Rest In Peace, Sweet Embryos

For several weeks now, I have been brainstorming ways in which DW and I can pay tribute to, or memorialize the spirits of our six angel embryos. I know that they aren’t babies, and don’t have a personhood, but they existed, had cells that divided, shared half of my genetic material, and we projected so much love, intention, and hope into them. We both shared a vascular connection with them. They thrived for varying periods of time through these connections, and though we wished they had stayed, heaven needed them more.

I have been very sad about our losses, and while I’ve wanted to write more about my grieving process, mostly it has me unable to communicate very well with words. Part of me wishes that I had been tracking the various levels of my sadness, anger, and happiness throughout the past two months, but even in the same day, I have felt those emotions change. What I do know is that repeated loss seems to have a cumulative effect on my grief levels.

Our first loss was in February 2014, after a year of trying via IUIs, we finally splurged on a reciprocal IVF. It was sold to us as a “guaranteed” means of getting pregnant. In many ways they were correct. We have gotten pregnant with every embryo transfer. Staying pregnant, however, has been the challenge so far. Anyway, that first time was like a dream. We thought we had it all… My eggs, my wife’s loving womb, an October baby… And probably many more frozen embryos left over. We even talked about donating our remaining embryos to friends of ours who were in line for adoption. The day that my wife got our very first BIG FAT POSITIVE, was quite possibly one of the happiest days of my life.

Her HCG was in the lower end, so we knew it wouldn’t be twins, but we were still pleased. When the repeat beta failed to show a rise in HCG, we were confused. We were also quite upset, as DW received the news at school, right before having to teach her last period class. Her heart was broken shattered, but she still pulled it together, put on a smile, and confidently walked into class. We thought we were guaranteed a baby out of this- we were healthy, I am young(ish), the embryos were fresh and rated as high quality and over achieving…. Thinking back on it, I think I was in shock. It didn’t make logical sense to me. Why didn’t it work, when everything else looked so promising? Being in shock, I really didn’t take the time to sort through my feelings, because they were buried so deep. I resorted to being anxious to try again. It is “just a numbers game” right? At least that’s how the Canadian reproductive endocrinologists seem to treat it. More tries = more likely to be a mom. So, as quickly as we possibly could, we decided to get back to it. DW’s cycle was a bit messed up though, as she had her miscarriage bleed, then another bleed two weeks later. In the time that we waited for her next embryo transfer, we went on vacation, we got in a car accident (not our fault), and I applied for a position at a different school. We were so busy that we swept our sadness under the carpet and got on with our responsibilities as we waited. I am so sorry my angels, that we didn’t give you a proper goodbye.

Embryo transfer #2 happened in May. I hand made DW some Aboriginal Canadian moccasins the day that we got her BFP. Each time I punched out that leather, I thought how happy I was that we would be mothers. I even saved all of my scraps (and other people’s scraps) to make baby moccasins. We still have them hidden away in a fancy box in the dining room. The beta was mis-scheduled this time around. The nurses booked DW for blood work on 12dp5dt, not 10dp5dt. It was just as well, though, as by 12dp5dt, her beta HCG had fallen to 20. This time, no tears before class, but we had become so accustomed to just burying our sadness and pain, and carrying on. We decided that since we only had three embryos left, that we would switch to transferring them into me. No identifiable reason was found for why DW miscarried our first four embryos, but we felt the nudge to change our approach. By this time, it was June, and school would be winding down, summer vacation in view. It seemed silly to be sad, when such happy times were just ahead. Again, those sweet angel babies, never got a proper goodbye.

Part of the burden was not telling anyone what we were doing. The education system was transitioning through some terrible (and illegal) contract violations by the government. They stole all of our banked sick days which were negotiated as compensation in previous contracts, and limited us to 11 sick days for the entire year. Which is fine if you get the flu once a semester, but sucks when doctors are only booking appointments during regular school hours, and you have monitoring, procedures, specialists appointments, a spouse to drive to medical appointments, and etc. to go to regularly. So work probably thought I was a slacker by using up all of my sick days, except for half of one day, which is what I had left by the end of June. My colleagues probably thought I was either terminally ill, or taking days off to finish piles of marking. Our friends, likely thought we were snubbing all of their invites for booze-centred partying, or that we had become boring, with our 10pm bedtimes. We skipped out on a couple of beer nights with our hockey teams, and missed a paid trip to Vancouver. Worst of all, I had nobody to confide in. I really wanted to tell people, mostly because I’m naturally a very open person, but also because I needed support. It left me feeling very isolated and alone.

The first month of summer, we took an awful course that was necessary to get a pay upgrade be specialist teachers in our subjects. DW also taught summer school, which was torturous for her. The second month, we transferred embryos #5 and 6, but into me. Things were good, summertime, and the livin’ is easy. I experienced my very own BFP! This was a first for me. This was HUGE. And being pregnant didn’t feel anything like I thought it would feel. I was dizzy, super tired, bloated, had weird twinges, my nipples were so sensitive and sore, I had to pee all the time, I was out of breath, I craved beef then wanted nothing to do with meat. I don’t know what I expected pregnancy to feel like… Maybe a tummy ache and some constipation? My HCG started off low, but quickly climbed, and by week 7 had reached 43,000 or something like that. I had returned to work sometime during week 6, and at the end of that week, had started spotting brown. This lasted for a week, and ended when I took my first sick day (end of week 7). The next day, we had the ultrasound where we were expecting to see the heartbeat (I chose to defer our ultrasound). Sadly, we had no heartbeat. Just a gestational sac that kept growing, and growing, and growing…. School was extremely stressful for me. I had applied for a particular position, they offered me a different one, and then they gave me a different one even from that! They made me their dumping ground for high-risk, behaviourally challenged teens, who can’t read or write beyond a grade 4 level, who can’t settle into a regular classroom, all who failed different subjects, and I was supposed to help all 18 of them (by myself) in an hour a day, recover (pass) these courses. I threw my hands up in the air! This is impossible! I was staying at school prepping past dinner time, and was under so much stress that I stopped eating and sleeping for 3 nights in a row. I would literally come home from work shaking.

I haven’t been back to work since I found out that the embryo had no heartbeat. Frankly, I’m terrified to go back. That place was so negative, and toxic for me. Being new, people would always say “if you need anything, just let me know”, but on the eight occasions that I did ask for help or resources, I was either shunned, told “oh, I’ve never taught that course”, “aren’t you supposed to figure that out?”, “I’m too busy, I have my own classes to prep”, “nah, I don’t teach _____” (that one was my department head), “sorry, I don’t remember”, and unanswered emails even though they told me to email them. I also once got a pile of dusty old photocopies from the 1990’s that referred to “smoking in the classroom” as being a science lab hazard (obviously!). Anyways, I get so much anxiety thinking about that place still, and the totally horrendous violation of my privacy that occurred two weeks ago, jacked up my anxiety to a new level. I wish I could easily link that post in here, but I’m typing with two fingers on my iPad, and can’t do fancy things right now.

On the 18th of September, I finally had my D&C. I tried to miscarry naturally, but my body was holding on tight to the pregnancy. It didn’t want to let go. I didn’t want to let go. Since then, I have been trying to get over it, but my emotions around the miscarriage is so intertwined with my unaddressed grief over the first two miscarriages, and my anxiety and anger around work. It’s like this big tangled mess that I’m trying to untangle, fibre by fibre, but it’s taking a lot more time than I had expected, and sometimes it seems to get more tangled despite my efforts. I feel like I should be better now, but I’m not. I just need more time.

Recently, I read about the five stages of grief: denial/shock, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. I feel like my journey so far has been: denial/shock, depression, anger, depression, anger, and I’m not really sure where I am right now. I am still pissed at work, I’m anxious about a lot of things, I’m kind of stuck in my head, lightly floating through my days. I think my mind is preparing for this next FET.

During the past two or three weeks, I have been thinking of how to properly say goodbye to our six angel embryos. With birds having been such a presence in our lives this year, I thought that a bird feeder would be appropriate. Truthfully, I had never really noticed the birds much before this summer at our cottage. In the mornings they woke me with their sweet songs. In the afternoon I watched as the hummingbirds buzzed just feet away, drinking from a sugar water feeder. In the evenings, I held hands with the chickadee-dee-dees as they picked seeds out of my palm.

I researched different bird feeder designs, and found a couple that I really liked. I kind of sat on it for a bit, until I realized that I might get my period next week, and it only felt right to say goodbye to our past so that we can embrace our future with hope. I guess it’s a way for me to symbolically let go of all of the sadness, and finally grieve all of the losses so that I can move on.

So DW and I made a bird feeder building date for today. We settled on a design, and headed to Home Depot.

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We came home, and started measuring, marking, sawing wood, and sanding. Then we marked, pre-drilled holes, assembled, and hammered nails into place. The measurements were done by feel, and not from blueprints. I was inspired by this artist’s Barcelona Birdfeeder.

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Finally, we attached eye loops, threaded wire through, crimped the wire, and attached the wires to each other using a key ring.

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The finished product, with some sunflower seeds.

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This bird feeder was made from a 4 foot long piece of 1×8 pine wood, cut into seven pieces. Six pieces that form the walls and the roof, and a large seventh base piece that completes it. I felt that this was so perfectly symbolic.

Our six angel embabies, rooting for us from heaven, sending so much love and hope for their last sibling, and their mamas. With every bird song that I hear, I will know you are close. I will put out seeds so that you know I am always thinking of you, and so that you can find home. I love you, all of my baby birds. I will always love you.

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Immune Testing Results

You may recall that I had some testing done after it was revealed that I miscarried a chromosomally normal embryo back in September.

Here’s the post about it, if you don’t remember.

Anyway, it’s been three weeks now, and the results have come in for most of them, except for the natural killer Th1/Th2, the $640 test that is sent to California for testing.

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It has all come back normal.

I’m skeptical on many fronts, as I have very little confidence in the reliability of lab work that isn’t repeated. In 2010, I had some abnormal blood work results that forced me, my GP, and some specialists down an ovarian cancer rabbit hole. The abnormal blood work was corroborated by some abnormal ultrasound findings, which suggested a rather large multi-chambered tumour on my right ovary. The blood work was repeated a month after I had given away my chiropractic practice thinking that I was going to die (who wants to work during their last year of life?), and was totally normal. A slew of medical specialists were convinced to see what they wanted to see, all because of what we speculated to likely be a “mix up” in the blood lab.

Anyway, I am not sure what to make of all of this. I’m not sure that my RE’s testing is comprehensive, but we are led to believe that my immune system did not kill the embryo.

If our embryo is truly chromosomally normal (I question this sometimes too- though I’m told that it’s a bit more reliable because they culture the samples for a long time to distinguish between mama and embryo tissue), and my immune system did not kill our embryo, then what did?

As mentioned above, I’m still waiting on the NK cells results. How much do you wanna bet that they will be normal too?

Right now we’re waiting for my period to begin (in probably a week or so), and then we’re off to embryo transfer #4, with our last embryo. I’m particularly anxious about the chance of success with this transfer, as we’re only transferring one. Each of our previous transfers, we’ve transferred two. I’m trying to remain hopeful, as this embryo deserves to come home, and be loved. It’s just difficult to be hopeful when 2013 and 2014 have been filled with disappointment. I’m trying to find meaning in it, maybe something that I’m supposed to learn, but I’m struggling and it’s really breaking my spirit.

Anyway, lone star, you are so loved. Come home and stay with us forever. Your mama et maman have been hoping and praying for you to choose us.

Faith? Therapy Part II

Apparently I need to believe in some greater plan that things will work out the way that they are supposed to.

I had my second session with my therapist, and I left feeling worse than before our session. I was really unsettled, and I’m not sure if that is normal- to have a finished puzzle taken apart and shaken up because the process of putting things back together is the therapy.

About a week ago, I started to notice that the shock of our miscarriage started to wear off. The bouts of crying at random times has significantly reduced. I’m starting to pick up the pieces of my life, I am starting to be more aware of my feelings in a more rational way. I feel like I am starting to grieve properly.

Then, at some point this week, I realize that I only have one month left until my reevaluation with our GP, and that as it stands right now, I’m supposed to return to my hellhole of a workplace the first week of December. Of course, my GP says that she won’t have me return until I’m ready, but as far as my workplace is concerned, I’m supposed to return in a month. This terrifies me, as I feel like I’m just starting to heal, and have taken a few steps back because of my work-related anxiety. I haven’t been sleeping again, and am finding myself dwelling on things out of my control- like the timing of our next FET.

DW has also been unhealthily busy at work- with her principals course once, sometimes twice a week, her union meetings out of town, and the extracurriculars she runs for the kids after school (I do really miss the extracurriculars that I did with my students- they were what fulfilled me at the end of a really long day). Bless my wife, she comes home then has so much prep to do for her lessons the next day, because she is the “yes” person at her school- the problem solver who takes on more work to alleviate timetable conflicts in the school. I believe I was that person at my work, except, I never actually said “yes”, but ended up being that person, miscarrying at the peak of stress- and that is part of why I am terrified to go back to work.

Anyway, at my therapy session yesterday, I was stuck in my own head. I could only catch bits and pieces of what the therapist was saying. I also felt like she didn’t “get” me yesterday, so much of what she said wasn’t connecting with me. She was also having some repairs done on her home, and her dog barked the entire hour at the repair men, so that distracted me as well.

But I did take home some good points that she raised:

– I need to start using my voice and standing up for myself. If I advocate for myself, people will adjust to it, and will respect me more. I need to respect myself more.

– I need to let my GP know that I have a mental fixation on this official “end date” for my medical leave. Perhaps she will reassure me that it is open-ended, as needed. DW is certain that our GP agreed that I should be off the entire semester, but that she wanted to be kept in the loop via reevals. Sometimes I won’t let myself believe that people will stick to their word, I guess.

– I need to work on my anxiety. She recommended meditation, and a vision/dream board. I’ve been going to yoga every other day this week, and will try to make it more often if possible, because it ends in a meditation component. I can’t seem to bring myself to a meditative state on my own for some reason. I’ve also noticed that I’m feeling uneasy about making a vision board (of where I see my life in the future), because it includes things that would absolutely break my heart if they didn’t happen. Basically- kids.

This is where she said I need to have faith. Not necessarily in a Jesus Christ kind of way, but just a knowing that things will work out such that I’m happy. So having faith that there is some master plan, and all the worrying in the world won’t change it. That all of my attempts at controlling situations won’t change the overall outcome.

I don’t know the rules around having faith. Do I just have faith that my babies will happen? Do I just have faith that work will miraculously treat me with the respect and fairness that I deserve? Do I just have faith that DW will be happy with her decision to be or not to be a vice-principal? Do I just have faith that we will be able to love where we live and have enough money to live comfortably? Can I assume that my life will be a fully happy one just on faith?

I don’t know how to have faith. My life experience has me believing that you make your own fate. You work hard, and it pays off most times. If you don’t put forward an effort, things are unlikely to happen for you. I am in control of my own actions, and subsequently the results of those actions.

But, there’s also the other part of each interaction- the response from the world. That part I can’t control, and that’s what is giving me the anxiety. Even if I prepare my body perfectly for this next FET, anything can happen. I have no control over that outcome. Even if I talk (again) with my administration and department heads about my work concerns, will they dismiss them again like they did that first week? Or will they reconsider their poor planning as it resulted in me (possibly miscarrying and) going off on a medical leave? I have no idea.
Faith would have me just trusting that everything will work out. The therapist described it as a “things will rearrange and the puzzle pieces will naturally fall into place”. I have a very hard time with believing this.

DW thinks that having faith is more knowing that whatever happens, we will adjust our lives to be happy. We have each other, and if we don’t have babies, we will have the time and money to go on amazing trips and continue to eat organic food.

Unfortunately, I don’t think I can be happy with that. There will always be a large chunk missing. Sadly, at this point, for me, life will be incomplete without our babies. There is a part of my heart that is reserved for loving them, and if they don’t come, it doesn’t just get used for something else. It will just be a big empty void. A reminder of how my body failed, and of how cruel this world really is.

So maybe knowing that these kids are my deal breaker with the world, I should have faith that they will come into fruition?

Bittersweet News

My primary nurse finally got back to me today via email. She will talk to the RE to see if he will approve the immune panel requisition (I don’t know why this would even be a problem, since I have to pay for this out of pocket).

We also got some results back.

Our last miscarriage, was of a chromosomally normal baby girl.

So much for statistics.

I was at the gym when I got the news, and started crying in the studio space between my sets of walking lunges.

So if the embryo was normal, then it was either my body or the extreme work-related stress that caused her to stop developing. Why the hell are they hesitating to send me for immune blood work?

I am doing so much body blaming right now.

I know that I have Celiac Disease. What other autoimmune issues are lingering in the background? Why didn’t they test for immune issues before we started all of our IUIs and IVF/FETs.

Tonight I had a massage appointment. I thought about cancelling because of how I was feeling, but went ahead with it anyway. My massage therapist is kind of chatty, but knows us and our TTC history fairly well, so naturally I shared the recent news. We talked about Thanksgiving, about the bird feeder that we plan to build to honour our angel babies, and she asked me

“Why a bird feeder?”.

I wasn’t really sure, except that this summer, we have really noticed their presence at the cottage, and on my daily walks in the forest with the dogs. She asked what kinds of birds we have been seeing mostly, and I named off a couple that we regularly see at the cottage: chickadees, nut hatches, hummingbirds, and blue jays.

“Which one stands out the most to you?” she asked.

I answered her quickly because it was clear to me- the ones that ate out of my hands.

The Chickadee.

Soon, my massage was over, and I got redressed in private. When I came out of the massage room, my massage therapist handed me a piece of paper- the symbolic meaning of the chickadee.

Courage
Adaptability
Social support
Standing up for yourself

Maybe our angel babies are speaking through the birds. Maybe they’re nuzzling into my fingers and looking into my eyes, sending us both their love.

Rotisserie Chicken

So I spent the majority of the lit day at the hospital, waiting for my D&C. We arrived at noon, and didn’t leave until 7pm! I am tempted to write a really long, negative post about how ridiculous the scheduling is at this hospital, but I won’t.

Instead, I will rave about the amazing care I received from the nursing staff after the procedure. First of all, I got hot blankets. Not just blankets that would warm me with time, but blankets that were kept warm in an oven of sorts. And I got as many hot blankets as I wanted. At one point, I had three such blankets warming me.

Second of all, the nurses seemed just as frustrated as we were with the scheduling and whereabouts of the doctors. For example, my RE was booked from 1- 3, and no one knew where he was until he randomly showed up at 5:15 to check in with me pre-op. We suspect that he went for a late lunch/early dinner at the expense of making me wait even longer. The nurses exclaimed “Oh there he is!” when he finally appeared.

The anaesthesiologist didn’t believe me when I told him that I metabolize anaesthetic really quickly, and everyone was shocked when I woke up while being wheeled away to the recovery room. Usually they expect people to “come to” an hour after being moved to the recovery room. The OR nurse nearly jumped out of his skin when I started talking to him.

In the recovery room, the machine monitoring my vitals was beeping non-stop. The nurses kept having to switch off the alarm, but it kept going off because of how low my heart rate was. The machines are programmed to alert them when the heart rate becomes lower than 50 beats per minute (bpm), as the average normal resting heart rate is somewhere between 60 bpm to 100 bpm. I’ve worn my heart rate monitor to bed a few times, and know that my resting heart rate hits a minimum of 35 bpm, and averages at about 42 bpm over the course of the night. In recovery, my heart rate was steady at about 44 bpm, which drove the monitors crazy! The nurses asked me if I worked out or played sports, because abnormally low heart rates are common for athletes. Our hearts are healthy and don’t need to work as hard while at rest. But the beeping- it drove us all nuts!

It was also during my recovery room time that I got not one, but TWO popsicles, and got called “sweety” and “pretty girl” a ridiculous number of times, which also made me happy. They were also the first people to ask about our pregnancy, and to recognize how difficult it must be to go through this.

During my mandatory time in recovery, I had soaked through two pads, and was given oxycodone and Tylenol for the pain (rated 3/10). The pain went away soon after, and then I was wheeled off to the front of the hospital where my chariot awaited. DW whisked me away and since I was starving, we went out for dinner. (*I must also mention that DW deserves an award for staying with me the entire time that I was waiting for surgery and after my recovery.)

I was feeling nauseous during the car ride, but my hunger trumped all other discomfort.

What did we eat? Not congee, which would be my usual sick-person comfort food. Not even Vietnamese Pho noodle soup would satisfy my palate.

My body was craving crispy-skinned, salty rotisserie chicken. So we went to Swiss Chalet, which is a chain of restaurants usually frequented by senior citizens. Like many of the patrons there, I was dressed in comfy clothes, looking forward to the “2 quarter chicken meals + appetizer + dessert for 19.99”, and was wearing a diaper.

Oh and now my chariot is whisking me away to the cottage for the weekend. Just like the Real Housewives of [Wherever], I have the luxury of recovering from my surgery in privacy and amongst beauty.

Chillin’ In the Operating Room

I’ve been bleeding on and off for over a week now. Pregnancy symptoms are still plaguing me (I still can’t lay on my stomach comfortably because my tits are so bloody engorged and sore). But today my friends, is the official eviction of little spark #3 (#1 and #2 were evicted from DW earlier this year).

Of course, we are very sad about this, but I’m ready to move on. I’m currently swagged out in not one, but TWO hospital gowns, blue grippy slippers, and a very flattering hair net.

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My D&C is “on the list” but not scheduled per se. The appointments are triaged, so if someone else with an urgent OB-GYN needs surgery more than me, I will get bumped. I have been here since 12:30pm, and could be waiting until 4pm. So basically, I’ve been fasting (no food or drink) since last night, with no idea when I can eat again. It’s currently 1pm, and I’m in a room of irritates and impatient people. One twenty-something-year-old accompanied by his mom said he’s been waiting since 11am.

I’m all sorts of uncomfortable right now. I am legally blind without my contacts. Even wearing glasses, I have no depth perception and the blurriness in my peripheral vision (the part of the visual field beyond my glasses) makes me super dizzy. I can’t even walk up or down stairs while wearing my glasses because of this. But because of the surgery, I can’t wear contacts. So I’ve been wearing my glasses, meandering around like a drunk person, getting sick in the car on the way to the hospital (it’s not DW’s driving). We arrived at the hospital and I was on the verge of yakking.

I’m also extremely hungry and exceptionally thirsty. I usually wake up with a voracious appetite, so you can imagine my dismay when I woke up at 4am, hungry, and unable to do anything about it. I’ve been so thirsty that I’ve been swooshing water in my mouth and spitting it out, just to moisten my mouth.

Needless to say, I’m anxious for this to be over soon. Until then, I will keep waiting, dreaming of a clean slate and some comfort food when all of this is over.

Wish me luck.

Ugh… Symptoms

Despite being off the progesterone for two days now, it seems that my HCG continues to rise, and that this morning sickness just won’t quit.

Let me paint you a picture:

Wake up. Take my Synthroid with a full glass of water. Smell the faint trace of chlorination in the water, gag a little.

Dry heave. (I must be hungry).

Go to the kitchen, with intentions to make a healthy breakfast. Open the fridge to find inspiration. Become overwhelmed by the variety of potential aromas.

Dry heave, grab the gluten-free cupcake box, and slam the fridge door closed.

Decide to make a Non-Oprah chai tea latte to go with my salted caramel apple cupcake (since I have been depriving myself of caffeine since the beginning of this FET). Open the carton of lactose-free milk, imagine the musk of the udder that it was milked from, nearly hurl. Continue to steep tea and steam milk anyway.

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Bring my latte and cupcake outside to encourage the forced eating process a little bit. Split the cupcake in half to sandwich the icing. Lick my fingers that are covered in icing, taste too much coconut oil in the icing, almost hurl.

Scrape off icing and eat cupcake like it’s a muffin. Accidentally drop crumbs on the ground so that there is less volume for me to eat. (Dogs circling like sharks). Take so long to eat it that I am able to watch the melting of the vegan buttercream icing into a sloppy mess.

Chug my latte while pinching my nose closed.
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I don’t know if I can wait for this miscarriage to happen on its own. These symptoms plague me, and are not the happy reassurance that they once were.

Now, excuse me while I puke.