Turning From “Nope” to Hope

I have hesitated to type these words on so many occasions. A hundred “what ifs” have kept me from sharing our story.

What if people struggling with infertility don’t want to read  another “happy ending?”

What if I can’t articulate this well?

What if people think I’m just offering a polite platitude?

However, one big “what if” compels me to write today.

As I laid in bed this morning and watched the look on my husband’s face as he felt our baby move for the first time, I couldn’t help but think- what if sharing our story brings hope to others?

Then, my friends, no matter what… it will have been worth it.

I know that there is someone out there right now, searching every hashtag on social media and combing through every tag on every blog out there. They’re searching for some hope.

Fertility.

Infertility.

5dp5dt.

10dp5dt.

OHSS.

I know because I was one of them. I spent so many nights searching for someone who was experiencing what I was experiencing. While I never found a situation just like ours, I did find hope in hearing from others who were walking this road too.

So, if you’re trying to get your mind and heart around this hot mess of infertility or if you’re just up against some serious odds in life, I humbly submit to you our little story of IVF.

If you’re a newbie to what in-vitro fertilization is, allow me a brief explanation.

You get on a bunch of drugs to stimulate the ovaries to produce eggs.

Amazing doctor surgically removes eggs (called retrieval).

Amazing embryologists and super cool petri dishes allow for sperm and eggs to meet.

Embryos are made.

Embryo(s) go back inside your body (called transfer).

Hopefully, you get knocked up.

That’s the deal more or less.

Of course, if only things could be so simple. Soon after we decided to commit to IVF and hopefully tell my barren womb to get over itself, we found out that there were some complications for me regarding one of the hormones essential for successful egg growing, the Anti-Mullerian Hormone (AMH).

At our planning appointment, our doctor clued us in.

“Well, I do remember there being some issues with your AMH levels, so let’s talk about that.”

(calmly thumbs through my file)

(eyebrows go up, throws head back)

“Oh, wow. So, that is probably one of the highest AMH levels I’ve seen in 20 plus years.”

Awesome. Normally, doctors consider high AMH levels to be in the teens.

My level was in the thirties.

What this meant for us was a “long and slow” stimulation cycle. Because of that AMH level, we had to be super careful not to stimulate egg production too quickly or I was very likely to hyperstimulate (imagine your entire abdomen filling with fluid) and the whole thing would be a lost cause. This meant 16 long days of stimulant drugs.

It also meant 16 long days of me scouring the internet to see if this had ever worked for someone with such a high AMH level. I didn’t find too much encouragement. Instead, what I saw was lots of “normal” IVF patients whose meds had them producing double-digit follicle (the thing that holds the egg) numbers.

“It’s Day 7… we have 24 follicles!”

“It’s trigger day… we have 14 follicles!”

Two days before the surgery, I only had 9. I was happy for them, but I was a little sad for me. I doubted that our story could have the ending I wanted.

Then, on the day of retrieval, I awoke after surgery to my husband’s smiling and ever patient face. The doctor came in to tell us that they were only able to get 4 eggs.

“That’s it?” I said to my husband once the doctor left the room. Again, I doubted.

Here’s what you need to know about why I was so disappointed.

Once those eggs hit the petri dish, only about 60% of eggs will fertilize. So, in our case, that would mean that only 2.4 embryos would be created. After that, the doctors need your embryos to make it to 5 days old so that they can be frozen and transferred at a later date. I was not a candidate for what they call “fresh transfer” (aka when they put an embryo back into your body at the end of five days) because of that stupid AMH level. Well, only about 40% of embryos make it the five day mark (Oh, and then you have to hope that the embryo will “stick” once it’s transferred so that it can grow into a baby). So, for us, that meant statistically speaking, we had gone through all of this for .96 of an embryo… aka NONE embryos.

It was so difficult in the hours immediately after surgery to believe that this could happen. My heart was breaking, and of course, when my normally Patty Positive husband started saying things like “Well, let’s not count ourselves out yet. And maybe if it doesn’t work, we can try this again,” it felt like maybe I was foolish to have ever hoped that this would work.

They called the next day.

“We don’t usually see this, but all four eggs fertilized.”

Whaaaaat. We couldn’t keep ourselves from the emotions that overcame us at that moment, and somehow, it was then that I realized that literally ANYTHING can happen.

That thought both terrified me and excited me. It was still very possible that no babies could come from all this, but it was also very possible that it just might work. To this day, I can’t explain it, but something swept over me in that moment and I could just feel God winking at me and being all “Stay cool, girl. I got you either way.”

I decided that day to live from that promise. I decided then that no matter the outcome, I was going to be full of hope.

Five days later, we got another call.

“Three embryos made it to the freeze. We can’t believe it.”

Shut. The. Front. Door.

And now, here I am, 23 weeks pregnant with the first little one that made it to the freeze.

And let me tell you, I’ve still been worried. I’ve still stressed over the baby and whether or not we’d hear a heartbeat, see a heartbeat, make it through the first trimester, make it through the second, and so on and so on.

What I lean on in those times is this: from a strictly scientific statistical perspective, this shouldn’t have worked.

It did anyway.

That gives me hope for more than just this pregnancy, for more than just this baby, for more than just my family. It is a powerful reminder that there can be hope in each and every person’s story.

In so many aspects of my life, I’m so often tempted to think about the odds in front of me. I look at what is stacked against me and think “nope.” But when I look back at all of the things in my life that should have piled up to a great big NOPE and ultimately didn’t, that’s where I see hope jumping up and down, waving its arms wildly back and forth at me.

So, if you’re out there and you’re in the midst of this ugly, messy walk called infertility or any other ugly, messy walk, I can’t promise you anything in terms of outcomes. You already knew that. What I can promise you is that life looks better when fear and doubt are behind us and hope is leading the way.

Being full of hope isn’t the solution to every hard situation we face, y’all… but I’m learning that it is always, always the solution for our hurting and wandering hearts.

 

 

In Defense of Infertility (And Other Hard Things)

When I started this, I never thought I’d be blogging about infertility, but I’ve decided, in the words of Frances McDormand when she gave her Oscar speech: “I’ve got some things to say.”

Infertility gets a real bad rap.

I know. I know. I get it. Of course, it does. You have this thing that steals away your womanhood (or manhood as the case may be) and rides off with it into the sunset. This thing that hovers about you like a biting insect on a summer’s night, buzzing ceaselessly around your brain. This thing that feels like it has wrapped its chain around your dreams and is holding them hostage until you pay it all the money (and even then… it might not let those dreams go).

I know. I’ve walked this road with you. I’ve felt that heartache. I’ve submerged myself in those feelings and slipped slowly into that lonely place on more than one occasion.

Recently though, I was challenged by a devotional I read. Now, please do not mistake me. I’m not one of those Christians that reads their Bible and does their devotional every morning at 4:00am. God didn’t make me that way. But I feel like He knows when He needs to reach me, and He often uses my (irregular) devotional time to do it.

The challenge was this: “Instead of approaching the day as a blank page you need to fill up, be on the lookout for all I am doing.”

It got me thinking… what is God doing through this journey that I haven’t been on the lookout for?

I share my list with you today, friend, not because I have figured it all out and completely understand the reasons for the struggle. Quite the opposite actually. I’m realizing more and more that I have no freaking clue what God is up to 99% of the time and that other 1% is probably just wishful thinking anyway. No, I share the list with you because these are things I hold on to. These are things that keep me from the lonely place, the sad place, the angry place, the jealous place… at least most of the time.

What infertility has done for my marriage

Golly. I won’t share everything I’ve learned in this category because I do believe that some things in marriage are meant to be just preciously held between two people, but I can say a few things with certainty.

Before this journey, there were walls of vulnerability that I didn’t even know existed in my marriage. And why would I? We’d never explored the whole “stabbing your wife with a needle” bit before. What I learned is that I had to be vulnerable and I had to trust. There was no option to not do so. As a natural control freak, this is/was tough for me, but the hormone medications left my vulnerable emotions all out there naked on the table every single day. What’s more is that I had to trust that Benny could ready the injections when I was just too tired to do it.

benny

Treating my husband to some incredible French toast because he’s basically a saint for putting up with me most days. 

AND HE DID GREAT. We even hit a blood vessel one time, and when blood spurted like a puncture pipe, Benny calmly applied pressure. He even felt bad about it. (We had a good laugh about it later because if having targets drawn on your body so your husband can basically throw darts at it and then leave you covered in your own blood isn’t funny, then really… what is?) That’s a good one, ladies. A good one, indeed.

But it wasn’t just the physical stuff we had to get vulnerable and trusting about. We also had to peel away the layers of our marriage that had protected us from the “what if this never happens” question and tease out what we feared if God’s answer is no. We had to daily deconstruct our idea of what our future family looks like and surrender it to a plan not our own. And guess what? That’s what we have to keep doing every single day, and every day, we’re just trying to figure out the next faithful step.

Isn’t that just beautiful though? What if I could do that with all the pieces of my life? Daily surrender my vision of “perfect” and just allow God to rearrange, add, and remove everything to His liking? It’d be hard as hell and I’ve failed more often than I’ve succeeded, but it sure would be glorious.

What infertility has done for my heart

Ugh. Feelings. I used to be a real hard ass… or at least I played the part in public. Infertility, however, has left me crying in the grocery store and raging out at the movie theatre. It’s left me sobbing over happy endings and fuming at the sad ones (in case you haven’t noticed, I have about three primary emotions: happiness, sadness, and maddening rage).

What’s crazy though is that I’ve ended up in so many conversations over the last 21 months about hard things. Infertility, of course, but other stuff too. Moms who can’t take care of themselves, parents who have passed away unexpectedly, messy divorces, job searches that seem endless, unexpected pregnancies, mental health struggles, and the list goes on. In each of these cases, I ended up in conversations with people who I thought had it all together, and yet the whole time, these people were fighting wars and putting out fires I knew nothing about.

This is the human condition, yes? We want everyone to think we have it together, but inside, we are dying a thousand little deaths and crying out for connection. Infertility has taught me that while we don’t often wear these wounds on our bodies, they are etched into our hearts. It has taught me that grace is needed by the cheery checkout clerk and the guy in front of you in line screaming at that cheery checkout clerk. It’s needed by those whose lives are coming apart on the outside and the ones whose tumult swirls inside. At any given moment, grace is needed by you and it’s needed by me… and we should be giving a lot more of it to each other.

So, that’s it y’all. That’s my (current) list in defense of infertility. Sure, the brokenness of it is real. No one can pretend it isn’t, but be on the lookout. There’s some things being beautifully built from the brokenness too. These things won’t fix everything, I know, but they can change a lot.