Friday, May 31, 2013

24 weeks: viability, confronting fear and healing

*WARNING* this post starts out talking about pregnancy progress. If you are not in a good place, PLEASE skip this post. As always, there will be others. Take care of yourself first. In the meantime, here's a photo of two happy kitties who are more than happy to welcome you in to their cuddle circle and smoother you in love.

Today I am 24 weeks pregnant. A milestone I never imagined I would see. Due to a scheduling conflict, my bi-monthly appointments are on odd weeks. Hence no ultrasound this week. That said, the news from last week is everything looks great: Beats are on track and I've been told I should be a cervix model (which made both Grey and I pause and look not so fondly at the Dildo cam) as my cervix is holding steady at 3.8 cm. To prove the point, He-Beat decided to use my cervix as a hammock. Grey was quick to point out that he was accomplishing two goals at once: taking it easy while stressing me out. Little bugger.

These past fours weeks have been ones filled with lots of distraction. With the end of the semester has come stressed out students, final projects/papers and final exams, all of which has kept me very busy. But there's also been another element for why I've been neglecting this space. The truth is, after being a part of this community for so long, I'm acutely aware of what can go wrong. Particularly during the 18-22 week mark. Add in the fact that I've been experiencing a lot of abdominal tightening, particularly in the evenings or following moments I've over-extended myself, and it's been hard not to worry. The problem is, I felt like I couldn't talk about these fears here. The few times I've been brave enough to mention this to a couple ALIers, I've been quickly silenced with an "everything is fine, stop worrying" explanation. I understand where this advice is coming from, as these ladies have been through their fair share of heartache and really were trying to ease any anxiety. Still, it felt minimizing and shaming and I worried that opening up here about it would lead to an avalanche of the same if not berating comments about how I needed to get over myself and embrace this pregnancy. So instead, I've been working with David and Dee to get through this period. Granted, there have been moments that have been less than pretty, but using a lot of the tools I've learned over the last year to reprocess negative thoughts and to address anxieties, I've found that I've managed to keep the panic down to a dull roar.

In addition to all of this, Grey and I have begun tackling some festering wounds. I've spoken before about my frustrations and anger over family regarding how they've handle our journey, particularly my anger with Grey's younger brother Lucas. What I haven't talked about much is the discussions Grey and I have had about resolution. Last year when we talked about this, it became very apparent that we needed to come to a temporary understanding of how to handle all of this as it was becoming far too difficult to bear. Hence the agreement was minimizing discussion about Lucas in our daily conversations while not putting limits on Grey's relationship with him. For the time, despite it being far from ideal, it allowed us the peace we needed to address the havoc infertility, failed treatments and repeated miscarriage had played on our relationship as well as us individually. But since then, as we've healed and addressed a number of other more pressing issues, this one has made its way to the top of the list.

The thing is, I've been guilty about stalling on readdressing this issue. Mainly because I don't see a good outcome to talking this through. A big part of this has to do with my childhood, where I was strongly encouraged to stuff any negative emotions or hurts simply because my feelings weren't considered important or because to address them would cause hurt feelings in others. Hence I'm use to running away or being severely punished for voicing my hurts.

Because of this, I've developed a survival mechanism over the years of triaging what relationships are worth salvaging following moments of massive impasse. In most cases, the approach on my end has been to take a step back, assess the situation and the person and then to come back to the table to talk things over, the whole time with me being a nervous wreak. But there have been instances where someone has been so dismissive of my feelings or come across as so self-centered that it's become far easier for me to simply cut them out of my life. I don't like doing this, but in these instances it has been a far better and saner option.

The problem with this approach regarding Lucas, though, is that Grey has a strong relationship with his brother. Hence spending family events where I am clearly avoiding him and his wife are not a long-term solution, especially with the Beats on the way.

Two weeks ago, Grey and I decided it was time to tackle this with David's guidance. The first step being me drafting a letter to Lucas detailing all the anger and hurt I had been dealing with. Writing the letter was hard, leaving me emotionally drained and curled up in a small ball from all the crying. But what it did was provide a first step for our discussion about what the initial goals were with opening the lines of communication as well as allowed Grey and I to get on the same page for what the outcome of all of this could be.

I'll be honest, despite Grey and David being hopeful about these first steps, I still am not. But then again this is no longer about me and me alone. And upon reflection of our meeting last night, part of me wonders how different my childhood would have been if half of the things we talked about had been exercised more in my family instead of issuing "don't judge" and "get over it" when hurt feelings were voiced or even defaulting to irrational rage when conflicts arose. Hence, despite my pessimistic tendencies, we're pushing forward with another meeting with David scheduled very soon to drill down a but more and hopefully come up with some sort of script that can be used for a conversation.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Surviving Mother's Day

First off, thanks for all the comments about my last post. I've read each one and reflected on all your advice. Amazingly enough, all of you reaffirmed the plan Grey and I have in place for any future contact. As much as it hurts to know that I need to go this route, I'm firm in my resolve to stop the cycle of madness that has been plaguing my family for generations. The particulars still need to be worked out on how, but one thing I'm learning is that time will help for clearing the path. One quick thing I do want to clarify is some disbelief about Dee's advice to send a birth announcement. I don't think she's suggesting this to the benefit of my family, but more so that we have control over what information is sent to them and to provide instructions on how to proceed. Still, it's not the route that will benefit our situation. Anyway, thank you everyone for your love and support.

Obviously, the recent discussions about family dysfunction have me reflecting more and more about this upcoming Sunday. In addition, finding myself in my current physical state has resulted in almost daily reminders about how I should be preparing for Mother's Day, including emails from advertisers about Mother's Day apparel, activities, jewelry and of course flowers. The result of seeing my inbox flooded with all of this has stirred up a lot of familiar unpleasant emotions and the desire to hide from it all.

Like many contemporary holidays, I've never been much of a fan of Mother's or Father's Day. It wasn't that I didn't love my parents nor that I didn't want to celebrate what they had given to me (despite the abuse, there were many things they did that allowed me to become the person I am today) nor the fact that I believe parents shouldn't be celebrated. But holidays like this tend to be focal points not only for materialism but they also tend to focus on the misconception that only those who give birth are parents.

Recently I came upon this wonderful post Em @ Teach me to Braid who really got at the heart of my discomfort. Em's point, which I think is a dynamite one, is that holidays like Mother's Day have become forums of exclusion for so many, from those living with infertility/loss, to those who have lost grown children and even those estranged from their families. What Em's post made me remember is that we have too narrow of a definition of "parent" in our society. That it's assumed that unless you fit into a very narrow model os family, you are automatically excluded from celebrating and being celebrated.

On top of all of this, I've also unfortunately witnessed many examples where people use these holidays as means of forcing others to pay attention to them. While I was an undergrad, I watched many young women go into full pout mode in the days leading up to Valentine's Day, insisting on material displays of affection from their significant others and then comparing memorized lists of acquired presents as a tool for measuring how much they were loved. I see an equally similar trend from people who I consider lackluster parents who insist on perfection for their day of honor, starting with breakfast in bed, to acquiring pre-specified gifts and even prescribed activities in order to fulfill their need of being the center of attention. Needless to say, it's a bit hard to stomach, making me question who and how we celebrate.

So, this year, seeing as how the rest of the world has decided that I somehow fit just enough into their definition as a candidate who can participate in this holiday, I've decided I'm spending Mother's Day celebrating the women of this community. From those of you who are newly diagnosed to those who have walked the infertility/loss road for far too long, to those who have resolved through adoption, successful treatment(s) or have resolved to live as a family of two, I will honor you. I will honor how you have fought for your families. I will honor how you've made difficult decisions about expanding your family. I will honor your courage for enduring side effects from treatment, surgery, painful shots and hormonally induced mood-swings. I will honor how you've supported and defended each other. I will honor how you have confronted fear and grief. I will honor how you have advocated for change and recognition from our society. I will honor each and every one of you.

Because in my eyes, you are all mothers. Whether you are holding your children or holding them in your hearts. Anyone who walks the path of infertility/loss has earned the title of "parent."

Finally, I'm reposting my attempt at a survival guide. Please feel free to add to this, modify it or use it as a template for creating your own version. As I still haven't found any survival guides that I really think are stellar, I would love to see what each person here comes up with.

Mother's Day Survival Guide:
Let it out. I'm going to start here, since most survival guides list this one dead last. Look, infertility/loss is hard. Very hard. So instead of suppressing the anger, sadness, frustration, worry, etc., do the one thing that so many well-meaning people will tell you not to do: just let it out. Give yourself a good 30-40 minutes to get the pain caused by this disease out of your system. Shed those tears, voice your worries, curse the universe. Write, exercise, scream. You get the idea. Because once you get it out, you'll feel better. You'll no longer have to worry about being sad the rest of the day because you've given yourself some time.

Acknowledge what you have accomplished. Living with infertility and loss is not for the weak. Anyone who's been on this path for any length of time has changed and will continue to be changed. Most of the time, this has only been for the better. You may have learned how to stand up for yourself, advocating your needs. Your marriage/relationship with your spouse, significant other, family and friends may have strengthened and deepened in ways you didn't know possible. You may have overcome your fear of needles. Whatever it may be, celebrate it. Take a moment or two to give yourself the acknowledgement you and your loved ones deserved for battling this disease. You've earned it.

Get out of the house. This one I can't stress enough. As tempting as it will be to spend the day in your pajamas watching bad TV, plan instead to spend the day doing some sort of activity. If seeing families is a trigger, plan a non-family friendly event. If being with family is a comfort, plan on spending some time. What ever it may be, get out of the house!

Celebrate the "mother" in your life. For those of you who have been reading this blog long enough, you'll know that my biological mother and I are not on friendly terms. That said, I do believe that Mother's Day is a time to celebrate those who have been "mothers" to you in some way. I also believe that one does not earn the title of "mother" simply by being able to birth a human being. There have been many amazing women in my life who have helped me become the person I am today. And I'm sure I'm not alone on this. So spend the day thanking your "mothers", be it spending time with them, shooting off a short email, or simply doing something that they taught you.

Distractions, distractions, distractions. I once read that an emotion lasts for about 10 minutes. The reason why people experience any emotion for longer periods is because they are "refiring" that emotion, be it with mental images or play inner dialogue. So like getting out of the house, find some way to distract yourself. Again, it's okay to be sad, frustrated, etc. But give yourself a break from all the madness too.

Treat yourself.  When all is said and done, Mother's Day is like any other holiday: sometimes just getting through is an accomplishment. So, at the end of the day, do something special. Take a bath, schedule a little "me" time, hog the covers. You get the picture. Reward yourself for making it through this day.

To all of you wonderful warrior women; those who dared to take this long journey toward motherhood: those dreaming of their children, those celebrating the news of a BFP, those awaiting results from treatment/a recent cycle, those making their way through the scares and doubts of pregnancy after IF/RPL. those mourning a loss/losses or news of a BFN and those holding their children, either in their arms or in their hearts. May there be a moment in your reflections/celebrations this weekend of peace. And may you all be wrapped in love.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

To tell or not to tell . . .

Last week was one of mixed emotions. Grey and I are still over the moon from all the good news we received about the Beats, which has allowed us to start taking cautious steps towards preparing for their arrival. A strange thing to think about, but also something we're finding those around us in real life are embracing. But with all this good news has come the question those closest to us ask in a quieter and concerned tone: "Have you told your parents?"

Quick recap on my history for those of you who haven't been following from the beginning: I haven't spoken to my family in almost 2 yrs. My childhood was one that I don't consider overly unusual, but it's clear my mother is both emotionally and physically abusive and my father is an enabler. The "straw" that resulted in this lack of contact was when my mother pushed for Grey and me to adopted my second cousin after he had been removed from his mother's care due to repeated incidents of neglect and violence. When it became clear that they were willing to sacrifice me in order to support the family dysfunction, I knew it was time to remove myself from the madness.

Fast forward to present day. To my knowledge, my family knows nothing about that's happened over the past couple of years. No clue we underwent IVF, no idea about our losses and  certainly no understanding of all the heartache and the grief we've lived through. And they don't know about the Beats.

And I naively believed that as long as I didn't say anything, they never would.

Last week before the anatomy scan, Grey and I had our meetings with both David and Dee where this issue came up. The second I told them that I had no intention to inform my family about the Beats, but David and Dee gave me a look that said "um, but they're still going to find out." Probing this further resulted in a very panicky Cristy, as this wasn't something I had considered. After all, in my mind I had zero idea how they would find out. Outside of an uncle that lives in the area, who know all about the fallout, we've told no one about our news. But the further Dee and David pushed this point, the clearer it became that it really was a matter of time. That somehow there would either be a slip or, due to the internet, some hint that would lead to them discovering the Beats.

And that knowledge frightens me to my very core.

Here's the worst case scenario: come late summer or fall, my family learns about these two. Cue my parents and anyone else who's feeling righteous hopping a plane and arriving on my front stoop. Suddenly, instead of focusing on getting these two here safely and in healthy of a state as possible, Grey and I are thrusted back into the dysfunction, fighting off the insanity from those who decided long ago that infertility was a just punishment for me and Grey for not playing the game. Trust me, I've been down that rabbit hole one too many times and the only situation where it gets any beter is when I've given in and allowed myself to be the whipping boy.

The past week I've been trying to figure out what to do to prepare for when my family finds out. Initially Dee suggested that I simply send them a birth announcement, similar to when my sister sent her wedding invitation. But the problem with this approach is that it opens the lines of communication. And I'm not ready to deal with the madness that is involved with going down that rabbit hole. To do so means I have to sacrifice my family, these two wonderful beings who deserve so much more. So that leaves only a second alternative, which is to prepare for the storm. To fortify the ourselves for the backlash that is sure to come when they learn about this.

Still, I'm unclear exactly how to do this. How to manage it all. As I told Dee, I was so happy with my orignal idea; this new knowledge hasn't been sitting well at all.

Anyone with any thoughts or advice, please leave a comment. I could use it.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

20 weeks: Gender reveal and preventing preterm birth

Once again, here's your friendly pregnancy post warning. I'm seriously considering stealing Belle's idea of post images of Jaxson and Daisy as warnings for these posts so that 1) people who would prefer to skip these can know to bypass and 2) to spread the kitty love. Anyway, please, please, PLEASE skip this post if you are not in a good place right now. There will be others to come very soon about my recent therapy sessions, which I'm sure you'll find all the more entertaining. Take care of yourself first.

Today Grey and I woke early and made our way to the university for our 20 week ultrasound. I've been very nervous for this ultrasound for a number of reasons, the first being we would determine whether our luck was holding and if both babies were healthy. Both Grey and I have witnessed how birth defects or genetic abnormalities can alter an expectant parent's existence. And though I've met some amazing people with equally amazing children who lead full, beautiful lives, the initial devastation of these diagnoses is not lost on either of us.

The long and the short of it is that both Beats are not only cleared for any birth defect that would have been detectable, but they also had zero soft markers. I'm still floored by this news, as I truly was expected at least one or two (which is common even in healthy babies).

The ultrasound tech was amazing, sweet talking each Beat to get all the necessary images she needed. Somehow she managed to convince a very stubborn Beat A to flip over in order to get a better view of the beating heart. Grey quickly declared her the baby whisperer.

Then came the icing on the cake: Beat A is a He-Beat; Beat B is a She-Beat. After 3 yrs of infertility/loss, we could really have cared less. Still, the news brought tears to both our eyes.

After all the measurements were taken, the ultrasound tech checked my cervix. As of today, it is 4.2 cm long and not budging under pressure. The MFM physician overseeing the ultrasound was clearly pleased with all of this, declaring everything "beautiful."

After the ultrasound, Grey and I wandered down to a part of campus we both were familiar with to grab some breakfast and process/spread the news. For the first time in a very long time, it was evident both of us were relaxed, just living in the moment and all that is to come. We haven't had a breakfast like this in years and it was nice to just be with one another, not worrying about all the other details in life.

After breakfast, it was back to the MFM clinic for an appointment with our care providers and to talk some more about genetic testing. At this point, they don't recommend a quad screen for us, but emphasized that we should think all of this over. At this point, we're both leaning against doing this screen as there is some uncertainty of the results with twins and we're fairly comfortable with the results we have so far. Still, it's something we need to explore.

After that and getting some additional information, our perinatologist poked her head back into the exam room when I had finished dressing and asked if we were interested in participating in a study that would help prevent preterm birth and stillborn.

Side note: For those of you who haven't already, please go support MissC as she prepares to walk for March of Dimes. I don't need to make much of a case for why supporting this organization is important, but one thing I will say is that in addition to a need for funding for this research, access to patient samples is greatly limited.

As soon as I was dressed, the study coordinator who works for the Global Alliance to Prevent Prematurity and Stillbirth came in to talk with Grey and me. The goal of the study is actually to build a repository containing samples and information from women who have both high risk and normal pregnancies. This repository would be available for researchers for such things as the discovery of biomarkers to identify women and babies at risk for preterm birth and stillbirth, to create screening tools for potential adverse pregnancy outcomes, to generate diagnostics as well as treatment and prevention strategies and even for determining the cause of these conditions with hopes of prevention.

Needless to say, after being a part of this community and witness people I love live through the heartache of lossing a child, giving a few extra milliliters of blood, urine, undergo a couple more vaginal swabs, giving up some placental cells, cord blood and filling out a few questionnaires was a no brainer.

Tonight, as Grey and I are looking to the future, we are also taking a moment to remember all we've been through and the way it's changed us. Not once over the past few months have I not woken up without a silent "thank you" passing my lips seconds later. We both know how lucky we are to be where we are today and to have the support from such an amazing community and loved ones. Today's news is an even stronger reminder of that.
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