Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Joy

I don't know what you all think, but I think that life is about surviving the situations.  The good, bad, the sad, ugly, embarrassing situations that are thrown at us, and how we come out the other side.  We've all got our stories and we've all got our ways of handling them- I handle them by trying to find the joy when there doesn't feel like there is any.  I mean sure, some situations are just sh*tty and a glass of wine is the only real way to handle it, but I'm talking about those truly painful situations, the horribly difficult situations, the ones we learn from, the ones that make us who we are, the ones we aren't sure we're even going to survive until it's all over with- those are the situations where I look for the joy- it's there, I promise, and it comes in all sorts of ways, but you've gotta look for it.  I need that joy to sustain me until the next challenge.  It's the hope that that joy is at the end of the horribly difficult situation that gets me through it.  If we didn't have the joy to focus on how else would we survive?  It might feel like pain & negativity are winning the battle, but they aren't, not if you don't let them, not when you focus on the joy.  I think that until we find that joy, we haven't seen God’s answer yet.  

Pregnancy loss & infertility have a way of murdering you in the most brutal way possible but still physically survive it (though there were moments where I wished I hadn’t).  It is a lifetime of truly horrible situations- a lifetime of living without the baby you were supposed to give birth to and raise into adulthood.  I have been on the pregnancy loss path for 12 years, my husband for 8… and we have had to look for the joy so many times.

I try to be as open as possible with you all, and always completely honest, but there are things that my husband and I have chosen to keep private, and our journey through IVF was one of those things.  We haven't been ready to talk about it openly until now, and I’m wondering if it might be a little too soon still.  It's only been 5 months since the procedures, and the dynamics of infertility are so intricate that it's difficult to put into words (especially for me since I'm sure you've noticed I'm not the best writer).  But, if Eric and I were ever going to talk about it, Pregnancy & Infant Loss Awareness Month was when we would.
This is the LAST chapter of our fertility story, so if you’d like to read about it, I’d love to tell you!  It’s a long one!  So grab a cup of coffee, get comfy, and relax with me while I tell you our story...

After my fourth pregnancy loss in 2011 I could not have gotten any sadder.  I prayed begged God to take my pain.  For the first time since we had gotten married I could not fathom trying to get pregnant again.  I had spent years distracting myself from my grief, and it had finally caught up to me with a giant kick to the back of the knees.   
I was done.  My body had had enough.
Eric had lost all of his emotional strength and retreated into his head- rather than break completely, he just refused to talk about anything that had anything to do with feelings.... he couldn't come out of his head enough to tell me how he felt about his lunch.  We were feeling a very literal and physical breaking of our hearts and just could not do it again.  We were beyond pitiful!  

So, we decided to take a long break from everything that had anything to do with babies and put our pitiful hearts into God's healing hands.  We fully let go of everything and decided that during this time "if it happened, great!  If it doesn't, it doesn't" and never talked about it after that.  We concentrated on Isabelle, on each other, and on healing.  Eric kept busy with graduate school and us, and I began focusing on the pregnancy loss community and where I might fit into it.  We traveled more and did things that we wanted!  We were able to plan things months in advance without thinking that I might be pregnant then, and found that we were elated in the freedom of not having to worry about my uterus!

We did not set a time limit to our break, we figured when God wanted us to take the next step we would know.  It wasn't until we were settled here in Germany, more than two years since our last miscarriage, that we started to feel God’s gentle nudge.  
Our conversations about having a baby started cautiously.  We had to decide that if we were going to try again then would we be be able to endure another miscarriage?  How can anyone be "ready" for something like that?!  But if we were going to try again we had to be realistic, not delusional.  Our chances of having another miscarriage were a certainty when compared to our chances of having a healthy take-home baby.  Could two people, who never gamble, accept those kinds of odds?!  Were we really ready to potentially start all over with an infant?!  Was I ready to be pregnant again?  And not just pregnant, but a high-risk pregnancy that would mean weekly doctor's appointments for the entire pregnancy?  And I know it's been more than a decade since I've given birth, but I think I remember that you're supposed to give up wine when pregnant.  I mean wine is pretty darn amazing ...and coffee!  Would I really have to give up coffee too?!  Do we even know what we're doing with this parenting thing anyway?!  Isabelle seems to be fine, but is she truly loved enough?  What if we were only given enough love for one child and then a second comes around and we no longer have any to give to Isabelle?  
But, after a few weeks of asking ourselves just about every question you could imagine, we decided that it was time to at least see what the doctors had to say...... 

The process of finding and getting referred to a German fertility specialist was a long one, taking more than two months before we finally met with the doctor for the first time.  We had had a terrible experience with a fertility clinic in the States so we went to our first appointment with absolutely NO expectations.  But immediately, we knew that this doctor was different, he was better!  He was attentive, honest, and didn't act like their clinic had the cure-all; it was refreshing and set our hearts at ease.  
He gave it to us straight and didn't play around with our fragile ability to hope.  He was very clear that my history was not a good one, and was especially concerned that in over two years of "if it happens, great!  If it doesn't, it doesn't," that it hadn't.  He outlined the game plan and testing started immediately!  We had never had answers before and hoped that this time it would be different.  So we prayed.

It took 3 months to complete all of the testing and get the results back from the specialists.  Genetic counseling, ultrasounds, and lots of blood draws could not give us any answers.  Just like in the States, there is nothing wrong with me or my husband, and there was no answer to why we kept having the "luck" we were having.  The same exact surgery I had had almost three years before was an option the doctors wanted us to consider to hopefully see something they couldn't on ultrasound, but… a 6th abdominal surgery would weaken my body even more.  

It was our decision to make.  

That's allllll mine.  I was a little shaky after this much blood was drawn so forgive the crappy iPhone picture.

After reviewing the healthy test results with our doctors, we opted to skip the surgery and go straight to IVF (In Vitro Fertilization).  If Eric and I were okay with not knowing why my body had not gotten pregnant, when just a few years ago it had been so easy, then the doctors were fine with not performing another surgery.  The risk of weakening my body even more was not worth the likelihood that we would never have an answer anyway.  

It turned out that I was not immune to the German measles.  Legally, my German doctors could not treat me until 3 months after I was vaccinated (and I guess it was pretty dangerous for me to be living in Germany).  I promptly got vaccinated and then we took this time to extend our break by just a little longer and enjoy our time as a family of three before our worlds potentially changed dramatically if we were to get pregnant.  

During those 3 months we moved, traveled, changed our diets, and got our Journey.  We prayed more and really evaluated the path we were about to go down....did we really want to have a baby?  Were we seriously ready for this?  

Was I strong enough.....?    

Also, I was able to give my job 3 months notice that I would be resigning when the process started.....
Fun fact: It is “illegal” in Germany to work in a dental office while pregnant.  Yes, you read that right, “illegal.”  There is some debate as to whether that is an actual German law or not, but it doesn't matter, the dentist that owns the practice I worked for absolutely will not allow a pregnant dental assistant/hygienist/dentist to work in his office during her pregnancy, and yes, he is very allowed to make that rule!
Because the IVF process is life-consuming for a month or so, and because of my history, and with the end result hopefully being a pregnancy, I legally could not continue to work once IVF started.  Besides, Eric didn't want me to work anyway.   He wanted my body to rest, and if we were going to get pregnant we had to give my body the absolute best chance at accepting and carrying a pregnancy.  Resigning from my job took a giant leap of faith!  I was giving up a position that would not be there for me if IVF was unsuccessful.  

Here’s the thing about IVF, the procedure may get us pregnant but would not prevent another miscarriage (the doctors can only go so far, my body has to do the rest).  We were asked a few times if the amount of money we were spending on something that had no guarantees was worth it.  This was our answer:  First, the months leading up to IVF gave us ample time to set aside enough money for the procedure, this was not coming out of our savings, and not something we had to finance, and we know how fortunate we are.  But even so, our decision was based off of faith, not a guarantee.  Our journey and faith in God's plan did not mean that we were banking on having a take-home baby, or even banking on the procedure being successful, our faith only told us to trust God.  Eric and I only knew for certain that He was leading us down this path and that there was a lesson to be learned somewhere along the way.  We knew that with God in the lead our hearts would be the better for it, and for us, that was all we needed to know.  Leaving my job was a peaceful decision, and not one that Eric or I have ever regretted!   

After three months waiting for me to be vaccinated against the German measles, and then leaving my job, we jumped head first into the IVF process.  The protocol was intricate and started more than a month after we had hoped, then delayed another two weeks because of mix-up with one of the medications they had me take; all of this after 3 months waiting for me to be vaccinated (we tried really hard to not get frustrated!).  But, by mid-May I finally began the stimulation process with two shots in my tummy, both in the evening, and then an ultrasound to see how I was responding scheduled one week later.  

Eric gave me all of my shots, he calms my nerves and he said that if I had to go through it, he was going to go through it too (but I'm pretty sure he had the easy part).  

The medicine made me feel full so I wasn't really eating but I was bloated and gaining weight (probably the worst combination ever).  
I'm just going to go ahead and skip all the details of the stimulation process of IVF.  The gist of it is, is that I overstimulated and went into OHSS (Ovarian Hyperstimulation Syndrome) after the egg retrieval procedure.  OHSS happens when ovaries stimulate too much and when the eggs are retrieved fluid begins to fill the spaces where the eggs were and then fill past capacity into the abdominal cavity, which is what happened to me.  If you can imagine having your ovaries and abdomen filled with fluid then you can imagine how painful it was.  I had gained 5lbs in the two hours I was in recovery and my belly became very distended.  I was given strict instructions to eat as much protein and salty foods as I could, and drink 6-8 liters of gatorade/pedialyte before embryo transfer to help draw the fluid out of my abdomen and into my blood vessels where it belonged.  All that the details really included are a lot of me whining about how uncomfortable I was, how precise the shot schedule was, and how our lives had become centered around alarm clocks.  You aren't missing out on anything by me skipping all of that and just summing it by saying that I was miserable and the doctors were very close to canceling the embryo transfer.  So we prayed.

The night before the “big day” I had lost 1lbs (the fluid was going down!), we set our alarm, and then laid in bed hoping that the doctors wouldn't notice how uncomfortable and sore I still was.  But we were READY!  This was it!  No looking back!

We made it to the clinic on time, checked-in, and then sat in the waiting room for just a bit.  We were called first and the doctor who did the transfer was the very first doctor we had spoken with the summer before when we went in with no expectations!  We hadn’t seen him since that day and his familiar face set our hearts at ease, just as it had almost a year before. 
We got to see every step our two little embryos went through- from the lab into my uterus- the cells were moving, and call me crazy, but I thought they were beautiful.  Eric was by my side and never let go of my hand.  He was mesmerized at the process and became emotional watching our beautiful, moving embryo's.  It was truly an intimate and amazing experience!  Our fertility clinic only wanted me to lay flat for 10 minutes after the transfer and then we were sent home with high hopes and "casted our cares upon Jesus" as we walked out the door.  

During the 2 week wait Eric and I concentrated on everything but the impending blood test that would tell us if we were pregnant or not.  I tried especially hard to not think about what my body was feeling or stress too much about anything that I could do to help the implantation process along.  I had long ago given up any control that I had in a pregnancy sticking or not, which, if you’re wondering, is zero control.  If it had ever been in my power to prevent a miscarriage, I’ve done it, tried it, begged for it, prayed for it, wished it, researched it, and obsessed over it.  No amount of vitamins, herbal this or that, or whatever else people had come up with had changed God’s answer for our pregnancies.  This time, I did only what I could, and what I felt was worth my energy.  I laid flat on my couch for three days after transfer, I ate the meat & core of fresh pineapple for the first five days after transfer, kept my feet extra warm (really difficult for this flip-flop-lover-wear-them-all-year-even-in-snow kind of gal), ate only warm foods, and stayed OFF of Google!  

Eric made things as stress-free as possible for me, and other than Journey testing my patience, life was pretty easy!  We went to Normandy, France for the 70th anniversary of D-Day one week after transfer to distract ourselves from the blood test that would be just a few days later, and decided to have a date night for the night of our blood test.  No matter the outcome, we were going to go out and find the joy in God's answer (we bought a bottle of wine to help, just in case).

It has been a long journey.  I survived the moments that I thought would surely kill me.  Eric has seen me at my absolute most desperate moments, and I've had to pick up the pieces of a crumbled husband when he's been told his babies no longer have a heart beat.  But together we kept on keepin' on with one foot in front of the other.  Isabelle has always been our ray of sunshine in our darkest times and has made us laugh at the exact moments we have needed to.  God has been our faithful shelter from the storm, and it's His perfectly designed path that we humbly follow.  

It has been a long journey.

…. Aaaand…...................................................................

We are not pregnant. 

But I’m sure you already knew that.

In the end it did not take a blood test to tell us God’s answer, my body did it on its own a few days before I was to get my blood drawn.  We have now added a failed IVF cycle to a very long and very sad list of fertility failures- right behind a stillbirth, three miscarriages, and 3+ years of unexplained infertility.  The entire IVF process from start to finish took 11 months, and from the very beginning Eric and I put everything into God’s hands, as we do every aspect of our lives.  We know that His answer is always perfect, even if it wasn't the answer we were hoping for.

As always, we leave our hearts and future in God’s hands, we don’t pretend to know what His plans are for us, but our failed IVF cycle, after everything else we’ve been through, feels like a very gentle but firm answer; one that we are at peace with.  As far as we are concerned, this is it for us. 
We have had our time to grieve, but we are alright.  Something has changed.... I’m not really sure how to explain it, and the change has taken us by surprise..... We no longer have the desire to have another child.  We genuinely do not have the desire to have another child!  Weird, right?!  Eric and I feel the elation again at not having fertility on our minds, and relish the spontaneity in our marriage.  As a couple we have a romantic marriage, time to ourselves, uninterrupted conversations, regular date nights, and the ability to travel on a whim.  And if you know my daughter, you know that she is the happiest, most well-adjusted kid you'll ever meet, who get's straight A's in school.  We are comfortable and happy in the selfish part of parenting that comes when your child gets older and more independent, and especially since Isabelle is thriving, we don’t feel guilty about that whatsoever.  

I consider myself one of the lucky ones on this path.  I am a mother.  I have given birth (twice).  I have experienced those precious moments with my newborn.  I remember the sleepless nights.  I have a few good stories to tell you about temper tantrums.  Eric has been at every parent-teacher conference she has ever had.  He spent years buckling her into her carseat.  Eric is the one who has taken her trick-or-treating every year since she was three years old.  He is the world's best homework helper, fever checker, and puke cleaner upper!  We are raising a daughter.  We recognize that we have hit the jackpot with Isabelle and are cashing in our chips. 

Eric and I have always had a deep faith, but the strength and signs God sent to us while on this path has validated our knowledge that He had our backs the entire time.  The peace we feel about not having another child has never been there before, it is a new feeling, and even though we are surprised by it, we are so very grateful for it!  We are taking that peace and running with it!  And that is the joy we have been looking for!   

We gave my uterus a fair shot, we did all that we could, we have NO regrets! 

We found the joy!  And it's amazing!


  1. I cried during the entire blog! This was so beautiful written. I too struggle with infertility. I have not been through 1/3 of the things you have, but still this blog helped me. God is good. I just have to keep trust in him.

    1. Thank you for reading! Infertility is a brutal path and I'm sorry for your struggles. You are right, God is so good!