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I bought myself some sweet peas yesterday. They’re my absolute favorite flower, and make me so happy. I can’t stop taking pictures of them, and I move them to whatever room I’m in so I can smell them. So, this post is going to be peppered with sweet pea photos. I think I might paint them if I can silence the internal critical voice that’s telling me how very cliche, wanna-be Georgia O’Keefe that would be. Shut-up voice!
So, on Friday, I got a job offer for the fall (I freelance). Normally, it would be great to know I have work lined up. The thing is, if IVF #4 fails, that’s exactly when I’d be doing #5. And I have to travel for work. Damn. So, what do I do, keep my schedule blank forever? Luckily, this client is someone I trust, so I was able to explain the whole situation to her. She can hire me if she feels comfortable knowing that I might have to back out mid-August if I find that I’m not pregnant – yet again. If that seems stressful to her, she can pass and I’ll totally understand. We’ll see what she says…
Not that long ago, I’d be hugely stressed by this situation (ok “stressed” is an understatement – maybe explosively incensed and intensely anxious is more accurate). Now, don’t get me wrong, I did have a day of serious angst, when I was trying to figure out what the hell to do or say to her. It did occur to me that I’m being held hostage by my IVF schedule. I did yell at my husband that “I wanted my life back” and storm out of the house. I haven’t reached that “flexible reed bending with the friggin’ wind” zen level by any means. Ultimately, though, I think I’ve become resigned to the situation. My energies have shifted, whereas before they were painfully divided. What I’m doing right now is trying to get pregnant, and it’s gonna happen dammit, whether with my eggs or the eggs of someone nice enough to give them to me (or sell…I guess they’re selling their eggs, if we pay them money to go through retrieval, right?…weird to think of buying a woman’s eggs…but I digress). Either way, I’m committing to this fully. This is my primary job right now and I’ve finally stopped fighting it. It’s a worthy thing to be doing, right?
One good thing that’s come out of all this infertility hell is that it’s made my priorities very clear to me. All the travel I needed to do for work was stressing me out, and it was making it really hard for me to have the life I need and want – not only planning IVF cycles, but having opportunities to make and sustain friendships, a healthy routine (or any routine at all), or holidays with my family…I was giving up A LOT. And for what? The pay-off wasn’t there. I realized that it just wasn’t worth it to me anymore. In a way, that was really freeing. Now I can focus on trying to build a life that really WILL nurture me.
Of course, this time is pretty scary. I don’t have a new career to fill that gap yet, so I definitely have moments where I feel like my identity is defined mostly by my infertility. I’m trying hard to fill my days, but it sure ain’t easy being almost forty and to not only not be a mom yet, but to not have a career that makes me feel fulfilled, validated, and useful.
One of the exercises in the “Positivity” book is to visualize and write down what you’d like your life to be in 10 years. Fredrikson tells you to describe it in great detail, imagining as many aspects of your life as possible – to really flesh it out. She suggests writing about it over a week. I think I’m going to work on that now. I won’t bore you with all the details, but to jump-start my thinking I thought I’d write down a few of my priorities:
I want to be doing work that I believe is making some small difference in the world, that’s mentally stimulating and challenging, and that I enjoy and feel passionate about.
I want to have good friends in my life who I can see regularly – a community of people to support me and who I can support. People to have over for dinner, go camping with, girlfriends to share things with that my husband just won’t “get”.
I want to enjoy my home and my husband and my children. Hopefully, I’ll have at least one kid who’s about 9 by then (wow, that’s crazy to imagine).
I hope and believe that I’ll be incredibly grateful, because it sure as hell won’t have been an easy road to get there.
The last couple of days have been kind of tough. I’ve just been sad and a little lonely. This limbo time – waiting for my next cycle to start, working from home and by myself every day – is not easy. I made myself do yoga yesterday and went for a walk today. Luckily, the weather has gotten better. The difficult thing is, with the good weather come the mothers and their brand new, tiny babies, shaded in their strollers by their ducky covered baby blankets. Ouch.
I found out yesterday that an old schoolmate of mine who I’ve lost touch with now has two daughters. Things like that just make it so painfully apparent how much time has passed since we started trying. Not helpful thoughts.
I’m trying hard to do things that are good for me – to get outside, to bring flowers in, exercise, to be grateful for my husband and our home. It’s just not quite enough to lift that sadness, though. What I really want is to go get myself an ice cream cone. Walking back home on this sunny day with an ice cream cone sounds really nice about now.
Anyway…I was rifling through some old papers yesterday and I happened upon this quote that I copied from my last acupuncturist’s office:
Every day, think as you wake up,
Today I am fortunate to have woken up;
I am alive, I have precious human life,
I am not going to waste it,
I am going to use all of my energies to develop myself,
to expand my heart out to others,
To achieve Enlightenment for the benefit of all human beings,
I am going to have kind thoughts towards others;
I am not going to get angry,
Or think badly about others
As much as I can.
– His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama
So, I guess he’d frown on the hatred, anger, and envy I felt toward that young mom I saw at the ice cream place last night who kept feeding her baby ice cream (literally a non-verbal BABY, not even a toddler). What I like is that this quote ends in “as much as I can”. Sometimes we can do more than others, and last night I just couldn’t help thinking that stupid woman didn’t deserve that baby. I’m off to get my ice cream now.
So, I haven’t always been eating great lately (but, oh, that bacon cheese burger, onion rings, and vanilla malt were SO GOOD and SO WORTH IT), I maybe haven’t been meditating as often as I meant to, but I have been getting out in nature pretty regularly. That always helps me a lot. I still remember being all teenage angsty in high school and having my adolescent misery temporarily lifted by lying on the grass and looking up at tree branches. I really think I should have been born in Vermont instead of Los Angeles.
I’m lucky to live near a lot of green space now, so nature is very accessible. Last week, I saw a woodpecker, a bunch of goslings, a rabbit, a family of turtles, and a huge white carp at my neighborhood pond. I know I sound like a dork – or a 5 year-old – but I get excited about my sitings. Maybe that’s because in the neighborhood where I grew up, there weren’t normally more than possums and sparrows around.
I’ve been snapping photos of our surroundings with the vague plan of making a collage for my future kid/kids (funny how you have to mentally add that possible plural when you’re doing IVF). Since I’ve been doing IVF for over a year, these photos show our neighborhood and the pond in all seasons. I’ve also captured little glimpses of our life and our home. It’s all the stuff that’s given me comfort while I’ve been waiting for said kid/kids to show up. The side effect is that I do end up noticing little random bits of beauty around me.
That reminds me of a project I came upon online once. You create a scrapbook just of a week in your life. Basically, you take photos of mundane things in your week – your breakfast, your feet when you get out of bed, your cutting board when you’re cooking dinner. I really liked the idea. I can see how that would be a good distraction during a tough time.
So, the third photo here shows the family of turtles. You can’t see it very well, but one of the turtles has a baby turtle on its back. I decided that was a good luck siting. I’m nothing if not superstitious. I’ve collected quite a few fertility talismans over the years. You gotta cover your bases, right? It just makes me feel better…
On the same walk I saw this total character. I wish I’d gotten a better picture of him. He’s settled in with his fishing gear and is sporting a long gray beard, knit cap, raincoat, and camo pants. Next to him is an almost empty bottle of apple juice. I’m pretty sure this guy isn’t drinking apple juice, though. He seems much more the type of guy to plan ahead for bathroom breaks. Maybe that’s just me, though. Anyway, I got a kick out of him.
I’m leaving you all with a gosling photo. It seems like the geese have their babies before the ducks do. Maybe some of us are just like the ducks.
I’d love people’s input on this dilemma. When I do my next cycle, I have an opportunity to participate in a study about the environmental effects on fertility. They’ll measure the levels of different toxins (lead, PBAs, and Phthalates, among others) that are present in my follicular fluid. On the one hand, I’m thinking that it’d be good to investigate whatever we can, since we have unexplained low fertilization rates and we’re on IVF #4. On the other hand, I’m wondering if doing this study might just generate upsetting information that I wouldn’t be able to DO anything about. If I found out that I have a high level of phthalates or PBAs in my system, what could I do about it now? Could I clean it out of my system quickly enough to make any difference? I already have switched to natural cleaners, and try to buy as many paraben-free beauty products as possible. I don’t want to unnecessarily dredge up something new to worry and be anxious about, so I’m really torn about this.
The thing is, I found out during pre-conception genetic testing that I have TWO cystic fibrosis genes, but I test negative on the physical test, which means I technically don’t actually have the disease and my health is just fine. That means that my body is functioning the way it should, even though I have two mutations. Finding that out, though, caused me a HUGE amount of pain and worry. Months of crying and internet research as I tried to understand what the lab results meant. It suddenly (and unnecessarily and erroneously) occurred to me that I was destined to not live a long and healthy life. I was devastated. Of course, it’s good that we knew to test my husband, who’s negative for any CF mutations. But in the end, doing that test did nothing more than cause me an enormous amount of pain and make me feel ill and defective – not a great thing to happen just as I was realizing we were having problems conceiving. I don’t want to feel that way again.
So, I’d be grateful for any input people have. Is there a chance I could find out something useful that I could do something about? What would you do??? Thanks!
A couple of small victories:
My husband is such a serious snorer that I’ve considered buying stock in these silicone earplug thingies I’ve been buying ever since we started dating. It’s not just regular, mellow snoring. It’s powerful, resonant, varied, walrus-like snoring. Just a couple of nights ago, though, he slept propped up on pillows (because I’ve given him a really awful cold). Eureka! Complete silence! What kind of morons are we that it took 5 years to figure that out!? I can’t tell you how that’s improved my quality of life.
Also, I’m finally feeling myself again after a pretty long stretch. First, I got that awful chest cold I gave my husband, followed closely by an endometrial biopsy, then my pity party after my last disappointing RE appointment (huge delay to my cycle and no informative results after our exhaustive battery of tests). Uncontrollable coughing and phlegm, spotting from the biopsy, and the sluggishness from all my depression-driven ice cream and pizza consumption – well, let’s just say they didn’t add up to my feeling too attractive. I’m finally, after weeks and weeks, feeling like I might be able to have – or want – a sex life again. Whoo hoo!
So, back on topic – a couple more things I’ve been working on:
Dispute your negative thoughts.
In the “Positivity” book, there’s an exercise where you write your habitual negative thoughts on index cards, shuffle them, and then really argue against them in depth on the back. I had no problem thinking of the negative thoughts that plague me: My body is defective, my eggs are screwed up, infertility is taking over my life, and the motherlode – I’m not going to be able to have my own biological child. Any of these sound familiar? So, I wrote them down and took a break. I was having a hard time bringing myself to argue with them, because so much of me BELIEVES in them. Then, I thought that what I needed to do was pretend that a friend was saying those things to me. What would I say to her? It’s unlikely that I’d say, “Yeah, you’re body’s all fucked up. Your eggs are probably just too old. So, have you guys discussed adoption?” I made myself sit down and write what I’d tell that friend, even if a lot of me didn’t quite buy what I was writing. Those thoughts and beliefs are pretty damn entrenched. I just didn’t worry about the fact that I only half believed what I was arguing. But the surprising thing is, it is giving me comfort to reread those arguments. I didn’t think it would.
Learn and exercise your strengths.
Fredrickson directs you to a site: www.authentichappiness.com (sounds cheesy, I know). It’s a site for another researcher, though, not a psychic, so don’t worry. They have a free test on there – it’s long, about 230 questions – that can help you figure out what your 5 main personality strengths are. Other than it being kind of fun, I didn’t quite see what I would get out of it. I took the test, though, and what’s surprising is that it’s really sticking with me. Through all this infertility hell for the last few years, I’ve pretty much lost track of what’s good about me and what I’m good at. It’s all been about what I can’t do and am not doing well enough – I’m not dealing with the IVF stress as well as I should, I can’t get pregnant, my eggs are no good, I’m not as courageous about physical pain as other women seem to be, I can’t seem to muster enough passion and mental energy for my work anymore. It was surprisingly refreshing to get in touch with my strengths again and to remember the good things about me. Those results keep popping in my head as I do other things, which is really nice for a change.
Ok, it’ll be a double post day, so I can start to describe what I’m gonna to try to do. Here are a couple of the tools from “Positivity” that I’m working on:
Be open and present in the moment.
I’m not great at this, because I’m a planner, and I have a tendency to live in the future – whether with anticipation or worry. I’m going to try to remember to practice this walking meditation I read about in Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Touching Peace”. You just say, “I have arrived” with your breath occasionally, wherever you are and whatever you’re doing – in line at the grocery store, or waiting for the subway. It’s super simple, but for some reason it resonated with me. It kind of reminds me to be more aware of where I am and to find something to appreciate – to look at or listen to – right then.
Thankfully, Fredrickson doesn’t pretend that you can get rid of your negative thoughts and emotions. I’ve wanted to explode every time my husband has told me to “not worry” about something or that there wasn’t “any point” in thinking about it. It’s not so fucking easy. The worst is “relax”. Pots and pans might start flying if he tells me to “relax” when I’m on progesterone. The point is to busy your brain with something other than what’s making you miserable. I think of it this way (sorry, it’s a baby reference): with a baby or toddler, you can’t just take away their toy and expect them to not to cry, but you CAN distract them with a new toy. I guess my brain is about as disciplined as a toddler’s, is what I’m saying.
Anyway, there are good distractions and bad distractions, of course. So, I guess my unhealthy distractions would be obsessively researching infertility and IVF news online, browsing photos of people’s nurseries, drawing a ground plan for the furniture arrangement for my future nursery, making a powerpoint inspiration board for my future nursery decor, working on my stroller comparison spreadsheet, browsing for baby products to bookmark for future reference (notice a theme here?), and letting myself eat whatever I want because “my life sucks”. But man, those distractions are SUPER seductive.
My Good Distractions: Go for a walk, take a yoga class, read a book, work on an art project, clean out or organize a drawer, cabinet, etc. (this works for me, especially if I’m anxious), listen to an audiobook (works when I’m too distracted or down to read), work on this positivity project and blog, meditate, garden (I just have some flowers on my porch, so the gardening is pretty limited), browse recipes and plan meals, cook, e-mail a friend, dance (usually just in my living room by myself), stretch, play music, and study (I’m studying for a teaching certification test).
So, now I just have to remember to do these things. Why is it so hard? Why do I just end up online for hours instead? Of course, today I spent all day customizing my new blog. Does that count as healthy or unhealthy? Maybe a bit obsessive. Oh well.
I recently told my husband that I was feeling like the infertility was a huge, green slime monster and that it was creeping over my life, slowly overtaking it. And that I was starting to feel exhausted and too small and powerless to fight its oozing progress. He very sweetly told me that I didn’t have to fight the slime monster alone – that he’d fight it with me. That sometimes when I was worn out he’d carry me and fight it for me. I imagined him hacking off pieces of lime green sliminess with a large sword while I rode piggyback, and it did make me feel better.
I’m starting this blog in an attempt to not only fight off the dreaded infertility monster, but also to hopefully improve my life in a lasting way. Coping with infertility for over three years has been the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do. There have been times when I’ve been so angry and despairing that I would walk around shooting daggers of hate from my eyes at anyone who crossed my path – just because what I was going through was so painful and it seemed SO unfair. I’d fantasize about knocking pregnant women over. In my imagination, they’d just topple over rigidly like bowling pins. I don’t feel the need to imagine that anymore (thanks Zoloft), but it helped for awhile.
Recently, a friend (who also had a long, difficult journey before becoming pregnant) recommended I read the book “Positivity” by Barbara Fredrickson. She said it was really helpful for her. I checked it out, and impatiently read about all the research before getting to what I could DO about it all. In the back of the book are a whole slew of tools you can use to increase your positive emotions and cope with negative ones. Fredrickson says that in order to flourish you need to maintain a 3 to 1 ratio of positive to negative emotions. Now, that’s a tall order for a woman about to begin her fourth IVF cycle. There’s so much fear, anxiety, stress, anger, sadness, and grief roiling around inside that I figure I’ve got to make a concerted effort to encourage and nourish those positive emotions.
This blog is an effort to hold myself accountable to that project of encouraging and nourishing positive emotions. I’m going to try to regularly practice the methods Barbara Fredrickson recommends in her book in the hope that it will not only help me through the upcoming cycle, but also with the great hope that I can learn a new, more positive, resilient way of living in the world. We’ll see…