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Embracing the Chaos of IVF Part 4: Finding Positive Ways to Cope

 

 

 

Posted on Mile High Mamas, August 1:  http://www.milehighmamas.com/2012/08/01/embracing-the-chaos-of-ivf-part-4-finding-positive-ways-to-cope/

Our first IVF attempt failed and it was now time to prepare for our second attempt. Before that happened, I had to mentally prepare myself to try again. As a self-proclaimed control freak and non-practicing Catholic, I knew it would not be easy for me to just have faith that things would work out as they should. I needed to be strong enough to handle what was to come – baby or no baby – and I couldn’t do it alone and couldn’t expect my family to manage my stress either.

After the miscarriage last spring, I searched for ways to manage the stress in positive ways as I knew infertility treatments would be an emotional rollercoaster for my family and me. I searched for alternative methods instead the typical ones like psychotherapy, prescription medications and lots of alcohol. I felt I would have to take plenty of medications while trying to get pregnant that I didn’t want to add more to the mix. I also wanted to find options that didn’t break the bank either.

Here are three methods that have helped me manage all of the ups and downs of my infertility journey:

Meditation – I’ve tried meditation many times, starting back in high school when I first learned about color therapy meditation in a stress management class. After that, I would pick it up again here and there, but never made it a daily practice until last spring. At that time, I was working closely with GG Johnston, a dear friend and amazing life coach who helps people figure out how to be the most authentic person they can be both personally and professionally. I could go on and on about GG and her ability to help others, but I only have 800 words for this post. She taught me new techniques and how the power of sitting silently can help you find your true self. I now meditate daily and am amazed at how much it helped me get through our failed IVF attempt. It was through meditation that I could really visualize my family as just Barry, Maya and me, and be OK with it. If you’re interested in trying meditation, check out The Chopra Center’s 21-day Meditation Challenge. It’s free and includes guided meditations to help you learn the practice without feeling overwhelmed.

Biofeedback – There are many scientific definitions of biofeedback, also known as quantum biofeedback, but let me try and simplify it. Basically, you get hooked up to a FDA-approved machine on your head, ankles and wrists, and it measures a variety of activities in your body, including stress level, heart rate, muscle activity and breathing. A biofeedback practitioner, like Kellie Smith, then reads these activities and tells the machine to even out any levels that are out-of-sync. It’s kind of like your body is a printer and biofeedback helps to recalibrate any areas that need to be adjusted. You also can work with your practitioner to send your brain positive, affirming messages like intentions via the machine to help you reduce stress. I know this sounds like something you’d read in a science fiction book, but I promise it works. Plus, Kellie is one of the most positive, enlightening people you’ll ever meet and she makes getting through the bad times a little easier.

AcupunctureAcupuncture, the ancient Chinese technique of placing thin needles into the body to identify and release stress, has been proven to help women with infertility issues for decades. In addition to helping with overall stress reduction, studies have shown it helps to increase blood flow throughout the body as well as increase the thickness of the uterine lining. There are many great acupuncturists in Denver, but I highly recommend finding someone who specializes in infertility acupuncture treatments if you are trying to get pregnant. For instance, Heidi Alexander in Centennial understands how infertility can affect a woman both emotionally and physically, and she knows the right techniques to ensure your session goes well. She also knows the best techniques to use during the IVF embryo (egg) transfer process. This was a plus for me because I felt like I would have an extra cheerleader with me at that critical moment when the time came. Another plus is that acupuncture is sometimes covered by insurance so it’s a nice alternative if money is an issue.

So, am I completely healed from the IVF failure? No, but I’m getting there. Will doing these techniques guarantee that I will get pregnant? No. Will these work for everyone? I don’t know. What I do know is that I wouldn’t be able to cope and share my story without the expertise and support of GG, Kellie and Heidi. No matter your journey, I hope you find at least one of these options helpful for you.

#theatershooting

Today, I choose to listen and not to speak,
Peace, love and hope I solely wish to seek.
I’m not a victim, law enforcement or loved one,
So my voice is mute, my opinion is none.
 
I don’t know why we lost these souls,
How could this make someone whole?
I can’t change the past, I can’t fix today,
But I can help important voices have their say.
 
I will listen to law enforcement, to loved ones,
To hospitals and non-profits getting the job done.
I will re-tweet their information, re-post their news,
I will not share mine or other peoples’ views.
 
Tomorrow I will speak; my anger I will share,
But today, I will only give all the love I can spare. 

Embracing the Chaos of IVF Part 3: Learning to have a little faith

(Originally posted on Mile High Mamas on July 11, 2012 – http://www.milehighmamas.com/2012/07/11/embracing-the-chaos-of-ivf-part-3-learning-to-have-a-little-faith/) 

When I got home from the PRSA Western District Conference that Monday night, my husband Barry was awake in the den and the door to my mother-in-law’s apartment downstairs was still open. Usually, her door is shut by this time of night, but since Barry was still awake I didn’t think anything of it. I went upstairs and got ready for bed. Within seconds, my smile vanished as I heard Barry yell my name. I ran downstairs to find out what was wrong, but couldn’t find Barry. I heard my name again and quickly realized it was coming from Nancy’s place. As I turned the corner of her stairs, I saw Barry standing over Nancy who was immobile on the floor.

She explained that she tripped over her magazine rack and fell on her hip. Watching her lay there in pain while we waited for the ambulance was one of the scariest things I’ve ever experienced. It was like staring at my own mortality. Even though my dad died when he was fairly young, his rapid deterioration from cancer seemed so rare to me that it didn’t put mortality in the forefront. But, this was different. This was an accident that could happen to anyone, at anytime.

In typical fashion, I remained positive while Nancy was in the hospital. “You’ll be out of here before you know it,” I kept saying. “You bounced right back after knee surgery last year, you’ll bounce back from this hip surgery too.”

Meanwhile, I didn’t think twice about my IVF process. Everything was moving along like clockwork, even though my stomach looked like squirrels were using it for archery practice. Plus, everything evens out in the end, right? We had the bad with Nancy’s fall so clearly the IVF was going to work.

I really hate it when I’m wrong, and I was wrong about the IVF. You see, in order for Conceptions to proceed with the process, I needed to grow at least four follicles at 18 milliliters. When I went for my first ultrasound check I learned that my ovaries looked like a bar at 4 a.m., completely empty with only a few drunks passed out on the bar. The second ultrasound showed promise with more follicles, but they needed to grow a lot more within the next few days in order to move forward. I tried to stay positive even when the nurses to prepared me for the worst. At the third ultrasound I got the reality check I needed. I never got four follicles at 18 milliliters, just that one. I walked out of the office with my head down and sunglasses over my eyes so no one could see my tears.

For the first time since the first ectopic back in September 2010, I started to realize that this is a game I may never win. I remember watching an episode of Oprah’s Master Class featuring professional NBA player Grant Hill around this time. He talked about how he blamed himself for his ankle injuries that led to his MRSA infection and how he felt like he had let everyone down. I sobbed out loud listening to him because I knew exactly how he felt. I blamed myself too. I blamed myself for the pregnancy losses. I blamed myself for not growing enough follicles. I blamed myself for Nancy falling. I blamed myself for everything.

We knew adoption was an option, but were so mentally exhausted by this time that we didn’t think we had it in us to go down that path. So, I started to prepare myself for the reality that we might not have another child. While I was heartbroken, I knew I had to find some way to come to terms with this. I had to learn to have faith that this may be the best path for my family and me. This was a hard lesson, but I was lucky enough to have friends and loved ones who helped me understand this.

After our follow-up appointment with Dr. Swanson, we decided to try IVF one more time. We agreed to forego the birth control pills in hopes it would eliminate the empty bar effect in my ovaries. Even though it felt as if our IVF journey was ending faster than I hoped, I had learned to have a little faith in what was to come. I started to find comfort in knowing that no matter what, Barry, Maya and I are a family and will always be a family. Letting go of a dream is hard, but appreciating what you have now can warm your heart in ways you never imagined.

Did you have to let go of a dream? How did you do it and what life lesson did you learn from letting go?


Embracing the Chaos of IVF Part 2: The Game Plan

(Originally posted on Mile High Mamas on June 6, 2012 –  http://www.milehighmamas.com/2012/06/06/embracing-the-chaos-of-ivf-the-game-plan/)

After surgery to remove the ectopic pregnancy in early January, we laid out our game plan for our first attempt at IVF. I like calling it a game plan as much as Dr. Swanson does because it makes the process feel more like a game of flag football rather than just a legs-in-stirrups marathon, like a competition of sorts (me, competitive? Never!) It also makes me feel like we have a team of cheerleaders nearby to keep our spirits high. I imagine our Conceptions team dressed up in uniforms with shirts that say “Go Team Stone” on the front in blue waving pom-poms and yelling, “V-I-C-T-O-R-Y! Hold that V!” You can picture that too, right?

The plan was to first check my resting follicle count and AMH levels (aka ovarian reserve of quality, healthy baby-making follicles) after two menstrual cycles post-surgery. All was well there. Next, we had our 4-hour consultation to learn how the art of love-making and the science of baby-making would join forces to help us get pregnant. During the consultation, we quickly realized that we were no longer waiting for the prime ovulation time to show up on a pee stick. Instead, each step would be methodical, from when to start on birth control, where to inject the medications and when to get ultrasounds to check the follicle count. They gave us a color-coded calendar so we could keep track of everything. Clearly, they’ve done this before.

I also had to have more legs-in-stirrups tests like a sonohysterogram, Doppler ultrasound and a trial transfer to ensure my girly parts were up-to-snuff and Doc could find the right spot for the egg when it was time. The trial transfer was the most painful, not because of the process, but because I had to drink a bunch of water prior to the procedure and couldn’t pee until it was over. That was fun, really. And why is it when you have to pee all you can think about is a running waterfall?

Then it was time to get my medications. Our insurance company had approved the IVF attempt a while back so getting approvals for the meds should have been super easy, right? Not in our case. It took two weeks and daily stalking calls for Conceptions to get the green light to order the meds. During this time, our refrigerator and garage door decided to break so I had to juggle work, insurance company phone call stalking, repairmen visits and run the household since Barry was out of town. I kept thinking this was all a test of my will so I kept plugging on.

Finally, on Friday, March 9, the box of meds came. Typically, when I think of meds, I think of an orange plastic bottle with a white cap. For IVF, the box looked like I ordered several pairs of shoes and they all shipped together. I opened the box, and pulled out the first box of meds, then the second, then the third…I thought I would never get the bottom. It was kinda like Christmas except instead of shiny gifts, I got syringes and boxes of meds containing little glass bottles of powdered stuff and sterile water. The only mix up was a missing ice pack for one of the meds, but the pharmacy sent me an overnight package with a new bottle secured in an ice pack. A minor setback, but it didn’t mess up our timing.

On Saturday morning after I got the last bottle, I laid it all out on our dining room table, which seats six. I kept waiting for the DEA to show up at my door and demand a raid of our house. Thank goodness that didn’t happen, my house was a mess. I went in for a final ultrasound to ensure my lining was thin and my estrogen levels were low later that day as well. On Sunday, I got a message from the nurse informing me that “everything looks perfect” and “Congratulations, you’re on your way!”

Things felt good, things felt right. We had our game plan. I was to start the shots on Monday, March 12, one grouping in the morning and one at night. I had practiced giving myself the shots in the abdomen so I wasn’t worried about hurting myself. I even had a PRSA Western District Conference event that night, but I was prepared with the shots ever so cleverly concealed in my purse. I’m a master multi-tasker and really wanted to see my fellow PRSA Coloradoans. Yep, our game had begun, and hopefully we would only have to play four quarters with no overtime in order to win.

Sharing my infertility story using my gift of the gab…

Over the past couple of years, we’ve been dealing with infertility. It hasn’t been easy, but my gift of the gab has led me to share my story via Mile High Mamas, Colorado’s best mom community in partnership with The Denver Post. Here’s the first of my six part series…

(Originally posted on Mile High Mamas on  May 14, 2012 – http://www.milehighmamas.com/2012/05/14/a-denver-moms-journey-with-infertility-and-ivf/

Hi y’all! I’m a Southerner-turned-mountain-lover living in South Denver and recently, I’ve been dealing with infertility. It’s more common that I ever thought and I now understand why it’s so hard on women and families. I’ve decided to share my story with the Mile High Mamas in hopes it will help others who are going through the same thing, and we can share a laugh or two along the way.

Here’s my story.

Barry and I got married in Atlanta in 2004, and we decided to hold off on having children for a year because both our fathers passed that year and we needed some time to grieve. By May 2006, we were pregnant and our beautiful daughter was born in January 2007. We knew we wanted another child, but wanted to move to Denver first. We vacationed there in 2005 and fell in love with its outdoor beauty and laid back lifestyle. We sold our home and became Denver residents by the summer of 2008.

By 2010, we were settled in our new home and had adjusted to our new roommate, my mother-in-law who moved in with us after selling her home in Michigan in 2009. It was finally time to get pregnant again. It was easy the first time so it should be just as easy with No. 2, right? Not so much.

Over the next 15 months, I suffered an ectopic pregnancy, a miscarriage and then another ectopic pregnancy. With each loss, I had to go through extensive medical treatments and procedures. All three sucked in their own way, each with its share of physical and emotional pain.

After the miscarriage, we decided it was time to see a specialist. My OB-GYN recommended we see Dr. Michael Swanson at Conceptions. He knew so much about infertility that Barry and I left the first appointment completely speechless, but in a good way. I’ve never seen a doctor get so excited about preparing a couple for their “game plan” as if it was his first. It was refreshing.

And so the tests began – bloodwork, ultrasounds, X-rays and more bloodwork. I began to feel like my girly parts were a part of a freak show. I imagined J.D. from “Scrubs” was the show host, leading guests through the tour that started at my vagina and moved through my ovaries and fallopian tubes. “You came at a great time, ladies and gentlemen,” he would say. “We’ll have to close off this spectacular show next week because we haven’t learned how to split the Red Sea yet (aka my menstrual cycle)!” As he winked, the guests looked at him like he was a freak, which in this case, he was.

Barry’s tests were easy compared to my spread-eagle-in-stirrups escapes. All he had to do to was spend a few minutes watching a porno movie while sitting on a comfortable couch in a private room. He even had a back door he could sneak out of when he was done. I imagine a neon sign above that door flashing, “Nude Gurlz Here! It’s the Back Door of a Fertility Clinic, No One Will Ask!”

The verdict was pretty simple: I have older eggs and Barry has some funky-shaped sperm. Luckily, we didn’t have other issues like my uterus lining was too thin, Barry’s sperm was slow or my uterus being a “hostile environment.” The reality is, while we can get pregnant, our plumbing doesn’t run as smoothly as they did when our daughter was born. Knowing we can still get pregnant should be comforting, right? In some ways, yes, but in other ways, not being able to stay pregnant is heartbreaking.

After much consideration, we’ve now decided to try IVF, or In Vitro Fertilization. If you’re not familiar with the process, here’s a quick synopsis. I have to take medication to grow follicles (or the eggs) and Barry has to go watch another porno movie. Once I have enough follicles, they will be extracted and injected with Barry’s sperm in hopes one healthy egg develops. Once the egg matures, it will then be injected back into me. After that, we can only hope the pregnancy goes full-term.

So, my IVF journey has now begun, although it feels more like I’m hiking a rocky mountain in winter wearing only sandals and a T-shirt than a journey. We have no idea what will happen, but we’re willing to take a shot, and not just the one I shoot in my stomach. That’s an IVF joke…

Life lessons from my preschooler

We all know the poem, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” where we learned that the basics of sharing, washing your hands and cleaning up after ourselves were taught to us early in life. But lately, I’m realizing that my 4-year-old is learning some pretty important lessons before she has hit that milestone. In the process, she has taught me a thing or two about debunking myths, letting go of perfection and seeing the beauty in the a-symmetrical. Here are a few of those lessons.

When you love, you’re never alone. To be honest, I used to worry about Maya being alone because she’s an only child. As the younger of two children, I always had my older sister to play with, or nag, whenever I wanted. Ironically, I’m married to an only child and many of my closest friends are only children. Somehow though, those myths of only children being selfish and incapable of being empathic got lodged into my brain. I didn’t want Maya to fall into one of those myths, as if children with siblings were superior somehow and didn’t have myths of their own.

Then, the other day after preschool, I watched Maya line up a group of her stuffed animals, grab a chair and began reading one of her favorite books to them. Of course, she didn’t know the words, but she told a delightful story about a little girl and her friends who went to a park to play. She smiled and lovingly looked at each animal as she read the story. It didn’t matter to her that they weren’t real. It didn’t matter that they couldn’t talk or move around like real kids. All that mattered was that they were her friends and she was their friend. She was not alone. All those fears I had suddenly diminished because I realized that while she may not have a little brother or sister around, she could share and love just like any other kid, and perhaps even more so.

Accidents happen, even to parents. Maya asked me to color a picture with her in one of her favorite coloring books the other night after dinner. I was coloring a dog with a blue marker when I accidently went “over the line” and got the blue mixed in with the pink nose I colored a few minutes earlier. I immediately stopped and said, “Oh uh. I went over the line, Maya. I’m sorry.” I sat and waited for my punishment. After all, parents know better than to go over the lines, right? Aren’t we supposed to show our children the right way to do things?

To my surprise, she said without hesitation, “That’s OK, mommy. As long as you didn’t mean do it. ccidents happen.” I about fell out of my chair. It’s taken me almost 39 years to understand this one life lesson. My parents weren’t perfectionists, but I inherited the gene somehow and had been striving for it since I can remember. In our quest for perfection, we can easily forget that we’re not perfect and, more importantly, never will be. Luckily, there are 4 ½-year-olds around to share this wisdom with us on a regular basis.

Embrace perfection within the imperfection. One of our holiday traditions is to avoid the shopping crowds and put up decorations over the Thanksgiving weekend. This year, Maya got to decorate her very own, and very pink, Christmas tree. I watched in awe as she carefully placed each of her ornaments and the gold ribbon around the tree, talking to herself as if rationalizing each step she made in the decorating process. The finishing touches included a piece of gold garland from Grandma’s tree and a piece of blue ribbon from our tree that lay ever so gently at the top and middle of her tree. I imagined her as an artist, wearing a purple beret and using her best French accent as she spoke. With her head tilted to one side, she would step back, put her index finger over her mouth and then shout, “No, no, it needs more, more I say!”

As she finished her masterpiece, she looked at me and said, “Mommy, isn’t it beautiful!” I said, “It sure is,” even though its little imperfections were bringing out the control freak in me. All I wanted to do was to fix it so each side was even and symmetrical. I kept telling myself, “If I could just move this ornament here and that ornament over there, her tree would then be perfect.” That afternoon when Maya was taking her nap, I walked over to the tree and planned to fix it. Luckily, the mommy inside punched the control freak right out of me as I suddenly remembered the joy that this imperfect tree gave my daughter. She was so proud of her creation. How could I mess with that? How could I explain to her that her joy was unwarranted because it wasn’t symmetrical? I now understand what people mean when they say embrace perfection within the imperfection and have no plans to change anything about that magnificent tree.

That magnificent Christmas tree!

While I may never completely let go of my inner control freak, my daughter is teaching me that there is a time and place for it. I can only imagine what other lessons she has in store for me as she grows older.

Sound familiar? What life lessons are you learning from your children?

Football and Religion: A (toxic) combo for Tim Tebow?

Ever since the NFL season got back on track this year, there seems to be an interesting fanaticism around certain players. Perhaps this is typical during pre-season, but it has an extra sting lately. The player of choice here in Colorado is Tim Tebow, Broncos (now) No. 2 quarterback and former University of Florida quarterback. Being a Florida native and UF alumnus, I am a Tebow fan (of his game and I must admit of his Jockey ads too). I watched in amazement as he brought an entire stadium to its feet just by the mention of his name at his very first game. I watched him win the Heisman Trophy with grace, take full responsibility for his team’s losses the following year and regularly and publicly pronounce his religious beliefs. But, after watching the news and social media networks rip him up last week, I quickly learned that he’s not everyone’s favorite.

Apparently, people either love him or hate Tebow with the same fanaticism typically seen by NASCAR fans. Take a look at these recent tweets:

Tim tebow will never be a good nfl player end of story.”

“Stop hatin on TIM TEBOW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

“Tim Tebow has something most people dont.HEART.Those who say “it cant be done” are usually watching those who are Doing it. #realtalk”

“you know youre a bad football team when Tim tebow is your 2nd best quarterback”

“LeBron James & Tim Tebow: Which Disappointing Star Will Win a Ring First?”

“Can somebody please tell me why everybody is hating on Tim Tebow? He is only in his second year!”

“I fear what the Tea Party will do when they find out Tim Tebow lost his starting QB job in Denver.”

As I watch this love/hate relationship with Tebow unfold, I began to wonder what is it about this guy that brings out such emotion in people. Could it be that he was so hyped up during his college career that people are just plain tired of him? Sure. Could it be that Coloradoans just don’t get college football like we Southerners do? Maybe. Could it be that Tebow has been compared to John Elway, causing diehard Elway fans to dart the evil eye at this sophomore quarterback? Certainly. Any of these could be a reason. I think it’s much deeper than any of these though. I believe it is the strong tie between Tebow’s talent and his religion that sparks such emotion.

Generally speaking, football, like many religions, has a way of bringing out the best and worst in people. Fanatics tend to only love one team and/or player who they deem immortal and perfect. If the team wins, God was sure to be watching. The fanatic’s days of worship culminate mostly over the weekend and they repent in hopes of a fresh new start on Monday. They dress up (or down, depending how you look at it) for each game, only their teams’ colors will do. They give money to their alumni associations and seek out their team’s local clubs in search of camaraderie. At the end of every game, they feel tremendous joy or immense pain.

Since football and religion have a tendency to bring out the fanatical in people, it is easy to see how Tebow can be the center of this emotion. Love him or hate him, I believe he excels at his sport as well as his religion. It’s true other athletes have publicly addressed their religious beliefs, but Tebow’s approach is different. He doesn’t just thank God for his wins. He wears it on face, spends summers during missionary work and even starred in a Pro-life Super Bowl ad with his mother. He discusses religion as regularly as his football practices and no one seems to care. Or do they? Could it be that his love for his faith as well as his sport is a toxic combination for fans? Could it be that this combination brings out the best and worst in people in a whole new way?

Some people like Gregg Doyel from CBSSport.com aren’t quite comfortable with Tebow’s blatant use of religion. But, I wonder, do fans love him for his sport, his faith or both? Will his fans love him if he doesn’t succeed? Will they praise him and God if he does? Does it really matter? After all, he’s just a quarterback, who happens to be very religious.