Deva Curl products, but EWG gives it shoddy reviews. Shea Moisture and Dr. Bronner’s are good brands and affordable. I know there’s better stuff out there, but I can’t break the bank with experimenting right now.
Nail polish color and remover Nail polish is in the Top 5 of beauty product’s Dirty Dozen list. It’s literally a jar chock full of toxic chemicals. I (begrudgingly) threw away all my polishes and remover. There’s brands out there that are healthier alternatives, but right now I just don’t feel like shelling out ten bucks for a teeny bottle of paint. So I go without.

 

Makeup Full of questionable chemicals and endocrine disruptors; also notoriously tested on cute little bunnies and other helpless critters. I love my makeup. And I’ve never been one to gravitate toward the uber-expensive stuff. Thanks to my dear friend Lisa at Bloomin’Uterus, I’ve discovered Orglamix makeup! Slowly over the past 6 months I’ve been replacing my makeup products one piece at a time with Orglamix, and am a happy customer so far!

 

Lip gloss Many lip glosses/lip balms are petroleum-based. Petroleum is a byproduct of oil refining, and can contain carcinogens.

 

I make my own! Some beeswax, cocoa butter, and essential oils is all it takes. So easy.
Shower loofah Flexible plastics are chock full of phthalates. One day as I showered with my healthy Dr. Bronner’s soap, I took a hard look at my cheap plastic loofah. Was I literally coating my body with phthalates while using healthy soap? Eek!

 

I bought a natural sea sponge loofah on Amazon. It cost $12. No matter how careful I am to dry it, I still have to sanitize it in the sun every couple of days to keep mildew from growing, which is so inconvenient. Currently looking for a worthy replacement.
Toothpaste Unnatural added colors, tested on animals, unnecessarily added fluoride, triclosan (at least in Colgate), added sugars. Replaced with Tom’s of Maine, Dr. Bronner’s, and Nature’s Gate brands, depending on which one’s available when I shop.

 

Laundry detergent Animal testing, added dyes, endocrine-disrupting chemicals, etc. I make my own! A bar of natural laundry soap, some borax, and super washing soda. I throw it all into the food processor for a few minutes. About 2 tablespoons per load does the trick.

 

Lotions Chemicals and tested on animals, plus usually packaged in plastic bottles

 

I make my own! My daily go-to is an essential oil body butter, which can be found here.
Facial moisturizer/wrinkle cream Just a big ‘ole (well, little ‘ole) jar of chemicals. I just use organic coconut oil… very sparingly and only in the spots where I need it. After a few minutes, I blot off any excess oil.

 

Deodorant Can anyone say “aluminum?” Yikes—natural deodorants are so meh! Or maybe I’m just stinky. Brands I’ve tried include Tom’s of Maine, Stink Bug, Nature’s Gate, Thai Crystal, and *some other brand I forget.* Currently my fave is Stink Bug brand, but I have to reapply like 3 times a day.

 

Body Wash Phthalates, parabens, foaming agents. Dr. Bronner’s. Period—it’s the best! Also can be used for other home cleaning projects.

 

Tampons/Pads/Pantiliners Most days of the month I need protection from bleeding or spotting. Vaginal area skin is both sensitive and porous. Traditional feminine products are bleached and full of “absorbent” chemicals.

 

Replaced with brands Natracare and Veeda, which are affordable, unbleached, and free of added chemicals.
Drinking straws Hello, BPA! Also takes hundreds of years to decompose, and sea turtles can mistake plastic straws for food, then the straws get stuck the poor turtles. I make a daily smoothie/shake for work and used to use disposable plastic straws. I replaced them with a set of reusable glass drinking straws scored off Amazon.

As for the smoothie’s themselves, I simply pour them into repurposed glass spaghetti sauce jars and head out the door.

 

Flea and ticks I love to snuggle with Puppy. I don’t, however, love to snuggle with questionable chemicals, which flea and tick medications are loaded with.

 

A few drops of essential Rose Geranium oil on Puppy before going outside keeps ticks at bay. As for fleas, we don’t use anything. And we haven’t had a flea problem in 8 years. I don’t think it’s necessary.

This list isn’t exhaustive; it’s fluid and ever-changing.

I’m interested in your thoughts on the matter. What have you changed or given up in this area since becoming TTC?

Peace. ❤

Biopsy: A Change of Plans

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Never one to wait, I cancelled my remaining two cervical cauterizations and went straight to uterine biopsy. The bleeding had become too much and too often so I wanted to rule out anything terrible, cause that’s just how I roll.

The Before

There’s just no way around it: biopsies hurt! Although it’d been 13 years since my last lady-parts biopsy (colposcopy), I still vividly remembered the searing pain of cells being scraaaaaaped away. *shudder*  However, since my uterus has seen lots of action since 2004—what with surgeries,  hysteroscopies, HSGs, pregnancies and the like—I hoped that, like a well-exercised muscle, it’d toughened itself up and the pain would be minimized.

So, onward I soldiered to my latest biopsy…. with the benefit of hindsight and armed with ‘narc painkillers. I like to think that maybe I’m getting smarter (just a little).

The During

Doctors have a funny way of measuring time: Dr. Maryland completely lied when she said it’d last “ten seconds.”  Don’t believe the hype, people!  Biopsies take a few minutes—REAL minutes, not doctor minutes.

There was pain. There was blood. There was tensing of my leg muscles as I gripped the edge of the exam table throughout the entire interminable procedure.

I was literally thanking God when it was over. Still am.

The After

And the results are in. 

 

*drum roll please*

 

I met with Dr. Maryland in person for my results. The appointment was brief:

  • Biopsy results were normal (anticlimactic, I know).
  • Intermenstrual bleeding is coming from my cervix, not my uterus.
  • While the bleeding is abnormal, there’s nothing that Dr. Maryland or any doctor I’ve met with can (or will) do about it. The only way to fully stop the bleeding is with hormones—i.e. birth control.
  • Dr. Maryland has no solutions for me and suggested I return to my RE and ART (even though I’ve told her umpteen times that ART isn’t something we want to pursue right now).
  • Then she “wished me luck” and said to call her when I get a positive pregnancy test.

I felt utterly dismissed. It was the closest someone’s ever come to saying, “I can’t help you. Now get out of here” without actually saying the words themselves.

The Finale 

One year later, the medical chapter of my unexplained bleeding ends, although the bleeding itself does not end.  I still have this crazy notion that there’s a doctor out there who can help me, but whoever she or is he, it eludes me.

Am I just chasing rainbows? Do I really “just have to live with it?” Is this my body’s new normal? After how much I had to fight just to get a simple biopsy performed, I feel pretty defeated. Normal results are so reassuring; lack of a solution, not so much.

When doors keep shutting like this, I believe it’s God trying to tell me something. Now onward to figure out what that something is. My hope in medicine is dashed; but thank God medicine isn’t the final answer. That’s the only thing I know for sure amid all this uncertainty.

*Chapter Ends.*