Saturday, June 24, 2017

IVF 3

This round of IVF feels completely different than the others. The first two rounds were so intense for us. We were scared and desperate and I felt every poke and prod so acutely, begging God to make it lead to a baby. We prayed almost constantly. Not exaggerating. While getting ready, driving, cooking, eating meals, as we fell asleep, cleaning, with friends and family, during commercials as we watched TV. Mike and I would take a walk together almost every night after work for the sole purpose of processing the thoughts and feelings associated with the process for months leading up to the transfers trying to prep and plan and come up with a Plan B or C or D to make sure our life didn't crumble beneath our feet if we miscarried again or the transfer was unsuccessful. We were so sad. It was all-consuming and so emotional. I googled every symptom incessantly trying to interpret its meaning and how that might effect our success rates. We felt the Lord with us but had so much trouble taking hold of the benefits of his presence.

My pregnancy with Penny was also very intense, and her birth was too. Fast forward one year and she is a happy, healthy, beautiful girl who loves to sleep, read, and snuggle with her dad, and our 3rd embryo transfer is in less than 2 weeks.

We are at the same clinic as the last two times. Same doctors, same meds, same procedures, same financial strain, but Mike and I both feel so calm. We have tried to sit down and prep and plan like we used to and we just end up talking about something else or laughing and telling jokes. When I pray about it I don't cry. When I talk to my friends about it I can breathe and even smile sometimes. I'm not afraid. I feel myself trying to make it this intense and emotional thing, not because I want to, but because I feel like it is supposed to be based on how the other two went. It's just not though. It feels light and easy. The side effects of the fertility drugs are almost comical this time. My swollen lips and pants that won't button over the bloat. I feel full. Full of peace, hope, trust, patience, and wonder. The desperation is gone. The hope and prayers for another baby are not gone, but the control and the attempt to will it into being is. I still have no idea what is going to come of this, but in my quiet time with Lord he has assured me that our family will grow. I'm holding on to that promise and not placing my expectations on it. God is good and faithful.


^^^^^I can't believe I just typed that, let alone feel it. I am certain that I could have never achieved this level of confidence without God allowing me to face situations in which he could provide and redeem and prove himself to me over and over, not because he has to but because he wants to because that is who he is and that is how much he loves us.

Friday, January 8, 2016

Update on Baby Sully

Our journey to parenthood is scattered among many different posts, so I decided to combine it all here in one place and also included an update about where we're at now.

We were TTC (trying to conceive) for about 7 months before our first pregnancy. Sadly, I didn't know I was pregnant with our baby until I was miscarrying and the information that came with this event inaugurated a lengthy season of fertility treatments. Turns out I have PCOS (Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome) and Mike has MFI (Male Factor Infertility). Double whammy. So much grace being in this together though. With the support and encouragement of our community we began to pursue IVF (In Vitro Fertilization) as this was our only option for conception. After a strenuous season of medications and various procedures our first round of IVF was a success and I was pregnant with twins. We found out the babies were dying 1 week later, and I miscarried 2 weeks after that. Mike was out of town on business at the time and my brother Joe drove from Omaha to KC to spend the day with me, and that's the day my body chose to pass them and we said goodbye to two more babies. We took one month off and jumped right back into round 2 of IVF. After 3 years TTC we had become accustom to the medications and fertility treatments were simply a way of life now. Everything about round 2 was simpler. I don't know if it's because we were IVF veterans at this point or if our perspectives had shifted and we had truly learned what it means to cast our burdens onto the Lord. Probably a combination of both. We soon found out that while one embryo didn't survive after implantation, we were still pregnant with one seemingly healthy baby. We said goodbye in our hearts to our 4th baby and welcomed our 5th with gladness. Experiencing life and death within my body simultaneously was a difficult and confusing experience. We heard our surviving baby's healthy heartbeat for the first time one week later, something we had never experienced before. They told us during this appointment that after you have heard a healthy heartbeat, miscarriage rates drop to just 5%. I wasn't sure what to do with that information. It didn't seem to apply to us after all we had been through.

I am 18 weeks pregnant as I write this. I don't know how to describe the last 4 months. Every time I sit down to write an update about the pregnancy to our family and friends who have invested so much time, energy, prayer, money, and love into our journey I get stuck. I always sleep on my posts and then publish them the next day, but I kept waking up to written posts that just didn't seem accurate anymore. I would write an update, sleep on it, wake up in a completely different emotional space than I was in the day before, and return to edit a post that didn't even seem to be written by the same person. I would chalk it up to utter confusion and raging hormones and delete all of them, telling myself that I can't possibly share my experience until I can figure out what exactly I'm experiencing.

After some reflection, I've realized this: every single day of pregnancy after loss is different and no less true or authentic than the day before. Some days I am terribly afraid that our baby will die. Some days I am perfectly confident in the life I'm carrying. Some days I grieve over the lives we have lost in the process. Some days I'm convinced I'll never do IVF again. Some days I'm convinced we will try IVF several more times and grow a large family this way. Some days I celebrate with other pregnant friends. Some days I am angry that others can conceive naturally and we can't. Some days I feel cheated by God. Some days I feel so loved and intimately connected with God in the midst of this process that I find myself thankful for infertility. I have found that the best remedy for coping with grief and confusion is to spend time focusing on what you know for certain. Spending time focusing on truth is comforting and keeps you grounded in the midst of chaos. All I know for certain is that I am expecting good from God because God is good. The greatest things in my life (my husband, being the main example) have been unplanned gifts that were given to me only after my original plans were thwarted. Well here I sit, with my original plans for a family utterly and completely thwarted. Using my own history and the character of God as a guide of reference I feel certain that whatever is coming will be for my maximum benefit and the maximum benefit of His Kingdom. I am so thankful for the peace that comes with resting in your identity as a child of God.

So... I wrote that top part prior to the update I'm about to write and I'm so glad the Lord prompted me to do so before the events of last week. I've been able to read through the words I wrote and find my center once again. After some complications I was brought in for an emergency ultrasound and was prepared for the worst by our doctor. To our surprise and our doctor's surprise, our sweet little baby is doing just fine and we got to see a smile on the monitor for the first time. Long story short, I was diagnosed with complete placenta previa. It was also discovered at this time that I am Rh negative and my blood is incompatible with our baby's. Complications related to Rh negative blood and pregnancy (which are quite serious and some fatal) can be prevented by a shot, but unfortunately I was not given this shot in time to avoid complications. What this means for us and the baby? Well, I'm on bed rest for the remainder of the pregnancy (20 weeks, yikes), I am unable to have a vaginal delivery, and we may discover some birth defects that require immediate attention as we get further along into the pregnancy. We are resting in the knowledge that The Author of Life has designed this specific embryo to make it this far with us, and believe that the best is yet to come despite some hardships we may face in the coming weeks and years. Please join us in prayer for the following: that our baby miraculously has Rh negative blood after all (which would prevent all related complications and birth defects), that the complete previa corrects itself before birth, that the antibodies in my blood stop in their tracks and retreat before reaching our baby, and that our baby can make it to full term or close to prevent other complications.

I'll leave you all with some pictures that mean a lot to Mike and me. Below are two of many pictures my sweet friend, Bethany, took for us immediately following our 2nd round of IVF. We were unaware of the significance of the natural shading of the bulbs at that time, before we knew that we would lose one of the babies we transferred into my body that day. To me, these are pictures of the hope and peace we've found in the midst of grief. That's what life is; learning how to carry the good and the bad at the same time, feeling joy and sorrow simultaneously, honoring your victories and hardships. The shaded bulb represents our pain and our losses on the journey to parenthood and the bulb in the sunlight represents the good that has come from it, the good that is still coming, and the sweet life growing within me.




 Thanks for reading.

The Lovely Initiative

My best friend recently started a movement called "The Lovely Initiative" and you've got to check it out. You can learn all about her purpose and mission here: http://www.thelovelyinitiative.org/.

She recently asked to feature me on the site and it was a really special experience. The photoshoot, discussion, and writing segment really challenged me to search for the loveliest pieces of myself and share them bravely with the purpose of ending the destructive cycle of comparison among women. This movement is all about being empowered by each other's stories. I am just so proud of my dear friend and what she is accomplishing here by searching for all things good in the world when there is so much bad.

Here is my writing segment and favorite picture from the day:


"What makes me lovely? My ability to grieve with an open heart.

I've experienced a significant amount of loss in my life, most recently the loss of my ability to conceive naturally and my four angel babies who I lost in the womb along the way. Instead of allowing this struggle to harden or paralyze me, I fully submitted to the process and allowed it to sharpen me. Grieving has exposed the loveliest parts of myself. I welcomed people into our journey by speaking and writing openly about infertility when I could have chosen to isolate myself. I asked for help when I needed it when I could have tried (and failed) to do it alone. I was kind to myself and spoke words of encouragement when I could have accepted blame. I continued to dream about our future as parents when I could have given up hope. I continued to pursue Christ and ask the tough questions when I could have let resentment lead me astray. I allowed myself the space and time to mourn when I could have pretended I was unaffected.  I was understanding and gentle with the people in my life who were absent and insensitive during this process when I could have ended relationships that were important to me.

I refuse to let my circumstances define who I am and what kind of life I get to live. I don't know what my future family will look like, but I know I have a beautiful life unfolding before me because I serve a beautiful God. Nothing aches quite like the loss of our children and the life that could have been with them, but nothing restores quite like believing in the good to come. "

Thursday, October 8, 2015

FALL

Most people enjoy Fall because of Pumpkin Spice Lattes and falling leaves, but I dislike both of these things. I only enjoy the taste of pumpkin when it's accompanied by mounds of cream cheese frosting and falling leaves just mean hours of yard work and blistered hands from raking. No thank you. Here are some commonly ignored reasons why I believe Fall is the best.

1. Blankets become socially acceptable clothing. Whether it's a massive scarf or a baggy sweater, it appears that the majority of the population is walking around with blankets on. I can't tell if some women are on their way to work or just woke up from a nap.




2. My hair looks amazing. After surviving yet another humid Kansas summer full of pony tails, seemingly overnight my hair decides to be fabulous again. My bangs stay put, my hair is less frizzy, and each day is like another opportunity to create my version of the Zooey D. Pantene ads.

 



3. 16-24 year old girls are hilarious! Leggings as pants, pictures in the leaves, ginormous sweaters, complicated Starbucks orders, Uggs... I snicker and roll my eyes more during Fall than any other season, and I love it! I also get a kick out of all the angry social media posts from people hating on leggings as pants. Can we all just calm down and focus on how great our hair looks?

 


4. Playing the game "Male Fashionista or Homeless Man?" Say what you will about young ladies' clothing choices during the Fall, but I find male fashion to be much more outrageous. To add a fun, competitive edge to your Fall season, play the game "Male Fashionista or Homeless Man" and guess whether the individual is a wealthy Calvin Klein model or a man in need of food and shelter!






















5. The world stops (or decreases) the complaining for a few days. We are constantly bombarded with uptight social media posts and political strife, but for a few days towards the beginning of Fall all people can seem to talk about and post about is all the little things they love about this season. Social media is filled with pictures of beautiful scenery, relaxing settings, and people enjoying themselves: a much needed break from the monotony. Happy fall, y'all!








Monday, July 27, 2015

"Relentlessly Optimistic"

My husband and I can't have babies on our own. Between the two of us, without the help of doctors and a miracle from the Lord, there will be no buns in this oven. We have a lot to be angry and confused about and I have spent a good 40% of our infertility journey living in this angry place. Mike has spent a maximum of 5% of our infertility journey in this angry place. (He is so good at life!) For example:


Anyway, after years of trying to conceive, a couple diagnoses, massive financial contributions from our community, some medications, lots of prayer, and a few procedures later... I have 2 embryos in the lining of my uterus as I type this! I am carrying life in my body! Life that came from the life of my husband and me! Thank you, Jesus. What a gift. We will know if we are officially pregnant in just a few short days. I am awestruck with gratitude. For like a minute. Then I remember that after all of this I got severe strep throat the day after our transfer. For those of you that don't know much about IVF, being sick after the transfer and during implantation is not a good thing as it could negatively effect the outcome. We had several things planned for this time while I was carrying our babies. We were going to get our pictures taken, finally let ourselves browse through a baby clothes department and maybe even buy something, and visit all our favorite spots in KC. These are things we would want to do pregnant or as a family that we may never get to do if we get bad news later this week. We just wanted to take in this time and make it special. I am too sick to do any of these things though and I've got an illness looming that could decrease the already small odds of this IVF transfer working. I have a choice to make about how I am going to let this affect me. As you've read in previous posts, my go-to move is to ruminate on negativity, or as I often call it, "being realistic." A true pessimist never refers to themselves as a pessimist. This negativity isn't being exaggerated or blown out of proportion, we are convinced this is reality. Every time I hear someone (including myself) refer to themselves as a realist, I know I've spotted a pessimist in disguise, and I'm one of the worst of them! I've got a lot of work to do on this.

After a pep talk from a friend today I am not going to revert back to old ways and ruminate on the negative and all that could go wrong (and is going wrong, and already has gone wrong) here. "I'M DECIDING TO BE RELENTLESSLY OPTOMISITC BECAUSE AS IRRATIONAL AS IT IS, I FEEL LIKE I HAVE SOME AGENCY AND BELIEVING IT IS SO WILL MAKE IT SO. I WILL BE CHEERY AND UPBEAT AND BELIEVE THAT I WILL BE A MOTHER UNTIL I AM A MOTHER OR DECIDE THAT I DON'T WANT TO BE ONE ANYMORE." Thanks, Alicia. Don't feel bad for me or question my intentions here either. I have felt my feelings. I have been "real" and "authentic" and I have mourned and grieved and felt the very deepest pain this process has for me. We are allowed to feel our feelings and I have felt mine. If I want to be a good mother I can start now. When I tell my children, BECAUSE I AM GOING TO BE A PARENT, about the journey that brought us together I want them to be proud of me. I want to set a good example for them. Part of this good example is honoring your experiences and your feelings by grieving, and part of this example is moving forward and clinging to what you know is true based on your identity in Christ.

Here is my relentlessly optimistic reality: I love kids. I am going to be a great mom. I am looking forward to our pregnancy test later this week because I believe I am going to be and already am a mommy. I believe that God has good things waiting for me. He loves me and sees the best in me and is going to cultivate and grow my strengths even more as I journey into parenthood. When it's hard to believe these things for myself, I am going to believe them for my husband. Have you met Mike? Anybody who has spent more than 15 minutes with this guy knows that "Dad" has been written into his DNA. It's who he is. Children are drawn to him and he is drawn to them. If anyone was born to be a parent it is him, and I'm married to him, so that goodness and that promise can spill over onto me, too. I believe this is going to work out for us! I believe this illness/strep throat is yet another attempt from the enemy to try and rob me of the faith and hope I have been working so hard to choose every day. I believe the enemy has no power over me. I can choose hope and I can choose happiness and I can choose optimism because God is good and He loves me. And more about this illness... I have been made more aware than ever of all the goodness in my family and friends who have been willing to do anything and everything for me. We haven't gotten to go frolic about the city with our embryos, but we have gotten to get really real with Jesus when presented with yet another obstacle. Do we REALLY believe in His goodness? Even now? Even when everything is seemingly going wrong? YEP! God is so good!

Why I Miss OCD

So I had a bout with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. I needed organization and order like I needed oxygen. OCD effected my career, my relationships, my education, my schedule, and my general ability to function as a happy, healthy person. It took me years of counseling and exposure therapy to overcome my need to have every single aspect of my environment positioned in specific angles, labeled, alphabetical, and twice disinfected. Sometimes I miss it. Here is why.

It helped me cope. Fight with my husband? Clean the baseboards. Stressful day at work? Disinfect the doorknobs and light switches at home. Can’t sleep? Alphabetize or re-alphabetize my medicine cabinet or movie collections. This behavior gave me a false sense that my world was in order, despite what may have happened that day. Logically, I knew that clean baseboards would not undo that hurtful comment I made to my husband, but it sure did temporarily help me feel better, and cleaner, after sorting through the mess I just created emotionally.

It was always there for me. Cleaning didn’t judge me. Washing would never leave me. Whenever I needed help, day or night, my compulsions were loyal companions. This was also the hardest part of overcoming it. It’s like an alcoholic attempting sobriety while living in a bar. Temporary relief is always at arm’s length.

Nobody could take it away from me. If I wanted OCD to leave, I would have to conquer it myself, in my own time, if and only if I ever wanted it gone. OCD wanted to stay with me and it would fight back every time I tried to get rid of it. As sick as it sounds, sometimes it felt nice to have something want to stick around that badly.

Although I occasionally miss certain elements of it, I will never imprison myself with my compulsions again. They fooled me into thinking I was in control when really, they owned me. They told me what I needed to do and when I needed to do it. OCD lied to me about what it meant to cope with life’s difficulties and how to navigate stressful situations. I care about myself, my family, and my friends too much to participate in the delusion ever again.

Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Timely Preparation for Future Eventualities

I have truly come to the end of my strength in this infertility journey. (As my father-in-law shared, perhaps that's the point.) I feel tired, weak, and angry. I am not proud to admit this but a few nights ago I was tossing and turning in bed, unable to sleep due to the racing thoughts and emotional strain, and found myself questioning the character of God and His care for me. Why would He give me the desire to be a mother and not bring it to fruition? If He wanted Mike and I to be parents, why doesn't He just give us a baby the natural way? What is the point of having us suffer through this financial/physical/emotional IVF nightmare? Is God cruel? (I know this reeks of entitlement, but I'm trying to be honest about where my heart is at even when it's not pretty.) I began to cry and in a moment of desperation I thought, "God, are you even real? I do not see you and I do not feel you and I'm doubting that you are real." As soon as I finished my thought I heard a loud smack of thunder that physically shook the foundation of our home. I shot out of bed and looked over at Mike to see if he was awake from the jolt. He was sound asleep. I feel it's important to note that I was also wearing earplugs at the time. These have become a necessity ever since our 45 year-old neighbor began practicing with his garage band of other 40-somethings well into the wee small hours of the morning. This would be cool if they were like AC/DC or something, retired but still addicted to rock and roll, but I cannot overstate how little the sounds they create resemble music. Anyway, the thunder was loud enough and strong enough to penetrate my earplugs and cause sincere concern about our safety and the wellbeing of our home. When I noticed that Mike was still asleep and our cat was resting un-phased at the foot of our bed, I knew that I had just encountered God. He responded to my insecurities in a way I could not ignore. God shook my very foundation to reassure me of His providence and ultimately, His existence in my life. Sometimes it takes being shaken up to come to a better realization of God's sovereignty and intimate care for your every moment.

When debriefing the encounter the next day I realized that I did not view this abrupt thunder as cruelty. It did not tire me or result in anger or bitterness. I viewed this gesture as compassionate, loving, and energizing because it resulted in a keener awareness of my Savior. On that note, infertility is truly shaking my foundation as well. What if I started viewing infertility the same way I viewed the thunder: as compassionate, loving, and energizing? God shakes our foundations in all sorts of ways. God brings us into a fuller understanding of Himself in all sorts of ways. This experience taught me that God is using our struggles with infertility in the same way He used the thunder, to reassure me of His providence and existence in my life. When doing some light Googling on the meaning of "providence" this definition stood out to me: timely preparation for future eventualities. Each one of our life experiences, no matter how inflamed or seemingly insignificant, is saturated in God's providence and if used correctly will help prepare us for a future that will eventually be introduced to us when the timing is right. "Providence" was also referred to as God's protective care. This indicates that God's providence is also rooted in care and intended for our protection. When applied to our season of infertility I understood that what I am experiencing now isn't God's cruelty or lack of investment in our situation, it's actually God's protection, preparation, care, and most of all, his deep love for me. I don't know what my "eventualities" will consist of, but I do know that God is deeply invested in my present circumstances and how this will help me later. He is real. He is not cruel. There is purpose in this pain.
 


Daniel 4:35: "All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, but He does according to His will in the host of heaven and among the inhabitants of earth; and no one can ward off His hand or say to Him, 'What have You done?'"

Psalm 145:15-16: "The eyes of all look to You, and You give them their food in due time. You open Your hand and satisfy the desire of every living thing."