9.18.2014

The Medical Plan Ends

As we came to the decision to not make another NaPro appointment, it was with the understanding that we are leaving options 'on the table' so to speak. Here is where things stand:

Reproductive Hormones/Parts (all will be left as is without further treatment):
Progesterone - within normal ranges throughout the cycle
Estradiol - normal for pre-peak, low-normal for post-peak
FSH/LH - ratio of 3:1, should be 1:1
Ovulation - one ultrasound series that shows my body is capable of 'typical' ovulation
Endometrial lining - low-normal thickness for post-peak
Fallopian Tubes - open as of surgery in February, 2014; history of both sides being blocked in both surgeries
Condition of uterus - endo removed, adhesions removed, chronic inflammation observed
Diet - Gluten-free (mostly)
Insulin Resistance - reversed with diet and exercise, will maintain diet/exercise plan
Male hormones (androgens/testosterone/DHEA) - some normal results, other non-normal results, one thing that was to be investigated if we continued with NaPro
Brown bleeding - both pre and post AF. Not as much as it used to be but still more often than not.

Other hormones/issues/symptoms (will continue to assess and determine how to manage these):
Thyroid - treated with Armour
Adrenals - some normal, other non-normal results
Chronic urinary tract infections

We are in the process of finding a local endocrinologist (not a reproductive endocrinologist, just a regular one) and/or a naturopath to manage my thyroid/adrenal issues. We are mostly concerned about long term effects of leaving these hormones unmanaged. The same for the chronic urinary tract infections, we are seeking both holistic approach and a local ob/gyn to investigate a way to prevent these. I am also considering food intolerance testing because chronic inflammation cannot be good for long term health either. Though the thought of removing ice cream from my life is terrifying.

We will chart CD1, the first day of externally observed CM, and peak day. That will let The Man know where we are in my cycle, and will let me know if there would/could ever be a reason to suspect pregnancy. Unless there becomes a problem with our intimacy, we will not directly TTC or TTA as far as timing intercourse. In some ways I wish I could forget everything I've learned about NFP.

My thoughts on this:

Four years ago I had no idea I had any health problems. My charts looked mostly good with some occasional brown bleeding. I've always been tired and cold, but nothing I couldn't manage or ever thought much about. I was more concerned that my joking about having adult ADD wasn't really a joke, but was rather real and was getting ready to see about being evaluated for that, but ultimately didn't because I knew I couldn't take those meds if TTC, nor was I really excited about daily meds. I've mostly managed and provide entertainment when I do something less than intelligent that is out of character for me, so there wasn't really much to worry about.

Four years ago, I'd never been under anesthesia. I've never broken a bone. I was a once-a-year ob/gyn patient and that was it. I don't even get seasonal allergies or colds. The worst thing I experienced were the occasional UTIs that were annoying, but I could usually predict them because I chose to not go to the bathroom immediately after intercourse.

I honestly thought my prayer for grace was needed because I would be *that* person who started TTC and was successful right away. How would I have gracefully handled that in the face of all the beautiful ladies' whose blogs I was reading who were infertile. Oh, how God has a sense of humor.

And here I sit, 4 years later, infertile and looking back over the last years asking myself "Who am I and how is this my life?"

I am also so aware that for many of you reading this, this timeline and list are very short if compared to your own. You have done and/or will do so much more for so much longer. I am in awe of your strength and your ability to persevere. No matter how much we have in common with our faith and our infertility, we each must walk our own path. We must follow the road He is laying before us and while these roads intersect and are similar, they are also very different. One is not better or worse than another. One does not indicate a greater desire or faith than the other.

For us, this part of our road is over.

The medical plan ends.

His plans are better than my dreams.

9.15.2014

Broken, Empty, Lonely - Answered Prayers?

Back in July, when I reflected upon what rejoicing looks like and revisited it, I shared lyrics and the song "Keep Making Me" by Sidewalk Prophets.

Here are those lyrics again:
Keep Making Me
~The Sidewalk Prophets~

Make me broken
So I can be healed
'Cause I'm so calloused
And now I can't feel
I want to run to You
With heart wide open
Make me broken

Make me empty
So I can be filled
'Cause I'm still holding
Onto my will
And I'm completed
When You are with me
Make me empty

'Til You are my one desire
'Til You are my one true love
'Til You are my breath, my everything
Lord, please keep making me

Make me lonely
So I can be Yours
'Til I want no one
More than you, Lord
'Cause in the darkness
I know You will hold me
Make me lonely

'Til You are my one desire
'Til You are my one true love
'Til You are my breath, my everything
Lord, please keep making me

'Til You are my one desire
'Til You are my one true love
'Til You are my breath, my everything
Lord, please keep making,
I know you'll keep making
Lord, please keep making me

Two months later, life is so very different. And not in the way I wanted it to be. And yet, today, on the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, I can't help but wonder if I'm not staring right at the answer to my prayer. A prayer prayed of desperation. Thinking that if He emptied me enough He'd have no choice but to fill me back up. And how did I see that happening, but with life. With a child. Of course if I emptied myself enough, He'd give me what I wanted.

Oh, how I was wrong.

No, instead, He led me to a place where I must remain broken, empty, and lonely.

I know I haven't shared where we left things medically, I will, but for now, what is important is that we are are leaving medical options on the table. I am broken.

My body, my womb is empty. There is no new life growing inside me. It seems there never will be. I am empty.

This mourning process is the most isolating part of infertility thus far. I cannot explain it to others. I cannot share it with anyone else. Yes, The Man is experiencing his own mourning, I realize that. I also realize in a painful acute way that no one but an infertile woman knows what it feels like to come to the realization that her body will likely never bear a child. And each infertile woman must feel this on her own. I am lonely.

Broken. Empty. Lonely. These are objective truths. There is so much of a subjective experience to go with it.  Facts and feelings as Fr. D. is helping me to see and differentiate. I am not sure it is even possible to put words to the feelings. I am not sure there are even words possible for how this feels. If I were to try I would say that it feels like my heart is being ripped in half. That my body feels hollow. That I feel like I'm walking around in a loud, noisy world and no one sees me nor could I interact with it if I tried. That is a start. I will continue to keep seeking the words, but I do not expect them to come.

He does not will suffering but He allows it, and for some reason He has allowed this brokenness, emptiness, and loneliness in my life. I am now wondering if my prayers are answered. Wondering if He is to keep making me, then I must be broken so He can heal me; I must be empty so He can fill me; I must be lonely so that I can be His. That for me, for whatever reason I must be physically broken, physically empty, and physically lonely in order for Him to fill me, to heal me, to be His. That somehow and for some reason, this is necessary for my salvation. 

Laying my desires at His feet. Sitting at the foot of the cross. Begging Our Lady of Sorrows to intercede for me. That I may have an ounce of her faith, her grace, her perseverance. Because no amount of objective truth is helping my heart to hurt less. No amount of knowing that He is calling me to Him, that He is answering my prayers is making this experience any easier. I am clinging to my own will. Fighting the brokenness, the emptiness, the loneliness that I must yield to. Fighting the answer to the prayer because it is not the answer I wanted.

'Til You are my one desire...

9.13.2014

Mourning

I wrote about our New Tension. And I wrote about how we arrived at and what this place of peace feels like.

Now it's time for the other side. For the mourning.

Again, this may be long and I don't really know where it is going. It is all part of this road home that we are on.

The Man and I had our discussion late on a Saturday night. Sitting on the floor of his workplace waiting for WVU Football game traffic to clear. It was just the two of us, for the first time in a while that we had nothing to do but chat with one another. And so, as it often does, our conversation turned to our infertility.

I asked The Man if he'd had enough time to think and pray about where God was calling us and/or if he wanted to talk about what the road would look like moving forward. He had. He started the conversation by reflecting about how he wonders if maybe God isn't calling us to something different. How he just doesn't know why this is happening to us.

As he talked, I had a realization. When I think of 'why?' when we are having these discussions, I'm thinking of things like 'my tubes are blocked; I have PCOS; I have endometriosis; there is inflammation; etc' I hear his question and I go right to the physical answers. More the answer to "how come" than "why". Yet, as he talked, I remembered something he said a while ago one Sunday on the way home from Mass when he was telling me that a co-worker had asked him "why don't you have kids" and his answer was: "I don't know."

And honestly, while we have physical 'reasons', we ultimately don't know. No reason that I can come up with explains why we are infertile. Yes, it is part of God's plan. Yes, good has come from it, but surely good could come from us being parents as well.

And so I realized that in searching for his answer to "why?", The Man had started to wonder what else God might be calling us to. Are we to use our physically infertile marriage to be spiritually fruitful in a profound way? He reflected on the priest and seminarian friends who we have been able to have in our home and travel with us and how it is clear God is calling me to be a spiritual mother to priests.

And so, as we reflected on this and I asked the question about making a doctor's appointment and we both agreed that there was no need to do that, we realized that our road was changing.

Soon after that, we headed home. Sunday was spent with Mass, brunch, napping, and football. Monday and Tuesday, I was working out of town - ironically presenting the Catholic perspective on the Sanctity of Life to an ecumenical council of churches in WV - and so there was not much time to process. I was able to talk a bit with a friend, but not at length.

Wednesday, I was able to go to Adoration and Mass at Fr. D's parish after work. And it was sometime during evening prayer that it started to sink in. The dreams of the past 4 years started playing in my mind and the tears started to fall. In the reading, St. Paul declared that he would spare those who had not married the afflictions of such a state in life, and I longed to be spared this affliction of infertility. Before Mass, I had been writing in my journal, and I'd written the question "May I mourn?" It was the one thing I wanted to know from God. Was it/is it OK to mourn? May I finally acknowledge that my dreams will not come true? (As I said before, I realize that God is sovereign and life is a gratuitous gift that He can choose to bestow at any time. Should He choose to do so, we would welcome it joyfully and with gratitude.) There was silence. But through Mass, I felt my heart change, I felt the mourning start. And after Mass, Fr. D stopped to see if I was OK and I was able to barely choke out the words "we're done." And it was his words that gave me my answer, among other things, he said "these first few weeks are going to be especially difficult." And I was given permission to mourn.

Here is what that has felt like.

It feels like someone has died. Like someone who never existed has died. More than anything I want to take a week off of work and have a funeral and say goodbye to these dreams. I do realize that there was no actual life. Only these dreams have had a life of their own. The hope I've felt over the years that has given me life; that has reminded me that there is something to hope for. It is gone. A new dream must be dreamed, but not before the first is mourned.

It is mourning the loss of the opportunity to...
see a BFP
tell The Man
have a blessing of a baby in the womb
hear a heartbeat
throw up all morning
tell our parents they will be grandparents
have a 4 generations photo taken with my mom, my Nan, me, and my child
hear "it's a boy" or "it's a girl"
pace the floor begging for sleep for us both
watch tiny fingers reach out for The Man's nose or beard - and see his eyes glisten with wonder at his own child
baptize our child

That is only as far as I made it today. To infancy. The awareness that in the coming weeks I must mourn the entire life. I must allow myself to let go of it. To say goodbye without ever having the opportunity to say hello. Not even for a second. I am under no illusion this will be easy or a linear process. Nothing about grief is. I just know that I must do it.

And the isolation of it all...if infertility is isolating - this is more so.

The reason for the sadness makes no sense to one who has not longed for a child. For how can it? How can I be so sad over the loss of someone who never existed? I went to work today because I had work to do. I could have taken the day off, but then I wouldn't have been prepared for this weekend's retreat for engaged couples, and I don't know how I possibly would have explained I needed the weekend off - which is quite honestly what I need. How does one say I am mourning when no one has died? And so the isolation grows; the fear of bursting into tears at any moment is immense.

Somehow, amidst all of this there is peace. I've learned to recognize it, I think. Because I do believe that it is always there, even when I don't feel it. But please, do not misunderstand - the peace has done nothing to lessen the mourning, the sorrow. If anything, it has made it more acute - more real. The peace has allowed me to feel these emotions fully, while resting in Him. When I resisted the emotions, when I sought the peace so desperately, there was a buffer of sorts. The buffer is gone. All that is left is grace. By grace alone, I will let go of this dream and learn to want only what He wants.

As with last time, I think this is enough for now. I will still write about where we are/left things medically. I will still share about spiritual motherhood. But for now, I must rest in this tension. I must cling to grace, the always-answered prayer of the last four years. He has led me here, kicking and screaming most of the way, but He has been patient. So now, without any choice but to kneel before Him and beg for His peace and His mercy, I lay the desires of my heart at His feet and ask Him to show me how to want what He wants.

9.12.2014

How did we know it was time to stop pursuing medical treatment?

In talking about The New Tension of mourning and peace now that we are done pursuing medical treatments for our infertility, I mentioned the post I wrote more than two years ago asking "How Did You Know?" in regards to when to stop aggressively TTC. I promised that I would share our process, and so I will begin to do that here. Much of it I am still processing so I may look back in a week, a month or a year and see something very differently under the lens of hindsight than I do right now. I share it for myself, as a necessary documentation of this road, but also for anyone who is reading this and wondering or asking themselves how do I know when to stop trying to conceive? (I do want to be clear, while we are no longer pursuing medical treatments, we do still plan to make use of "fertile" days and so are not trying to postpone pregnancy. We acknowledge God's sovereignty in bestowing the gift of life and would welcome that gift with great joy.)

This could get very long, and I may break it into parts. I honestly don't know at this point, but we'll see where it goes.

I agree with Donna's comment that there is no easy answer, that it is time that gets you there. I have also asked myself many times, if I had made different choices would we have arrived at this decision at this time? I am also very aware that this was simply our road, our process, and that everyone's will be different. I don't think I did anything right or better than anyone else, this was our process, our road and yours will be different.

I think the process to this day started right at the same time our IF journey started. When it became clear we were not going to get pregnant easily, I immediately started looking to the future - to 10 years from now and wanting to reach that unknown point and be able to look back having walked the tightrope between the life I wanted and the life I had very carefully. I didn't, still don't, want to look back with regrets - one way or the other, wishing that we had stopped sooner or kept going longer.

Also, the couples that I have found the most hope in are those who never had children - birthed or adopted. It is couples like Donna and Himself and others who remind me that life is beautiful - with or without children. I think this hope in these situations has been whispering to me for the last 4 years.

35, the age I turned in April, was also always a sort of unspoken deadline. I never really thought I'd see it and still not be a mother, so I didn't think too much about it, but a couple of times I did and so it was there.

More recently, specifically last fall and early winter when I had my ultrasound series done. I was convinced I didn't ovulate, that I had luteinized unruptured follicle syndrome (LUFS). I mean, what else could it be? The Man and I had talked and agreed, that if it was LUFS, we were done with medical treatment. We would not force ovulation that was not occurring. I was so surprised when the ultrasound showed I ovulated I couldn't even be happy. I was stunned. And I knew in an instant I would be having surgery again - which a few weeks later The Man confirmed with his OK to go forward. As I drove to work after, I cried and cried as I realized we were now really into the unknown.

In February, the anger I felt before my surgery surprised me. I was, and if I'm honest still am to some degree, so angry I had to have a second surgery; that my body was so broken; and that this had been so hard. But, I knew I needed to know. I needed to know if my tubes were open or closed. I knew that it would be the lingering question. They were blocked, and then opened.

As the Spring unfolded and the toll that infertility had taken on our marriage and intimacy became clear and the cycle of 4 pregnancy tests ushered in summer and I started to wonder how much longer I could do this. I had completely shut down and wasn't even returning a phone call from my doctors office, nor was I concerned about filling a prescription for post-peak estrodial. Looking back, I realize I was really slipping into a depression.

That is the 'technical' side of things.

The spiritual side of things is different. The details are chronicled over the past 4 years of this blog. But when I look at them now, I see a pattern, a trend, if you will.

I see God continually calling me to Himself, as He calls us all. And I see me moving closer and further away, as a child would run from his mother, testing the limits, trying to get her to follow him, instead of following her.

There have been moments of surrender and moments of anger. But what started happening in the last few months was a desperation. A desperate prayer in which I willed myself to believe that He is the same; that He is trustworthy. Each time I typed those words; each time I prayed them - more than I could ever count - it was to try to convince myself of their truth. To try to silence the doubt and the fear I felt when I looked at a future that wasn't one of my planning.

In the aftermath of the 4 pregnancy tests, I felt so betrayed by God. I kept asking Him why He made me experience that. Why it was necessary, telling him that not being pregnant was really bad enough thankyouverymuch. Only to realize it was my error, my mistake in reading my own chart that was the cause of the agony. That didn't change what I'd experienced, but now my question was different, one of why did you allow this God rather than why did you do this God.

And it led Fr. D to ask those questions of me. Had I asked God what His will for us regarding parenthood was? Had I listened for His answer? And I realized that in my desperation to convince myself that He was trustworthy, I had arrived in a position where I had to put up or shut up. If I believed He is trustworthy, then I had to ask Him what He willed for us.

As my knees hit the floor that Wednesday afternoon in Adoration, I knew I was arriving at a place where I had been called for at least a year. Perhaps where this road had been leading all along. To a place where I had to decide my will or God's will? A place where I had to acknowledge that yes, this desire for motherhood comes from Him, but that He might not will that it be fulfilled. As I quit fighting, and I quit running away, and I finally allowed myself to rest in Him and to truly trust Him and not just will myself to believe that He is Trustworthy.

And as The Man and I talked, and He expressed "maybe God has something else in mind for us", and we both unsuccessfully fought back tears, and then I asked the question about scheduling another appointment - a question I knew the answer to in my heart. We just each needed to say it out loud. To make it real.

And suddenly, but not so suddenly at all, everything is different. There is a peace that I cannot explain. There is also more pain than I have felt before this point. The mourning that has only just begun, is almost more than I can bear. It takes my breath away. And yet, the peace is there. I've wondered what this would feel like for years. We've made plenty of decisions that we have been at peace with, it's not that I've wondered about. I've wondered what it would feel like to sit in this tension of mourning and peace. And now I know. There is no way to describe it other than to say et et. No way to describe how I can be in overwhelming sorrow and tears during Mass while feeling completely at peace. I am also so aware that in a moment, that peace can leave. That it is, in and of itself a gratuitous gift. I have done nothing to earn it and all I can do is be open to it and try not to grasp and force it.

It is clear to me that I had to truly let go of my own will. I had to acknowledge the desires of my heart without apology - which I think was why it was so important that I pay God a compliment and ask big things of him. I had to recognize that with or without motherhood, I had cause to rejoice. I had to not only will myself to believe that He is enough, but to actually believe it. And while I had to respond and be active in all of these things, I am acutely aware that it is all grace; that it is by grace alone that I sit in this tension. This is not a recipe for how to know when to stop. This is not a recipe for finding peace. Ultimately, whatever our cross, whatever road we are on, it is about aligning our will to His. And it is only by grace that we are able to do this.

I do not want to give the impression that any of this has been easy. Least of all sitting in this tension. I am tempted to make just "one last" appointment. I am tempted to keep charting in detail. I am tempted to stop sitting in the quiet and listening to God. But each time I let myself be led down a side path of temptation, I feel the peace start to slip away. And as I head back to the main road, that is full of mourning and sorrow, I feel the peace return. It is that peace, the peace that truly surpasses all understanding, that draws me back.

I am going to write a medical update post on where we are leaving things. I also have a very special post on spiritual motherhood that I need to finish editing and then will share that - especially now, it has become a crucial part of this journey. One that I probably should have mentioned a bit more above, one in which my heart has been stretched and pierced.

I have written about the peace here. I will also write about the mourning, the sorrow, and the pain.

I think this is enough for now. I'm happy to answer questions if you have them. If I have given the impression that there is a "right" way to do this and a "wrong" way to do this, I do not intend it. This is where God called us to. He may not be calling you to this place of tension, He may be calling you to keep pursuing treatment or to actively pursue adoption.

He call us all to Himself, but He speaks to each of us in our own language, personally guiding us along the path that will ultimately lead us to Him.

Universal and specific.

Both/and.

Et et.

9.09.2014

A New Tension

A year ago tonight I had a spiritual direction session with Fr. D. in which he asked me to spend 30 minutes in silent, listening prayer per day.

We've been over how much of a one-step forward, ten-steps back process that has been.

Until recently.

The time in prayer has remained consistent these past couple of weeks, with what used to seem like an impossible task becoming a necessary part of my days. I seek out time to spend in chapel with the Blessed Sacrament and I find myself sitting quietly in the living room in the evenings before going to bed. I wish I could say it was because I finally decided Fr. D. was right or that I quit being lazy or anything else. The only explanation is that He has quite literally drawn me to Him and to my knees before Him. Infertility has been the cross that He has allowed in my life that has made me realize I cannot rely on my own power, that I am nothing without His Grace.

And now, more than ever, it is His grace and His peace that we will rely upon, as The Man's time in prayer and thought has led us to this conversation (after some preliminary lead-in):

Me: So, I have a phone message from Dr. D's office. Should I call back and schedule another appointment.
The Man: I see no reason to do that.
Me: Neither do I.

And so, as the cycle that ends year 3 of TTC is beginning, we are stopping medical treatment.

I'm an extrovert, so to help process this:
I've said it out loud to a friend.
I've texted it to another.
I've PM'd a few others.

And now it is written here.

The Road Becomes Real, again.

The best way I can describe how I feel is that there is much mourning and there is much peace. It is very much a real experience of et et, of both/and. I am keenly aware that I will survive this by grace alone.

I have so much to say and process, and I'm sure it will come. We will still be TTC, with months of TTA as needed mixed in to keep our intimacy on track, but there will be no more NaPro appointments. (I will keep taking my armour and I'm looking for a local endocrinologist and/or naturopath to manage my other adrenal symptoms.) A couple of years ago, I remember being desperate for someone to explain how they got to this point, and so I will do that too, in time.

For now though, I just need to rest in this new tension of mourning and peace.

I am always grateful for your prayers, and I am relying on them now more than ever.

Mary, Undoer of Knots, pray for us.