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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