Tag Archives: Infertility

Third Time’s a Charm

As I mentioned in Empowered, on May 12 I had a second myomectomy surgery to remove more of the giant fibroid that has been keeping me from becoming a mother. Unfortunately, the surgeons were still unable to get all of it out safely in the second sitting. Not only was it large and connected to my uterine wall in multiple places, but it was also hard and vascularized, and difficult to cut. They had to end the procedure for my safety, to keep me from filling up with water like I did during the first surgery. On June 2 I had my third and final procedure. My surgeon and I agreed that the third surgery had to be the last, so I signed a consent for them to go in laparoscopically through my abdomen if they couldn’t complete the procedure hysteroscopically. The surgeon told me that he has done thousands of these procedures and that I was his most difficult case. What a way to be special, right?

Thankfully, I woke up without any stitches on the outside of my body. The team was able to finally end this period of surgical limbo that has seemed to drag on forever without cutting me. The head surgeon told my husband that they were so excited that there was a celebratory cheer in the operating room when the last chunk of tumor came out. After the second surgery I cried (along with the nurse and the resident) because I had to have a third surgery, and I felt like the trauma would never end. After the third surgery I cried because I was so filled with gratitude and relief.

In the interim between the second and third surgeries, I can say that I still didn’t slip into self-pity or full melancholy. However, I did feel a bit dead inside; so I can’t really say I wasn’t depressed. A malaise set in, and I didn’t know to where or what I could turn for support. My relationship with any version of God is tenuous at best right now. I lost all my new-agey “woo” beliefs between going through IVF and listening to a whole lot of Conspirituality Podcast. I was sensing that the people in my life were hitting a point where they didn’t know how to respond to my continued surgical adventures, and I felt like I was no longer connecting with the therapist I had been seeing for the last year and a half. I also couldn’t go to my old unhealthy coping mechanisms like smoking and drinking, because obviously physical health is paramount when trying to have a baby.  When it felt like there was no direction to go with my emotions, I guess I just checked out and went into autopilot to get through the surgeries. Let’s just say there has been a lot of TV watching and overdoing it at my day job.

Now that the surgeries are done, some of the malaise has lifted, and I recognize that I need to reestablish some habits that will help me stay embodied and grounded through the next part of the process (implantation). A big lesson that I’ve learned this year is that part of being the hero of my own story is being willing to practice. It is understanding that ease will never come without the sometimes un-fun but necessary daily habits: Do the yoga practice. Take the walk.  Write for an hour. Show up for yourself. It’s not something that comes easily to me – I am a master at being “busy” as a form of distraction and overperforming as a means to feel in control. Practice without knowing where it is going is patience embodied (a.k.a., a big challenge).

Here, finally at the end of Phase 2 of my fertility prescription, I still feel strong. I still feel proud of what I have done and what I have made it through already on the road to becoming a mother. This summer I will focus on practice, not only for myself and my own wellbeing, but also because I would love to be able to model showing up for oneself for my children, once they are here.

Empowered

The fact that I happen to be heading towards becoming a mother at the same time that I’m having a mid-life reckoning is super-fun. Now I’m not only trying to birth an actual child, but also all of the other things that I want to birth in my life, like essays and books and articles and a daily and more robust yoga practice. The fact that I am picking up a dropped thread with most of those things can feel an awful lot like failure or hopelessness. For a long time, it was my habit to lean into my feelings of failure and wrap myself in “poor me” mentality. It can feel good to feel bad. It can make you feel justified about making unhealthy indulgences and wasting time. I always had magical thinking to fall back on; I was sure that if I just did enough visualization and ritual everything would work out.

Back in January when I lost my magical thinking security blanket, I began a spiritual crisis. The crisis is largely around redefining my idea of God and my relationship with whatever that is, and my current spirituality is still an ungrounded mess that is just beginning to get sorted. However, one of the unexpected gifts of “losing my religion” around manifestation is that I’m no longer falling into the “poor me” hole so often. Magical thinking not only puts the blame on individuals for things outside of their control, but it also depends on some ambiguous thing outside of oneself to do the heavy lifting of dream-making. It can distract and detract from the personal work and changes in behavior that need to take place to actually make things happen. Though magical thinking gave me an illusion of control, losing it has made me feel more empowered.

Two weeks ago I had surgery to remove the giant fibroid that had made me unable to carry a baby. Once the surgeons were in my uterus, they were able to see that it was even larger and more complex than they were able to see on the MRI. The method of this particular surgery can cause a patient’s organs to take on water if it lasts too long. My fibroid is so large that they had to end the surgery before they removed it all because my lungs were beginning to take on water. Waking up coughing in the recovery room was scary, and I had to unexpectedly spend the night at the hospital so my oxygen levels could be monitored. I will now need to have another round of the same surgery in a couple weeks to remove the rest of it. A year ago this would have all sent me into a self-pity downward spiral. Honestly, I think this one would have been justified. I wouldn’t blame anyone for feeling sorry for themself after all the shots and the four surgeries it’s requiring for me to do a perfectly normal, natural, basic thing like have a baby. Weirdly, I don’t feel sorry for myself.

I have always wanted to be a mother. It is one of my dreams for my life.  Thanks to medical science, pregnancy is a possibility for me when it would have been impossible otherwise. The same benevolent mother nature to whom my woo woo crunchy granola self had capitulated turned out to be the thief of my dream thanks to her giant fibroid. I understand that I am blessed to have the resources and technology at my disposal to choose this process, and that this process is a privilege. However, I am also choosing the hard thing. The painful thing. The very expensive thing. I am not giving up. I am doing everything it takes for me to become a mother. Even when some might argue that maybe God or the “universe” didn’t want me to. And that makes me feel powerful. That makes me feel like a badass. That makes me feel like a true creator of my own life. Now I sincerely know my own power to make my dreams happen.

Mama is a Realist

I think that the events of the last year have definitely accelerated the mid-life crisis I was already beginning to experience in late 2019.  I thought of it as a mid-life crisis at that point, anyway. ‘Crisis’ implies fast movement or the need for immediate reaction. I’m beginning to look at it more as a reckoning. Changes are happening, but much slower than in a crisis.

I have learned that a major element of mid-life reckoning is grieving what didn’t happen. Sometimes that has to do with personal choices or things that you can still do something about (ie. writing that novel…or buying a Ferrari). Sometimes it’s just that life is nothing like how you pictured it or dreamed it and you just need to mourn the loss and move on.  In my case, specific to trying to have a family, a major elimination has happened in both what I perceived as normal and in what my dreams were for the processes of being pregnant and giving birth. When I got married at age 28, I assumed that I would be pregnant within a couple of years. I assumed that we would conceive easily, and that trying would be this lovely time of connection between my husband and me.  I pictured my pregnancy as young and glowing and full of love and life. That’s just the way things go, right? I was also very into all things natural and holistic, and envisioned myself doing a lot of prenatal yoga and working with midwives and giving birth without the aid of drugs in a kiddie pool in my living room. My visions of raising my kids were similar to how I was raised: by younger people who were learning the world along with me. I was picturing myself as a different type of mother than I will likely be.

The reality is that I’m at an age where my body hurts in the morning just from sleeping, without carrying another human. I look like I’m 41. I have some collagen loss in my face. I already have a mom-bod without having actually given birth. I do not look 28, I do not have the energy of a 28-year-old, and I never will again; pregnant or not. The probability of radiant mama vibes during my pregnancy seems pretty low. Obviously, with IVF there is also absolutely nothing even remotely natural about the process of conception thus far. Every single thing has involved scientific intervention. Our one tiny nod to leaving anything to chance is to implant the embryos in the order that they were created. I’ve already had to make my brother (aka future “fun” uncle) promise that he won’t call my children test-tube babies to their faces. Because I am older and will need to have surgery via my uterus to make this pregnancy happen, there is a high likelihood that I will need to give birth via C-section. There is still some hope for delivering naturally, but I am high-risk so it will definitely be in a hospital with an ObGyn (and hopefully a midwife, too!).

My idealistic vision of early motherhood literally can’t happen. There was a time, a pretty long time, when I was angry, resentful, and so unbelievably sad about that. I was self-soothing with negative emotions, which is O.K. for awhile, but eventually it becomes a trap. Once I identified what was happening as grief, I could choose to actively engage with it. Then I could realize that internally fighting things that I can’t change leads to misery and inability to appreciate what is. I won’t be the mother I thought I would be. Instead, I will be a mother who has gone through some shit and now has the wisdom to better discern what’s important. I now know that, even when things are hard and messy, I can let go of what isn’t, be present to whatever reality motherhood presents, and love it anyway.

Grounding

I am not a patient person. I hear very often that others experience me as calm, or that I am calming to them. I am glad that I am grounding to others, but I wish I was equally good at grounding myself. My inner world is a constant spin that drives me to try to control situations and timing, either through over-performing or through magical thinking. In the case of my IVF process, magical thinking was my go-to.

The common definition of “magical thinking” is the belief that one’s thoughts can control reality. This often shows up in yoga and wellness communities (well, and at this point, just on the Internet in general) as “manifestation.” I don’t think that magical thinking is the only way to frame up manifestation, but I think that definition has become the most common belief for how manifestation happens. I did not know how committed I was to manifestation, how integrated it had become into my worldview, until the experiences of the last year undid it.

During my first cycle of IVF stimulation, I went deep into “mama vibes.” I was doing intention setting, intentional journaling, fertility meditations, all sorts of visualization, and sending positive energy into my ovaries. I was doing all the things that are recommended for successful manifestation, and I had strong faith that it was working. For all of December I had this glow of confident motherhood. I felt my ovaries filling up and responding extravagantly to the stimulation drugs, and the medical professionals affirmed that what was happening in my body was very unusual for anyone, much less someone who is 41. When they retrieved 33 eggs it really seemed to confirm that my manifestation efforts were working.

When I learned that all my efforts and my crazy number of eggs had resulted in only one viable embryo, it was crushing. It was crushing because I had been so confident that my stimulation cycle would result in enough embryos for more than one child, plus a couple to spare. Now I would have to go through stimulation and egg retrieval again, which is physically, emotionally, and financially draining. It was also crushing because it triggered a crisis of faith.

The crisis of faith is far reaching and ongoing, but the outcome specific to my IVF experience was feeling that there were three explanations for only getting one embryo: 1. God really doesn’t want me to be a mother, 2. my efforts at manifestation weren’t good enough (ie. I’m not good enough), or 3. my new age-y manifestation beliefs might just be bullshit. In any case, my doctors assured me that the results of the egg retrieval had nothing to do with anything I did or didn’t do. It is pretty straight forward that the cause is only my age and that the quality of everyone’s eggs declines as they get older.  

As often happens during a crisis of faith, this one event didn’t just cause me to question manifestation “gospel”, but also caused a temporary collapse of faith in anything that I couldn’t see or experience for myself. Almost all the woo-woo new age stuff that I had leaned so hard on for so long went out the window (along with more traditional prayer) and I functioned through January on a barebones yoga framework of getting out of my head and into my body through daily asana. Literal embodiment. My second cycle of stimulation was very different as a result. I didn’t assign any spiritual significance to the process. The shots were just shots. The follicles in my ovaries were just follicles. The eggs were just eggs. The embryos were just embryos. When I learned last week that only two of the twelve embryos from round two were viable, it was not crushing. In fact, I feel grateful. I feel grateful that there are now three little seeds of potential for me to become a mother.

It turns out that the real key to getting grounded is to surrender the illusion of any kind of control, get present in your body (which is itself the ground, the home for your life), and let things unfold in their own time from that place. I knew that conceptually from yoga philosophy, but this experience has really made me feel it. It’s going to take continued practice, because I don’t love waiting, but I hope that the roots have finally taken.

Fertility

My particular pandemic pain point has been the pursuit of motherhood. Motherhood, or lack thereof, has been the most painful element of my life for 13 years. I am a person who has never questioned whether or not I want to be a mother. I have always wanted it. When I was young it was completely a matter of course that I would have children. No question about it. I went off birth control when I got married in 2007. When I was 28. And then…nothing. For 13 years I have lived in this painful limbo, with the last year being the most excruciating in some ways.

Throughout the entirety of my 30’s I was holding my breath, waiting for the pregnancy that never happened. I watched as friends had babies, and then watched as those babies grew into children and those friends grew into parents. I also watched myself disappear into my grief about it. It felt like all of my dreams and inspiration for what I wanted my life to be died along with the dream of being a mother, like all potential for who I could have been faded away. I gained a bunch of weight and became prematurely middle-aged by age 33. I vanished into the idea of being a total failure. I was too depressed and hopeless to pull myself out of it in terms of focusing my life on something else, and my husband and I couldn’t afford fertility treatment or adoption. I basically lost a full decade of my life to despair and hopelessness.

Sometime around age 38 the fog began to lift a bit. I did yoga teacher training, went to Thailand, finished my Thai Yoga Bodywork certificate. I began to resurface, to find myself again. The other thing that happened was that my husband’s career took off, and mine did, too. We were finally making pretty good money. The year I was 39 we bought a house in the city. The year I was 40 we started pursuing fertility treatments. That was a year ago, one month prior to pandemic lock-downs beginning in the U.S. We had a plan in place to start towards intra-uterine insemination (IUI) in March. Then the fertility clinic was shut down due to COVID-19. It was July before we could get back on track with the plan. I’m not going to lie; I did a lot of drinking during that four-month period.

 In late July 2020 I started taking the hormones for IUI. I went in for a baseline ultrasound and found out that, though my hormone panels were perfect and I have a freakish number of eggs for my age, my uterus looks like a war zone. I have giant fibroids, polyps, and a huge cyst on my right ovary. After confirming all of the above with a sonohysterogram (super pleasant procedure), the clinic pronounced me no longer a candidate for IUI. If I wanted to proceed with trying to have a baby, I would need to do In Vitro Fertilization (IVF). For me that would involve retrieving my eggs, making embryos, having them tested, freezing the viable ones, having surgery to clean up my uterus, letting my uterus heal for at least three months, and then putting the embryos in one by one until one of them takes.

Now, in February 2021, I am healing from my second egg retrieval, which happened last week. In the first egg retrieval, out of 33 eggs (a freakishly high number for a person of any age), 20 were mature and 16 fertilized. Eight embryos developed enough for genetic testing and only one of those did not have a chromosomal issue that would cause miscarriage (the doctor assured me that it was entirely due to age and not anything I had done or not done). We decided that the entire weight of our parenthood dreams was an awful lot of pressure to put on one little embryo, so we went for a second round. In round two we got 30 eggs, 24 were mature and 20 fertilized. Twelve developed enough to be tested. Next week we will find out how many were viable. Regardless of how many that is, we will not be doing any more egg retrievals.

The next steps for me are an MRI and a consult with the surgeon who will be fixing my uterus. That is in early March; a full year after lock-downs began. For me, as for many others, it has been a year of waiting. A deeper pressing of pain points. A development of patience. And maybe, hopefully, dreamfully, optimistically, a time of incubation.