Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Small and brown

Ladies and gentlemen, I live with a 7 lbs drill sergeant.

If she wasn't so cute, we would have strung her up by her toes by now.

All of it started (as it does every year) with the birds. Spring means all the birds return. With the birds returning (and mating), comes pre-dawn singing. And with the pre-dawn singing from birds comes pre-dawn chattering and crying for felines.

For years Grey and I couldn't figure out why Jaxson and Daisy were merciless in the Spring. Until I had an office mate who worked with large birds of prey who educated me. So we suffered through this period, with gentle tweeting in the morning. Praying for summer to arrive.

But then we moved from the Pacific Northwest to the New England.

And Oh. My. God.

Not only are there birds EVERYWHERE. They are noisy!!! Noisy enough to wake me up at 4:30 am every day. And this noise hasn't helped with the cats going into full orgasmic mode. Nor has the bird baths outside the windows (bird porn for felines). So we've been miserable with the status quo of Spring Fever mode.

On Sunday, Daisy upped her game.

One of the benefits of our new home is a spacious deck. In the mornings, when I can no longer sleep, I've gotten into the habit of letting both cats out onto the deck to sit and enjoy nature. On his end, Jaxson is in heaven to sit and observe his surroundings. But Daisy has been testing the boundaries; exploring her options for escape. I found every one very quickly and was good about watching her, but she lured me in to a false sense of security with good behavior of lounging and seeming uninterested.

On Sunday afternoon, I wandered down to the garden to check on the plants and that's when I spotted her walking through the garden. She had navigated her way over the deck, down to the landing and to freedom. The second Daisy spotted me, she bolted. Dashing through the garden like a fairy who had been spotted. Only one word crossed my lips.

"Shit"

10 minutes later, as I tried to catch her, "Shit" turned to "Bitch" as she began using the fence to escape any attempt at capture.

Finally Grey came to the rescue with offerings of cream. Luring her in with its milky goodness before returning her to the confines of the apartment.

She's been relentless ever since. Testing windows, eyeing exits and yeowling to be let back out. She's tasted freedom and has decided her life as an indoor cat is something of the past.

Life has been interesting. I feel guilty for keeping her locked indoors. She would love to roam. But I'm very aware of the damage cats do to local wildlife and part of our rental agreement is that Jaxson and Daisy don't eradicate the local bird population. In addition, we've recently spotted a Merlin Falcon that is visiting the garden. And though we're use to much larger raptors (Bald Eagles and such), this one would be happy to have a cat for a meal.

So I'm stuck with an unhappy small brown cat. May summer come soon.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Herbs and fairies

Back in March, I wrote about my wish to regarding Martha's garden. I'm here to report that wishes do come true. Many wishes in fact.

First off, the garden is blooming. Every morning, we're greeted to this.


Secondly, Martha has generously given the Beats access to 3 of her garden boxes. So we planted herbs: basil, thyme, mint, sage, rosemary and parsley.

And strawberries


And in the final box, lavender


Some onions bulbs (just for fun)


And some carrots and sunflower seeds, which we are waiting to sprout.

In addition, Martha has added an extra special treat: Fairy houses.




Every morning, the Beats go into the garden to visit the houses and say "good morning."

Every evening, they arm themselves with their watering cans and get to work watering their plants (and some of Martha's too). And then they say good night to the fairies.

Discussions about flowers and vegetables happen frequently at the moment. Bird and small mammals are also of interest. We'll be talking about bugs very soon.

In the meantime, I'm in heaven. Under Martha's watchful eye, things are growing and thriving. I'm healing too.

Monday, May 16, 2016

#MicroblogMondays: Letter to the buyer

Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is? Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.

On Friday, our condo listing went live. Grey and I have been preparing ourselves for years for this moment. Watching the market, doing repairs and updates to our condo that we could afford and would meet our needs. After a fail-start of trying to sell directly to our renters, the decision was made to take the plunge and actually list.

Our unit has been on the market for a total of 4 days. This morning we got an offer for more than the list price, without contingency of financing and a request to close as soon as possible.

In the packet of material we got from this potential buyer was a letter to Grey and me, with her talking about how she loves the unit, the views, the location and all we've done. How there's so much potential with the space. The excitement in this possibility is there and she's hoping we will accept. As I read through the letter, my own narrative began to fill in for a response that likely will never be. The things that will be left unsaid.

Like that first night in our condo after we purchased it, standing out on the balcony to watch the sunset.

Or the time Grey was teaching me how to wire a two-way light switch, which resulted in a pop, leading to a trip to the hardware store. After he rewired the switches and was testing them, I waited till he flipped the top switch 10 times before yelling "BANG!" He still hasn't forgive me for that one.

Or the time S.ears delivery failed to drop off our new stove, leaving me to cancel the order, enlist a new neighbor and drive up to the store to purchase one there, only to turn around and drive it back to our place that evening for me to install. 

And, of course, there's the memories revolving around infertility. The corners I cried in, the doors that were slammed, the stairs I collapsed on when I learned I was miscarrying, the floors that were being replaced during that failed FET.

But also those same stairs the Beats learned to climb up. The windows we stood holding them to show them the mountains. The kitchen sink where they got their first baths and later the bathtub they would bathe in together.

A decade of memories in a place we called home.

Tonight Grey and I will go through this offer, but it is likely we will accept it. Beginning the process of closing this door on a chapter of our lives.

Monday, May 9, 2016

#MicroblogMondays: Countering the shame of infertility

Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is? Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.

A few years ago, while working as a lecturer teaching genetics, I spent a class period talking about diagnosing genetic diseases and twin studies. Following spending weeks talking about classical genetics, my students were a lot more alert and immediately had lots of questions about all the different assays. It was during the discussion about twin studies that I learned I have two students who had a twin/ part of a triple. Both students began sharing with the class their family history and answering questions about fraternal vs identical siblings (which helped drive home the distinction). But then they both did something I wasn't expecting. Both of them talked about how they were conceived through IVF. I was utterly shocked not only to hear them share this information openly with their fellow classmates, but to also see the pride that was there as they talked about how they came to be in the world. The pride they had particularly in their mothers for undergoing these treatments.


I thought about these students over the weekend, both with the looming holiday, but also following this video by Leah Campbell (formerly Single Infertile Female). 


If you read Leah's post about this project, you'll find that her request for stories was met with overwhelming amount of entries and people sending pictures. And after watching this video and wiping away my own tears of gratitude, I got to thinking about the stigma and myths that is associated not only with infertility, but also with fertility treatments and the paths to resolution.

And it made me wonder why this is. Why there is still this stigma.

With my students, there was a clear pride about how they were conceived. Talking with them both after that one class, they both were aware of the struggle their parents went through to conceive them. One talked about her mother's 3 rounds of treatments prior to the pregnancy that lead to her. The other talked about PCOS. And both talked about how much their parents rocked and were so brave. "Infertility is a terrible thing," one said. "Which should tell you about how much my mom rocks."

Despite this, there's still a debate about whether to share information like this with children. Unlike adoption, where more data is showing the importance of openness about the child's history, a couple can easily remain mum about ever having dealt with infertility to begin with. For years there's been discussions about how this should be a choice for the couple who survived this trauma and are now parenting their biological children.

Yet, given what I've seen, I wonder if by remaining quiet we're actually perpetuating the myth of shame surrounding this disease. And that we are also underestimating our children in the process, assuming they couldn't handle this information.

I'm the first to admit that I'm coming at all of this with one point of view. That my decision early on to be out of the closet has colored my view point. But, like with adoption, I'm wondering if it's time we revisit this topic. That if we want recognition that infertility is a multifaceted disease that affects 1 in 8 couples in the US (1 in 6 couples in Canada and 1 in 4 couples globally), we need to start talking about this. 

And this includes with our children, sharing with them how they were conceived. Giving them the chance own this part of their story too.

Tuesday, May 3, 2016

Another gift nobody wants?

Grief has been a topic more people are willing to talk about. From Pixar's movie "Inside Out" to Beyonce's new album "Lemonade," the taboo of talking openly about pain and sadness is being shattered as we speak.

But what about anger? That negative emotion that fuels acts of aggression and even violence? Is anger considered a healthy emotion or is it something that we need to acknowledge, but quickly quash?

Today that's been a question I've been wondering about following this post about healing following miscarriage. Before I go much further, I need to emphasize that I have a lot of respect and admiration for both Danny and Mara and the work they do. The are one of my many examples I point to of people who are living full lives following trauma, particularly that of infertility. I also respect where Danny is going with his post today. This idea that it is possible to come out on the other side of loss and find happiness again. But where I was given pause when he talked about experiencing negative emotions following loss. Particularly with anger.

The idea of anger being a bad or immoral emotion isn't a new one to me. I've struggled with guilt for many years over feeling surges of anger. I internalized a lot of self-criticism about these surges, assuming that something was wrong with me for feeling this way or that somehow I was flawed in my perceptions of the world. Following my diagnosis with infertility and then my miscarriages and failed treatments, these feelings of guilt only intensified following pregnancy announcements of friends and family. I literally entered one of the darkest periods of my life where I hit bottom.

One thing David and Dee helped me confront was this guilt over feeling anger. Embracing my anger and allowing me to work through its roots. There were so many sessions in therapy spent learning it was okay to feel the emotions I was feeling. That only by doing so could I actually begin to heal properly and fully. That there could be resolution.

Still, it left me wondering, why is this fear around anger? Why is this emotion so taboo for so many?

Lori had a post recently that has had me thinking more deeply about this as she explores the importance of struggling and anti-coddling. There's so much good material in this post, especially for someone who is interested in education. But in relation to anger, it got me thinking that the resistance we feel towards anger may also have its roots in sheltering. After all, anger can be a frightening emotion.

Overall, I do think Danny and I have a similar outlook on unresolved anger that turns into bitterness and jealousy. It results in the wound becoming infected and without proper care can have long-lasting if not life-altering affects. Still, I wonder whether we need to reassess how we view anger. That maybe, like pain, it's actually a gift even if nobody wants it.

Monday, May 2, 2016

#MicroblogMondays: unnecessary competition

Not sure what #MicroblogMondays is? Read the inaugural post which explains the idea and how you can participate too.

Back in those first days of trying to get pregnant (and before a diagnosis of infertility), I joined an online forum for women who were also focusing on charting and timed-intercourse. Overall, the experience there was a good one, with many of the women supporting each other and forming in real life connections. 

There was one post, though, that left me with some negative emotions. Written by a participant who was pregnant for her 7th time, she experience sadness and frustration with family following her SIL announcing her first pregnancy. She felt that her in-laws where more excited about her SIL's pregnancy than her own and expressed jealousy over it. 

Being someone who was rapidly reaching the year mark, it took a lot to not fire off a short retort verbally slapping her. It shouldn't matter, but more importantly it called into question why she was pregnant for a 7th time as it strongly suggested that pregnancy had become a way for her to find self-worth.

This morning, there was an incident on the bus that brought this memory back. A visibly pregnant woman was actively crying on her phone following her SIL's announcement about her pregnancy. She cried loudly about how the family responded excitedly to the announcement, leaving her to feel like her own pregnancy wasn't as important. Granted, she confessed, her SIL had been trying for years to get pregnant and seemed so sad with her own pregnancy announcement. But she couldn't understand why her in-laws would be over the moon when she her pregnancies weren't as celebrated.

In that moment, a high-schooler turned around and caught this woman's eye. Shaking her head sadly, she said loudly "I'm sorry." Surprised, the woman started to complain but this teenager stopped her. 

"I'm sorry that the only way you can feel special is by getting knocked up." 

You could have heard a pin-drop in that moment. 

There is a competition that isn't talked about among women, which is the competition in procreation. With infertility, we talk about missing out on the firsts we envisioned, such as giving our parents their first grandchildren or having to live through those painful pregnancy announcements. We experience jealousy when family members seamlessly do we torture our bodies to do. It is torturous and hard.

But this flipped jealousy is something no one talks about. That a family may be waiting hopefully for their loved ones living with infertility to announce the news they've been hoping and praying for, resulting in those who do so without issue to feel jealous of that response. Upon reflection, given how much focus corporations and society put on the expectant mother, this isn't a surprise that feeling special would be attached. From weekly updates to gender reveal parties to long debates about birth plans, there is a lot of focus that happens as a baby is gestating. After all, it is a special milestone as one is closing the chapter on one aspect of life and moving to another.

Still, there is a competition that can arise when one doesn't feel welcomed into a family. When there's a need to feel accepted or special. And it's sad because it is so unnecessary if not down-right destructive. To hear stories about those living with infertility being told that they don't know what real love is because they can't conceive, despite breaking themselves by enduring fertility treatments. To hear about jealousy following news that this same couple is finally expecting. To have a couple be subjected to ridicule or disparaging comments because they have closed the door on biological children and are either pursuing adoption or living as a family of two. All of it is based on a foundation of insecurity and malice.

Last week was National Infertility Awareness week, with the theme of #StartAsking. There were many good posts talking about support and why that support is so necessary. After today's incident, I would add that we also need to address this competition, taking the focus away from glorifying pregnancy at all costs and focusing instead on the family, regardless of its size. Just as many preach that we need to put less emphasis on the wedding and more on building and maintaining a marriage, so too should we have a similar focus on family building instead of on pregnancy.

My thoughts all morning have been about that pregnant woman on the bus. How sad she looked masked behind jealousy and anger. And I can't help feeling sad for the baby she is carrying. Because everyone does deserve to be happy in life. But we have to find it within ourselves. 

Thursday, April 28, 2016

#StartAsking about what causes infertility

On a Tuesday afternoon, I found myself sitting on an examine table at my new doctor's office. Sitting across from me was the nurse practitioner, who was examining the blank screen in front of her as the front desk had failed to inform her that I was a new patient. Sighing, she began reviewing the information the medical assistant had given her (height, weight, blood pressure and a complaint of dizziness) before turning to me and asking me about my medical history.

It took only a couple of minutes for her eyes to widen as I got into it. Though the typical questions (Smoker? Allergies? Current medications?) didn't raise any red flags, the question "ever been hospitalized?" opened a floodgate.

Why were you hospitalized? 
For HELLP syndrome.

Wait, HELLP? (She takes a moment to look directly at me) And they were able to catch it? 
Yeah, I was being monitored pretty aggressively. My doctors overseeing my pregnancy were fantastic.

Why were you being monitored? 
Well, because I had a tentative diagnosis of Hughes Syndrome.

Tentative?
Yes. Not everyone agrees with the diagnosis. I didn't fit the classic diagnosis, but there's a number of people who believe it's the cause for my diagnosis of infertility and recurrent miscarriages.

Infertility? Meaning you underwent fertility treatments? 
Yes, four rounds of IVF

(Long pause)

Well, it's wonderful that the IVFs work!
Yes, we were extremely lucky.



**********************
An hour later, I'm sitting in the waiting room of the laboratory waiting for a blood draw. The whole while I'm reflecting on the conversation I had with the NP. On the one hand, I still marvel how far I've come that I'm able to talk openly about our journey through infertility without batting an eye or shedding a single tear.

But there's an underlying element that bothers me. The element of not ever having a formal diagnosis for what was preventing Grey and me from expanding our family. And the fact that when ever I talk about this informal diagnosis and all that happened, I still get looks from many a medical professional.

A diagnosis of unexplained infertility is a bit like a double-edge sword. On the one hand, there's no apparent reason for why the patient is unable to become pregnant. Hope is not immediately smashed with a diagnosis like this, as there's still the chance for a spontaneous pregnancy to occur. And yet, the months and/or years spent trying to get pregnant with no success, only to be given an explanation of "bad luck" is an exercise in insanity. Over time one begins to question whether they are somehow sabotaging their own efforts or if there is some sort of karmic curse inhibiting them from expanding their family. What doesn't help is that the physicians are often clueless as to what is happening, instead pushing for repeated attempts at treatment as a way of fitting a square peg into a round hole.

In December 2015, the New York Times published a piece about a study that found a 66% success rate for IVF following six rounds of IVF. The argument being made was that persistence pays off. And yet, what wasn't talked about is that if we advertised such statistics for treatment for any other disease (diabetes, Alzheimer's, cancer, etc), the general public would be in an uproar about the supposed success. That there would have been a call for reform and reanalyzing how we are approaching treatment. Instead, the take home message to any couple was "try again." Keep doing the same thing at all costs.

Since that day when I was given a possible explanation for what was causing my infertility, I've found myself both relieved and angry. Relieved for having an explanation for why I was living through this horrible trauma. That it wasn't due to me self-sabotaging or some divine curse as I was somehow unworthy to even dream of becoming a mother. No, instead the underlying cause was a biological one. A potentially treatable one. The relief I felt that day sitting across from Dr. Smile still hits me like a tidal wave.

But there's also anger. Anger because my previous REs poo-pooed any investigating in to why I was miscarrying early on during my IVF rounds. Anger because so many people questioned the necessity of the Lovenox I was on up to the day that I was admitted due to HELLP syndrome. And I'm still angry because no one is following up with all that happened.

You see, in the eyes of the medical community, I am no longer infertile. Birthing the Beats cured me of this disease. And any worry that I may have to long-term heal or whether the Beats may inherit this condition has been actively dismissed.

We know all too well that the causes for infertility are rarely cured solely by giving birth. Conditions like PCOS and endometriosis affect the patient on a holistic scale with increased risks for diabetes, cardiovascular disease, sleep apnea, asthma, allergies, chemical sensitivities, autoimmune diseases like MS and lupus. And, of course, there's the potential for cancer. Yet too often, this is overlooked or not followed up on. The underlying causes for these conditions and others like premature ovarian failure (POF), repeat pregnancy loss (RPL) and male factor infertility are not at all understood.

It's time we as a society #StartAsking. Infertility is not a social taboo and not a women's issue. Infertility is a multifaceted disease affecting 1 in 8 couples in the United States, 1 in 6 couple in Canada and 1 in 4 couples globally. Despite this, we know so little about the underlying causes for this disease and how best to not only treat it, but prevent it.

We need to #StartAsking about what these causes are.

We need to #StartAsking for insurance coverage, not only for fertility treatments, but also for long-term health care.

We need to #StartAsking why reproductive health is considered different from an individuals overall health.

And we need to #StartAsking why the focus has been one pushing fertility treatments instead of on research into understanding what is causing infertility. Why there is so little research funding to do so. Because without this understanding, we can't make advancements for prevention and treatment.
 
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