Vines

vines“Measure thy life by loss instead of gain,

Not by the wine drunk but by the wine poured forth;

For love’s strength standeth in love’s sacrifice

And whoso suffers most hath most to give.”

                                                  – Ugo Bassi, 19th century monk, Italy

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Relenting

DSC_0729I realized that the tagline on my blog has to do with my “unrelenting” quest to fix my fertility problems.  I haven’t been sure what to do with the blog in recent weeks.  I’ve considered moving it to a free WordPress site, or just quitting it altogether, if things don’t work out.  I am pretty sure that anyone who has had infertility (or secondary infertility, or recurrent miscarriage, etc.) can relate quite easily to the feelings of sorrow, disappointment, and uncertainty.

I still don’t know what I will do with this blog, and I’m not saying that “it’s over.”  Right now I am just resting and not making any decisions.  I admire all you women who have commented, sent me emails, and otherwise voiced your compassion.  I am a big believer in just being there for one another, being honest, and sharing our sufferings so that we can find paths to healing.  Humans are meant to be in relationships with one another.  This blog is just one little avenue in the big world for me and you to share our lives.  I am grateful for that.

Since one month ago when I last posted, I’ve wrestled a lot with the questions…  Should we keep trying?  How could God allow this failure to conceive after I’ve been through so much already?  Is this a wise path to continue following?  Will I be happy or miserable?  Is my heart in this?  Is it worth it?  Is this a good use of energy and money?  What am I supposed to DO??  I’ve had to face the possibility that I might, after all, relent.

By far, the hardest part has been the way 2013 has affected my relationship with the Lord.  (I know not everyone reading would call themselves a person of faith, but I do want to share this, in the interest of “being human together” or what have you.)  Because it has been a really, really long road already (five miscarriages in six years’ time) and I have not left my God.  By His grace, I have clung to Him and let Him have His way with my life.  Suffering has taught me a lot, especially about letting God comfort me in my sorrows.  I have shed many, many tears for lost babies and empty dreams.  I’ve experienced a walking hell of postpartum anxiety attacks and depression.  I have given my trust to the Lord over and over.  Even though I’ve had countless times where I’ve been angry about my lot in life, God has helped me accept it and know that He loves me.  I’m not saying I’ve done this without sin, of course.  I’m just saying that I’ve been through a lot, knowing that He allowed it, and haven’t turned against Him.

The above is the argument I bring to the Lord nowadays, when He’s not letting me have what I want.  Because I’m just shocked that the suffering has continued.  This time, it’s a lot harder to accept.  (Of course, who has given me the grace in each moment of my life, anyway?  I never could have held on if Jesus wasn’t holding on to me.)

When we found Dr. Braverman, it seemed like the Lord had opened a door for me to be healed.  We were so hopeful!  It took another six months before all of my protocols were in place and we were ready to try to conceive.  We paid for three cycles of Dr. B’s immune treatment plan (basically to have his oversight and work with my local doctor).  When I didn’t get pregnant in three months, it was ironic, because it never took more than three cycles before.  We asked if we could keep trying but not pay for the oversight again, and they said yes (so we were flying solo, keeping to the plan ourselves, and would call when I got pregnant).  We tried for two more months, and then I was emotionally exhausted.  We went on vacation.  I got poison ivy and had a systemic immune reaction that lasted for more than three weeks.  I wasn’t sure what this may have done to my body and wondered if we ought to get Dr. Braverman’s input again, but this would have cost us a pretty penny to involve him  (you pay for three cycles at a time).  I never even emailed him to ask about his opinion, because I was exhausted anyway, and we had a trip planned to the west coast in September.  I put it off some more.  And when we got home, I still felt completely stressed out by it all.

I’ve been sad, bitter, discouraged, angry, and unable to attend church without being emotionally exhausted before the sermon even begins.  I feel like I need to harden my heart to the Lord, like a turtle who hides in its shell for protection.  If I allow myself to feel anything at all, it’s either anger at what God has allowed, or sorrow that spills into tears during corporate worship.  I’m tired of being a crying mess at church.  I have felt as though I’m “marked for suffering” and that God has given me way too much to handle.  I’ve wanted so badly to feel His comfort again, but it’s like I just can’t find it.**

Despite this ugliness, I’ve learned lots of small lessons in the process.  For one, not to judge people who just don’t seem like they have it together.  I really couldn’t care less now if I hear a Christian say a cuss word or learn that they like to watch “Desperate Housewives.”  Because our acceptance in Christ has nothing to do with that sort of stuff – it’s based SOLELY on Jesus having died for our sins.  I’m not saying we shouldn’t strive for holiness — I’m just saying it’s not up to you or me to decide what caliber of a Christian someone is.  You just don’t know what they are dealing with in their life.

The daily habits are still important, even if we are so angry at God we want to spit.  Life patterns unfold in the daily choices we make. It’s important to at least try to read the Bible, because God’s word is the one sword we own for fighting our enemies.  Not only is my heart deceitful and prone to wander, but the enemy of my soul “prowls about like a lion” looking for someone to devour.  I need a weapon, even if I’m pissed that it doesn’t seem to be working.

Healing comes in small doses. I know, even in the midst of my suffering, that it won’t be like this forever.  I know God is going to bring me out of it again.  Healing comes in coffee with a widow.  Healing comes in a best friend shedding tears with me.  Healing comes in random phone calls from godly women when I am refinishing furniture in my garage.  Healing comes in learning what it means to rest.  Healing comes in learning to give thanks for small things throughout the day.  It will get better.

The Proverbs say that “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Prov. 13:12).  I’ve realized that I am sick.  It may not be physical illness, but the toll it has taken on my overall health (emotional, mental, spiritual) has been significant.  Just like a physical illness, I need rest.  I’m not laying around in bed, but I’m pretty much checked out of everything that wearies me – at least the things that I can!  I realized something helpful the other week: there are duties we have, and then there are things we put upon ourselves as “extras.”  So even if I do relent and relinquish this quest, it’s OK.  It doesn’t make me a quitter, because this is not something that is required of me.  I have a duty to my husband and my children.  I am in charge of lots of stuff around the home.  These people and these duties are my true responsibilities.  And really, nothing else matters as much.

** I wanted to mention that I have been finding God’s comfort.  Maybe in a future post I can share some specifics.  I have a couple of resources that are helpful to me, but there’s just nothing like fellowship with other believers.  It may not happen at the large gathering at church, but God has provided friends to bring me encouragement little by little.  These books have helped, too (they may or may not help you, but just in case):

Until next time –

I love vacation

San Francisco from the Bay Bridge

San Francisco from the Bay Bridge

I’m sure most of us wish vacation would never end.

On a walk in Oakland

On a walk in Oakland

Especially when we go far, far away and everything is so different…

Oakland Temple - Latter Day Saints

Oakland Temple – Latter Day Saints

… and beauty surprises us around every corner.

DSC_0456

Wedding spot

Wedding spot

DSC_0823

magic forestYes, I’m sure I’m not the only one who wants to stay away from real life for longer.

I thought I’d be ready to “try again” when we got back from California.  I actually felt pretty peaceful about it before we left.  But perhaps the jolt back to the stresses of daily life did me in again.  I don’t know what I want.  I don’t know if I should keep pressing and pushing and persevering, or if this race to reclaim my fertility is just one big folly, serving only to rob me of thankfulness and contentment — and a lot of money.

How does one come to a decision about such a thing?  I am utterly perplexed.  I sincerely believed we were on the right path.  And I don’t regret any of it… but I’m just not sure I can keep it up.  It’s heart-wrenching to imagine giving up, and it’s painful to imagine the risks I’ll face if I continue.  Nobody can really tell us the right thing to do, and it just hurts.

“Methylation” Should Be a Household Name

Hello, everyone!  It has been a while.  I’ve been burned out and having a crisis of faith and a crux in my life’s direction and all that good stuff.  I wouldn’t say I’m totally out of the woods, but I’m certainly feeling like I see some light.

A friend sent me an article the other day by Suzy Cohen on the topic of methylation.  Even as I type that, my spell-check is lighting up red and maybe your eyes have already glazed over.  But if you haven’t heard this term before, please just hang on with me for a minute.  Not only does methylation affect fertility and fetal health, but Cohen lists many other diseases in which methylation has a role – diseases such as fibromyalgia, pulmonary embolisms, anxiety, diabetes, ADD/ADHD, allergies, and many more.  Perhaps the health problems you or a loved one are experiencing could come down to a glitch with this particular biological function. 

Many of you already know about MTHFR.  For those that haven’t heard of it, MTHFR is an acronym for a gene mutation that occurs in approximately 35% of the population of the population (according to Dr. Mark Hyman).  This mutation affects the way our bodies process certain nutrients.  Some of you have been diagnosed with this gene mutation and are on supplements — high doses of folic acid, usually.  I, myself, take methylfolate instead of folic acid, since folate is what naturally occurs in food sources (such as broccoli) and is more bioavailable.  This particular supplement is what my integrative medicine doctor prescribed for me, and this article by Dr. Mark Hyman suggests that we actually AVOID folic acid for several reasons.  (Ah, the Internet.  So full of conflicting information!)

My reproductive endocrinologist did not present me with the same kind of information about folic acid that my integrative medicine doc (Dr. E) did.  What’s funny is that Dr. E was a chiropractor by training, and yet the information I got from him was much more instructive for my life than the information I got from the fertility specialist!  And so, it never surprises me when I find better information on the Huffington Post than I do on WebMD.  (WebMD turned up two articles with the search tag “MTHFR.”  Two!)

My reproductive endocrinologist instructed me to keep taking “one milligram of folic acid” every day.  However, Dr. E explained that the MTHFR mutation affects my ability to actually convert folic acid into a usable form.  So what I really need to take is methylfolate, plus a methyl-B-12.  Some day, I may find out that I need something slightly different, or something else in addition… Science is always changing, and good doctors will always be open to new information.  (This is exactly why I knew I had to get away from my reproductive endocrinologist!)

Anyway, being that I am not a doctor nor a research scientist, I just wanted to present you with this information and let you do the homework as you see fit.  Read the Suzy Cohen article, “Methylation Problems Lead to 100s of Diseases.”  Be sure to join up with the resources on http://mthfr.net/, Dr. Ben Lynch’s website.  Check out the Huffington Post article, “Nutrition Tips: Folic Acid: Killer or Cure-All?” by Dr. Mark Hyman.  I hope that this information can help you in your quest for health!

Five months in and all out of fun

DSC_0756Well, I guess there’s no escaping the element of being a Debbie Downer today.  I apologize up front for starting out like this, after so many weeks of not posting anything!  I guess I’ve wanted to stay positive about this whole “thing,” but mostly it’s just really hard.  Lately, I haven’t really had anything good to say about it, and I’ve lacked motivation to do anything with the blog.  I wish it wasn’t that way, because I really do have a passion for this blog and for helping women like me … but I guess all of us lose steam sometimes.

Back in February, this whole trying-to-get-pregnant thing started out really fun.  I was finally getting treatment for my previously unexplained miscarriages.  We had waited for so long to even begin treatments, since the testing and the appointments and the communications between doctors’ offices took so many months.  And after a long, hellish road of losing five pregnancies in six years’ time, I was worn out, and I really believed we were on the upswing.

Getting pregnant had always come extremely easy to us.  Of the seven times I’d gotten pregnant, none of them took more than three months to achieve.  We were very fortunate in that regard — but unfortunate in the part where my body was supposed to sustain the pregnancy.  Honestly, I don’t know how my two children even survived the lion’s den of a womb I have … they are my little miracles and I didn’t even know it at the times of their births.

What started out as fun and joyous five months ago has become just another disappointing road.  I know it probably sounds silly to say that after only five months of “trying,” but I’ve been walking these five months after what feels like a marathon of six years.  I started out tired.  Now I am just more so.  I haven’t actually gotten my period yet, but I know enough about reading my signs (basal body temperature, and those pesky home pregnancy tests, etc.) to feel pretty sure that it’s coming anytime.  I really wanted to be pregnant this month.  I really just want to get this process going and to see if Dr. Braverman’s treatments work.  I am assuming they will and I am imagining holding a little baby again.  I suppose there’s the possibility of them not working, and having another miscarriage — and emotionally, that would definitely be worse than just not getting pregnant…  On the other hand, it would be something and we’d have bloodwork and monitoring by a renowned reproductive immunologist to know what was going on in my body the whole time.

Several unpleasant things happen each month I do not get pregnant.  I said to my friend yesterday that it’s like opening a grave and digging up all the past, then having to bury it all again.  I’ll concede that the analogy is slightly over-the-top, but in a way, it’s the most accurate way I can describe it.  Every failed attempt reminds me of all the babies we’ve lost, all I’ve been though, the postpartum hell, the sadness, and the fact that we now have medications and laughably, I can’t get pregnant.  I grow tired of the rules – my dietary restrictions, my supplements, the advice that I should not have any wine or coffee … it all seems pointless and unnecessarily restrictive because it never mattered in the past and none of those things saved my babies before.  In a way, I’ve lost faith in all those things that are supposed to help your fertility, and I’m tired of the thousands of bloggers dishing out fertility advice and the same old, same old information on fertility websites.  (Ironic, I know.)  I question my goals and wish I could either achieve closure on this part of my life, or achieve the dream of adding to our family.  I wonder how many more months we really want to try.  I wonder who I will go to if we can’t get pregnant.  I wonder about egg quality and sperm and wonder if we are just getting old on the fertility spectrum and things aren’t as potent as they used to be.

I grow more weary, and feel less like the people around me.  I feel changed as a Christian … more raw and less likely to say trite quips about others’ circumstances and less likely to care about all those “good Christian” pursuits.  I’m just happy Jesus loves me the way I am, and I’m totally fine just resting in His righteousness alone.  I really don’t care about much else in the world of Christendom, which sounds horrible, but anyone who has gone through extended trials just might be able to echo that sentiment.  Maybe some people will judge me for that, but whatever.  I just don’t care, and I hope that anyone who would judge me wouldn’t ever have to experience half the stuff I have.  I won’t be like this forever.  One day I’ll be stronger, because one way or another, I’ll be done with this pursuit.

I question the Lord.  I wrestle with God’s plans for this fallen world and for my life.  I wrestle with injustice and then admit to myself that many others have it worse then me.  I try to focus on all I have to be thankful for and then wish I could just LET GO if that will mean I can move on and be happy with all the blessings I have.  I worry I am missing what’s happening right now.  I worry I am not being all I can be right now.  And yet, still I feel very strongly that I will regret it if I give up now.  I still think there are supposed to be more children in this house — and grown children sitting around Thanksgiving dinners twenty years from now.  Grown children who will have each other and be there for one another in this world when we are gone.

Then I move on to the planning of all that needs to happen again for the next cycle, and when I’ll need my intralipids infusion, and what days will be fertile, and how we can’t plan much during that week, or the weeks at the end when I “might” be pregnant and “might” have to go to New York.  And I just get more tired thinking about that, and somewhat bitterly think I probably am not ever going to get pregnant anyway.  I even thought this morning that I’d just like to take a break.  Even though my 35th birthday is creeping up, what’s one or two months of not trying really going to matter?  I’m just so sick of this, and somehow, want to throw in the towel and persevere at the same time.

Anyway.  There it is.

This being summer, we have quite a few things on the calendar that are quite unrelated to our fertility problems, and I am going to sign off for a few weeks to enjoy them.  I just want to remind new readers that I have a few tabs at the top for finding resources, if you happen to know anyone who has “unexplained” recurrent miscarriage or infertility.  I hope that these pages can help you or someone you love, and I welcome your comments!  Especially any that are in the category of being my cheerleader 🙂

How long, O LORD?  Will you forget me forever?  How long will You hide Your face from me?

How long must I take counsel in my soul and have sorrow in my heart all the day?  How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?

Consider and answer me, O LORD my God; light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,

lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,” lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.

But I have trusted in Your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation.

I will sing to the LORD, because He has dealt bountifully with me.                                   (Psalm 13)

Disappointment becomes a long and listless path

We are still not pregnant. I am trying to stay positive. I am trying not to dwell on the unfairness, because no benefit will come of that. Everyone has problems and many people have dreams that are not fulfilled. I still wouldn’t trade anything about my life for anyone else’s. But I’m disappointed and becoming more listless on this “journey.”

I don’t have much else to say right now, but just wanted to give an update. We are beginning our fifth cycle.

My Story, Part 1

No girl, when she imagines her future life, envisions having fertility problems.  Nobody really thinks realistically about that, do they?  We just assume we’ll be able to have the kids we want, when we want.  Fertility problems are something that happen to “other people.”

Unfortunately, they happen to many more of us than we anticipate.  I recently learned that about 7.3 million American women (or approximately one in eight couples) experience trouble conceiving.  Chances are we all know someone who has suffered or is currently suffering with infertility.  I myself am not even really sure, however, that I fall into this category.  I never had trouble conceiving, but I have lost 71% of my pregnancies — five of seven of them have ended in so-called “unexplained” miscarriage.  And pretty much every piece of medical advice or literature I encountered after that told me that about 50% of women don’t find answers for that “unexplained” category.

When my hubby and I were married in 2004, we knew we wanted kids – I always saw myself having a big family (probably the result of being a bored only child for 13 years); he said he would want about three.  We figured we’d decide on it later … that it would sort itself out.

In 2005, we moved from the Washington, D.C., area to the Pittsburgh, PA, region.  I was 27 and my husband was 28.  He got his permanent job in October, and a few months later, I was pregnant.  We were elated.

However, in March 2006, I started spotting, went in for a sonogram, and was diagnosed with “blighted ovum.”  I was eight weeks pregnant, but the sonar showed an empty amniotic sac.  With this type of miscarriage, a fertilized egg implants in the uterine wall, but doesn’t develop.  The woman’s body forms a placenta and she feels many signs of pregnancy, but soon her body realizes that the baby is not growing, and it rejects the pregnancy.

I’ll never forget how sad I was that day.  I won’t ever forget going home and sobbing in my bed.  In fact, I was sad for a long time.  My OB recommended miscarrying naturally rather than having surgery, which made the process drag on for about three more weeks.  I hated every single day of it.

Miscarriage is a real loss.  Even though you never knew that baby, you started imagining your life with them from the moment you got a positive pregnancy test.  Miscarriage means that you grieve the dreams, hopes and excitement of having that little one in your life.  I also think having a miscarriage before you’ve had any children presents a unique set of challenges in itself.  For one, you fear that you might not ever have children.  You began to think about changing the direction of your life – for me, I looked forward to leaving my desk job and being a full-time mom.  All those ideas go on hold and you have to wrestle through wondering if you’ll ever achieve your hopes of being a mother.

People sometimes tried to comfort me by telling me that I would probably get pregnant again soon, or that I would be able to have a baby soon, or that it was just something natural that happens and it didn’t mean I’d have another one.  People meant well, and it’s hard for them to know what else to say.  There’s just not really anything people can say that will take away that pain.  But when they say things about a future they cannot predict, the one grieving can’t help but feel the undercurrent of uncertainty.  You know they are telling you things they cannot guarantee.

Fortunately, in my case, they were right.  I became pregnant again by July 2006 and we had our son in April 2007.  It was an uneventful pregnancy with no complications – I wasn’t even very nauseous or anything!  He was born on his due date after 18 hours of labor.  He was big and healthy and grew fast.  I pretty much figured my bad luck was over and I’d be able to have all those babies I’d dreamed of!

Around the time our son was 18 months old, in the summer of 2008, I got pregnant again.  It was planned and I had no trouble getting pregnant.  The day that I hit six weeks, however, it was like a switch flipped and I grew miserably sick.  I could barely function – I’d wake in the morning and throw up a couple of times, and try to take care of our son while nibbling on the same piece of toast all morning.  I felt hungry but insanely nauseous.  I could barely walk into the kitchen and make his lunch without standing at the sink shaking and trying not to vomit.  It felt like having the stomach flu, except that instead of just having to survive one or two days of it, I knew it was going to last at least six more weeks.  I felt like I wanted to die!  On top of that, we had just moved into a new house and nothing felt like “home” yet.  But at least the TV was working.

I remember the first week of that being the worst, and each week thereafter being slightly easier.  I think by the time I got to 10 weeks or so, I felt like I was functioning at a higher level, and that seemed OK because I remembered feeling more energetic in my previous pregnancy around 10 weeks.

I can’t remember the exact circumstances when I started spotting, but a sonogram confirmed a loss when I was about 16 weeks pregnant.  The baby’s measurements seemed to indicate it had stopped growing around 13 weeks’ gestation.  I had a different OB-GYN at that time (who is still my OB today), and he was baffled and very sad.  Most sources say, of course, that it’s less likely to lose a baby once you are past the 12-week mark.  To me, it seemed like we’d had some very bad luck.

My doctor scheduled an emergency D&C, which made me really nervous since I’d have to be put under general anesthesia, but he did not want to risk infection or hemorrhage.  (It turned out to be much easier than miscarrying naturally, since once the surgery’s over you focus on recovering right away.)  A wonderful friend stayed at our house with our son, and my mom drove up from Maryland, and when it was over, I was just so glad to go home and hug my living child.  Our church family brought us many meals over the next couple of weeks, and I remember experiencing comfort and peace from many sides at that time.  I remember it being a time of growing in my faith despite the very sad thing. 

My doctor sent away some of the baby’s tissues for genetic testing, but because it had not been alive for perhaps a couple of weeks, the laboratory could not grow any of the cells.  We could not know if there were any chromosomal abnormalities.  (I have read that only about 5% of miscarriages occurring after 10 weeks are caused by chromosomal abnormalities.)

It was November 21st when we lost that baby.  One year later, to the day, we were blessed with the birth of our daughter.  Again, I had an uneventful, uncomplicated pregnancy with very little nausea and she was born at full-term.  She was healthy, and loud.  Very loud.  She cried the whole night and gave the nurses a run for their money!  I found out later that we were pretty lucky to even have had her — because normally, people with my issues have nothing but miscarriages after the birth of a baby boy.

It was my third miscarriage that really shook the foundations of my world.  I will pick up there in Part 2.