Maybe God is Trying to Tell Me Something

R and I have been wrestling with indecision over whether or not to continue updating this blog as our struggle grows more painful and lengthy. It’s difficult to remain your plucky correspondent these days, and we both tire of telling the story. But today I remembered that one of the reasons we started this blog is to help others have a better understanding of the unique challenges GLBT families face as they grow. We also wanted our friends and family to have a way to read about our choices and experiences when we don’t feel like delving into all the details. So in the spirit of our original intent, I’m writing to update you on the goings on of your favorite infertile Myrtles.

[Imagine witty commentary about Christmas vacation here]

In the middle of our annual pilgrimage home to the Midsouth, we made a 24 hour trip to Ohio to see a new fertility specialist, Dr. A. The long and short of this sudden move is that our adoption prospects seem dim, and we certainly cannot afford to undergo IVF here in the Pacific Northwest. We looked into treatment options in Canada, Israel, and…Ohio. Perhaps not surprisingly, the latter turned out to be the most sensible option. We have relatives we can stay with in Ohio, and Dr. A came highly recommended by a family friend who is currently prego thanks to his medical intervention. On a whim, I called Dr. A’s office to ask if they happened to have any appointments during the short window of time we were planning to be in the Midsouth. They did, and so in the midst of finishing up the maddening preparations for Handmade Christmas, Part Two, we scooped up all of R’s and the KD’s medical records from various and sundry clinics (four in all). Armed with a mountain of papers and a healthy dose of skepticism, we arrived at Dr. A’s office ready for a grueling four hour visit.

I wanted to leave as soon as we stepped through the door.  The other patients were reading Redbook and Ladies Home Journal. The penholders said something about miracles and God. I was petrified.

Well, either my fears were unfounded or the staff flagged our chart with a big fat LESBIAN sticker because every single person treated us like the couple we are, and I give them mad props for that. The only hiccup was when T, the financial coordinator, asked R and I to pose for our “mom and dad picture.” She quickly corrected herself and we all had a good laugh. After we had our picture made Dr. A came in to greet us, starting off the conversation by congratulating us on our newly won freedom to marry. This, from an avuncular Egyptian-American man casually sipping on a caffeine-free Diet Coke. Well, alrighty.

After a perfunctory review of the stack of records I brought, Dr. A put forth his hypothesis on why we haven’t conceived, and declared his optimism for our chances of success with IVF. We were led to the exam room, where R endured the usual poking and prodding while I made a half dozen phone calls to Dr. T’s office in the PNW. Four hours and a mountain of paperwork later, we were all set up to start the treatment protocol in about two weeks.

Then we came home. I looked at the prescriptions for eight drugs R will take over the course of three weeks. I contacted the pharmacy for price estimates. I calculated the nauseating cost of one fresh cycle of IVF. Even though Dr. A’s price tag is roughly half what it would be here in the PNW, I felt sick. And today my queasiness has turned to rage mixed with incredulity.

Pause and try to picture this. You want something very badly. You’ve practically tripped over yourself to make it happen, spending one year’s salary and at least 20% of your time on the effort. You haven’t succeeded, and whether you ever will is anyone’s guess. Over the course of two and half years you meet with multiple experts who try to help you solve the puzzle. You watch your spouse stab herself in the abdomen with hormone injections, drink wretched potions of Chinese herbs, cut out all manner of tasty food, limit her intake of alcohol, cut out caffeine, avoid vigorous exercise, and go to acupuncture on a weekly basis. When you are finally told that none of these measures is going to cut it, you look into other paths to your goal. They all appear blocked. You’re getting desperate, and all around you other people are easily (and cheaply!) succeeding at the very thing you want so much.

And then you meet someone who proposes to help you. He sits behind a desk and makes small talk with you. He is confident when you are not. He tells you exactly what you need to do to achieve your goal. It won’t be easy. It will involve many more injections and significant physical discomfort.  You are willing. More than willing. And then he asks you to give him $15,000, and promises in return, a 35% chance of taking home the thing you’re after. Do you say “Where do I sign?” or do you laugh maniacally?

On the bus (AKA Tax Payer Trolley) this evening I was chewing on this very scenario, and wondering what on earth possessed me to ask where to sign. I became enraged at the whole business of fertility. I can’t imagine another (realistic) scenario in which I’d be willing to part with tens of thousands of dollars for a 35% chance of getting something that other people get for free. I can hear my mentor clucking her teeth and saying, “If you’d go for that I’ve got a bridge I’d like to sell ya.”

I don’t know what the “right” course of action is. I only know that I keep getting the sneaking suspicion that we are trying to force something that simply wasn’t meant to be. And I don’t even believe in “meant to be.”

Nor do I believe in special messages from God, and yet today I’m reminded of that scene in The Color Purple in which Shug hears the choir singing from her estranged father’s church. When she can no longer ignore it, she joins in the refrain

If you can’t sleep at night

And you wonder why

Maybe God is trying to tell you something

Cried all night long

Something’s gone wrong

Maybe God is trying to tell you something…

The tearful and hesitant reunification of Shug and her father gets me every time. And anytime I’m unsettled, her song reverberates in my mind. And now I’m left to wonder, is God indeed trying to tell me something?

Desperately Seeking Moses

I’m finding it useful to write in the morning to empty the recesses of my mind of thoughts that obstruct progress toward completing the day’s tasks. This morning I cannot shake the image of New Life Baby Home, and the very real knowledge that there are children in this world, living and breathing and laughing, who need parents. And then there’s me and R, who really want to parent. Between us there’s a Red Sea of prejudice and Moses is out on another call. 

I cannot believe that God prefers for children to live without dedicated parents. Without unconditional, deep and imperfect human love. And I guess it’s that belief that propels me forward, even to the brink of what could be perceived as antagonism, until I meet a wall I know I cannot climb.

I’ve read many articles in the popular press that condemn women and couples using assisted reproductive technology. Authors and commenters ask why these families don’t do the world a favor and “just adopt.” Buried in that phrase is the implication that adoption is simple. Dig one layer further and you’ll find the notion that adoption is distinct purview of infertile couples. Neither is true, and I’d like to see a more realistic public discussion of the very real impact of sexism, homophobia, and class on the various pathways to parenthood. 

In the meantime, I’ll be looking for Moses.

 

Chumbawamba

There was just one line on the home pregnancy test this morning, and boy were we hoping for two. Testing is such a drag, but we have to do it so R can discontinue one of her medications and end the cycle. This month was our last try with the fresh goods. Now we are switching back to IUI with man in a can, which will be less stressful in some ways because we’ll be dealing with people who are paid a pretty penny to deal with us, rather than trying to chase down our very busy KD. But it will be so much more clinical, and far from how we hoped to conceive.

I think we’re both learning letting go of expectations and attachments to any particular path to parenthood. But I am not sure I can say we’re fully enjoying the journey. Nonetheless, we’re rolling with it.

This weekend I finished my first triathlon. It was a dizzying endeavor, and one that taught me I’m stronger than I think. During the cycling portion I took a corner too quickly and totally wiped out. My second worst fear was realized, and I heard the thundering sound of two hulking teenage boys running toward me as I struggled to get back on my feet. Once I was sure I hadn’t seriously injured any of my limbs, I jumped back on the bike and sped off, occasionally checking my leg to be sure the bleeding had stopped. Then I got an earworm of a song stuck in my head, that masterpiece Tubthumping by Chumbawamba.

I get knocked down, but I get up again, you’re never gonna keep me down…

After the fall I just laughed and sang Tubthumping for the remaining six miles of the ride. So bring it, life. Knock us down all you want. We’ll keep on riding.

Stars and Stripes

I apologize for not updating this sooner. I am overwhelmed by the prospect of trying to describe last week and all its events. In a nutshell, using a KD is hard. Sticking to our guns is even harder. And trying to strike a reasonable balance between creating Bean and everything else is hardest. It seems like every month we have to make dozens of agonizing decisions that have financial and ethical implications, and much of the decision making and agonizing is due to the fact that we chose to use a KD rather than ordering Bean’s genetic material from a sperm bank. In hind sight, that process was far easier; I kind of feel like a bride who, exhausted by her efforts to have a ‘unique’ wedding, sheepishly admits that those boring traditions are useful and breaking them wreaks havoc.

Last week I was sick with indecision about a thousand tiny things: to have KD complete an ECG or not (after 5 hours of research and deliberation that included reading articles in JAMA and consulting with two physician friends, we decided against), to have his karyotype tested or not, to wash and freeze his ‘deposit’ even though the sperm count was about half of what it needed to be for a good sample or not, to proceed with the terribly expensive process of setting him up as our ‘directed donor’ or not. I spent several full work days fielding phone calls from the sperm bank in CA, the fertility clinic in WA, the KD, and R.

I wondered if Bean will even give a rat’s behind about where we found her donor. I wondered if parenting is worth all this, especially given that it’s bound to be significantly more challenging for a much longer period of time. I wondered if we’d be better off following R’s stepfather’s advice to just walk into a bar…I suggested this to R and she quickly shot me down.

With all the above as a backdrop, we went to the fertility clinic on Monday for an ultrasound to see whether R’s follicles would be the right size to allow us to TTC during the 36 hour window of time our KD was available in the flesh (as opposed to the vial). After a kerfuffle with the medical assistant and the receptionist, a teary phone call to our nurse practitioner, and multiple text messages between us and KD, we decided to head south for the 4th of July. This presented a few challenges because our usual hosts have a tiny newborn and a steady parade of house guests. In the interest of preserving everyone’s sanity, we decided to book a room at a bed and breakfast with the added bonus of nixing the usual scramble to get across town with our cup o’ sperm.

The B and B was cute and quirky, and importantly, nearby KD’s house. I knew it would be an adventure when I caught a glimpse of the innkeeper, Sheila, who was listed as one of the B and B’s “amenities.” The house, much like the website, was decked out with various glamour shots of Sheila in her “famous chapeaus” (chapeau=hat, in case your French is rusty). Every inch of the house was filled with family photographs, sculptures, and groups of tsotchkes, the most prominent of which was a 4th of July themed montage in the front bay window.

Our room (the Kendra West) was airy, comfortable, and warm, with big windows that faced the street. The bathtub was large enough for R to have a nice soak prior to the task at hand. While we’d intended to meet up with KD early in the morning on July 5, after some deliberation we decided late on the 4th would be better so R could be recumbent for a solid 8 hours. This change in plans was met with some surprise by the KD, but he was amenable. While R soaked I texted back and forth with him to organize the logistics of this operation. Typically, we hand off a sterile cup and loiter about until he resurfaces with a paper bag and the goods. It is not unlike a drug deal, and surely appears that way to anyone who cares enough to observe the process. Usually I don’t worry about anyone giving a whoop but this was a bit different because we were staying in someone’s house, and there were some house rules about overnight guests and the like.

The KD kindly offered to walk to our place, but before I had a chance to confirm whether he was arriving with the goods in hand, he showed up. Empty handed. Sans sterile cup and paper bag. We fumbled through some pleasantries and then got around to the awkward business of how, precisely, we were going to manage the production efforts. I led him into the creaky Victorian and scoped out the communal bathroom downstairs. It was too small. I scratched my head. I walked up the loud stairs and dragged R out the tub (and out of her bliss). I rushed her through towel drying her hair, and ignored the buzzing of my phone, which turned out to be KD suggesting we go to his place instead. By that point I’d already killed R’s joy, so it seemed like we should just move forward.

R and I came back down the creaky stairs and sat on the loveseat across from KD and the three of us chit chatted like this was all perfectly typical. Another guest walked in, and must have sensed our awkward vibe because she mumbled an apology and scampered off to her room. Eventually KD went upstairs to our room, and we sat on the loveseat and waited. And then Sheila walked in.

She was indeed festooned with a chapeau, but more importantly, with textured cropped pants: left leg starred, right leg striped. We made small talk and I tried to suppress the urge to spill my guts about the whole scenario. She went to the kitchen. I sweated through my fear of KD walking down the stairs and bumping into her. I envisioned the possible explanations. I imagined she’d be fine with the truth. I picked up a book about Jews in Wyoming.

I tried my darnedest to hurry her along by sending telepathic signals. She seemed to receive them. She turned out all the lights and left just as I heard door knob turn in Kendra West. I breathed a sigh of relief. KD came down the creaky ass stairs. He acknowledged that the whole scene would be something of a curio to anyone who happened to observe it. We hugged him goodbye. We got shit done.

We laughed at the absurdity of it all. And now we wait.

This My Excavation…

Today I listened to Bon Iver’s Stacks and it’s been echoing in my mind all evening. I read somewhere that Justin Vernon wrote it when he was grieving a significant loss. Maybe that is why it’s resonating so strongly with me. For some reason the grief of months of struggling to conceive is weighing heavily. More heavily than usual. Maybe it’s the confluence of additional anxieties–my beloved grandmother’s lung cancer, and the surgery she’s facing tomorrow. The reminders of my grandfather’s death, and my father’s absence. Maybe it’s my feelings of stagnation and fears of inadequacy as I stare down my looming dissertation. I feel a kindred spirit with Vernon, who wrote:

There’s a black crow sitting across from me; his wiry legs are crossed
And he’s dangling my keys he even fakes a toss
Whatever could it be
That has brought me to this loss?

Maybe it was the phone call I missed from the fertility clinic, and the somewhat exasperated voice on the other end of the line, saying she needed to “review some results with me.” Maybe it’s the fear that all our careful planning is about to be undone. Maybe it’s the constant second guessing. Or the expenditure of money, time, energy that is just never enough. I don’t know what it is that is bringing me to the brink of grief, but my best guess is that I’m again faced with the realization that we are so not in control. We are making the best decisions we can, but none of this is ideal. This is not how we hoped to start a family–agonizing over every decision and second guessing not only our own motives but also those of the experts we’ve hired to help us.

The grief we are experiencing is one that other people cannot understand. No one else in our circle of friends and family has had to select a source of genetic material for their offspring and make all the explicit decisions about reproduction that go along with it. No one else can reassure us or tell us how best to proceed. If our plans are foiled tomorrow, no one else will understand what that means. It’s a truly alienating experience sometimes. And it weighs heavily.

Fresh Perspective

Yesterday we started care at a new fertility clinic. So long, Dr. S, and Hey There, Dr. T. We were both really nervous about the appointment because we honestly didn’t know if Dr. T would send us away with no hope for a biological child–a reality I feel guilty admitting we aren’t quite ready to face. To brace myself for the meeting, I began looking into our adoption options again, which seem fairly limited because we are a same sex couple with neither the money to pay the exorbitant private adoption fees nor the emotional strength to bond with and raise a foster child who may be removed from us after months or years in our care. But still, I wanted to have some hope to hold on to in the event that Dr. T advised us to stop TTC.

We were in Dr. T’s office for three hours, the majority of that time was spent with her. She gave us a layperson’s version of a talk she gave recently, flipping through powerpoint slides on her computer and using fairly complex graphs from clinical studies to explain her plan for us. I was in nerd heaven. R said she just wanted a pie chart. That reminded me of one of my stats professors, who thought there was only one legitimate use for pie charts, pictured below.

In the end a pie chart might have been more helpful because all the the charts and statistics are just sitting in one giant word salad in my brain. But the gist of it is that even accounting for 4 poorly timed cycles, we are in the unfortunate position of having passed through the stages of TTC that had the highest probability of success and entered the stage that yields diminishing returns for the same effort (and cost). That was disappointing to hear out loud, but not so different than what we already suspected. There is no explanation for our lack of success thus far, which is really frustrating, but I’m glad that none of us is interested in wasting time trying to suss that out.

Dr. T suggests 1-3 more cycles before we call it quits and move on to IVF or adoption. She’s stepping up our game by adding in two more medications, one of which is an injection R will have to take for 5-7 days. These medications will not only increase our chance of pregnancy but also the risk of twins or higher order multiples, so the first cycle will be a little nerve wracking while we figure out how R’s body responds to the injections. We have to go to the doctor multiple times this month for more tests and closer monitoring to be sure we don’t end up with an octomom situation. It all feels very invasive and it’s hard to know where to draw the line and say ‘we’ve given it our best shot but now it’s time to re-envision our family.’

Each month it feels like we are renegotiating boundaries between us and medical intervention, between us and the amount of risk we are willing to accept, between us and the amount of money we are willing to part with, between us and the KD. It’s an emotionally grueling process to constantly make decisions about these factors that could have a long term impact on our health, finances, and social life. It’s also difficult to make all these decisions in front of others (doctors, KD,  a small group of family and friends) and wonder if we seem crazy or selfish. One of the women who responded to the quandary I wrote about the other day had this to say about her experience with infertility treatment:

We went through infertility for at least 5 years. For many of our close friends and family member, however, it was a very fertile time. This was extremely hard on us. In spite of trying to access our best selves – their fertility represented a lot of heart ache…at seeing we could not do what “anyone” could do….and our heart ache at feeling jealousy and anger instead of joy over a loved one’s miraculous pregnancy. It felt wrong to feel that way, but it also felt wrong to have to have shots in the butt every night. Wrong at having to talk to doctors about our sex life. Major life ick.

If you are pregnant, God bless you and your beautiful child. You are entitled to your joy, whether you struggled or not! Joy!

But…your friend/sister/cousin who is in infertility hell (mourning/hope/mourning and on and on) is in heartfelt pain – most likely masked, but it is deep and sad and life altering. I get it. We went through it.

During this time in our lives, it was almost impossible for people to know what to say. Yet, somehow, one dear friend said the most touching and poignant thing to me: “I have no idea what you are going through, but I want you to know I will always be here for you.”

Done! That said it all – even those of us who have gone through and survived infertility are different. True, we have a commonality, but our reaction to the same ludicrous invasions of privacy and dashing of “normal dreams” is highly different.

I think her comments on how invasive this whole process is, and how unrelenting the cycle of hope and mourning, are a clear window into the pain we have experienced over the last year and a half. But I think we are stronger for it, cheesy as that sounds. Our relationship has been tested and strengthened by the conversations we’ve been forced to have, by the decisions we’ve had to make, and by the coordinated effort this whole endeavor has required. And we’ve learned to let it be one piece of life–occasionally at the center, but not always. I hope that some day Bean will occupy its place, and we’ll have a whole new set of decisions to make.