DIY

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About two weeks ago, I looked into the living room and decided I didn’t like the brick fireplace very much.  My room is starting to come together, first with a light, sky blue paint for the walls, then a salsa red couch, a painting that my maternal grandmother bought years ago and I inherited and re-framed, as well as the rugs and throw pillows.  It’s a north-facing room and I love the way the colors pull the limited outdoor light into the space.

I knew we did not have the time or money to redo the masonry and I’m not a huge fan in most instances of opaque-painted brick (I’ve seen a few examples where it goes right but wasn’t comfortable with the high probability that it would go wrong).  Enter whitewashing: it lightens the brick but leaves the variation and texture intact.  I spent a lot of time browsing DIY and decor blogs and sites, figured out a general plan, and tried to figure out a time to complete the project.

Then, one day, I randomly decided to go ahead and prep the area with tape and tarps.  I’d planned to just do a test strip, but about two hours later, sent Arthur a text message with this picture:

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I may have gotten a wee bit carried away.

So that evening, I finished the brick and painted the first coats on the mantel.  By the end, what had originally looked like this:

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Instead looked like this:

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I’m still figuring out how to arrange everything on the mantel and such, but it really does brighten the room considerably.

It’s weirdly therapeutic to create a space for myself after so many years living in apartments and rentals.  It’s also a huge change to start and finish a project where I have a fair amount of control over the outcome.  I hadn’t realized how much the randomness of infertility treatments and the NICU (and the corresponding lack of control) had messed with my mind over the years.

Taking joy in creation is a wonderful new feeling.

This post is a part of Microblog Mondays.  To read more or participate yourself, head over to Stirrup Queens!  Thanks to Mel for originating and hosting.

 

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Home Improvement

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Well, I certainly didn’t plan to abruptly disappear into cyberspace, but holy heck, that’s what happened.  The short version: we closed on the house and commenced on a huge round of cleaning, painting, flooring, packing, and moving starting in early January.  Having never owned property before, I did not realize that all of this is really a much bigger undertaking that I had thought.

In two months, we have:

  • Replaced almost all of the upstairs flooring (it was ancient carpet, the previous owners had two large dogs and two cats, and we have allergies) and had professionals put in nice, water-resistant laminate
  • Painted three of the bedrooms ourselves to a nice, neutral warm cream color
  • Repainted a bunch of trim/doors in the upstairs ourselves
  • Had the kitchen and living room professionally painted as there were a lot of nooks and crannies that were going to be tough to do well ourselves (both were gray to begin with, which I know is really trendy right now, but it felt depressing to me – so now the kitchen is a very pale creamy yellow and the living room is a light sky blue)
  • Bought area rugs for bedrooms and the living room
  • New sofa and benches for the living room.
  • Installed various curtain rods
  • Packed up our old place
  • Hired and supervised movers for all the heavy furniture (we considered having friends/family help us, but we have a sleeper sofa that is horribly heavy plus a washer and dryer, and decided the risk of one of us throwing out a back was too high)
  • Replaced the dining area chandelier
  • Unpacked most of the bedrooms
  • Bought a guest bed

I love all of it, though!  It’s the first place we’ve lived that actually has felt like mine/ours.  There are a few less “fun” things to get done, such as hiring a handyman to get a little bit of the wooden siding on the front repaired now that the weather allows for it, but we’re making headway on that as well.

These days, we’re in the tough sort of “in-between” phase where we’re living in the new house but still cleaning out bits and pieces from our old apartment (our lease is up at the end of March).  We’re also unpacking and having a lot of those “wait, where is (fill in the blank)?!” moments.

Other than the moving/house, I’ve been reading Sheryl Sandburg’s Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy.  I have mixed feelings about it.  On the one hand, she has some really good advice about coping with life’s truly horrible moments and shares a lot of her personal story that I found moving and relatable.  On the other hand, it’s also very rah-rah, you can move through this, and kid/parenting heavy.  I found a lot of the advice about coping with an unexpected death like my brother’s good, but I know if I’d read this during my fertility struggles or when I was in the hospital expecting to lose my older daughter any day, I would have found a lot of it really frustrating.  I guess like most advice books, I’m taking what applies to me and leaving the rest.

I’m also finishing up Eve Schaub’s book Year of No Clutter and thoroughly enjoying it so far (though, be warned, near the end there is a chapter on sorting out her daughters’ baby things).  Schaub writes about her “Hell Room” – the largest room in her house that is so cluttered and full of stuff that she can barely get into it and so just closes the door.  As someone who firmly falls on the ‘packrat’ side of the clutter/decluttering continuum, even though I have not reached the point Schaub has, I still can relate to quite a few of the feelings Schaub discusses about dealing with “stuff”.  Schaub’s story about keeping a mummified dead mouse (!) because she wrote about it and now feels attached to it, however, was definitely not one of those moments (I hate, loathe, despise, and otherwise cannot stand dead critters in my living space).  When she talked about craft projects that she saves and never gets to but can’t bear to throw out however…well, my mind went guiltily to my fabric drawer, stuffed with un-finished sewing projects.  Given that we’re in the stage of trying to figure out what to keep and what to toss, though, reading the book has been a bit of a companion in the stress of trying to deal with the “but I might NEED IT SOMEDAY!” moments.

This post is part of Microblog Mondays – if you want to read more posts from other bloggers, head on over to Stirrup Queens!  Thanks to Mel for originating and hosting.

New Year, New House

We bought a house.

Not the beautiful old 1926 one.

I got in touch with the city engineer and confirmed the lead service line to the home was most likely intact.  While it’s worth noting that lead service lines are typically covered in scale that helps protect the water, there’s still a risk, especially if something changes with the water.  Arthur and I still, at that point were holding on to the idea of the house, but I went ahead and called the health department to find out what information they had on lead in the area and how to proceed.  The case worker on the other end paused.  Then she said: “Well, we haven’t been to that house.  But we’ve been on that street and there’s definitely lead.”

I listened as she carefully chose her next words.  “Sometimes historic houses aren’t the best for children that are as young as yours.”

The message came through loud and clear.  Don’t do this.

I talked to Arthur.  We emailed the realtor and decided to drop the house from our list.  It’s an amazing house, but there were so many major issues with it (furnace, AC needed replaced, we knew the electricity was probably outdated, and there were several other issues we knew about – all this prior to an inspection) and the lead was the final straw.  It was too much for us to take on at this point.

We started scouring the real estate listings again.  Two houses popped up on our radar in fairly short order.  Both were newer, one a 1986, the other a 1995.  They were in our desired location and we arranged to see both of them in one day.

We liked both houses and spent the rest of the day debating which one to offer on.  One had a daylight basement and the other had a basement but no windows, so we finally decided to offer on the daylight basement house.  Our realtor put in the offer and we waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Finally, our realtor called the listing realtor just before the offer was due to expire.  The other realtor was incredibly rude and said that we had offered far too low (reality check: we had offered around 3% under asking price) and they weren’t even going to counter.

“Forget it,” I told our realtor.  “We liked the other house just as much.  We spent the entire evening debating which one to make the offer on.”  No point in trying to work with a seller and listing agent who had no intention of taking us seriously and who, I suspected, could be trouble if the inspection turned up anything of note.

We immediately put in an offer on the other house.  The next morning, our realtor called us.  “Congratulations!” she told us.

The inspection turned up a few minor issues, but overall, it’s a good, solid house according to the inspector.  We’ve got the mortgage arranged.  It’s been a whirlwind few weeks, but we’re cleared to close, and looking forward to doing so just after the new year.  With a few minutes to breathe, now I’m hoping to catch up on my blog reading!

Now we’re onto the fun of picking paint colors and preparing to replace carpets with laminate floors…

Housing Search: The Word ‘Plumbing’ Derives from the Latin Word for ‘Lead’ Edition

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We started looking for a house about a month ago.  It’s a tight market in our area, so we’ve seen about five or six houses in person along with closely watching the online listings and poring over the photos.  And of course, there’s this one house…

I’m sure anyone who has bought real estate is going “okay, where’s the ‘but’ on this statement?”

So, here it is: but it’s a 1926 house that’s priced a little over our current range and needs an entire new HVAC system among other things.

I love old houses.  Love the crown molding, love antiques, love the feel, love hardwood, love how unique old homes look, love bay windows, love the fact that an old house good enough to buy today is built well.  When we started looking, I immediately started checking listings in the historic neighborhood.  We saw the 1926 house and fell hard for it.  It’s gorgeous with big, airy bedrooms, the pretty trim, and as soon as I set foot in it, I was moving in furniture in my head.

Like I said, it’s priced a little above what we want to pay.  However, it’s been on the market for several months, and the sellers are ready to negotiate.  So that hurdle was largely overcome.  Arthur and I started talking about offering.

Then I did some research as we knew the HVAC system needed replaced and during that, discovered a few things about buying an old house.  We knew there would be repairs and remodeling work, which we were willing to do.  We knew we needed a cash reserve for the inevitable things that go wrong, which we could handle.  There’s often asbestos floor tile somewhere (not an issue as long as intact and not disturbed) which we figured we could manage or replace eventually.  We knew we needed to check the electric system (old houses weren’t built to handle modern electronic life), but figured we could manage that as well.

Then I was reading and discovered something we aren’t entirely sure we can handle: lead.

Any house built before 1978 in the USA generally has lead paint somewhere in it – the older the house, the more certain there’s lead paint in it.  Lead paint, I discovered, was used more on ‘nicer’ homes of the era because it has such brilliant colors and durability.  Meaning this gorgeous 1926 house almost assuredly has lead paint.  Apparently, lead paint can be covered and well maintained with few issues.  The problem comes if it’s on friction surfaces like windows and door frames (which can create lead dust when the window is opened or the door is open/closed), if it’s in the soil outside the house from outdoor paint (and tracked in), and/or if you have kids under the age of 6 (who tend to be more susceptible and who put everything in their mouths).

I also learned that the Latin word for “lead” is “plumbum” (hence the chemical symbol for lead) and so lead pipes and plumbing are a concern.  Lead pipes were used in houses, but even more recent copper plumbing can have lead solders.  The high lead solders were banned in 1986 and the amount of allowed lead reduced again in 2014 in the USA.

I dove down the rabbit hole with a vengeance.  Did some digging locally and discovered there’s a good chance the service line (the pipe that connects the house to the water main) could be lead.  Possible there’s still some lead piping in the house, though hard to say without an offer and a thorough inspection.  The windows appear to be original, so there’s a good chance those have lead paint.

We’re debating if we want to deal with this – if we would make an offer and get a lead inspection done and plan on abatement or replacement – or if we should just walk the heck away.  At the moment, I’m making calls to the city to find out if the service line was ever replaced (should be a matter of public record), talking to local lead inspectors, and putting in a call to the pediatrician’s office to get their take on things.

I’m starting to understand why all those home buyers and home owners on the HGTV and home improvement shows all seem to have constantly worried to panicked looks on their faces.  I’m discovering that all houses have issues.  The trick is being aware and picking the issues we feel we can live alongside or change.

If anyone has advice or lives/has lived in an old house, I’m all ears.

Want more Microblog Mondays?  Head over to Stirrup Queens to read more!  Thanks to Mel for originating and hosting.

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.

The Loose Ends

Content note: I’m going to discuss our final two embryos and decisions related to them.  

Over the last few months, Arthur and I have an ongoing conversation that sounds something like this:

“If we were three or four years younger…”

“Yeah…”

“If we hadn’t had the infertility issues or the miscarriages or NICU…”

“Yeah…”

“But we did.”

“We did.”

“I’m tired.”

“Me too.”

It’s easy for me sometimes to focus on the good parts, those final easy months of my pregnancy with M that culminated in a term birth and a beautiful newborn and think, “oh, I could do that again”.  And if that was what was guaranteed, the answer would be easy.  Both of us had always assumed that if we hit the lottery (aka got pregnant and had a live birth on our own), we’d just be excited to try for a third child.  What – as the dust settles – we’re only now truly starting to account for in a meaningful way is how much the whole journey has taken out of us.

This isn’t a complaint.  We are fortunate beyond all belief in so many ways.  With some distance, all the infertility, IVF, miscarriage, and premature birth has ceased to be the constant it once was and has slowly begun to sublimate into the normal fabric of our life.  There are moments, of course, but there’s no doubt that it’s better.

Recently, however, I was reading a book where the miscarriage scene triggered a strong, painful memory of sitting in a darkened ultrasound room, pregnant, but not really any longer.  “I can’t keep putting myself through this,” I told my husband.  “I just can’t go through everything and then hold my breath for months.”

~*~

We met with the RE last week to discuss what to do with our final two embryos.  It’s truly a conversation I never thought we’d need to have.  When I went through the transfer that ultimately resulted in E, it was not a good day.  I’d had 22 mature eggs retrieved, 18 fertilized, and plenty of embryos growing beautifully on day 3, which pushed the transfer to day 5.  On the appointed day, we arrived at the clinic, got prepped and then handed a photo that I expected to contain our perfect blastocysts for transfer.  Instead, the photo showed two cavitating morulae.  Our best embryos out of 18 fertilized eggs were a full day behind.  Let’s just say there were a lot of tears that day.

I didn’t even think about the last few embryos the clinic had decided to continue growing to day 6 and see if there was anything to freeze.  A day or so later, I got the call that the lab had frozen two day-6 blastocysts.  Truthfully, I was so disheartened by infertility and circumstances I just sighed.  It was too much at the time to get excited.  We were more or less broke, emotionally and financially.

As the infertility cliché goes, though, you only need one good one (and in our case, a bizarre, stressful, high risk pregnancy), and E came into our lives.  At the advice of the perinatologist and my OB, we decided to try on our own for a year when we were ready for a second child.  Much to our immense surprise and joy, M came to us.  Which left us having the conversation I recounted above.

Like I said, none of this is a complaint.  We’re lucky and I don’t discount that in any way.

Neither of us feel as though we can discard the embryos.  The embryos have a form of dual existence for me.  They are somehow both not fully human and also, simultaneously, my babies.  I’m aware other people have different feelings about embryos, and that’s absolutely their prerogative.  I’m certainly not going to judge anyone for their feelings or what they choose to do with their embryos – it is such a difficult, personal decision.  This is just what works for us.

We finally determined that our best course is to find out, as much as possible, what we have frozen.  We know we have two day-6 expanded blastocysts with a “b” grade inner cell mass and a “c” grade trophectoderm.  The biologist at the lab described them to us as “average” – certainly high enough quality to potentially create a baby, but not top rated.  Due to my high-risk pregnancy with E (and the increasing trend towards single embryo transfers regardless of pregnancy history), the embryos have to be transferred one at a time, meaning we would potentially need to go through two FETs.

We don’t have the energy (or finances) to put into treatment that we once did.  The idea of going through another miscarriage (or worse) scares me.  Doing two FETs means a good bit of logistics to make them work just in terms of getting to the clinic as required, not to mention the expense and the two week waits.

This led us to genetically testing the embryos, which is a little cheaper than a single FET at our clinic by the time we add in medications and everything else that goes into an FET.  It means thawing, growing the embryos out overnight, having them biopsied, and then refreezing.  It’s not without some risks, but in return, we’ll have some idea of whether or not the embryos are euploid, and the refreezing will be done with a newer, better form of vitrification.  If one or both of the embryos turns out to be euploid, we’ll have a higher chance of implantation and a lower risk of miscarriage once we transfer.  If one or both of the embryos turn out to be aneuploid, well, we’ll save ourselves the cost of one or two FET cycles, the two-week-wait, and potentially a miscarriage.

It’s not an easy decision.  I’m aware that there’s definitely some controversy right now in the world of embryo genetic testing.  A couple of days after Arthur and I made the decision to go ahead with genetic testing, this landed on our doorstep:

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Not the most helpful coincidence.  I mean, I’m glad doctors and scientists are considering these variables, just sort of strange timing for us…

I’d be lying if I said that the idea of a lab making a mistake about whether or not the embryos are good doesn’t scare me.  However, given all of our particular variables, genetic testing is still our best option going forward.  We’re working on getting the consents signed currently.

And then…we’ll see.

The Old Guard

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Arthur and I went to see the RE today to talk about the two remaining embryos we have frozen.  The embryos are a discussion for another post, but as we stepped into the clinic, I had this odd sense that I no longer belonged there the way I once had.  It reminded me of going back to my alma mater, walking around the campus, seeing the current students going to classes, realizing I was an alumnus now and that era of my life was over.

We sat in the waiting room.  A couple came in.  They seemed happy, and I watched as they were ushered back in the direction of the ultrasound room and suspected they were here for a pregnancy check.  Unless the routine had vastly changed, I knew ultrasounds for follicle counts were done much earlier in the morning.  I hope that they got good news.

Eventually, we were ushered back to talk with Dr. E.  As we discussed the remaining embryos, it was clear that we were no longer there with that mixture of fear, anticipation, and hope that we had originally come into the clinic carrying four years ago.  Instead of trying to begin, we were bringing the journey to an end, working to figure out the last steps.

I’m not nostalgic about IVF or treatment.  A few days ago when I went write about a particular experience during my first IVF, I was surprised at how p*ssed I still felt when reliving that memory.  I don’t miss the uncertainty, the worry, and the torturous waits for everything from follicle checks to the infamous two-week wait.

I am slightly nostalgic for that nervous but hopeful person I was when I first walked into the clinic.

Many of the times I’ve gone to the clinic, there’s been the sense of doors opening.  Of possibilities and plans and fresh starts.

Today, we walked out with all but the last two doors closed behind us.

Want more Microblog Mondays posts?  Head over to Stirrup Queens and check them out!  Thanks to Mel for originating and hosting.