Pondering

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I’ve found myself reading mystery novelist Louise Penny a lot lately.  When the news and the world is horrible and dark, her novels are calming, a refuge of sorts, just like her fictional village Three Pines that can only be found by those who are lost.  Penny’s novels don’t deny the darkness, nor do they minimize or turn away from the ugliness found in human nature.  Penny does, however, present an alternative vision of genuine kindness and deep determination to do right in the face of unspeakable injustice and crimes.

Last week, Loribeth at The Road Less Travelled wrote a lovely piece on how we teach people to suffer (she gives a wonderful answer).  It’s been in my head for the last week because it is such a difficult, pertinent question.

As I was finishing up one of Penny’s novels and reading the acknowledgements section, I was struck by what Penny wrote of her own life during the time she worked on the book: “Michael [her husband] has dementia.  It has progressed, marching through our lives, stomping out his ability to speak, to walk, to remember events and names.  Dementia is a marauder, a thief.  But every hole it drilled has been filled by our friends.  By practical help and emotional support.”

It is the final part of her thanks that took my breath away: “I wrote A Great Reckoning with the peace of mind that comes with knowing I too am safe and loved.  And not alone.”

If I had to give an answer to the question of how to teach suffering, Penny’s words in the face of slowly losing her beloved husband are the best I could manage.  Create community.  Help find a way to let people know that they are safe.  Loved.  Not alone.

This post is a part of Microblog Mondays.  If you’d like to read more, head on over to Stirrup Queens!  Thanks to Mel for hosting and originating.  

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And Then There Was One

A little over a week ago, I got the call I had been awaiting and dreading in equal measure.  “We’re thawing your embryos this morning,” the biologist at the IVF lab informed me.

Both embryos thawed, needed an assist with hatching, and then were watched overnight to see if they would grow enough for a biopsy (they had originally been frozen at a 2 stage for expansion, not quite enough to biopsy properly).  I found out the next morning that the blasts had expanded, samples had been dispatched to the genetics laboratory for testing, and both embryos refrozen with a newer vitrification technique.  The biologist stated that she estimated about a 75% chance for each embryo to thaw and re-expand properly for transfer in the future.  This was, essentially, the same chance we’d had before (since an earlier, less advanced form of vitrification had been used when the embryos were originally frozen in 2014), so despite the thaw and re-freeze, we really hadn’t lost anything in terms of the chances that the embryos would thaw properly later.

Then we waited.

Tuesday, I got the call from the RE.  We have one embryo that is genetically normal.  The other one had multiple chromosomal abnormalities, not ambiguous at all.  We chose to leave the sex off the report from the lab because personally, neither of us felt comfortable knowing.

I’m so glad we chose to do the test.  Interestingly, the genetically normal embryo is the one the lab had given a slight edge (though both technically scored the same in terms of grading) and would have thawed and attempted to transfer first even without the genetic testing.  However, if it didn’t thaw properly or simply hadn’t implanted, we would have probably attempted to transfer the other that turned out to be aneuploid.  We would have wound up with nothing to transfer or negative pregnancy test (at best) or a miscarriage/loss.  If the first one had implanted and resulted in a live birth, we would have been left in limbo, wondering what we should do with the final embryo.

There’s still a huge gulf between a genetically normal embryo and a baby.  There’s a chance the embryo won’t thaw correctly to even get to transfer since it’s been frozen, thawed, biopsied, and refrozen.  If we can transfer, even with a genetically normal embryo, not all implant.  Even if it implants, I know how easily the sh*t can hit the fan at any point in pregnancy.  There’s a lot of logistics and life and plenty that’s still up in the air or could change in a couple of years.

But, and this is the key point, the whole point of doing the test for us, we now know where we stand in terms of the health and potential of the embryos.  We can make whatever decisions we need to make with that knowledge in mind.

How Do You Say ‘Thank You’ to Someone You Never Met?

When I’d go for my daily run as I was going through infertility, I had one song on my i-pod that I generally slotted toward the end of my playlist.

Well, I won’t back down
No, I won’t back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won’t back down

No, I’ll stand my ground
Won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down
Gonna stand my ground

I always knew I couldn’t control the outcomes of my cycles or whether or not we ultimately had a baby.  I couldn’t control the suckitude of cancelled cycles, BFNs, or the losses.  Most days, it felt like nothing was in my control.

Well I know what’s right
I got just one life
In a world that keeps on pushin’ me around
I’ll stand my ground

I never heard the song as a “don’t give up on treatment” but rather, not to give up on life when some days, it was hard to get up in the mornings.  The song always rallied me to remember that someday, somewhere, we would make it through.  There was a good life after infertility, whether or not we ultimately had children.

And I won’t back down
(I won’t back down)
Hey, baby, there ain’t no easy way out
(I won’t back down)
Hey, I will stand my ground
And I won’t back down

I listened to that song through so many bad moments – diagnoses, miscarriages, cycles, job losses, hospitalization, NICU, my brother’s death, post-NICU – and it always gave me just that little bit of strength I so often needed to say “I am struggling.  But I will find a way through.  Maybe not the way I envisioned or hoped.  Maybe a different way.  But a way”.  Still does, honestly.

As I was browsing news sites the other day, I heard that one of the song’s writers and singer – Tom Petty – had died.  I’m sad and sorry he’s gone.  But what do you say about someone you never met or actually knew?

I guess, just this:

Thank you for the song, Tom Petty.  Thank you.

Lyrics to “I Won’t Back Down” by Tom Petty/Jeff Lynne. 

Odds and Ends

A couple of weeks ago, E knocked my laptop off the coffee table accidentally.  In a freak sort of moment, it hit the corner of a heavy basket I keep next to the table and cracked the screen.  Since the crack didn’t affect the LCD part of the screen (it was a very surface crack), I groaned and figured I’d keep using the laptop for a bit while researching potential replacements and saving.

A few days later, M spit up directly into the keypad.  I turned it off immediately, wiped up what I could, and waited.  The laptop is mostly working now, but has some sticky keys and is clearly running even more obviously on borrowed time than before.  Arthur is researching alternatives and hopefully we’ll get one ordered in the next week or so before this laptop dies entirely.  I’m backing up all my files to the external hard-drive and getting ready to move my bookmarks and such before that happens.

It is telling that upon seeing the screen crack, my first thought was: well, this will most likely be less expensive to replace than two vials of foll.istim and definitely less expensive than a single IUI.

Infertility has clearly skewed my view of the term “expensive”.

~*~

Life is in that busy but largely pleasant mode for the most part these days.  I’ve been back to work since mid-June, which is going well.  I enjoy what I do, so while I’m tired (trying to readjust to working nights is taking some time), it’s great to have a chance to interact with my coworkers and take on some projects.

Arthur and I got to go to a fundraiser for the local zoo on Friday with his parents and a couple of his siblings.  It’s a sort of local “taste and drink” deal, where many of the restaurants and catering companies in town set up booths with small portions and typically a signature drink or two.  Because I have a terrible sweet tooth, my favorite is the artisan chocolate company.  It was a lot of fun, made more so because the animals were far more active at night than they typically are during the day.

~*~

E is almost finished with speech therapy.  We have one last session in September just to make sure she hasn’t regressed.  I’m not too worried at this point.  The other day, she walked up to me and started talking about the “botanical garden”.  Yep, with the word ‘botanical’ clearly pronounced.  We’ve come a long way from the 18 month who had what the speech therapist termed a “moderate to severe” speech delay.

She’s doing extremely well overall.  Still doing some physical therapy for a few motor issues, but we see improvement and hope that soon enough the gymnastics class I’ve got her enrolled in at our local YMCA will be enough.  We’re gearing up for a minor procedure for E in September due to congenital partially blocked tear ducts, but hopefully that will be her final surgery for the foreseeable future.

M is growing so fast!  Having a term baby after a very premature one is a totally different game.  She’s a happy, giggly baby who smiles and babbles a lot.  It’s strange not to be in a doctor’s office on a regular basis and to watch her outgrow clothes at an absolutely (to me) extraordinary rate.

~*~

Arthur and I scheduled a consult with Dr. E to discuss our two remaining embryos.  We aren’t anywhere near ready to make a final decision, but we need information to make some of those decisions, time to potentially save up financially, and a discussion of what’s even possible or advisable at this point.

~*~

We’re starting to make appointments to prepare for a house purchase.  We’ve been looking at various neighborhoods, narrowed what we are looking for, and decided on a couple of financial institutions to talk to for the mortgage.  It’s both daunting and exciting to get to this point.

One Project Finished

May and June comprised one of the busiest periods I’ve had in a long while.  As my BSN program drew to close and deadlines ticked down, I found myself running around completing a sixty-five hour practicum class that involved setting up and then interviewing community leaders on my chosen topic as well as doing the research for my classes to prepare for papers.  June finished out with an absolute orgy of writing as I wrote three major capstone projects totaling over seventy pages.  It was, to say the least, completely exhausting.

However, it was also rewarding as I got the notice on Monday that my final paper passed and my advisor recommended me to receive my diploma!

When I decided to go for the BSN, I initially rolled my eyes a little.  I already have a BA (in English) and I figured this degree would be more of the same.  However, with more and more push for RNs working in hospital settings to have BSNs, I knew I needed to go ahead and get the degree.  Otherwise, I risked a situation where, if I ever found a position I wanted to pursue in another hospital system or my system changed rules or ownership, I might find myself either unable to apply for a different position or told that I needed to complete the BSN within a certain number of years.

I was surprised at how much I learned.  While I definitely had a head start since my degree in English had taught me a good bit about research and writing, in my new coursework, I learned how to really evaluate scientific research.  I also learned about statistics and worked through the steps of problem-solving in a nursing setting.

In short, I know I’m better at what I do thanks to earning this degree.  Eventually, when I’m ready, it will also set me up much better to complete masters’ level coursework.

At this point, I’m looking forward to catching up with reading blogs, commenting, and writing here a bit more often.  I’m hoping to watch the documentary “Vegas Baby” about the Sh.er Inst.itutes IVF contest when it comes to Net.flix and read Belle Boggs’ The Art of Waiting.  I recently finished Kate Hopper’s memoir Ready for Air about the premature birth of her daughter and D. Knight Smith’s Letters to Ellie.  I’ve been thinking about infertility and NICU quite a bit.  It’s as though suddenly I’m really starting to process some parts of the experience that perhaps I couldn’t when I was going through them.

Arrival

Content note: birth, pregnancy.  If you’re not in the place, take care of yourself and skip this one.

In the end, the birth was noteworthy simply for its ordinariness.  I attended my last uneventful prenatal appointments, packed my bag, and rode the elevator to the third floor of the hospital on the morning of my scheduled c-section.  Even getting my IV in was drama-free, as despite my twisty, valve-covered, rolling veins, the nurse got it in on the first try.

The only slight hiccup was that after weeks of perfectly fine weather, the region had gotten blanketed in a coating of snowy, icy last-bit-of winter precipitation the day before I was scheduled to be at the hospital at 5:30 in the morning.  After a little bit of debate, Arthur and I opted to check into a hotel across the street from the hospital, even though we only live about twenty minutes away from where I was set to deliver.  There’s one stretch of road that tends to get really ugly, and neither of us wanted to be rushing or worried that morning.  It turned out to be a good thought, as the roads were slippery and my mother-in-law told us later that E had woken up three times in the night.  As it was, we got a good night’s sleep and an easy start to the day.

I walked into the OR on the early side to get my spinal started.  The scrub tech had the Beatles playing on the sound system, so I sat on the table hunched over listening to “Yellow Submarine” as I felt the sting of the local, then some pressure.  It took two tries to get the spinal in, but before I knew it, I felt the familiar tingling as my legs started to go numb.  Quickly, the staff had me on the table, the drape in place, and were bringing Arthur into the OR to start.

Despite knowing the anesthesiologist and knowing that spinals are typically pretty effective, I’m terrifically paranoid that the block won’t work and I’ll feel everything.  This was no exception.  “Don’t do anything until I’m numb,” I said.

“Can you feel this?” asked the scrub tech.

“I felt some pressure.”

“Trust me, if you’d felt anything real, you’d be swearing at me by now.  I just pinched you with an instrument very hard.”

“Oh,” I said.  I was having a weird feeling, an almost overpowering thirst combined with nausea.  I almost asked someone to get me something to drink, even though I knew I couldn’t have anything.  All of a sudden, the anesthesiologist told me to take a deep breath, there was going to be a lot of pressure.  I felt the hard push, heard my OB call “wait, wait!”  Then my OB instructed the staff to drop the drape a bit.

And there she was.

Tinier than I’d expected, with a cap of downy, dark hair, taking her first halting breath.

They took her over to the warmer, and then I heard her first outraged wails at being born into this cold, bright world.  Arthur went over to see her, and within moments, the staff brought her to me.  Arthur held her as I stared at her beautiful, tiny face.  “It’s a good thing you didn’t try to labor,” my OB remarked.  “The cord was wrapped around her neck three times.  I think you would probably have ended up in a c-section no matter what.”  That was what the “wait, wait” had been about: getting the cord unwrapped safely.  My OB finished closing me up, the anesthesiologist put in a TAP block (to block the nerves in my abdomen to prevent incisional pain), and before I knew it, I was in recovery.

Arthur placed the baby on my chest.  So very, very normal and every day for a birth, but so new to me.  I couldn’t hold E until five days after she was born.  This felt like the most extraordinary of miracles as I stared down at the sleepy baby.

We named her M (like this actress, though we picked out the name long before the actress was in the news) and gave her middle name after my late brother (the female version of this first name).  E came that afternoon with my mother-in-law and stared down at her new sister.  “Keep, keep,” she told us as she patted the baby, staring into the bassinette.

There was no NICU stay.  No incubator.  No restrictions on when we could hold her or touch her or kiss her.  No daily wondering if this would be “the day” we got the call that something had happened.  M came home with me and we placed her in the cradle that Arthur’s great-grandfather made for Arthur’s birth.  M latched on immediately and I’ve been able to nurse her.

We are all doing well.  The block after this c-section made a great deal of difference, and I didn’t need much help with pain.  Not being on various forms of bed rest for 18.5 weeks prior to delivery has helped me get moving faster and heal better.

It was, truly, everything I hoped for when we saw the second line in July.  I don’t know how it happened, but I am grateful.  Beyond grateful.

Born March 14, 2017 at 8:10 am.  7lbs, 9oz and 20.5 inches long.  

Clothing-Specific Memories

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Sorting through clothing is a funny thing.  I know people who do not become sentimentally attached to their sweaters or jeans, who cull their collections regularly and who don’t overstuff their drawers, but I am not one of them.  There’s some clothing I can get rid of pretty easily: things that are stained, that obviously don’t fit, basic tees or undershirts that have reached the end of their usefulness, but there’s a whole separate class of clothing that lives in my closet that presents a bigger challenge.

Apparently, I’m not the only one who has this issue, something I was reminded of when I ran across this article, poignantly titled “What Do We Do With the Clothing of Grief?”  As the author recounts the sweater she bought so hopefully during a lost pregnancy, I couldn’t help but think of my own “clothing of grief”.

In my case, it’s the brightly colored peplum boiled wool jacket I wore to the doctor’s office the day there was no more heartbeat.  The black fleece pants that I wore throughout my pregnancy with E and wore to the hospital the day my water broke at 21 weeks.  The olive-green dress with embroidered cranes I wore the day after my brother died.  I don’t know why it’s that dress, the day after, that I associate so strongly with that tragedy, but for some reason, the two are inextricably woven together in my memory.

Sometimes I wonder if I’m ever going to make a decision about those clothes.  I did sell one piece, the sweater I was wearing the day I was diagnosed with PCOS that lay crumpled in a drawer for years, never worn again.  The others, however, seem either too practical (the fleece pants) or too much difficult to reacquire pieces that I really like (the jacket and the dress).  What’s really strange is that I had memories in the jacket in particular that are fairly happy memories before that day.

Perhaps it’s too much to ask that the clothing of grief be repurposed into something truly neutral, but I do sometimes pull out the pieces and wonder if I can find the courage to start wearing them again, make enough memories in them to imbue them with both joy and sorrow.  Instead of the clothing of grief, make them something more akin to the clothing of memory.

jacket

The jacket, on a much happier day (visiting the Hoover Dam in Nevada)

Thanks to Mel for hosting and originating Microblog Mondays!  If you want more posts, head over to Stirrup Queens to read.